Shetland: the most beautiful place in the world?

by Stephanie Gilmartin

As I'm sure I have mentioned before, James is from Shetland, and we went up this summer for a holiday (I had to meet the parents at some point, and I'm very glad I did).  You may wonder about Shetland, because it's nearer Scandinavia than Scotland and has a massive Viking fire festival every January. Is it really that weird? Well, yes and no. And what's it like dating a viking? Actually, it's pretty good, even if he does have the same hairstyle as a Shetland pony.

Yes, Shetland ponies are everywhere in Shetland. 

Perhaps the hardest thing to get your head round in Shetland is the language. Living with James, quite a few words have already slipped into common parlance in our house - spaegie (when your muscles are tired after exercise), peerie (little) and breeks (trousers, althought that's quite normal in Ayrshire where I'm from too). What you're not prepared for is people speaking in the dialect all the time (speaking a normalised version of English for "Soothmoothers", or southmouthers, is called "knapping" and is sometimes frowned upon). Oh, and when you go to different parts of Shetland, they have different dialects - what would be the fun if it was too easy? Whalsay, where James' dad is from, is the best example; " a cup of tea and a jaffa cake" becomes "a cup of toy and a t-yaffa te-ache".  

James grew up in Burra, a lovely bay with such delights as the Smuggler's Cave and this old swimming pool where his mum learnt to swim.

What an amazing view for a swimming lesson!

I thought even the council houses in Shetland were about the most picturesque thing I'd ever seen. They reminded me of a cross between Balamory and the town in The Returned (which if you haven't seen, I would definitely recommend - can't wait til series two comes out).

Below is an accomodation barge for housing offshore workers. James thinks it's an eyesore but I quite liked it - rather some op-art in the harbour than a big featureless white boat.

Eshaness (pronounced AISH-ness, unless you're James trying to annoy his friend Vikki) has even more exquisite scenery than Lerwick and Burra - it's home to some very high, very steep cliffs and perhaps the strongest shades of blue and green I've ever seen.

James and Vikki on a clifftop.

James and Vikki on a clifftop.

It's so vast and airy that it feels like you're right at the edge of the world.

This is the least scary way to look over the edge of the cliffs.

This is the least scary way to look over the edge of the cliffs.

On the drive back from the Burn of Lunklet, we found this cupboard full of all sorts of cakes, eggs and jams by the side of the road. We popped our money in an honesty box and had lovely coffee cupcakes and chocolate tiffin for dessert (dinner was the best fish and chips I've ever had at Frankie's in Brae, the most northerly fish and chip shop in the UK).

This is the inside of Park Hall, a big old abandoned house in Bixter (and that is James climbing over the caved-in ceiling).

Vikki told us that the rumour about the house is that it was abandoned by the Doctor who lived there after one of his children found and ate some medicine meant for a patient. All I could find out online was that two of his children died within 12 days of each other in 1914 (they were only two and four years old). Whatever did happen, it seems it was something sad enough for them to abandon a beautiful Victorian house.

This is Walter the unpleasant pheasant. He lives in the Gardens of Sand. He followed me around for ages before pecking my leg. Luckily, he's normally locked up during the day - I think we must have gone at an unlucky time.

This is the peck mark!

This is the peck mark!

Pheasants aside, the gardens are worth visiting and are full of flowers and other (less vicious) wildlife. I mean, look at this tiny tiny froglet!

These houses are down by Lerwick Harbour, in an area called the Lodberries. Imagine living right on the sea! So relaxing.

James' Granny Burra gave us these garden flowers, which she grew and arranged herself - personally I think they look very professional, and kind of remind me of this New York florist whose work I love . She is also an expert maker of fishcakes and bannocks (funny triangular Shettish scones).

We got to go fishing while we were there, which was a first for me! I got my waders from a charity shop called Shoard run by James' other Granny up in Whalsay.  I managed to catch eight mackerel (five of them at one time, so exciting!) but also managed not to touch any of them (what are viking boyfriends for, if not to take still-wriggling fish off of hooks for you?) James was in his element, chopping up bait and winding up the seagulls.

The seagulls following the boat because we'd caught so many fish.

The seagulls following the boat because we'd caught so many fish.

We're really grateful to Vikki for taking us on a great day trip all around the island, to John and Liz for taking us off fishing and of course to James' parents and grandparents for being such good hosts and feeding us all week. With summer feeling like such a long time ago it feels like it's time to plan our next holiday...