Up Helly Aa

Hey guys, Sorry for the silence recently. I've been trying to get back into 'uni life' and my 21st was last week so I took a wee break from the blog for that too! However, I'm back finally and ready to fill you all in on my amazing trip to Shetland.

My best friend, Sarah, is from Shetland but in all the time I've known her I never managed to visit. However, this year I made a promise to myself that I would definitely visit so when she was home at the end of January I decided to join her. This is one of the best times to visit Shetland because they have a viking fire festival, called Up Helly Aa, which takes place on the last Tuesday of January every year.


I am not a great flier and when I got on what felt like the world's smallest plane to fly to Shetland I honestly thought I'd made a huge mistake. It wasn't even windy and I was still terrified! Thankfully, I made it there in one piece though and we spent the first day exploring all the beautiful views in Shetland. This made me quickly forgot about the flying and it all seemed worth it. The island is so, so pretty — even in the wind and rain! I was actually quite shocked by it as it's not what I imagined at all — it's truly stunning!

I even got to meet a few Shetland ponies which made my day. Although, I didn't managed to get a photo with them as they got scared when I ran towards them waaaaay too enthusiastically! They are just so cute though! 

After a full day of exploring I headed to bed quite early as Up Helly Aa was the next day and I knew it was going to be a long one. 


Up Helly Aa originated in the 1880s and it is an annual fire festival that celebrates Shetland's heritage. Each year the Jarl and his squad (the main viking squad) is different and they have to make their viking outfit and the Galley (their viking ship) from scratch. The craft that goes into this is amazing — everything is handcrafted and it is wonderful to see how these skills have been passed on through generations. There is a full day of ceremonies and celebrations which begin at 9am on the Tuesday morning and carries on through the night until about 8am the following day. 

We got up early for the morning procession where the Jarl Squad marches into and through the town with their Galley. This is the first glimpse the town gets of this year's squad, their viking outfit and the Galley.


After the morning procession, we headed back to Sarah's for some food and to get ready for the night time procession. Yes, I am wearing a woolly viking hat!

It's at night that you realise why Up Helly Aa is a fire festival. At about half 7 all the squads from the town — around 900 men in total — will gather to take part in the night time procession where all their torches are lit and they march through town before finally heading to the burning site where they all throw their torches at the Galley to burn it. 

This was an incredible thing to watch — I can't put into words how amazing it was! I couldn't get over how many men take part. The heat that came from these torches as well was so surprising — it didn't feel like you were in Shetland anymore!

After the Galley is burned everyone goes to their local hall where all the squads visit one by one throughout the night to perform for the guests of the hall. There is also loads of ceilidh dancing, booze and food. It's such a good night!


The next day, a very tired Sarah and I travelled back to Aberdeen where I climbed straight into bed as soon as I got home. It was an amazing couple of days and I'm already planning on going back for Up Helly Aa next year!

Have you ever been to Shetland? If not, would you ever visit?


'Til Next Time — Laura xo