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Community / A celebration of what is good about Shetland

Jarl Harald Wartooth, aka Jonny Knight, with his burning galley on Friday night. Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media

FOR NESTING and Girlsta guizer jarl Jonny Knight Up Helly Aa is about celebrating all that is good about Shetland and, having had to wait an extra two years for the big community event, it is high time to get the festivities finally under way.

It wasn’t the best of Friday mornings for the 48-year-old sales manager for marching his squad of 42 Vikings down the road from the Nesting hall to the school – but who cares?

Sparks were flying as the procession made its way to the burning site in gale force winds. Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media

Originally from Perthshire, the jarl has been an active member of the Nesting and Girlsta Up Helly Aa community for 20 years and is very much looking forward to his big day.

“I guess I still see Up Helly Aa from an outsider’s point of view, even though I am very involved in it,” he says when Shetland News catches up with him this week.

“I have been welcomed in for a long time, and I feel very privileged about that. I really appreciate it.”

Like all other fire festivals in the islands, the Nesting & Girlsta Up Helly Aa was postponed in 2021 and 2022, but the community had been lucky enough to be able to hold the 2020 event shortly before Covid started becoming an issue.

As such, and different to the South Mainland and Delting Up Helly Aas which were cancelled at the last minute, the postponements did not create any big difficulties other than the disappointment that the festival could not take place.

“Up Helly Aa is such an important thing for the whole community; everybody here has missed it. It is a great way of bringing everybody together again and celebrate,” the jarl said.

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Nesting & Girlsta guizer jarl Jonny Knight at South Nesting primary school on Friday morning. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

“My feeling about the festival is that it celebrates everything that is good about Shetland. It has been a big miss for the whole community, and I just hope we can represent the festival the best we can.”

To do just that Jonny has chosen to represent Harald Wartooth, a legendary Viking king of the ninth century who lived a long life and won every battle he ever fought.

In fact, he even staged his own final battle in which 40,000 men are said to have died with him, and all just to make sure he would die in battle so that he could enter the glorious Valhalla.

Morning ‘procession’ in the driving rain.

It was all a bit of an “eco trip”, Jonny admits, but what attracted him most to Harald Wartooth’s story is that those who survived this epic battle laid him in his galley, circled it and threw gifts into the longship.

“To me this just sounded like the procession with the guizers circling the galley, and I think it fits quite nicely,” Jonny said.

Meanwhile, there is a strong family link in choosing Geirhilda as his galley’s name.

The community of Girlsta is not only named after the Viking princess who is said to have drowned in the large loch which is named after her, Geirhilda’s father was Floki, and that was the name of Jonny’s father in law’s galley when he was the local jarl back in 1975.

Following an engagement at the South Nesting school on Friday morning, the jarl squad will be busy making further visits throughout the community before more than 200 guizers gather at the South Nesting hall for the torch-lit procession which kicks off at 7.30pm.

Guizing and merrymaking will go on through the night at the local halls in North Nesting, South Nesting as well as Whiteness and Weisdale.

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