Shetland Islands, Scotland
By David Moir
Vikings, they’re not what they used to be.
No more do we see horn helmeted warriors pillaging and plundering everything in sight, striking fear into villagers with the stories of their wickedness. No, now they sing and dance when visiting community centers, hospitals and shopping centers. Basically cheering everyone up who sing along and join in the fun on a cold wet Tuesday in January.
I have just returned from covering the Up Helly Aa festival in Lerwick, in the Shetland Islands, Britain’s most northerly set of islands. More than 100 miles north of the Scottish mainland and closer to Bergen in Norway than London.
Shetland prides itself on its Norse heritage and its Vikings, especially for Up Helly Aa with the Guizer Jarl (the Chief Guizer), and leader of the Jarl Squad (there are another 45 squads) who are the Vikings for this special day designing and making their suits, shields and weapons for the occasion two years in advance.
On the morning of Up Helly Aa, myself and two other photographer colleagues managed to find out where the Jarl Squad would be starting their day, a local community center in the heart of Lerwick.
We were allowed in to photograph them. I thought would they be huddled round drinking beer and telling stories of their pillaging escapades like their Viking forefathers.
Actually no they weren’t, they were gathered in the centre drinking hot tea and coffee, eating a bacon roll, reading this year’s program of events and shining up the metal on their suits and shields. This year’s Guizer Jarl, local fisherman Stevie Grant, even had his helmet given a last minute polish before he stepped outside to lead his band of warriors through the day’s activities.