In 1469, James III married Margaret, the young daughter of Christian I of Denmark and Norway. Her father pledged Orkney and Shetland to the Scottish crown until such time as the dowry was settled in full. As he was crippled with debts, the dowry was never paid. So, in 1472, the islands became part of Scotland, creating the kingdom of Scotland as we know it today.
The Norse influences are still strong. Gaelic was never spoken here, and the place names(and many family names) all have Norse derivations. Both sets of islands are nearer Oslo than they are London, and there have even been occasional calls for the islands to be independent of Scotland.
The Brough Ness on South Ronaldsay in Orkney is no more than eight miles from the Scottish mainland, while the Shetland Islands sit much further out to sea, with the distance between Sumburgh Head and the mainland being more than 100 miles. Few people realise the distances involved, as maps of the British Isles invariably put the Shetlands in a convenient box off Scotland’s northeast coast. However, fast ferries and air services put the islands within easy reach of the mainland.
In the distant past, they were at a major communications crossroads, and gained an importance that far outweighed their size. They were on the main route from Scandinavia to Scotland, England, Ireland and the Isle of Man, and seafarers invariably stopped off there, some eventually settling. They are rich in historical sites and remains (far too many to mention them all in this travel guide), which show a continued occupation for thousands of years. Indeed, there are about 120 confirmed broch sites in the Shetland Islands alone. And because the landscape has never been intensely farmed or cultivated, many of these sites have remained relatively undisturbed.
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