|Location Map ( geo)
|71.4 miles (114.9 km)
|A969, A971, A968
|B9071, A968, A969, B9078, B9079
|Route outline (key)
The A970 is unusual in having two lengthy spurs from the mainline (looking north-south), one leading from Bridge of Fitch to Scalloway, and one from Sandy Lochs to Hillswick. Neither of these existed in 1922 when the route was first classified, leading to an interesting history. Today the A970 runs most of the length of the Shetland Mainland and for most of the way it is a good quality single-carriageway (S2) road. The A970
Sumburgh - Lerwick
The road starts at Grutness which is at the Southern end of the island near Sumburgh Airport. It (and the preceeding A969) has had a variety of start points near here over the years, but today seems to start at the junction a little to the south of the Fair Isle Ferry terminal on Grutness Voe. The road then curves round the southern end of the runway and runs along above the beach on the Western side of the airport. This sees it run parallel to one of the runways for about half a mile before it curves away to the west. After passing the turning for Scatness, the road curves north along the shore once more and crosses the end of the other runway (traffic crossing the runway is controlled by wig-wag lights). Just beyond the airport a rare Allen-Williams turret can be seen in the field at the left hand side of the road – Shetland has many reminders from World War II.
A left turn leads into the small village of Toab, then right turns serve the scattered village of Exnaboe, but the A970 heads north, climbing steadily up and over Ward Hill, passing only a couple of roadside houses. A long straight leads across moorland fields to the next collection of settlements which stretch out along the side roads, while the A970 passes through the small village of Boddam, where the B9122 turns off. If the weather is clear you will see the very large dishes of the old NATO Tropo Scatter station, now used for communications with oil platforms and signed from the road as THRS (Trans-Horizon RetroScatter), on the hilltop at Scousburgh to the north. There are no restrictions on driving up this road and there is an excellent view from the top from where, on a clear day, the coast of Orkney can just about be seen.
The A970, meanwhile, climbs a little across the lower slopes of the Ward of Scousburgh, dipping slowly as it bypasses Levenwick. It then starts to wind its way around Channerwick, meeting the other end of the B9122 as it slowly loses height. A short straight takes it north above the Burn of Channerwick, and then the road sweeps round to the west and up the hill, climbing quite steeply. From the summit, a long undulating descent drops the road back to the east coast, passing a couple of turnings leading to the scattered villages to the south as well as the ferry terminal for Mousa, home to the famous Broch. After a brief run along the shore, the road heads inland once more, passing through Bremirehoull and Cunningsburgh, and passing the fringes of the neighbouring settlements. The village of Fladdabister is bypassed, with the road again high on the hillside, offering stunning views across to the cliffs of Bressay.
There was very heavy rain in September 2003 and there were landslides near Levenwick and Cunningsburgh. The road was closed for some time and contractors were still working in the area in June 2004 probably stabilising the slopes above the road to reduce the risk of it happening again.
Further north the road curves through the village of Quarff, from where a side road leads through the shallow valley to Wester Quarff on the west coast, barely 2 miles away. The road then passes between the Loch of Brindister and a quarry before bypassing Gulberwick, where the B9073 turns left and cuts across to one of the A970 spurs leading to Scalloway. Lerwick then comes into view from the summit of the hill, as the road dips down past Sandy Loch and enters the suburbs of this growing town.
Lerwick - Scalloway
The A970 works its way into Lerwick along South Road, crossing the first roundabout and then turning left at the second, near the Loch of Clickminnin, from where the A969 continues ahead into the town centre. The A970 route no longer runs through the centre of town, but instead runs around the west side of town on Lochside, passing the High School and Leisure Centre at the north end of the loch. After crossing another roundabout, the A970 meets the further end of the A969 at a mini roundabout where it turns left onto North Road. It quickly sweeps round onto Holmsgarth Road which heads north past the modern harbour facilities and Lerwicks Industrial area. This is also home to the island's main ferry port, where the Aberdeen and Kirkwall ferries arrive, sheltered by Bressay less than a mile across the Sound.
