One of the things I found fascinating about Shetland is that in spite of being part of the UK it has so many cultural and historical connections to Scandinavia. It was colonised by the Norsemen in the 9th century and thus the Viking heritage is deeply anchored into the Shetland culture.
Even though Shetland has belonged to Scotland and the UK for many centuries, the Norse heritage is still to be found all over the islands – many of the street names in Lerwick are named after Norwegian kings. I only just got off the ferry and into the ferry terminal building when I saw the word “Velkommen” on a sign – meaning welcome in my mother-tongue. And I immediately did feel welcome.
The flag of the Shetland Islands is another thing in which you can see the Norse heritage. It’s blue with a white off-centre cross, following the pattern of the rest of the Nordic flags and not the fully centred cross which is found in many British flags.
Also, many words comes from the Scandinavian languages. I and some of my fellow travellers were chatting to a local during the all night Up Helly Aa party and he was telling us about the many Norse words they use in their day to day speech. He gave some examples and everyone around me had a confused expression. But I understood it all – they had just borrowed those words from my own language.
He also talked about the contribution the Shetlanders did for the survival of Norwegian people during World War II. A Norwegian naval unit nicknamed the Shetland Bus made more than 200 trips between Norway and the Shetland Islands transporting refugees from the German occupied Norway. And he expressed how much it meant to everyone when the Queen of Norway visited the Shetland Islands to thank for those who participated in the rescue operation.
However, there are also points where the Shetland Islanders don’t seem Scandinavian at all but more of their own folk. I’m talking about their very laid back attitude. Not in a bad way, it’s just that they seem to prioritise what really matters and so you see several buildings with missing letters on their signs – apparently have so for years - but nobody seems to care enough to actually fixing it.
Also, it’s been years since anyone updated the safety signs on the wee ferry connecting Lerwick to Bressay Island – something that you would never find in Scandinavia, except in a museum maybe.
I loved my stay on these islands. Though, if it hadn’t been for the Up Helly Aa festival, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to visit the Shetland Islands in winter. It was freezing and it’s so windy on these islands that there are practically no trees, except for in the towns. I wonder what this place looks like in spring or summer time, cause it was without a doubt something special even in winter. And I do want to go back one day!