The Midnight Sun (almost) by Train, Ship and Plane
What follows is a snapshot of some of the historic dwellings and buildings we happened upon in the course of our visit. The first leg of our journey, via the Caledonian Sleeper and an overnight Shetland ferry service, landed us in Lerwick.
This drystone tower was probably built between 2,400 and 2,100 years ago for a powerful local ruler. Access originally was only by a causeway. Scholars still debate whether this was a prestigious home or a fortified stronghold, or both. After a few centuries the Broch was reduced in height.
The later building’s residents were important figures who enjoyed imported luxuries. Fragments from a decorated Roman glass bowl were found there. The Broch may have had a turf covered, willow grid shell roof. This is conjecture based on local domestic architecture - it is possible that it never had a roof.
The house is a flamboyant example of 19th century Gothic Revival architecture, built on the back of Welsh coal money, under the direction of its creator the 3rd Marquis of Bute and his architect Sir Robert Rowland Anderson. The imposing marble hall has a stunning vaulted ceiling displaying the stars in their courses, while the stained glass windows depict the signs of the zodiac.
The chapel is of all white marble with stained glass windows which, at certain times of the day, bathe the interior in attractive pink hues, making it an ideal setting for wedding parties. It is particularly popular for celebrity weddings, for example that of Stella McCartney. Her father Paul McCartney and Heather Mills stayed in the Blue Room.
For much of the past, the sea was the highway for people travelling between places. The Firth of Clyde was like a modern motorway and Bute was the island that guarded that route. It was therefore very important. Whoever occupied Bute controlled access far inland via the river Clyde, the river Leven and Loch Lomond.
In the mid- to late-twelfth century Rothesay Castle was built, and the focal point of the island moved from Dunagoil in the west to Rothesay. It is known from Norse sagas that local Gaels and Vikings squabbled over it for a time. By the fourteenth century however, the castle was firmly in Scottish hands and became one of the prominent residences of the Stewart kings. Robert the Bruce is said to have visited to celebrate with the local knights, shortly after his victory at Bannockburn.
Below I offer some pictures for your interest and amusement, an occasional miscellany of unusual dwellings and artefacts seen on Lerwick.
An abandoned crofter’s cottage
At first glance maybe, but actually a plant pot. Possibly a good subject for the garden railway enthusiasts among us?
Not sure if this is a granny annexe or garden shed, the heart-shaped door is interesting too, I’ll let you decide.
Seen in the Shetland Croft House Museum c1880, a very cosy place to spend the night. No good for claustrophobics though.
Considering this is Shetland’s most remote and northerly island and has never enjoyed rail service, it begs the question of how these items got here, must be another enthusiast.