Vikings feasted in Scotland's Shetland Islands on Tuesday in the annual "Up Helly Aa" festival, featuring a parade of men in suits of armour torching a wooden ship. The event, which means "long winter's end" in Old Norse takes place in the port of Lerwick, on the last Tuesday of January every year since the early 1890s to celebrate the region's Viking heritage.
"It means a lot to Shetlanders and people in Lerwick that we celebrate this festival," John Nicolson, one of the organisers, told AFP. "The region is really steeped in Viking history."
The 48-year-old is the figurehead for this year's festival known as the "Guizer Jarl", lead by a "Jarl Squad" of dozens of Vikings for the day and hundreds of other dressed up "guizers". "I've been looking forward to it for 13 years," said Nicolson, a self-employed decorator, who has been on the 17-strong organising committee all that time.
"There have only been a few guys that have been (Guizer Jarl), so it's a great privilege.” The Jarl dons the same suit of armour comprising helmet, breastplate, shield, axe, dagger and belt each year.
But in a closely guarded secret, he chooses the design for his and his squad's other garments, representing a different character from the Norse Sagas stories each time.
The formidable looking crew spent Tuesday parading through the town, before a torch lit procession of hundreds led the burning down of the replica long ship and celebratory parties that last until dawn.
The festivities take place regardless of conditions on the far-flung islands, which sit in the North Atlantic Ocean on the same latitude as southern Greenland. "There's no postponement for weather,” said Nicolson. "It'll be what it'll be and we just carry on."