Shuffling about in the Shetlands

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September 7th 2012
Published: September 7th 2012
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In 2005, we spent two weeks exploring Scotland and fell in love with the country. Hopping off our flight in the Shetland Islands, we acknowledged that it is good to be back on Scottish soil. The green rolling hills and craggy coastline are so inviting.

Our day started early leaving for the Reykjavik airport at 5am giving us plenty of time for airport security and all the other nonsense that you encounter when traveling. We landed safely in Glasgow and had a 7- hour lay over waiting for our flight to the Shetlands…. as you can imagine there are only so many flights to the islands. The initial plan was to do a little driving and sight seeing and also catch some local music that we had read about. More on that later.

We find ourselves already four weeks into our sabbatical and have learned that we most likely need to chill for a few days. We’ve been on the move constantly and haven’t stayed in one location for longer than two nights. This is actually a bit less because it’s not like you are spending a whole 48 hours in one place, but rather arriving in the late afternoon after a full day’s outing, settling in, then getting up the next day and having at it again. So we picked some nice places to relax and take it easy for a few days.

We frequently head to locations after the tourist season. We often miss the peak weather but also miss the crowds as a result. The locals are often a bit more relaxed and open to conversation as a result. We have found that off -season allows an experience of a more natural life in a location. And occasionally the cost for lodging is a bit less expensive. All in all, not a bad plan.

So—we waited to go to the Shetlands in September. We considered that if we were writers, we would hunker down in the Shetland Islands along the rugged coast and be stimulated by the ever-changing weather. The wind can be wicked and unforgiving. We are pleased that it is warmer here than our last couple of destinations, but we have also experienced those 40 to 50+ mph winds, rain, drizzle and an amazing day of sunshine. The weather was rather “dodgy” as they
Craggy CoastlineCraggy CoastlineCraggy Coastline

vibrant sunshine
say here.

However, our one sunny day was spectacular and provided a good look at the island’s natural beauty. They don’t even make mention of the wind unless it is blowing greater than 20 MPH. Of course when you are in a land with no trees and the Atlantic Ocean brings constant breezes, this is what you get.

The Shetlands are not that big in size and during our brief time we were able to explore the southern, western and some of the northwestern part of the main island.

The sounds of the Shetlands

Fine fiddlers abound! On Monday night we were directed to the community center to listen to local music. They have an auditorium set up with local arts and crafts before the concert starts. At the appointed time we were ushered into the concert hall to listen to 11 members of the Shetland Fiddle Society. They have been playing traditional Shetland music for 52 years. Their enjoyment of playing was obvious and the crowd was pleased by the performance. The main attraction for the evening was Bryan Gear and Violet Tulloch. They are professional performers and they put on a grand show. Smiles were on our faces and all within the audience. We had a great evening but for our money we really enjoyed the less professional performance by the Shetland Fiddle Society.

On Tuesday night we were sent to the Douglas Arms Pub for music. We were told it was a casual group and you never knew who would show up to play. About 8:15pm two gentlemen walked in with six or seven instruments and started tuning up. By 830pm they started playing, one on guitar and the other on fiddle. They were very good. Over the next 30 minutes slowly one or two at a time locals wandered in and started playing with them. By the end of the evening there were 4 fiddlers, 2 guitarists and a banjo player. They also had 2 mandolins that they played from time to time. As it turns out one of the fiddle players was American and she used to play in a Bluegrass band. Not sure why she is in the Shetland Islands or where they picked her up but she was good.

If we had visited one week later we would have been in town for the Shetland Islands Blues Festival….maybe next time

Soaked in Scalloway

We were out exploring this fascinating and rugged island in our Fiat (which resembles a giant white egg) and headed for Scalloway to explore an ancient castle. Our innkeeper told us to drop by the museum and pick up the key to the castle—they let you explore the castle by yourself. That sounded cool—We’ve never been handed the keys to the castle before! This sounded positively grand! We chatted with the docent in charge of the museum and off we went. Two steps out of the museum, the skies opened up with a downpour the likes we had not seen in a long time. Reminded us of getting soaked in a summer Florida downpour except it was cold and we had 40 mile an hour winds. Yes, 40! In two seconds we were soaked to the core. I must say our spirits were dampened. Now we came prepared with raincoats, but when it rains sideways, there is nothing you can do. We wandered through the castle and read all the info but in the back of our minds we were dreaming of hot showers and dry clothes. If you get to Scalloway the castle is worth the visit. Seriously, we are not exaggerating--- we were completely soaked and cold. That ended the idea of strolling through the museum—thank goodness we had already been to the one in Lerwick and had an idea of the local history. We headed straight back to our guesthouse to get warm and dry.

6 degrees of separation

It has been said that all people are connected in one way or another by 6 degrees and we have had proof of that many times in our lives and have again experienced this in the Shetland Islands.

While we were living near San Francisco we have become friends with Andre and Linda. They are living and working in the wine country intermittently while working on visas so they can move from Newcastle, England. Once we announced to them that we were taking a few months off work to travel of course they wanted to know where we were going. We rattled off the list of countries and they were puzzled why we wanted to go to the Shetland Islands. We love Scotland and have always wanted to see more of their islands was our answer. It turns out one of their three sons lives there. We stopped by to meet Jay and had a wonderful visit. If that was not enough of a coincidence, this morning we were talking with the owner of the guest house in Lerwick where we stayed the last 3 nights. He knew we were heading to the western Shetlands and suggested we stop at J & K Butcher shop and purchase some sweets on our way past. You aren’t going to believe this--- but he knew that Jay worked in this butcher shop. A bit more of the conversation revealed the business was started by Keith’s family and that he knew Jay. OK, it’s a seriously small world.


