FEBRUARY is a busy month for Shetland’s rural communities with two fire festivals kicking off today, Friday, and three more the following weekend.
Ollaberry man John Spall is leading the proceedings in Northmavine. The 55-year old salmon farm worker and his squad of 40 Vikings have picked a splendid day for what is for many the most important event of the year.
Spall has chosen to depict Jon Haraldsson, the last of the Norse earls that were to rule Orkney and Shetland in the early 13th century. When Haraldsson died in 1231 his line was extinct, and the rule of the islands was handed over to earls that hailed from Scotland.
He says he feels privileged to have been asked to head the local fire festival, made particularly poignant by the fact that both his son Martin and his future son in law Max Bowler have been travelling up north from Leeds to join the celebrations.
Speaking from the North Roe hall while having a well earned break from their many social commitments, John said he is having the day of his life.
“It is brilliant – I am having an excellent day. I am really enjoying it.”
Meanwhile in Unst, Bixter vet Colin Jamieson is this year’s Guizer Jarl at the Uyeasound Up Helly Aa.
The 44-year old, who now lives in Weisdale, has gathered a squad of 19 Vikings warriors around him, including his two kids Ellie (11) and Robbie (8), as well as his father Roderick who was the Guizer Jarl back in 1979.
Celebrations in Unst were well under wa by Friday lunchtime with visits to the Baltasound School and the sheltered housing scheme at Bruce Hall Terrace already completed, before Colin and his squad called along the Nordalea care home for a hearty lunch.
Here the dancing and singing continued with those capable happily joining in.
Jarl Jamieson said he was blessed with a fine day and things were just getting better from thereon: “It’s one of the proudest day in my life to be the Guizer Jarl in the Uyeasound Up Helly Aa. It means a lot to me.”
He was particularly pleased by the number of friends, relatives and neighbours travelling up to Unst to join him on his big day.
He said: “My cousin Andrew from Edinburgh has come up, as well as a couple of others. They all come from Edinburgh but they don’t know each other.”
While Uyeasound jarls traditionally don’t represent any historic figure from the Viking sagas, this year’s galley name very much points at the area’s Norse past.
Born and brought up at Belmont, Jamieson said he believes that the Norse name for the Wick of Belmont, the large bay below Belmont House, used to be Uresvik, and he has named his galley accordingly.
She will become the victim of the fiery torches of 130 guizers from 13 squads following the procession along the Uyeasound waterfront, starting at 8pm.
Meanwhile, Jon Haraldsson’s galley Barden will go up in flames at around the same time on the loch below Urafirth, before more than 200 guizers entertain revellers in local halls at Hillswick, Ollaberry and North Roe.
Festivities continue on Saturday with the hop night in the Sullom hall.