Scottish Festival: Up Helly Aa

The weekend before New Year, a harsh wind scatters the Shetland Islands with a drizzle, the sky rolls in grey and moody and the sea lashes at the rocks in an icy blue. Yet despite the desire to curl up next to the log fire with a good book and bottle of scotch, the locals are preparing to go back to their roots and to throw flame and fire at a Viking ship. This Scottish festival is something every traveler should behold, when on a dark night the islanders don their helmets and furs in true Viking fashion and carry blazing torches through the streets.

For a first time onlooker, the procession may seem barbaric, particularly with the other-worldly shouts and the wooden ship bursting into a bright mirage of flames, licking greedily at the damp dark sky. As the chill smokes your breath you may feel inclined to look for a place to hide, just in case they want to chuck you on the bonfire too.

Scottish Festival Up Helly Aa

But beneath the surface, this is a moment about sheer fun, paying homage to their roots and throwing back some real ale to warm up this wintry eve. The festival is called Up Helly Aa, and dates back to the early 19th century marking the influence of the ancient Norsemen on the remote Shetland Islands. Everyone impatiently awaits the entrance of the Chief, who will be dressed to impress in his elaborate Jarl wear.

Scottish Festival Up Helly Aa 1

To mark the occasion, there is plenty of scotch being passed around, lots of rugged beards on show, and the scent of smoke wafting up deep into the night air. Spirits are high, raucous even you might say and there is a sense of community carved deep in the faces that gather around, illuminated in shadow, fresh in the cheeks and clutching their young to their chests. This is an evening that celebrates pride, passion and history and if you are fortunate enough to be stranded on this damp and chilly isle, it is something to kindle the flames of your own heart during this Scottish festival.

Maxine Genier

Maxine Genier

Maxine is an adept of design, photography and online marketing. She lives in Gothenburg, Sweden with her husband and two beautiful daughters. She spends her leisure time exploring Europe with her family to perfect her skills as a travel photographer. She can be found in her spare time, strumming her guitar.
Maxine Genier

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