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The Raw Beauty Of Shetland


by Glad Northcutt



Welcome to the enchanting land of Shetland, a breathtaking archipelago nestled in the North Atlantic Ocean. With its rich history, diverse wildlife, and stunning landscapes, Shetland offers a raw beauty that captivates the hearts of visitors from around the world.


Shetland has a fascinating history that dates back thousands of years. The islands were inhabited by Norse settlers in the 9th century, and their influence can still be seen today in the local dialect and place names. Over the centuries, Shetland has been a melting pot of different cultures, from the Scottish and British influences to the seafaring traditions brought by the Vikings.


Geographically, Shetland is a paradise for nature enthusiasts. The archipelago comprises over 100 islands, each with its own unique character. From the soaring cliffs and jagged rock formations to the picturesque beaches and sheltered bays, Shetland’s diverse landscapes showcase the raw beauty of this remote corner of the world.


Shetland is also home to a remarkable array of wildlife. Seabird colonies dot the cliffs, with puffins, guillemots, and razorbills making their homes here. In the surrounding waters, you may catch a glimpse of playful seals or even spot majestic orcas or humpback whales. For birdwatchers, the islands offer a chance to see rare migratory species, such as the iconic Shetland wren.


Traditional Shetland culture is deeply rooted in the islands’ history and natural surroundings. The locals take great pride in their heritage, preserving traditions such as knitting, music, and storytelling. The world-renowned Shetland ponies, known for their strength and agility, are a beloved symbol of the islands’ rich heritage.


The raw beauty of Shetland’s landscape is truly awe-inspiring. The dramatic cliffs, peat blanket bogs, and heathland moors create a tapestry of colors and textures that change with the seasons. Whether you explore the rugged coastline, hike along ancient trails, or simply sit and admire the panoramic views, you’ll be immersed in a world untouched by time.


With the growing popularity of eco-tourism, Shetland has become a sought-after destination for travelers seeking an authentic and sustainable experience. The local community has embraced responsible tourism practices, ensuring that the fragile ecosystems and cultural heritage of the islands are preserved for future generations.


As you immerse yourself in the raw beauty of Shetland, you’ll not only be captivated by its natural wonders but also touched by the warmth and hospitality of the locals. Whether you choose to explore the lively towns, venture into the wilderness, or simply soak in the tranquility of the islands, Shetland will leave an indelible impression on your heart.


History of Shetland

The history of Shetland is a story of resilience, exploration, and cultural diversity. The islands have been inhabited for over 5,000 years, with evidence of early settlements dating back to the Neolithic era. However, it was the arrival of the Norse Vikings in the 9th century that left a lasting impact on the islands’ history and culture.


The Norse settlers, known as the Norse Gaels, established thriving communities on Shetland, bringing with them their distinctive language, customs, and traditions. The influence of the Vikings can still be seen today in the local dialect, place names, and even the genetic makeup of the Shetland people.


Throughout the Middle Ages, Shetland was a key trading hub, with its strategic location between Scotland and Norway. The islands were part of the Kingdom of Norway until the 15th century when they were pawned to Scotland as part of a dowry for a royal marriage. The Scottish influence began to take hold, but the Norse heritage remained intact.


Over the centuries, Shetland faced numerous challenges, including raids by pirates and conflicts between rival clans. Yet, the islanders persevered, building a resilient community that relied on fishing, farming, and crofting as their main livelihoods. Fishing, in particular, became a vital industry, with Shetland’s herring fleet once being the largest in Europe.


The 20th century brought new changes to Shetland. During World War II, the islands played a strategic role, with Scalloway becoming a base for the British Navy. The construction of airfields and military installations had a lasting impact on the infrastructure of the islands.


In recent times, Shetland has welcomed visitors from all around the world who come to explore its unique history and cultural heritage. The local museums and heritage sites offer a glimpse into the past, showcasing artifacts and stories that bring the history of Shetland to life.


Today, Shetland is a vibrant and diverse community, with a mix of Scottish, Norse, and British influences. The traditional Shetland culture is celebrated through events like the Up Helly Aa festival, where locals dress as Vikings and engage in torchlit processions to commemorate their Norse heritage.


The history of Shetland is not just a tale of battles and conquests, but a testament to the resilience and adaptability of the islanders. It is a story that continues to unfold, with each generation adding its own chapter to the rich tapestry of Shetland’s past.


