Archive for the ‘The Shetland Islands’ Category

I woke early to a bright and sunny morning, just like the last one – a bit of a rarity in these parts.  Whilst others still slept, I decided to go for a walk into the town. A good decision.

Commercial Road, Lerwick (P1000393 © DY of jtdytravels)

The name Lerwick is an Old Norse word which means bay of clay. This is ‘new’ Lerwick. Much of the town was burned to the ground in 1702 by the French fleet… some war or other!   But Lerwick goes back in history much further than that.

There ‘s evidence of habitation in the area dating back 3,000 years.  The first settlement to be known as Lerwick was founded in the 17th century as a herring and white fish seaport to trade with the Dutch fishing fleet.  The village was just a collection of old wooden huts that were burned to the ground in the 17th Century by the residents of Scalloway, the capital of the Shetlands at the time. Why? Because they didn’t like the drunken and immoral activities of the fishermen and sailors who lived there.  Weren’t seaports ever thus?

Lerwick port    (P1000398 © DY of jtdytravels)

Even today, the port of Lerwick is very important, a hub of activity that was just beginning as I wandered there exploring in the early morning.

Rugged scenery is all around (P1000427 © DY of jtdytravels)

After breakfast, we headed off on a South Mainland excursion where we enjoyed seeing some more of the rugged coastline.

Sheer cliffs provide sea birds with nesting sites (P1000449 © DY of jtdytravels)


Rhinanthus sp.  Rattlepod (P1000435 © DY of jtdytravels)

There are no prizes for guessing how this lovely wildflower got it’s name!

These Shetland ponies were very interested in the driver’s offerings
(P1000439 © DY of jtdytravels

The Shetland Islands are well known as the home of the small, shaggy Shetland Pony. This breed was first recorded in the Court Books of Shetland in 1603.  For its size it is the strongest of all breeds of horse.

Old wooden boats at the Shetland Museum (P1000462 © DY of jtdytravels)

Back in town we visited the Shetland Museum.  It contained a good collection of artefacts and photos… no photos to be taken by me though.  Outside some wooden boats of the type common to the area, were beached.

And that’s where the day sort of petered out for me!  While the others explored the town and/ or shopped, I caught up with rest, writing and reading. Since I had begun my day very early – the sun is up at some ungodly hour here in the northern hemisphere in summer – I had already explored the town and I did not need to shop! I’m not into retail therapy.

In the evening, after dinner, we were to be entertained by one of The Shetlands well known ‘story tellers’. But, unfortunately he died some time between being booked for the ‘gig’ and the evening in question. Someone else had been substituted, but I opted out of that one.

One of our small group had begun ‘pressing the wrong buttons’ for me. I know that doesn’t happen often with me, but sometimes….  So I was in ‘time on my own’ mood.  Anyway, I wanted to download, check and sort my photos before we set off on the next leg of our Viking Island adventure, to The Orkney Islands.   D

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From visiting all of those historical ruins, we moved around the coast to a Robert Stevenson lighthouse, built in 1821.  This lighthouse sits atop Sumburgh Head, the southern most tip of the Mainland, the biggest island in the Shetland group.  When this light was automated in 1991, the keepers’ houses were converted into holiday accommodation.  The lighthouse is protected as a category A listed building and is presently undergoing restoration work including the building of an Information Centre.

Of more importance to me than the lighthouse were the cliffs the lighthouse was built on. Sumburgh Head is a busy place in summer, when thousands of seabirds return to breed. Then the cliffs teem with birds such as kittiwakes, gullets, razorbills, fulmars and those great little characters, puffins.  I’d only seen fleeting glimpses of puffins before but here they were quite close. They were fascinating to watch… and photograph.

Puffin at Sumburgh Head   (P1000311 © DY of jtdytravels)

Puffins mate for life, and return to the same burrow every year. Laying only one egg, both parents take turns incubating their egg for around 40 days. Once the egg hatches, the adults are kept busy finding fish, particularly sandeels, to feed their hungry chick until it is ready to leave the burrow under the cover of darkness and fend for itself.

A pair of puffins   (P1000304 © DY of jtdytravels)


Puffin (P1000329 © DY of jtdytravels)


Puffin (P1000343 © DY of jtdytravels)

I’m quite sure that puffin photography could become quite addictive – they are such wonderfully interesting creatures.  I was mesmerised.

