When people ask me why we decided to visit Shetland, I react a bit like someone who met their spouse online when asked how they met.
“Mmm ... uhhh ... we’re big fans of the Shetland tv series,” I say. Which is like saying you are visiting New York because you love the series Sex and The City.
Not necessarily a bad reason, but a bit gauche, don’t you think? I mean I would rather visit Shetland because I became obsessed with the Shetland ponies and wanted to know where they came from or because I read an article in National Geographic or happen to know someone there or was researching Vikings.
But no, I just happen to be a huge BBC fan of the Shetland tv series about a cop investigating murders on this little island north of Scotland. My new thing is to joke with the locals that we came to see whether the murder rate was really as high as it seems on tv. The truth is that crime is nearly nonexistent here and the locals act slightly chagrined by the existence of the series.
Anyway, so that’s why we got a little bit excited when we spotted Jimmy Perez’s fictional home In Lerwick yesterday and the reason I booked a historical tour with a guide who had also played an extra on the show.
The historical tour of Lerwick was supposed to take several hours and we were a bit late after getting breakfast at a wonderful coffee shop so I was hurrying D. to get there.
He didn’t want to go so I left him in the car park while I ran to the tourist Centre to meet my guide. Only problem was ... my guide wasn’t there. The woman at the counter said she had just seen him but he had left. I called the number I had. I emailed. No response. I had paid in advance and even bought the optional insurance if we didn’t make it (silly, I know).
I went out to find D., downhearted and with the brochure of the tour in my hand. He went in with me to the Tourist Centre and we looked around at the beautiful crafts and books for sale. Finally I showed him the brochure with the guide’s photo and he exclaimed, “That’s the guy! I just met him and his wife in the car park!”
Apparently D. had parked the car and a woman who parked next to him told him she liked his hat. This is a mystery to me since that hat has been worn to near tatters but we will save that for another conversation.
They chatted and her husband came up and D. told them his wife was going on a tour. “Well, she’s not on my tour” the man said glumly and kissed his wife goodbye. Only I was!
I was so disappointed so D. tried to cheer me up by suggesting we find Jimmy Perez’s house, which is actually a historic waterfront building called a Lodeberrie where smugglers used to hide goods from ships.
We walked up the street and spent about an hour photographing ourselves in various poses in front of the house from the tv series, which we later found out is occupied (and thus exceedingly embarrassing that I basically did a photo shoot without permission on someone’s doorstep.)
We were walking back to the car park when our guide called! He apologized and then laughed for about five minutes straight when I told him he met D. in the parking lot. We made a plan for 2:00 and I called every fish and chip shop in town to see if they had gluten-free fish and chips.
Turned out that Harbour Fish and Chips a block away had gluten free batter. We were so excited! D. grew up in New England and loves haddock, which is the fish of choice here. Two teenagers took care of us and wrapped our fish and chips in paper with a side of white vinegar and we sat outside at the Harbour feasting on steaming hot fish and chips.
While sitting outside we met a man who had retired with his wife to Shetland and couldn’t say enough good things about it and twin sisters who were funny and thought the acting in the series Shetland terrible and embarrassing.
We left to meet our guide and spent the next two hours learning the history of Lerwick from a man who very much reminded me of the character Hagrid from Harry Potter. He had a jolly laugh and we pretty much laughed the entire time.
Here is a recording of him sharing a poem in Norm, the dialect on Shetland that comes from Old Norse.
He took us to Shetland city hall, which has stained glass windows that depict the entire history of the Norwegian and then the Scottish rulers of Shetland. We also went to Fort Charlotte where legend has it that John Paul Jones was coming to attack Shetland during the American revolution and turned around when he saw the women of Shetland who had gathered wearing red coats and he thought the army too big to defeat. Now that’s a stretch! But a fun story.
We left him and returned to our kayaking guide’s home in the country because I had accidentally underpaid them by 10 pounds. Fortunately I caught the mistake first but we had to return to give them the money. They run a greenhouse as well as a kayaking business and we found them in the garden. We saw a few of their bumblebees and chickens and they invited us in “for a cuppa” tea and a spoonful of their homegrown honey (delicious).
They asked about American politics and we spent a half hour trying to explain the electoral college (surprisingly hard) and why Americans have so many guns (also hard). But in the end we left feeling warmer and the richer for it. Traveling is really about the people you meet (not a tv series).