Scotland 2010

Back To Shetland; Shipping, Shopping, Peat & More Ferries – Scotland 2010

Having returned from Unst and Yell, we spent a little longer exploring the Shetland mainland before leaving the Shetlands. One of the things you notice on both Orkney and Shetland is that despite the lush grass and low-level vegetation that covers the islands, there are virtually no trees.

No trees in Shetland
Spot the tree...

Historically, this meant that the islanders had to find something else to burn to keep them warm in winter – something that was in plentiful supply locally. The answer, surprisingly, is peat, which was (and is) cut out of the ground in blocks, dried and then burned. Apparently, peat burns quite slowly and is surprisingly suitable for use as a solid fuel. Driving around the islands, you can still see evidence of peat cutting and drying today:

Cutting peat, Shetland islands
The peat is cut in blocks and then left to dry out for a few days

Recently cut blocks of peat

Fishing In Shetland

Another historical industry that seems to be surviving is fishing. Shetland is home to some of the biggest fishing boats I’ve ever seen. Although there aren’t many of these, they look pretty expensive – presumably there is still some money to be made from deep-sea fishing, despite the best efforts of the EU…

We found this ship tucked away in a tiny harbour on the coast of Shetland but saw an identical (sister?) ship arrive in Lerwick harbour on the day we left.

Large fishing boat in small Shetland harbour

Lerwick – Internet Access & Shopping

Before leaving Shetland, we visited Lerwick, capital of the Shetlands. If you need public internet access in Shetland, Lerwick is one of the few places you will find it. Lerwick library offers free wireless internet access if you have your own laptop. There are also computers you can use if you don’t have your own. This is a boon even if you have a mobile broadband dongle, as we found that 3G coverage was non-existent throughout most of the highlands and islands of Scotland (on 3).

(Incidentally, when assessing UK mobile operators’ claims of coverage, remember that they are normally based on the percentage of the UK population that’s covered, not the proportion of the UK land mass. The highlands and islands of Scotland don’t have much in the way of population…)

Lerwick main shopping street

Internet facilities aside, one of the most interesting things about Lerwick is that it allows younger people to have the novel experience of walking down a high street with no chain stores. Every shop (except Boots) is independent and uniquely named. It’s completely unlike most town centres throughout the UK and hopefully will remain so.

For a few more (independent) shops, head to the Toll Clock Shopping Centre, which is on the way out of Lerwick towards the ferry port. It is bright red and although it may seem a little dated to habitués of modern-day urban horrors like Meadowhall, it does have some useful shops for people who actually live in Shetland.

We left Shetland the way we arrived – on the Lerwick-Kirkwall Northlink Ferries service. It departs Lerwick around 1730 and arrives Kirkwall at about 2300.