The port facilities continue north along the coast, but the A970 sweeps westwards and climbs inland between the Hill of Tagdale and the Hill of Dale. It then dips down to the Bridge of Fitch, where the first spur leads off the mainline. This is where the A970 originally started, so lets follow the spur as it turns south and slowly climbs through the shallow valley. The B9073 joins this spur to the mainline as noted above, as the road turns west to the summit below a quarry. Scalloway then appears ahead, with the road negotiating a wide U-bend to ease it down the hill. A short multiplex with the B9074 lies at the head of the Voe, and then the spur follows New Rod into the centre of the small port town. A mini roundabout turns the route onto the narrow Main Street, which curves around the head of the bay. A couple of detached villas enjoy the view, but the general impression is of a working harbour. The spur comes to an end at the junction of Hillside Road, near the western pier, approximately three miles from Bridge of Fitch.
Bridge of Fitch - Hillside
The junction with the spur at Bridge of Fitch is, perhaps unsurprisingly, laid out in favour of traffic continuing north, the road climbing past the golf course and over the ridge between Burra Dale and Hill of Herrislee. It then sweeps down around the village of Veensgarth, meeting the north end of the B9074 along the way, before reaching the A971, which heads off to the west near the small Lerwick (Tingwall) Airport. Like the A970, the A971 also splits into two routes, both numbered A971. Despite its central location, Tingwall Airport is a very small one, and it is Sumburgh at the south end of Shetland which is the main airport for the islands. A long straight section then heads nearly due north, undulating across the landscape for over two miles, before some gentle bends take it around the head of Wadbister Voe.
The tiny settlement of Girlsta is the first sign of houses along the roadside since Lerwick, except a couple of isolated properties, but it is soon passed as the road continues north up the west shore of the Loch of Girlsta, one of Shetland's larger freshwater lochs. At the north end of the loch, the B9075 turns right to South Nesting, and then the two routes multiplex north for just over a mile before the B9075 turns left to Weisdale. For the next five miles, the road winds northwards through Petta Dale, often cut into the steep hillside on the east side of the valley. After passing the small Petta Water, the road reaches a summit of around 100m before dropping more steeply down to the Loch of Voe. The B9071 has a short multiplex along the loch's western shore to the village of Voe, from where the A970 continues north to Hillside, where the A968 turns off, heading for the Isles of Yell and Unst.
Hillside - Hillswick
From Hillside, the A970 winds westwards along the north shore of the Olna Firth. This is the first time the route has met the west coast since Sumburgh, but it does not mean that the east coast has been left completely behind! It leaves the shore behind briefly as it curves below the Hill of Wethersta, a side road leading to the tiny village, and then drops back to the coast as it approaches Brae. Brae is one of Shetland's larger villages, having grown as a centre serving the oil terminal of Sullom Voe to the north. It is situated on a narrow isthmus between Busta Voe and Sullom Voe, both inlets of the sea, meaning that all traffic for the north west Mainland has to pass through Brae.
At the western end of the village, a left turn leads over a bridge to Muckle Roe, while the A970 curves around the head of Sullom Voe (east coast), crosses the even narrower isthmus of Mavis Grind and then winds through Isleburgh to the shores of Mangaster Voe (west coast). At Mavis Grind, Hollywood style letters on a rocky outcrop declare 'Welcome to Northmavine', which is derived from the old Norse and refers to the part of the mainland north of Mavis Grind. Beyond Mangaster, the A970 winds northwards between the hills without seeing either shore for several miles. Side roads lead out to the coastal settlements, but there are only a couple of industrial / agricultural sites on the roadside itself. Along the way, the road runs along the shores of a string of lochs lying in the shallow valley floor.
