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Norse name Hvalsøy
Meaning of name whale island
Whalsay is located in Shetland
Whalsay shown within the Shetland Islands
OS grid reference HU560638
Physical geography
Island group Shetland
Area 1,970 hectares (7.6 sq mi)[1]
Area rank 36 [2]
Highest elevation Ward of Clett 119 metres (390 ft)[1]
Political geography
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Country Scotland
Council area Shetland Islands
Population 1,061[3]
Population rank 14 [2]
Population density 53.86 people/km2[3][1]
Largest settlement Symbister
References [4][1][5]

Whalsay (Old Norse: Hvalsey or Hvals-øy, meaning 'Whale Island')[4][6] is the sixth largest of the Shetland islands in Scotland.


File:Whalsay road from Symbister to Isbister.jpg
Road between Symbister and Isbister

Whalsay, also known as "The Bonnie Isle",[7] is a peat-covered island in the Shetland Islands. It is situated east of the Shetland Mainland and has an area of 7.6 square miles (20 km2). The main settlement is Symbister,[8] where the fishing fleet is based. The fleet is composed of both pelagic and demersal vessels. Other main settlements include Clate, Isbister, Sandwick, Saltness, Huxter, Challister, Marrister, North Park and furthest north is Skaw.

The island is fertile and fairly densely populated, with crofting taking second place to fishing as the main local industries.


Ferries sail from Symbister to Laxo and Vidlin on the Shetland Mainland. When normal service is in operation two ferries run a tandem service between Symbister and Laxo. Departure times from the two terminals are normally around every 35 minutes according to a timetable, with the crossing taking approximately 30 minutes. The two ferries currently in service are the Hendra and the Linga. The Vidlin terminal is used when the weather causes the crossing to Laxo to become too rough. The journey between Symbister and Laxo takes around 30 minutes, but can take slightly longer depending on the weather and tides.

The island also has an airstrip at Skaw which is used only for emergencies.


Skaw is home to the most northerly 18 hole golf course in the UK. There is a club house with adequate parking. Other sporting facilities on the isle are the Whalsay Leisure Centre, a snooker club and Harbison Park artificial sports field.

Sailing dinghies and Shetland model boats are popular, with an annual Whalsay Regatta, usually taking place in the last week of July. In recent times, the popularity of sailing has declined, with the number of participating boats decreasing with each passing year.

Whalsay has an amateur football club, as well as hockey and netball teams. These teams participate in Shetland leagues. Whalsay F.C.'s home ground is Harbison Park. In 2005, Whalsay F.C. took part in the Highland Amateur Cup, reaching the fourth knockout round. They beat Halkirk FC 2–0 in the 3rd round, but lost to Pentland Utd 2–1 in the 4th.


Attractions on the island include the Neolithic ruin of Benie Hoose[9] and the settlement of Sudheim where Hugh MacDiarmid[5][8] lived in the 1930s and early 1940s.

Media and the arts

Whalsay is the location for the 2011 novel Dancing with the Ferryman by Frankie Valente and is the main location of Ann Cleeves's novel Red Bones (Macmillan, 2009), the third of her Shetland quartet.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Haswell-Smith (2004) pp. 452–53
  2. 2.0 2.1 Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands >20ha in extent and 93 permanently inhabited islands were listed in the 2011 census.
  3. 3.0 3.1 National Records of Scotland (15 August 2013) (pdf) Statistical Bulletin: 2011 Census: First Results on Population and Household Estimates for Scotland - Release 1C (Part Two). "Appendix 2: Population and households on Scotland’s inhabited islands". Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Anderson, Joseph (Ed.) (1893) Orkneyinga Saga. Translated by Jón A. Hjaltalin & Gilbert Goudie. Edinburgh. James Thin and Mercat Press (1990 reprint). ISBN 0-901824-25-9
  5. 5.0 5.1 Ordnance Survey. Get-a-map (Map). 1:25,000. Leisure. Ordinance Survey. Retrieved 21 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]
  6. "Area guides – Whalsay". Visit Shetland. Retrieved 10 September 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Whalsay". Gazetteer for Scotland. Retrieved 4 October 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 Haswell-Smith (2004) pp. 454–55
  9. Calder, Charles C. (1960–61) "Excavations in Whalsay, Shetland 1954–5" (pdf) PSAS. Retrieved 12 August 2008.


External links

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