Star.pngStar.pngStar.pngStar.pngStar grey.png


From Roader's Digest: The SABRE Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Location Map ( geo)
Cameraicon.png View gallery (11)
From:  Hillside, Mainland (HU408637)
To:  Haroldswick, Unst (HP635119)
Distance:  41.9 miles (67.4 km)
Meets:  A970, B9076, B9081, B9082, B9084, B9086, B9087
Former Number(s):  B9077, B9081, B9080, B9082, B9085, B9084
Old route now:  B9081
Highway Authorities

Shetland Islands

Traditional Counties


Route outline (key)
A968 Hillside – Toft
A968 Yell Sound Ferry
A968 Ulsta – Gutcher
A968 Bluemull Sound Ferry
A968 Belmont – Haroldswick
This article is about the current A968 from Hillside to Haroldswick.
For the original A968, from Lerwick to Sumburgh, see A968 (Lerwick - Sumburgh)

The A968 is Britain's northernmost A-road and includes two ferry crossings (Toft-Ulsta and Gutcher-Belmont) as part of its route. It also has Britain's northernmost TOTSO at Baltasound. Despite being so far north, this road passes one of Britain's most famous bus stops. 'The Bus Shelter' was decorated by local children and sits on the corner of the A968 and the Little Hamar Road on the northeastern edge of Baltasound on Unst.




The road starts in Hillside, on the west coast of Shetland Mainland, nearly 20 miles north of the island capital of Lerwick, where it turns off the A970. Heading almost due north the road initially climbs away from the coast through the village, before dropping back to the valley floor. It then crosses the low watershed and continues north through another small valley. Owing to the indented coastline of Mainland the east coast is met after only a couple of miles and the road turns north east to run along the north side of Dales Voe. The road is cut into a narrow ledge on the vertiginous hillside, climbing as it goes, with the steep drop to the Voe protected by a crash barrier. The road levels out at around 100m above the water on the slopes of the Hill of Swinister and then bends to the left before running out of land.

After cutting through a narrow pass the A968 descends to cross the Burn of Firth and meet the B9076, which continues west towards Sullom Voe. The A968, meanwhile, bends sharply right then left on the edge of Firth & Mossbank villages. The old ferry pier for Yell was in Mossbank itself but the route now climbs between low hills as it continues north, before descending to sea level again at Toft. The route then runs out on a short causeway to the ferry terminal which was built on a man made island in the 1950s.


Crossing Yell

A 20-minute crossing on the Yell Sound Ferry brings the A968 to Ulsta, on the island of Yell. There are two possible routes from here to the island "capital" of Mid Yell and the other route, the B9081 turns off to the right before leaving Ulsta to head east. The A968 itself continues north following the island's west coast. The terrain is not as steep as on Mainland - but there is still quite a hill on the east side of the road as it passes the scattered community of West Yell. Beyond the village, the road crosses open country, a bleak moorland landscape without trees, bushes or any signs of life except the ribbon of tarmac stretching ahead. At times it is fairly obvious that the road was once narrower and more winding, with sections of abandoned tarmac visible in places.

After a couple of miles the route reaches West Sandwick which merits its own bypass; running a short distance to the east of the scattered village. As the minor road comes in from the left once more, the A968 bears right to cross the centre of the island which, from the road at least, appears remarkably flat. This section is a long slightly sinuous straight, undulating across the bleak moorland, and offers excellent visibility towards the head of Whale Firth, although the water is hidden by a slight rise. Beyond the Firth, the road cuts across a narrow neck of land to Mid Yell Voe where the B9081 comes in from the right once again, having passed through the small village of Mid Yell.

The A968 then turns northwards and follows a meandering road between the hills and so avoiding the winding coastline, before descending to the sea at Basta Voe. A short detour is necessary round the northern edge of the inlet to reach the tiny village of Sellafirth on the eastern shore, although a modern causeway has reduced the detour. After passing through Sellafirth, the road heads east between low hills, again cutting off the corner where the coastline takes a longer route. The B9082 turns off to the left at the entrance to Gutcher, while the A968 drops down to the next ferry pier.


