A VIKING LEGACY
a gathering of islands, are mostly low-lying and green. Centuries before
the Norsemen arrived, early settlers erected stone monuments, including
cairns, brochs (round towers), tombs and standing stones, which still
survive to this day.
most famous prehistoric site is the stone-age village of Skara Brae,
although the burial chamber of Maes Howe is equally impressive.
It dates from around 2,500 BC and is believed to have been robbed by Vikings
some 3,000 years later. The Broch of Gurness was in use
over ten centuries, from the Late Iron Age to the coming of the Vikings.
Tankerness House Museum in the main town of Kirkwall, has
displays covering 5,000 years of island life.
Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall was founded in 1137 and is one of
the finest examples of Norman architecture in Europe. Skaill House
at Sandwick is another reminder that the islands were a religious centre
in medieval and later times. Much more recently, naval history associated
with the anchorage of Scapa Flow is explained in the interpretation
centre at Lyness on Hoy. On the other side of Scapa Flow is the
Hoxa Tapestry Gallery, showing large hand-woven tapestries
inspired by the island's land and seascapes. Good internal ferry and air
links make excursions to the many outer islands easy.
- CROSSROADS OF THE NORTHERN SEAS
is unlike anywhere else in Scotland. These islands lie 112 miles beyond
the Scottish mainland and were once part of the Danish kingdom. Even still,
their culture and dialect retains a strong Scandinavian flavour.
Museum in Lerwick, the main town, takes up the island's seagoing
theme, while one can take a day trip in the replica Viking longship, Dim
Riv. Crofting life in Scotland comes alive at the Shetland
Croft Museum, a traditional dwelling, complete with corn drying
kiln. A little further south is Jarlshof, where excavations
show the various types of dwellings, from Neolithic earth houses to a
17th century laird's mansion.
Castle is an impressive 17th century fortress in Scalloway. However, the
most northerly castle in Scotland is Muness Castle on the island of Mousa,
south of Lerwick, which makes a fascinating excursion. While Shetland's
seabird colonies are spectacular one should also visit the little island
of Noss or Hermaness on the island of Unst
at the northern end or Sumburgh Head at the southern tip. Gannets and
puffins on the cliff and the acrobatics of the skuas are certain to enthrall
the very edge of Europe, these peaceful islands have a rugged natural
beauty, with dazzling beaches, wildlife and unique cultural traditions.
The Western Isles is a chain of islands strung out along the Atlantic
off the northwest coast of Scotland. Today, excellent sea and ferry links
bring them close to the mainland, yet they still keep their own distinctive
of the Gaelic language (though everyone also speaks English), the Western
Isles stretch from the Butt of Lewis down to Barra and beyond. White beaches
are backed by shell sand pasture, rich with wild flowers. There are many
prehistoric sites; notably the Callanish Standing Stones
on Lewis. Lewis and Harris are similar islands, though Harris is more
mountainous. Both have spectacular beaches and there are several more
examples of this type of brilliant white Hebridean beach on the islands
lying to the south. Causeways link the Uists and Benbecula while nature
abounds, with reserves at Balranald on North Uist and also
Loch Druidibeg. Wild flowers and bird-life too are at their
most common in spring and early summer.
Gaelic culture of the Western Isles can be discovered in the Museum
nan Eilean in Stornoway. Also in the same town is An Lanntair
(Gaelic for lantern), a gallery shedding light on contemporary Gaelic
interpretations of the visual arts, as well as providing a venue for musical
and other performances. The everyday life of times past can be experienced
at the Black House at Arnol on the west coast of Lewis,
a preserved example of a once typical rural dwelling, with its central
peat fire filling the house with a characteristic smoky dimness.
has its own museum and art gallery, the Taigh Chearsabhagh Visitor Centre
close to the ferry pier at Lochmaddy. Kisimul Castle on the Isle of Barra
is reached by boat and the island's story is told in the Barra Heritage
Centre. Local history is also the theme of the Kildonan Museum in south
Uist. Visitors to the Western Isles should also note that due to religious
beliefs, some shops and petrol stations are closed on Sundays and there
is limited public transport.