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First fire festival of the year well under way

Guizer Jarl Victor Laurenson at the galley burning - Photo: Chris Brown

THE ICY wind and snowy squalls sweeping through Scalloway on Friday morning failed to dampen the spirits as Shetland’s first fire festival of the season got under way.

Led by guizer jarl Hakon Magnusson (aka Victor Laurenson), 31 men and 15 children took to the streets of the westside village for a day of visits to nearby schools and the local care home before preparing for the fiery events at night.

Laurenson, who is more commonly known as the skipper of the Burra whitefish boat Radiant Star, said he was particularly pleased that his 79 year old father Bert was able to join him on his big day out.

“It is such a privilege to be made guizer jarl. It’s been a lot of hard but very worthwhile work,” he said.

And in reference to his line of work, Victor has ensured that this year’s festival displays a number of distinct fishing-themed features.

In a radical break with tradition, his galley doesn’t feature the usual fire spitting dragon, but a creature of the deep seas.

Scalloway guizer jarl Victor Laurenson.

“I’ve been a fisherman all my life,” Victor smiles, “so we thought it would a good idea to have a fishing themed galley. There is no real story behind the shark as such, it was just easier to make than any other fish.”

The galley is named Fuglaness after the rock the Hamnavoe lighthouse sits on and Victor said the lighthouse has been guiding him back to his home village all of his life.

With his squad dressed in blue with black leather and silver armour, Victor is depicting Hakon Magnusson, the younger surviving son of Magnus the Lawmender, King of Norway.

Hakon was given the title Earl of Shetland in the 13th century and as the Head of Ting at Tingwall Loch he visited the isles as often as he could.

Remains of a house he built in Papa Stour are still visible near Housa Voe.

Later in the day between 200 and 300 guizers will gather for the torch-lit procession through the village, which will kick off at 7pm before culminating in the galley being burned in the sea at Port Arthur.

Five former Scalloway guizer jarls joined Victor Laurenson (left) in his squad: Michael Pottinger (2010), Alistair Fullerton (2002), Ronnie Leask (1995), Alex Fullerton (1989) and Brian Smith (1982)

The jarl's squad gathers for the photo session in the centre of the village.