Up Helly Aa up there with the best of winter festivals
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.