Annual Up Helly Aa fire festival gets under way

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of Shetland as the world famous Up Helly Aa fire festival gets under way.

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

Hundreds of "warriors" wearing winged helmets, sheepskins and carrying axes and shields marched 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 dressed in Viking suits on the galley after marching through the streets in Lerwick (Jane Barlow/PA)
Members of the Jarl Squad dressed in Viking suits on the galley after marching through the streets in Lerwick (Jane Barlow/PA)

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

Work begins at the end of October to ensure everything is ready for the celebrations.

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.

#UpHellyAa Jarl's Squad members today: Stanley, Tommy and Haydn, seated by #stainedglass window depecting Jarl Magnus of #Orkney (11thC) and King Harald Hardrada, King of #Norway (12thC) #Shetland#LerwickTownHallpic.twitter.com/jJkzLbIGYN

-- Shetland Islands Cll (@ShetIslandsCll) January 30, 2018

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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