Blaeu Atlas of Scotland, 1654

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Name: Blaeu, Joan, 1596-1673  
Title: Nova Orcadvm Descriptio Chorographica. Nova Descriptio Shetlandiae  
Pagination: 146-147
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Translation of text:

from Claudius, on whom see above, having conquered them (as is stated in Jerome’s Chronicles), in Hadrian’s time Juvenal wrote (16):
We have moved armies
Beyond the shores of Ireland, and the recently taken
Orkneys, and the Britons content with minimal night.
And later when the Roman Empire in Britain was falling, they were the home of Picts, as the poet Claudian joked (17):
Drenched with routed Saxon were
The Orkneys.
Necham also relates that the Saxons Ochta and Ebissus, who had served under the Britons, sailed around the Picts with 40 light vessels and laid waste the Orkneys. Afterwards they came under the control of the Norwegians and Danes, whence the inhabitants speak Gothic; and finally Christian King of Denmark for a financial settlement in the year 1474 transferred all his rights to the King of Scotland. The most outstanding of them is Pomonia, celebrated for its episcopal church, called by Solinus ‘long Pomona’ because of the length of the day, now known to the inhabitants as Mainland, as if it were a continent. It stretches from west to east, in length, located between 59° and 58° N. On the coast it has the town of Kirkwall, in whose vicinity there are mines of tin and lead. From there, after a narrow strait and some islands, is the Scottish shore. The names of the others are: Hoy, Graemsay, Swona, Flotta, Burray, Copinsay, Egilsay, Rousay, Fara, Westray, Viera, Gairsay, Papa, Eday, Sanday, North Ronaldsay, Stronsay, South Ronaldsay, Shapinsay, etc. ‘Ocetis’ is also listed among these in Ptolemy, which Camden conjectures to be the modern Eday: ‘But whether I should say that Hoy which is numbered among these, is Pliny’s Dumna’, says Camden, ‘is not yet certain.’ Zeland too is named as one of them by John Major, stretching for fifty miles in length. The inhabitants, as they have plenty of barley, make a very potent drink, and are said of all mortals to be the most inebriated and given to drink; yet, that no-one among them is ever drunk, or out of his mind, that no-one is insane or stupid, is stated by Boece. They live for 100 years and more.

The temperateness of the air is most healthy in summer, but in winter time storms rage. Those who have explored the islands more closely say that the toad is found there, but with this exception no poisonous animal. Trees are lacking, but the island of Hoy grows bushes and shrubs. Yet there is no doubt that, if trees were planted there, the nature of the soil would not fail in nourishment for them. They are very productive of garden plants and vegetables. They supply lead, iron and tin. In customs, laws and bodily appearance they scarcely differ from the Shetlanders, except that these are more humane and more obliging to strangers.

FROM BUCHANAN (Section Note)

Next after that [scil. Fair Isle] is the largest island of the Shetlands; for that reason the inahbitants call it [Mainland, that is] Continent; it is sixty miles long, sixteen wide in places, scattering into many small promontories. There are only two which one would not regret naming: one, long but narrow, runs to the north, the other wider to the south east. The coastal areas are mostly inhabited. No animal except birds goes to the interior. In more recent years the inhabitants have attempted to cultivate more widely than was the habit of their ancestors: but with almost no success. Their riches are from the sea, great convenience of fishing being set before them in every part.

From it ten miles to the north is situated Yell, more than twenty miles long, eight wide, so wild that no animal tolerates it unless born there. In it is said to live a merchant of Bremen, who imports all exotic goods, the use of which there he supplies to all in abundance. Between this and the Mainland lie the smaller islands of Linga, Orfasay, Bigga and Samphrey.

Beyond this about nine miles to the north lies Unst, stretching more than twenty miles in length, six in width. It is flat, and moreover not unlovely in appearance, except that it is encircled by far the most savage sea. Between it and Yell are interposed Uyea, Urie, and Linga. Beyond it to the west two skerries (18) and Burra look out; to the east Balta, Huney and Fetlar, seven miles long, seven distant from Unst and eight from Yell, and facing the strait which divides Unst from Yell.

Then many ignoble islands stretch along the eastern coast of the Mainland: Muckle Skerry, three eastern skerries, Whalsey, Noss, Bressay and Mousa. The western coast is girt by western skerries, Roe, Papa Little, Vementry, Papa Stour, Vaila, Trondra, Burra, North Havra, South Havra, and between them almost as many holms are interspersed.

The way of life of the Shetlanders is the same as of the Orcadians, except that it is a little harsher in terms of domestic supplies. They dress in German fashion, but for their abilities not indecorously. Their produce is of a unique kind of thick cloth, which they sell to the Norwegians; of oil manufactured from the intestines of fish, of butter, and of fish. They fish from small two-oared boats, made by the Norwegians from whom they buy them. Fish they have caught are partly preserved in salt, partly dried in the wind. From the sale of these items they acquire money, whence they pay their taxes, and they procure houses in which to live, all the furniture and a great part of their living. Those who strive for elegance in domestic equipment have some silver. They use measures, numbers and weights according to the German custom. German also, or almost old Gothic, is their speech. They do not know drunkenness, except that each month they issue mutual invitations and pass these days joyfully and simply, without quarrels and the other vices that drunkenness brings; and they persuade themselves to follow the same custom to retain mutual friendship. The strength of health was shown in our time in a certain Laurence, who married after his hundredth year. While in his hundred and fortieth year he went out to fish in his small boat in the most savage sea, and recently he died, not struck by any force of serious illness, but weakened by old age.


Although the more southerly part of Shetland is visible in the more northerly islands of the Orkneys because of the height of the land, as conversely the latter is to the former, yet they are 80 miles from each other, with a horrendously crashing and raging sea flowing between.

About the middle of the crossing of that sea lies Fair Isle, that is beautiful island, visible in the Orkneys and Shetland, rising into three high promontories, girt with elevated cliffs, and on all sides inaccessible except that on the north east, falling a little, it offers a safe anchorage to ships.

  [Continuation of text]

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