Shetland, No Ponies

Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland:  The Shetland islands, no ponies, but we did see a goat.  He was raising money to buy an infrared camera to be used by the Lerwick Lifeboat Society, the local search and rescue.  We met him in a shop that sells hand crafted soap made from goats’ milk packed in little Shetland wool pouches.  Since we arrived on a Sunday, one of two cruise ships that day, this was one of only two stores open when we got off the ship.  The other was a Shetland wool shop full of cardigans, jumpers, vests and tam o’shanters.  We gave the goat two pounds, bought some soap and discussed, with the goat’s mistress, fishing, weather and tides.

We forsook the planned tours for a relaxing stroll along the harbor and the Lerwick High Street, called Commercial Road, looking in shop windows. Just beyond downtown along the waterfront is “The Lodberries,” an area of 17th and 18th century stone houses.  The downtown is about a mile from the port.  We took a bus to the center and walked back.

The Shetland Islands are the northernmost bit of the UK.  They are off-shore of Bergen, Norway and had been a part of Norway and then Denmark when Norway was absorbed by that kingdom, until the Scottish King James II married Princess Margaret of Denmark.  He got the islands as a dowry.   The island is a mix of Norse and Celtic but looks, to me, to be very Scottish in the style of houses.

The Shetland economy has three legs, fishing, textile production (woolens) and North Sea oil.  The museum, which opened early for the ship passengers, dealt with all three.  An artifact that caught my eye was a seaman’s chest with crossed Russian and American flags, obtained by a local from a Yankee captain who whaled the Bering Sea.

The oil exhibit tried to be even handed.  It featured a BP promotional film about how environmentally friendly offshore drilling was and how much BP protected the environment while providing jobs (although fewer now than in the past, according to one of the museum staff.)   But the screen was surrounded by headlines from the “Shetland Times” that told a more complete story.  “Oil Pollution Still Spreading,” “County Council in Multi-Million ‘Secret’ Deal with Oil Industry,” “First Oil Spill.”  Point – counterpoint.

The highlight of the museum is a working boat shed where conservation and rebuilding of old wooden boats is going on and young people are being taught the shipwright’s trade, although not on Sunday.

Following the museum Suzi and I had a nice cup of tea with scones and clotted cream.  At the harbor, a large ferry with a fierce Viking logo pulled up beside Prinsendam just before we sailed out past the lighthouse.

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