Shetland - The Natural Choice
The Shetland Islands are most northerly of Scotland’s Island communities – 100 islands in all of which only 15 are inhabited – with a total population of almost 24,000. This excludes the 30,000 gannets, 140,000 guillemots, 250,000 puffins, 300,000 fulmars and the 330,000 sheep - at the last count!
Shetlanders are, in many ways, more Scandinavian than Scottish. They are so obviously of Viking origin (Bergen in Norway being almost as close to Lerwick as any Scottish Mainland city), it is hardly surprising that Shetlanders see themselves as Norse rather than British or even Scottish!
In fact, the Vikings ruled Shetland for 600 years before being gifted to Scotland as part of a dowry in the late 15th century. But this archipelago is still Norse in character and very independent. The "Up Helly Aa" Festival every January pays homage to Shetland’s Viking past and attracts many thousands of visitors every year to see this truly "Shetland" experience.
Long before the Vikings landed, however, the Shetland Islands had been home to a large number of different peoples and archaeological remains abound. At the end of the 19th century a wild storm uncovered some massive stones and the archaeologists did the rest. They found evidence of a time capsule - an entire village dating back 3,000 years. Other legendary sites include the Broch (a prehistoric round stone tower) on the Island of Mousa and Clickimin Broch on the outskirts of Lerwick.
Lerwick is the capital of the Shetlands and by far its biggest town. Dating from the 17th century, it was a popular port for Dutch herring fishermen and the town became an important trading port. Merchants built their own piers and warehouses known locally as "lodberries". By the turn of the 20th century Lerwick was one of the busiest fishing and oil ports in Europe. Unlike many parts of the Scottish Mainland that have seen "remote" settlements disappear as its peoples move to the busier towns, Shetland has retained healthy rural communities on islands such as Unst, Yell, Fetlar, Whalsay, Bressay, Papa Stour Foula and the Fair Isle - a bird sanctuary owned by the National Trust for Scotland. All have excellent ferry links to the mainland and some to each other - even the Mainland (as the largest island is called) has its remote parts especially the North Mainland. One of the reasons for the stability of these remote settlements is the Shetland economy, greatly strengthened by North Sea Oil and the development at Sullom Voe, now the biggest oil and liquified gas terminal in Europe. This has also given the islands the financial ability to develop other industries such as tourism.
During the winter months, the Shetland Islands see very little of the sun, but in the height of summer, the sun never sets. These islands, for the visitor, offer a tremendous contrast of light and dark not unique to Shetland but shared with many northerly parts of the Scottish Mainland as well.
Access to the Shetland Islands is by sea from Aberdeen, Orkney, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Denmark and Norway and by air to Sumburgh Airport.
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