Jarl Hunter (aka Johan Sanderrevet) leads the way in annual Viking festival

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The 2011 Guizer Jarl John Hunter led his 50-strong squad and galley Jägare around Lerwick today for the annual Up-Helly-A’ festival. Just short of 900 men will carry torches in tonight’s procession which will culminate in the burning of the galley in the King George V Playing Field.

Jarl Hunter, who has taken the name Johan Sanderrevet of Valsgärde, Sweden, and his squad began the day with breakfast the Clickimin Leisure Centre, where he works as a swimming pool lifeguard.

They then undertook the traditional march to the Toll Clock Shopping Centre, the Royal British Legion and in o’er to the street, joining the galley at Alexandra Wharf for photographs.

They were then piped up through Fort Charlotte to the Town Hall. There, the squad and a crowd of local dignitaries and ex-Jarls was entertained with drams by Shetland Islands Council along with speeches from convener Sandy Cluness and Jarl Johan Sanderrevet, who joked about chopping chief executives’ heads off.

The Whiteness man’s squad featured about 15 young boys, down to tiny Zander Manson at just three-and-a-half years old.

The rabbit fur and leather costumes with blue cloaks were greatly admired by onlookers, particularly due to the extraordinary amount of effort that had gone into the striking wood and metal inlay on the shields and the intricate engraving of the helmets.

Tributes were paid to the veteran jarls present, notably Allan Anderson, jarl in 1970, and the “indestructible” William “Feejur” Tait, jarl in 1960 and a guizer since 1928 who intended marching once again in the night’s procession.

Jarl Johan said Up-Helly-A’ was fundamentally important to the community across Shetland. “With tough decisions having to be made, whether it be school closures or windfarms, this festival, in my opinion, presents an opportunity for the community to look forward and to participate in something that we can all enjoy.”

Granting him the freedom of Lerwick for 24 hours, convener Cluness suggested the Jarl might not be a single man much longer: “As far as matrimony is concerned, tonight might be the best chance he’s ever had.”

Meanwhile the junior Jarl’s Squad was having a busy day too. Rory Johnston, 13, started his day as junior Guizer Jarl by welcoming his squad to his Lerwick home for bacon rolls – fortification for the packed programme ahead.

A check on the suits followed before the squad started on the day’s duties. The outfits – purple crushed velvet kirtles trimmed with silver, glittering helmets and breastplates, sheepskin capes and boots and purple shields – provided a colourful spectacle in the early morning. As junior Jarl, Rory was distinguished from his followers by his black bearskin and raven banner shield.

Their first march of the day was to the Anderson High School, where Rory is an S2 pupil, with head teacher Valerie Nicolson welcoming her guests.

Then the squad hit the town, marching behind the senior Jarl’s Squad. The junior squad later had their own slot, marching along Commercial Street with their galley Sanmeria, named after the junior Jarl’s late grandfather’s boat, preceded by Lerwick Pipe Band.

After quick trips back to AHS and both Lerwick primary schools, the junior Jarl’s Squad enjoyed lunch aboard the NorthLink ferry Hjaltland before performing as part of Fiery Sessions at the Garrison Theatre.

Cameras clicked in the packed auditorium, the lights glinting on the Viking helmets and breastplates as they sang the Up-Helly-A’ song, a clear rendering which got cheers from the delighted audience. “It’s been a long day and a busy day,” Rory told them.

And the high point of the celebrations, the evening parade and galley burning, was yet to come.


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