The A970 splits again at the Sandy Lochs, below the Hill of Orbister. The right fork continues north to the far north of Mainland, while the left fork, which gets priority, turns to the west and climbs over the hills before dropping down into the small village of Urafirth. After curving around the head of the Firth, the road runs south west, never far from the coast, to Hillswick where it ends, approximately 4 miles from Sandy Lochs. About half way between the two villages, the B9078 turns right and heads west to serve the scattered communities of Esha Ness, but the minor roads at Hillswick only continue short distances through the village.
Sandy Lochs - Isbister
As noted above, the junction at Sandy Lochs gives priority to the Hillswick Spur, but the longer arm of the A970 continues north, past a car park and over a cattle grid before dropping to single track. Apart from a couple of short section, it is now single track to the end at Isbister. It winds northwards across the hillside, then meanders around the eastern side of Eela Water, passing the junction with the B9079 to Ollaberry. It then drops down to Swinister at the head of Ronas Voe (west coast), before winding across to Collafirth (east coast). Both settlements are tiny, and so scattered that they almost merge together! Collafirth Hill with a fine viewpoint at the top rises up on the west side of the road, itself a shoulder of the highest hill on the Shetlands, Ronas Hill. A steep, unmaintained road leads up to the viewpoint which again gives excellent views in clear weather.
A short section of S2 then leads around the steep hillside to cross The Brig over the Burn of Roerwater and past the harbour. Heading north again, the road crosses the hillside above the small village of Housetter, then winds between hills to Burra Voe, curving around its shore to the village of North Roe, the most northerly village on Shetland's Mainland. The last mile of the A970 leads to Isbister, where the road simply ends at a turning head in front of the farm gates. This is the most Northerly end of the A970 and about 64 miles from Grutness at Sumburgh, its most southerly end.
In 1922, the A970 only ran the 20-odd miles from Bridge of Fitch (west of Lerwick) north to Brae. The other parts of the road were numbered as the A968 and A969 to the south and west of Lerwick, and as B roads at the further extremities of the route. The B9071 continued south from the A968 to Sumburgh and was renumbered as part of the A968 before 1932. All of the A968 and most of the A969 were then renumbered as southern extensions to the A970 between 1946 and 1951, including the spur to Scalloway.
North of Brae, the road to Hillswick was originally numbered as the B9078, with the lengthy branch up to Isbister from the junction at Sandy Lochs being the B9079. Again, both of these B roads were renumbered as part of the A970 before 1932, and probably in the mid 1920s, which, as with the A971 meant the route had an unusually early spur, especially given the length of either arm from Sandy Lochs. The end result being that the A970 has four ends and two lengthy spurs. Since then, and particularly since the development of North Sea Oil, the A970 has seen many substantial improvements as follows.
Sumburgh - Lerwick
The B9071, A968 and possibly the A970 all originally started at the entrance to the hotel at Sumburgh, but the construction of the airport has changed things substantially in the area. The old road now lies roughly underneath the runway as it heads north west, meeting its current line roughly at the Pool of Virkie Junction. The construction of the airport had, by the mid 1950s (when the airport is first shown on maps), moved the road onto its current shore route, but the loop at the south end and the runway crossing are the result of a later runway extension. A couple of maps suggest that the A970 extended to the Fair Isle ferry pier, but this may be due to the small scale.
North of the airport, the road is mostly an online upgrade, although a couple of loops of old road lie to the east before the Fleck junction, followed by the faint line of the old road in the narrow field to the west of the road before Dunrossness crossroads. The bits of old road around this junction don't appear to have ever formed part of the A970 or its predecessors, which passed straight through as the A970 still does. The B9122 junction has been completely rebuilt, with bits of the old road surviving at the top of the bank to the east. A couple of miles further north, as the road approaches the first junction for Levenwick, there is a long improved section with a sloping cutting on the up hill side. It is clear that the road has been cut into the hillside here, easing the curvature of the bend, but there is precious little evidence of the old road surviving on the downhill side.
