Shetland is famous for many things but for most people outside the island Up Helly Aa is one that get some publicity. It is even a feature of the English BBC One news, even though just a brief look.
A couple of weeks ago we attended our first Up Helly Aa over in Scalloway, the weather was excellent and we really enjoyed the night, it was a low key affair compared to the Lerwick event.
This week has been the largest Fire celebration, the Lerwick Up Helly Aa (Tuesday) which attracts people from all over the world. All the accommodation in Lerwick has been booked for months and thankfully all the Northlink ferries have arrived with no gales the weekend before
Those that cannot make the trip, are able to view on a live web-link this was watched by 22,000 people from 109 countries in 2014. We have done this the past few years.
The Jarl for the year has to wait 15 years before his name comes to the top of the list, he has to start saving as he pays for his Viking costume and all the entertainment through his years' reign, sometimes £15,000 costs. Its a great honor to be chosen but not cheap.
Local people have been talking about this annual event for weeks. Up Helly Aa has been held most years since the early 1880's and only the two World Wars have put a stop to it. It even takes place in bad weather, nothing seems to stop the 950 torch bearers. The streets are packed early to see the fantastic procession where the lines of Vikings carrying torches which have been dowsed in paraffin for days are lit as the street lights are dimmed to create a great atmosphere.
The smell of paraffin is blown here and there in the strong winds, the burning torches light the area while sparks fly high , then the songs start,everyone including the children know the Up Helly Aa song. The word have been sung since 1905 but the music changed in 1920.
Know one really knows why Up Helly Aa is celebrated, some say its connected to when the Viking leader/ King or some person with high connections dies and then is burnt in a Galley (Viking long boat) out at sea. Now its a great social event which starts on the Monday with a grand concert which we managed to get tickets. The evening, a four hour session is a showcase for all the bands playing at the halls after the burning.
In Lerwick the galley is processed though the streets before being taken into a park, surrounded by the torch bearers who then throw the torches into the galley which is then burnt. It would never be allowed anywhere else as the Health and Safety would stop everything.
There are no accidents despite the fact there are no barriers holding the crowd back, it is so well organised and plans for the next Up Helly Aa are already taking place. People seem to know what to do and visitors respect what Shetlanders tell them.
On Tuesday the day starts early for the Jarl Squad, starting at Islesburgh for breakfast, then they visit various venues throughout the day, its very tiring for the squad in their heavy uniforms. I was pleased that the squad visited the old folk at Royal Voluntary Service lunch club in Islesburgh.,everyone enjoyed the visit and the singing.
The visits all nearly run to time. Then in all types of weather they start to line up to start at 7.30 pm and finish the event around 9.00 pm. This year the forecast was for heavy rain and strong winds but in fact it was dry and mild throughout the event.
The work does not end there as the Jarl Squad then visits numerous drinking venues to celebrate the event with their supports this goes on while 8.00 am the next morning. The next morning I saw several Vikings staggering back home at 8.30 am, luck for them in Shetland the Wednesday is a Bank holiday so they can sleep it off.
During Wednesday the weather turned to heavy snow making the drive home very difficult, I doubt whether we would have traveled over to Lerwick if Up Helly Aa had taken place today.
More photos of the Up Helly Aa in the next blog