Many maps plonk the Shetland islands in a box somewhere off Aberdeen, but in fact they’re a lot closer to Bergen in Norway than they are to Edinburgh. Shetland endures the most violent weather experienced in the British Isles. There are some good spells of dry, sunny weather from May to September, but it’s the “simmer dim”, the twilight which lingers through the small hours at this latitude, that makes Shetland summers so memorable.
The islands’ capital, Lerwick, is a busy little port and the only town of any size. Many parts of Shetland can be reached from here on a day-trip. South Mainland is a narrow finger of land that runs some 25 miles from Lerwick to Sumburgh Head, an area particularly rich in archeological remains, including the Iron Age Mousa Broch and the ancient settlement of Jarlshof. A further 25 miles south of Sumburgh Head is the remote but thriving Fair Isle, synonymous with knitwear and exceptional birdlife. Even more remote are the distinctive peaks and precipitous cliffs of the island of Foula, fourteen miles west of Mainland. Shetland’s three North Isles bring Britain to a dramatic, windswept end: Yell has the largest population of otters in the UK; Fetlar is home to the rare red-necked phalarope; north of Unst, there’s nothing until you reach the North Pole.