The Raw Beauty of Shetland

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If it weren’t for Up Helly Aa, never in a million years would I have gone to Shetland in January, of all months!  Between the cold and the darkness (Shetland is even further north than Stockholm!), I would have gladly waited for a summer visit.

But by visiting in January, I was rewarded with a cold, raw, extraordinary beauty.  The Shetland I saw was a series of emerald-green islands resting in a blue sea, almost untouched by civilization.  The air was cold and fresh.

Once again, I was glad that I had booked with Haggis Adventures instead of trying to explore Shetland alone — being part of the Haggis Tour made it so easy to explore the islands.  Our guides Dougie and Tony knew the best spots and how to maximize our time as we drove on our wild and sexy yellow bus.

“It looks like Maine,” said Breeze, a Maine native and the only other American on the tour.  I have to agree with her — this could have been a New England fishing village.  What do you think?

Throughout Shetland, you see ancient rock structures dating back hundreds or perhaps even thousands of years, adding to the spooky feel of the islands.

These structures really are amazing.  We visited Jarlshof, an ancient settlement that used to be buried underground, but was revealed after wind knocked down the land.

This news is usually met with a “Really?”  But as soon as you feel those strong Shetland winds, there will be NO doubt in your mind that this city was dug out by wind alone!

Oh, and by this point, I should mention that it was COLD.  Cold and WINDY.  While the weather was typically temperamental Scottish — from bright sunshine to angry clouds to hail the size of peppercorns, and back less than 15 minutes later — it was universally FREEZING and the wind whipped us across the face until our cheeks were scarlet.

We didn’t let that stop us from having fun.  At Jarlshof, Tony and Dougie put together a little coffee-and-shortbread party behind one of the sheltering walls!

Walls were good for shelter.  So was Callum, the tallest guy in our group.

Photo by Neridah McHenry

Just when we thought everything in Shetland was either green, gray, or blue, we would come across a wildly colorful beach.

But of all the beaches, none of them were as striking as Shetland’s famed double beach, connecting to St. Ninian’s Isle during low tide.  With the right lighting, the beach looks almost tropical!

Try to visit the beach when the tide is coming in from both sides — it’s an amazing sight!

And because we were in Shetland, you know what we really wanted to see?  PONIES!

We girls were the most excited, as we had been squealing “Ponies!” again and again until we pulled over.  The guys were amused.

As for the Shetland ponies, they were largely indifferent to us, unless we fed them apples — then they quickly scarfed them down before going back to ignoring us.

Seeing these unspoiled landscapes was one of the highlights of my trip and the perfect counterpart to the zaniness of Up Helly Aa.  I’ll always remember Shetland as being a place of absolutely exquisite beauty.

Many thanks to Haggis Adventures for a truly fantastic time on the Up Helly Aa trip.  All opinions, as always, are my own.

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13 thoughts on “The Raw Beauty of Shetland”

    1. Shetlander stranded in Scotland

      Shetland ponies are actually very calm, laid back animals, though they can have a slightly awkward side! Maybe they just have a nasty, cranky reputation because all the poor ponies outwith Shetland are wanting to get home!

  1. I’m dying to get up to Shetland for my next visit to Scotland. Looks beautiful! I do believe, however, that I will visit during the summer months 🙂

  2. Defending Shetland ponies!

    Shetland ponies are, as said above, laid back, friendly and hard working. However when they have no work to do and have to be kept on a tiny patch of land due to the grass being too rich in a lot of the mainland, then they get bored, naughty and sometimes nasty. They were bred to work hard and roam large areas of the hill…when they do that they are generally the nicest animals you could meet (and I have kept them for 20+ years).

    Glad you loved Shetland! 🙂

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