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THE

SCOTTISH

REVIEW.

JULY, 1896.

IN

ART. I.-HJALTLAND.

'And wake the gales on Foula's steep

Or lull wild Sumburgh's waves to sleep.'

-The Pirate.

N a former number of this Review* I endeavoured to summarise for the reader certain main characteristics of the Orkney Isles in respect of their natural scenery, early history, antiquities, etc. In the present paper I propose to treat on the same lines the more remote twin-group of our Northern British archipelago, the Isles of Shetland, or, to give them their Norse appellation, Hjaltland.

If the tourist finds it a far cry to the Orkneys, much more will he account it so to the Shetlands. For, whereas the Pentland Firth is but a span of some six or seven miles across, reckoning from the Caithness shore to the nearest of the Orcadian islands, -the northernmost land of Orkney and [excluding Fair Isle] the most southerly point of Zetland, Sumburgh Head, are separated by a fifty miles' interval of as turbulent Atlantic water as can be found over the wide world. But this distance by no means measures the length of the sea journey the British voyager to Hjaltland must perforce take. For, the shortest possible unbroken spell of shipboard is by steamer between Kirkwall and

XXVIII.

* Scottish Review, April, 1896.—' The Orkney Isles.'

I

Lerwick, a passage of 9 or 10 hours, sometimes more, according to weather.

Thus, it might be inferred that the divergences from the normal typical conditioning of the Scottish mainland, which I noted in discussing Orkney, would be still more marked in the isolated region of Zetland. And in regard of place-names, speech, history, traditions, manners, and customs, even to the aspects of the landscape of Hjaltland, this is so. The dullest observer could hardly fail to notice it. When it is remembered that the extreme northern point of the Shetland Isles is not much farther distant from the Norwegian coast than it is from the Caledonian mainland, it seems less strange to think of those isles as having once belonged to Norway as completely as do now the adjoining Faröes and Iceland to the sovereignty of Denmark.

As in Orkney, vestiges of early Christian settlements are strewn thick through the Shetlands. But the actual remains of the ancient church buildings are scanty and fragmentary; nor has Shetland anything to show like the noble Minster of Kirkwall. As for the Pictish Towers (brughs or brochs), they also, as we shall see hereafter, abound in the outer cluster of the Nordreys. Of incidents of domestic life, or those dramatic personal adventures which tinge with such vivid colour the Sagastory of Orcady, we have comparatively few concerning the homesteads and notables of Hjaltland. Still, there are ample to demonstrate the frequent visits of the Nordreyan Jarls and the kings of Norway to Zetland, and the constant intercourse which was maintained between the Scandinavian motherland and its dependencies in this northern Aegean of Britain. Substantially, the Norse history of Orkney is the Norse history of Zetland. The same suzerainty exercised from Bergen; the same dynasty of rival Jarls contending one with another for supremacy. Betwixt the two insular groups fleets of galleys were continually sailing, bent on plunder or vengeful errand. Orkneyman and Hjaltlander had a like zest for wassail or war: the island homes of both were never secure from the foraying of swashbucklers. The clash and clang of arms were perennial: and, in the deadly sea-fights where ship engaged ship at close quarters, assuredly

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