Jarlshof and Scott

Discover how 43-year-old Walter Scott amused himself on a visit to Jarlshof in 1814

Neolithic people first settled at Jarlshof in Shetland around 2700 BC. It remained in use until the AD 1600s. Discoveries made there include oval-shaped Bronze Age houses, an Iron Age broch and wheelhouses, Norse long houses, a medieval farmstead, and a laird’s house dating from the 1500s.

Scott visited Shetland, sailing with the Commissioners of the Northern Lights - the board responsible for Scotland’s lighthouses.

In his diary, he describes the slopes ‘covered with a beautiful short herbage’, and ‘the old house of Sumburgh, in appearance a most dreary mansion’.

In his novel 'The Pirate', Scott would go on to call the house ‘Jarlshof’, giving it the name we still use today.

Listen to 'Vent to My Enthusiasm’

Hear how 43-year-old Walter Scott amused himself on a visit to Sumburgh in 1814.

Read 'Vent to My Enthusiasm’

The sea rages beneath incessantly among a thousand of the fragments which have fallen from the peaks and which assume an hundred strange shapes.

It would have been a fine situation to compose an ode to the Genius of Sumburgh-head or an Elegy upon a Cormorant – or to have written and spoken madness of any kind of prose or poetry.

But I gave vent to my excited feelings in a more simple way; and sitting gently down on the steep green slope that led to the beach, I e’en slid down a hundred feet, and found the exercise quite an adequate vent to my enthusiasm.

I recommend this exercise (time and place suiting) to all my brother scribblers and I have no doubt it will save much effusion of Christian ink.

Those slopes are covered with beautiful short herbage. At the foot of the ascent and towards the isthmus is the old house of Sumburgh, in appearance a dreary mansion.

I found on my arrival at the beach that the hospitality of the inhabitants had entrapped my companions – I walked back to meet them, but escaped the gin and water!

Sir Walter Scott - Celebrating 250 Years

In 2021-22, Scotland celebrates the 250th anniversary of one of its most famous sons, Sir Walter Scott. This online exhibition and audio trail of his legacies is part of the celebrations.

'Vent to my Enthusiasm' has been performed by Edinburgh actor Gavin Paul, who is looking forward to visiting some of these important historical sights.