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Shetland and the Up Helly Aa

On our recent sourcing trip to Scotland, we took a little time out to head even further north and visit somewhere we had always wanted to go, the Shetland Islands. We'd heard many stories of these beautiful windswept islands where puffins nest on the cliffs, otters and seals swim in the seas and the landscape is both steeped in history and visually stunning. We weren't disappointed. A few days exploring the islands and we met with abundant wildlife, spectacular scenery, ancient historical sites such as Jarlshof and some very windy weather!

Jarlshof shetland

We were fortunate to arrive in time for the famous and uniquely Shetlandic festival the 'Up Helly Aa'. This event takes place each year on the last Tuesday in January and has evolved into a wild celebration of native culture and a marking of the return of the light after the long dark days of winter. 

viking galley shetland

The festival's origins are somewhat indistinct, starting out as a rowdy post Christmas celebration involving barrels of burning tar being rolled haphazardly through the narrow Lerwick streets. It wasn't until the relatively modern 1880's that the more organised festival we visited came into being.

Jarl Squad up Helly Aa

Since that time more elements have been added such as the replica Viking ship, known as The Galley; the Jarl Squad- quite a sight in their Viking helmets and the intricate costumes they design themselves and which are then hand made by local craftspeople; and the 'Guizers' who, following the torchlit parade and the public burning of the Galley, spend the night touring the 'Halls' of Lerwick performing pre-rehearsed comedy sketches until the following morning.

For us the sight of the almost 900 flaming torches being paraded through the streets and the subsequent burning of the Viking ship is one we'll never forget.

burning torches in the Up Helly A

the galley burns

 

Posted by: Sophie 03.02.2016