Hundreds of ‘Vikings’ gather for Up Helly Aa in Shetland

Members of the Jarl Squad dressed in Viking suits on the galley after marching through the street in Lerwick on the Shetland Isles during the Up Helly Aa Viking festival.  Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Members of the Jarl Squad dressed in Viking suits on the galley after marching through the street in Lerwick on the Shetland Isles during the Up Helly Aa Viking festival. Jane Barlow/PA Wire
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Hundred of ‘Vikings’ have marched through Lerwick in Shetland today as the annual Up Helly Aa celebration gets underway.

The spectacular festival of the island’s Norse roots will peak with a procession tonight, which will be lead by Lyall Gair, the 2017 Geezer Jarl, and lit by up to 1,000 torches.

Members of the Jarl Squad, including the junior jarls, on the galley this morning.  PIC: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Members of the Jarl Squad, including the junior jarls, on the galley this morning. PIC: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Thousands of spectators are drawn to Lerwick for the procession which ends with the dramatic burning of the Viking galley boat.

Parties will then be held in public halls around Lerwick with smaller celebrations held around the island.

READ MORE: Vikings still running rampant in Scots DNA

Islanders are involved in planning the festival all year round, with hundreds of costumes sewed by hand in homes around the town and a new galley boat built every year.

Guizer Jarl Lyall Gair.  Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Guizer Jarl Lyall Gair. Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Up to 1,000 men are expected to take part in the procession and will be armed with paraffin-soaked torches for the event.

They will be lit at 7.30pm with the procession to follow the Guizer Jarl to the galley boat, which will be torched in a park opposite Lerwick Town Hall.

Lerwick Up Helly Aa is always held on the last Tuesday in January with the following day

a much-needed Public Holiday throughout Shetland.

Vikings landed in Shetland around 800AD and ruled for around 600 years.

Despite its celebration of the island’s Viking past, Up Helly Aa is a relatively modern festival.

First records date a winter festival to 1824 when a visiting minister wrote: “The whole town was in an uproar: from twelve o’clock last night until late this night blowing of horns, beating of drums, tinkling of old tin kettles, firing of guns, shouting, bawling, fiddling, fifeing, drinking, fighting.”

The Viking element was adopted into the festival in the late 1870s.

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