Lerwick, Scotland, UK cruises

Around 100 miles north of mainland Scotland, the 100 or so Shetland Islands are Britain’s most northerly isles. Of these, 15 are inhabited, including Mainland which is home to the capital, Lerwick.

Life has thrived here for around 6,000 years, and signs of it are remarkably well preserved. One of the most astonishing and multi-layered archaeological sites is Jarlshof, 25 miles south of Lerwick on a headland at the southern tail of the island. Here, Neolithic dwellings stand close to Bronze Age houses that share underground tunnels. During the Iron Age, locals constructed a broch, or circular stone tower; later Norse arrivals built longhouses before it became a farmstead in medieval times. The result is as eye-catching as it is educational, with patterns of dry stone walls upon, and indeed mostly sunken into, the lush green turf.

There’s plenty more history in the air. The restored Broch of Clickimin looks out onto Clickimin Loch near Lerwick. The Broch of Mousa, one of the best-preserved examples of a broch, stands on a small island of the same name a short boat ride away. Old Scatness near Jarlshof is the site of another broch as well as an Iron Age village.

Although Norse explorers set ashore and bestowed the name “Leir Vik” that roughly translates as “muddy bay,” Dutch herring fisherman laid the permanent foundations for the modern capital in the seventeenth century. Fishing has been vital to the islands ever since.

You can’t really miss Lerwick Town Hall. It occupies the highest point in town and stood as a symbol of regional wealth on the back of a herring boom on its completion in 1884. At Fort Charlotte, first built in 1665 before being rebuilt and named after the wife of George III in 1781, learn of attacks by enemy fleets during two Anglo-Dutch Wars. Another favorite is the ruined castle of Scalloway, six miles to the west of Lerwick.

Staying in the capital, the Shetland Museum and Archives tells the story of the islands in various exhibits, from archaeological artifacts to historic photographs, from maritime memorabilia to examples of local crafts such as weaving and basketry. Indeed, the islands are still renowned for woollen and cashmere knitwear, intricate lace shawls and fine jewelry.

Last but by no means least, there are nature’s treasures. Stunning landscapes and seascapes define the islands. Of course, you may meet some of the famous locals, the adorable Shetland ponies. Puffins are a favorite for wildlife spotters too. At Sumburgh Head, an RSPB reserve on the southern tip of Mainland, a colony of about 5,000 birds choose the steep grassy banks and rocky cliffs as their breeding ground.