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Business / Feasibility study underway into isles-wide walking route

South Mainland from Mossy Hill. Photo: VisitScotland

THE IDEA of a ‘Shetland Way’ – a walking route between Unst and Sumburgh – has taken a step further forward.

Consultancy company Stantec has been appointed to carry out a feasibility study into the idea.

The proposal, aimed at attracting tourists to Shetland as well as providing more walking opportunities for locals, has been simmering away for a number of years.

The proposed route from Sumburgh Head in the south to Hermaness in the north could include ‘visitor hubs’ along its length, to divide it into daily walkable sections and give access to attractions, accommodation, facilities and shops.

The 96-mile West Highland Way from Milngavie north of Glasgow to Fort William for instance is hugely popular with walkers, bringing a boost to the local economy as a result, and some believe that Shetland’s landscape could work for a similar scheme.

The project is being developed by VisitScotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Shetland Islands Council, NatureScot and Shetland Tourism Association.

VisitScotland Shetland development manager Steve Mathieson said: “The idea of creating a long-distance walking route for Shetland seems to make perfect sense, especially with the growth in interest in responsible tourism and eco-friendly outdoor activities plus the drive to help communities engage more with active travel initiatives.

“There are a number of iconic walking routes throughout Scotland which are highly popular with both visitors and locals and this study will help determine the possibility of creating the most northerly one in the UK.

“The last Shetland Visitor Survey in 2019 showed that walking is by far the most popular activity amongst leisure visitors at 92 per cent, while landscape and scenery is the top motivation for visiting the islands, coming in at 69 per cent.

“The study will also consider the suitability of the route for cyclists and horse riders, as interest in both activities has been growing in recent years.

“The aim of developing a long-distance walking route is to attract more visitors to Shetland, encourage them to stay longer, see more of Shetland and provide them and locals with the opportunity to enjoy a world-class, active, environmentally-friendly experience.”

VisitScotland said interested parties and the public will be offered the opportunity to input into the study through the consultation process.

Stantec project director Stephen Canning said: “We are delighted to be working with VisitScotland and the project steering group on this exciting feasibility study, which provides an opportunity to make the case for a high quality cross-Shetland active travel route for visitors and residents alike.”