Fiery farewell for jarl’s galley

It may well be a fiery festival, but Up-Helly-A’ has more to do with water than you might first realise.

An odd thing to say, perhaps. But that’s the conclusion of this writer, in any case, who has been known to have too much time on his hands to think.

It’s certainly nothing to do with rain that has brought us to this conclusion – at least not this time. Thankfully, the evening procession was spared the sort of precipitation that has made past excursions a venture only for the brave and foolhardy.

Guizer Jarl Neil Robertson, in the end, was spared from having to swim, penguin-like, to the halls in cascading waters.

The men enjoyed fine conditions as they led the finely-finished, yet tragically short-lived galley, Nils Olav, through the streets for the day’s spectacular climax. The galley’s name, incidentally, comes from a king penguin that resides at Edinburgh Zoo.

Nonetheless, Up-Helly-A’ comes round like the tide, its sea of flaming torches washing over the streets with predictable, time-honoured tradition – the guizers kicking off the procession in a hubbub of chatter and back-slapping, the flames of their torches like white horses on the waves as they drift out in the ebb towards the sanctuary of the waiting burning site.

There, at the march’s end, the flow will see the squads circle the playing field’s perimeter, before drawing the galley into an ever-enclosing fiery vortex. The torches are cast adrift, and squads look on and cheer as the fine-looking vessel is sacrificed in a sea of burning torment, submitting itself, at the last, to an ocean of ever-rising flames.

• More in the 16-page supplement free with this week’s Shetland Times.


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