The Bluemull Sound Ferry, takes about 10 minutes to get to Unst, the northernmost inhabited island in the UK. It lands in the tiny village of Belmont, from where the A968 heads northeastwards, slowly curving around Gallow Hill. Unlike the other two islands, the road prefers to remain inland on Unst and snakes its way through the middle of the island. A short sharp climb lifts the road from the Loch of Snarravoe through a gulley at the north end of Gallow Hill, from where it drops down to the junction with the short B9084, which turns off to reach the south coast. The A968 continues north running along what appears to be a central valley - the A968 remains fairly flat and straight although hills can be seen some distance away on both sides. There are very few properties along this stretch of the road, although a left turn leads out to the west coast

Baltasound in the wet

After passing the Loch of Watlee (which is barely visible from the road), the route starts to climb again and skirt the Hill of Caldback before descending along a spur to reach the scattered village of Baltasound. Here the modern improvements encountered further south on the route seem to run out and a series of sharp bends connect longish straights. The route runs to the east of the Valhalla Brewery and the secondary school then TOTSOs right to pass the church to round the western end of Balta Sound itself and reach what passes for the village centre. The road then bends to the left to reach a T-junction where it TOTSOs right (ignoring these two TOTSOs perhaps leads to a quicker route).

A dead-straight road to the east ends at a sharp bend left next to the famous bus shelter, where the road turns north past a small industrial estate and so leaves the village behind. This is the final stretch, as the road climbs again, curving round the rocky Muckle Heog hill, running above the shore of Harolds Wick. The winding descent is perhaps the twistiest section of the A968 on Unst but it straightens out again just in time for the road to narrow. The A968 descends towards the sea, bearing left rather late, to reach Haroldswick, another village named after the inlet of the sea. The A968 ends without ceremony at the junction where the B9087 turns off to the right and the village centre and the B9086 continues ahead to Burrafirth.


Something which must surely be a mapping error is the indication of the A968 running between Balmoral and Ballater along the southern bank of the River Dee. This is marked on the c1925 Bartholomew's Half Inch sheet 16, and presumably means the B968.

More seriously, the current A968 came into being after World War II, at some point between 1946 and 1951. It took over the B9077 on Mainland, ending at the Mossbank pier. It then crossed Yell on the B9080 to Cullivoe and continued across Unst via the former B9085 and B9084. By the mid-1950s the road had been moved to make use of the current ferry piers. It was diverted from Mossbank to Toft on Mainland. On Yell the detour was longer - instead of taking the direct route from Basta Voe to Cullivoe where the ferry had previously sailed from, the road swapped numbers with the B9082 leading to Gutcher. Although the route on Unst remained unchanged. More recently, the route across Yell was again changed and swapped with the B9081 so as to run via West Sandwick rather than Burravoe as it did before. It is this route which has been improved and which gives the A968 we see today.

When first classified in the late 1940s / early 1950s, the route was probably largely single track, and possibly not even fully surfaced. It has therefore seen substantial improvements over the last 70-odd years, with several notable realignments as follows. Full investigation on site has not been undertaken along the route.


On the mainland, a loop of old road survives to the east of the current road just north of Voe village, and a couple of further loops can be identified in the field beyond this. Above Dales Voe, there is some evidence of a road lower on the hillside on aerial photography, although this may prove to be a farm track. A couple of bends have then been eased, including the bend where the road turns north at the end of the Hill of Swinister, with the old road easily identifiable behind the barrier in each case. As noted above, the A968 originally ran to Mossbank Pier, but was diverted to Toft in the 1950s by upgrading a former unclassified road. A couple of gravel laybys probably show the line of the old road.


