Welcome to Foula

Your journey has brought you to Foula, one of Britain’s most remote inhabited islands. The crofting townships are situated in the narrow eastern coastal strip with the expanse of peat and moorland rising steeply to Foula’s five dramatic peaks – da Noup in the south is divided by the glacial valley of the Daal from Hamnafield, da Sneug, da Kame, and Soberlie which stretch westwards until they drop sheer to the sea in breathtaking cliffs ranging from 500 to over 1200 feet.

Foula leaves a lasting impression on everyone who visits, for there is something very special about the island – it may be the quality of light, the natural beauty and remoteness, the community way of life or a combination of these. It is difficult to explain this intangible quality; we hope you find it for yourself.

Foula’s Natural Heritage

Foula’s natural heritage is exceptionally rich and diverse for such a small area.

The island has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – both for its flora and fauna, and for the geology of its dramatic coastline – and it is also a National Scenic Area, and a Special Protection Area (SPA) for birds.


The action of the sea on Foula’s layered sandstone has given rise to a number of dramatic and interesting features.

The breathtaking 1200 ft. sheer drop at the back of the Kame competes with Conachair in St. Kilda as the highest sea-cliff in Britain.

Gaada Stack’s three pillars tower 130ft. over the rugged north coast of the island with its stacks, steep-sided geos, and curving storm beach aptly named Da Stanes. The sheer sides of Da Sneck ida Smaallie, a dank dark rock fault over 100 feet deep, cut down to the sea at the west end of the Daal, giving access to teeming seabird colonies under the cliffs. The way down is treacherous and should not be attempted without an experienced guide.

The entrance to the Lum a’ Liorafield, on the other hand, has long been lost – superstition and tales of strange happenings surround the Lum, which was mentioned by Sir Walter Scott in his novel ‘The Pirate’. Myth also surrounds the healing properties of ‘da Watter ida Sneug’, a little spring under the north shoulder of the Sneug.

Flowers and Plants

In the long midsummer days, Foula’s wildflowers provide a glorious burst of colour. Sea-pinks carpet the areas of short maritime grass, and the blue vernal squill and golden-eyed tormentil make bright sweet-scented patches beyond. Marsh marigolds and wild orchids blossom into magnificent gold and purple in drains and wet lush areas, with white-tufted bog-cotton, sphagnum moss, sundew and crowberry making patterns across the moorland. A thriving area of greater tussock sedge can be found in the Nort Toons, which along with the abundant woodrush in the hills, is a remnant of plants associated with ancient woodlands.

Birds and Animals

Foula has great variety and numbers of sea and moorland birds, with many accessible habitats all over the island during the summer. The world’s largest colony of bonxies (great skua) competes fiercely with Arctic skuas for breeding territories, and kittiwakes and Arctic terns return annually to take up nesting sites. Every suitable small loch in the island is occupied by a pair of nesting red-throated divers, and the cliffs teem with puffins, guillemots, razorbills, shags, fulmars and gannets. Leach’s petrel, storm petrel, and Manx shearwater have also been found, and many shore and moorland birds including the dainty ringed plover nest in the stony places and amongst the bog grasses. During migration periods many unusual birds can be seen.

Foula is home to a unique sub-species of field-mouse, an island variety of house-mouse, rabbits, and hedgehogs. Both Atlantic grey and common seals haul up around the shore, and can be watched at close quarters in the Voe. Schools of killer whales have been seen close inshore and porpoises often follow the ferry.

Most of the sheep in Foula are the hardy original Shetland breed. Their great variety of coloured fleeces are much in demand by hand-spinners, ranging from the predominating moorit (brown) to fawn, grey, creamy white and black, and many have attractive markings. Friendly Shetland ponies roam the hills, and a cow and a few goats provide milk.


Strong winds and salt spray make crofting difficult in Foula - the crofts themselves average 5-6 acres. The hill grazing is good, but severe weather can prevent stock reaching market. Islanders seize every opportunity to wrest a livelihood from sea and land and any ancillary activity which offers. Most people keep hardy native Shetland sheep, and some islanders have Shetland ponies. Tourism and shell-fishing provide seasonal income, along with sales of sheepskins, hand-spun garments in natural coloured local wool, and the traditional Foula ganzy. The local smiddy sells wrought-iron work, as well as providing a service to the community.

