Bressay Up Helly Aa Meaning

Thousands of marauders stormed the usually quiet streets of the Shetland Isles, which were lit up by Viking flames this evening.

The armed militia and their longships would have been a terrifying sight centuries ago, which would have meant certain death for hundreds of residents. 

But it was a source of entertainment for the Shetland Islands residents today, who welcomed the invasion of an annual festival celebrating the ancient Scandavian culture.

Hundreds of history enthusiasts braved the freezing conditions to don their armour and parade around Lerwick, Shetland, for Up Helly Aa 2017.

Members of the Jarl Squad dressed in Viking costumes carry flaming torches during the Up Helly Aa Viking festival in Lerwick

Hundreds of marauders lit up the streets during impressive scenes as part of the festival on the Shetland Isles this evening

The outfits were incredibly authentic as the enthusiasts sported furs and chainmail for the celebration of Viking culture

Members of the Jarl Squad set fire to their ornate Viking longship, which burns brightly as it sails on the sea

Before the ship is burned, the hundreds of people enjoying the festivities surround it with their torches this evening

Hundreds of people, all in full army, authentic furs and holding brightly-lit torches socialise and cheer around the large ship

What was once a great example of artistry and craftmanship just moments ago soon turns into a giant fireball as the flames quickly take hold of the wooden ship

The Jarl squad light their torches from fuel burning on the ground as they prepare for a procession along the streets before gathering around the ship and burning it

The impressive sight may look like the destruction of the authentic equipment enthusiasts have worked hard to create, but the ritual would have been an important part of Viking culture centuries ago 

While the clothes and armour are decorative and ornate, it would be a terrifying sight for those taking a quiet walk on the Shetland Isles who were not aware of the festival in town

The huge crowd of around 1,000 was predominantly made up of men but featured guizers - the correct name for those in costume - of all ages.

The torch-lit procession is led by the Guizer Jarl, or chief guizer - 37-year-old Lyall Gair - and culminates in a replica longboat being set alight.  

Hundreds of people wearing winged helmets, sheepskins and carrying axes and shields march through the streets of the town to recreate its ancient Viking past, in a tradition that dates back to the 19th century.

Work begins at the end of October to ensure everything is ready for the celebrations, which often continue until 8am the following day - a public holiday on the island.

The huge crowd of around 1,000 was predominantly made up of men but featured guizers - the correct name for those in costume - of all ages

 The torch-lit procession is led by the Guizer Jarl, or chief guizer - 37-year-old Lyall Gair - and culminates in a replica longboat (pictured) being set alight

Hundreds of people wearing winged helmets, sheepskins and carrying axes and shields march through the streets of the town to recreate its ancient Viking past, in a tradition that dates back to the 19th century

Work begins at the end of October to ensure everything is ready for the celebrations, which often continue until 8am the following day - a public holiday on the island

The Guizer Jarl Lyle Gair and his Jarl squad pose for a group picture at Bressay Ferry Terminal during the annual Up Helly Aa festival on January 31, 2017 in Lerwick, Scotland

The leader of the Jarl squad, Lyle Gair, bellows out some instructions to the members who are on board the Longboat with him

They disembarked the vessel before starting a march through the streets of Lerwick, led by 37-year-old Mr Gair. Work begins at the end of October to ensure everything is ready for the celebrations, which often continue until 8am the following day

More guizers, including one elderly gentleman, get their voices warmed up as they prepare for some breakfast before the morning's activities

They sat down for some food before the morning's festivities - although the cooking equipment pictured looked far from authentic

The refreshments did not exactly hark back to the viking era, with several guizers seen tucking into bacon sandwiches. The festival stems from the 1870s when a group of local men wanted to put new ideas into Shetland's Christmas celebrations

They were also drinking coffee from plastic cups - which is not exactly how their Scandavian ancestors would consumed their drinks. Those taking part in the festival spend the night visiting a host of celebrations in halls around Lerwick

Volunteers are responsible for the building of the galley boat and the production of more than 1,000 torches.

Those taking part in the festival spend the night visiting a host of celebrations in halls around Lerwick and the party was sure to have been aided this year with a special edition gin and cider distilled for the festival.

Shetland and neighbouring Orkney were ruled by the Norse for about 500 years until they became part of Scotland in 1468.

The event stems from the 1870s when a group of young local men wanted to put new ideas into Shetland’s Christmas celebrations.

They sat down for some food before the morning's festivities - although the refreshments cooking equipment pictured looked far from authentic.

Up Helly Aa always takes place on the last Tuesday in January and culminates in a torchlit procession and the burning of a galley.  

