The Muckle Roe Light

When they restored the Muckle Roe light and reconstructed it down at Sumburgh Head for preservation, my Nana was delighted. She drove down to Sumburgh to see the new (but very old) attraction and returned in awe of this special piece of heritage. It turned out her Grandad had been the keeper, so as a child you can only imagine how fascinating this would have been to grow up hearing the stories and knowing your Grandad kept the many sailors safe from running aground. Below is a short clip which gives you an insight to the history of the light:

Peter Wood would have been my Great, Great Grandad. He, his wife and family lived on their croft at Little Ayre, Muckle Roe. The most idyllic, picturesque setting. Surrounded by pure Shetland beauty, tucked away at the very end of a long and winding track. With The Hams of Muckle Roe and the beautiful cliffs and beaches under the Burki banks, this patch of Shetland is quite exceptional. Many forget Muckle Roe is actually an island, connected by a small bridge in 1905.

The Hams of Muckle Roe is a special place to my family and whenever visiting family travel up to Shetland it’s always the first place they want to go. I guess that the historic connection to this beautiful corner of Shetland is still very much appreciated today. The Hams of Muckle Roe is from Old Norse and translates as the Havens (or Harbours) of the Big Red island.

Me at the Hams of Muckle Roe summer 2018

However, although I’ve been out to the The Hams a few times, I’d never been to the Muckle Roe light. The place my ancestor had walked out to day after day to light the paraffin light, committed to keeping the passing boats safe and well from the jagged, granite cliffs.

So when my friend Maurice mentioned he was planning a walk out to the light I was eager to join him.

Following Mid-Summer weekend, the nights remain light around the clock, so we set off after work to retrace the steps of my Great, Great Grandfather on what would have been his commute to work.

Setting off from the family home at Little Ayre we followed the path past the Muckle Ayre, a large red beach (where my Brother in Law to be proposed to my little sister) and then up the side of the cliffs which frame the beach towards the cairn on top of the hill. Here you get a lovely view over the Muckle Ayre beach and you can see the many paths that lead into the Hams circular.

Little Ayre, the family home. Still inhabited today by a cousin.

The Muckle Ayre on approach and from up on top of the hill:

A short pitch over the hill, we followed the ingrained path made by the many trips back and forth to the light, this makes it easier and more accessible to comfortably take this walk. When over the stile of the fence, the tops of the ornamental stacks of the Burki banks appear, but don’t pass them by! For those of you able and comfortable with leaving the path and carefully moving down closer to the edge of the cliffs, you will get the most spectacular view of this hidden, unspoiled red beach decorated by red granite stacks. I’d never seen or heard of this beach and was completely blown away with its surprise appearance. The formation of the beach is like a shade card, with the sand flowing form beige to red into the bright turquoise sea. I could have just stayed there and looked at this sight all night… but we needed to reach our destination!

After buxing back up from the cliff side though the heather, we reached the path to take us back on track to the light. Passing further along Burki hill to the Burki Skerries more ornamental stacks appeared along the coast line. But inland there is a spread of lochs as far as the eye can see. Gilsa Water and Muckla Water being the closest.

Up over another small broo led conveniently by the path you get a good view across to the uninhabited isle of Vementry where two six inch navel guns and magazine were placed in the First World War. The guns are still clearly visible standing hauntingly strong on the cliff top where they protected the entrance to Swarbacks Minn. This was used as an alternative overflow anchorage to Scapa Flow for the British Navy. Then just to the right, on a clear night the island Papa Stour stands very strong in the horizon and when dusk set we could see the house lights come on.

And then there she is… The Muckle Roe light. Now a modern, solar powered version, but still standing in the very view my Great, Great Grandfather would have seen as he made his way to maintain the original structure. Set between the Hole of Hellier which echoed loud with a variety of sea birds and the Murbie Stacks this light is located in the most beautiful setting.

When we reached the light, in the ruins of the old hut I set up my little kitchen and prepared dinner. As I chopped up the veg looking out across to Papa, I couldn’t help but notice how perfectly square the island sat framed by the window. Whoever built the hut MUST have had a fondness or connection to the isle. I have to say it made for an ideal location for ‘Leah’s culinary skills in the hills’ what an enjoyable view to cook and enjoy some Channerwick fillet steak from. (thank you Ewen and Emma)

An ideal Simmer Dim evening for ‘Leah’s Culinary Skills In The Hills’
Backing track: Maurice Henderson – Aandowin At Da Bow (traditional Shetland fiddle tune from Muckle Roe)

After taking my time to prepare the fillet steak with onions, mushrooms and tomato it was Simmer Dim bliss to sit on the cliff side spoiled with such a view. The evening was calm and the dusk light allowed for us to sit after dinner and enjoy a cup of tea out there in the wilds of Muckle Roe. I could have sat there all night, but it was now 10pm on a school night, so we wandered back to the car delighted with a lovely evening of amazing views and good food.

I highly recommend this walk. If like us you are just looking for a lightsome walk one evening it’s ideal, or you can do the full circular route and see more of this spectacular coast line. Out of all my walks I’ve done around and across Shetland I’ve never experienced so much variety compacted into a relatively short distance. There is literally never a point in which there is not something new to see. In 2 kilometres you are treated to two beaches, sea stacks, gorgeous red cliffs, lochs, wildlife, wild flowers, unique rock formation at the Hole of Hellier, history and heritage at the light, views over to the world war one guns, views over to the island of Papa Stour and the Vee Skerries. What more can one ask for in an after work wander? Jeez we are spoilt…

You can view the full photo album from the ‘Muckle Roe Light’ walk on the Shetland Islands with Leah Facebook page.