Thousands expected in Lerwick for Up Helly Aa fire festival

Thousands of people are due to gather for the world famous Up Helly Aa fire festival on Shetland.

The spectacle, which attracts visitors from around the globe, takes place in Lerwick on the last Tuesday of January each year.

Hundreds of people wearing winged helmets, sheepskins and carrying axes and  shields march through the streets of the town to recreate its ancient Viking past, in a tradition dating back to the 19th century.

Members of the Jarl Squad set fire to their Viking longship during the Up Helly Aa Viking festival in Lerwick (Jane Barlow/PA)
Members of the Jarl Squad set fire to their Viking longship  (Jane Barlow/PA)

The procession is led by the Guizer Jarl, or chief guizer and culminates in a replica longboat being set alight.

Volunteers are responsible for the building of the galley boat and the
production of more than 1,000 torches.

Those taking part in the festival spend the night visiting a host of celebrations in halls around the town.

A member of the Jarl Squad dressed in a Viking suit on the parade through the street in Lerwick (Jane Barlow/PA)
A member of the Jarl Squad dressed in a Viking suit on the parade through the streets  (Jane Barlow/PA)

Shetland and neighbouring Orkney were ruled by the Norse for about 500 years until they became part of Scotland in 1468.

The festival stems from the 1870s when a group of young local men wanted to put new ideas into Shetland's Christmas celebrations.

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