The festival celebrations carry on throughout the night and the next day, lucky for some, is a national holiday

While some military re-enactments seem reserved for the more mature, young people on the island get fully involved in the annual event

Mr Gair in full voices as he leads a huge procession of viking guizers down the road. He is flanked by two youngsters who are carrying flags

In traditional helmets that cover their faces almost entirely in combination with their beards, cut a menacing shape as they stride through the town with fake axes. Shetland and neighbouring Orkney were ruled by the Norse for about 500 until 1468

Despite the fierce enthusiasm shown by most participants, this youngster was clearly a little less excited by the morning's proceedings

Some of the wooden equipment used by the guizers, such as helmets, axes and shields,  before they are put into action by Up Helly Aa participants

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THEBUS, PHOEBE & ME

or

The World is my Lobster........I never did like oysters

                                                                                     

 

BRESSAY UP HELLY AA

 

Right – Having been to my first Up Helly Aa I can see why whisky is the national drink.  I can't say I have never been so cold.  I might have been.  I simply can't remember it.  I do remember how my hands felt as a child going out snowballing, and my mother having a huge supply of Dad's woollen socks hanging over the Aga rail.  We would go out snowballing and generally messing about in the snow, then rush in to change one pair of sodden, soaking wet, icy cold socks for a slightly dryer and warmer pair, and the tingling and aching in one's hands was what I experienced at the Bressay Up Helly Aa.

 

After missing last night's spectacular display of the Northern Lights – Best I have ever seen in all my forty years – as one of the locals told me, I did wonder if I would be best to head for some isolated northern facing spot, and was torn between that and the Up Helly Aa.  On the principle that from my current experience the Up Helly Aa was a safer bet we went with that, and in the event as darkness fell so did the rain.  Well – fell would hardly be a good word to describe it, as that would imply it came downwards and not totally sideways.

 

I had checked the notice board in the Village Hall which looked like everything would start at nine, but with the amount of cars arriving, plus from my spot down by the old harbour, seeing the bus with the Yarl Squad arrive I went up early.  And a good job too.  The whole thing – assembly, lighting the torches, brass band, parade, passing the burning point, returning to the burning point, doing lots and lots and lots and lots of cheering and waving of axes and torches, throwing the flaming torches in, doing lots more cheering and Up Helly Aaing, more band playing and going back to the hall for a good session, is well and truly over and done and its nowhere near nine o'clock. If I had stayed in Thebus they would have all gone past me, but having been told they went up the hill and round the other way I had wrapped a scarf round my head and neck, put on two vests a jumper, two cardigans,  a padded coat and a rain cape thick thermal socks, insulated boots, and ventured out to the hall which was the assembly point

 

I was pleased I did as otherwise I would have missed the 'Assembly' which involved a lot of men standing around in the freezing cold wind and rain, with bare knees, wanting to say – get a move on – but refraining.  And the youngsters who were in the Viking boat, together with Mum and Dad Viking, yelling  'Why is it taking so long, Hurry up. We're getting cold!'   But Vikings up here need to be tough, and they obviously start them young.

 

The torches were enormous.  When I was young we had Jumping Jacks and Flying  Aeroplanes, and hand held Squibs and Firecrackers, but now even to suggest that a child should be too near a Sparkler is socially incorrect.  I love it up here.  The torches were sending off three and four inch pieces of burning 'stuff' which flew across the fields in the wind for hundreds of yards.  Children and adults stamped on the biggest bits, not that it would have set fire to anything as it was too jolly wet. It wasn't just the Vikings who had torches.  There were plenty spare, and anyone could carry one in the general procession which followed on behind those dressed in all the gear.

 

After a fair bit of standing around in the cold and wet eventually the torches were lit with an enormous gas flame gun and they went off like rockets,  the heat from them, even from a distance was appreciable.  At one point when down wind of the procession I did wonder whether I was wearing anything flammable, then remembered even if I had been it would have been too wet to catch fire.  Most of the men had beards, and I suppose that proves an extra measure of bravery to carry a big flaming torch in windy weather above a full beard.

 

I am ashamed to say I was just TOO COLD to go up to the hall after to enjoy all the entertainments, which from the programme went on  until well gone two o'clock.  Once the torches had  been thrown into the boat I got back to Thebus as fast as I could, switched the heating on high - blow the lack of LPG between here and mainland Britain.  Put on the kettle and in swift succession made myself two large, stiff hot toddies.  

 

With the result that, even though warmer. I was now in no fit state to go anywhere, except bed, which I did and slept soundly.

 

In most parts of Britain after an event like that there would have been lots of noise as everyone departed, with rowdy youngsters tooting horns and revving motors and yelling obscenities.  But here there was no outdoor aftermath of unpleasantness.  Its how England would have been some fifty or more years ago, and I hope for their sakes they never catch up with us in those ways.  

 

 

 

 

                                      CLICK ON ANY OF THE PICTURES BELOW TO ENLARGE

 

 I took lots more than these but it was so windy the camera was blown about and they have come out too blurred

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73  THE ISLE OF NOSS

 

 

 

 

 

 

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