Modern electronic communications have reduced geographical disadvantage, allowing some islanders to supplement their croft income with computer work.

History and Folklore

One of the stacks at the north end is called Da Broch - earlier this century there were remains of an old stone wall on top, but the arch fell in 1965. Very old maps of Foula call these stacks the ‘Priest Stacks’, or ‘Friar Rocks’, and round the coast is Simmons’s Heid (St Simon’s Head), all these names reminiscent of the spread of Christianity from Scotland.

Around 800A.D. Norsemen conquered Foula and took up residence in the fertile Hametoon, leaving us croft names like Norderhus, Krugali, and Guttren, and many descriptive Norse placenames round the isle. The grassy knowe outside the Hametoon dyke called Krukaitrin (Katherine’s shelter) reminds us of the tragic end of Katherine Asmunnder, the last Norse queen of Foula. After the Scots took over James IV’s dowry lands of Shetland and Orkney, Foula became part of a west Shetland estate.

The fire in the middle of the floor of the last inhabited black-house in Foula at Da Breckins went out in 1964. The Foula mailboat Island Lass was lost in 1962 and the population dropped to 27, but the remaining islanders were so determined to stay they built their own airstrip in the early 1970’s.


Foula’s rich culture is evident in the Norse dialect and placenames, and a strong tradition of folklore, music and special festivities. The Lord’s Prayer was still said in Norn in the Foula kirk at the end of the 19th century. Foula folk celebrate Christmas and New Year according to the feast-days of the old Julian calendar. The community celebrates Yule on January 6th and Newerday on January 13th. The whole way of life in the island is based on a strong tradition of caring community values, with many sharing co-operative working and an internal barter system.


The evacuation in 1930 of another Atlantic island, St Kilda, was immortalised in Michael Powell’s famous film, ‘The Edge of the World’ made in Foula in 1936, with many islanders taking part. A book and video about the film are available in Shetland. The splendid new community school is proof that Foula is not ‘another St. Kilda.’

Travelling to Foula

Foula lies about 20 miles to the west of the Shetland mainland. The small harbour is exposed, and the airstrip can be affected by crosswinds or fog, making both sea and air travel to Foula completely dependent on suitable weather conditions. Delays are sometimes unavoidable – it is strongly recommended that you check with the ferry or airline before you travel to the terminal.

By Sea

The SIC Foula ferry “New Advance” is based in the island. May to September the boat crosses from Foula to Walls and back on Tuesdays, alternate Thursdays, and Saturdays, the port of call being Scalloway every second Thursday. October to April crossings to Walls only are scheduled for Tuesdays and Thursdays. All sailings are weather permitting. Buses leave the Lerwick Viking bus-station at 12.30 arr. Walls 13.30 weekdays except Wednesdays.

By Air

During official ‘summer time’ Loganair Inter-island flights to Foula leave Tingwall Airport morning and afternoon every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with a single flight on Tuesday afternoons. In official ‘winter time’, single flights take place on every day of the week except Thursdays and Sundays, with some variations. Flights are dependent on weather conditions – phone airport booking office for up-to-date information.

Internal Island Transport – Some buses pass Tingwall Airport – a taxi is often the only option. There are no taxis or public transport in Foula.

Useful Information

Ferry Booking Office: Tel: 01595 753254, Daily update of information on ferry, Tel: 01426 986763
Air Booking Office: Tingwall Airport Tel: 01595 840246
Shops: No general store, craft shop at Breckins, school tuck shop (times on door)
Public Toilet: Airstrip
Places to Eat: Leraback, bookings only, Tel: 01595 753226
Post Office: Old Grups House, South of pier
Public Telephone: Red kiosk at Mogle near pier, Airstrip shelter
Church: Top of airstrip road
Medical Assistance: Resident Nurse Tel: 01595 753254 or 01595 753238,
Waas Doctor, Tel: 01595 809352