Up Helly Aa up there with the best of win­ter fes­ti­vals

The Herald - - NEWS - ALISON MEIKLE

SHET­LAND’S fa­mous Vik­ing fire fes­ti­val has been rated as among the best to light up the win­ter.

Top travel guide Wan­der­lust placed Up Helly Aa – which is cen­tred in Ler­wick – third on its list of Europe’s “most ex­tra­or­di­nary” win­ter fes­ti­vals

“Held on the last Tues­day in Jan­uary in the tiny town of Ler­wick in Scot­land’s far flung Shet­land Is­lands, Up Helly Aa is Europe’s largest and most spec­tac­u­lar fire fes­ti­val.

“It’s a cel­e­bra­tion of the is­lands’ proud Vik­ing her­itage, with is­landers dress­ing up in tra­di­tional cos­tumes, play­ing tra­di­tional mu­sic and par­tak­ing of a tra­di­tional drink or two,” said Wan­der­lust.

“The high­light is a dra­matic torch­lit pro­ces­sion that cul­mi­nates with over 1,000 cos­tumed guiz­ers throw­ing burn­ing torches into a tra­di­tional Vik­ing long­ship and watch­ing it burn. It’s a sight you’ll never for­get.”

But Up Helly Aa has had its crit­ics. TV ad­ven­turer Ben Fogle pulled out of cov­er­ing the event in 2013 claim­ing he was not wel­come.

Fogle, who spent a year on the He­bridean is­land of Taransay in the Outer He­brides for the BBC se­ries Cast­away 2000, took to Twit­ter to vent his hurt. He said he was not wel­come. “Doesn’t look like the Vik­ings want me back for the Up Helly Aa cel­e­bra­tions in Shet­land. Shame.” he tweeted then, be­fore later adding: “I should just clar­ify that I am very fond of the Shet­land is­lands and its peo­ple.”

In 2006, the star branded the or­gan­is­ers of the pre­vi­ous year’s Up Helly Aa – Europe’s largest fire fes­ti­val – un­wel­com­ing and rude.

Fogle claimed he was even­tu­ally barred from at­tend­ing any of the com­mu­nity halls by the Up Helly Aa com­mit­tee and said his ex­pe­ri­ence had been “de­press­ing”.

“I would love to re­turn to Shet­land one day on my own terms, that is, and not on those of a man in a cow-horned Vik­ing hat,” he later wrote.

About 70 war­riors known as the Jarl Squad, and led by the Guizer Jarl, pa­rade through Ler­wick on the last Tues­day in Jan­uary – fol­lowed in the evening pro­ces­sion by 1,000 men in colour­ful cos­tumes.

The day cul­mi­nates in the burn­ing of a replica Vik­ing long­ship. Then squads embark on 11 hours of vis­it­ing var­i­ous com­mu­nity halls.

There they per­form an act which is of­ten a send-up of a pop­u­lar TV show or film, a skit on lo­cal events, or singing or danc­ing.

Top of Wan­der­lust’s win­ter fes­ti­vals’ list was Venice Car­ni­val.

„ Mem­bers of the Ju­nior Jarl Squad carry flam­ing torches.

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