As on the Orkney Isles to the south, evidence of Shetland’s ancient settlers provides us with a tantalising glimpse into the lives of these hardy people. Nowhere is this more true than at Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse settlement. Regarded by some as one of the most remarkable archaeological sites ever excavated in the British Isles, the site was uncovered during a storm in the late 19th century. A visit to see what was revealed is truly astonishing, a sequence of stone structures covering almost 4,000 years of continuous settlement – late Neolithic houses, Bronze-Age village, Iron-Age broch and wheelhouses, Norse longhouse, medieval farmstead, and 16th-century laird’s house.
Shetland is well known for its wildlife with gorgeous ponies and excellent marine life, but did you know that it is home to around 1,000 otters? Reserves such as Loch of Spiggie on the Mainland are ideal habitats for otters, making Shetland one of the main strongholds for the species in the UK. For ‘twitchers’, Shetland is irresistible to the spring and autumn commute of geese, whooper swans, puffins and many seabirds as they visit the island on their travels. In summer, the island of Mousa becomes a haven for storm petrels which arrive dramatically at night in the shadow of Mousa Broch, a well preserved 2,000 year old Iron Age Tower which is also used by many of the birds as a shelter.
Wound deep into the folklore of many Scandinavian countries are tales of mysterious other beings who live alongside humans, and Shetland is also home to such creatures. Alongside the islanders live ‘Trows’ who are a small, nocturnal and generally shy species that keep to themselves and are tolerated, rather than a welcome presence amongst the locals. The little people were known to take revenge on locals, sometimes kidnapping them and taking them to their home - the trowie knowes. You can enter one yourself and find out more about Shetland’s folklore and traditions at Shetland Museum - if you dare!
Shetland’s extraordinary landscape is a treasure trove of stunning geological landmarks found throughout these remote islands. Although ice has covered Shetland several times over the past 2 million years, it was never as deeply buried as Scandinavia or mainland Scotland where the ice carved landscape and therefore has a truly unique appearance. The glaciers gently scoured the landscape into the low, undulating hills and shallow lochs we know today. On St Ninian’s Isle a beautiful sandy beach forms the largest tombolo, a natural causeway between land, in the UK - just one example of how geology has shaped the island.
Up Helly Aa is a world-famous fire festival which has existed in some form or another for around 150 years and really reflects the diverse influences which have played a part in the island’s culture. In January people gather to celebrate and to keep warm and happy at this spectacle which includes fire torches, a Viking procession led by the Guizer Jarl, burning of a Galley boat to send it on to the Viking heaven Valhalla, singing, music and dramatic acts and a lot of revelry. To find out more about the festival you can visit the summer exhibition, and you can also discover the island’s Norse roots at Shetland’s fascinating archaeological sites.
Be sure to visit Mareel, Shetland’s brand new music, cinema and creative arts centre where you might even catch Brave in spectacular 3D.
Visit the dedicated Brave site for more information.