Shetland Islands Far and Away the Loveliest Islands

In 1958 in the Shetland Islands a boy found this ancient brooch while helping on a archaelogical dig on St. Ninians Isle. To whom did it belong? To a monk in a pre-Norse monastery? Is it Pictish silver? No-one really knows, but it is was probably made around 800 AD - a relic of Shetland's ancient and fascinating past.

The Shetland Islands have been populated since at least 1500 BC, although early signs of first settlement date as far back as 3000 BC.

The remains of fortresses built during the Iron Age are still visible today.

Ruled by both Norwegian and Scottish rulers, and Christianised in the 10th Century, the Shetlands were pawned in 1469 by Christian I to the Scottish King James III. You can see from the Shetland Islands' location on the map, they were fair game for Viking invaders.

It seems that these islands, although so near geographically to London and the modern world (they are only 600 miles north of London), and a 55 minute flight from Aberdeen, in every other way they are worlds away from ordinary life.

The Shetland Islands are 170 miles from the Faroe Islands and their total area comprises 566 square miles. The largest island, Mainland, is 374 square miles and is the third largest Scottish island. The main town is Lerwick, which was moved from the previous capital, Scalloway in 1708.

The word Shetland is from the old Norse word Hjaltland (formerly Zetland). Of the Shetlands one hundred islands, only fifteen are inhabited.

The history of the Islands is never far away and is kept alive by tradition. This is the Up Helly Aa Fire Festival

On the last Tuesday of January, during the long dark nights, if you are lucky enough to be in Shetland, you can see the Up Helly Aa Fire Festival. Among other activities, a procession of men dressed as Vikings burn a replica of a Viking longship, after which everyone generally eats, drinks and has fun. Tradition bars the women of Lerwick from taking part in the actual procession (they prepare the food), and the festival enlivens the winter night for everyone. In the rest of the Shetland Islands, the galley is sent to sea and burned (an echo of the ancient Viking burials). Only in Lerwick the ship is not burned.

A summer visitor doesn't miss all the fun though as there is an exhibition in Lerwick where the regalia and props, including the replica of the longship, are on display year round.

The climate in the Shetland Islands is surprisingly mild considering its northerly latitude, although it is often windy and rainy. As you would expect, the scenery is also out of this world.

There are many things to experience on Shetland, and the ferries can easily take you from island to island. Here is a map to show the routes..

Shetland, besides its raw natural beauty, is also a paradise for those who love bird watching. There are bird colonies on Hermaness, Foula, Mousa, Fair Isle, Noss and Sumburgh Head. Millions of birds nest on these islands, including Atlantic Puffin, Storm-petrel, Northern Lapwing and Winter Wren. The Hermaness Nature Reserve on Unst will give you the opportunity to observe all these different kinds of birds in their natural setting. The red throated diver and the great skua (also known in Shetland as the Bonxie) have their home there from May to August, and the nature reserve is carpeted in flowers in May.

Puffins are Great Fisherfolk!

The Shetland Islands are a perfect location also for walking, fishing,(which has been Shetland's prime industry since pre-history, and not just for birds!) sea-kayaking, and cycling.

Sea Kayaking in Shetland

Music lovers will be happy to know that The Shetland Folk Festival runs from 1st to 4th May 2008 and attracts musical talent from around the world.

Sumbaugh, the main airport, is twenty five miles south of the main town Lerwick, and runs a convenient shuttle service. This is the main High Street in Lerwick.

From Lerwick you can visit the rest of Shetland's Islands and experience its intriguing history and striking landscapes.

The other inhabited islands (besides Mainland) are Bressay, Burra, Fetlar, Foula, Muckle Roe, Papa Stour, Trondra, Vaila, Unst, Whalsay, Yell (in the main Shetland group), plus Fair Isle to the south, and Housay and Bruray in the Out Skerries.

Near Sumbaugh (on the southern tip of mainland), you can visit the site of Jarlshof where the Stone Age settlers lived in small circular stone houses. The objects they tossed away, their household rubbish, have become a treasure trove for archaelogists who have discovered that these prehistoric people not only tilled crops, but also kept cattle and sheep, and harvested the sea for fish and whales, seals and shellfish. They also made tools, some finely decorated, from stone, pottery and bone.

Among the many other sights is Muness Castle, which was started in 1598 by the Sheriff of Shetland, Laurence Bruce, a cruel man, who had good reason to fortify his castle, which is on Unst, the most northerly inhabited island.

St. Ninians Isle, where the silver brooch and other silver treasure was found is now uninhabited. The last family to live on the island was that of Henry Leask who left the island in 1796. Henry was married twice and had 13 children.

St. Ninian's Isle

On the Island of Mousa you will find the strangest structure you have ever seen. It is called a broch, and was built of dry stones with no mortar in about 100 AD probably as a defensive structure or a refuge for people and their animals. Exactly who built them and why is not completely clear, but the amazing aspect of these structures is that they are still intact. Mousa Broch is 44 feet high with one entrance and contains the remains of a stairway.

This is the inside of the broch showing the stairs

Of course after all the sightseeing you will be looking for a nice place to eat, and there are quite a lot of hotels and guest houses on Shetland, but for an extra special meal, there is the Busta House Hotel, built in 1588 and is located just outside Brae. Visit to find out more about menus and pricing.

Although many former residents of these beautiful islands and their descendants are now living in faraway places such as New Zealand, Canada and Australia, since the discovery of oil off the coast of Shetland, the islands have seen an upturn in the economy and a slight increase in population. If you want to truly leave the everyday world behind, the Shetland Islands are the place to go. These Islands are unforgettable.


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