Up Helly Aa 2013 – The Junior Squad

And here you were thinking we were so crazy to be out in the frozen hurricane for the Up Helly Aa torch procession? Is it bad enough that we braved the wind and rain to see a bunch of Vikings burn down a ship?

Would you think less of me if I told you we did it TWICE? Or would you think we proved that we are complete bad-asses that will do anything to join a party?

I’m going with the bad-ass option.

Back in 1956 the Shetlanders decided that it wasn’t enough to send their adult men out into the night to torch the ships. No, they figured it was best to start them young. Train them up right! Teach them to yell like warriors and burn their own ships down!

I’m guessing every young boy on the island screamed “Hallelujah!” when they made that announcement. Now they could join the fun!


Just like the adult squad, the juniors elect their own Guizer Jarl and spend the day touring the town. We happened to catch them at the Shetland Museum near the harbor. They stood in front of their boat and sang, shouted and generally looked like they were having the best time ever.


How can you watch that and not smile? And how cool is that ship? It was especially designed and crafted for the festival, and will soon be a pile of ashes.


That night at 5:30 they lined up on the crest of the hill and lit their torches, just as the adult squad would do two hours later. They marched through the streets behind their ship, shouting and singing and trying not to freeze like the rest of us.


Only the Jarl Squad wears the Viking costume. Every other squad wears a costume based on their particular theme. We saw a few ethnic groups (mis)represented, some firemen, some ninjas and a few military costumes.


I’m not sure what this poor boy’s theme was, but I’m sure he wishes it was a warmer one!


The storm was just starting to really blow at this point in the evening, but the rain hadn’t started yet. We still didn’t know how miserable the weather was about to get, so we braced ourselves against the wind and cheered the young boys on.


You could see in their faces how proud they were to be carrying those torches and participating in the festival that their families had been carrying on for well over a century.


They wound their way down, and back up the road before entering the same park that would be filled with full size Vikings just a short time later.


You could hear the singing, the cheering, and the shouts of “Aaaaaaayyy!” from a few blocks away, even over the howl of the storm.


The junior procession is exactly the same as the later, larger procession but a bit smaller. The squads march the perimeter of the park before circling around their ship.


When they’re all in place the young Guizer Jarl (Lenny Allan this year) climbs down out of the ship and the circle moves in with their torches. Soon there is a shout and the torches start flying!


And we watch it burn.

Junior Jarl Squad


The fire will carry it to Valhala.


I’m glad we didn’t know what to expect with the junior procession, and we hadn’t yet seen the adult procession. We were completely impressed! The enthusiasm of the young boys, their mentors walking with them, the crowd and the whole community was fantastic to witness. Other than a few grimaces from the cold, all we saw on everyone’s faces were smiles. The juniors were a great introduction to what was to come later in the night, and I think everyone who participated should be proud of themselves. What a great show!

It was also a good trial run for me. After shooting these photos I realized I needed to adjust my settings and change my camera lens for later. I would have had a much harder time capturing any good shots of the larger procession if I hadn’t been out for this one.

It was over fairly quickly, but was a great way to start the party! If you ever get the chance to come up to Lerwick for Up Helly Aa, make sure you don’t miss the junior squad’s procession! It may not be the main event, but you would really be missing something special!

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About akil3655

A Scotsman and his American photographer wife traveling the world and writing about it. Tales, reviews, photos, interviews and crazy goings on. Because you never know what's going to happen.

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