Shetland is the northernmost part of the Kingdom, 93 miles north of mainland Great Britain at its closest, and 45 miles north of Orkney. It is a scattering of stark-featured, windswept islands: over a hundred islands, some twenty of them inhabited, and countless islets, rocks and skerries.
The Norse heritage of Shetland is worn openly. The islands are 180 miles west of Norway. They were part of the Earldom of Orkney from the tenth century and together with Orkney were pledged to the Crown of Scotland only in 1472. The links with Norway remained though; the nearest city to Shetland is Bergen and Shetland fishermen always bought their boats from Norway as there are no trees in Shetland. The Norse language is said to have survived in Shetland to the end of the eighteenth century.
Though linked to Orkney historically, Shetland is very different. While Orkney is islands of low rolling hills, Shetland’s islands are mountainous, steep and rocky. Another difference is oil; Orkney keeps its rural aspect but Shetland is the hub for the outer oil rigs and a port for Norwegian yachtsmen, and money shows.
The main island of Shetland is Mainland. Lerwick, the county town, is seated in the middle of the island, on the east coast, protected by the island of Burray across the sound. From Lerwick to Sumburgh Head in the south, a spine stretches due south as a broad ridge, steep on the east but with its scarp plunging far down into the sea on the west incredibly steeply. North of Lerwick the island broadens, with a scattering of rock-bound islands deeply cut with voes (fjords). On the west coast of Mainland opposite Lerwick is the former capital, Scalloway, now a fishing port but home also to the remains of a mediæval earl’s hall. An earlier centre lies between the two, at Tingwall; a peedie peat island in bog but which was for a long period the law-seat of Norse Shetland.
North of Mainland, across the Yell Sound, is Yell and north of Yell is Unst, the northernmost inhabited island in the United Kingdom. North of it are Muckle Flugga and Out Stack; the utter northernmost rocks of the United Kingdom.
County Town: Lerwick
Main Towns: Baltasound, Lerwick, Scalloway, Sumburgh, Stonybrech.
Main Rivers: None.
Highlights: Mousa Broch; Clickimin Broch, Lerwick; Croft House Museum, Baddam; Jarlshof Neolithic and Norse settlement; Noup of Noss seabird colony.
Highest Point: Ronas Hill, Northmaven, 1,475 feet.
Area: 551 sq miles
County Flower: Shetland Mouse-ear