Fiery end to a fearsome day

You couldn’t get a painter on Tuesday for love nor money.

The larger than life Guizer Jarl Ivor Cluness was living in the moment as Ivar (The Boneless) Ragnarsson – so called after a character reputed to have certain bones lacking, or damaged, in his leg.

But if Ivor suffered the same disability he did not let it show. Nowhere could he have more relished the task of leading his band of beards than on the long-anticipated evening procession.

Crowds gathered from far and wide to see the guizers approach the starting point in the Hillhead.

Guizers surround the galley Congo Warrior. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Guizers surround the galley Congo Warrior. Photo: Dave Donaldson

After the day’s weather, which had proved fearsome and unforgiving in the extreme, it was perhaps encouraging to see large numbers turn out to witness the day’s fiery climax. They no doubt enjoyed a better experience than those watching on the intermittent live streams, which stopped and started at will, if the Facebook grumblings are anything to go by.

And the guizers? Yes, they sported the usual array of innovative and often eye-raising costumes. Was the wandering Santa this writer saw in a squad, or was Father Christmas just seeing the festival as part of his New Year wind down?

The faces on the town hall clock glowed red in the gloom, as the shine from the street lights diminished in the blink of an eye. Wandering on the Hillhead became something of an adventure – you never knew who you would, literally, bump into. Chattering voices from spectators rose into the skies, betraying their origins as American, Italian, or from somewhere closer to home, like Yell.

But before long guizers gathered to have their torches lit, and the streets once again resembled an ocean of fire. The Jarl Squad cut a swathe through the streets, as Ivor showed the necessary grit and determination to get through the weather.

Ah, yes, the weather … Conditions had perhaps eased somewhat from the day’s events, which had seen the galley moved from its accustomed spot at Alexandra Wharf to the Lower Hillhead. Ivor had insisted the show would go on after warnings about force 8 gales.

With persistently strong winds and sporadic rain showers, conditions were far from favourable on the night.

The galley might have carried the somewhat unusual name Congo Warrior – did the Vikings get to the Congo? – but in the end she followed a shortened path, turning down Union Street instead of Prince Alfred Street and missing out the turning movement in King Harald Street.

Savvy onlookers soon sussed where the best place to stand was if you wanted to stay clear of the smoke and flying sparks.

That didn’t stop the crowds chattering and the cameras clicking as the hundreds of guizers braced themselves against the elements with torches raised bravely aloft.

Members of the Jarl's Squad light up the night. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Members of the Jarl’s Squad light up the night. Photo: Dave Donaldson

And on the subject of torches – recent years have seen the giant matches almost burn out by the time they are ceremoniously chucked into the belly of the galley. This year, though, they seemed to stay well alight, giving the streets a welcome glow as the procession marched on.

There was a chuckle as the Congo Warrior was almost forced to perform a three-point turn before entering the narrow gate into the burning site. You almost wondered if she would emit the familiar “beep-beep” as a warning to those behind she was reversing.

Space was at a premium for observers trying to look into the park where the galley was led to her final resting place.

She was soon surrounded by a sea of torches, and Ivor savoured the adulation with axe held aloft.

Jarl disembarked, the signal was given for the torches to be thrown in and soon Congo Warrior rocked from side to side as she was slowly engulfed by fire.

Fireworks went raging into the night sky, and the crowds dispersed to enjoy the night’s frivolities and foolhardiness in the halls.

For more photos of the procession and full coverage of the halls and squad acts, don’t miss Friday’s Shetland Times.

About Ryan Taylor

Ryan Taylor has worked as a reporter since 1995, and has been at The Shetland Times since 2007, covering a wide variety of news topics. Before then he reported for other newspapers in the Highlands, where he was raised, and in Fife, where he began his career with DC Thomson. He also has experience in broadcast journalism with Grampian Television. He has lived in Shetland since 2002, where he harbours an unhealthy interest in old cars and motorbikes.

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3 comments

  1. john n oakes

    Well done you kept the noise down. Hardly any in England but could still see the flames from Manchester ha ha ha. Wassail from England Ex-Saxa Vord

    Reply
  2. Ron Stronach

    I thought the Promote Shetland and 60 North TV coverage of Up Helly Aa this year was excellent, this view appears to be shared by all my fellow Facebook Shetlanders living elsewhere. Well done to all involved, it is appreciated by wis lot.

    Reply
  3. Mark Jamieson

    I had no problems and enjoyed the webcast on my mobile
    Only comment would be the 40 minutes before light up is a history lesson in Up Helly aa with not actually that much happening on the cameras. Would be good to see some interviews with squad members or the Jarl himself and a camera of the guizers picking up their torches.

    Reply

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