Lerwick - Shetland's Capital

Lerwick is a bustling, cosmopolitan seaport with services and amenities only usually found in much larger places on the British mainland. The extensive leisure and entertainment facilities provide warm hospitality to visitors. The old waterfront is thronged with pleasure boats, visiting yachts, historic craft and working fishing boats. There's a variety of lively bars and clubs, ranging from popular "theme" bars to more traditional hostelries.

Lerwick is Shetland's only town, with a population of about 7,500 - although about half of the islands' 22,000 people live within 10 miles of the burgh.

Founded as an unofficial marketplace to service 17th century Dutch herring fleets, Lerwick took a long time to grow. Because of its illegal status (and alleged immorality!) the straggling hamlet around the shore of Ler Wick ('muddy bay') was demolished by order of the Scalloway court in 1615 and 1625. The Dutch burnt the fort in 1673 and the French set fire to Lerwick in 1702.

Most of the sandstone buildings on the waterfront date from the 18th century, although a few, such as 10 Commercial Street, are older. The narrow main street still follows the old shoreline but modern harbour works have been built out in front of shops and warehouses that once stood in the sea. Perched on a hillside overlooking the harbour, the town's lanes retain their charm - and their shelter from the prevailing south-westerly gales.

No-one designed the old town - it just grew - but, up over the Hillhead, Victorian architects laid out a "new town" of spacious villas and public parks, dominated by Lerwick Town Hall - a monument to the civic pride of the 1880s. Going west, or "oot ower", the suburban sprawl of the past half century is less picturesque, but housing standards are high.

Lerwick is the commercial and industrial centre of the islands and also the hub of a busy cultural and social life. Shetland Islands Council has its headquarters here and The Shetland Times and two local magazines are printed and published in the town. BBC Radio Shetland broadcasts news, views and an entertainment diary each evening, while a commercial radio station, SIBC, is on air around the clock with music, news bulletins and weather.

The town has an excellent leisure centre, with a swimming pool, and there is a theatre offering drama, films and musical performances. Visitors can explore a surprisingly wide range of well-stocked shops. Lerwick also has an outstanding Museum and Archives, incorporating an art gallery. The public library offers internet access and has an excellent Shetland collection with a large number of local books and pamphlets.

 

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