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  • Writer's picturePaula Moss

The BIG 5 of Shetland

As a South African girl living in Shetland, I have often sat back and wondered over the time I have spent on these Islands what the Shetland BIG 5 would be.

In Africa the BIG 5 are the game animals, the lion, leopard, Rhinoceros, elephant and Buffalo. The term BIG 5 was started by big game hunters and referred to the five most difficult animals to hunt in Africa on foot. This term was then adopted by safari tour operators for marketing purposes.

When I first arrived here in Shetland, I had no idea what was here or why on earth people would want to visit 100 little Islands 200 miles north of Scotland and about the same distance from Bergen in Norway. All I had really heard about were Shetland Ponies and that was only because I had had family that lived here during the oil years.

The most Iconic Shetland image to me is the Puffin, so naturally the Puffin has to be on my list of the Shetland BIG 5. Puffins return to our shores over the summer months to breed, they return to the same burrow every year. They spend the winter out at sea, it is still a mystery where they go, but that just adds to their special character. They are delightful little clowns of the sea. I stood with a visitor once just watching them and I said Oh they just love having their photos taken and he made the comment, do we come back to see the puffins or do puffins come back to see us? Interesting thought!! Together with the Puffin, Shetlands bird life during the summer months is spectacular, with massive breeding colonies of Gannets, and significant colonies of Great skuas and many others.

I wrote a previous post about Shetland Ponies so wont go into vast details about them. Shetland Ponies will certainly be on my Shetland BIG 5 list. Its just amazing the excitement you get when you guide a coach full of people that are going to be seeing the ponies at the pony stop. The squeals of delight when we arrive and the non stop chatter when they all get back on the bus. Ponies really are special little characters on the islands and I am sure every visitor wishes they could pack one in their bag to take home.

So as time went on during my time on the islands, I became a tourist guide and so many more aspects of these special islands revealed themselves to me. Jarlshof, the most significant archaeological site in Europe, therefore takes a place in my Shetland BIG 5.

Jarlshof when I first visited about 10 years ago was really just a pile of stones, but how wrong was I. This to me is one of the most exciting life stories I can tell Going back about 5000 years ago and connecting right back to where we are today. Stories of life, survival and development. It always makes me realise how we have developed and got to where we are today, why we have bedrooms and why we have cupboards and how the need for personal space became important, all these aspects come alive when you walk around this site.

How amazed was I when I learnt that Shetland used to be located on the equator. WOW. We are now located on 60North line of latitude. This puts us in line with Bergen in Norway, St Petersburg in Russia and the Southern tip of Greenland.

I have not grasped the whole concept of Shetlands Geology and not sure I ever will. That first fact though, proved to me that we have been on a massive geological journey to land up where we are today. On tour with visitors they are amazed when you tell them about ancient river beds, large soapstone quarries that were used by Vikings, ancient volcanos and parts of our most Northerly Island that are still meant to be attached to America. Shetland also has UNESCO Global Geopark Status. These amazing facts surely justify me placing the Geology of Shetland on my Shetland BIG 5 list.

Finally to me, what makes Shetland so unique is its heritage and its people. Never before have I met people with so many stories to tell. Older people sharing what it was like growing up on the Island. The heritage of music, festivals, knitwear are something so unique to these Islands. I have tried to do some Fair Isle knitting, learn about different types of sheep and also amused myself learning just how particular Shetlanders are about their potatoes.

I love that my life journey has brought me to such a special place. I have one person to thank and you know who you are. I love you with all my heart. xx

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