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Community / A Viking invasion: Lerwick Up Helly Aa already well under way

Lerwick Jarl Liam Summers and his squad during the morning procession at the 2020 Up Helly Aa. Photo: Chris Brown

LERWICK is abuzz with Viking revelry as Up Helly Aa returns to the town once again.

Guizer jarl Liam Summers has started leading his squad of men through a long day of visits which will culminate in the torch-lit procession and galley burning in the evening.

Liam, who is representing Odin, Lord of the Gallows, is the 100th jarl in the world renowned fire festival which dates back to the late 19th century.

One of the first stop-off on the usual morning march through town is the Legion at around 9am, with the civic reception due to take place at Lerwick Town Hall mid-morning.

A group of gender equality activists campaigning for greater involvement of girls and women in Lerwick’s Up Helly Aa celebrations challenged the organisers of the festival earlier on Tuesday when they put up their own ‘bill’ at the town’s Market Cross.

A proper Viking roar. Photo: Shetland News

Traditionally, Up Helly Aa day kicks off when the jarl’s bill, which sets out the squads’ duties and mocks local events of the last 12 months, is erected at the Market Cross. This year the council’s planning department features prominently.

However, a new group calling themselves Reclaim the Raven, was out even earlier, tying their own declaration to the stone pillar in the centre of the town’s Market Cross at around 5am.

Topped with artwork depicting a female Viking warrior, the group called on the Up Helly Aa committee to respect the culture of the Norse mythology which, they say, the festival seeks “to commemorate, but currently misappropriate”.

“Have you forgotten those that bore you?” they asked. Members of the group said they were not seeking a confrontation with the festival organisers but hoped kick-start a conversation. One group member said that she had sensed a gradual “change in tone” over recent weeks and months. The ‘alternative’ bill was removed by committee members before 8am.

Following on from the town hall reception where the Guizer Jarl is handed the Freedom of the town of Lerwick for a 24 hour period, the jarl squad follows a packed programme of visiting schools, care homes and the hospital, as well as Shetland Museum, with the procession commencing from the Hillhead at 7.30pm.

After the galley is set alight, the squad and the hundreds of guizers will then hit the halls to party through the night and into the morning.

More reports and photos to follow.

A group of gender equality campaigners had put up their own ‘alternative bill’ earlier in the morning. Photo: Shetland News

The 2020 Up Helly Aa Bill is being tied to the Market Cross stone pillar in the early hours of Tuesday. Photo: Shetland News