A TRIP TO THE SHETLANDS.—IL
LERWICK, the capital of Shetland, and its only town—pro- nounced Ler-wick, not Lerrick—literally thrust itself upon my notice as we steamed up the harbour. The town looked as if a kick from behind had pushed it into the very water.of the Sound, as the houses were actually washed by the waves. Unfortunately they turned their backs to the harbour, and were hardly presentable from that side. Above them, on a steep eminence, were churches and handsome houses, which saved the character of the town as judged from the vessel ; and the long line of habitations, and docks, and shipbuilders' yards that lined the shore for half a mile proved Lerwick to be a port large and busy, if not handsome. The St. Magnus anchors in the harbour, and we have to look for small boats to land us. These boats could not fail to attract our notice as soon as ever we entered the sound. They had an unmistakable Norse character. The small ones had both ends high, sharp, and alike, and reminded us that the Norsemen called them their "birds," or " eagles ;" indeed the high prow resembles the bird's breast, erect against the oppos- ing air, and the stern the elevated tail of the gull or pigeon when flying. The smallest can hoist one mast and sail near the prow. The larger boats have generally two masts, with singularly white and clean sails. The boats used till recent times to be actually brought from Norway ; and more lately, the cut-boards and keel have been imported thence and put together in Shetland. They are exceedingly light, and seem to a stranger ill-suited to the boisterous seas they often encounter. Yet they bound over the waves, and right themselves directly, if indeed they ever get wrong.
Lerwick has much foreign commerce quite distinct from that of places furtlfer south. A large proportion of the crews of whaling vessels is taken from Shetland. The whalers of southern ports come to Lerwick and stay there to complete their crews, and return here after the voyage to Greenland to land the Shetlanders- I saw a large three-masted bark in the sound, which had returned with 150 tons of oil, obtained, however, from seals, the whales having apparently left their former haunts, and no one knowing where they had gone. Then, again, the Dutch carry on a consider- able trade with Shetland, though not with Orkney. One day the aspect of the sound was suddenly so completely altered that I fancied myself transported to Rotterdam. It was full of gaily- painted Dutch vessels, some of the well known square-prowed bulging build, others of the newest clipper form—the very opposite of the former—which is becoming popular in Holland, and all looking smart and clean, and flying streamers at their tops. These vessels bring corn and hemp and other articles of legitimate traffic, but also smuggle a great deal of spirits reputed to be- fearfully adulterated with vitriol, and tobacco. This they effect by going singly or in twos to distant voes (inlets), and anchor- ing for a day or so. The news of their arrival spreads like wild- fire in the sparsely peopled districts, and not an hour passes during their stay when they are not boarded by poor people, who make their bargains and carry off their untaxed pur- chases quite openly, in large parcels or blue handkerchiefs- I witnessed this scene at one of the furthest voes,—Balta Sound' in Unst, and was told that even in that thinly peopled and poor island, the Dutch skippers had probably realized some £60 to £80. There is a revenue cutter at Lerwick ; but it cannot be- everywhere at once, and these voes are very numerous. The sight of the Dutch sailors stalking through the narrow streets of Lerwick, in their hugely wide knickerbockers and monstrous sabots, was curiously foreign. They went in groups of twos, threes, or sixes, and lolled into spirit or tobacco shops, were some- times very drunk, but more often merely lazy and with nothing to do. Lerwick has also much direct trade with Spain, whither- the Shetlands take salt fish (cod, for the Spaniards will not have- ling) for the Catholic fasts. There is also a good deal to do in shipbuilding and refitting. Many vessels put in disabled ; I saw a fine American ship which had narrowly escaped going on the rocks at Mousa, having lost her direct route round, Sumburgh Head. But, of course, the main employment of the Shetlanders generally is fishing. There is shore-fishing, voe-fish- ing, and haaf-fishing. On the shore, in very shallow water, are found small fish, which are taken by nets or lines ; for the herrings, numerous bright hooks are fixed on the line, without any bait whatever. The sillock, which is the young of the coalfish, is. caught here in enormous quantities. In the middle of the voes, or narrow inlets of the sea, and off the coast in moderately deep water, other fish are taken—especially the piltock, which is the next stage of the sillock, when two years old. Haaf is the Shot- land word for the deep sea, some twenty or thirty miles from land,— interesting as a peculiarly Scandinavian word. The Germans call the sea See or Meer ; the Scandinavians Haaf ; and one could hardly find a word which would prove more clearly to which nationality the Shetlanders belong. Very small boats go even to the haaf-fishing, though they are often out for six weeks ; and I believe disasters are not unfrequent from this cause. The haat- fishers take chiefly cod, ling, tusk (a peculiar fish, somewhat resem- bling cod, but more solid in flesh), and scythe or coalfish. In these islands, where there is no inland, the same men who farm or keep sheep are also acquainted with the sea, and are fishermen in the season.
