Few have heard of it, let alone been. Our destination is Shetland in the far north of Scotland, where one of the most incredible festivals in Europe is held. On the last Tuesday of January, the town of Lerwick goes more than a little mad. Up Helly Aa is a lot more than a sub-arctic bonfire and booze-up. It’s a superb spectacle, a celebration of Shetland’s history and a triumphant demonstration of the islanders’ skills and spirit. Fifty helmeted Vikings and a burning Norse galley. Unmissable.
We leave the capital at 8.30am and head north to St. Andrews – the ‘Home of Golf'. This town boasts one of the world’s oldest (English-speaking) Universities – which also happens to be where lovebirds Prince William & Catherine Middleton first hooked up! It's then further up the east coast to see the dramatically located Dunnottar Castle, which was once a hiding place for the Scottish Crown Jewels in the 17th century’s political turmoil. These castle ruins are picture perfect, so make sure your camera is charged!
We continue to Aberdeen, the ‘Granite City’, where we begin the adventure as we board the ferry and embark upon our voyage on the North Sea. Head to the bar for a drink to try to find your sea legs and get to know your fellow passengers. This is an overnight journey, via Kirkwall in Orkney, will arrive in Lerwick the next morning, so you will have a lot of time to get to know your HAGGiS Clan.
We start off with exploring Clickimin Broch – an impressive ruin of a round house found only in Scotland. Next, we move to Scalloway, the original capital of Shetland with its mighty castle and breathe in some fresh sea air when we spend time at the stunning beach at St Ninian's Isle.
From here we head to Jarlshoff - one of Shetland's finest prehistoric sites with 4,000 years of human settlement history. We then sample the island's southern scenery and sit amongst the huge bird population within the Nature Reserve of Sumburgh Head. There'll undoubtedly be some revelling in town with the locals in preparation for tomorrow’s festivities.
The big day dawns! In the morning there's the Viking procession and a chance to have your picture taken beside this year’s 'Jarl' (Chief Viking). In the afternoon you have time to explore Lerwick and a chance to get warmed up with a dance! And then the evening kicks off with the Junior Jarl Squad procession, which is the youngster’s version of the full-blown affair. Get ready, it’s going to get hot as the streets get filled with a thousand ‘guizers’ (local performers aka the ferociously-looking Viking Squads) carrying their fiery torches. Now the festival reaches a crescendo as a full-size replica Viking longship is dragged across the streets to be ceremonially burnt. After you’ve had your fill of this phenomenal sight, it’s time to party in the local pubs.
The next morning (or at the end of the night, depending on how much fun you have!) we will join the ‘guizers’ again as they sing away their hangovers. They’ve got a great repertoire, so get ready to sing along!
We then venture north to Hillswick, rich in geology and archaeology, and blow away the cobwebs visiting Eshaness and its awe-inspiring coast line. The spectacular cliffs you can admire are leftovers of what used to be a volcano! Now that the fresh sea air has whetted your appetite, it’s time to head to Brae to try some world famous fish and chips, before heading back for another night in Lerwick.
After a leisurely breakfast, we venture north taking in the ancient Tingwall Parliament and explore the silent and secluded Lunna area on the east coast – a perfect area to clear your head after all the previous shenanigans. On the way back we will have a couple fantastic selfie spots and our Guide will recount stories connected to this area.
A return to Lerwick allows free time for last-minute souvenir shopping or a visit to the Shetland Museum. Sadly, we need to bid farewell to rugged Shetland and board an overnight ferry back to mainland Scotland.
Back in the mainland! We travel through spectacular Aberdeenshire, which alone is home to over 300 castles! We head to the Royal Deeside in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. This part of Scotland was Queen Victoria’s favourite, she liked it so much that decided to get Balmoral Castle and change it to her summer residence in Scotland. Since then, it’s been visited by all the Royals.
We will follow in the footsteps of the Royal Family and pass Crathie Kirk, their place of worship when at their Highland residence. We also visit the resting place of John Brown, ghillie to Queen Victoria and made famous in the movie Mrs Brown starring Billy Connolly. We then make our way through the spectacular mountains on the way back to Edinburgh. After epic 6 days of gallivanting in Shetland and hanging around with the Vikings, it’s time to say good bye to your friends when we arrive to Edinburgh at approximately 5pm. This might just be the most memorable trip you will ever make!
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Trip Name: Up Helly Aa
Duration: 6 Days
From Price: $1,329
Supplier Tour ID: UH6/159707
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