Shetland Guide Book
Introduction to Shetland, or Hjaltland
Shetland is a chain of over 100 islands to the north east of Scotland which stretches 100km (100 miles) from Muckle Flugga in the north (60°31’N, 01°38’W) to Fair Isle (59°32’N, 01°38’W) in the south. Sumburgh Head is 50km (50 miles) and 100km (60 miles) from Scotland. Bergen, Aberdeen and the Faeroes are almost equidistant from Lerwick at just over 200 miles. The total area is about 1,468 sq km (567 sq miles).

The islands were referred to by Vikings as Hjaltland, possibly because of their resemblance to a sword handle (ON hjalt), but also perhaps referring to an older name for the islands, which were called Innse Catt by the Picts. Today the Norse influence remains strong, as most place-names and many local expressions derive from Old Norse. About 23,000 people inhabit 13 of the islands, with the majority of the population living on the Mainland. The main town and ferry port is Lerwick with a population of about 8,000.

From Orkney on a clear day Shetland appears as a series of hilltops on the horizon (Foula, Fitful Head and Fair Isle), and when approached from the sea they at first seem rocky and bleak, but on closer approach the landscape turns out to be much gentler than expected, with characteristic greens, blues and browns of land, sea and coast.

Although the earliest definite written references to the islands are probably in the Norse sagas, which date from the 12th century, it is possible that Pytheas the Greek may have visited Shetland about 325BC during his voyage, around Britain when he established a latitude of 60°N,perhaps at Hermaness. Many documents still exist going back to late Norse times, which shed interesting light on the social history of the area. It was not until the 18th century, however, that detailed accounts began to be made about visits to the islands.

In more recent times many people, eminent or otherwise, have visited Shetland and a number have written in various terms about their experiences. Over the years many local authors have written about their homeland, and the Shetland Times Bookshop alsways has a large selection of local books. The library in Lerwick has a good reference section for those wishing to consult the many books which are “out of print”, while the Museum has an equally interesting archive of old photographs, all on computer.

The purpose of this Guide is to help visitors appreciate Shetland and enjoy their time here to the full. The idea is that the reader can assimilate information without effort and yet rapidly find out what he or she would most like to see and do, depending on interest, season or weather. There are so many things to see and do that a lifetime is not long enough! Although the landscape is beautiful, history everywhere, and wildlife to rival anywhere on Earth, there is another aspect of the islands which is perhaps the most important and rewarding to get to know - the local people themselves. They are a friendly, hospitable people, proud of their past and at the same time go-ahead and industrious. Do not hesitate to ask the way, or about things - you are sure to get a courteous reply - and if you are lucky you might get a few good stories as well!

A good map is a great help on all such visits and the Tourist Board produces a useful one on a scale of 1:125,000. The Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 series covers Shetland in four sheets, and is recommended for all serious explorers. While many of the places mentioned in this book are signposted, many are not, and OS references are thus given for many sites of interest.

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