I've already blogged about the RNA conference in Leeds and our wonderful visit to Orkney. Now it's time for the last chapter of our journey: Shetland, the island group that is the farthest northern reach of the archipelago that is Great Britain. The islands are due west of Norway, and the ties between Norway and Shetland are ancient and deep. Shetland has over 100 islands, about 15 of which are inhabited.
Like Orkney, Shetland was never a Celtic land, and the ancient language was Norn, which influences the present day dialect. Our fine driver/guide, Grant Redfern, said that when he had Norwegian customers, they could understand him, but to his annoyance, he couldn't understand when they spoke in Norwegian. <G>
Shetland is the farthest northern splash of the archipelago that is the British Isles, and Shetland is closer to Bergen, Norway than it is to Edinburgh. Smack dab in the middle of the sea routes from Norway, it was a jumping off place for Viking western explorations.
There is a real kinship between Shetland and Norway, and never was that more visible than in WWII, when the "Shetland Bus" was a dangerous connection between the UK and Nazi occupied Norway. It began with fishing boats which went back and forth during the winter–in the summer, the days are too long to make the illicit crossing safe from Nazi aircraft and patrol ships, but winter in the North Atlantic is not for the faint of heart.
The Scalloway Museum honors the Shetland Bus with lists of men and ships and crossings. I was deeply moved by this quote on the wall from Kaptein Arstad, Royal Norwegian Navy, who escaped from Norway to Shetland in his own boat in 1940:
"No one can realise our feelings when we saw the Shetland Islands low on the horizon, islands which were not only the land of freedom but of our kinsmen."
There are a number of similarities to Orkney: Both were Norse, not Celtic, and they shared the Norn language that influenced the present day dialects. (Which are not identical between the two areas, but definitely similar.) There were earls who ruled Orkney and Shetland together, until in the 15th century both areas were pawned to Scotland as a dowry for Margaret of Denmark. Ever since then, they've been considered Scottish territories.
The island groups have other resemblances. Orkney has very few trees, and Shetland has even fewer. Both of them call the largest island in the group the Mainland. Both have populations of 22,000 to 23,000 people, but I found Orkney more developed and accessible. Shetland has a spare, far northern feel, with vast open spaces and a lot of sheep. I mean, sheep everywhere! Any place with grass had sheep. Hence, Shetland wool and the fine sweaters and other garments made from it. <G>
Pat Rice and I and our spouses took the very nice overnight ferry from Orkney to Shetland and were collected the next morning by our driver/guide, Grant Redfern of Shetland Minibus Tours. For the next three days, we took ferry rides to other islands, admired Shetland ponies and rugged, dramatic sea coasts, visited a stony croft house museum, and toured the impressive Iron Age ruins at Jarlshof. To reach Jarlshof, it's necessary to cross the airport runway. There are a level crossing barriers that stop traffic if a plane is coming or going. <G>
Nearby is a rocky outcropping Sumburgh Head, whose lighthouse is the oldest on Shetland. It's also a breeding colony for seabirds, and we had the pleasure of seeing puffins close up. Colorful as Disney creations, puffins are adorable and don't seem to fear humans. Delightful!
I haven't the time to do full justice to Shetland, so I hope you'll follow some of the links, particularly this one to the famous winter fire festival called Up Helly Aa, where a thousand men march through the streets of the capital, Lerwick, and a number of other towns and village. Our guide, Grant, is a member of one of the marching squads, and it's a commitment and a discipline of years. At the end of the march, a Viking ship is set afire–and then the town parties big time. <G>
Reaching Shetland requires effort, but if you're in that part of the world, it's an effort worth taking! Have you ever been there? Or wanted to go? Or admired the little Shetland ponies? The Shetland mystery series is bringing in visitors, and for good reason!
Mary Jo, with a puffin friend who is honoring the famous British suffragette Emily Pankhurst. Each year themed puffin figures are decorated, and this year's themes were suffrage and WWII.
PS: At the request of the Mayhem Consultant, I'm going to mention the Cake Fridge, Shetland's answer to the 7-11. <G> Out in the middle of nowhere, there is a chill case with fresh food right by the side of the road. Payment is by the honor system.
It's sophisticated–note the that these cupcakes are gluten and dairy free. Pat Rice and her IT Guy got a tiffin cake and said it was very good. <G> This is just one of the many interesting things one can find in Shetland!