GRIPPING BBC drama Shetland has 5.8 million of us tuning in across the UK, and it’s exciting to hear that a new series is scheduled for 2019.
The rise of Scandi crime thrillers has been notable; think The Killing or The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
These dramas are set in rugged landscapes – think windswept antiheroes, and tight-knit communities ripped apart by violent crime.
Shetland, with more than 100 miles from mainland Scotland, has strong Nordic links and a rich Viking heritage, fits the brief.
But in reality Shetland is more intriguing than any crime thriller.
As the ferry approaches the islands, a flat, tree-less landscape stretches out ahead, and the sky somehow seems bigger and more expansive than on the mainland.
Summer is an excellent time to visit to appreciate the wildlife and seascapes on offer. The isles are so far north it barely gets dark. This phenomenon is known as the “Simmer Dim”, the summer twilight, providing almost 19 hours of sunshine a day.
When night does fall, Shetland is one of the best places in the UK to witness the Northern Lights.
Spotting seals, puffins, and the iconic Shetland ponies is part of the experience, and the islands are renowned for their beaches. Shetland boasts almost 1700 miles of coast, but one beach is particularly eye-catching.
St Ninian’s is breathtaking as the tide comes in at both sides, creating an “ayre” or “tombolo”, a slither of land connecting St Ninian’s Isle with the Shetland mainland.
For most of the year the sand is dry, providing a blustery seaside walk with a difference. In true crime drama fashion, St Ninian’s has secrets. In 1958 a local boy found a hoard of Celtic silver, probably hidden to protect it from Viking invaders.
A few miles from St Ninian’s is Jarlshof, a prehistoric Norse settlement.
From a Bronze age house and an Iron Age broch, to a Norse longhouse, Jarlshof is a journey through time.
Many visitors dock at Lerwick in search of Jimmy Perez’s house on Commercial Street – the fictional detective Inspector played by Dougie Henshall in the Shetland series.
Others are on the hunt for Vikings. The renowned Up Helly Aa festival, held in January, is a rousing experience, as hordes parade through the streets and set a Viking ship ablaze.
During the summer months the Galley Shed, where the longship is constructed, hosts the Up Helly Aa Exhibition. Jarl Squad suits are on display, along with films and facts about the festival.
For a story fitting with the dark mystery of the Shetland series, head to Scalloway, once a town of unsung heroes. Today, unassuming fishing boats bob in the harbour, but during the Second World War it wasn’t unusual to spot Norwegian boats anchored at the quay.
Under cover of darkness these small vessels sailed the North Sea to rescue refugees from Nazi-occupied Norway.
On the return leg they’d ship resistance fighters and supplies over to Norway in a covert operation known as the Shetland Bus. Losses were great, and the dramatic story is told at the Scalloway Museum. Keep an eye out for the memorial nearby, a tiny fishing boat proudly riding the crest of a wave.
Celebrate the islands’ textiles and knitting at the Shetland Textile Museum in Lerwick, and purchase a stylish souvenir in nearby Anderson & Co or Jamieson’s of Shetland.
For an overview of life in Shetland, covering Viking times, crofting, knitting, fishing, agriculture, and the rise of the oil industry, drop by the Shetland Museum. Don’t miss the Boat Hall, where a mix of traditional Shetland boats are suspended from the ceiling.
Finally, bear in mind that this is just a tantalising glimpse of the Shetland mainland.
There are many more Shetland islands to explore!
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