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Hillswick with Ronas Hill in the background
St Magnus Hotel in the background with Hillswick Church on the right
Hillswick was traditionally the centre of Northmavine life, from the days of the Hanseatic traders and probably before.
It is still the Northmavine bus terminus, and has a community owned shop, a seasonal vegetarian café, a smithy, photographic gallery, seal sanctuary and the Northmavine Health Centre. Along the road is the Hillswick Hall, scene of many concerts, games night and other events.
The historic St Magnus Bay Hotel provides tourist accommodation, bar facilities and a selection of local cuisine. Bed and breakfast and self-catering accommodation are available at various places in the Hillswick area.
Hillswick remains a prime draw for tourists, and its seafront car park offers lovely views and all important public toilets. The wide sweep of stony beach was once used for drying cod and ling. There is ample space for parking motorhomes overnight, and the nearby Hillswick Ness and West Ayre offer some of the most spectacular walking in Shetland.
Nearby is Eshaness, a wide headland with probably the best seascapes in the entire Shetland archipelago. The cliff walks from the lighthouse, which is available to rent as holiday accomodation, are legendary, and there are stunning geological formations to see, such as the Holes o' Scraada, and the Grind o' da Navir, Shetland's own Giant's Causeway.
The Eshaness community centre is a particularly welcoming local hall, with many events organised throughout the year.
Tangwick Haa is Northmavine's own museum, and is a fascinating way of journeying into the area's past.
Nearby is a modern café and caravan site offering teas, coffee, meals, snacks and alcoholic refreshments. Musical evenings are also a feature of the café. Mountain bike enthusiasts will find many enticing tracks nearby.
On the shores of Ronas Voe, Shetland's longest sea-loch or fjord, lies the scattered township of Heylor, with its extraordinary views of the deserted northern shore of Ronas Voe, and Ronas Hill, Shetland's highest point. The fine sand of The Blade, the beach at Heylor, is a popular spot for children to play and for adults to dig, in season, for spoots (razor clams) but the shingle shore to the north west of the ruined pier is, in summer, a nesting site for arctic terns or tirricks, and must be avoided. The birds will attack if you do walk there while they are nesting, and you may crush their eggs or kill their chicks.
Often ignored is the hilly expanse of moorland bordered by Heylor, Hillswick and Eshaness. This is a shame, as it harbours abandoned crofts, secret lochs, ancient burial sites, fantastic walking routes and much more. It is an easy, but rarely undertaken climb to the summit of the White Grunnafirth (a trig point and unexcavated tomb) from where virtually the whole of Northmavine is spread before you, assuming the day is fairly clear.
At the moment, Hillswick and Northmavine's biggest industry is probably agriculture. Tourism, however, must be number two. One such site of interest for visitors is the memorial known as the Hollanders? Grave, on the road between Heylor and Ollaberry. A short walk up the hill brings you to the site where the bodies of Dutch sailors, the crew of a privateer sunk by the Royal Navy, are buried. Anyone thinking of moving to the area should be aware that while housing is, by mainland standards, cheap, it is becoming more expensive by the year and properties rarely come on the market, either for purchase or long term rental. Education is, in common with the rest of Shetland, superb and the school at Urafirth is not only very modern, but houses the free nursery for the whole of Northmavine.
Photos of sunset & cliffs © Hans Stöteknuel, others © Fiona Cope
Read lots more about Hillswick and Eshaness on the HEARD website.