VIKINGS need stamina, especially on the isle of Yell where they like to stretch out a good party for as long as they can.
The Cullivoe Up Helly Aa starts at 7am on Thursday morning and doesn’t end until Sunday night when the squad have their hair and beards shaved into “unique designs”, having involved the whole island in the fun.
This year’s jarl Graham Hughson hails from Mid Yell where he lives with wife Olga and their two bairns Nicole and Reece, commuting to Sullom Voe terminal each day as a maintenance engineer.
As Hjallkel Jonsson he led his 10 man squad, with Nicole and Reece as junior members, through a long day on Thursday visiting Burravoe primary school – saved from the council axe last year – and a gathering of elderly folk in the local hall.
Then it was north to Mid Yell for a showdown with the bairns at the junior high, who had a couple of their own squads to trade songs and skits with the men before they headed for Ilseshavn care home and the local sheltered houses.
If Thursday was a long day, Friday was even longer even though it all took place in Cullivoe.
Hjallkel Jonsson was famous for gathering a band of men from Shetland and Orkney called Øyskjeggs – island beardies – just as Graham’s squad included one Orcadian in Ian Anderson.
On Thursday they had revealed their costumes of black and teal crushed velvet tunics, matching cloaks, with leggings and furry boots, supplemented by axes, shields and helmets featuring greylag wings – which were ready to fly in Friday’s 70mph winds.
On Friday it was time for the galley Aegir (Sea god) to come out of her shed, travelling a third of a mile to the local school full of bairns. “To see the expression on their faces was really wonderful,” the jarl said afterwards. Later it was the turn of the old folk to meet the hairy men.
The wind eased slightly for the burning and thankfully the weather stayed dry, so the procession was kept to its full length with 150 guizers in 13 squads heading out for a good time.
The long night went well until 4am, and it was up the next day to clean the hall and head for Burravoe in a fleet of buses taking 100 Cullivoe folk for lunch at Burravoe hall. This was followed by a big family afternoon before travelling back north for the hop at Cullivoe with entertainment from some local comic acts, singer Erin Sandison and tunesmith Lewie Peterson.
Sunday was a day off until the evening, clean up time and goodbye to the haircuts. The clippers came out to give each jarl squad member a unique design before the whole lot comes off at the return this coming weekend.
The jarl’s verdict: “It’s been an absolutely tremendous experience that couldn’t be done without the support of the squad and the families who have been working at it throughout the winter. I need to keep my toorie cap on for now though, ‘cause I look quite strange.”