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Viking History in Shetland

Viking History in Shetland

Mon Nov 18, 2019

During the early medieval period a Scandinavian seafaring race, the Vikings, made their mark across much of Europe and beyond. Shetland was no exception, as the isles are within an easy sailing distance from Norway.

The Norsemen had superb sailing ships, which allowed for long trips at sea. The longboat was an engineering masterpiece. The hull curved upwards and outwards which helped keep water out and made open sea sailing safer. The curved bow allowed easy access to even low tide shores. All of this helped explain how Vikings could cover large distances with ease, and land on inaccessible shores.

Many people believe that the Vikings were merely intent on destruction, rape and pillage, before disappearing over the horizon back to Scandinavia with gold, slaves and women. This wasn’t always the case. Many were younger sons who did not have a rich inheritance. Western Norway is not particularly fertile, and many were ordinary farmers looking for a better life.

This could explain why many Norsemen settled in both Shetland and Orkney. The Vikings met resistance to their settlement in places such as England, Ireland and Normandy, but there was not such robust local competition in Shetland, Orkney, the Faroes and Iceland. This allowed the Norse to settle and transplant their institutions and cultural norms from home seamlessly.

The Vikings were well established in Shetland by the 9thCentury. The Earldom of Orkney, which included Shetland, was founded by Harald the Fairhaired, as a Norwegian dependency. The Norse controlled large swathes of Scotland until the Battle of Largs in 1263, when their influence was reduced to the Northern Isles. Shetland remained under Danish control until 1471 when the Danes defaulted on a dowry deal struck between James III and his Danish queen. Shetland was annexed and became part of Scotland.

You can still see the Norse influence everywhere in Shetland. You can visit the Ting Holm, a stone’s throw from Herrislea House Hotel. This is where the island Parliament was held, based on the Ting traditions of law found across Scandinavia. There are the archaeological sites which exemplify the Viking influence, and many street names across Lerwick hark back to notable Viking figures such as King Harald.

Shetland celebrate our viking heritage on the final Tuesday of January every year with Up-Helly-Aa, this is followed up with fire festivals across Shetland every Friday or Saturday until March. The only fire festival that takes place prior to the one in Shetland's capital is Scalloway which is the second Friday of the year. If you're looking to stay in Shetland for Lerwick Up-Helly-Aa or any of the following celebrations then book your stay with us now!

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