So we knew the Shetland Isles would have some nice, unspoilt beaches - Britain's most northerly wildest outpost, a 12 hour ferry from Aberdeen, 1000 miles of coastline, but wow - it turned out to be much better than that.
Dramatic cliffs and rugged coastlines filled with arches, caves and blow holes; deserted beaches accessible only by boat - the cleanest I've ever seen; sea stacks and little islands stretching out to the horizon. At every little cove and inlet we were greeted by a couple of curious seals bobbing around.
It is an explorer's dream with so much to discover for anyone who likes to get out and discover a place. Given the changeable weather, the location and the low population, it's off most people's radar for a holiday, and so you get to discover all this wilderness and beauty undisturbed. It is so quiet and remote you could almost believe you are the first to have discovered it.
And that was all before we got to Eshaness...
In a stretch of coastline just 6 km long, we spent 5 nights hiking, camping and photographing some of the best scenery we've seen anywhere in the world, and we've got around a bit!
Each cove was unique, and seemed to offer more spectacular views than the previous one. At 7 months pregnant, I wasn't up for too much walking, which suited Eshaness perfectly - a 1 km walk gets you into the heart of the landscape, and the scenery is so captivating, you could easily while away the rest of the day photographing and setting up camp right there.
Wild camping is encouraged all over Shetland, as long as you are happy to carry your gear over a stile or two, and across a farmer's field, you are in for such a treat. We only saw one other tent in our 3 week trip, so if you put in a bit of effort to get there, they are yours to enjoy entirely uninterrupted.
On the first night, we camped on a beautiful red sand beach, with a great view of The Drongs rock stacks in the distance. We got a good night's sleep in our Hilleberg Jannu despite pretty fierce winds, until we were woken in the morning by a storm the winds had brought in off the sea - the loudest thunder I've ever heard - the ground was literally rumbling under us, and it was coming after each lightning strike alarmingly quickly. Apparently it was a mixture of sheet and fork lightening, but we didn't leave the relative safety of the tent to find out!
Another good spot was at the very end of the road at Stenness. This is an old haaf fishing station used from the eighteenth century.
Seven men would row each 9 metre long boat 40 miles out to fishing grounds in the Atlantic, and bring them back here to salt and dry as quickly as possible. The men lived here throughout the fishing season in tiny stone dwellings that have mostly turned to ruin now, with only the roofless Laird representative's house standing tall in the bay now.
Our camp spot was overlooking a huge rock stack with a big arch through it, called Dore Holm or Drinking Horse Rock.
We took a short walk from here towards the lighthouse, passing by "The Cannon", a horizontal blow hole that shoots waves back out about 30 metres like a firework. It was completely spectacular, and pretty unique - I've never seen anything like it, and we only happened upon it, there wasn't so much as a sign, or a board, or a barrier stopping you from falling in. This is what makes Eshaness so special - there are countless treats like this around every corner.
On beyond the lighthouse, with more sea stacks, jagged cliffs and exceptionally beautiful rugged coastline, you pass by a
massive hole called Holes of Scraada. It's sheer sides are about 20m tall, and it's large enough at about 150m long to contain its own little beach, only accessible by taking a canoe through a subterranean passage about 200m long. We walked right over it, again with no barriers or signage to spoil your view.
Tips for visiting Eshaness
Getting there - It's just a 45 minute drive from Lerwick (the capital of Shetland) to Eshaness. We brought our own car on the ferry from Ireland, but most of the other tourists that we saw had rented from StarRentACar. Alternatively, a bus from Lerwick to Hillswick (the main village in Eshaness) will set you back just £3.30, and since the area is so small, once you get there, a car's not really essential.
Where to stay - we were wild camping for most of our Shetland trip. Land access is very good, wild camping is encouraged and the view from your tent is unbeatable. If you don't fancy it, or you just need a break from time to time as we did, there are lots of other options. There's a campsite right in the heart of Eshaness with some of the best views of the rock stacks for tents, caravans and pods. Hillswick has the St Magnus Bay hotel which gets good reviews on Tripadvisor. We rented a lovely little place on AirBnB for a few nights in Hillswick - this would be my preferred option as you get the run of a whole house for less than the cost of a hotel room.
How to explore - Just get out there - there's only about 7 miles worth of road, and yet we spent 5 days there, and could happily have spent longer. Cross every stile you see, tramp across every field you can, meander along the spectacular coast, in and out of every little cove, and across the cliff tops with breathtaking views - if you like wandering in stunning scenery, you will not get bored!