San Diego Scottish Highland Games

The Shetland Islands

The Shetland Islands

The Shetland Islands, also called Zetland or Shetland, with a group of 100 islands and fewer than 20 of them inhabited, in Scotland. It is 130 miles (210 km) north of the Scottish mainland, at the northern extremity of the United Kingdom. They constitute the Shetland Islands council area and the historic county of Shetland, and after the settlement of the mainland, Scalloway, a fishing port, is the largest island.

Whalsay and Bressay are the Eastern Islands of the Mainland. The Northern Mainland lies the Islands of Yell, Feltar, and Unst at a northerly point in the United Kingdom, Muckle Flugga- a lighthouse and group of rocks. Fair Isle is 24 miles (39 km) from the southern Mainland, belongs to the National Trust for Scotland, and has an important ornithological observatory. The scenery of the Shetland Islands is wild and beautiful, with deeply indented coasts of the sea lochs, or fjords, called Voes, enclosed by steep hills. Winds on these Islands are nearly continuous and strong; trees are sparse but have a mild climate at high latitude, only 400 miles (640 km) south of the Arctic Circle, due to the North Atlantic Current warming influence as an extension of the Gulf Stream system.

The main form of agriculture is crofting, having a few acres of arable land and the right to graze sheep on the “scattald” or common grazing. The Shetland sheep produces fine wool that is spun and knitted by the Island workers in distinctive patterns known as Shetland and Fair Isle. Many of the crofts cannot adequately support their families, so people from islands seek work in the North Sea oil industry, abroad or in the Royal Navy. Fishing has always been important, and crofters fish to supplement their diet or their income.

The herring fishery centred on Lerwick declined in the 20th century, and fishing for other species is now more important; only after the oil discovered in the North Sea northeast of Shetland was long-persisting depopulation slowed. Shetland’s traditional way of life was built in 1970 when the oil was discovered at Sullom Voe in the North of the Mainland. Pipelines extended from the North Sea fields to the depot, which is approached by tankers using the sheltered deep water provided by the Yell sound, and it increased the importance of Sumburgh Airport in the southern tip of the Mainland and Shetland’s economy by supplying goods and services to the oil industry.

Shetland Island has circular stone towers with stone circles and brochs as evidence of prehistoric settlement by Picts. During the 7th and 8th centuries, missionaries from Ireland or western Scotland began the conversion of the population to Christianity. In the 8th and 9th centuries, Shetland was invaded by Norsemen, who ruled the islands until the 15th century. The principal language of the island until the 18th century was Norn, derived from Old Norse, and customs survive. In 1472, with Orkney, the islands were annexed to the Scottish crown and stood outside the Scottish history and traditions.

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