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Fighting Spirit leads the way

Well-armed! Jarl Ingvar Vittfarne wields his Damascus sword and spear. Photo Kevin Osborn

SHETLAND’S fastest growing country fire festival took to the streets of the central mainland on Friday with nothing short of military flare.

Guizer Jarl Kevin Bryant has only lived in Shetland for the past four years, but had been a regular visitor for the previous decade.

The former bomb disposal officer, who served in the Royal Engineers for 24 years until he lost his leg to an Israeli landmine in Lebanon, was full of pride as he marched at the head of 20 warriors and two princesses for the 2015 Nestin and Girlsta Up Helly Aa.

Bryant’s alter-ego for the day was Swedish Jarl Ingvar Vittfarne the Far Travelled, the last Viking chief to invade Persia, who probably died during the expedition in Georgia, a land Bryant himself has visited.

Carrying his shield, Damascus sword and spear, the jarl wore a replica of the famous Ultuna helm from Uppland, Sweden.

The jarl and his real life partner Cheryl Haynes. Photo Kevin Osborn

He and his squad had steel riveted black breastplates and wristbands, with wild boarskin cloaks over burgundy kirtles and sand-coloured trews with black leather boots.

The shields bore a Celtic symbol of three dogs, representing the Jarl’s three much-loved Staffordshire bull terriers, one of whom recently died.

The two princesses wore burgundy pinafores over beige muslin blouses with silver rope head torques and the boarskin cloaks.

His red and blue galley, the colours of his regiment, was named Fighting Spirit in honour of his friend Paul Burns, a former member of the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment, who was one of just six soldiers who survived a double roadside bomb blast that killed 17 men in Northern Ireland in 1979.

Despite losing his right leg, Burns continued parachuting, joined the Red Devils, became a ski instructor, learned to sail and scuba dive and was among the first disabled crew to circumnavigate the world in a yacht.

He later became a movie stuntman who set up a company Amputees in Action offering realistic film performances, and appeared as a stunt double in the film Gladiator.

Even after losing his second leg he carried on, performing on the trapeze before the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, before sadly losing his life the following year after a charity cycling accident.

Burns’ autobiography A Fighting Spirit was published after he won a BBC competition for the most inspirational life story.

“To be guizer jarl this year is an absolute honour and an immense privilege,” Bryant said as he toured the schools in Nesting, Tingwall and Whiteness during the morning, before visiting old folk in their homes, two hostelries in Voe and Brae and embarking on a night of galley burning, singing and general foolery in the halls, to be followed by Saturday’s Hop night.

The squad in the snow. Photo Kevin Osborn

He also paid tribute to last year’s Nestin and Girlsta jarl Dean Gilfillan, who died suddenly last year.