Saturday 22 September 2012

Of Wicks and Voes, Brochs and Lochs

According to the locals, only two days of the year have not seen sh…y weather. One of them is certainly today, and the other one was in May - when FRAM called Lerwick for the first time this year… So, our good weather engine seems to be running full speed, immaculate skies preside over a warm day in the green, green countryside of Lerwick, capital of the Shetland Islands. Wick meaning rectangular bay, by the way, as opposite to a Voe, which is V-shaped. Good to know.
The difference couldn't be more accentuated than by the architecture. Whereas on the Faroer Islands the Scandinavian wooden houses are ubiquitous, only in their own red and black coloration, we are running smack into the heavy, grey, but very charming Victorian style buildings here. Turrets, beautifully crafted masonry and the wonderfully inviting painted signs over shops and pubs, heralding the presence of the old traditions.
Like the Faroer Islands, Shetland is an accumulation of many Isles and Islets. Mousa has gained a lot of attraction for its large number of sea birds, is a well-known spot among birders. Only that at this time of the year most of the birds have migrated by now, further South to spend their time until the next breeding cycle. (If they only knew about the fine weather here…) But Mousa is at the same time a much frequented leisure place for many seals, so the excursion on this emerald green speck of land is a heaven for wildlife photographers.
History is at its best when you travel towards the southern tip of Shetland, passing the crystal clear Lochs (lakes) and spend some time in Jarlshof. Already people of the Neolithic discovered the benefits of this place and built their homestead there. So favourable are the conditions here, with access to fresh water, protection, fishing grounds and building material, that also much later, in the Bronze and Iron Age people would come and settle, partly reusing the dominant sandstone slabs for their - much more sophisticated - houses. So it is not surprising, too, that the place kept popular throughout the Viking and Medieval times. Fighting times these were, apparently - Shetland features more than 120 Brochs - ultra solid watchtowers.
A true historian's delight, and everybody checks hundreds of images on the way back to Lerwick. Pardon me - Ler-Wick.