Orkney and Shetland

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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Orkney and Shetland are often bracketed together as two distinctively different parts of scotland, lying to the north of the mainland; Orkney very close to it but Shetland closer to Bergen in norway than to Aberdeen in Scotland. They do have some important features in common, notably the fact that they were both colonized by Scandinavians from the 9th to the 15th centuries (hence many culinary terms of Norse origin) and their strongly insular characteristics, but there are equally important differences between them, as the following comments by Catherine Brown (1981) show:

The gentle, undulating, green and fertile land of the Orkneys has more in common with the North-East Lowlands of Morayshire, Easter Ross and Caithness than with Shetland. This is fine farming country for rearing cattle, sheep and pigs as well as growing oats, barley and turnips. In Shetland, acid soils, a cool summer and frequent salt-laden gales restrict farming so that the people have turned much more towards the sea for a living than in Orkney. In this respect they belong more with the Hebrides and the West Coast. They were originally described as fishermen who had a croft, compared with the Orcadians who were farmers who kept a fishing boat. There are nearly four times as many fishermen in Shetland as there are in Orkney, but on the other hand Orkney farms are four times the size of those in Shetland.