Geographical Features

Shetland is a captivating archipelago located in the North Atlantic Ocean, characterized by its rugged landscapes, dramatic cliffs, and pristine beaches. The islands span approximately 1,468 square kilometers and consist of over 100 islands, each with its own unique geographical features.


The coastline of Shetland is a spectacle to behold, with towering cliffs and picturesque inlets carved by the relentless force of the North Sea. The cliffs provide a sanctuary for seabird colonies, including puffins, razorbills, and guillemots, offering a mesmerizing display of nature’s bounty.


The interior of the islands boasts a diverse range of terrains, from rolling hills and moorlands to fertile valleys and freshwater lochs. The landscape is dotted with peat bogs, where the traditional industry of peat cutting has been practiced for centuries. Walking across these peat blanket bogs provides a unique and immersive experience, allowing visitors to connect with both the land and the local culture.


Shetland is also known for its stunning beaches, with their pristine white sands and crystal-clear waters. Stroll along the shores of St Ninian’s Isle, and you’ll be walking on a stretch of land that connects the Isle to the rest of Shetland at low tide, revealing a truly extraordinary sight.


The islands are blessed with an abundance of freshwater and saltwater lochs, creating a haven for avid anglers and wildlife enthusiasts. The lochs are home to a variety of fish species, including trout, salmon, and the elusive Arctic char. These serene bodies of water also attract a wide array of bird species, offering ample opportunities for birdwatching.


As you explore Shetland’s geographical features, you’ll witness the incredible resilience of nature. From the windswept landscapes to the rugged cliffs, the raw beauty of Shetland’s terrain beckons adventurers and nature lovers alike to immerse themselves in its untamed splendor.


Whether you’re hiking along ancient trails, embarking on a kayaking adventure, or simply taking in the panoramic views, the geographical features of Shetland create a tapestry of natural wonders that will leave a lasting impression on your soul.


Wildlife and Nature

Shetland is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, offering an abundance of biodiversity and unique ecosystems. From its diverse bird species to its marine mammals, the islands are teeming with life, making it a paradise for nature lovers.


The coastal cliffs of Shetland are home to one of the largest seabird colonies in the UK. Puffins, with their colorful beaks and playful antics, are a delightful sight as they nest on the cliffs during the breeding season. As you stroll along the coastline, you may also encounter guillemots, razorbills, and fulmars, each adding their own charm to the vibrant tapestry of birdlife.


Shetland’s surrounding waters are equally rich in marine wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for gray and common seals as they bask on rocks or swim gracefully through the waves. Lucky visitors might even catch a glimpse of orcas, humpback whales, or porpoises, as these majestic creatures migrate through the area.


The islands’ lochs and freshwater bodies are havens for bird species. From the elusive corncrake hiding in the reeds to the graceful whooper swans gliding across the water, Shetland offers a unique opportunity to observe a wide variety of birdlife. The rugged coastline and sheltered inlets also attract a rich diversity of shorebirds, providing a fascinating display of avian activity.


Shetland’s flora is equally remarkable, with its wildflowers carpeting the landscape in vibrant hues. During the summer months, the hills come alive with a tapestry of pink thrift, yellow flag irises, and purple heather, creating a stunning display of colors. The islands are also famous for their wild berries, including juicy raspberries and rich blackberries, which can be foraged and enjoyed during a leisurely hike.


The natural beauty of Shetland is carefully protected, with numerous nature reserves and conservation areas ensuring the preservation of these delicate ecosystems. Responsible tourism practices are encouraged, allowing visitors to experience the wildlife and nature of Shetland while minimizing their impact on the environment.


For those seeking a closer encounter with Shetland’s wildlife, wildlife tours, guided walks, and birdwatching expeditions are available. Knowledgeable guides will lead you to the best spots to observe and learn about the fascinating creatures that call Shetland home.


Immersing yourself in the wildlife and nature of Shetland is a humbling experience, reminding us of the delicate balance of life and the importance of preserving these precious ecosystems for generations to come.


Traditional Shetland Culture

Shetland’s rich and vibrant culture is deeply rooted in its history and natural surroundings. The islanders take great pride in their heritage, preserving age-old traditions and customs that have been passed down through generations.


One of the most distinctive aspects of traditional Shetland culture is the local dialect, known as Shetlandic or Shetland Scots. This unique language reflects the Norse and Scottish influences on the islands. The dialect is still spoken by many islanders and adds a distinct charm to everyday conversations.


