A JOURNEY TO BRITAIN’S NORTHERNMOST ISLE (2ND OF 3 PARTS)
Shetland may be remote and wild; but it is an oil rich country and the public infrastructure is one of the best in the UK. Despite its small size, only 1,468 sq km, and a relatively small population, just over 23,000, the Shetland Islands Council is the richest in Britain with £266 million in reserve — thanks to the oil industry revenue. (Apparently even London’s royal borough, Kensington/Chelsea and Westminster are in continuing deficit every year).
Shetland has well-maintained road networks, bridges, public housing, hospital and other public facilities that’s far superior than any boroughs in Britain. If you drive around the Shetland isles, from the mainland to the other smaller inhabited islands, you’d never come across a single pothole. Even the Council Housing is a proper single detach house equipped with all of the modern fixtures (unlike the high-rise, tiny, crammed and dirty Council flats in London). They have free accommodation (dormitories) for high school students whose families live outside of the mainland; the residents get massive discounts on travel — 50% off on the airplane and 30% off on the ferry — and practically everything is highly subsidised. Every year the pensioners also get two free return tickets by ferry if they want to travel to the mainland UK. These are just some of the benefits that the residents of Shetland get to enjoy on a daily basis.
Crime figures suggest that Shetland is also one of the safest communities not just in Scotland but in the whole of UK. We were told that on the outskirts of the town centre many people leave their doors unlocked.
Shetland is an intriguing mixture between Scotland and Scandinavia. The unpredictable weather, craggy landscape, deep fjords, and architecture are wistful reminder of the Scottish Highlands and the Nordic countries.
Buildings were traditionally made of stone, but some are made of corrugated iron.
The recent trend in domestic architecture however, is leaning towards Scandinavian timber design, colourfully painted, in a style that was once common in Shetland.
There are houses that simply stand out like this particular bungalow with walls decorated with various seashells — quite unique and full of character.
There are also many derelict houses and church buildings all over the islands.
With enormous bright skies, the scenery is quite stunning especially when the sun is out.
We drove, travelled by ferry, rambled around to explore the isles and stumbled upon some very interesting places.
One of the most amazing places we saw is called Mavis Grind. It is the narrowest land in the whole archipelago. This narrow strip of land with sea on either side, is almost an island in itself, and joins it to the rest of the mainland of Shetland. This is a very unique spot to view the North Sea on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.
If you stand on the Mavis Grind you can see both the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean from the road (right and left side on top and bottom photos respectively). It truly is a remarkable place.
People there say that if you stand on the Atlantic Ocean you’ll be able to throw a stone into the North Sea but you have to have a strong arm to be able to do so.
Also, the Shetland Islands have an extremely fascinating history and extraordinary heritage well worth exploring. We visited Scalloway, Shetland’s ancient capital, and toured Scalloway Castle, home of Patrick Stewart — Earl of Orkney and Shetland.
We tried to explore every nook and cranny of the castle and were very impressed by its cleverly crafted stonework. It was built in 1599 and its elaborate stonework is a fine example of Tudor era tower house.
We also visited Clickimin Loch, one of Shetland’s major archeological sites. Built around 6th-7th century BC, the stone-walled fort is a well-preserved remains of a prehistoric settlement.
Shetland doesn’t have many trees or woodlands, and apparently, it has a lot to do with wind and foraging sheep.
But we drove through roads lined with well-established trees, and visited a park where we got a glimpse of different trees, shrubs and several flower species such as bluebells and foxgloves.
We’ve meet Garry Dean, a Welshman who brought back into the island one of the only ten dying breed of four-horns Shetland sheep.
Evidently these four-horns sheep is native to Shetland but originally brought into the island in the 11th century by the first settlers from Norway.
He also breeds the famous Shetland ponies — not very big, only stand up to 42 inches high at four years old or over. They are very charming, friendly, and pretty captivating creatures.
We’ve also meet other local residents, visited tiny villages and we wandered around the mainland coastal walkway, but it’s worth mentioning one of the highlights of our first two-days in Shetland — it was meeting a few Christian Shetlanders who continue to make an impact in the lives of people on the island.
Shetlanders are incredibly welcoming and very friendly people. We learned that among family and friends, it is rude to knock on the door when you visit their home. You just show up unannounced, straight into the living or dining room, and you’ll be offered tea, or coffee, or whatever you fancy.
We’ve meet a young couple, Alisdair and Rhoda MacPherson, with their four adorable boys. They live in a very nice and comfortable modern home with magnificent views of the sea and the surrounding valley.
Rhoda prepared a delicious dinner for us and we really enjoyed the food and the fellowship. I must mention Rhoda . . . aside from juggling motherhood and a family business, she is into all sorts of creative pursuits such as calligraphy, stampin’up, etc. She is very artistic, so sweet and kind, and a truly admirable lady. I absolutely adore her. Please check out her Instagram account Rhoda MacPherson and follow her — it’s full of beautiful photos of her artwork and some stunning photos of Shetland that will totally inspire you.
Their kids are all smart and good-looking, and the youngest, 2 year-old Cole, stands out because he’s a particularly funny little boy. We still laugh when we talk about him and the things that he said. After dinner at the MacPhersons, we attended a mid-week worship at their church. We greatly enjoyed our time with them, and it was a great blessing to meet some new Christian friends in Shetland.
There’s another couple we’ve meet and visited at home.
Davy and Jean, both in their late 80s, are native Shetlanders and friends of Kevin.
Davy shared stories about his ancestors who were some of the few people sent by the Norwegian/Danish king to inhabit Shetland back in the 14th century. Evidently his family and a few others, to this very day, are related to at least half of the residents on the island. We listened to Davy and Jean’s fascinating stories over tea and biscuits. Oh and we got to try salted leg of lamb — top picture shows the huge piece of meat hanging on the ceiling.
Their house has 360-degree panorama of the sea, lochs, and hills — from the living room to dining, kitchen, and bedroom, anywhere you go around the house the views are incredible.
This is the view from Davy and Jean’s kitchen window. The loch has 12 miniscule-islets that Davy skilfully built one by one for each grandchild as soon as they’re born. He told us that he named each one of them after his grandkids; that he has a map that he shows to them from childhood to assure them that they owned an island (I can only imagine that their grandkids bragged about owning an island in their grandparent’s backyard ). They tried to encourage us to relocate to Shetland. They couldn’t comprehend that in London people had to lock their doors, can’t leave valuables in the car or don’t know their neighbours. As we were leaving Davy said, “Hope to see you again soon! Please move to Shetland!” “Only if we get to live in your house, and if there’s sunshine all year round!” I jokingly said. And he replied, “You can bring some sunshine from the Philippines, and we’ll sell this house to you then.”
And so our journey is to be continued.
In my third and final instalment, we travel farther north. I’ll be talking about our visit to other islands including Unst, at the tip of Shetland. It was recommended to us by our friend Kevin, who I’ll quote, said: “You’ll see all of Britain’s most northerly — house, police station, post office, bus stop, tea shop, lighthouse, outpost, etc!” And boy was he right!
Note: Featured image is from ‘Promote Shetland.’*
*Part 3 is here.