The dragon’s tongue and beard are fixed to the galley bow and 1,200 torches are dripping in paraffin – Lerwick is ready for Up Helly Aa.
The finishing touches were being made last night after months of work to prepare for Shetland’s world famous Viking fire festival.
Tonight, about 6,000 islanders and visitors will line the streets of the town to catch a glimpse of the spectacular torchlit procession and boat-burning ceremony.
Dating back to the 1880s, with echoes of a much more distant past, the celebration marks the passing of the darkest days of midwinter, and the party will continue on into the early hours of tomorrow morning and beyond.
Last night, the final duties of the Guizer Jarl – the chief of the near-1,000 guizers, – who this year is 52-year-old Mark Evans, included touring the 11 halls that will host tonight’s after-parties to thank the hosts in advance.
At a late night ceremony in the galley shed, Mr Evans was also due to reveal the closely-guarded secret that the ship will be named Lauren Grace, after his 20-year-old daughter.
“I’m very, very family-orientated,” he said last night. “The only boat I’ve got – I’ve got to call it after my daughter, don’t I?
“She has no idea. She is going to cry and I’m going to cry.”
The completion of the galley traditionally involves the attaching of the dragon’s tongue and beard, as well as shields along both sides.
Brydon Wright, 33, is responsible for the head and tail of the vessel, which he said required about 170 hours of work.
“This is my fourth head. Last year’s one might have been a little better but the teeth are better on this one,” he said.
“It has got to be done in the Christmas holidays so it’s hard to balance it with family time.”
Hard rock music provided his inspiration, he added.
“Motorhead is the key. I put on Motorhead and it inspires me. It doesn’t feel like work.”
Mr Wright, a joiner and scaffolder by trade, is due to take on the coveted Guizer Jarl role in 2026, and is already making plans.
“It’s like your wedding day. I’m thinking about it, too right, but it’s a long way down the road,” he said.
Mr Evans has chosen red and white for his boat, the names of his late mother Mary, his wife Lynda and daughter Lauren, have been inscribed onto the hull.
A pole also rises up at the bow with a rubber glove attached to the top, symbolising the Viking tradition that the first person to touch the land could claim it as their own – and the story that one wanted it so badly that he cut off his hand and threw it ashore.
Ryan Leith, a 43-year-old port controller at Lerwick Port Authority, has been galley foreman for three years.
He said work on this year’s ship began in October.
“The galley is built to the same plan each year and the jarl decides what paint scheme he wants. We need to have it ready for the painting stage by Christmas and New Year.”
Mr Leith, who will be Guizer Jarl in 2025, will be in charge of the boat throughout today.
He was keeping one eye on the weather forecast.
“The storm that is giving them all the snow in the US is coming across the Atlantic – it just depends when it gets here. But it’s changing all the time.”
Over at the car park of Lerwick’s Islesburgh Community Centre yesterday afternoon, Mr Evans arrived in his chauffeur-driven Range Rover to check on the group of more than 20 squad members in charge of the torches, including his sons Liam, 22, and Scott, 24.
About 1,200 torches were being passed from man-to-man before being dipped in paraffin and laid out in a giant container.
A total of 860 of the 977 guizers will be carrying torches, plus about 200 more among the junior boys.
The Jarl squad’s duties get under way at 8.30am today, with the main procession kicking off at 7pm.
“Bring on tomorrow,” said Mr Evans on the eve of one of the most important days of his life.
Interested in attending Up Helly Aa 2017?
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