Sunday, 13 May 2012

Shetland - The Southern Mainland

It's true what they say about Shetland. You really can have all 4 seasons in the space of an hour! We landed at Samburgh in the teeth of an icy snow squall but ten minutes later the sky was blue again. The wind didn't drop though so it was bitterly cold - at least to this pair of southerners!

The first place to visit had of course to be Jarlshof and that was the first site we stopped at the following morning. This is an amazing site with remains from the neolithic period right up to the medieval  and later with  everything in between.

We were the only visitors there; it is early in the season and yes it was snowing again but this didn't detract from our enjoyment (much!). It is a compact site given the amount of history encompassed here and the visitors' centre was enormously helpful in the interpretation of the ruins. This is a picture I took inside the centre which gives a good overview of all the different settlements.

The oldest part of the site dating from the neolithic is mostly overlayed with later constructions and a balance has had to be struck with exposing the earliest remains whilst conserving the later constructions where the land has been reused.

We started in the oldest part. The houses are poorly preserved compared with those at Skara Brae in Orkney but are believed to be similar.

From the neolithic we moved on to the pictish Broch which is partially lost to the sea and the relatively  well preserved "wheel houses", shaped like the name suggests, a wheel with rooms arranged around a circular central living area.

After the Picts came the Vikings and there is an extensive settlement left. The Viking areas merges into a medieval farm. What was most noticeable was that the Picts favoured round and curved constructions whilst the Viking and later buildings were much more rectangular in shape.

The final development was the laird's house ( the large rectangular building in the first photograph) which is literally just plonked on the top of everything else. It has no foundations and just sits there. It was converted to a fortified house by Robert Stewart ( First Earl of Orkney). There is a staircase up to the top to allow a panoramic view from the top. However with no shelter from the arctic gale and more snow being blown horizontally at me I was in no mood to linger at the top!

Across the road from Jarlshof is Scatness, which is another iron age broch and village. This was unfortunately closed during our stay but it is very visible from the road and as it was no warmer than Jarlshof  we were happy to take a few pictures and move back to the warmth of the car.

This has been partially reconstructed to give an idea of what it might have been like. Again the village was inhabited for a long period of time with later constructions being superimposed on the original buildings.  
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