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Up Helly Aa tourists say travel chaos hasn’t put a dampener on ‘fantastic’ fire festival

Flights were grounded and ferries cancelled on Wednesday due to a yellow weather warning for high winds.

NorthLink ferries customers in Shetland after Up Helly Aa
People who travelled to Up Helly Aa were left stranded on Shetland due to a yellow wind warning. Image: DC Thomson

Thousands of people who travelled to Shetland for Up Helly Aa were stranded earlier this week after flights were cancelled and ferries halted due to high winds.

The Met Office issued a yellow weather warning on Wednesday, grounding all flights out of Sumburgh and cancelling ferries.

This has had a knock-on effect, with Loganair having to rebook hundreds of passengers onto later flights and NorthLink having to rebook passengers onto later ferries.

The airline has also had to find accommodation for hundreds of people, some for three or more days.

Hrossey at Lerwick Ferry Terminal. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

NorthLink has added further headache to people’s travel plans, with the northbound sailing from Aberdeen to Lerwick cancelled on Friday evening.

It has had a knock-on effect as that ferry would then transport passengers back to Aberdeen on Saturday. That sailing has also been cancelled.

As for Friday’s southbound service, the ferry was due to sail at 5.30pm, but set sail at 4pm.

This is due to a tight deadline for the ferry, Hjaltland, to make it to dry dock.

A statement on the NorthLink website reads: “As Hjaltland will have to sail immediately for dry dock on arrival in Aberdeen tomorrow, all passengers will have to disembark at 6am. We would like to apologise for this inconvenience. ”

In addition, all services crossing the Pentland Firth between Orkney and the mainland have been cancelled on Saturday.

Kirsty and John Masson managed to book onto the Friday sailing after waiting days to leave Shetland. Image: DC Thomson.

Passengers Kirstie and John Masson travelled thousands of miles from Australia to come to Up Helly Aa planning to head down to Orkney afterwards, which has now been scrapped.

They arrived via ferry on Sunday and were due to leave on Wednesday, however, that sailing was cancelled amid the yellow weather warning.

NorthLink then put the couple on a waitlist for Thursday and put them up in a small croft on the island of Bressay, which they say was “lovely”.

This scuppered their plans to spend some time in Orkney where they would have disembarked, having already booked their accommodation.

Staff at NorthLink have been ‘incredibly helpful’

However, due to changing plans, they decided to head directly to Aberdeen on Friday night crossing.

While there may have been disruption to their trip, the couple says Up Helly Aa was an amazing experience.

Ms Masson said: “It was our first time here and it was fantastic, we had a really great time. Up Helly Aa was incredible, really well organised and so interesting.

The finale, the burning of the galley, at this year’s Up Helly Aa. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson.

“Everyone here [at Northlink] has been incredibly helpful in sorting us out with travel arrangements and accommodation.

“We come from a stormy place and know what it’s like so they have been great in helping get us sorted.”

The couple was upbeat as they faced having to make the nearly 14-hour crossing with no cabin/bed, but Mr Masson says you “have to be flexible” in these situations.

Ms Masson says the communication from NorthLink has been “very clear” and are now keen to get back to Aberdeen for the next part of the adventure in the UK.

‘Tough night’ ahead

Another couple who journeyed from Seattle to come to Shetland was Tim and Julie Walsh.

Ms Walsh is a fan of the TV show Shetland and was very keen to visit the island in person.

Following the “visually intense” festival, they were due to catch the Saturday ferry back.

Originally, they had booked a cabin, but they have now been assigned pods for tonight’s crossing.

Tim and Julie Walsh managed to get booked on Friday’s sailing after originally set to sail on Saturday. Image: DC Thomson.

Mr Walsh said: “We were due to sail on Saturday, but that was cancelled, so NorthLink reached out to us yesterday and offered us pods to sleep in, while our car could go across separately.

“It’s better than nothing I suppose, but we could be in for a tough night but we are very grateful for the help.”

Their rental car is being shipped via a freight ship on Sunday to be picked up by the rental car company.

Thankfully, the last-minute change will not affect their flight home to Seattle on Monday.

A Loganair spokesperson said: “For those caught up in the weather disruption on the day, we did our best to ensure customers were looked after and we’d like to thank them for their patience and understanding.”

Cancellations not taken ‘lightly’ by NorthLink

Stuart Garrett, managing director of Serco NorthLink Ferries said: “Making changes to our timetabled schedule or cancelling a sailing is a decision we never take lightly.

“We understand that this can have a knock-on effect for both our customers and the communities we serve.

“As the provider of the lifeline ferry service for the Northern Isles however, safety is paramount, and every consideration is given to what options are available before calling a cancellation.”

NorthLink is advising travellers to check their website for updates on sailings.