Shetland is the most northerly group of islands in the United Kingdom. Of the one hundred islands there are sixteen which are inhabited although the majority of the 21,000 population lives on the largest island, Mainland. From north to south Shetland is roughly 150 km and from east to west about 75 km with an amazing 1,450 km of spectacular coastline.
The islands occupy a maritime crossroads where the North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean, lying on the 60 degree line of latitude. From Shetland it is almost the same distance to Bergen in Norway, and Torshavn in Faroe as it is to Aberdeen.
Shetland’s economy is dominated by oil and fish farming industries with a significant contribution from agriculture and tourism. The oil industry is very important; however the biggest revenue generator is the fish catching, farming and processing and aquaculture industry.
Thanks to the warm waters of the North Atlantic Drift the islands have a milder climate than you might expect, with more sunshine in the summertime than anywhere else in Britain. In fact, during the simmer dim (midsummer) the sun barely sets and there is no darkness at all. The average annual rainfall is only 39 inches, with April to July being the driest period. Nevertheless, the weather is very changeable so when you are out and about it is best to take warm and waterproof clothing just in case.
If travelling by ferry, you will arrive in Lerwick, the capital, which is a thriving, busy port. In the summer there are hundreds of visiting yachts and cruise ships, many coming from our neighbours across the North Sea. The old harbour is in the heart of the town, where you will find a maze of small lanes and lodberries teeming with history. The original small town grew from a busy herring fishery in the seventeenth century to the present day, busy town with a population of 7,000.
The modern Lerwick Harbour, with versatile facilities for a wide variety of users, is the main commercial port for Shetland and a key component in the islands’ economy. With two entrances, the sheltered, deep-water port is open to shipping in all weathers and operates around the clock, handling over 5,000 vessels annually.
The ancient capital of Shetland is Scalloway, a picturesque village only a ten minute drive from Lerwick. One of the main attractions is the local museum where you will find a wealth of information on the Shetland Bus, the escape operation for the Norwegians when Germany occupied their country in the Second World War. Also worth a visit is the Scalloway castle, built in 1600 by Patrick Stewart, Earl of Orkney. The remains stand impressively by Scalloway harbour and are easily accessible.
Should you be arriving by air you will land at the southern tip of the Mainland where some of the best archaeological remains can be found at the sites of Jarlshof and Old Scatness. Further up the coast, on the island of Mousa, is the best preserved broch in the world, easily accessible by ferry during the summer months. South mainland has amazing sandy beaches including the white sandy tombolo stretching across to St Ninians Isle where buried treasure was found by a local schoolboy in 1958.
In North Mainland you can explore the highest hill in Shetland, Ronas Hill, where on a clear day you can see west to Foula, north to the islands of Yell, Unst and Fetlar and down to the south. Whilst up north, an experience not to be missed is the spectacular volcanic coast at Eshaness with its high cliffs, natural arches, stacks, blow holes and the Holes of Scraada, a cave with a sunken roof in the middle of nowhere.
Many days can be spent exploring the main islands around Shetland from Unst, the most northerly, to Fair Isle which lies halfway between Shetland and Orkney, Foula in the west and Skerries in the east. Travelling to these islands is relatively easy with inter-island ferries and flights available. It is worth trying to visit as many islands as possible as each has their own unique attractions.
There are a myriad of activities that can be enjoyed in Shetland, from loch fishing to sea angling, cycling, bird watching, enjoying traditional music, archaeology, geology and going for gentle or lengthy walks. Wherever you go you will have the opportunity to watch the amazing bird life on the cliffs and coastline, see the wildlife which, if you strike it lucky, could be an otter or even a killer whale.
There is something to suit everyone in Shetland and whatever you do you will be left with wonderful memories of these beautiful islands.
Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - February 2010 Issue
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