Fight off the lingering gloom of winter with blazing torch and bone-rattling cry, and see warm island hospitality and unabashed merrymaking come together in a festival unlike any other. This is Up Helly Aa, a once-yearly invocation of flame and festivity when Vikings take over the sleepy Shetlands — sure to put fire in the belly.
There is one night of the year — the last Tuesday in January, to be exact — when the ordinarily sleepy town of Lerwick undergoes an uncanny transformation. The darkened streets are lit up by the warm flicker of flaming torches as hordes of armour-clad Vikings pass through, singing uproariously. The reason? Up Helly Aa, a festival of fire held to mark the end of the yule season and usher in the just-dawning new year.
Join us on a five-day experience — of which the celebration is just the start — taking in startlingly beautiful landscapes, wonderful wildlife, and a whole host of historical sites. Explore the home of thousands of nesting birds — including puffins, kittiwakes and razorbills — at the Sumburgh Head RSPB reserve, explore the maritime town of Lerwick in the calm before the Up Helly Aa storm, and take a series of scenic ferry rides that offer a breathtaking perspective on the Shetland Islands. We travel through Tingwall and Girlsta, enjoy the panoramic views at Saxa Vord on Unst, and admire the utilitarian grandeur of the Sullom Voe Terminal.
All in all, between the affable hospitality of the Shetlanders, fascinating sites, and the flickering torches and rousing songs of the festival itself, there’s no better way to warm up from a long winter.
We are based at the Moorfield Hotel in Brae, Shetland’s second-largest village. This modern hotel offers contemporary, bright and spacious surroundings to relax in with welcoming and comfortable beds
- Fire festival of Up Helly Aa
- 3000 years of archaeological history at Jarlshof
- Stunning seacliffs at Eshaness
- Bobby’s bus shelter in Baltasound – surely the most famous in the world!
- Return coach travel to Aberdeen with departures available from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dunfermline, Kinross, Perth, Dundee, Arbroath, Montorse or Aberdeen. You can also make your own way to Aberdeen should you wish to meet at the ferry
- 3 nights’ dinner, bed and full breakfast at the Moorfield Hotel in Brae in a rooms with private facilities
- 2 nights’ accommodation in 2-berth cabins on Serco Northlink Ferries Hrossey or Hjaltland with dinner and full breakfast. All cabins have private facilities. Outside cabins are available on request for a small supplement
- Comfortable coaching throughout
- Three full day guided coach tours of mainland Shetland and the islands of Yell and Unst, including all ferries (weather permitting) and entrance to Jarlshof
- Free day in Lerwick to enjoy the events of Up Helly Aa
Single supplements apply – prices available on request, please call 01224 338004. Outside cabin for ferry journey available for a £25 supplement. Offer is subject to availability
Day 1 – Monday 29 January 2018
We depart from our designated departure points and travel to Aberdeen where we will join the Serco Northlink ferry (Hrossey or Hjaltland) for the 1900hrs overnight sailing to Lerwick. Accommodation is provided in comfortable 2-berth cabins with en-suite facilities. Dinner is served on board in the evening.
Day 2 – Tuesday 30 January 2018
Arrival is due into Lerwick at 0730hrs this morning. After breakfast on board we disembark and spend the day in Lerwick, which you are free to explore at your leisure and view the various activities associated with the Up Helly Aa festival which takes place today. Keep an eye out for the various ‘squads’ of ‘guizers’ – groups of about 20 men who choose a theme and dress up as whatever takes their fancy each year. Only one squad, a different one every year, is allowed to dress up as Vikings and are known as ‘jarls’, the Viking term for Earl. As darkness falls (mid-afternoon at this time of year) the squads begin to assemble for the torchlight parade and eventually a procession of 1,000 men snakes its way through the streets carrying aloft flaming brands of paraffin-soaked hessian and carrying the superbly crafted galley which will then be ceremoniously burned in the spectacular finale to the day’s events.
Dinner this evening will be served in a local restaurant. At an agreed time we will be transferred to our hotel.
Day 3 – Wednesday 31 January 2018
After a leisurely breakfast we depart for a full day tour which, weather permitting, will take us to the northern isles of Yell and Unst. We travel north through Tingwall and Girlsta and past the oil terminal at Sullom Voe, which has transformed life in Shetland over the last 25 years, before arriving at Toft, where the ferry departs for the island of Yell. After a 15-minute crossing we travel across Yell to Gutcher at the north end of the island. After a refreshment stop we make another short ferry crossing to the island of Unst. We shall drive north to Baltasound for a lunch stop. After lunch (not included) we continue northwards again, (about as far north as it is possible to travel by coach in the British Isles) and enjoy the marvellous views from Saxavord Hill. Our return route takes us via East Yell and Burravoe.
Day 4 – Thursday 1 February 2018
After breakfast this morning we depart on a scenic excursion to the north mainland of Shetland. Our route will take us over the Mavis Grind, an isthmus just 100 yards wide, and through a stark landscape of hills, moors and lochans. We will stop for a walk (weather permitting) along the spectacular sea cliffs at Eshaness, which offer spectacular views over the many skerries, islets and offshore rocks. There are also many caverns and sea caves, one of which was recently declared the largest in the Britain. Look out too for the lighthouse which was built by David Alan Stevenson, one of the famous ‘lighthouse’ Stevensons, between 1925 and 1929.
Dinner is served back at our hotel in the evening.
Day 5 – Friday 2 February 2018
After our full Scottish breakfast we check out of the hotel and depart on a full day tour which begins with a visit to Scalloway, the original capital of Shetland. The castle built by Earl Patrick Stewart (not a man you would want to have crossed) still dominates the skyline. More recently Scalloway was the secret base for the heroes of the Norwegian Resistance and the wartime exploits of the ‘Shetland Bus’ form a courageous memoir. Later we head for the south of Mainland Shetland, where we visit the outstanding Prehistoric and Norse Settlement of Jarlshof, with over 3 acres of remains, spanning 3000 years since the days of the Stone Age, including oval shaped bronze age houses, iron age broch and wheel houses, Viking long houses and medieval farmhouses. We continue to Sumburgh Head, the southern tip of mainland Shetland, which is an RSPB reserve and site of a lighthouse that is still functioning remotely, but incorporates museum aspects of its earlier operation as a manned station. In season, thousands of puffins, kittiwakes and razorbills nest here, but in January/February they will still be out at sea.
Later we return to Lerwick and re-join our ship, which sails at 1900 hrs for Aberdeen. Dinner is served on board.
Day 6 – Saturday 3 February 2018
After breakfast on board we will disembark in Aberdeen at around 0900 hours. We will then return to the original pick up points, where we anticipate arriving late morning/early afternoon.