Visit and the surrounding villages and stay in bed & breakfast accommodation:
Shetland Islands, Shetland. Like Orkney, this group — which should never be called “the Shetlands” — forms a county set in the northern seas, and is not at all a mere archipelago in the Scottish ambit. When you look at it on the map, however, it is not, like Orkney, an obvious county huddling round one patently main island. Shetland is one of the most exciting things on the map of the United Kingdom. North of the doucer county of Orkney and much farther North of Scotland, its great and scattered length looks like a sword flourished towards the North Pole. It contains, indeed, the nearest piece of land in Britain to that place; there is no land between Unst (Shetland's farthest isle) and the North Pole.
Shetland lies 60 miles North of Orkney, and consists of nearly 100 islands, of which about twenty are inhabited. Like Orkney, it possesses its own mainland, on which are its modem capital of Lerwick and the more ancient chief township of Scalloway. Apart from Unst, already referred to, there is the island of Yell — considerable but, compared with the Shetland mainland, of minor importance; it is bleak and barren. To the East of Yell is the comparatively fertile island of Fetlar, on which the world-famous Shetland ponies are bred. Far out in the Atlantic, about 30 miles West of Scalloway, lies Foijla, which is inhabited, but is often difficult to access.
Despite its physical remoteness from the British mainland, Shetland is easily reached by regular sea services from Aberdeen and Leith and daily flights from Glasgow and Edinburgh through Wick, Inverness, Aberdeen, and Kirkwall. In 1971 new bridges connected the islands of Trondra and Burra with the Shetland mainland, there are car ferries to Yell, Unst, Fetlar, Whalsay, and Bressay. There are many hotels, and various guest-houses accommodate visitors in islands apart from the Shetland Mainland.
The people of the rocky, the wild, the foreign-looking Shetland have much Norse blood in them, and are Norse in sympathy, perhaps even more so than the Orcadians. As in Orkney, their speech is peppered with Norse words and even phrases, from a language that in their island-county died out in distinctive use as late only as the 18th century. Like Orkney, Shetland was a Norse dominion until 1469, when the Northern Isles were pledged as a dowry in a Scottish—Danish royal marriage.
It would be a great mistake, however, to suppose that there were no Shetlanders before the Vikings took over, or that these stern invaders obliterated all the native stock they found there. The original inhabitants were probably Picts, and they have left their memorials in the many prehistoric dwelling places and fortifications against invaders.
Today the chief source of livelihood in Shetland is from the sea. Anyone who visits Lerwick and Scalloway (the only two real towns in Shetland) will perceive this. The Orcadian has been described as a crofter with a boat, the Shetlander has been called a fisherman with a croft. This is not to say that the Shetlanders neglect their difficult northern and often intractable land; but their first thought is of the sea and its riches. In this they differ from the men of Lewis, who — also men of the sea, and also possessing naturally intractable land — have done their best with that land.
The Shetlanders, as well as practising a certain amount of sparse agriculture, breed sheep, cattle, and their famous ponies.
The land of their straggling county-archipelago is never flat and scarcely mountainous. Ronas Hill, the highest peak, is 1,475 ft. All islands have bays, and some are richly indented. The scene inshore is diversified with many fresh-water lochs and lochans. Nowhere is any island wide enough to contain a river in the Scottish or Hebridean sense, but there are ample burns and small cascading streams.
This, perhaps, is the place to speak of game fishing on Shetland. Salmon are rare, brown trout in the many lochs plentiful and sporting; the Shetland sea-trout (often angled for in the “voes” or long arms of the sea) is world-famous. He may not often grow to the great size of some sea-trout on the Continent or on the mainland of Britain, but, pound for pound, he is the gamest fish that swims. In this respect the Shetland sea-trout is unrivalled. The best time for the sea-trout is in August and September. The brown trout reach their climax at midsummer.
Midsummer! This is indeed a season in Shetland that one is not likely to forget. It is an error to speak of the Shetland midnight sun, but it is true that at the end of June there is no more than twilight at midnight. This twilight, with the hour or two before it, is locally and poetically known as the “simmer dim”. Just before the twilight descends, the long horizontal rays of light produce a remarkable effect on the landscape, especially by the side of the lochs. Everything — heather, grass, the few flowers, and the water itself — seems to become luminous, to show colour more strongly even than at midday.
Shetland at midsummer can be an enchanted place. In winter it is never really cold in the manner of a severe winter in the heart of Scotland, but it can become an inferno of raging gales. Not even the Northern Hebrides can put on such a show of wind. In general the climate is milder than you would suppose; and really hot days each year are not uncommon.
Shetland, since it joined Scotland and then the United Kingdom, has kept out of southern affairs; but, as in Orkney, the South did touch it. The Scottish lairds, who took over much of the land after the Vikings' departure, acted tyrannically and ruthlessly. The descendants of most of these are now gone, and such as remain are benevolent. One can understand, however, the Shetlander's assertion that he is a Shetlander first, and a Scotsman only by accident.
The word “remote” is not an apt one to apply to an island-county containing one fair-sized and one moderate town, a county within little more than an hour's daily flight from Glasgow and having regular sea-connection with the island of Britain and with the Continent. Nevertheless there is in these strange islands a quality of indefinable remoteness — self-sufficient remoteness — that for the perceptive visitor is far from displeasing.
Nearby islands: Island of Unst
Nearby towns: Lerwick, Scalloway
Nearby villages: Aith, Brae, Catfirth, Hillswick, Mangaster, Mossbank, Symbister, Twatt
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