NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Up Helly Aa viking fire festival lights up Lerwick

Viking ship Image copyright PA
Image caption Up Helly Aa concluded with the burning of replica Viking long ship

The Vikings who ruled the Shetland islands 1,000 years ago are being remembered at Europe's biggest fire festival.

The Up Helly Aa celebrations got under way with a morning parade through the snow in Lerwick.

A torchlight evening parade is culminating with the dramatic burning of a replica Viking long ship.

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Media captionUp Helly Aa lights up the Shetland skies
2019 ship Image copyright PA
Image caption The distinctive green and white hoops of the 2019 ship reflect the football allegiance of Chief Viking John Nicolson
Up Helly Aa Image copyright PA
Image caption Preparations for the 2019 event have been under way since October last year

Visitors from across the world gathered for the event, which is held on the last Tuesday in January.

The 2019 Chief Viking John Nicolson is the fourth member of his family to take up the role.

The Guizer Jarl, or chief guizer, gets the honour of choosing the colour of the ship and Mr Nicolson opted for distinctive green and white hoops.

Up Helly Aa Image copyright PA
Image caption Participants started getting ready early on Tuesday
Up Helly Aa Image copyright PA
Image caption The authentic costumes feature great craftsmanship and attention to detail

The chief Guizer's brother David Nicolson, himself a former Guizer Jarl, said: "It's his galley and those are the colours he's gone with.

"Safe to say he's a Celtic supporter through and through."

He joked: "I'm a Rangers supporter, so I'll take great delight in seeing it burn!"

Up Helly Aa Image copyright PA
Image caption More than 1000 locals take part in the annual spectacle
Up Helly Aa Image copyright PA
Image caption This year's participants, led by Chief Viking John Nicolson, had to brave snow and chilly temperatures

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

Up Helly Aa is a descendent of the ancient festival of Yule which the Vikings held to celebrate the rebirth of the sun after a long winter.

BBC Scotland's Marc Ellison captured the atmosphere of last year's celebrations in a 360 video.

Meanwhile, there have been calls for the festival to allow women to take part in the procession and the issue has divided opinion in the islands.

In August a group of four women claimed they had been blocked from registering a mixed gender squad called #MeToo.

It was the first time a group of women has attempted to register for the traditionally male-dominated main procession in Lerwick.

Up Helly Aa Image copyright PA
Image caption Young islanders also take part in Up Helly Aa
Up Helly Aa Image copyright PA
Image caption Vikings gather for the traditional team picture on the ship, which will be set alight on Tuesday night

The Jarl squad of warriors set off from Islesburgh Community Centre at 08:20 and paraded through the town before assembling for a civic reception.

The afternoon schedule featured visits to several schools, hospital and homes, as well as Shetland Museum.

Squads then gathered on the Hillhead in the evening before more than 1,000 torchbearers marched to the King George V playing field.

A firework was set off to give the signal to light up the galley.

The spectacular finale will be followed by feasting, drinking and dancing all through the night.

Viking ship in flames Image copyright Andrew Milligan
Image caption More than 1,000 torchbearers took part in the thrilling climax to the celebrations

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