National Geographic : 1953 Oct
Shetland and Orkney, Britain's Far North Scotland, employing 21,000 persons during the herring season in one record year. "I mind when I was a boy," said an old sailor, "da boats were so thick in the Soond you could very near waalk on dem right acrass to Bressay yaander," and he waved towards the green island which shelters Ler wick harbor. "They came from aal over Germany, Russia, Holland, France. But there's nothing of that now," he added sadly. Herring steam drifters which ousted the sailing boats are now being ousted in turn by diesel vessels. These are more economical to run and can be converted to seine-net "white" fishing-cod, ling, halibut, winter haddock, etc.-when the herring season is over. Lerwick is still, however, an important fishing center; its vessels hauled in nearly $772,000 worth of fish in 1952. Lerwick's narrow main street has no side walks; pedestrians must hop nimbly into doorways when vehicles come past some cor ners, but accidents, apparently, are few. On Saturday afternoons the street is thronged with shoppers bustling in and out of thriving stores, many of which were founded by canny Shetland merchants a century or more ago. Lerwick was a good place for shopping even in rationed days, as another local poet sings: Da butcher maet is just a tract Whatever sort ye're buyin', B't roast or chop or tender steak Or saucermaet fir fryin'. Da potted-head hits fame has spread Trow every social section, And oh! Da puddins! Black or white Dey're equally perfection! Smuggling in Dark Passages Lerwick merchants once were not above a bit of smuggling in the shelter of their "lod berries"-small piers, usually with an under ground passage to a store. These passages are no longer in use (page 536). The ancient Tolbooth, or Town House, visited by Sir Walter Scott in 1814 when he was gathering material for his novel The Pirate, survives as a mission to seamen. In its lower story were housed prisoners, "who would now and then come out for a breath of fresh air and a 'drap o' whisky,' and at the request of the constable would peaceably go back again"! The Shetlander is an individualist, and Ler - Lerwick's Screaming Gulls Dive-bomb the Harbor for Fish Scraps Time was when 2,000 windjammers made Bressay Sound a forest of masts-"you could very near waalk acrass on dem." These herring steam drifters, which ousted the sailing vessels, are giving way in turn to diesel craft. © Oscar Marcus. European wick's 5,500 people may choose from a dozen different places of worship. Steep lanes lead up from Commercial Street in the old quarter to the New Town. Though Shetland's soil lacks the fertility of Orkney's, it is rich in peat (page 532). The pleasant reek greeted us on the bare road for miles when we drove across the moors to visit the old Norse capital of Scalloway (page 529). This was a base for Free Norwegian activity during World War II. From Scalloway ran the wartime "Shetland bus," small boats which carried secret agents to Norway on many a daring operation and brought back refugees. It even stirred echoes in distant Florida. At Mr. Churchill's request, three U. S. submarine chasers were detached from their base at Miami and shipped to the Clyde, to be manned by Norwegian crews for this dangerous run. Shetlanders marveled at their central heating, showers, drinking fountains, and other crew comforts. We found the little port strangely quiet. A few drifters sheltered at Prince Olaf Slip way, for an icy gale which almost snatched our breath away was roaring over the town. Ponies, Shetland's Famous Export But Shetland ponies at near-by Berry were grazing placidly. Apparently a 60-mile-an hour gale is nothing to these hardy animals, for they remain outdoors all year round. The origin of these small ponies is still obscure. Some say they were in the islands in the late Bronze Age; others, that they came from Siberia by way of Norway in the 11th century. The "sheltie" combines great strength with its small stature. Andrew Thomas Cluness, a Shetland authority, tells in his recent book, The Shetland Isles, of an American sports pro moter who issued an open challenge: his Clydesdale and Flemish draft horses would meet all comers in tests of strength, in feats proportional to their weights. The challenge was accepted by a man who kept his entry dark. At the last moment he entered the arena followed by what looked like a huge dog. But it turned out to be a Shetland pony, and with it he won the contest easily. The Shetland pony was the first pony to have its own stud book. Surefooted, intelli gent, and easily handled, it is a most suitable first mount for a child (page 526). In recent years the Shetland pony's popu larity has reached an all-time high, especially in the United States, where sales attract dealers from all 48 States and Canada. Bid ding is brisk, and purebred stock brings fancy prices. At a Missouri sale last May, King's XX, a champion harness pony, brought $4,000 and the top mare $1,525.