History is in the making today with the first ever female Guizer Jarl proudly taking her place in the galley at Shetland’s newest fire festival, the South Mainland Up-Helly-A’.
According to Lesley Simpson, issues of gender equality and breaking new ground for womankind have been far from her thoughts, even though the character she represents – Aud the Deep Minded – played as pivotal a role in the Icelandic sagas as any male Viking. (Article continues below gallery)
Mrs Simpson, whose day job is as head teacher of Dunrossness Primary School, says she shares traits of forward planning, knowing what she wants and being “probably a bit bossy”, with the Norse heroine.
According to the sagas Aud (who was the star of the Laxdale Saga while featuring in others) was born in 834 and fled Norway with her father Ketill Flatnose to escape the tyranny of Harald Finehair. Two of her brothers also fled, but headed for Iceland. Ketill became king of the Hebrides before moving to Ireland where Aud married the King of Dublin, Olaf the White.
Aud and Olaf’s son Thorstein the Red was a redoubtable fighter but both he and his father died in battle in Scotland. Aud and the rest of her band built a boat in a forest in Caithness which she captained to Orkney where she married off one of her grand-daughters, thus giving rise to the line of Norse Earls of Orkney.
Travelling onwards, again in charge of the vessel, Aud married off another grand-daughter in Faroe, giving rise to the Gatebeard clan who were spoken of in the sagas.
Finally she travelled to Iceland where her boat was wrecked on the coast. The survivors made it ashore and Aud went to stay with one of her brothers. She then settled in Laxdale in the west of the country and freed many of her slaves, granting them land in the process. She is considered one of the key founders of Iceland.
Mrs Simpson said she loved researching the life of Aud and added: “I’d love to have met her. She was a very important person in the history of Iceland, Orkney and the Faroes.”
Leader of Mrs Simpson’s squad is her husband Robbie who has been “absolutely brilliant” and weathered a host of jokes about “who wears the breeks” like water off a duck’s back.
There are 42 squad members who are all family and friends and friends’ families. The Simpsons’ children Rebecca, 20, Jack, 18, and Lucy, 16, are also in the squad as are their mothers Kathleen Stout and Averil Simpson – both of whom have also been “fabulous”.
“We have had a lot of folk doing a huge amount of work over the last year and they have been a great support to wis too,” Lesley added.
Before the procession and the burning of the galley at Skeo Clett, opposite St Ninian’s Isle, there will be another burning at Dunrossness primary when Junior Jarl Emily Black sets fire to the junior galley at 2pm.
Mrs Simpson said that she was particularly looking forward to inspecting the ranks of guizers before the procession and also setting forth and putting up the billhead this morning, then taking things as they come.