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Aaron takes on a different Viking challenge

The Norwick galley Brennastyooch goes up in flames. Photo: Drew Berry

AARON Priest is probably best known for his involvement with local windfarm developer Viking Energy, but this weekend his focus will be on an altogether different viking engagement as he takes on the role of Guizer Jarl at Norwick Up-Helly-Aa.

Fifty one year old Aaron grew up in Lerwick and Scalloway, but his family have a strong affinity with Unst going back several generations.

“It is a huge honour and privilege to be the jarl up there,” he said. “Unst is a place that’s very dear to our family’s heart.”

Norwick guizer jarl Aaron Priest depicting Grimur Kamben, a 9th century Viking who is believed to have stopped off at Norwick beach on his way to Faroe. Photo: Desley Ritch

As a boy he spent the whole of the summer, as well as most Easter and October holidays, visiting the island.

His great grandparents were both from Norwick and Aaron and his family recently bought a house in Haroldswick to ensure his children get the same opportunity to enjoy life in the UK’s most northerly island community.

Both of his daughters, 11 year old Ava and nine year old Ena, are shieldmaidens along with three of their friends, and they’ll take a place in Aaron’s squad alongside 20 adults.

In total 105 guizers are involved in the single-hall Up-Helly-Aa, the smallest fire festival of its kind.

Aaron will be representing Grimur Kamben, a warrior and adventurer from the west of Norway who set foot in the Faroe Islands around the year 825. Having originally settled in Ireland, it is believed he stopped off in Norwick for fishing and several nights of “feasting and refreshment”.

Kamben is an Irish Gaelic name meaning “crippled leg”, which may have been related to a long-standing Achilles injury picked up in the heat of battle. Aaron opted for having taken part in last year’s Norwick festivities suffering from a severed Achilles himself.

It is probably fair to say he possesses a few metaphorical battle scars from years of fronting Viking Energy’s hotly disputed plans for a large windfarm in Shetland’s mainland, and he fully expects “a few puns in the bill” on that subject.

But once he leaves the office this weekend will concentrate on what Aaron describes as a “real community event, something that just brings everybody together and genuinely couldn’t operate without all the community support it gets”.

His squad are sporting blue tunics with a fishhook motif embroidered on them – again owing to a mishap when, at the Norwick eela competition, he “managed to get a fish hook through my hand, so we thought a theme of hooks would be appropriate”.

One of the hooks is in the shape of a ‘c’ in memory of Charlie Priest, who sadly passed away in October. Aaron says Charlie, a distant cousin but also “a good friend of ours”, would undoubtedly have been part of his squad and described him as something of a “mentor and inspiration”.

Aaron singled out his wife Marina, who “made the lasses’ outfits from scratch”, for special thanks for her support.

His squad, too, have put in hard graft along with a “sense of camaraderie and fun” over the winter.

His galley is named Brennastyooch, a Shetland word meaning “the light spray on a sandy beach”, which was also the name of a galley Marina’s late grandfather made for the Walls Up-Helly-Aa many years ago.

After a handover and “low-key get together” with last year’s jarl Michael Spence at the Haroldswick Hall on Friday night, Saturday was due to take in a public event at the Norwick Galley Shed followed by visits to the local care centre and various relatives and friends in the afternoon, followed by the night’s procession, squad acts and a dance “until the wee small hours”.

Guizer jarl Aaron Priest with his squad of 20 Vikings and five girls at Norwick beach earlier on Saturday. Photo: Desley Ritch