Destination Viking AGM 2012

Shetland study tour.

Following our business meeting, tour of the Shetland Museum and the traditional Shetland Fiddle entertainment over an amazing dinner – we timetabled a two day study tour. The excursion started early in the morning in Lerwick with the group looking at seals and an otter in the harbour by the hotel. It was a crisp November day with the rising sun highlighting the contours of the hills. Shetland has virtually no trees and only isolated settlement so you always get a sense of the underlying landscape. It is this which has contributed to the discovery of so many archaeological features.

For our first day we headed North. Shetland is made up of several islands and we were heading for the most Northerly. Once out of Lerwick you immediately get a sense of space as the road curves past valleys and bays. The views are spectacular and often not a house in sight. The underlying rock is quite close to the surface in many places but there is still usually a layer of peat over the rock. Peat cutting still takes place occasionally but the evidence of substantial previous historic exploitation is clearly visible. By comparison a modern golf course with its fertilised green fairways looks strangely incongruous.

Whilst we are travelling on a modern fast road there is a reminder that the Viking way of life was so relevant. An electronic sign explains that the three ferries ahead are running to timetable. From every vantage point we can see water - now providing employment in the form of salmon and mussel farms but the primary form of access till relatively recently. The previous evening we had been in the Shetland museum where there are many boats and other reminders of a maritime way of life. Even sheep and cattle were moved by boat. At a place called Voe on the Atlantic side of the mainland we see a group of fishing boats in a sheltered anchorage inland from the sea. This is instantly recognisable to those familiar with the fjord. But this is not a barren land. Sheep are plentiful and the vegetation lush. Old field boundaries show that there has been more extensive use of the land in the past. We know also that the climate has changed several times and this land was capable of sustaining a reasonable population.

At 9.05 we reach our first ferry at Toft for the half hour crossing to Yell. There is a rush to the window to see two more otters swimming by the terminal.

Once off the mainland the change to an even more rural lifestyle is clear. Buildings are more utilitarian and modern homesteads more scattered in the landscape. There are more smaller often uninhabited islands all around us. Yell is quite low-lying and barren in parts. Much of the depopulation is recent and the remains of 19 and 20th century farmsteads are common.

 

Destination Viking Association has already involved partners both in the Scandinavian 'home lands' of the Vikings in the Nordic countries as well as in a number of the lands in the west where Scandinavians settled (the Isle of Man, Orkney and Shetland, Faeroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland) and some of the Baltic Sea areas with strong Scandinavian impact during the Viking Age (Germany, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Russia). The partnership is open to new partners and new countries.