Ponies, peat, sheep, fish and a fascinating WWII operation

Saturday, June 20: We are sedately cruising this evening out of Lerwick, the largest city of the Shetland Islands, after an interesting day and tour here on the Mainland island. Stay with the post because I answer the question at the end - Did I, indeed, buy a Shetland pony?

We slept in this morning after a fabulous dinner in Toscana last night. Toscana is the specialty Italian restaurant on-board, which requires a reservation in advance but no extra fee. We shared a table with two other couples at 6:30 pm. I decided to order the wine bottle package special (7 bottles), estimating that most bottles will make it through two dinners. Dinner was not long after we sailed out of Rosyth, right under the Firth of Forth bridges. Edinburgh city itself could be seen to the south as we turned north towards the Shetland islands.

Oh, back to dinner…We both had the fresh spinach salad with fresh goat cheese and tomatoes (delectable), followed by pasta main courses. Steve had the tortolloni with parmesan cheese and I had the pasta trio, which had a small serving of fettucine carbonara, the same tortollini (much smaller portion), and a lobster risotto. It was excellent! We finished this off with stupendous desserts, a cannoli (Steve) and a chocolate semifreddo (me). Our table mates were ok, if we steered clear of certain subjects. We did not get off to a great start on preserving wine for multiple evenings, as we drank all of the Nero D’Avola from Sicily, a delicious primitivo red wine.

So, back to today. We arrived at Lerwick earlier than planned, just after 11:00 am (noon was the estimate). The Shetland Islands are located about 110 miles north of the Scottish mainland and consist of a number of inhabited larger islands and many smaller uninhabited bits of land. They have a long human history, with neolithic settlements being found and the usual Viking infiltrations in many places; the islands were once under the purview of Norway, then were pawned off to Scotland to pay for a wedding dowry of the Norwegian King’s daughter. The islands stayed perpetually aligned to Scotland in the 1400’s and later, became part of the UK. The Shetland flag is a light blue and white cross to match the other Scandinavian flags (the Scottish flag is a white and blue St. Andrew’s cross, which goes from corner to corner). We saw these weird floating hotels in the harbor area and found out that there are huge oil and gas fields that are being developed by Total (France) and BP (UK) and the need for production workers is huge, hence the temporary housing, which also includes some decrepit old retired cruise ships.

Our tour left at 12:45 pm, entitled “Shetland Ponies and Scalloway Castle”. Our bus drove across the narrow width of the Mainland to a viewpoint looking at the Atlantic Ocean (yes, I know, the ocean on the east side is also really the Atlantic, but they like to call it the North Sea). We then ventured back to the middle of the island and took a narrow road through peat moss country in Tingdale valley to a farm to meet some Shetland ponies. There were sheep and lambs everywhere and the countryside was quite green, although mostly treeless; skies were grey and it was chilly, but it never rained, which was a relief. Our bus pulled over next to a fenced paddock by the road and the owners of the ponies were there to talk about their mischievous livestock while everyone took pictures. There were regular Shetland ponies (like small horses) and miniatures, which are the size of large dogs. All of the horses were adorable, pulling winter hair off each other and coming near the fence to check out the visitors. Apparently, they are quite ornery, resorting to biting people that venture too close, although we did pet a couple of them.

After this adventure, we continued down the road to a small town on the west coast known as Scalloway. This fishing village is home to the Scalloway castle, a gloomy ruin left over from the despotic reign of Scottish Earl Patrick Stewart in the early 1600’s. By the way, this not the same Patrick Stewart (or family name) of the Shakespearean actor who commanded the Enterprise in ST:TNG as Jean-Luc Picard. Apparently, the Patrick Stewart of the early 1600’s was a money nut and used slave labor to build castles in Scalloway and on the Orkney islands and also abused the locals; he was convicted of treason and beheaded and the castle was allowed to fall into ruin. The castle was a dank, spooky place, open to the sky. What we found more interesting was the small museum next door, where we discovered the history of the fishing operations in this part of the world and the story of the Shetland Bus that operated from Scalloway. This was a covert operation in WWII that started with actual fishing boats and then graduated to anti-submarine ships (built in the US) used to bring Norwegian underground and UK troops over to infiltrate German operations all over the west coast of Norway and also evacuate troops that had been left there or isolated. This was fascinating, a little-known story of heroism that helped in its own small way to undermine the Nazi war machine. We bought a few things in the gift shop, including the David Howarth book originally published in 1951 describing this operation.

We traveled back to the ship with a detour through Lerwick itself. The town is quite busy, with all of the oil/gas field workers, summer activities and carnivals and the cruise ship season. We decided not to get off in town as there was only short time before the shuttle buses stopped operating back to the ship.

Oh, and our trivia standings are improving, with our team coming in first today at team trivia.

So now we come to the answer to the big question: Yes, I did, indeed, buy a Shetland Pony. It is about three inches high, made of “all new materials” and will be completely destroyed by Merry and Pippin in no time! The ponies are sweet animals, but very messy and obstinate and probably cost an arm and leg to keep and maintain. So no real pony for me. It was fun to keep the story going, however. I think a few people actually believed me on-board!

Tomorrow we call at the Faroe Islands, an autonomous outpost of Denmark and apparently quite gorgeous; they are northwest of our current position, between the Shetlands and Iceland. We have a longer tour to one of the other islands (Vagar), through an underwater tunnel and may have some time in Torshavn, the capital.

Stay tuned! Oh, and the ship internet is particularly sucky, so we are probably not going to try and load photos until Monday, which is a day at sea, so you’re stuck right now with boring stuff like this.

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