Scotland’s Beautiful Foula Island

Travelers enjoying a Scotland cruise should include a visit to the small island of Foula that lies 20 miles west of the Shetland Islands. Named after the Norse fugl ey, meaning ‘bird island,’ it is quite remote, and one of the only British Isles that has been permanently inhabited. Norsemen conquered the isle around 800 AD, leaving their influence in language—the local dialect is still strongly affected by Norse—and place names such as Norderhus, Krugali, and Guttren. However, after the islands were returned to Scotland by Norway in the 15th century, the Norse influence lessened. While the population in 1881 was around 250 people, it has dropped steadily in the past 100+ years, with the current population resting at just over 30.

Most people keep native Shetland sheep, while others have Shetland ponies. Tourism also makes up a substantial part of the economy, especially during the summer months when the weather is perfect for a Scotland cruise. The people sell sheepskins, handspun clothing made with local wool, and traditional Foula garments. Intricate wrought-iron work can be bought from the local smithy, who also provides his services to the community. The small number of islanders have created a close-knit community, and their way of life is based on strong values, cooperative working, and an internal barter system. This handful of people also follows a slightly different calendar year, as they remained with the Julian calendar when the rest of Great Britain switched to the Gregorian calendar in 1752. As such, they are 12 days behind the Gregorian calendar, celebrating Christmas on January 6 and New Year’s Day on January 13th.

Foula travel is beautiful in the summertime, as the days are long, and the flora and fauna thrive. Wildflowers such as sea pinks, blue vernal squill and golden-eyed tormentil carpet much of the land, while marsh marigolds and wild orchids bloom in lower, wetter areas. The moorland is sprinkled with white tufted bog cotton, sphagnum moss, sundew, and crowberry.

The island is famous for its great skua population, but visitors on a cruise of the region will also see Arctic skuas, kittiwakes, and Arctic terns battling for breeding sites. The small lakes (or lochs) scattered throughout the island are home to nesting red-throated divers, while the cliffs are the territory of thousands of puffins, guillemots, razorbills, shags, fulmars, gannets, petrels, and shearwaters. The bog grasses and stony pieces of land host a variety of shore and moorland birds, including such species as the ringed plover.

Small mammals like the field mouse, house mouse, rabbit, and hedgehog make their homes on Foula, with sea mammals such as grey seals, commons seals, porpoises and orcas swimming in the waters around the island.

The wildlife is diverse and beautiful, but the setting in which these plants and animals live is also spectacular. Five peaks jut up starkly from the land, while the highest cliffs in Shetland rise up majestically from the sea. Kame, the second highest cliff in Great Britain, reaches an impressive 1200 feet above sea level, with the three pillars of Gaada Stack towering 130 feet above the sea just off the north coast of the island.

Whether one enjoys travel to remote islands, bird watching, unique geological features, or simply taking in the natural scenery, the Isle of Foula has something to offer every visitor on their Scotland cruise.