We headed south out of Lerwick along the rocky shores of what is known as ‘The Mainland’, the largest of the Shetland Islands. We were on a quest to find those characters of birds, the Puffins, and to visit museums.
As with most of Scotland, the farming ‘Clearances’ had a huge impact on the landscape and on farming in general. Many crofts were abandoned and continue to fall into disrepair.
Our first stop was near Bigton on the South Mainland to visit St Ninian’s Chapel. To get there, we had to cross from ‘the mainland’ to St Ninian’s Isle via a 500 m long gravel bank or ‘tombolo’, known locally as an ‘ayre’. It’s only covered by the sea at extremely high tides.
Only the ruins of this 12th century chapel exist today. It was dedicated to the Shetland’s patron saint, St Ninian. But this island’s history goes back well before that. Neolithic graves have been found within the chapel’s walls. And someone in the 8th Century deposited some silver in a wooden box and buried the box under a stone in the chapel grounds. That real ‘treasure box’ was only discovered in 1958 . The silver objects are now in a museum in Scotland.
The last man to live on this island was Henry Leask. He left in 1796 without ever having found the treasure. A pity. It might have helped him provide better for his large family of 13 children!
Our next museum stop was at The Shetland Crofthouse Museum, an interesting place to visit that shows how a crofter would have lived around the 1880’s.
The straw used to insulate the roof is visible behind the spinning wheel.
Imagine sleeping in this claustrophobic box bed! It’s just a bit different from my King sized bed at home!
The next area of historical interest that we visited was the Jarlshof conservation area. This settlement has a 4000 year old history but it is not known whether it was abandoned before or after the Vikings arrived. The earliest Viking farm identified began as a small, compact building but over time was enlarged – a process that went on for 6-700 years. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that much was known about this site. The ancient structures weren’t revealed until a storm washed away part of a cliff.
Many aspects of daily life in the Shetlands did not change much until the Second World War. The website that explains this complex archaeological site well is http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk (then search for shetland and jarlshof). The story of Jarlshof is very similar to that of Skara Brae in The Orkneys – that we were to visit later. In the late 1800s a storm washed away part of the low cliff here, and revealed evidence of ancient structures underneath. Now, after some serious archeological work, this is an extremely well maintained site of historical importance.
And while talking of ways of life in ‘olden times’, how’s this for a weaving frame?
It was time now to leave the ‘piles of old rocks’ for awhile and go in search of seabirds and wildflowers at Sumburgh Head and they will be in my next musings entry. D
Photography © DY of jtdytravels