Sparks Fly On A Great Night
by Alastair Hamilton -
Neil Robertson, this year's Guizer Jarl, enjoyed a much better night than weather forecasters had predicted for his outing as head of this year's festivities.
The forecast – strong winds and heavy rain – really didn't look good, but of course the spirit of Shetland's hardy Norsemen wouldn't be dampened by such trivialities. The festival programme famously guarantees that "there will be no postponement for weather". Although the morning was a little damp, the evening was dry, with a lively breeze that freed sparks from over eight hundred torches and fanned the flames in which a beautifully-constructed galley was quite quickly reduced to ashes. Afterwards, paraffin-scented guizers made their way around the eleven halls in which invited guests watched them perform right through until eight o'clock the following morning.
This year, the procession was watched by several thousand locals and visitors, who packed four or five deep around the burning site and scrambled onto walls and even the odd lamp-post to get the best view.
More people than ever before watched Promote Shetland's live stream: there were 21,495 'unique visitors' from 91 different countries and, since many of these devices were probably being watched by two or more people, the number who actually saw the coverage would have been considerably higher. Most users (14,789) were in the United Kingdom, but there were 1,302 in the USA; 411 in Canada; between 200 and 300 in Australia, Germany and Norway and between 100 and 200 in New Zealand, the Netherlands, Sweden and France. The procession will be seen by millions when the BBC screens a new series on the Vikings, presented by Dan Snow; a film crew recorded the action.
Lerwick's Up Helly Aa is just one of the fire festivals that punctuate Shetland's winter calendar but it's much the largest of them all. There are six more across Shetland in February, on the 6th, 13th, 20th, 21st and 27th – Bressay and Cullivoe share that last date. The last two take place in March, on the 13th and 20th: there are more details and links at the bottom of our Up Helly Aa page. Any of them would be an ideal diversion during a winter "recce" and would offer a glimpse of community life. However, for next year's Lerwick event, which will be on Tuesday 26 January, it's best to start planning a bit in advance, as flights, ferries and accommodation all begin to fill up remarkably quickly. An unforgettable experience is guaranteed.