One thousand flaming torches transported Lerwick back 1,000 years last night as the dark midwinter skies were lit-up in a spell-binding show of Up-Helly-Aa.
After hours of unrelenting drizzle from the remnants of a storm Nordicly-named Jonas – ancient Greek for “a sign” – the pouring stopped just in time for the grand finale.
But even if it had not, there was no amount of rain that could have put out this fire or dampen the spirits of the thousands of spectators who watched in wonder.
After months – even years – of meticulous planning, Europe’s biggest fire festival went off in a blaze of glory.
All eyes were on the Guizer Jarl Mark Evans as he and his 79-strong squad, including 13 family members, led a seemingly endless line of torchbearers on a zig-zag route through the streets of Shetland’s capital.
With pavements packed with visitors from around the world and local residents eager to witness the spectacle, the procession of 977 guizers reached its dramatic climax – the burning of the galley that had taken four months to build.
The ensuing inferno incinerated the longboat in just minutes as Lerwick paid homage to its Viking past.
Speaking in front of his burning galley, Mr Evans said: “It has been a great day. I’m a bit emotional because I gave the galley my daughter’s name, Lauren Grace. We’ll go and have a good party now.”
Atanas Rusinov, a 28-year-old Bulgarian who moved to Lerwick six months ago, said: “It was really impressive – the customs and traditions. I liked the costumes and singing – the only bad thing was the smoke.”
About 200 boys between 11 and 13-years-old had their own torchlit procession and boat-burning ceremony at the same park site two hours earlier.
“Some of them do look a little young to be carrying a fireball,” joked a man who had travelled all the way from Seattle for the occasion.
He was one of many to have flown long distances to be there, including Mr Evans’ brother-in-law and two nephews, who came from Brisbane, Australia, to join the squad.
Lerwick has celebrated the passing of midwinter for centuries, but the Up-Helly-Aa ceremony of today began in the 1880s.
One woman who moved to Shetland from Edinburgh 51 years ago summed it up.
“It’s just such a wonderful community spirit. Everyone comes together and you hardly ever hear of an accident,” she said.
“If every community in Britain pulled together in the way they do in Shetland, it would be a better place.”
The day had begun many hours earlier for the members of the Jarl squad.
After meeting at a secret location for breakfast, the group marched to the town’s branch of the British Legion for 9am, revealing the expensive costumes that had taken years to painstakingly create for the first time.
Several hundred islanders and visitors then followed the squad as they made their way along the historic Commercial Street, with the guizers roaring and blowing their horns throughout.
A group of young children burst into song as they waited in the rain for the marching Vikings to arrive at the Bressay Ferry terminal.
The nearby brass and pipe bands soon delivered their own renditions as the Guizer Jarl and his team climbed aboard their galley, providing a spectacular photo opportunity for the assembled onlookers as the waves crashed into the pier behind them.
Then it was on to Lerwick Town Hall for a civic reception, followed by visits to local schools and hospitals in the afternoon.
Watching on were Marilyn Smith, 76, and her husband Kenneth, 77, who had travelled from Auchterarder for the festivities.
“We’re thoroughly enjoying it, despite the weather,” said Mrs Smith.
“I had to buy a pair of waterproof trousers, but does that matter?”
Mr Smith added: “What struck me was the sense of community.
“People are very friendly. They are very easy and open.
“Somebody told me people don’t bother to lock their doors. You can see why.”
The celebrations are not only enjoyed by visitors to Shetland – it is by far the most important event in the calendar for many local businesses as well.
Jane Leask, manager at the Kveldsro Hotel, said: “I love it – everyone has a smile on their face and it’s such a wonderful atmosphere.
“You get so many people from all over the world. We have Americans, Canadians, people from Hong Kong. You usually have to book a year in advance.”
As the flames died down and the cinders settled back at the park, the party was just getting started as spectators made their way to the 11 halls laying on music, food and dancing into the early hours of this morning.