Puffin (P1000348 © DY of jtdytravels)


There were other birds – like this gull. (P1000356 © DY of jtdytravels)

After spending lots of time’ with those puffins, I turned my attention to finding wild flowers.

Daisies at the cliffs (P1000321 © DY of jtdytravels)


Puffin surrounded by grasses (P1000317 © DY of jtdytravels)


Tiny, delicate, Eyebright, Euphrasia sp.   (P1000361 © DY of jtdytravels)


Tufted Vetch, Vicia cracca (P1000359 © DY of jtdytravels)


Cotton grass (P1000375 © DY of jtdytravels)


Monkey flower, Mimulus guttatus (P1000238 © DY of jtdytravels)

This beautiful Mimulus is not really a wild flower in the Shetland Islands.  It’s a naturalised garden escapee that originates in North America.

A stunning view (P1000371 © DY of jtdytravels)


All this and wonderful views as well.  A day to remember.   D

Photography  ©  DY of jtdytravels

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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.

Ruin of farming croft (P1000233 © DY of jtdytravels)

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.

The ‘tombolo’ to St Ninian’s Isle. (P1000243 © DY of jtdytravels)

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.

The ruins of St Ninian’s Chapel (P1000259 © DY of jtdytravels)

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!

Rugged cliffs on part of the island   (P1000264 © DY of jtdytravels)

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.

Outside the thatched, stone croft house (P1000283 © DY of jtdytravels)


The kitchen area   (P1000274 © DY of jtdytravels)


Cooking pots and potatoes (P1000275 © DY of jtdytravels)


Spinning Wheel (P1000276 © DY of jtdytravels)

The straw used to insulate the roof is visible behind the spinning wheel.

Step up into a box bed! (P1000277 © DY of jtdytravels)

Imagine sleeping in this claustrophobic box bed!  It’s just a bit different from my King sized bed at home!

Shetland shawl stretched out on frame (P1000278 © DY of jtdytravels)


A recycled boat makes a useful roof! (P1000282 © DY of jtdytravels)

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.

Jarlshof archaeological site (P1ooo3oo © DY of jtdytravels)


Another view of the Jarlshof site (P1000301 © DY of jtdytravels)


Weaving frame (P10003621 © DY of jtdytravels)

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

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The next stop on my Viking Islands Adventure was the Shetland Islands. For the next three days our small group of intrepid adventurers from Australia, would swell The Shetlands total population of 22,500, by six.

Flying over the fields on our approach, it was obvious how green everything was and how rugged some of the coast line was.

Green, green fields and rocky, rocky cliffs    (P1000203 © DY of jtdytravels)

The Shetlands is a sub-Arctic archipelago consisting of about 100 islands but only 16 of them are inhabited.  The archipelago has an oceanic climate, moderated by the Gulf Stream.  It’s usually windy and cloudy with at least 2mm of rain falling on more than 250 days of the year.  Fog is common during summer due to the cooling effect of the sea on mild southerly airflows.  Overcast days are therefore common. Due to coastal currents, Lerwick doesn’t experience extreme temperatures.  The highest temperature ever recorded was just 23.4º C in July 1991. And the lowest was -8.9º in January 1952 and in 1959.

Dull grey stone buildings in Lerwick   (P1000222 © DY of jtdytravels)

Our home away from home whilst in The Shetlands was to be Lerwick, the capital, a town of 7,220 inhabitants.   Until 1708, Scalloway, on the west coast, was the capital but that small town now has less than 1,000 residents.

I found Lerwick to be much the same as any other Scottish town, a bit grey and dull looking. There’s not a lot of colour used on buildings here to cheer the often overcast days… and there are plenty of those. Lerwick averages only 1,065 hours of sunshine a year – that’s, on average, 2.9 hours of sunshine a day. Now if we compare that with my home town of Canberra, we enjoy a  mean daily average of 7.6 hours and that jumps up to about 9 hours a day during summer. I’m used to sunshine! But I wouldn’t find it here.

However, we were to go out to the countryside exploring and I knew that the flowers and bird life would more than make up for any dullness in the buildings in Lerwick. And I was right.

Oyster Catchers   (P1000218 © DY of jtdytravels)


A bright pink Campion, Silene   (P1000226 © DY of jtdytravels)


Cheery little faces of Bellis perennis   (P1000257 © DY of jtdytravels)

There was indeed much beauty to be enjoyed as we explored the islands.  More of that anon  D

Photography © DY of jtdytravels

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