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22 January 2020


This will be the tenth consecutive year in which Sailonline, in association with Promote Shetland brings it’s virtual fleet to Lerwick in celebration of the 2020 Up Helly Aa fire festival.

You may have heard of Shetland but you may not know that much about its history or its remarkably vibrant community. Shetland is the name given to a group of about 100 islands off the NE coast of the British mainland, as close to Norway as they are to Aberdeen in Scotland. The islands have been inhabited for about 5000 years and have to this day retained many of the traditions and customs of those who lived there over the centuries. Little is known about the original Pictish people as they appear to have been displaced when the Vikings arrived in the 700s. Over many years there was a strong Viking and Scandinavian influence until the islands were given to Scotland by Norway in the 15th century as part of a royal dowry.

Fire festivals on Shetland are a relatively modern tradition – thought originally to have taken place when tar-barrel fires were lit to celebrate victory in the Napoleonic wars in the early part of the 19th century and when these caught people’s imagination, over the years, the tar barrels were replaced with Viking ships and so, nowadays, the festivals serve the dual purpose of raising spirits in the long dark winter and of reminding folk of historic Viking influences. Up Helly Aa in Lerwick has developed into an inclusive, entertaining and colourful fire festival involving almost the entire community, when the streets fill with "guizers" - groups of people in themed disguises of all kinds - and the Jarl Squad (the Vikings) while a livestream of the event is broadcast over the internet enabling everyone around the globe to join in!

Sailonline’s Race:
Sailonline will again be racing Elan 410s from Aberdeen to Lerwick, starting on Monday, 27 January @1100utc. Our route is unchanged from previous years and takes us past Inverness, a mark in the Moray Firth, past Fair Isle and then around several of the islands of Shetland to the finish in Lerwick Harbour. The Lerwick Up Helly Aa festival this year is on Tuesday, 28 January. Sailonline’s race will open for practice on Thursday, 23 January at 1100utc.

What the Helly Aa? VIDEO
Visitors’ Guide to Up Helly Aa

Shetland Webcams


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