Archive for the ‘Walking’ Category

A walk to Da Lang Ayre, Shetland

10 September, 2020

Short version (long version below)

Start and finish
Collafirth Hill
Difficulty  Mostly “moderately challenging” but very challenging over crumbly and steep terrain for a small part
Distance From Collafirth Hill to Lang Ayre via the summit of Ronas Hill is 6.75km, according to my GPS.
Time needed 6-8 hours depending on your fitness and how long you linger at points of interest
Total Ascent  About 570m.

Weather forecast mostly sunny with light wind and that’s what we got, temperature about 12°.

Fairly easy going from Collafirth Hill, around the flanks of Roga Field and Midfield, and then over Grud Burn before the 100m or so of steeper ascent over the last ½ km to the summit.  Very rocky classic fellfield terrain with photogenic formations, colours and rare plants and insects.  Outstanding views of the whole of Shetland from the summit.

Easy going gently downhill NW to Burn of Monius though the terrain steepens sharply here, and a rope has been affixed, so one can hang on over the steep and crumbly final 50 metres or so.

Wow!  Lang Ayre is epic, an all-engulfing assault on the senses that must be experienced to be believed.  The walk from one end to the other and back to the start is over 4km.

The climb back up the rope and along the lower reaches of the stream needs care but isn’t difficult.  Climbing out of the gorge is hard work and this is followed by a slog back up the slopes of Ronas Hill.  It’s then easy going back to Collafirth Hill.


A walk to Da Lang Ayre – Long Version
It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post but a much, much longer period has passed since I last set eyes on Lang Ayre.  But last week my friend Jill and I had an epic day out there on one of the most amazing days of weather of late summer.  I had been meaning to go there and spend time on the beach for years but finding the right combination of time and weather had eluded me, even though I’ve set out that way a number of times, the most recent earlier this summer when, already over the summit of Ronas Hill, the weather suddenly turned and low cloud appeared from nowhere and then descended.  The back of Ronas Hill is not the place to be in such conditions so I retreated.

Most people set out from Collafirth Hill, as we did, which means the first 200m of elevation is done in the car, but beware, the track up the hill has some nasty potholes that merge in places on the lower slopes!  If you’re thinking of taking on this challenge this is what you need to know.

How difficult is it?  This depends on your age and fitness but most folk seem to describe it as “moderately challenging”.  But I would describe the scramble back up the steep ravine from Lang Ayre as “tough, frequent stops required” – but I’ve never liked steep terrain and it’s only that hard for about half an hour.  However, as we’ll see, a short section has a handy rope to hang on to, because it’s steep and crumbly, and we both found that helpful.
How far is it?  From Collafirth Hill to Lang Ayre via the summit of Ronas Hill is 6.75km, according to my GPS.  However, we walked a further 3.7km on the beach, (and we probably missed a good half mile or so to the north end).  So, by the time we got back to the car we’d walked 16.9km in total.
How long will it take?  We took just over 8 hours; but we spent half an hour at the top of Ronas Hill, and over 2 hours at Da Lang Ayre.  On the other hand, if you’re young and fit and don’t want to marvel at the epic beach formations, cliffs and stacks for hours, you could probably get there and back in 5 hours – but you would have completely missed the point of this walk.
Total Ascent?  About 570m.

Back to our walk.  This day the forecast promised great weather for the day and we were lucky because it turned out even better than we had hoped and, apart from a few scudding clouds, we had almost wall-to-wall sunshine with a gentle southerly breeze to keep us cool when climbing uphill.


I’ve been up Ronas Hill many times; I’ve enjoyed the view alone, with family and with friends.  I’ve been nearly blown over in the wind and more than once encountered sudden mist or low cloud.  I’ve been up on mid-summer “night” but not been fortunate enough to see both mid-summer sunset and sunrise on the same night, despite hoping to tick that one off for about 20 years!  It can be a bit of a trudge in places where the peat is hagged but it’s fairly easy going from Collafirth Hill, around the flanks of Roga Field and Midfield, and then over Grud Burn before the 100m or so of steeper ascent over the last ½ km to the summit.  It gets noticeably rocky here and stopping often on the way up to admire the classic fellfield terrain with its photogenic formations and colours, as well as the rare and beautiful (if tiny) plants and insects should not be missed in the rush for the top.


Once at the top we spent some time admiring the view, posing for a photo, and signing the visitors’ book before heading off roughly north-west towards Lang Ayre.  But what a view!  This day visibility was outstanding and, from the summit of Ronas Hill, we could see clearly Scantips on Fitful Head (over 80km south), the Noup of Noss, Foula, Papa Stour, Yell, Unst and even Muckle Flugga!  Remarkably, Fair Isle (about 120km) was also visible though, to be fair, I only identified it later, on my photographs; I couldn’t discern it with my naked eye at the time.


Most of the next hour was easy going gently downhill with Mountain Hare and Bonxies for company but as we approached the lower reaches of the Burn of Monius the terrain steepened sharply and we had to pick our route carefully, but the steep valley is a delight, with stunning views opening up as we neared the bottom.  As I mentioned, a rope has been affixed, so one can hang on over the steep and crumbly final 50 metres or so.  This isn’t too bad and if you’re fit enough to have reached here it will present no problem – but check my photo to see if this might cause issues for you.

Wow!  Lang Ayre is variously described as “epic”, “remote”, “my favourite place”, the “most amazing place in Shetland” and given many other accolades by those who make it here.  All of these are fully justified, but it’s truly an all-engulfing assault on the senses that also includes the sounds; the scale of the beach and cliffs; and the colours and textures of the rocks, the cliffs, the sand and the water.  After over 2 hours there I was still part in awe, part in shock and partly still in compete wonderment of how this place truly can be.


We walked to the far south-west end of the beach before setting out for the other end where the sun was shining during our visit – most of the southern half of the beach was in shade at this time.  The beach is mostly pebbly and stony though there are large sandy sections.  There are some substantial areas that are fairly level, but some sections are so steeply stepped that I wondered how it is possible for the pebbles to simply hang there as if glued together.  Certainly, strolling over 2 miles of mostly pebbly, often shifting ground becomes tiring so allow plenty of time to enjoy it all but, even then, you’ll be enchanted to go back, I’ve no doubt.  We didn’t make to the north-west end, but we weren’t worried by this – better to leave something new to explore next time!

The time had come to head back and climbing back up the rope and along the lower reaches of the stream was the easy bit; I found climbing out of the gorge hard work and I’ve never been a hill climber so I found it a slog almost all the way back up the slopes of Ronas Hill.  However, we didn’t go back to the summit; rather, we skirted round the side at the 350m contour, but even then it took about 90 minutes from sea level to the small loch at the head of Grud Burn, between Ronas Hill and Mid Field that signalled the start of our gradual descent back down to Collafirth Hill.