The isle of Mousa is a small, uninhabited bit of land off the east coast of Shetland’s South Mainland. Most famous for its beautifully preserved broch (stone tower), a cruise to Scotland’s Mousa Island also offers its travelers the chance to view a myriad of seabirds and marine mammals.
The Shetlands boast about 120 brochs, which were built in the Iron Age (600 BC to 500 AD), during a period of increasing unrest. Brochs are round stone towers that were used to provide short-term defense against invaders—or neighbors holding grudges. After 100 AD, these structures were probably used less for defense and more as status symbols. Over the years, many brochs were dismantled so that their stones could be used for other buildings. Due to its remote location, the Mousa Broch remained safe from such dismantling, making it the best-preserved example of its kind.
Mousa Broch stands almost 44 feet high, and is built with local quarried stone formed into two concentric stone walls. During your trip, take the spiral staircase built between the walls. It allows visitors to reach the top of the broch and walk around the top of the tower. Hundreds of storm petrels make their homes within the broch’s walls in the summer months, and after spending the days feeding out at sea, they return to their nests under the cover of darkness. Midnight excursions to watch and hear the storm petrels is a thrilling experience for anyone on a Scotland cruise to the Shetland Islands.
Other seabirds that breed on Mousa include fulmars, black guillemots, red-throated divers, great skuas, Arctic skuas, and Arctic terns. Beware of Arctic terns—they fiercely guard their territory, often dive-bombing those who disturb their nesting sites. The sea mammals that swim around the isle are less threatening to those enjoying travel in the region; harbor porpoises are common in the Mousa Sound, and are especially exciting to see in the summer when the young are born. Common seals also give birth in the summer, and those wanting to see seal pups should walk around to Mousa’s East and West Pools. Since both common seals and grey seals have become accustomed to visitors, it is possible to have a great view of these animals, and they should not be missed.