[WORLDKINGS] Exceptional places around the world (P.178) – Shetland (Scotland) : The island of highest density of Viking-era sites in Britain


(WorldKings.org) Closer to the Faroe Islands than to Edinburgh, Scotland’s northernmost isles are home to fascinating ancient sites and a spirit of proud self-sufficiency.

Lying 110 miles off the north coast of Scotland, Shetland might not leap out as the most obvious holiday destination, but this former Viking stronghold holds an abundance of riches: epic landscapes; eccentric islanders; footprint-free beaches teeming with seabirds and seals; and perhaps the highest density of Viking-era sites found anywhere in Britain. Indeed, it’s hard to walk more than a few metres without tripping over another ruin or standing stone.

“Shetland is both Scottish and Norse, and the Norse element in Shetlanders’ identity sets them apart from other Scots,” explains Dr Andrew Jennings, lecturer in Viking, Shetland and Orkney Studies at the University of the Highlands & Islands in Lerwick. “But people feel different from mainlanders because they are islanders, rather than because they might be descended from Vikings.”

Perhaps the most celebrated expression of Shetland’s Norse identity – the bacchanalian Up Helly Aa festival in Lerwick held from January to March, which culminates in a parade of torch-wielding guizers and the immolation of a full-sized Viking longship. It’s still easy to see the physical marks that Scandinavian settlers etched into the countryside.

At Jarlshof, tucked in beside Shetland’s tiny airport at Sumburgh, a fractal pattern of stone dwellings emerges from beneath a green fringe of turf on the edge of the grey Atlantic. Crowned by the skeletal remains of a fortified haa (manor house) built by the first Earl of Orkney, the ruins span 4,000 years of human habitation, but the most striking feature is a complete Viking village erected by Norse invaders in the ninth century.

At Belmont, Hamar and Underhoull, the ruins of longhouses where Vikings gutted fish, raised sheep, sheared wool and smelted bog iron.  There are at least 60 more unexcavated Viking structures pushing through the almost treeless grassland that hugs the island.

However, perhaps the best way to see Shetland through Viking eyes is to immerse yourself in the wind-lashed landscape itself. At Tingaholm, a tiny, grassy promontory sticking out into Tingwall Loch to the west of Lerwick, the rain scythes across the barely visible stones of a causeway leading to the site where Shetland’s Viking-era parliament, or Ting, convened.

According to theguardian.com

Mihan (Collect and edit) (World Records Union - WorldKings.org)


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