The far north
Shetland, with a population of around 24,000, is Britain’s most northerly point, lying as close to the Faroes and Bergen in Norway as it does to Aberdeen. Its place on northern trade routes has given it an unusually cosmopolitan air, and a culture that is more Viking than Scottish. There’s a rich heritage of skilled knitting, and a vibrant tradition of fiddle music which has been exported around the world.
The landscape of these islands is wild and rugged, with low hills, exposed rock and peaty, waterlogged moorland. According to Scottish Natural Heritage, Shetland has nearly 250 miles of cliffs, a fifth of Scotland’s total. Winters are stormy and few trees survive the wind, but the wild flowers in summer are spectacular, and nowhere is farther than 5 miles from the sea. Seals and porpoises are common sights around the coastline, and thousands of nesting seabirds. The capital is the harbour town of Lerwick, on the east side of the main island, Mainland. Scalloway, west of Lerwick, was the medieval heart of the island, and is dominated by its ruined castle, built in 1600. The other islands are also worth exploring if you have time; all are linked by ferry.