How else to see out the darkest days of January then a visit to Lerwick, Shetland, for Up Helly Aa 2017 Viking Fire Festival.
Currently Europe's largest fire festival, Up Helly Aa is held on the last Tuesday in January every year to mark the end of the yule season (tar barrelling: dragging barrels of burning tar through town on sledges over Christmas & New Year) and celebrates the influence of the Scandinavian Vikings in the Shetland Islands. I took a trip North as part of my quest to prove winter is not ALL doom and gloom.
After a rocky 12 hour ferry from Aberdeen we found ourselves in the beautiful town of Lerwick. Over the following 24 hours we embarked on one of the most interesting festivals I have ever witnessed.
The Jarl Squad is a selection of the Shetlands finest men dressed in the full Viking get up and supporting their main man "the guider Jarl" aka Chief Viking who's name is taken from a figure in Norse legend. Throughout the day they tour Lerwick with the full scale Viking galley ship replica, dropping in on the schools, hospitals and public spaces.
Then as night falls, the magic happens as 1000 Scottish men (who this year belonged to one of 42 different squads) appear dressed in theirs squads fancy dress. This consisted of anything and everything from fluffy dinosaurs, to Donald Trump and a crew of transvestites. The bustling squads line the streets of Lerwick and led by the Jarl Squad begin the torchlight procession through the streets. As the flames rise the town billows with smoke and the heat of the torches fills the air. Sparks fly and the smoke rises, with thousands of onlookers there to enjoy the show before they reach the school playground where the Galley ship is burned is a magnificent final fire.
Once the galley has burned the night of partying begins. Various local buildings such as the school host fantastic all night parties, entertained throughout the night as every guizer squad visits every hall in turn to dance and drink with the guests. These parties require tickets which usually sell out well in advance and are normally limited to the local island communities.