Shetland Islands: Scenery, Sheep and Knitters Galore on Britain’s Northern Tip

The wind is a large part of life on the islands: as winter approaches, everything that might blow away is removed from yards -— wheelbarrows, lawn mowers, wooden benches. When the lighthouse keeper still lived at the Eshaness (a lighthouse on the northwest of the main island — there are upward of 34 lighthouses on the islands), our guide told us, he used to chain his car to the cliff to make sure it didn’t blow away. There aren’t many trees in Shetland, for this reason — the same reason we were given for why native Shetland ponies and sheep are so diminutive.

In the winter, there is a month of near-perpetual darkness, and in the summer, a month of continuous sunlight; the wind, I was told, is constant no matter the time of year, though at certain times it is known to gust harder, stronger, or more or less predictably (in September, the month I was there, the winds are known as “the Equinox gales”).

The people of Shetland, though, really could not be nicer — one is tempted to think their isolation and hardiness has formed them for kindness. At the bed-and-breakfast where we stayed, Virdafjell, the owner, Dorothy Stove, greeted us with a plastic bin of clean house slippers for us to choose from, and every morning put out a breakfast spread fit for 10 hungry men (though my friend and I were the only people there): scones, assorted bread, eggs, yogurt, fruit, at least 10 different kinds of cereal, and even decorative butter slices in a perfectly sized dish.

Considering the size of Shetland, Wool Week is incredibly vast and diverse. The program is eight full days, and each day features myriad classes and exhibitions, tours, gatherings, teas and lectures on nearly all of the islands; on a random day, I counted 54 different offerings.