Up Helly Aa is the biggest and most popular fire festival in Shetland, Scotland and it takes place during winter in January. The leader of the festival is known as a Jarl and is elected by a committee. You must be a member of this committee for at least fifteen years before you can be elected as a Jarl. The event is celebrated across Shetland, and is currently conducted at these 10 locations: Delting, South Mainland, Norwick, Cullivoe, Bressay, Northmavine, Uyeasound, Nesting and Girlsta, Lerwick and Scalloway.
After the torch procession, the guys head to local halls (think hotels, sports facilities, and schools) where private parties are organized. Every squad in each hall performs their own act, which can be dancing, singing, a skit on local events, or a send-up of a popular film or TV show. In a nutshell, here is how the fire festival goes:
The Viking themed festival involves a series of visitations and marches during the day. At dusk, most people are usually concentrated in the Galley burning and the torch-lit procession. At around 7pm, the men (otherwise known as Guizars), assemble to receive their torches. A rocket is fired into the sky at exactly 7:30pm, signaling for them to light their torches. This marks the beginning of the blazing procession, with more than one thousand men marching, with their leader (Guizar Jarl), being carried behind by a Viking
Galley. Once the Galley arrives at the burning site, the men surround it while singing the customary Up Helly Aa song. The Jarl gets off the ship when another rocket is launched. A bugle call rings, and the torchbearers hurl their torches into the galley. The flames coming out of the burning galley form a breathtaking scene!
Up Helly Aa is much more than a mere sub-arctic bonfire party. The celebration (which lasts day and night) is planned by several thousand people one year in advanced, and is riddled with secrecy. The “Guizer Jarl”s costume is probably the biggest secret of all the preparations.
The blazing torches are just the beginning of the festivals. In real Scots style, celebrations continue to the break of dawn and into the next day, which is still a public holiday! What’s more, if you’ve still got the energy, you can join the hard party goers into another evening of dancing (called the Guizer’s hop).
We decided to give you a taste of things to do during the festival should you decide to go:
Other Places to Go:
The Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival
On the second week of the year, a man dresses completely in straw and then dances to the sound of traditional music across the streets of Whittlesea, Cambridgeshire. Festivities proceed throughout the entire weekend, with barn dances and ceilidhs in the evening.
The Haxey Hood
The Haxey Hood is one of the rowdiest pubs around. Every year, the north Lincolnshire parish participates in a fourteenth-century tradition where they chase a leather tube into one of the 4 local pubs to stay until the next year. The game is conducted by “boggins,” who are responsible for keeping everyone safe. It’s more like a combination of quidditch and rugby to take a break from all the setting things on fire.
The Chepstow Wassail Mari
This is an ancient tradition that involves blessing apple trees in order to get a good harvest. Everyone drinks from a bowl of cider in turns, and then hold it up in the air while shouting “Wassail.”It’s fun. There is enough morris dancing to keep you entertained, strange costumes, and you get to meet the Welsh and English in the middle of the Old Iron Bridge.
Where to stay
Shetland Accommodation is conveniently located at the center of Lerwick, offering self-catering properties and flexible flat rentals. The rates for business hire/self catering holiday hire start from $71 per day, while long term bedsits start from $104 per week. The price is inclusive of TV license, council tax, and electricity so you don’t have to worry about any other bills.
Blydest is also located in the heart of Shetland’s capital, Lerwick, specifically at 19c St. Magnus Street. Here, you can explore the city and all it has to offer by bike, bus, or car. The apartment is tastefully decorated and provides comfortable, well-conditioned self catering accommodation. There is an open living area and two generously sized bedrooms where you can eat in or simply relax. Everything is readily accessible, whether it is sitting by the harbor, going shopping, taking a walk, or just enjoying traditional fiddle music in the local venues. The charges will be about $106 in January, when the Up Helly Aa Festival kicks off.
Fort Charlotte Self Catering
Also located in the middle of Lerwick, Fort Charlotte is one of the best accommodation hotels in the Islands. The hotel boasts new opportunities at every given chance, concentrating on clean, fresh, and trendy accommodation. The hotel was established in ‘1886 and then refurbished in 2013 to meet modern standards. This renovation provides three spacious bedrooms – one twin bedroom and two double (one with a shower room). There is also a fully fitted bathroom and kitchen
Where to eat
The Queen’s Hotel
Here, you can watch as the drama in the harbor unfolds, with the mood changing from morning sunrise to dusk sunset. A team of skillful chefs ensure you enjoy the best cuisine Shetland has to offer with a wide selection of fresh, local produce. Enjoy local lamb, seafood, and salmon from the Bressay hillsides. Most rooms are equipped with free Wi-Fi, including the dining room and public bar areas.
Hay’s Dock Cafe Restaurant
This café restaurant is situated in the high quality Shetland Museum and Archives. It provides a great variety of snacks, lunches, and even dinner meals. You can savor the delicious food while enjoying excellent views from the full-length windows overlooking the iconic Hay’s Dock. This includes regular sightings of passing ships, visiting seabirds, and friendly local seals.
Phu Siam Restaurant
In case you develop the sudden urge to eat Thai food, the Phu Siam restaurant is the place to be. The menu there is all about choice, quality, flavors, and presentation. Of course, some Thai food can be notoriously spicy, but there are several non-spicy alternatives if you don’t like your food zesty. The Thai cuisine includes healthy and nutritious herbs and flavorings that add a stunning array of tasty, exotic touch to the food. The basic seasonings are lime, coriander, lemon grass, garlic, fresh curry, coconut milk, ginger, and basil, among other spices. Of course, chilli is added to boost the temperature of hotter meals!