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Norwick jarl Michael returns home ‘from town’

Photo: Desley Ritch

NORWICK guizer jarl Michael Spence can look back at a long family history of involvement in Shetland’s most northerly Up Helly Aa.

Both his parents are from Norwick, his granddads were guizer jarls at the Norwick Up Helly Aa in 1986 and 1987 respectively, and now it is his time to lead a squad of 15 Vikings and nine kids through the community.

The Aith Junior High School head teacher lives in Lerwick these days and, rather appropriately, he depicts Sigurd Faragord, which means the one “from the town”.

Norwick Up Helly Aa guizer jarl Michael Spence - Photo: Desley Ritch

Michael was actually due to be the guizer jarl a few years ago, but when he and his wife discovered that she was expecting twins, Michael was able to postpone his Norse commitments.

“We already had two boys at that point, so we thought with twins it would be too much to take on, so I postponed for a few years,” he said.

“The twins are now five years old, and all four boys are with me in the squad.”

Saturday’s festivities traditionally kick off with a hearty breakfast in the Haroldswick Hall before the whole community gathers at the Norwick galley shed to see and admire the galley – this year named Fasnir –for the first time.

“You feel honoured to be asked to be part of the community and be involved in it,” Michael said.

“We always had a connection with Norwick – all my uncles and aunts live in Unst.”

He said having his four boys (Lewis, aged 13, James, nine, and Adam and Theo, both five) in the squad meant a lot to him. It also bodes well for the future of the Spences’ involvement in the Norwick Up Helly Aa.

Following visits to the care centre in Baltasound and to a few people in the community who are not able to come out for the night, more than 100 guizers from around Unst will gather for the torch-lit procession and burning of the galley at the head of Norwick beach.

After that it is back to the Haroldswick Hall where all 12 squads perform their acts on stage before the Alan Nicolson Band plays at a dance that will last into the early hours.

Photo: Desley Ritch