A Week in Shetland

A Week in Shetland
Sailing twelve hours on a wonderful ferry from Kirkwall Orkney brought me to Lerwick, the capital city of the almost countless Shetlands Islands, most uninhabited, some with populations of 30 (Fula) or 60 (Fair Isle). The gannet population of 13,000 breeding pairs on Noss exceeds the number of people on all the islands put together.

So you come for the landscape, for the fact that Shetland is the farthest north one can go in the UK; and you may come with expectations. Mine were that the islands would all be wild and full of cliffs. Actually much of the islands are filled with sheep and farms on rolling green hills much like Orkney but the hills are taller, the crofts fewer, and towns are few and far between, not to mention smaller—three or four structures may warrant a village name.

And the capital Lerwick is similar to Kirkwall but a bit more elegant–three story Victorian homes on hills with views and sweet little gardens in front; a cobblestoned “main” street filled with lovely shops and music venues; an exquisite harbor; and my favorite–the Lerwick Flower Garden that offered the most extraordinary bouquets of color and fragrance imaginable.

And there are cliffs—magnificent ones—filled with breeding sea birds in the National Park on Unst, the northernmost Island. It is here, also, that some very fine gin is distilled at Saxavorn; and  where two continental plates have collided and created a myriad of rocks from serpentine to granite at Norwich Beach; and where wool is spun into such fine yarn that it is knitted into lace.

Farther south lies an exquisite “tumulo” beach attaching the main island to St Ninian’s Isle where a treasure was found and where there are the ruins of a Viking church. At the southernmost tip of Mainland Shetland is an amazing archaeological site—Jarlshof—encompassing structures from 3500 BC to Viking brochs to medieval farms. The best preserved Iron Age broch of all,  though, is located on the wild  and uninhabited island of Mousa. The broch is a round, three story, windowless structure resembling a nuclear silo that was built by a chief 2000 years ago to signify his power. Inside the  double stone walls are spiral staircases to each floor which I climbed to understand the interior—a massive commodious space for an extended family. The broch sits on a cliff with nesting stormy petrils flying about.  And the mile hike around the island to this structure is filled with seals and sheep and sea bird colonies.

Shetland is your land if you want peace and beauty, lovely landscapes and wild wilderness.






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