June 2013


Shetland Islands – What We Did on the Mainland

Atlantic Ocean

This is the Atlantic Ocean, as seen just northwest of the community of Brae. Isn’t it pretty!

When planning the trip, we sort of expected to be bored – to have time to stay in our lighthouse and read books – relaxing, if you will. And while we did some of that, we actually found that there was a lot more to do than we expected and that what there was to do was seriously engaging.

North Sea

This is the North Sea, as seen just outside the city of Brae. You could turn around at this spot and see both seas from the same spot!

I won’t go too deeply into the retail therapy aspects, but suffice it to say that lots of money was left on the island – in exchange for a wool sweater, lots of locally produced crafts (lots and lots, actually), some jewelry, and a couple of books. Much of this was picked up as we went along – we never hit up Lerwick’s Commercial Street when the shops were actually open.

Shetland Museum and Archives

Shetland Museum and Archives

The only day we really explored Commercial Street was on Sunday – when all the shops were closed. We’d ventured into Lerwick looking for food (hello Tesco!) and ended up sinking a couple hours into the Shetland Museum – a surprisingly large and extremely well done look at the history of the Shetland Islands. After the museum, we did a bit of grocery shopping and then headed back to the lighthouse where we took a long walk across the fields to see our lighthouse from a distance, enjoy the fresh air, and get some exercise.

Shetland Museum and Archives

Sailboat on display at the Shetland Museum and Archives

Monday we signed up for a private textile tour with Tom from Unseen Shetland – he took us round on an all-day tour, stopping at a knitting factory where genuine Shetland made wool sweaters are made – an illuminating tour demonstrating how textiles are made en masse. We also visited JuSt Shetland, a couple that happily spends their days spinning (they own at least 9 different spinning wheels) and weaving (they own two very large looms—I thought I was being cheeky when I said it looked like one was playing an organ, but with the notes in front of her and the rhythmic motions, I wasn’t actually that far off). The last stop on the tour was at the wool brokers in the center of Lerwick – we never would have found this shop without Tom – and I can unreservedly recommend Unseen Shetland Tours – especially if you are lucky enough to get a private, one-on-one tour. We happened to take this tour the same day a large cruise ship was in the port and the poor buggers taking the cruise ship tours were being herded around like cattle on big buses. The individualized tour was much, much better – and included all snacks and meals along the way, which included lunch at a lovely hotel bar called the Spiggie.

Me at 60° North

Me at 60° North

60° North

The simple 60° North sign.

Tom also took pictures of us as we crossed the 60° Latitude marker along Shetland’s main highway – a kind of geeky stop if there ever was one. Actually I learned about this marker in a handy flyer, “Touring Shetland By Bus” – specifically the South Mainland Route 60-6. For £6, round trip, one can take a tour of the South Mainland over about 2½ hours. Whoever wrote the brochure has a fantastic sense of humor and I sure wish that I’d had the time to ride the bus along this route. The author warns you to make sure that you catch the bus back, because if you don’t, “It may result in a very expensive taxi ride back to Lerwick, or even worse missing the departure of your cruise.” Details include what you’ll see out the bus window – the 60° North Latitude marker, for example – and a gentle warning to keep your eye on the driver at the southern terminus of the bus route (“when he leaves best to follow him”). The author also asks that if you leave any electrical goods on the bus when you get off to leave the all important instructions behind as well.


The sand is a “tombolo” connecting the Shetland mainland with St. Ninians Isle. The tombolo moves as tides push it.

Longest bit of straight road in the Shetlands

Longest bit of straight road in the Shetlands is about 1 mile long. But it certainly isn’t flat.

Tuesday we planned on exploring stuff in the area of the lighthouse – but it got off to an unfortunate start when the power went out while we were doing laundry. A soaking wet basket of clothing and plans to catch a plane early Wednesday morning are not a good combination. We spent our morning finding the only nearby (30 minutes away) publically accessible washing machine and dryer that had electricity. Fortunately we were finished by noon.

Tangwick Haa Museum Display

Most of the displays at the Tangwick Haa Museum were excellent.

The afternoon included a stop by the Tangwick Haa Museum, which is dedicated to the Eshaness area (where our lighthouse was located). It’s a charming little museum with lots of local history. They also have a small gift shop selling locally made goods – and I managed to drop some more dosh in the shop – just before banging my head on the doorway while walking out (I’d made fun of the sign “Mind your head” on the way in, so I suppose the knock on my noggin was well deserved).

Mussels at Frankie’s Fish and Chips

Mussels at Frankie’s Fish and Chips in Brae. The UK’s northern most Fish and Chips shop.

With a bit of hunger in the system, we headed to Frankie’s Fish and Chips for lunch – it is, officially, the northern most Fish and Chips shop in the United Kingdom, and one of the five best in Scotland. That said, I had mussels for lunch – half a kilo for about £8. They were excellent, along with my new favorite dessert, Sticky Toffee Pie. I’m not sure how I’ve overlooked Sticky Toffee Pie for so long (maybe it’s only a Scottish thing), but it’s clearly the best dessert to have come out of the UK in the last 100 years.

Canadian Faux Sheep

Ewe wouldn’t believe this piece of art celebrating Canada, would ewe?

The afternoon was closed out with a drive to see the tallest peak in the Shetland Islands. Unfortunately it was hidden in clouds and we never saw the top. What was amusing though was the fact that I pondered out loud how it worked when the roads were being fixed. Most of the roads on the Shetland Islands are single lanes – some are very narrow – with occasional passing points that you pull into when somebody is coming the other direction. As we made our way down one of these narrow roads, I wondered how it worked because, unlike America, there’s no oncoming lane that you can switch into to drive around the construction.

Around the bend I got my answer: a construction worker gets out of his truck, stops me, waves at his colleagues down the road, tries to get their attention, and then, eventually, waves me onward – until I get to the gigantic truck where the next construction worker waves me onto the shoulder of the road (basically what is normally where the sheep eat their dinner). There I stopped, waited for the construction trucks to move by, and then I was waved back onto the paved road.

Happy to have my answer, I figured out how to drive a different way back home that avoided passing the construction going the other direction – but that was pure luck.

Old Shetland Home

Old Shetland Home

It’s safe to say that we did a heck of a lot more than we thought we would do, and we left feeling like we should have booked more time on the Shetland Islands.

2 comments to Shetland Islands – What We Did on the Mainland

  • Reko

    Hi, Adamo! Is you still being in Scotland. I seems like you have been being there for about three months now or something. Are you having a job there or something?

  • Entertaining indeed again (not my 1st visit recently) and impressing photos as well, half a kilo (I fear you become more and more German) of mussels for lunch? Your personal trainer might scold you for that later. Stay so.