Set adrift in the North Sea, the Shetland Isles are Britain's northernmost outpost, situated closer to Bergen in Norway than to Edinburgh. This rural, rugged landscape consists of about a hundred islands, fifteen of which are inhabited. The size of these islands vary, though much of their landscape is similar; the rolling hills and sloping green fields end in sheer cliffs, and are dotted with whitewashed farmhouses - and of course the Shetland's famous ponies.
In recent years, the Shetland Isles have developed a reputation as a tourist escape, and no wonder; with countless activities, numerous archaeological sites and a rich cultural heritage, there is much to delight the visitor. And with such a strong Norse influence, both geographically and politically, you leave with a feeling of having been farther than Scotland.
Lying close to the southern tip of the Shetland Mainland, Jarlshof is considered to be one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in Europe. The oldest surviving signs of life here date from about 2500BC, but perhaps even more impressive is that the site gives a true cross-section of Shetland's inhabitants, from these Neolithic settlers to 16th century lairds. Each section of this fascinating microcosm had been buried by sand until it was discovered in 1925. Jarlshof, now exposed and partially restored, gives a wonderful insight into the evolution of life and living conditions throughout Shetland's history.
Built in 1599 by Earl Patrick Stewart, the brooding Scalloway Castle was built to strengthen his position as Lord of Shetland in the islands' then-capital. At the time of its completion, the fortress was surrounded by sea on three sides, making it virtually impregnable - an essential requirement for the Earl as his legendary tyranny had earned him many enemies. The Earl was overpowered and executed eventually, and the castle was used for very little after Cromwell stationed troops there in the 1650s. The castle is now partially ruined and is much smaller than the original structure, yet today it remains as a mighty testament to the Earl's defensive power.