Shetland is not known for wide, sweeping rivers and most of the waterways – known as burns [streams] – you could easily traverse by jumping across or hop-scotching over on stepping stones.
Despite this, there’s no better way to escape from the world – and the wind – than spending an afternoon following the course of a burn. The last Ice Age that retreated about 10,000 years ago has left many scars on the landscape, and among these, some of the best places to see the power of glacial meltwater are in the burns that run like veins through the peaty hillsides connecting lochs and bogs before making their way down to the sea.
One of my favourites and one that is seldom explored is the Burn of Valayre in Delting.
How to get there
From Lerwick, follow the A970 north to Brae. Just before the supermarket, take the B9076 towards Sullom Voe. Follow the road for a few miles, and just before you reach the Voxter Outdoor Centre, you’ll spot a small, unassuming clump of shrubby trees (on the right) and a gate signposted ‘Burn of Valayre’. There’s space to park off the road, and this is the start point of the walk.
The Burn of Valayre
You almost immediately come to a large, secluded waterfall and plunge pool from the start of the walk. This is the perfect place to stop and have a dip if you want to feel the icy cool water brought down from the boggy hills surrounding it.
The burn itself is lined with an array of shrubs and trees, planted as part of the Shetland Woodland’s scheme, a tree-planting enterprise managed by the Shetland Amenity Trust. The species here are alder, aspen, birch, hazel, rowan and willow – all native to the islands and at one time would have provided substantial ground-covering.
Most burns in Shetland are pretty gentle and have not carved out significant faults in the landscape. However, the Burn of Valayre is steep-sided, lying at the foot of a deep gorge and carved out by fast-flowing water under pressure beneath the ice when it melted during the last period of glaciation about 10,000 years ago.
This is one of the reasons why, in some parts of the burn, we find relict trees still clinging precariously to the steep, rocky sides. The burn itself is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) due to its hectare of native trees and the relict examples of rowan, dogrose and honeysuckle that cling bravely to the steep slopes.
There’s a rough path that leads up the burn and, due to the steep sides on either side, it has its own little microclimate protected from the wind – it’s the perfect place to stop, kick off the hiking boots, unpack a picnic and relax in the sun.
You might want to look through the shingly gravel deposited by the water in parts of the burn. But don’t be fooled, this is not gold or silver! The shiny stone comes from the Valayre gneiss that outcrops in this area, along a geographical boundary fault. Valayre Gneiss is a metamorphic rock – a 925 million-year-old band of rock that has been transformed by heat and pressure and contains unusual and distinctive large crystals (megacrysts) of feldspar.
You can spend as much time here as you like – if you’re feeling fit, you can make your way up to the top of Skella Dale and enjoy panoramic views across Delting and beyond, or, like us, you can simply relax in the shelter of the banks-broo, gather shiny stones, fire up the camping stove and while away the afternoon.
Did you know?
The hill that lies to the south of Valayre, feeding the burn, is called the Gallow Hill. In the past, each parish of Shetland had its own area of execution – or gallows – where people were put to their death for alleged crimes, including witchcraft. Place-name evidence shows that there were no less than 14 Gallow Hills in Shetland. They were used as places of execution until about 1600, when trials were moved to the Scalloway Castle.
Written By Laurie Goodlad