Unst is thought to be the first foot-fall of Vikings in the North Atlantic and there are remains of at least 60 longhouses on the island – the highest density of rural Viking sites anywhere in the world. Viking Unst is a project run by Shetland Amenity Trust. There are a number of places to visit to discover the true Viking history:
VISIT #1: THE VIKING LONGHOUSE
Leaving Baltasound and entering Haroldswick, you won’t miss the replica Viking Longhouse that sits at the bottom of the hill. Although it’s difficult to pinpoint a particular design, this excavation will provide you with an indication of what an original longhouse would have looked like. The build is based on real discoveries at Hamar on Unst and is inspired by other elements from differing excavations.
The craftsmen behind the build used traditional Viking building techniques. The longhouse will remain as a legacy of the Viking Unst Project and will be used to stage events and Viking activity days, or weekends. Living history demonstrations often take place during the summer months – pull up in the small carpark and learn the Viking history of Unst from the experts.
VISIT #2: THE SKIDBLADNER
Literally next to the Viking Longhouse replica, you will meet The Skidbladner. The Skidbladner is a full size replica of the Gokstad ship, found in a Viking burial mound in norway in 1880, and is built using the same materials in the clinker fashion. The original ship is thought to have been built during the reign of Harald Fairhar, who is said to have landed in Unst, and after whom the bay of Haroldswick is named. This type of Viking ship was suitable for a variety of purposes including trade, warfare and general travel.
The ship is an impressive sight and has proved a popular visitor attraction. Don’t forget to stop off here on your journey to Unst and board the Viking ship. Learn what it felt like to be a Viking in these mighty boats.
VISIT #3: EXCAVATION SITES AND SELF GUIDED VIKING TRAILS ON UNST
There are three main Viking Unst excavation sites based on Unst – Hamar, Underhoull and Belmont.
Hamar: The longhouse is open to visitors at any time of the year, and can be found inland at Hamar, Baltasound. Explore on the grey pathways and have a read of the interpretive board to learn more about this longhouse. Please shut the gate on your departure to keep the cattle out – thank you! Find out more about the Hamar Excavation.
Underhoull: Upper House has been built up to display the shape and features of the structures better. Take a look at the interpretive board which shows the longhouse during times of use. The site is easy to get to, being close to the road, and is accessed over a stile (or through a gate a little to the north). Find out more about the Underhoull Excavation
Belmont: This site has not been fully excavated as it was undertaken in such a way as to protect buildings and walls throughout. The site has been lightly covered to protect the unexcavated archaeological deposits. The site is protected with geotextile and the walls are clearly defined. As you exit the Belmont Ferry Terminal, the excavation can be found up the hill to your right. Visitors need to cross a boggy area to get to it and view the site and interpretive board. Find out more about the Belmont Excavation.