Carolina: Cruising Past 70: Our Lifestyle Adventures: Exploring Lerwick of the Shetland Islands

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Our Lifestyle Adventures: Exploring Lerwick of the Shetland Islands

Lerwick, an old fishing village in the Shetlands
lodberries in Lerwick
We were not familiar with these islands so we thought it best to join the City Walking Tour and, if we still had time, venture on our own.  From the bus that brought us to the old Victoria Pier, at the center of town, our tour guide led us through the Old Toll Booth that the old fishing village used and the lodberries that were utilized to load provisions for the island from boats. She said that they were also used frequently as sites for smuggling goods into town, especially during the night.

old Victoria Pier, Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland
Lerwick is the capital of the northernmost islands of Scotland, the Shetlands. We reached this subarctic archipelago after a day at sea from Copenhagen on our way to Iceland. We joined interesting lectures on the architecture, history and economy of the Shetlands in general and Lerwick in particular. Lerwick’s population is about 7,500 and the Shetland Islands, a total of 23,000. The islands did not come into the possession of Scotland until the 15th century when it was sold by the Norwegian/Danish King who was mired in debt. The town name is from Old Norse meaning “bay of clay”.

Lerwick, Shetland Islands
Fishing has continued to be an important aspect of the economy up to the present day. The discovery of North Sea oil in the 1970s significantly boosted Shetland incomes, employment and public sector revenues. The local way of life reflects the joint Norse and Scottish heritage including the Up Helly Aa that marks the end of the yule season. Before, revelers and guizers, formed into squads, marched through the town dragging barrels of burning tar. Later it evolved into torch processions, the first one taking place in in 1881. In 1889 the torches began to be thrown into and burn a replica Viking galley.

Fort Charlotte
Our next stop was Fort Charlotte built in the mid-17th Century at the highest point available. Permanent stone-built buildings began to be erected around the fort and along the shoreline. The principal concentration of buildings was in the "lanes" area, a steep hillside stretching from the shoreline to Hillhead. The walking tour went through all of these.

Lerwick became capital of the Shetland Islands in 1708. When the town became more prosperous through sea trade and the fishing industry during the 19th century, the town expanded to the west of Hillhead. Lerwick Town Hall was built during this period of expansion. The beautiful Town Hall is home to Shetland Islands Council's council chambers and is available to hire for functions and events.

the beautiful townhall in Lerwick, Shetland Islands
It was surprising to find out that humans have lived in the islands since the Mesolithic period. Evidence of settlement in the area dates back 3,000 years, centered at the Broch of Clickimin, which was constructed in the first century BC. Since it was not part of the walking tour, we decided to see it on our own. So, after the visit to the Shetland Museum and Archives, the tour’s last stop, Bill and I took a bus whose driver showed us where he would wait for us in his return round.

Clickimin Broch, constructed first century BC
A broch is an Iron Age drystone hollow-walled structure of a type found only in Scotland where some of the most sophisticated examples of drystone architecture were ever created. There is controversy over their origin: defensive military structures (an Iron Age equivalent to the castles and tower houses of medieval Scotland) or farmhouses since some of them were surrounded by clusters of smaller dwellings.

The Clickimin Broch is large and well preserved, though somewhat restored. It was originally built on an island in Clickimin Loch (now increased in size by silting and drainage); it was approached by a stone causeway. The water-level in the loch was reduced in 1874, leaving the broch high and dry. The broch is situated within a walled enclosure and, unusual for brochs, featuring a large "blockhouse" between the opening in the enclosure and the broch itself. We were so glad we braved the trip to Clickimin!

up from Old Town
Upon returning into the town of Lerwick, we looked for a pharmacy to buy some OTC drugs for the sore throat and cough Bill was developing. The accent in this part of part of Scotland is as unique as the accents in the different parts of Scotland we visited (the Highlands, Edinburgh, and Newcastle). So even this simple activity became an interesting adventure for Bill and me!

traditional Scottish snacks
We wished we had more time for exploration but we had to get back to the ship before the “on-board” time, an hour before it was going to set sail for Iceland!