Mix Scots and Vikings and you get a seriously big, boozy fire…
When: Last Tuesday in January.
Where: Lerwick, Shetland.
Up Helly Aa refers to the annual fire festivals held in Shetland and Scotland to mark the end of the yule season. The festivals involve a procession of up to a thousand “guizers” marching in squads, who make their way through the town or village in a variety of themed costumes. There is a main “guizer” called the “Jarl” (only those who have been part of the main committee for fifteen years can be a jarl, and only one person is elected to this committee each year).
Up Helly Aa events happen all over Shetland and Scotland at slightly different times. The Lerwick event, one of the largest and most famous, is always on the last Tuesday of January. The current Lerwick celebration grew out of the older yule tradition of tar barrelling (setting fire to tar barrels and rolling them through the streets), which took place at Christmas and New Year as well as Up Helly Aa day. After the abolition of the somewhat dangerous tar barrelling, torch processions became the order of the day.
The procession culminates in the singing of the traditional Up Helly Aa song as the torches are thrown into a replica Viking longship or galley, which in most places (except Lerwick), is then sent out to sea in the manner of a Viking sea burial.
After the procession, the guizer squads visit local establishments where private parties are held. At each place the squads perform their acts, which can be anything from a send-up of a popular TV show or film, a skit on local events, or singing and dancing.
Find out more on the Lerwick Up Helly Aa on the official website.
Have you been to Up Helly Aa Celebrations in Scotland or Shetland yourself? If so, please tell us all about it! You can share your pics and videos on our facebook page too! Or if you just want to say hi, or leave a comment for any other reason, we’d love to hear from you.
Food & Drink
No Shetland household is without some reestit mutton (steeped in brine and air-dried in the rafters) at times like New Year or Up Helly Aa. It forms the base for avery tasty potato soup (sometimes using Shetlands black skinned potatoes), and it’s also served in bannocks (a kind of round flatbread). Shetland has its own Brewery too, offering a range of ales and stouts that are famous well beyond it’s shores.
Travel to Shetland
There are daily flights from several Scottish airports, including Orkney and Aberdeen to Sumburgh on Shetland. The the other option is to go by the ferry. Further information on how to get there and hotels etc can be found on shetlandtourism.com
Dates / venues may be subject to change or cancellation. Distances may be straight-line estimates. Please verify information before booking.
Enjoy your trip! And when you’re home we’d love you to come back and tell us all about it!