The A968 on Yell in 1956

The route across Yell has been much more substantially improved offline. The village of Unsta has been bypassed - the A968 originally passed through the village when it was moved to the west side of the island. A loop of old road can then be spotted on the east side of the road below Evra Houll at the north end of West Yell. The West Sandwick bypass realignment starts at the Burn of Roo about a mile south of the village, with a loop to the east and then a long parallel section of abandoned road leading to the village road. The old road then kept ahead, using the eastern of the two routes out of the village. A lengthy loop of old road then lies on the west side of Lunga Water, and as the A968 continues east, the old road can be seen on one side or the other for most of the next two miles.

The junction with the B9081 has been improved, and of course this shows the original horseshoe bend on the A968 before the two routes were swapped. Another loop of old road survives to the east between the junctions for Camb and Basta, and then a series of pieces of old road can be seen at Colvister. The A968 then originally ran up to the head of the Voe at Dalsetter, where the old bridge has collapsed, and continued over the hill to Cullivoe. This old road appears to survive as a badly potholed and unmaintained track. It is single track throughout, with few if any passing places in evidence on aerial photography and no longer appears to be suitable for traffic, although it is marked as an alternative route of the cycle route NCN1. It meets the B9082 / B9083 at the head of Culli Voe, where it is signed for Dalsetter with a red warning sign stating 'Poor Road Condition - Suitable for off-road vehicles only'! This section is only shown as the A968 in the early 1950s, the route swapping with the B9082 to Gutcher by 1955. The ferry to Unst had moved from Cullivoe to Gutcher many years earlier, so the routing of the A968 to Cullivoe may even be a mapping error.

Back on the current route of the A968, there are a series of old road sections to be found past Sand Water and below Sandwater Hill. The road has then also been diverted to the new pier, the ferry originally sailing from the old stone pier.


Finally, on to Unst, where most improvements to the route appear to be online. Belmont has been bypassed and there are a couple of loops of old road before the B9084 junction, which has also been realigned. However, as the road continues north there is little more than the occasional hint at an older road line. The first two sharp bends as the road enters Baltasound have been eased a little, but the route through the village shows less evidence of any improvements. The final stretch has a couple of laybys which suggest a slight realignment, but that is all.


Unst Bus Shelter

Related Pictures
View gallery (11)
Bluemull Sound Ferry.jpg'Steaming road' at Swinister (C) Mike Pennington - Geograph - 1907063.jpgSwinister- orphaned segment of the A968 - Geograph - 2632475.jpgSheep pund beside Loch of Snarravoe - Geograph - 1483248.jpgRoad Closed - Geograph - 5562449.jpg
Other nearby roads
A900 • A901 • A902 • A903 • A904 • A905 • A906 • A907 • A908 • A909 • A910 • A911 • A912 • A913 • A914 • A915 • A916 • A917 • A918 • A919

A920 • A921 • A922 • A923 • A924 • A925 • A926 • A927 • A928 • A929 • A930 • A931 • A932 • A933 • A934 • A935 • A936 • A937 • A938 • A939
A940 • A941 • A942 • A943 • A944 • A945 • A946 • A947 • A948 • A949 • A950 • A951 • A952 • A953 • A954 • A955 • A956 • A957 • A958 • A959
A960 • A961 • A962 • A963 • A964 • A965 • A966 • A967 • A968 • A969 • A970 • A971 • A972 • A973 • A974 • A975 • A976 • A977 • A978 • A979
A980 • A981 • A982 • A983 • A984 • A985 • A986 • A987 • A988 • A989 • A990 • A991 • A992 • A993 • A994 • A995 • A996 • A997 • A998 • A999

Defunct Itineries: A920 (Perth) • A920 (Banff) • A921 (Perth) • A921 (Fife) • A922 • A949 • A951 • A968 • A982

SABRE - The Society for All British and Irish Road Enthusiasts
Discuss - Digest - Discover - Help