Thousands gather for Up Helly Aa festival in Shetland

Guizer Jarl John Nicolson cheers whilst on the galley. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
Guizer Jarl John Nicolson cheers whilst on the galley. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
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Thousands of people are due to gather for the world-famous Up Helly Aa fire festival on Shetland

The spectacle, which attracts visitors from around the globe, takes place in Lerwick on the last Tuesday of January each year.

Members of the Jarl Squad cheers as they march through Lerwick as snow falls on the Shetland Isles during the Up Helly Aa Viking festival. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Members of the Jarl Squad cheers as they march through Lerwick as snow falls on the Shetland Isles during the Up Helly Aa Viking festival. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

People dressed as Vikings march through the streets of the town to recreate its ancient Viking past, in a tradition dating back to the 19th century.

The procession is led by the Guizer Jarl, or chief guizer, and culminates in a replica longboat being set alight.

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This year the boat is decorated in the distinctive green and white hoops of Celtic at the behest of Guizer Jarl John Nicolson, a supporter of the football club.

Guizer Jarl John Nicolson and his squad march through Lerwick as snow falls on the Shetland Isles during the Up Helly Aa Viking festival. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Guizer Jarl John Nicolson and his squad march through Lerwick as snow falls on the Shetland Isles during the Up Helly Aa Viking festival. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

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 the town.

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

Guizer Jarl John Nicolson cheers whilst on the galley after marching through Lerwick. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Guizer Jarl John Nicolson cheers whilst on the galley after marching through Lerwick. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

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

Members of the Jarl Squad cheer as they march through Lerwick as snow falls on the Shetland Isles during the Up Helly Aa Viking festival. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Members of the Jarl Squad cheer as they march through Lerwick as snow falls on the Shetland Isles during the Up Helly Aa Viking festival. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire