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Jarl Gray celebrates nautical theme

Jarl Christopher Gray and his squad at Outer Skaw, Unst, earlier today (Friday) - Photo: John Coutts

AFTER five months of preparation over the winter, today is the big day for Uyeasound’s 2017 Up Helly Aa Guizer Jarl Christopher Gray.

The 35 year old, who works in the Merchant Navy, has lived in Unst all of his life and says he used to look at grown-ups taking part in the festival and hoped that his turn would come one day.

Jarls often handpick a character from Viking history, but he has opted just to go with his own name for a day of revelry where he will be joined in the squad by his three stepsons Kyle (13), Shane (12) and Euan (10) Bisset, and his daughter Alana Gray (6).

Also joining them in the 24-strong squad are his brothers and uncle for what promises to be a whirlwind 24 hours on the southern tip of Shetland’s most northerly island.

“We had a big breakfast at the galley shed in the morning, before going to the school. All the bairns get to go in the galley and having a bit of a sing-song,” Christopher explained.

“We go to the Nordalea care centre and have our lunch there in the afternoon. There’s an open day in the Uyeasound Hall – it’s a free-for-all, anybody can come along and have a dram or a cup of tea and a sandwich.

“Then we go back to the galley shed and prepare for the procession, so it’s a kind of busy day.”

In keeping with his occupation – and that of his brothers – there is a strong nautical theme running through this year’s fire festival from the galley and the outfits to the squad’s signature song.

This year there are some 185 guizers registered spread between 16 squads – slightly up on the norm for Uyeasound, ensuring the local public hall will be packed for a night of dancing and merrymaking in the company of the Alan Nicholson Dance Band.