I was without Internet for three days, so apologies to everyone whose comments piled up. And now to my most recent travel post:
We spent a lovely day today driving around the largest of the Shetland Islands. I’ve always loved the Scottish landscape, and the Shetland Islands are like Scotland on steroids.
The day started out a bit stressfully. Normally, we just get off the ship and go through customs and immigrations — assuming the port even requires that. Lerwick does require those things, but it has a problem, which is the fact that the ship doesn’t simply dock at Lerwick. Instead, it anchors offshore and people go aboard on tenders (about 130 passengers at a time). Immigration insists on vetting all the passengers at once (about 2,000), so immigration agents come aboard the ship when it anchors. Every passenger who wishes to go offshore has to pass through immigration before getting a tender ticket.
The technical arrival time in Lerwick was 10:00, but the Immigration vetting started only at 9:00. Worse, the ship wanted to vet first those who had bought one of its tours, which we had not. We nudged and bugged them, though, saying that we had a tour too, and ended up being amongst the first in line. We whipped through immigration, got our boarding passes for the very first tender, and landed on Shetland soil at 10:10. Whew!!
Our tour guide, Grant, was waiting for us. From that moment on out, it was a perfect day. Well, not quite perfect. The fog was thick for most of the day, so we couldn’t see many of the magnificent vistas the island offers. But we got a lot of breathtaking near (as opposed to far) views. Additionally, the kids and I were just thrilled with the cool, moist air.
So, here’s what I can tell you about our almost perfect day. The Shetland Islands are the United Kingdom’s northern-most islands and are a part of Scotland. For centuries, they were sleepy little isles, known for wool and fish. That changed with the North Sea oil drilling in the early 1970s. From then on, the economy boomed, with Lerwick going from small village to small city.
There’s an ebb and flow to oil, but when the boom is on, as it is now, so many laborers come from all over the UK that they’re oil companies lodge them on floating motels. When the boom ends, most of these laborers leave, but enough stay behind that the island’s population steadily grows.
Having said that, the Shetland Islands still have more sheep than people, and have vast swaths of nothing at all but sheep and heathery land. The nature there is sooo beautiful. Every landscape involves water, whether it’s a stream, a loch (lake), or the North Sea itself. The land is lush, but austere. There are few trees. The ancient Picts cut so many of the trees down that the remaining seas couldn’t withstand the North Sea winds and storms that can sweep the islands.
What’s left is pasture land, which is lush, but not twee (i.e., not cutsie or Disney-esque). Despite their northern location (way, way north), the Shetland Islands benefit from the Gulf Stream, so they get water, not snow. Every vista shows one rolling green hills delicately touched up with small yellow, purple, or white flowers. Walk close to a pasture, and the sweet smell of heather wafts upwards.
Our guide, Grant, grew up on the island, and was able to tell us about every area he passed. Heck, he waved to most drivers we passed, since he knows so many people on his home island. When we drove West in a mildly successful effort to avoid the fog, he kept calling for weather updates about the island’s southern end. I knew that. What I didn’t know was that he was calling his mother for that info!
In addition to knowing the island, Grant had the most lovely Scots accent. He explained to us that this was his second language (English with a strong Scots accent). His first language is a Shetland dialect that has a strong Norwegian component. This reflects the fact that, until about 500 years ago, the Shetland Islands belonged to Norway. Before that, they were Danish. And before that, going back to a Bronze Age times, they belonged to the Celtic Picts. We kept asking Grant questions, partly for info and partly just to hear him speak.
People with only one day ashore go to the Shetland Islands for four things: the natural beauty, the Shetland ponies, the puffins, and the archeological sites. We got to see all four. I’ve already made an inadequate effort to describe the natural beauty, so I’ll abandon any further efforts on that subject and touch instead upon the rest.
Shetland ponies look like fat, shrunken horses. They’re sturdy beasts, with bad tempers, who used to be taken down into coal mines and worked in the darkness until they died. In Shetland, they hang out in green pastures, and get petted by tourists. We were fortunate that it was just the four of us fighting to scratch the ponies’ ears. Periodically we’d see entire buses full of people (40 or so) cluster around three or four ponies.
The ponies are right on the roadside. Outside of the main roads into Lerwick, these roads are small. Most of the ones Grant took is on are one lane with periodic passing areas so that cars coming from different directions can pass each other.
Wherever one looks on these roads, one sees sheep dotting the fields. Most are shorn by this time of year, but we were fortunate enough to see a few puffy, unshorn sheep, as well as several lambs, which are rare by July. I regret to say that, despite the fact that the lambs were adorable, I did not feel guilty about having lamb for dinner. As I said to the kids, “Lambs are cute and delicious.”
The puffins are surprisingly foolish looking, and quite endearing, little birds. They live on cliff-side nests, so one usually see them from afar. We were fortunate that several had waddled up to the fence right next to us. Even Grant, who grew up a few miles from the puffin area he showed us, had never seen them so close, so he took some pictures too. They’re small, black-and-white birds, somewhat roly-poly, with bright orange feet, and yellow beaks that are a little wider and flatter than parrot beaks. They are quite amazingly photogenic.
And then there’s the archeology. We went to a site that was occupied by Picts, then early Vikings, than Medieval Vikings. All that remains are stones, but there are enough to give you a complete feeling for a Pictish wheel house. These were round, windowless, stone houses that had a shell built around them, equally round and windowless. One can actually go into the remains of one of the wheelhouses. It is cozy or claustrophobic, depending on your point of view. At 5 feet tall, I was the only family member who didn’t feel that the ceiling, had it still existed, would have pressed down upon me.
Aside from its archeological interest, the site was lovely. The stone walls are shored up by lush grass hills, and the stones are covered with pale green moss. The combination of sea, grass, and weathered stone was a feast for the eyes. I took way too many pictures. When I’m back and have winnowed them down, I’ll share them with you.
Both kids felt that the Shetland Islands were the best day of the cruise. I agree. I loved the way Skjolden looked, but I felt best in the Shetlands.
As always with these trips, I felt conflicted about liking it so much. Scotland is very hostile to Israel, and the Scottish Church recently came out with an official Church statement that skipped being anti-Israel and went straight to anti-Semitic.
I guess this was another reminder that there is a vast chasm all across Europe between the people and the ruling class. The people think they have a democracy, but they don’t. The ruling class is the upper class and, ironically given that they’re the upper class, they’re hard Left. The people that this arrogant, antisemitic upper class governs are mostly “I neither know nor care, provided you give me the benefits and hand-outs I’m now addicted to” people. The leadership is malevolent; the masses are rather nice sheeple.
Today is a much-needed restful “at sea” day. Tomorrow is the West coast of Southern Scotland. I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say.