THE UP Helly Aa season could hardly have asked for a finer day for its traditional closer in Brae, which brought out one of the biggest jarl squads of the year.
Wethersta digger driver and company director Christopher Nicolson led out no less than 38 Vikings on a cold but clear Friday morning for the day’s first photoshoot at the Brae hall with his galley Stor Sjo, which means “big sea” and is a play on the jarl’s nickname Big C.
Unusually this year’s fire festival witnessed not one, but two galleys, the second one specially designed to carry four of the 12 bairns joining the brigade and ranging from six months to eight years of age.
The 38 year old member of the Nicolson clan who own EMN Plant at Sella Ness delayed his big day as Guizer Jarl until he had a band of his own children to bring with him.
Having joined the committee back in 2000 he postponed his scheduled jarlhood for six years until his three children – Marianne (6), Iona (4) and Willum (1) – were here to join him.
Following in the footsteps of his father Edmund, who became Norwegian king Magnus Erlandsson when he led the festival back in 1985, this year’s jarl took on the mantle of Edmundsson’s only recognised son Sigurd.
The son showed his strong northern isles connections when he formed an army featuring “island beardies” from Orkney and Shetland to take the crown off King Sverre in 1194. Sadly for them, they lost the fight and Sigurd lost his life.
Up Helly Aa is strong in the Nicolson family with brother Ellis joining the committee two years ago and Martin due to follow suit this year.
Christopher himself has been in no less than nine jarl squads in Delting and Northmavine, and is already signed up for his tenth next year.
His own squad were dressed in a variety of animal skins for the occasion – deerskin cloaks, navy pig skin kirtles and black New Zealand sheepskin boots. The squad even made their own hand-tooled leather pouches to hold their treasured half bottles.
The squad was largely a family affair, though it included close friends and former jarls. It was so big that they had to hire two busses to take them around the area’s three schools in Lunnasting, Brae and Mossbank.
After BP provided lunch at Mossbank hall and a trip to the Sella Ness accommodation block, they visited the old folk at North Haven and went on to Voe hall to have tea with a few more elderly citizens.
Ahead of the burning, Big C said: “It’s been an excellent day. I’ve been waiting a long time for this and it’s going by in a blink.”
The galley is going up in flames on the water at the Brae marina. But the peerie galley is staying on dry land.
“It will probably end up as a toy,” the jarl suggested. However that won’t be the end of the 2016 Up Helly Aa season.
The Norwick fire festival was postponed due to a bereavement and will now take place on Saturday – after which we can say the Shetland winter is officially over.