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It seems the topic of fe­male in­volve­ment in the pa­rade rarely comes up at the Gal­ley Shed, and the quip “Why rock the boat when you can burn it?” was well re­ceived by the stocky Vik­ings man­ning the fort.

AFTER ad­mir­ing Vik­ing ar­chae­ol­ogy, cos­tumes and his­tory, a more hand­son ex­pe­ri­ence is avail­able on the Dim Riv, a replica

Vik­ing long­boat of­fer­ing hour-long trips around Ler­wick har­bour through­out the sum­mer. Or vis­i­tors can dip down to the breath­tak­ing St Ninian’s Isle with its idyl­lic tombolo of pure white sand.

A hoard of sil­ver, ap­par­ently hid­den from Vik­ing in­vaders, was un­cov­ered on St Ninian’s in 1958. Buried un­der the church, the trea­sure in­cludes chunky jew­ellery, bowls and frag­ments of swords.

It was found on udal land and this was cited as a rea­son to keep the hoard in Shet­land, but the orig­i­nals left the is­lands for Ed­in­burgh. Repli­cas are on dis­play in the Shet­land Mu­seum in Ler­wick, while the sil­ver­ware can be ad­mired in the Na­tional Mu­seum of Scot­land.

The Vik­ings were in­vaders, farm­ers and rulers, but ul­ti­mately they were ex­plor­ers. Don’t rest easy on Shet­land’s main­land, but fol­low in Vik­ing foot­steps and ex­plore the re­moter is­lands. Unst is reached by sail­ing from Ler­wick to Yell, then from Yell onto Unst. The is­land is only 12 miles long by five miles wide, and of­fers some of the rich­est Vik­ing pick­ings in Europe. The is­land is an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal trea­sure trove of around 60 long­houses, and it is said to have the high­est den­sity of ru­ral Vik­ing sites any­where, in­clud­ing Scan­di­navia.

Haroldswick is a key stop­ping point, be­ing the home of a Vik­ing long­house re­con­struc­tion and the Skid­blad­ner, a replica Vik­ing long­ship.

Here you can dis­cover how Vik­ings in­vented the sun com­pass and how their state-of-the-art long­ships in­cor­po­rated cut­ting-edge keels and rud­ders. Such tech­no­log­i­cal nau­ti­cal ad­vance­ments en­abled them to con­quer vast seas and cap­ture valu­able is­lands.

Unst Boat Haven and Unst Her­itage Cen­tre give fur­ther in­sight into the is­land’s past. Al­ter­na­tively grab the Unst trail pack at shet­landamenity.org and leave the re­con­struc­tions be­hind to visit an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Vik­ing hill farm at Bel­mont and an im­pres­sive long­house at Ha­mar.

Ul­ti­mately vis­i­tors to Shet­land dis­cover that its Vik­ing past is very much part of its present. The is­lands mix Vik­ing facts with fun, fash­ion, fes­ti­vals and fire, giv­ing them a fear­some Scot­tish-Norse iden­tity.

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