The northern Levenwick Junction has been improved, with the old road visible to the east of the new, and there are a few hints at the older road as it curves around the end of the Hill of Gord. The old bridge at the B9122 junction survives, showing the much tighter turn that traffic used to have to negotiate. The old road can also be seen at the bridge over the Burn of Claver, and again a little to the north at Channerwick. As the road starts the climb up from Sandwick, a long series of old road loops begin, first on one side, then the other, and for the next three and a bit miles down to the coast the road is almost entirely on a new alignment, removing the winding nature of the old road whilst cuttings and banks help to ease the gradients. On the final descent, the old road has been retained as laybys while most of the other sections are cut off or gated at either end.
As the road runs through the villages of Cunningsburgh, several sections of old road can be seen lying alongside the new, mostly retained as driveways and the like. Then, for the full length between the two turnings for Fladdabister, the old road is still open, lying a little down the hillside from the new road which has again been cut into the hillside. Half a mile further north, another lengthy section of old road survives to the west of the new road, although it has been severed before the final loop serving houses at the north end. The old road then survives as the village road at Quarff, looping to the north west of the modern line, followed by a short loop to the south. Another section of old road lies to the west at the Loch of Brindister, with the old road then lost under the Quarry works to the east.
From the southern entrance to Gulberwick, the old road can first be seen to the west, then the east, before it turned off up the B9073. It then forked right and meandered around a big loop over the Burn of Wick, most of which remains in use as a farm track. The old road then crosses the new and meanders along to the south of the modern A970 all the way to the entrance to Lerwick.
Lerwick - Scalloway
The original route of the A970 through Lerwick (from the 1950s) saw it use King Harald Street, much closer to the town centre. This had previously been the route of the A968, and resulted in a very short A969 when the A970 was first extended. Stretches of South Road have been straightened, a couple of loops surviving as service roads, others disappearing under new housing. North of the town centre, Holmsgarth Road is entirely new, and the A970 formerly continued along North Road, and then took the minor road up and over the hill at Hoo Fields. The modern road from Gremista was partly built on the line of an old drive or track.
The Bridge of Fitch junction has been substantially rebuilt, and then the road to Scalloway realigned, leaving the old road on the hillside to the east of it for over a mile. The descent into Scalloway itself has also been improved, with the old hairpin bend still in use as part of the road to Easterhoull. The old road then heads into the quarry before emerging near the fire station and doubling back on the B9074.
North of Bridge of Fitch
Running north from the Bridge of Fitch, the A970 is mostly online as far as the B9074 junction at Veensgarth. Here it turned right and ran down into Gott, crossing Laxfirth Bridge and continued on the minor road to Vatster. Some sections of old road survive on the shores of Loch Girlista, and the B9075 junction has obviously been rebuilt. A couple of loops of old road can then be traced to the west before the next B9075 junction, but the next obvious signs of an old road line are to the north of Petta Water, where a couple of short loops are followed by a longer one to the east. At Hillside, a loop of old road survives as property access at Mulla, and then as the road runs along the Olna Firth, a series of loops of the old meandering road can be seen on either side of the new road, a couple retained as laybys. Curving across the hillside at Wethersta, there are overgrown earthworks relating to the old road line, although the cuttings for the new road have destroyed most of it.
Once through Brae, there are few hints of the old road deviating far from the current line before the Mangaster junction, where a long section of old road survives to the east. A series of short loops then lie mostly to the east of the road past Smirnadale Water and Punds Water, before a much longer loop runs to the west before crossing to meet the Isbister spur at the junction. The spur has very little evidence of any improvements except at The Brig where it has been widened from single track, but entirely on line.
On the Hillswick section, the road used to run further west on the descent of Clave Hill, the old road is now grassed over, but obvious nevertheless. The old road then passed through the houses at Valladale, followed by another loop at the head of the Firth. The road from there into the village is, however, is mostly a fairly recent online widening of the original route.