Orkney and Shetland – 1996 and 2015

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Look at the map of Scotland on the left. See the two sets of islands at the top right corner? That’s where we spent our holidays this summer. The archipelago at the north-east tip of Scotland is Orkney and the one further north still is Shetland. They have only been part of Scotland since the 1460s when the impoverished Christian I of Norway mortgaged them in lieu of dowry for his daughter, Margaret, who married James III. The mortgage has never been redeemed, but there’s still a strong Nordic influence.

We last visited in 1996 and vowed to return – though it has obviously taken us a while. So what has changed and what has stayed the same over 19 years?

The journey

MV Hrossey
MV Hrossey

We followed exactly the same route as last time – overnight ferry from Aberdeen to Shetland, a five-hour crossing from there to Orkney and a final short hop back to Scrabster on the mainland. However, the ships have improved somewhat. My memory of the overnight crossing 19 years ago is of bunk beds and a trek down the corridor to the facilities. This time, we had a rather nice en suite cabin to enjoy. Well, until someone visited the bathroom in the night and, because of the small space and the sea-swell, set the hairdryer going by knocking it off the wall. By the time he worked out how to put it back (for it was the follicly challenged one – he doesn’t need to know these things normally) the whole ship was probably awake.

The sights

Mareel, Lerwick, Shetland
Mareel, Lerwick, Shetland

Neolithic sites don’t change much, and there’ll be plenty about those in subsequent posts. The change we did notice was that many places we had visited 19 years ago now had new, or upgraded, visitor centres, museums and other cultural buildings. For example The Mareel, above, is a music, cinema and creative industries centre on one of Lerwick’s quaysides. Tourism felt more professional, but sometimes that meant the loss of a quirky charm.


Anabel 1996
Anabel 1996

Here I am on the ferry leaving Stromness (Orkney) in 1996. I’m now (obviously) older, heavier, greyer, and with poorer eyesight. Much the same is true of John. But some things haven’t changed! I bought that jacket for the 1996 trip – and it’s still my go-to hill-walking jacket. In fact, I took it with me this year but only wore it once because the weather was warmer. Not only that, but I was carrying the same small rucksack and John was wearing one of the same pairs of walking trousers. (Alas, they have now had their day. He sat on a rock and tore them on a jaggy bit when he stood up.) I don’t say this to make us sound parsimonious (maybe we are) but to say congratulations Paramo, Eagle Creek and Rohan – your products last!

Finally, we have less energy than 19 years ago. When I read my old diary and see the number of things we did each day I think we must have been up at the crack of dawn. I prefer a more leisurely start these days, but we still packed a fair amount in and John (mostly) took hundreds of photographs. Stay tuned for more, starting with Lerwick in Shetland tomorrow.


  1. Can’t wait to read your diary!
    I think this kind of post, putting together ‘then’ and ‘now’ is so intersting. I know, it’s a bit melancholy too, because things change. But then, that’s what things are supposed to do. I think what’s important is that the heart hasn’t gone.
    I’m looking forward to your impressions of this 🙂


    • That’s a very good point. I can regret that I’m not as energetic as I was 19 years ago – but I still had a great time, and with the same person by my side. That never changes! Also, what I see as the loss of quirkiness is actually the growth of tourism and the creation of more jobs so that’s good too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My ‘travel coat’ is one I bought for my first trip to,Paris in 1994. I’m still wearing it (and was very glad of it yesterday in Wellington). I’m looking forward to more posts about your trip. I’m very keen to go to Orkney and Shetland one day.


  3. We haven’t been to the Shetland but visited Orkney years ago. I still have very fond memories of Orkney and would love to go back one day. Looking forward to seeing more of your pictures as Scotland is one of my favourite places in the world. (Suzanne)


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