Market Cross and Commercial Street
Lerwick is Shetland’s capital and home to about 7,500 people, representing nearly one-third of Shetland’s population. It’s situated on the east coast of the Mainland, overlooking the island of Bressay to the east.
This is where we begin the tour. Starting at the Market Cross on Lerwick’s Commercial Street, we land in the first of many filming locations. Commercial Street has featured in every series of Shetland, with the picturesque waterfront playing host to several dramatic scenes – usually at night, when all is still and quiet, adding an extra layer of drama. While you’re here, pop your head up Mounthooly Street and see the Lounge Bar – but more about that later!
Lerwick grew around a booming herring fishery, both at home and abroad. Bressay Sound, to the east, offers shelter from the winds and a safe and sheltered anchorage for ships. Without Bressay, there really would never have been a town here. Bressay provides the perfect buffer from the ravages of the North Sea.
From the 1500s, Dutch fishermen, who went to sea in sailing ships called busses, began venturing north into Shetland waters searching for herring. We can think of their ships as ‘factory ships’ – herring were caught, gutted and salted onboard before being shipped back to Holland for further processing and sale. There was nothing in the area at this time – no houses, buildings, or any sign of the town that we see today.
By the early 17th-century, entrepreneurial islanders were setting up shop on the shores of Bressay Sound – or Buishaven as it was known to the Dutch – bringing their products to the market. At this time, we start to see the first signs of Lerwick and the growth of a town. By 1838, Lerwick had overtaken Scalloway as the main administrative centre in the islands.
We will now walk towards Victoria Pier – named after Queen Victoria and built in 1886 – following the Esplanade south towards the peach-coloured building with the bell tower on top [Tolbooth]. This stretch of the waterfront is instantly recognisable from every season of the BBC show. Lerwick’s a busy harbour, and you’ll pass the Small Boat Harbour where visiting yachts moor, as well as our lifeboat, The Michael & Jane Vernon – one of two keeping Shetland’s waters safe.