iScot’s Zoe Weir examines Up Helly Aa’s evolution
Shetlanders do not like being put in a box. Not by cartologists, who tend to squeeze the Northern Isles into a peerie1 square just off Scotland, when it is actually closer to Norway. Not by historians, who still debate whether Vikings wiped out Shetland’s Pictish natives or assimilated them. Not by political pundits, for Shetland is a law unto itself; and never more so than during their annual fire festival, Up Helly Aa. This unique spectacle claims Viking connections, but in truth was forged in Victorian times; to this day it retains a “no-women” rule hotly debated by islanders.