The old established traditions of Up-Helly-A’ were tweaked this morning when the weather worsened and the galley moved from its accustomed spot at Alexandra Wharf to the Lower Hillhead.
Tourists and locals had an early view of the white Congo Warrior, resplendent with shields, before 9am this morning when she was stationed at the Toll Clock Shopping Centre.
In spite of the gale force winds and threatening rain, they stopped to photograph the vessel as a distant drum beat and cheers gradually increasing in volume heralded the arrival of the Jarl’s Squad.
And soon the guizers, 55 men and eight boys, were at the building, stunning and dramatically different in black and white cowhide, with soaring crow feather helmets and intricately worked shields and axes.
An enthusiastic group of onlookers took photos and got their youngsters to pose with the Vikings, who then crammed on the shopping centre’s steps to sing a rousing rendition of The Up-Helly-Aa Song and enjoy the first dram of the day. “All very good so far,” said Guizer Jarl Ivor Cluness.
The guizers then accompanied the Congo Warrior, named after the nickname of Ivor’s brother-in-law, apparently, to the Legion and another dram, or soft drinks and pies. Visitors, band members, officials and anyone who happened to be there crammed in, with foreign tourists mesmerised by the throng of guizers.
The black and white was chosen to make a change from the bright colours of previous years, Ivor said. “We’re trying to be different. We looked at the last few years when there was a big range of colours, and decided to go monochromatic. I hoped it would work.”
Student Sarah Cernhous from Germany called the spectacle “amazing”, and friend Anais Fournier from France said: “The Vikings look like real Vikings, even their hair and beards are authentic.”
American tourist Patrick Wolford said: “I love it, I want to join in.”
Lots of people did, even those pushing prams and wheelchairs, and followed the Congo Warrior on its onward journey to the wharf, the traditional photo spot for galley and guizers. A cherry picker bearing photographers aloft was in place and security guards fenced the galley off as the procession moved to the Market Cross.
Crowds dashed to Da Street, hoods up against the gale and by this time lashing rain. Foreign journalists in Fair Isle pill box hats and long lenses rushed to join them and colonise shop doorways to get out of the wintry blast.
They were treated to alternate sounds of cheers and the luderhorn from the cross, with the Junior Jarl’s Squad, clad in red outfits and grey boots, responding with their own enthusiastic cheers and singing. But then came word to the crowd that waves were breaking on the galley, and barely 10 minutes after being set down at the wharf it was moved to Lower Hillhead.
The guizers made their progress up to the war memorial, with an impromptu rendition of Singing in the Rain, while the galley was brought to rest nearby.