|Location Map ( geo)|
|Distance:||71.4 miles (114.9 km)|
|Meets:||A969, A971, A968|
|Former Number(s):||B9071, A968, A969, B9078, B9079|
|Route outline (key)|
The A970 runs most of the length of main island of the Shetland Islands called "Mainland". Much of the way it is a good quality single-carriageway road. During our visit there were items on just about every news bulletin on the local radio station (SIBC) about reckless driving on loose chippings!
Grutness - Tingwall
The road starts at Grutness which is at the Southern end of the island near Sumburgh Airport. The road goes around the Western side of the airport alongside one of the runways for about half a mile then crosses the end of the other runway (traffic crossing the runway is controlled by wig-wag lights). As you clear 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 WWII (one of the reasons for my visit to the islands!).
5 miles: The road passes the small village of Boddam. 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. There are no restrictions on driving up this road and there is an excellent view from the top. On a clear day you can just about make out the coast of Orkney.
The road starts to wind around the many hills and inlets. It passes close to a number of small villages without going through any large ones before Lerwick. 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. The road has a 50mph limit as it passes through the village of Cunningsburgh, around 15 miles North of Grutness.
The A970 does not run through the centre of town. It turns left near the Loch of Clickimin and then around the back of the town; the roundabout junction here is the only full roundabout in Shetland. The road through the town centre is the A969 which runs along the shore past the ferry terminal and the power station before turning inland and rejoining the A970 at Garthspool.
The A970 has the unusual feature of having two spurs off the main road which also have the number A970. The B9073 joins this other A970 to the east of its terminus at Scalloway. This spur off the main A970 is about three miles long and rejoins the main line of the A970 at Bridge of Fitch.
The main A970 now continues North from Bridge of Fitch past a golf course.
Tingwall - Isbister
41 miles: The road now passes through the small village of Voe and reaches the West coast of the island at Olna Firth. To catch the ferry to Yell turn right on to the A968, which goes to the pier at Toft. The inter-island ferries provide an excellent service with regular crossings all day and are quite reasonably priced.
47 miles: The road passes through Brae, which is the only sizeable village along its route. In places the island is very narrow: at Mavis Grind it is not much more than 100 yards wide with Sullom Voe on the East side and a small inlet which leads to St Magnus Bay on the West side. The oil terminal at Sullom Voe will be visible on the right especially at night.
51 miles: The road now becomes narrower with passing places.
54 miles: At Sandy Lochs the road splits with the main route continuing to the right. Straight ahead is a 4-mile spur through Urafirth to Hillswick. Again confusingly this spur is also numbered A970.
59 miles: The main A970 continues past the highest hill on the Shetlands, Ronas Hill. There is a very steep road to a viewpoint at the top of Collafirth Hill (part way up Ronas Hill) which again gives excellent views in clear weather. The A970 goes through North Roe to Isbister which is the Northern end of the road and about 64 miles from Grutness.
In 1922, the A970 only ran the 20-odd miles from Bridge of Fitch (west of Lerwick) to Brae. The other parts of the road were numbered as follows:
B9071: Sumburgh - Channerwick
A968: Channerwick - Lerwick
A969: Lerwick - Scalloway
B9078: Brae - Hillswick
B9079: Sandy Lochs - Isbister
The three B-roads in the above list ceased to exist on those routes by the mid-1920s. The B9071 became a southern extension of the A968 and the other two became northern extensions of the A970, giving the A970 three ends and a rare example of a pre-1935 spur. Then after World War II the A970 was extended along the two A-roads as well, removing the A968 completely (although it came back elsewhere in Shetland round the same time) and reducing the A969 to a short road in Lerwick. This explains why the A970 has four ends and two spurs, although does not explain why the powers that be decided that the A970 should be so ubiquitous.
The A970 was vastly improved after Shetland's fortunes improved with the North Sea oil boom of the 1970s. Progress was slow and it wasn't until the early 1990s that the whole journey from Lerwick to the airport at Sumburgh could be made on improved roads. In many places the old, narrow road is visible to one side or the other of the current road.