Stranded on Shetland gives time to breathe after jam packed Up Helly Aa

After a jam-packed visit to Shetland for Up Helly Aa and podcast recording, I found myself staying an extra day-and-a-half thanks to Scotland’s winter windy weather.

You know it’s not an average Wednesday morning when you’re sitting nearby Kate Humble and opposite a man in a kilt, with a face tattoo, dressed as a Viking.

But this, for the staff at Sumburgh airport and residents of Shetland in general, won’t come as much of a surprise given that it’s the morning after the annual Lerwick Up Helly Aa festival, which this year welcomed women into the main Jarl Squad for the first time.

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I travelled with my colleague Kelly as we were recording for Scran, The Scotsman’s food and drink podcast. We have interviewed a range of lovely people, from businesses owners such as Nicola Duthie from Island Larder to Jonny Sandison from Lerwick Brewery and David Parham from the Handmade Fish Co.

Picture: Andy Buchanana/AFP via Getty ImagesPicture: Andy Buchanana/AFP via Getty Images
Picture: Andy Buchanana/AFP via Getty Images

We also got a sneak preview of the Lerwick Distillery, as well as some insight into what it’s like being a hostess at one of the hall parties – that take place after the lighting of the Viking galley at Up Helly Aa – including what food is served. As we found out, the food includes warming plates of lentil and reestit mutton soup and traditional bannocks with salt beef, sandwiches and a wonderful spread of home baking.

There were also chats with some of the Up Helly Aa squads, committee members and the main man and women of the evening. And while the weather had been beautiful the day before and the day of the festival, weather warnings after were live, and met with ominous “you’ll not be getting off the island” comments.

But as Loganair didn’t do a ScotRail and cancel everything the day before, we found ourselves battling high winds at 7am in a small hire car, which was getting battered about like a tin can, on route to Sumburgh airport. It is a place that would become a home away from home for the groups of visitors, photographers and BBC presenters that had also made the journey.

The unexpected, or rather kind-of expected, extra time on Shetland gave us the chance to breathe after a whirlwind few days, and take in the beautiful rolling scenery, while witnessing the magical choppy seas that were crashing on to the airport runway. The weather went from hail to weak winter sunshine in the space of half an hour, leaving us with little option but to get better acquainted with the Lerwick Tesco.

It was a reminder that a slower pace of life, with many back-up plans, is what’s needed on the Scottish islands given weather and transport restrictions. It’s also a good mindset to adopt in general I’ve found.

Our flight out to Edinburgh the next day went with only a slight delay – and the chance to greet the Loganair staff like old friends – so when we landed in Edinburgh all that was left to do was to wave one final time at our new be-kilted Viking friend and be on our way home.



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