Shetland Guide Book
Main Sites of Interest

Shetland has a wealth of archaeological and historical sites to visit. A few such as Mousa, Clickimin or Jarlshof are “official” monuments, while a few others are signposted, but most are not. One of the real pleasures of Shetland is discovering ancient landscapes and structures for oneself. The first settlers arrived around 4000BC, and they and those who followed left much behind them - many ruined houses, chambered cairns and field walls as well numerous artefacts and burials. Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Pictish, Norse, Medieval and later sites are dispersed all over the islands.

Apart from the large Neolithic hall at Staneydale, all of the chambered cairns and prehistoric houses are quite small and ruinous. However their context in the landscape is uniquely visible on close observation. Many “burnt mounds”, dating from the Bronze Age also occur all over the islands. Hot stones were used to boil water in a central trough and thus cook meat. Jarlshof has for long been considered perhaps the most interesting of all Shetland’s ancient monuments, having been continuously occupied for perhaps 4,000 years, but nearby Old Scatness now vies for that title. Continuing excavations there are casting much light on Iron Age Shetland.

Mousa Broch is the best preserved of over 80 such structures scattered all over Shetland, some of which still stand up to 3 metres high, and many of which are in splendid locations. Wheelhouses such as may be seen at Jarlshof, Old Scatness and Clickimin were developed after the brochs were built. Although a number of “Pictish” cross slabs and other artefacts have been found, no Pictish houses are on view. There are also remarkably few Norse buildings, apart from those at Jarlshof, and on Unst. There are many “Norse Mills” distributed all over the islands.

Shetland has many early Christian sites, the most famous of which is St Ninian’s Isle where the famous Pictish silver hoard was found. There are ruined chapels all over the islands, but none remains intact. The 17th century “castles” at Scalloway and Muness are the result of the short-lived but pivotal Stewart era, while Forth Charlotte in Lerwick dates from the later 17th century, while many “laird’s houses” were built in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Remains of the fishing industry ranging from Hanseatic and Dutch times to the 19th century haaf fishing stations and later Herring Boom times are also scattered throughout the islands. Artefacts from the 20th century, such as old gun emplacements, airbases, and memories of the “Shetland Bus”, as well as the fishing and oil industries complete the varied picture.

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