By Corey Sandler
Lerwick is the main port of the Shetland Islands. It is not quite the mainland of Europe, or to be more precise, not the mainland of the United Kingdom.
Lerwick is a piece of Scotland roughly 200 kilometers or 123 miles off the north coast of the United Kingdom, roughly equidistant between the Faroe Islands (228 miles or 367 kilometers) to the west, and about 222 miles or 357 kilometers east of Bergen, Norway.
In Shetland, we are as close to the North Pole as parts of Greenland or Alaska.
The Shetland Islands—about 100 in total—cover about 566 square miles or 1,466 square kilometers, and the total population of the 16 inhabited islands is about 23,000.
We went today for a walkabout in town. Lerwick in many ways is frozen in time, with Georgian and Victorian stone buildings and old fishing piers and equipment. Here is some of what we saw today:
The main island is helpfully known as Mainland. Other inhabited islands include Yell, Unst, and Fetlar, which lie to the north, and Bressay and Whalsay, to the east. The uninhabited islands include Mousa, known for the Broch of Mousa, considered the finest preserved example in Scotland of an Iron Age broch.
The northernmost point of the British Isles is the desolate uninhabited island of Out Stack.
Why did the Nordic people and the Vikings come to these islands? Anthropologists believe that the rapidly growing population of Scandinavia outstripped available resources there, and the Norse shifted from plundering to invasion and colonization.
Shetland was colonized during the late 8th and 9th centuries, with little left of the indigenous population before them.
One of the major events of the year nearly everywhere in Shetland is Up Helly Aa, which brings a hot time to the old town during the cold and dark nights of winter. It is a fiery salute to mark the end of the yule season.
The name comes from Old Norse. Up is used in the sense of something being at an end. Helly refers to a holy day or festival. And aa probably means “all.”
Up Holy Day All.
The largest festival takes place in Lerwick, with as many as one thousand guizers. What’s a guizer? They are the modern descendants of the Mummers, troupes of amateurs, usually all male, who gather to act out old fables and stories.
A bit of drinking is involved, I believe.
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