UK to celebrate Viking heritage festivals this spring

Winter can often be quite a dull affair in the UK. The weather is damp and windy, temperatures barely make it out of single figures; so let's look at something to look forward to - the Winter Fire Festivals!

The UK, with Scotland in particular, has a great tradition of conducting winter fire festivals to make the official end of yuletide and begin the welcoming of spring. You may be more familiar with two of the major well-known festivals - Burning the Clavie and Up Helly Aa.

The world-famous Up Helly Aa was once described as being '36 hours of lawlessness, where by-laws are bypassed, marital vows are suspended and health and safety become very subjective'. For many, this assessment is wide of the mark but many Shetlanders looking forward to this festival more so than Christmas and New Year combined.

The Up Helly Aa tradition is an old one and originally involved the practice of tar barrelling - the event where barrels of tar were set alight and rolled around the streets in a procession, with accompanying mischief making of course. Tar barrelling was eventually phased out during the mid 19th century and the more modern ceremony slowly evolved over that period.

Nowadays, there is a procession of approximately 1,000 torchbearers known as 'guizers' who make their way into a central spot where the galley is placed. A new galley is built every year, customised for each festival. The guizers spiral around the galley with each member throwing their flaming torch into the boat and as it catches fire, wishes for the new year are taken to the gods.

The current Up Helly Aa celebrations take place in 10 different locations all across Shetland, each paying tribute to their Viking history. The events are taken incredibly serious, with great attention to detail taken on every aspect - right down to the costumes that are being worn.

The Vikings may be gone, but Britons are certainly keeping their fire burning.