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 The UK’s dramatic fire festival no one knows about!

 

January 2018

Shetland Festival

As Rio de Janeiro and other places around the world get ready for exuberant festivals, there is one that is under preparation much nearer home.

The Up Helly Aa is an amazing event held every year in the Shetland Islands.  These islands, although remote, are part of Scotland and the UK and can be reached through direct flights from the mainland.

Up Helly Aa is a major mid winter fire festival and a superb spectacle. And despite the Shetlands being on the same latitude as southern Greenland, and enjoying brusque winter gales, sleet and snow, the event is never cancelled.

It is basically a celebration of Shetland’s history and a vibrant demonstration of their skills and spirit culminating in the Up Hella Aa guizers of Shetland’s capital, Lerwick, in a dramatic burning of a Viking longship and then energetic celebrations until dawn.

Old Norse traditions and stories play a large part and each year there is much speculation about what the Guizer Jarl, the head of the festival, will wear…it will be a representation from a character in the Norse Sagas.

After months of planning the event starts with the Jarl getting dressed up in the costume of his chosen character and clambering onto the foredeck of a painstakingly created replica of a Viking longship.

Early evening at the start of Up Helly Aa, around 800 men, all in Viking costumes, form ranks in the specially darkened streets of the capital. Each will carry a stout fence post topped with sacking or rags soaked in paraffin. On the stroke of 7.30pm a firework rocket will be set off over the Town Hall and this marks the lighting of all the torches. A band starts and the procession of blazing torches begins, snaking for well over half a mile up towards Guizer Jarl who is positioned on the helm of the replica Viking longship.

There are usually around four or five thousand spectators and the Viking army drag Guizer Jarl from his ship and then set fire to it by hurling their flaming torches into it.  AS bugles sound and more rockets are fired overhear, the crowd  sing The Norseman’s Home, a stirring tune that is said to bring tears to the hardiest local men. You can hear this moving song here.

Once all the flames have subsided, he men and crowds then enjoy themselves at a variety of different parties and private events in a celebration that is said to go back more than 12 centuries.

You can find out about visiting the Shetland Islands at shetland.org/plan and
visitscotland.com

And full information on Up Hella Aa at shetland.org and uphellyaa.org

 

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