With love from Shetland. By Gemma Laker, SEES President, Geology BSc (2024).

14 June 2024

With the North Sea flowing through my locks and the slightly tummy-churning movements of NorthLink Ferries also flowing through me, I pen our adventures from the last week. Dropping down in the granite city, we boarded the overnight ferry to Lerwick, successfully making it through with a grand total of zero bokers. 

In the spirit of Crowded House’s smash 1991 smash hit, we did indeed take the weather with us. In a miraculous turn of events, Shetland welcomed us with blue skies and blasting heats blessing us practically all week, with unheard highs of scorching 21°C a good half of us getting some form of sunburn - owing to our hubris over suncream use.

NorthLink Ferries gentle wake up at 6am gave us the whole day to comfortably move into our hostel, explore Lerwick, and start prepping our mind, body, and spirit for all the geological wonders we were going to see.


Day 0 Lerwick

On the bonnie banks of Lerwick

Day 0 GeolSoc Committee go BOOMGeolSoc committee blast off in Lerwick

Below, I summarise the highlights of our field days below, alongside corresponding photographs:

DAY 1- Just when we thought we couldn’t get any more ferries, we got not 1, not 2, not even 3, but 4 ferries in one day to the wonderful wee islands of Yell and Unst. Highlights of this include getting questioned by the Ministry of Defence for mild to moderate geological trespassing, standing between oceanic and continental plates, and collecting enough serpentine and chromite samples to cover my Christmas and birthday gifts for the next decade.

Day 1 Geowall

Group photo against Shetland Geowall

Day 1 Big Plates.

The Boundary between oceanic and continental crust, as well as the connection between SEES figureheads

Day 1 Serpentine

Fantastic example of serpentine


DAY 2- On a trip surrounded by ig-met-pet heads, I had hidden my secret of being a sedimentologist, until I could no longer hide my shameful identity upon inspecting some of the nicest conglomerates I have ever seen. These conglomerates, interlaced with low-angle cross-bedded sandstones, put the Arbroath cliffs to shame (sorry Catherine Rose). Just when the day couldn’t get any better, we got to rub noses with an impressive black smoker deposit, as colourful as a Dulux brochure. This had been mined in the past, but locals added copper coins to the yield to create the illusion of profitability because they had so much fun mining it and didn’t want the mining companies to pull out and take away their new-found hobby of hitting rocks (they also probably didn’t want investment into the local economy to go away, but historians remain in debate about this (with me)). The day ended in a delightful swim and/or wide-open-mouthed stare in St Ninians Bay, housing the UK’s largest tombolo and crystal clear waters.

Day 2 Conglomerate

Cracking conglomerate and braided channels

Day 2 Black Smoker

Black smoker bliss

Day 2 St Ninians

St Ninians Tombolo


DAY 3- Demolishing the north-south divide of Shetland, we sped up the map to the North of the island, inspecting and touching the Walls boundary fault, which is an extension of the Great Glen fault on mainland Scotland- very cool. Later we had ice creams over varve deposits, saw some very lovely pyroclasts around Eshaness Cliffs, all topped off with some tourist-priced car park fish and chips.

Day 3 Touching the Fault

We touched the Walls Boundary Fault!

Day 3 Walls Boundary FaultLovely beach housing the WBF

Day 3 Eshaness Cliffs

The blocky cliffs of Eshaness


Day 4- Igneous and metamorphic rocks were not my favourite ones throughout my studies, however the rocks seen on this day got even me twitching. Inspecting some massive Augen gneisses, a fantastic example of boudinage, and varying and beautiful pebbles on a marble beach, I will let the pictures speak for themselves. I let down my prideful gauntlet of sedimentary bias and embrace the rock cycle for all the beauty it creates.

Day 4 Augen Gneiss Samples

Stocking fillers galore

Day 4 Augens

The Augens are looking you in the eye!

Day 4 Boudinage

Sausage roll boudinage

Day 4 Beach Fold

Fold it up


DAY 5- who would of thought that geologists like things bar staring at rocks? Our last day included a highly cultured perusing of an archaeological site called Jarlshof, which houses evidence of human civilisation over 4000 years. The afternoon was spent with the group splitting off into final things we wanted to do before being pulled back to the responsibilities of the mainland- from fish fossil finding, bird spotting, and the most comfortable option of sitting on bums consuming coffee and cake whilst looking over puffin-clad cliffs- it was a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our wonderful time in Shetland.

Day 5 Jarlshof

Ancient settlement of Jarlshof

Day 5 Puffin Cliffs

Puffin HQ


Summed up, I would recommend Shetland to any rock licker or nature appreciator, the landscapes were beautiful and the (human and geological) history intriguing and detailed. Disclaimer that I have not been paid off by any tourist board here, just had a brill time.

Big shoutout to the GeolSoc sub-committee for organising the trip (Nina Brendling, Aithne Lawrence, Tesni Morgan, Stuart Munro, Jodie Sutherland, and myself), with special appreciation for Jodie for leading this and getting all the local support and knowledge. Additional thanks to Robina and Alan for being our glamourous geological guides, NorthLink Ferries, and for the love of puffins.