Lerwick, Shetland Islands

As much as I looked forward to visiting Norway, being of Norwegian heritage, I am also looking forward to visiting Scotland. My father’s family hales from Scotland and I am named for its most famous flower (although my brother told me I was named after a shrub!). Lerwick, capital of the Shetland Islands, is our first stop in Scotland. We have joined a taxi tour of the Mainland (what they call the largest island) with Sinclair’s Taxis. Our driver/guide is Chris (or “Handsome Chris” as he calls himself).

The Shetland Islands are made up of from 50-80 small islands, depending on who you ask, but only twelve are populated. Lerwick’s population is around 7,000; total population of the entire chain is around 23,000. The west coast of the mainland is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean; the east coast by the North Sea. It is strategically located between the U.K. and Scotland and as such was an important place during WWII; 40,000 troops were stationed here during the war. Its importance today centers around international trade. The key industries are fishing and oil. Due to improvements in technology related to drilling the oil here, the island has benefited economically from the oil industry. There is only a 2-3% unemployment rate; whoever wants to work does work. Fishing and fish farming continue to be the dominant industries. Commercial fisherman bring in herring, mackerel, haddock and cod; salmon and mussels are farmed in fish farms. Little crime seems to exist here. According to our guide, problems related to alcohol (drunk driving, fights, domestic abuse) are the most common crimes.

Prior to the 17th century, the Shetland Islands were part of Denmark. The language here is a unique combination of Scottish and Norse.

We started our tour by driving to the very southern tip of the island. In order to get there, we had to drive across the runway for the local airport! I must say, I have never driven across a runway before. There is a traffic light so cars know to stop if a plane is coming in for a landing (thank goodness!). The landings here can be quite rough; the islands are known for their windy conditions (rainy, too). Surprisingly, there are many beautiful sandy beaches scattered around the island. Chris says the beaches never get crowded. I wonder why?

As we drove we saw sheep everywhere. We also so the infamous Shetland ponies. They are adorable! I took many pictures of them. Unfortunately, I had some weird camera glitch when transferring them to my computer and all of my pictures of Lerwick deleted. I am heartbroken.

Our first stop was Sumburgh (pronounced Sumburrow) Head. There is a lighthouse located here and if you visit a little earlier in the summer than we did, many puffins. The puffins lay their eggs in holes in the cliff face. Orcas frolic off the coast as well, though we did not see any. There were plenty of gulls flying about.

Driving back down the hill we came to Jarlshof, a town that had existed for 4000 years and lay hidden under sand until it was unearthed by a storm in the 1800’s. There were different types of structures that existed during different time periods of use: roundhouses made of stone, a Broch (2 circular skins of walling joined by long stone slabs), wheelhouses and rectangular houses.

Though the day had started as partly cloudy and calm, by the time we made it to Jarlshof it was rainy and very windy. Therefore, our next stop was for coffee and to warm up. We stopped at a little café in a town called Sandwick. There was a small museum related to knitting located in the café and some knitted goods for sale.

Our final stop was on the Atlantic side of the island, Scalloway Castle. This castle was built in the 1500’s by a rascal whose name I can’t remember. I do remember that he was related in some way to Mary, Queen of Scots who gave him the Shetland and Orkney Islands. He was a rotten guy and hated by all. He mistreated all of his servants and pretty much anyone he came in contact with. I took pictures of all of the information about him but, as I said before, no pictures at all, so no information!

Chris drove us back to town. By now it was nearly 2 pm and we were all quite hungry, so rather than walking around town, everyone in our group headed for the tender to take us back to the ship. Tomorrow we will be at sea; the following 3 days will be in Iceland. Hopefully, the sea will be kind to us as we cross it!