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All roads lead to SMUHA

A spectacular sight as the galley goes up in flames on Friday night - Photo: Chris Brown

THIS YEAR’s South Mainland Up Helly Aa is another grand affair as guizer jarl Brian Halcrow leads his squad of men, women and children today (Friday) through community visits and night-time revelry.

The roads planning engineer, who lives in Cunningsburgh and grew up around the Ness, has been waiting four and a half years to head the popular fire festival.

He has a squad of 42 with him, which features 26 men, ten women, four girls and two boys.

My brother and his girlfriend are in the squad,” he said, “as well as my uncle and his son and daughter, and their bairns too.”

SMUHA guizer jarl Brian Halcrow. One of the squad's first calls on Friday was to the ASN unit at the Anderson High School - Photos: Chris Cope/ Shetland News

Brian is closely involved in the South Mainland Up Helly Aa and has had to pass over an important role to take up the guizer jarl mantle.

“I’ve been the galley foreman for a good number of years now,” he said. “That was passed onto the current galley foreman this last year.”

He is representing the Viking character Kveldulf Bjalfason, whose first name means “evening wolf” in Old Norse.

Bjalfason is a main character in the early chapters of Egils saga and he was known as a military commander and landowner.

“The theme is kind of the wolf,” Brian said. “He was a shapeshifter, and probably kind of representing a wolf with a shapeshifter as well.”

The day started in earnest at 6.30am with the unveiling of the bill in Cunningsburgh before the squad enjoyed a much-needed breakfast at the village hall.

They then headed into Lerwick to visit schools, while afternoon stops will include lunch at the Sumburgh Hotel and a trip to the Overtonlea Care Centre in Levenwick before the procession in Cunninsburgh at 7.30pm.

Brian said he felt this year’s outfit was “pretty spectacular”, with leather a mainstay on items such as the breastplate and helmet.

Brian has with him a squad of 26 men, ten women and six kids.

Alongside the usual Up Helly Aa songbook meanwhile is a tune reflecting Brian’s day job.

“One song is Country Roads, which I thought it was kind of fitting,” he smiles.

This year’s South Mainland Up Helly Aa is set to have around 500 guizers spread across 25 squads, making it again about half the size of January’s Lerwick event.

The halls open at night will be Gulberwick, Cunningsburgh, Bigton, Sandwick Social Club and Ness Boating Club, although many of the venues are sold out.

Revellers who are able to shake off the morning cobwebs will be able to hit the dancefloor to First Foot Soldiers for the hop night at the Cunningsburgh Hall on Saturday evening.