Sunday, 28 February 2010

'Wild Life' - Up Helly Ah

As far as wildlife goes, yesterday was a quiet day. I went out at around 7.30am down to the end of our road, but, like the other day the tide  was high so I wasn't expecting to see any dratsies (otters). Unfortunately at the moment the tides aren't coinciding with the times that I generally have available, so I'm having to just take pot luck. This morning however I did have a bit more time  and had decide I'd stick it out and wait for a while for the tide to drop, and then hopefully they (the otters) would be active again. Since my last visit, the wind had risen to an easterly breeze and was blowing straight in across the sound and on to the beach where I was waiting. Normally, this is an ideal direction and I'd be happy, however today with lying snow and the wind chill, it was rather cold. Another result in the wind picking up from that direction, was the snow had virtually gone from the grass close to the beach, I think this was possibly due to the salt in the wind as the air temperature was still cool.

If you want to read what a really dedicated otter watcher endures, I can't praise a friend of mines blog enough. Brydon Thomason is arguably the best otter person around on Shetland at the moment and after his family, -  he lives for otters. Brydons blog can be found here - Shetland Otter Watching
 There were very few birds around apart from the now increasing numbers of Fulmars which would fly past low over me and then what seemed to be an obvious move, circle around and come even closer and hang on the wind over me, casting their steely eyed stare for a moment before moving on and doing it all over again.
Occasionally they would land close by on the sea, and have a sort of heated dispute before heading off seawards.

It has to be said, that on this occasion, the cold got the better of me and I only stayed there for just over an hour - am I a 'southern softy or what'? 

I decided to take a walk over to the west side of the island where hopefully it would be a little better out of the wind. Westing is a favourite spot for a lot of people for both the scenery and, in the summer, seeing the setting sun. The road along there was still covered in snow (not regularly snow ploughed like some of the roads) and on the way I came across a crofter who'd got stuck. Down at the beach, the tide was still fairly high and the sheep were feeding at the tide line on seaweed. There were a few turnstones doing what turnstones do and flipping over pieces of seaweed and the like to find sandhoppers and other small invertabrates that live there.

Westing beach

The walk around the beach and headland  was a pleasant walk in the cold winter sunshine, the lack of wildlife (apart from a noisy flock of Osytercatchers) didn't lessen the enjoyment in anyway.

Last night  we sampled a different kind of 'wild life' - that of Up Helly Ah. Also called by some as 'The Festival of Fire', Up Helly Ah is a tradition that goes back around 150 years.

The one we attended was one of the last of the season and was at Norwick at the north end of Unst. This was to be our second time of seeing the Norwick one, but this year it was even better as my wifey was in one of the squads. 

The evening starts (for the general public) when a signal flare is sent up in to the night sky, this signals for the squads to light their torches and the procession begins. The squads will then walk along a route, with the Guizer Jarl and his squad taking the lead with a replica Viking boat either being pulled by the squad or by a vehicle. These are the men dressed as Vikings. Following behind are numerous other squads dressed up in a variety of fancy dress which will be linked to their 'act' which they will perform later in the evening.

The procession

On reaching a predetermined spot, the galley stops and is surrounded by all of the Squads -

After the Up Helly Ah song has been sung, the Guizer Yarl will signal for the boat to be set alight -

Burning of the Galley

 The Guizer Yarl 

Once the boat has been burnt, the squads will move on to a local hall and the Guizer will make his speech etc. -

The Guizers Yarl's Squad

Speech over,each of the squads will perform their 'act'. Their acts or dance routines will all have several things in common, ie something to do with the Guizer such as interests, hobbies events, his personality etc etc (a lot of which can't be repeated here !) and also topical events or happenings relative to either Unst or the people of Unst.

 One of the Squads 'acts'

All of this can make a very long evening and usually after the acts have finished there will be a dance until the early hours. For someone who has only recently  arrived, the jokes etc about some of the locals made by the squads, can go totally over your head if you don't have your 'finger on the pulse' on what has happened on the islands over the last 12 months.

Up Helly Ah on Unst is relatively small compared to the main one down in Lerwick. For instance, last night there were 116 Guizers, where as in Lerwick there is often between 800 - 900 in the procession - all carrying flaming torches, quite a sight. For a much more detailed description at all of this I'd recomend looking at the official website here - Up Helly Ah
(You may spot that a couple of the pictures look out of place - that's because they were from Norwick last year and I put them in to 'complete' the picture. )


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