Cruising Scotland’s Shetland Islands

Mention “Shetland Islands” to someone and they may ask, “Is that where Shetland Ponies come from?”. Indeed, this far-flung chain of approximately 100 windswept islands is where the famous breed of small horses originated. The Shetlands also boast the Shetland Sheep dog and other flora & fauna not typical of mainland Scotland.

This is due to the islands being quite a distance from Scotland itself, northeast of the Orkney Islands with the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the North Sea to the east. Norway also lies to the east, and for 500 years the Shetlands were ruled by the Vikings. It was not until 1468 that Scotland took over administration, but both the islands and the islanders still display a strong Norse influence. These differences make the Shetland Islands an appealing destination for those who are looking for something a little out of the ordinary.

Only about 15 of the islands are inhabited; the others being either too small or too rugged for human habitation. The flip side is that eco-tourism has found its niche in the Shetlands, and although the climate is challenging for people, the local fauna like it just fine! Seals, porpoises, and even the occasional Orca (killer whale) populate the chill ocean waters and a multitude of seabirds colonize the rocks.

There are several ways visitors and travelers can get up close & personal with the wildlife, courtesy of one of the tour operators who specialize in the Shetland Islands. For those who don’t want to get their feet wet, the M.V. Julie Rose, a modern cruise ship run by Shetland Nature Cruises offers a pleasant way to get around the islands without getting your feet wet.

To get closer to the action, Shetland Sea Charters runs a variety of deep sea fishing, sightseeing and scuba diving (brrr!) trips from their location of Lerwick island. Check with your travel agent or contact Scottish government tourist agencies to see which option suits you best. The Shetland Islands may not be the tropic isles most people want to visit, but a trip there is certainly one you’ll never forget!