The calm and noiceless Shetland Islands
When you go to the Shetland islands you are probably looking for peace, quiet and perhaps some alone time. The islands are situated about 104 miles northeast of Scotland. There are about 100 islands but only 16 are inhabited with a total of about 20 000 people. If you travel to the Shetlands on the last Tuesday of January, you can also get quite the opposite. This is when the annual Viking festival takes its start in Lerwick. Up Helly Aa, as the festival is called has been arranged as far back as to 1881. No weather will cancel or postpone the festival and so it has been since the start no matter rain, snow or extreme cold. That says a lot since Shetland has about 250 days of rain a year and an average temperature of 13 degrees in the summer.
Nordic Mardi Gras
This festival is well known across the world amongst those who are interested. It is a fantastic spectacle containing fire, ancient Viking clothes, shields and dancing. Many people call it the Nordic version of Mardi Gras. It is a celebration of the history of the Shetland islands and a memory of the Viking era. At the same time, it is a demonstration of forces and knowledge with the people from the time where they were invaded by the Vikings who took over the island and started calling it “Hjaltland” and stayed there for about 200 years. The festivities, however, are managed entirely by volunteers, mostly local people that work around the year to make this happen. Although it only goes on for one day and one night it takes thousands of volunteers working. Most preparations are made secretly, but the best kept secret every year is who will be “the Guiser Jarl”, the main person for the event, and how he will be dressed.
A party for the people
After the sun has set there is a torchlight procession through the town. The procession has always been one of the highlights of the festival and every year the people build a special Viking ship to show in the procession. For the festival in 2018 they had made a nine-meter-long ship. The ship is made throughout the year and is an artform that in this manner is told from generation to generation. The amount of work that is spent on this ship makes it a bit sad that after the festival and the procession the ship is set on fire. After the procession the party keeps going at the local pubs where there is dancing and beer-drinking until morning. The day after the festivities is a national holiday so that the people gets a chance to recover. Many small villages in the islands have local variants to this festival in much smaller scale, but as joyful if you are interested in the Vikings and should miss the festival in Lerwick in January. This festival is truly a dream for those interested in the Vikings and their history!