Music is an essential part of Shetland’s cultural fabric. The islands have a long-standing tradition of fiddle playing, with the Shetland fiddle style being renowned worldwide. The dynamic and energetic tunes, often performed in vibrant community halls, evoke a sense of joy and camaraderie that is characteristic of Shetland’s spirit.


Another celebrated aspect of traditional Shetland culture is knitting. Shetland has a long history of producing fine-knit garments, known for their intricate Fair Isle patterns and soft, delicate wool. The local knitters are experts in their craft, passing down their skills and techniques from one generation to the next.


Storytelling has been an integral part of Shetland’s culture for centuries. Whether through folktales, legends, or humorous anecdotes, the art of storytelling brings the island’s history and folklore to life. Local storytellers captivate audiences with their vivid narratives, transporting listeners to a bygone era of myth and legend.


The world-renowned Shetland ponies are an iconic symbol of the islands’ cultural heritage. These small and hardy horses, believed to be descended from ponies brought by the Norse settlers, have played a vital role in Shetland’s agricultural and transport industries. Today, they are cherished as beloved companions and are a must-see attraction for visitors.


Shetland’s cultural traditions are celebrated through various events and festivals throughout the year. The Up Helly Aa festival, held in Lerwick on the last Tuesday of January, is a spectacular display of fire and pageantry that commemorates Shetland’s Norse heritage. Locals dress as Vikings and march through the streets, culminating in the burning of a Viking longship.


The traditional arts and crafts of Shetland also take center stage at festivals and craft fairs. Locally crafted items such as knitwear, pottery, and jewelry showcase the unique craftsmanship of the islanders and provide visitors with an opportunity to take home a piece of Shetland’s cultural heritage.


Embracing the traditional Shetland culture during your visit to the islands allows for a deeper understanding and appreciation of the unique customs and way of life that have shaped the community. It is an invitation to connect with the island’s history, traditions, and warm-hearted people who are proud to share their cultural heritage with visitors from around the world.


Shetland’s Raw Beauty in Landscape

Shetland’s raw beauty lies in its majestic landscapes, where rugged cliffs, sweeping beaches, and untouched wilderness converge to create a visual spectacle that is truly awe-inspiring. This remote corner of the world offers unparalleled natural beauty that captivates the hearts of all who venture here.


The towering cliffs of Shetland’s coastline stand as sentinels, with their sheer faces carved over millennia by the relentless power of the North Sea. These dramatic cliffs, often adorned with vibrant seabird colonies, provide a breathtaking backdrop against the vast expanse of the ocean. The sight of waves crashing against the rocks and the cries of seabirds soaring overhead create an atmosphere of untamed power and beauty.


Shetland’s beaches are equally striking, with their pristine white sands and crystal-clear turquoise waters. From the expansive stretch of Sandwick Bay to the secluded tranquility of St. Ninian’s Isle, the beaches of Shetland offer not only moments of solitude but also a chance to witness the raw beauty of nature in its purest form. Whether you’re strolling along the shoreline or simply basking in the serenity of the surroundings, the beaches of Shetland provide a sense of calm and wonder.


The interior of Shetland is no less impressive. Rolling hills, expansive moors, and enchanting lochs create a captivating tapestry of colors and textures that change with the seasons. In spring, vibrant wildflowers blanket the landscape, painting the hillsides in hues of pink, purple, and yellow. During the autumn months, the hills come alive with a rich palette of reds, oranges, and golds, creating a breathtaking scene that is reminiscent of a painter’s masterpiece.


Shetland’s raw beauty is not only found in its grand landscapes but also in the smaller, intricately detailed features. The peat bogs, with their rich earthy tones and layers of history, tell a story of centuries-old traditions and the delicate balance between humans and the land. Walking across these ancient bogs, with the scent of damp earth filling the air, is a humbling experience that connects visitors to the rawness and resilience of the Shetland landscape.


Shetland’s raw beauty is a source of inspiration for artists, writers, and photographers who seek to capture its essence. The ever-changing light, the interplay between land and sea, and the dramatic vistas provide endless opportunities for creative expression. Many visitors come to Shetland not just to admire its raw beauty but to immerse themselves in its untouched landscapes and find solace in its serene and rugged surroundings.


