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Despite spending much of my life over the last 5 years exploring
Scotland's endless hidden glens, urban backstreets and evocative ruins
there has been one serious omission from my hit list. The Shetland
Isles occupy the nothernmost boundary of Scottish territory and boast a
uniquely appealing allure that makes the lengthy journey worth every
Merging Norse and British cultures, I
struggle to make comparisons between Shetland any other Scottish region.
The 13th-16th Century ruins and mansions that Scotland is so renowned
for are replaced by pre-historic remains that originate in the Bronze
and Stone Ages. Mountainous and tree-riddled terrain are replaced by desolate peat
bogs and sheer cliff-faces. It's really all unexpectedly different - to
the extent that I actually felt out of place in my kilt! But that's the
primary reason I was so eager to come - to immerse myself in this bold
and memorable culture.
So what are the things to look out for?
all about the outdoors - despite the ferocious wind you'll be facing -
and great walks include the dramatic hike around Hermaness, remote clifftop
Eshaness and in the exposed southern tip at Sumburgh Head. Wildlife
spotting opportunities are endless and look out for puffins, Minke
Whales and dolphins at the coast - boat trips and even kayaking are an
excellent way of fully appreciating nature's visitors to the islands.
the history fans, ruins include Jarlshof, Clickimin Broch, Scalloway
Castle and the fabulous Muness Castle on Unst. Of course Viking
reference points can be found dotted about and the biggest event in the
Shetland calendar is Up Helly Aa. A magnificent fire festival of epic
proportions, the whole community comes together to support the Jarl
Squads of dressed-up Shetlanders. An enormous amount of planning and
effort goes into ensuring quality in the attire and equiptment on
display and the January event gathers worldwide interest and admiration. Let's face it,
the Vikings were cool!
For culture, Shetland has options in
spades. The modern and thoughtfully designed Shetland Museum is one of
the very best in the country and tells the full story of Shetland's past
- from geological beginnings to its vital role in the war efforts of
the 20th Century. Surprising nuggets like Quendale Mill, Scalloway
Musuem, Hoswick Visitor Centre and Sumburgh Lighthouse all have loads to
offer too for the culture vulture.
Finally, there's the local mascots. How could I not
mention the Shetland Ponies? Maybe the cutest animals you'll ever meet
these guys can be found all over the island but are particularly
centered on Unst in the very far north. If you're lucky, they may even
let you say hello.
Have you ever been to Shetland? Do you have any favourite spots to share? For those that haven't been, is it on your list?