On landing from the St. Magnus, I had to select an inn, or rather to betake myself to the only one worth naming, the "Queen's." The hotel accommodation at Lerwick is not equal to the demand ; but Mr. Evans, proprietor of the "Queen's," is enterprising, and meditates improvement and enlargement. There are also two or three lodging-houses, at which travellers find very fair accommodation at decidedly moderate prices.
Lerwick has one long street, "Commercial Street," running along the sound. Here are all the shops, banks, post-office, &c. At right angles with this narrow lanes, recalling those of Edin- burgh, Newcastle, or Geneva, lead steeply up to the higher part of the town, where the churches and some of the better houses are found. A mean appearance is given to the town by the almost universal covering of the houses with whitewashed lime. The churches, however, and some of the new and better houses are built of uncovered grey stone. Commercial Street is very narrow, crooked, and flagged. The shops display abundant specimens of articles—from stockings and veils to large shawls—knitted in the finest Shetland wool ; prevailingly pure white, or a white ground with dots or splashes of red or violet. These are knitted by poor women and girls in the winter, or tail° they drive or pull cattle or ponies (as I often witnessed). ney often have no pattern, but invent one as they go on ; and in a large shawl it is of course very complicated, and the difficulty to pre- serve perfect symmetry must be very great ; yet they are up to the emergency, though the complaint is heard that the work damages the eyes. I was told that they are generally paid by the shopkeepers not in coin, but in wool, for their further work, and that the shopkeepers make a very good profit out of them. It is therefore charitable for visitors who buy this beautiful work to find out, where possible, the actual workers, and pay them in cash. The real Shetland wool, however, is fast disappearing. The pure Shetland sheep are now only to be seen in the wilder and distant islands, as Yell and Unst ; and the quantity of wool yielded by them (8 oz. the fleece) does not pay the cost of breed- ing. These sheep are, therefore, now being crossed with other kinds, especially with the black-faced Cheviots, whereby an equally hardy, but more flashy and more woolly kind is obtained. The Shetland sheep are small, short-legged, and long-necked, and vary curiously in colour, being white, black, brown, blue, and piebald.
The country about Lerwick is not especially attractive. It is difficult to describe a Shetland landscape so as to present its defects fairly, and yet give an idea of the elements of beauty it really contains. There is not, broadly speaking, a single tree on any of the islands ; which is remarkable, as there are plenty in many parts of Orkney. The attempts to rear trees against garden walls only seem to prove that they will never take kindly to the soil, for they grow not an inch above the protecting wall. Heather is dry and stunted ; and although the flora exhibits some very inte- resting and some peculiar plants, yet the hillsides and waysides are not decked out with much colour from flowers. A very large proportion of the soil is peaty, and where, as about Lerwick, the peat is largely dug into, the scene inclines to be dreary and black. Beauty of the softer kind is found in valleys which, under the shelter a circle of hills, are enabled to grow barley, oats, cabbage, and potatoes, as at Quarf ; and in the voes, when the sun is bright and the water ripples gently on the rocks, or sends a dull murmur from the interior of mysterious caves. There are two or three such rock-bound inlets close to Lerwick, which, under favourable conditions, are perfectly lovely. Roads, again, which run along the side of a hill in full view of the ocean, as that from Lerwick to Mouse, afford varying and glorious views.
We might remind southern readers of the road from Lynmouth to the Valley of Rocks, were it not that there the sea beneath is only the Bristol Channel, whereas in the Shetlands we have the blue ocean. The interior of Mainland, Bressay, Whalsey, and Unst is very hilly, and there are lonely and picturesque scenes to be found among these rounded grassy or heathery hills. But the sea it is which creates the chief beauties in Shetland. No sea view there is common or unexciting ; and the sea is in sight from almost everywhere. VIKLNG.