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Skies clear for early fire festival

Enjoying every minute, Jarl Haakon Haraldsson leads his squad of Vikings through the streets of Scalloway on a cold but clear Friday morning. All photos Garry Sandison

WHILE most of us are just putting the Christmas and New Year festivities behind us, Scalloway has wasted no time kicking off the next round of celebrations.

The Up Helly Aa season could not have got off to an earlier start, with the Scalloway Fire Festival traditionally taking place on the first Friday of January.

Amazingly, the coarse weather of the past few weeks cleared up to leave a cold but clear day for 31 year old Bryan Garrick to lead his squad of 49 mostly young men and the odd princess through the highways and byways of the area.

The jarl poses for a pre-festival portrait.

Garrick from Griesta had become Jarl Haakon Haraldsson The Good for the day, with a squad hailing from as far afield as Orkney, Australia, Aberdeenshire and Whalsay.

It’s an occasion the jarl has been looking forward to since he was nine years old when he witnessed his own father Allan leading the procession as Haakon’s dad King Harald Hafrage in 1994.

It was eight years ago he found out it was his turn to be jarl in 2016, and he has been formulating his plans for the past 18 months, with the real hard work starting last February.

The jarl had nothing but praise for his squad who have turned out almost every week since then to help craft the impressive suits of black leather and deep green kirtles topped with a reindeer skin.

Axe wielding Viking princess Caitlin Hughson wraps her cloak around her to keep warm.

It’s been a lot of work too, with each breastplate made from almost 200 individual pieces of hand cut leather riveted by hand together.

A dragon design with a Celtic touch, inspired by his artistic wife Alison, adorned the jarl’s axe and his squad’s shields.

The shields on the galley Astreig – an anagram of Griesta – were designed by primary pupils from the three local schools at Scalloway, Tingwall and Hamnavoe, who cheered on the big day as the dragon’s head spouted steam in a tradition the village has developed over the past few years.

Fifteen bairns joined the squad, including the jarl’s three year old daughter Molly. His nine month old son Ian Henry looked on from the arms of his proud mother.

“It’s been a major operation this past year building up to the big day, but it’s been really good – it’s just gone by so quick and it’s been a completely different experience to what I imagined,” Jarl Haraldsson said during his tea break ahead of the galley burning.

“We’ve been lucky with the weather; if it had been yesterday it would have been a nightmare.”

Thanks to the break in the high winds and horizontal sleet, the galley burning is able to go ahead on the sea at Port Arthur as planned.

The bearded and the unbearded at the NAFC Marine Centre early in the day.

Meanwhile expectant Vikings and guizers will be keeping their fingers crossed that they can share Haakon’s good fortune over the next three months of fiery festivities.

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