Shetland Islands, Part II – Up Helly Aa

Shetland Islands, Part II – Up Helly Aa

On the last Tuesday of January for every year since 1882, Lerwick has held a torchlight procession which from humble beginnings has grown to feature over 1000 Guizers today and is now considered the largest fire festival in Europe. It was this that heavily influenced my trip to Shetland.

The Jarl Squad Singing ‘The Up Helly-Aa Song’ | Up Helly Aa, Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland – UK

After a late lunch I needed to kill some time before the main event in the evening I just happened upon the Shetland museum as the Guizer Jarl and his squad were making a visit.  It was a good chance to get up close with the Jarls and check out their viking costumes and weapons. The Jarl Squad consists of 16-25 Guizers dressed in their viking suits and each year hold a new shield designed to fit the chosen theme. The chosen weapon can vary from axes, swords, spears, daggers, bows and crossbows.

Guizer Jarl Aboard The Galley | Up Helly Aa, Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland – UK

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The street lights are turned off leaving the Jarls basking in the rich glow of their torches. The main Jarl squad is followed 45 other squads totaling nearly 1000 Guizers ranging from police, priests and punks to stormtroopers and superheroes plus plenty of cross dressers who are responsible for Up Helly Aa’s “Transvestite Tuesday” nickname.

The Torchlight Procession | Up Helly Aa, Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland – UK

The procession makes it way through the streets for about a 1km in front of thousands of onlookers before gathering at the burning site where the 1000+ Guizers hurl their torches onto the galley which after taking local craftsmen months to construct goes up in smoke in minutes.

The Flaming Dragon | Up Helly Aa, Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland – UK

With the galley burnt to a crisp the night is just beginning. All 45 Jarl squads including the Guizer Jarl and his squad make their way to 12 halls which have been set up for a solid evening of merrymaking, singing, drinking, eating and dancing which continues until 8am the next morning which fortunately brings a public holiday.


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Shetland Islands, Part I – The Mainland

Shetland Islands, Part I – The Mainland

I’m digging into the archive for this first real post but it has only been rather recently that I managed to process these shots.

Backtracking for a bit. It was December ’08 and HR at work had decided it was cracking down staff accumulating excess holidays. All my flat mates already had other plans or none of their own holidays remaining so after much deliberation I decided on somewhere slightly different, the Shetland Islands. My penchant for rugged, faraway places winning me over but more importantly, the timing of my visit would include Up Helly Aa, a celebration of the Shetland Islander’s heritage. What’s not to like about festival full of vikings and fire? More on that later.

Sunset On Union Street | Aberdeen, Scotland – UK

Getting to the islands from London was half the fun. A quick ride to Euston Road station only to realise I my train left from Kings Cross, I managed jump on the tube and scramble to my train just as it was about to pull out. No seconds to spare that time. The 6 hour journey to Aberdeen via Dundee was quite enjoyable; plenty of nice scenery along the way. After quick change of trains in Dundee I spent the afternoon drinking coffee and taking in the Aberdeen vibe before boarding the overnight ferry to Lerwick.  I was too cheap to pay for a bed for the night but found myself a nice, long lounge for what turned out to be a very rough journey. I later learned this was the first ferry to sail in 3 or 4 days due to bad weather.

Abandoned Shack | Sumburgh Head, Shetland Islands, Scotland – UK

Fulmar On A Breeze | Sumburgh Head, Mainland, Shetland Islands, Scotland – UK


Given the size and sparseness of the islands public transport wasn’t going to cut it so I hired a car; much easier to get around but also somewhere to retreat to from the amazing winds. Despite the islands relatively mild winter – balmy compared to London – the wind cuts right through you; double thermals, shirt, jumper and a goretex jacket was no match some points. The timing of my visit to the island meant I was enjoying some of the shortest days I’d ever experienced. Sun up at 9am and dark by 4pm meant I had to be productive with my daylight hours but it did leave plenty of time for a few beers at the pub. The main island simply called Mainland, held plenty of interesting sights, Sumburgh Head and the Sumburgh Head Lighthouse, Eshaness, countless hidden coves and beaches usually occupied by some lazy seals or otters  and a few Shetland ponies.

Shetland Pony | Northmavine, Mainland, Shetland Islands, Scotland – UK

Standing on the cliffs at Eshaness I felt like I was looking at from the edge of the world. There is an endless battle here between age old volcanic rock and a tireless North Atlantic. Nothing west for a couple thousand kilometers – either southern Greenland or Canada. The windiest place I have ever visited.

North Atlantic Sunset | Eshaness, Northmavine , Mainland, Shetland Islands, Scotland – UK

Two things so far had stuck me about the Shetlands Islands, their sparseness with a population of only 22,000 you could have whole stretches of coastline to yourself to enjoy and also hospitality of the people I did meet, whether in the pub or passing them on the road.

More Shetland Islands to come.

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A quiet introduction

A quiet introduction

Hello and welcome to my tiny corner on the web. I’m glad you made it here.

I’m a photographer of sorts; landscapes and travel related subject attrack most of my attention.  Here I hope to share some of my past and hopefully future works and probably some musing on the camera world in general.

Tibetan Prayer Flags | Near Dêqên, Yunnan – China

You can read a little about me here and browse a bunch of photos on flickr.


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