Coordinates: 60°09′N 1°05′W / 60.150°N 1.083°W / 60.150; -1.083
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Scots nameBressa[1]
Old Norse nameBreiðey/Brusey
Meaning of nameOld Norse for 'broad island' or 'Brusi's island'
Bressay Lighthouse at Kirkabister Ness overlooking Bressay Sound
Bressay Lighthouse at Kirkabister Ness overlooking Bressay Sound
Bressay is located in Shetland
Bressay shown within the Shetland Islands
OS grid referenceHU507406
Coordinates60°09′N 1°05′W / 60.15°N 1.08°W / 60.15; -1.08
Physical geography
Island groupShetland
Area2,805 ha (10+78 sq mi)
Area rank30 [2]
Highest elevationWard of Bressay, 226 m (741 ft)
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Council areaShetland Islands
Population rank25 [2]
Population density13/km2 (34/sq mi)[3][4]
Largest settlementMaryfield

Bressay (Scots: Bressa) is a populated island in the Shetland archipelago of Scotland.

Geography and geology[edit]

Bressay lies due south of Whalsay, west of the Isle of Noss, and north of Mousa. With an area of 11 square miles (28 km2), it is the fifth-largest island in Shetland. The population is around 360 people,[3] concentrated in the middle of the west coast, around Glebe and Fullaburn.

The island is made up of Old Red Sandstone with some basaltic intrusions. Bressay was quarried extensively for building materials, used all over Shetland, especially in nearby Lerwick.[4] There are a number of sea caves and arches. The largest of eleven lochs on the island are the Loch of Grimsetter in the east, and the Loch of Brough.


Bressay has a large number of migrant birds, especially in the east. The Loch of Grimsetter is a haven for waders and whooper swans. In the far south, there is a colony of Arctic skuas.[4]


The name of the island may have been recorded in 1263 as 'Breiðoy' (Old Norse "broad island"). In a 1490 document the island is referred to as "Brwsøy" - "Brusi's island" which name may indicate it was the 11th century base for Earl of Orkney Brusi Sigurdsson.[7][4] This possibility is supported by a later reference to his son Rögnvald as "Lord of the Shetlanders" and Thompson (2008) is in "no doubt " that Shetland specifically was in Brusi's possession during his joint earldom with his brothers.[8][9]

The Bressay Stone is an outstanding example of Pictish art.

a slab of chlorite slate, about 16 inches [400 mm] wide at the top, tapering to less than a foot [300 mm] at the bottom.[6]

The slender sides are engraved with ogham, and the two faces with various examples of knotwork, and imagery. The top of each face has a cross. On one side, there is an engraving of two men with crosiers, as well as various animals including horses, pigs, and what appears to be someone in the process of being swallowed by two sea monsters. It has been suggested that this is Jonah.[6]

During World War I and II gun emplacements were built to guard Bressay Sound.


Attractions on the island include Bressay Lighthouse. At Maryfield there is a heritage centre, a hotel and the old laird's mansion, Gardie House, built in 1724. The Northern Lights Spa Hotel at Uphouse is Britain's most northerly spa.[10][11]

Frequent car ferries sail from Maryfield to Lerwick on the Shetland Mainland. During the summer months, a passenger ferry service links the east coast of Bressay with the nature reserve Isle of Noss.

Lerwick and Bressay Parish Church (of the Church of Scotland) has three places of worship. The Bressay Church building is located close to the Marina, near the centre of the west coast of the island.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Map of Scotland in Scots - Guide and gazetteer" (PDF).
  2. ^ a b Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands over 20 ha in extent and 93 permanently inhabited islands were listed in the 2011 census.
  3. ^ a b c National Records of Scotland (15 August 2013). "Appendix 2: Population and households on Scotland's Inhabited Islands" (PDF). Statistical Bulletin: 2011 Census: First Results on Population and Household Estimates for Scotland Release 1C (Part Two) (PDF) (Report). SG/2013/126. Retrieved 14 August 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e Haswell-Smith (2004), pp. 425–429
  5. ^ Ordnance Survey. OS Maps Online (Map). 1:25,000. Leisure.
  6. ^ a b c Anderson, Joseph (Ed.) (1893) Orkneyinga Saga. Translated by Jón A. Hjaltalin & Gilbert Goudie. Edinburgh. James Thin and Mercat Press (1990 reprint). ISBN 0-901824-25-9
  7. ^ Smith (1988), p. 27
  8. ^ Smith (1988), p. 21
  9. ^ Thomson (2008), pp. 70–73
  10. ^ "bressay". Visit Shetland. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  11. ^ Visit Scotland - Northern Lights Spa Hotel Archived 2011-07-18 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 30 June 2007.


  • Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN 978-1-84195-454-7.
  • Smith, Brian (1988), "Shetland in Saga-Time: Re-reading the Orkneyinga Saga", Northern Studies, Edinburgh: Scottish Society for Northern Studies, 25: 21–41
  • Thomson, William P. L. (2008), The New History of Orkney, Edinburgh: Birlinn, ISBN 978-1-84158-696-0

External links[edit]

60°09′N 1°05′W / 60.150°N 1.083°W / 60.150; -1.083