‘YOU’RE not going to find haggis, kilts and bagpipes on Shetland’s Mainland,” writer and tour guide Laurie Goodlad says, as we peer out from the puffin-kissed heights of Sumburgh Head.

“We’re Shetlanders first and Scot second, with one foot in Scotland and the other in Scandinavia. Visitors find it’s a real joy exploring all the rich layers of our culture and history.”

The historic lighthouse atop Sumburgh Head is the ideal place to appreciate that heritage, with a dedicated lighthouse museum and a smaller exhibit recalling the remarkable day in April 1940 when the embryonic radar station prevented Britain’s Pearl Harbour, narrowly averting the Luftwaffe decimating an unsuspecting Royal Navy fleet in Scapa Flow.

Sumburgh Head also offers world-class wildlife viewing. It’s hard to take your eyes and camera off the cutely bumbling puffins, but there are sturdy fulmars and I spot a graceful Arctic skua too. Gazing past the seals at the foot of the soaring cliffs I search for dolphins and passing whales – killer whales are regularly spotted all around Shetland’s 100 islands.

I gaze down, too, towards Shetland’s No 1 attraction, the incomparable Jarlshof prehistoric archaeological site. I descend to the site, then descend further through 5000 years of contiguous Shetland history. Jarlshof is like a greatest hits of the archipelago – I breeze through a Neolithic dwelling, before moving on to the Bronze Age and then stages of the Iron Age, sharing the lives of people thousands of years ago. There are myriad homes, the remnants of a massive broch, the outline of a hulking Viking house and the walls of a later Laird’s House, all set in the dunes overlooking the white sandy beach.

Visitors to Shetland’s Mainland can admire Lerwick’s rough and ready charm and the 
puffin-kissed heights of Sumburgh HeadPuffins are iconic to the Shetland islands

Shetland has plenty of those white-sand wonders – more than 100 – and it’s to one I head next.

St Ninian’s Isle has a perfect camera-pleasing tombola, the UK’s largest. I hike across with water on both sides, with only diving Arctic terns (known locally as a tirricks) for company, and yomp up to the wee chapel, where the St Ninian’s Isle Treasure was unearthed in 1958. Like many of Shetland’s treasures, it now sits in the National Museum in Edinburgh.

I swap coasts – you’re never more than four miles from saltwater in Shetland – to find living culture in Hoswick Visitor Centre. They’ve impressively revamped the centre and cafe here since I was last in the village, with displays and local culture and handicrafts on sale. Next door there are two knitwear outlets and Karlin Anderson Jewellery Design, whose work is sheer quality.

As I move north, I can make out the most complete broch in Scotland on the wee isle of Mousa. Isles tempt all over Shetland but there is more than enough to detain you on the Mainland. Like artist Ruth Brownlee. I find her in her studio right down by the North Sea.

The coast swirls all around through a wall of glass in Brownlee’s studio, all gnarly rocks and distant emerald headlands. “Shetland’s coastline is instantly inspiring. I love its ever-changing moods and hues, they’re at the heart of my work,” Brownlee says.

And what work it is – brooding seascapes, alive with colour, texture and drama. If you’ve watched the TV series Shetland you’ll recognise her paintings, as they hang in Jimmy Perez’s house.

It is to the Lerwick I head next, where Brownlee has a stylish holiday rental, Sea Winds, by the Lodberries where Perez “lives”. This is the most eye-catching part of the Shetland capital, with Bain’s Beach lying below the old stone buildings. A replica Viking longship floats offshore, timeless in the early evening mist. Lerwick has a rough and ready charm, all clanking working ships and welcomingly rowdy bars, but a serious foodie side, too, I discover over three nights, delving deep into the island’s remarkable natural larder.

AT newcomer No 88 Kitchen and Bar, I feast on local lobster, while next door at The Dowry it’s smoked haddock arancini and perfectly cooked boat-fresh halibut. Fjara, meanwhile, brings sea views and melt-in-the-mouth slow-cooked Shetland lamb.

I have lunch at the new Hay’s Dock by The Dowry in the Shetland Museum – delicious Shetland mussels with spices and pancetta. I’m already inside the impressive Shetland Museum complex.

READ MORE: Dunkeld tenants threatened with 'heartless' eviction by National Trust

This award-winning waterfront icon is one of my favourite museums in Scotland, telling the archipelago’s story from the days it was a continent away down by Antarctica, right through to the oil and gas boom. My adventures culminate a 10-minute drive away on the Atlantic coast in the former capital of Scalloway. Covid has claimed my favourite restaurant and the Mainland’s only castle is under scaffolding, but the simple Kiln Bar has become KB, a swish Scandi-Scot chic restaurant.

I savour Shetland scallops cooked with gruyere and Dijon mustard, followed by crab linguine. Just metres away the Shetland Bus memorial awaits, and the superb volunteer-run Scalloway Museum. On Shetland’s Mainland there are always more and more layers to explore on an island where I’ve not even missed haggis, kilts and bagpipes.

lNorthlink ferries sail from Aberdeen to Lerwick, with the option of cabins and pods, with a private lounge too.More information here.

Laurie Goodlad tours.