Do I need to learn Gaelic? No, Gaelic has never been part of Shetland culture. A few people who’ve moved here from other parts of Scotland can speak it, but you’re much more likely to hear Polish or Urdu. Shetland does have its own dialect, though: it’s a blend of Old Scots and Old Norse; words like peerie (small) are used all the time.
What about kilts? The many people who’ve moved from mainland Scotland to Shetland over the centuries seem to have left their kilts behind. Compared with the rest of Scotland, tartan is conspicuous by its near-absence, except on special occasions. Men do often wear kilts at weddings and Shetland folk will don them to support Scotland at Murrayfield or Hampden Park; but they might also be wearing Viking-style horned helmets.
Is the nearest railway station really in Bergen, Norway? It’s a lovely idea, but a modern myth. Our nearest stations are at Thurso and Wick in northern Scotland. However, Bergen isn’t that much farther away if you’re in the north of Shetland and it does have our nearest branch of IKEA – the next closest is in Edinburgh.
Are there really no trees? It does seem like that, especially if you arrive at Sumburgh Airport and drive north. But there are respectable numbers of trees in places such as Lerwick, Scalloway and Voe, plus several plantations in Weisdale and a few elsewhere. Shetland’s once-widespread cover of hazel, downy birch, aspen and willow disappeared because of grazing sheep and not, as is often assumed, the wind. The increased number of trees and shrubs is actually one of the most notable changes in Shetland over the past thirty years.
Can you really play golf at midnight in summer? Yes. With the sun above the horizon for nearly 19 hours in June, our light midsummer nights are one of the islands’ most appealing features. It doesn’t get completely dark between mid-May and early August. Instead, we have a kind of unfinished northern sunset, producing the twilight that we call the ‘simmer dim’.
Aren’t the winters very dark? At our latitude, the days are particularly short in December and January, with the sun very low in the sky and appearing for less than six hours around the winter solstice. But, to compensate, we quite often have the thrill of the aurora borealis, or northern lights. Most people would probably say that the amazing summer nights more than make up for slightly longer winter ones.