Some day I’m going to get to the Shetland and the Orkney Islands. While both part of Scotland, they have strong Scandinavian connections, and they have some of the earliest known evidence of human settlement in the British Isles. Skara Brae is, of course, the most famous of these Neolithc sites, and I’ve talked about it before in relation to [tag]Naomi Mitchison[/tag]’s Early in Orcadia. On my recommendation, my neighbors took a side trip to [tag]Skara Brae [/tag] earlier this summer while in Scotland, and they brought me back three books, the beautifully illustrated Skara Brae: World Heritage Site and Nomination of The Heart of Neolithic Orkney for Inclusion in the World Heritage List, and the more scholarly Tomb of the Eagles: A Window on Stone Age Tribal Britain. In her introduction to Early in Orcadia, Mitchison makes it clear that she’s basing her book on recent archaeology and I’m sure that Tomb of the Eagles and the archaeology which led to it, served as a major, if not primary, source. I just wish I’d known this last fall when I was taught Mitchison’s book. Another favorite book set in the area is Orkneyinga saga (also known as The History of the Earls of Orkney), the c. 1200 Icelandic history of [tag]Viking[/tag] Age Orkney. Great stuff.
As much as I love those two books and the history of the Orkney Islands, this post is, however, really about [tag]Walter Scott[/tag]’s novel The Pirate, which is set in the Shetlands during the Eighteenth Century. Central to Scott’s novel are the children of Jarl (Earl) Magnus Troil, their home being the ruins Scott himself named Jarlshof. Not surprisingly, it seems [tag]Jarlshof[/tag] had been occupied long before the Vikings arrived:
Shetland’s Past Comes to Life Amid the Ruins

HIDDEN beneath the turf of a windswept part of Shetland’s coast lies the impressive remains of one of the longest inhabited spots in Britain. No-one knows what the earliest name of this settlement was, but from the rubbish they left we can tell a lot about the people who lived there over the years.

The people of Jarlshof threw garbage into dumps from before 2500 BC but, although their waste was unwanted, their refuse has been anything but rubbish for archaeologists investigating their lives. We know that the Stone Age settlers lived in small circular stone houses, that they tilled crops, kept cattle and sheep, and harvested the sea for fish and whales, seals and shellfish. They also made tools – some finely decorated – from stone, pottery and bone.

Great archaeology, great history, and great literature. What more could one want from a vacation destination? What’s that? Weather, you say? Well, they’ve got plenty of weather, too….