Chilling out in Shetland

Trip Start Oct 17, 2011
Trip End May 22, 2012

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Flag of United Kingdom  , Scotland,
Monday, January 9, 2012

January 9 - February 20, 2012

A sojourn of six weeks in one place was good for me. Right in the middle was Lerwick's Up Helly Aa, the annual Viking-themed fire festival. See separate entry about that. I had intended to rent a car for a week and travel to Unst, the northernmost of the three larger islands, to attend one of the smaller, rural festivals, but its date ended up changing to what would have been my last weekend in Shetland, so I decided to stay put in Lerwick. I was able to catch up on lots of computer-based chores, such as submitting a backlog of reviews to and, doing photo file management and starting this travel blog. I also got into a routine of swimming three mornings a week, just like I do at home, at the pool about 15 minutes' walk away.

My B&B landlady has kindly allowed me to self-cater, so I have saved a lot of money by not eating out more than about three lunches. I’ve got a mini-fridge, microwave, toaster and kettle and have fared quite well.

Since I’d been to Shetland 10 years ago and gone on two tours, I didn’t feel compelled to do a lot of sightseeing this time. I did go on one tour, which took me all around this main island, imaginatively called Mainland. We visited Scalloway Castle (say Scallowaa), Sumburgh Lighthouse at the southern tip, Esha Ness Lighthouse at the northern end and scenic spots in between. We tried walking out to St. Ninian’s Isle on the tombolo (isthmus sandbar), but the water was just a bit too high covering it. A fascinating site not to be missed is Jarlshof, where  evidence of habitation, from 2500 BC to the 17th century, is layered: Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Pictish, Norse and Medieval eras, through to the 1600s. Sumburgh Lighthouse was designed by Robert Stevenson (grandfather of author Robert Louis), who visited Shetland in 1814 with Sir Walter Scott. Scott later published his novel, The Pirate, which was set around the nearby areas of Jarlshof and Fitful Head.

Other days I walked to Clickimin Broch, over Stanley Hill to a newer neighbourhood (Scandinavian-looking), around The Knab, along The Sletts path and I attempted to go around The Ness of Sound, but it was much too muddy – best wait until my next visit in a drier season. I also spent time in the excellent Museum, where island culture is portrayed. There are listening posts where you can listen to someone relating a story in the Shetland dialect. I learned a few words while I was here. Otherwise, the people of Lerwick – Lerwegians (like Glaswegian, Norwegian) – speak with a strong Scottish accent. I wonder how Shetlanders will vote in the referendum in 2014 on Scotland independence; I understand their votes may be counted separately, so they could possibly opt to stay in the UK even if Scotland doesn’t.

The weather has been "interesting." Quite a bit of rain, one day with a bit of snow, one day of icy sidewalks, a bit of sleet and a whole lot of WIND. The winter winds are often gale-force – pretty impressive. That’s why the houses here are so solidly built of stone, I presume. No matter the strength of the wind, the gulls appear to love it – I see them just hanging in the air, only occasionally making a little twitch of a wing to correct their angle.

I’ve bought and mailed home three CDs of local, traditional music, basically fiddles with other accompaniment. I enjoyed the concert of local musicians that I attended on Up Helly Aa afternoon.

Next, I head south, hoping for no flight cancellations due to ice, wind or snow.

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