Shetland Way (Credit Steve Mathieson)

Study reveals potential benefits of proposed new walking route on Shetland

Published: 19/04/2023

A proposed new long-distance walking route which would run the length of Shetland could generate £41m for the local economy over the next decade, a feasibility study has concluded.

The report on the potential Shetland Way also predicted that over a 10-year period the route could be used by 600,000 visitors and create 52 additional tourism-related jobs.

Running over 100 miles from Hermaness in the north down to Sumburgh Head in the south, the Shetland Way links the archipelago’s natural, cultural and community assets with the aim of bringing social, economic and environmental benefits to the islands.

If created, it would become the most northerly walking route in the UK. As well as being used by both tourists and locals, the route could provide a welcome boost to local businesses and facilities.

The study has been developed by VisitScotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Shetland Islands Council, NatureScot and Shetland Tourism Association.

Based on feedback from stakeholders and the public, the feasibility study, conducted by consultants Stantec, highlighted a number of potential benefits including increased footfall in communities, shops and visitor attractions; positive health and social impacts; new business opportunities and the option to attract people to Shetland.

The report states that the proposed project will ‘provide significant stimulus to Shetland’s visitor economy and deliver an important community asset that provides valuable accessibility, health and wellbeing benefits.’

Steve Mathieson, VisitScotland Development Manager for Shetland, said: “The findings of this study are hugely encouraging and really demonstrate the significant social and economic benefits this exciting new route could bring.

“Walking is by far the most popular activity enjoyed by visitors. Couple that with Shetland’s renowned natural beauty and there is real potential here to create an iconic new sustainable travel experience on the islands.

“Not only would this help attract more visitors to Shetland but it also supports our ambitions to be a leading destination for responsible tourism.

“As a project group we’ll consider the outcome of the feasibility study in more detail and look at how best to progress with the next stage of the project, which will be to build an outline business case.”

Fiona Stirling, head of enterprise support at HIE’s Shetland area team said: “With a diverse range of high-quality community-based visitor attractions throughout Shetland, tourism is important to the islands’ economy.

“A Shetland Way would enable rural heritage centres, accommodation providers, cafes and local shops along the route to reap economic and social benefits. The results of the feasibility study show the potential for the route to increase tourism spend, create jobs and enable visitors as well as local people to enjoy a rich cultural experience.

“We are pleased to support the project, which will benefit and enhance Shetland’s reputation for world-class visitor experiences and quality of life.”

Juan Brown, Shetland Operations Officer at NatureScot, said: “The Shetland Way would present a great opportunity for people to experience Shetland’s outstanding wildlife and landscape, whilst doing their bit in helping mitigate climate change by ditching the car. Access to nature and exercise in the outdoors has many proven benefits to physical and mental health.”

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