WHERE: Lerwick, Scotland
WHEN: 30 January 2024
Dances. Do you sing. A suggestive procession at twilight, guided by the light of the torches only. And, in the end, a boat that is set on fire. Here are the main ingredients of one of the most evocative and spectacular festivals you can attend: Up Helly Aa!
The name may be quite strange, and anything but evocative. Yet, it is one of Scotland’s most interesting festivals, which takes place every year in numerous cities in the Shetland Islands.
From the best known places like Scalloway, Uyeasound, Northmaving, Bressay, Cullivoe, Norwick, South Mainland, to small rural communities, every year, on the last Tuesday of January, the Up Helly AA is celebrated. This is a party dating back to the nineteenth century. Initially, the young dragged barrels of tar, producing damage and trouble of no small entity. The tar was then replaced by torches, and it was in the 1882. that the procession of the torch was institutionalized.
Guizer Jarl is the main character of the UP Helly Aa. Every year, one is elected, with the legendary name. His supporters, called GUIZER, make up the Jarl Squad. Then, there are the various teams, each with its own theme and dress. The themes are quite arrived: from the historical ones to the topical or satirical ones.
Today, in Lerwick, in the Shetland archipelago, the most interesting Up Helly Aa is held. The highlight of the Festival is the procession, with over a thousand guizers making their way into the twilight, with torches lighting up the path. A specially crafted Viking ship is dragged through the streets of the city during the procession. The torch bearers are members of all the teams, led by Jarl Squad.
The torches, then, are thrown on the Viking galley, which literally takes fire.
A truly incredible event, not to be missed.
About a hundred are the islands that make up the Shetland Archipelago, north-east of Great Britain. Every day, from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, depart flights to Sumburgh airport, located about 40 km from Lerwick. The latter, is the most populous city in the archipelago, and rises on the island of Mainland.
From Sumburgh airport, take the N.6 bus to Lerwick in about an hour’s journey. The ticket can be purchased directly on board the vehicle.
The party starts already early in the morning, but it is only in the late afternoon that one enters the living. Do not miss at 15:30, a visit to the Shetland Museum: an extraordinary way to get to know the history, culture and traditions of the place.
At the 19:30 the torches will be lit. These will illuminate the path until the moment the boat is turned on. When all the torch bearers arrive at the ship’s final resting point, after forming a circle, they begin to sing the traditional song Up Helly Aa.
At the end of the ship’s fire, when the flames have faded, the guiters sing the traditional song “The Norseman’s Home”, with which they take their leave before going to one of the many parties organized in the city
On the occasion of the UH Helly Aa, it is quite difficult to find free facilities in Lerwick. In particular, booking very close to the date. We recommend expanding the research also to small neighboring towns such as Tingwall, just 5 kilometers away.
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