Day 5: Historic Shetland

It’s been awhile since my Scotland posts due to work, but we are finally back in the islands again. Our second day on the mainland unintentionally focused on the long the history of settlement in the area. Once again we mainly stayed on the western peninsula, with a slight venture into the central section (map of points visited).


Huxter watermills

The first stop was the old Norse Watermills at Huxter near Sandness and is the farthest west you can drive on the mainland.  It was clear walking around the mills that these people were very industrious, and also very short.  My sister provides scale at 5ft 7in tall.  The stream wound through/past three of these mills in a small gorge, eventually tumbling over a ledge into the ocean.


A small people


Our next stop went back in time to Stanydale Temple, a short drive to the southeast.  This site is thought to have been constructed around 3,500 years ago for some communal purpose.  The exact reason is unknown, but it may have been religious in nature.


Stanydale gate

The overall footprint of the structure is surprisingly large, especially when taking into account how long ago it was built.  Just imagine these walls built up slightly higher with a roof overhead, a few other small farm houses nearby, and fields surrounding the entire grouping.  All built and worked with crude implements in these harsh windswept conditions.  It’s amazing to think how far we have come as a species in such a short period of time.




Stanydale Temple sits in the middle of the countryside with houses dotting the hills.  Some very old rock fences have all but returned to the peat from where they came, leaving only trace lines of stone and raised earth where they once stood.  Newer rock walls also designate previous property lines, while the most recent designations are made with wood and wire.  Rocky knobs pop out from the peat ever so often, making for a much more dynamic landscape than at first notice.


Stanydale Temple countryside

Once back in the car it was off to the second largest town of Scalloway to see the castle and surrounding islands.  Scalloway is the second largest settlement on the islands, and has a very Scandinavian feel due to its architecture and colours.


Shetland Ponies in Scalloway


The town centre seen from the west

Our main reason for stopping in Scalloway was to visit the castle.  We arrived to late to explore the visitor centre, but the castle and grounds were still accessible so we wandered around for some time learning about the history of rule on the islands.  The Wikipedia page has a lot of history for those interested, but some key points are the Shetlands were Norwegian territory until 1472 when they were ceded to Scotland, and Scalloway was the main seat of power on the islands until Lerwick became the capital in 1708.


Interior ruins

Eventually the curator found us in the main chamber and told us it was time to lock up, unless we wanted to let ourselves out when we were done.  We still wanted to explore, so he gave us the key to the castle and told us to drop it by the side door after locking the castle.  It’s not every day you get to lock a castle so we each had a turn, just to make sure it was truly locked.


Locking up

Before heading home for the evening we took a drive around the small islands connected by bridges to the mainland south of Scalloway.  Trondra, West Burra, and East Burra were mostly rural with a few small settlements.  The main highlight here came in the form of a white sand beach with some neat rocks and faults near the north end of West Burra.  It turned out to be much MUCH colder than it looked from above.


Enticing Shetland beaches

Photos taken 23 May with a Nikon D7100

Look forward to a Scotland post each week for the next month or so!

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