North of the Orkneys lie Fair Isle and the Shetlands. Once a bustling community, Fair Isle, lying 27 miles north east of Orkney, at one time supported more than 400 residents but in recent times the population of this small three square mile island has declined to less than 60. It’s steep rocky cliffs have been the graveyard of multiple vessels avoiding the dangers of the Pentland Firth only to find themselves ashore beneath the treacherous cliffs of the island.
The Shetland Isles, a further 15 miles north east of Fair Isle, are another complex archipelago of around 100 islands with only 16 of them inhabited today. They stretch some 60 miles from Sumburgh Head in the south to Muckle Flugga in the north. As with Orkney, the islands were once part of Norway until they became part of Scotland in the1470’s.
Historically the economy of the islands was primarily based on agriculture and fishing but in more modern times has been transformed due to the discovery of oil in the North Sea. The terminal at Sullum Voe, first operational in 1978, is one of the largest in Europe. The ancient history of the islands is even more fascinating with evidence of increasingly sophisticated human activity on the islands for many thousands of years. Indeed, it appears that Orkney and Shetland were a well connected hub for trade and communication thousands of years before the rise of the Greek and Roman civilisations. The dozens of important archeological sites on the islands are testimony to it’s rich past.
As far as the nautical legacy of the islands is concerned the Shetlands lie at the entrance and exit to the Atlantic from the ports of Europe bordering the North Sea and the Baltic and, as such, the vessels wrecked around the islands represent many of these nations as well as Scottish and British based ships. During both World Wars the surrounding seas were patrolled by German U-boats attempting to stop the flow of goods to the nations of Europe from North America. Thousands of mines were laid off the coast to attempt to block these ships reaching their destinations. The islands dependence on fishing is also reflected in the underwater legacy with many unfortunate fishing vessels coming to grief as they travelled back and forth to the fertile fishing grounds around the islands and further north.
Area Wreck Map