I posted this up a week ago but then the blog had tech issues so now I’m having another go! I hope everyone who would like to can comment this time.
I’m back from a magnificent trip to the Shetland Islands! The Shetlands, for those who haven’t heard of them, are also known as the Northern Isles and they lie about a hundred miles to the north of Scotland at 60 degrees north and within 400 miles of the Arctic Circle. We were staying on Britain’s most remote inhabited island, Fair Isle. The trip provided me with the most wonderful research for my current manuscript, the first in a new Scottish set series of books.
I’m going to be blogging about my trip to Fair Isle on the Word Wench blog on Monday but here are a few interesting historical details that I picked up along the way…
Our first night was spent in Lerwick, capital of Shetland. Lerwick was established as a town in the 17th century, building on the herring trade. However the harbour had provided shelter for plenty of seafarers before that, including the Vikings. We stayed in a lovely guesthouse just below the walls of Fort Charlotte, a military fort built during the reign of King Charles II to protect shipping during the Second Anglo Dutch War of 1665. Shetland has always seen a lot of naval action from the time of the Vikings through to the Second World War. After the fort was burned by the Dutch it was abandoned but in 1781 a new pentagonal fort was built on the site and was named after the wife of King George III. There was no garrison in the fort in the nineteenth century, so apparently it was let as comfortable accommodation to the town’s bachelors! By the mid 19th century it housed the prison. What’s left of the fort is now open to the public to visit. It has some impressive replica 18th century cannon!
We also walked along the waterfront, past the “lodberries” built by Lerwick’s merchants in the 18th century. These are houses and warehouses built on piers so that goods could be loaded and unloaded directly onto the boats. It was from this style of building in the “old town” that Lerwick derived its nickname of the “Venice of the Northern Isles.” Local folklore relates various stories about smuggling via the lodberries, with casks of Dutch gin which was imported to Shetland via Norway disappearing through underground passages before the merchants officially declared the imported goods to the customs officers. The secret passageways still run under the street! I’m planning another visit to Lerwick before too long to find out more about its fascinating history.
We then spent a week on Fair Isle staying at the wonderful, world famous Bird Observatory, walking, reading, birding, checking out the history and the archaeology, enjoying some Fair Isle folk music and meeting some very interesting people (including a couple of guys who were there to maintain the Victorian lighthouses built by the Stevensons!) The weather was mainly wonderful until it was time to leave when high winds grounded all the planes and made our eventual flight out on a 7 seater aircraft quite an experience! As a result of travel delays we had the extra bonus of a night in the absolutely charming Sumburgh Hotel back on Mainland Shetland. Built in 1867 as the laird’s house for the Bruce family, the hotel stands close by the Jarlshof archaeological site and the ruins of the “old house of Sumburgh,” a medieval hall rebuilt in the 16th century as a defensible laird’s house. By the end of the 17th century the house was in ruins and when Sir Walter Scott visited the site it was almost all covered with sand dunes…
I’ll be talking more about Fair Isle history soon and the inspiration for my new series. In the meantime I picked a few goodies on my travels so if you would like a Fair Isle pincushion, some notecards, little mats etc all with a Scottish theme, just tell me what you like best about Scotland and I will enter your name in the draw! The drawing will be made on Monday and I’ll post up the winner here. Good luck!