You know you are in a small place when the main road drives over the runway at the airport. When a plan is landing the flashing light and the guard rail stop traffic and you sit and wait until the plane lands.

We chuckle when we are in Scotland, Iceland or the Faroe Islands because the sheep roam free, or so it seems. It is not unusual to see them sitting or standing by the road or for that matter standing in the middle of the road. They are not incredibly bright animals, but the ones in the Shetlands usually get out of the way of an approaching car. Being from the U.S. this is very foreign to us. MJ is always attempting to find the perfect sheep photo. Hopefully she has done it this time.

The people are warm and friendly and the cuisine is quite good. A full Scottish breakfast will get you plenty of food and some black pudding to boot. Hard to imagine how it got its name, given that it is not pudding at all, but rather animal blood, oatmeal (at least in these parts) and some sausage. After it has been cooked, it takes on a black appearance. Tastes better than haggus, but it not something to pine for.

Reminder: Scotland drives on the wrong side of the road (from our perspective). The Shetland Islands has many one- lane roads so you must pay attention when driving. There are many places to pull over to take turns passing.

We were surprised to find oil refineries here on the islands. This brings many big ships and tankers into these waters.

Shetland Ponies are cute!

Places we stayed:

While in the Shetlands we stayed in 3 wonderful places. We highly recommend all of them. We splurged a bit while we were here and we are glad we did. Each locations has unique architecture and personality.

Alder Lodge Guest House—in Lerwick

Burrastow House-- in Walls

Busta House—in Brae

Additional photos below
Photos: 40, Displayed: 28


A day at the coastA day at the coast
A day at the coast

Shetland Islands

Great to meet Andre and Linda's boy!
Not your average signNot your average sign
Not your average sign

Traffic trouble, or a meeting of politicians?
What the ?What the ?
What the ?

We would follow direction if we really knew what this meant!
Hidden DipHidden Dip
Hidden Dip

Anyone have any chips if we find the dip?
Heavy Plant CrossingHeavy Plant Crossing
Heavy Plant Crossing

How heavy does the plant have to be?

7th September 2012

dodgy word...
you can say 'pony' in the Shetlands and not offend the locals :)
7th September 2012

Yes and they are proud of their ponies!
Loved the music and the slow pace we adopted while here. All is well now on to Copenhagen. Keep in touch.
7th September 2012

I miss those scottish breakfasts!
Have not been there, but Edinburgh and Inverness, Yes. Looking at your photo of Scottish breakfast reminded me of my 1986 visit (that long ago, yes) where I gorged on those full morning uppers! Loving your blogs. What an adventure!
7th September 2012

The Scottish ....
know how to cook a big breakfast. We haven't been in Scotland since is still a lovely country. See you soon!
7th September 2012

Love the fog!
7th September 2012

We did also
It made it rather mysterious and calming. What a great set of islands.
7th September 2012

What a Trip
Hello Dave & Merry, What a great time you guys are having. Connie and I are leaving Oct 4 for Germany & France for a 20 day trip. Are you guys going to be in the area? Please keep the blog/photos rolling. Lots of love, The Binkley's
7th September 2012

We will just miss you.
Hi guys! We would have loved to hook up with you both in Germany, but we leave the last week of September for Nepal. We are in the Amsterdam airport and head to Copenhagen next. Hope all is well with the CA Binkleys. Please send our love along to all. Glad you are enjoying the travel blog. We enjoy writing it and posting the pictures! Dave and Merry Jo
7th September 2012
Shetland Ponies

We used to have one of these ponies. My mum went out one night and pinched him off of a group of pikeys who had left him more or less to his own devices on a piece of waste land near their camp site. He was terribly emaciated and his hooves were so long that he could hardly walk. Lacking any land, we kept him in our garage and three of us used to take him out for a 'walk' every evening to the bemusement of the local neighbourhood. We eventually managed to home him on a lovely 10 acre smallholding where he could run free with another pony and two jersey cows :)
7th September 2012
Shetland Ponies

They are so cute
I'm glad you found a great farm for your pony. We learned they are extremely hard working animals and they used them in the mines a lot. Very interesting history.
7th September 2012

Off-season travels
I so agree with your off-season approach--how great that you're on an extended travel, so you can visit lots of places in this slower time. Also, I got one of my best sheep shots when I hiked with dogs--the sheep all gave us their attention. Maybe you can rent a car that comes with a dog!
7th September 2012

What a great idea
Next time we rent a car we will ask for a dog also. Ha Ha. The guest house we were staying in had a cocker spaniel. I guess we should have taken him with us....lessons learned.
8th September 2012

Sounds Like You are Still Having a Great Time
I loved the silly signs, as well as the runway that crosses the road. That reminded me of Gibraltar. Have fun and know I am with you each stop you make. And I am happy that you are able to take advantage of the off tourist season.
8th September 2012

Off season
It is amazing how many more people are willing to chat with you when it isn't busy or crowded. You know how we love to talk and ask lots of questions. We learned a lot about music and fiddling.
29th September 2012
Boat in the Bay

nice click..
3rd October 2012
Boat in the Bay

Glad you enjoyed the photo
The Shetland Islands provide many photo opportunities.

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