Preserving and protecting Shetland’s raw beauty is of utmost importance to the local community. Responsible tourism practices, along with conservation efforts, ensure that the fragile ecosystems and unique landscapes of the islands remain untouched for generations to come.


Exploring Shetland’s raw beauty in its landscape is an unforgettable experience that leaves a lasting impression on the soul. It is an invitation to witness the power, resilience, and grandeur of nature in a place that is untouched and untamed, allowing you to forge a connection with the raw beauty of Shetland that will stay with you long after you leave.


Impact of Tourism

The increasing popularity of Shetland as a tourist destination has had both positive and negative impacts on the islands’ ecosystem, economy, and community. While tourism brings economic growth and cultural exchange, it also poses challenges in maintaining the delicate balance between preserving Shetland’s raw beauty and meeting the demands of visitors.


One of the positive impacts of tourism is the boost to the local economy. The influx of visitors brings income and job opportunities to the islands, supporting businesses such as accommodations, restaurants, and tour operators. This economic growth helps sustain the local community and contributes to its overall well-being.


Tourism also promotes cultural exchange and understanding. Visitors have the opportunity to immerse themselves in traditional Shetland culture, connecting with the local community through festivals, events, and interactions with residents. This exchange of ideas and customs enriches the cultural fabric of Shetland and fosters a greater appreciation for its heritage.


However, the rapid increase in tourist numbers also presents challenges. The fragile ecosystems and natural beauty of Shetland are at risk from overcrowding and unregulated visitor activities. Conservation efforts are necessary to preserve the pristine landscapes and protect the diverse wildlife that call Shetland home.


The rise in tourism can also put strains on the islands’ infrastructure and resources. The small and remote nature of Shetland means that managing visitor numbers and ensuring the sustainability of tourism practices is crucial. Local authorities and businesses work together to promote responsible tourism, minimizing the impact on the environment and ensuring the well-being of the local community.


Education and awareness play a vital role in mitigating the negative impacts of tourism. It is essential for visitors to understand and respect the fragile ecosystems and cultural heritage of Shetland. By educating tourists about the importance of sustainable practices and responsible behavior, we can ensure that future generations will continue to enjoy the raw beauty of Shetland.


Collaboration between the local community, tourism industry, and government is key to striking a balance between tourism development and the preservation of Shetland’s unique qualities. Measures such as implementing visitor quotas, managing access to sensitive areas, and promoting low-impact activities can help protect the natural environment while still allowing visitors to experience the raw beauty of Shetland.


Shetland’s raw beauty is a precious asset that needs to be cherished and protected. By fostering sustainable tourism practices and promoting responsible visitor behavior, we can ensure the longevity of Shetland’s natural wonders and ensure that future generations will have the opportunity to experience the untamed splendor of this remarkable archipelago.



Shetland is a place of raw beauty, where rugged coastline, diverse wildlife, and captivating landscapes come together to create an unforgettable experience. From the rich history and cultural traditions to the untouched wilderness and pristine beaches, Shetland offers a unique blend of nature and heritage that captures the hearts of visitors.


The islands’ history is woven into its cultural fabric, with a fascinating mix of Norse, Scottish, and British influences that shape the Shetland identity. Traditional crafts, such as knitting and fiddle playing, provide a glimpse into the rich heritage of the islanders. The Shetland ponies, iconic symbols of the islands, add charm and character to the landscape.


Shetland’s landscapes are a testament to the raw beauty of nature. The dramatic cliffs, picturesque beaches, and lush hillsides create a tapestry of colors and textures that change with the seasons. The wildlife thrives in this untouched haven, from the bustling seabird colonies to the playful seals and majestic whales that grace the surrounding waters.


Tourism has brought both benefits and challenges to Shetland. While it boosts the economy and promotes cultural exchange, the increase in visitor numbers calls for careful management of the fragile ecosystems and community well-being. Responsible tourism practices and education are key to preserving the islands’ raw beauty for future generations.


As you explore Shetland, you’ll not only be treated to its breathtaking landscapes but also welcomed by the warmth and hospitality of the locals. The genuine connection to the land and the preservation of traditions make Shetland a truly special place.


In conclusion, Shetland’s raw beauty is a treasure worth protecting. Its rich history, diverse wildlife, and stunning landscapes create an immersive experience that leaves a lasting impression. Whether you’re seeking adventure, tranquility, or cultural immersion, Shetland offers a unique and captivating journey to the heart of natural and cultural wonder.