Podcast TTT Sarah McBurnie Season 5 Shetland Up Helly Aa

Season 5 Episode 4: Celebrating Up Helly Aa with Sarah McBurnie

January 31, 2023, the last Tuesday of January, the fire festival of Up Helly Aa is happening. A huge torchlight procession of hundreds of Vikings is marching through the streets of Lerwick, carrying flaming torches and singing traditional Norse skalds.

Welcome to Tea Toast and Trivia.

Thank you for listening in. 

I am your host, Rebecca Budd, and I am looking forward to sharing this moment with you.

I have arrived virtually in Lerwick, Shetland to meet up with my friend, Sarah McBurnie who was our intrepid guide on our 2018 Shetland adventure. 

Up Helly Aa is happening tonight. 

Sarah McBurnie

Sarah has invited us to celebrate Shetland’s Norse heritage with her.   I have always wanted to attend Up Helly Aa, so join me for a Viking adventure that promises feasting, music, and dancing!

YouTube Live Stream Beginning January 31st at 11:00am

Thank you for joining Sarah and me on Tea Toast & Trivia.

And a special thank you Sarah for sharing the excitement of Up Helly Aa.   You were an excellent guide on our visit to Shetland and I’m looking forward to meeting up with you again.

Listeners, I invite you to connect with Sarah on her website, See Shetland. Sarah conducts exclusive guided tours with personalized itineraries for visitors to Shetland from all over the world. 

We came as visitors to experience this amazing place and left as friends, thanks to Sarah and the many people we met along the journey through the Shetland Islands. You are only an internet click away from a remarkable adventure that will take you from birdwatching, archaeology to the celebration of Up Helly Aa

Until next time we meet, dear friends, safe travels wherever your adventures lead you.

Celebrating Up Helly Aa with Sarah McBurnie Tea. Toast. & Trivia.

By Rebecca Budd

Blogger, Visual Storyteller, Podcaster, Traveler and Life-long Learner

28 replies on “Season 5 Episode 4: Celebrating Up Helly Aa with Sarah McBurnie”

I am watching the lighting of the torches live on YouTube this morning. I would love to attend Up Helly Aa.

We must go together to visit Shetland. I was reading that there are many hauntings on the Island. Here is from the Website, Shetland Island of Opportunity:

Windhouse, pronounced ‘windhoose’, is reportedly the most haunted house in Shetland if not the entire country. It is said that the ruins we can see on the hillside in Mid Yell now were originally built in 1707 right on top of an ancient burial ground.

Abandoned since the 1920’s the inhabitants now include the Lady in silk, a man in a top hat, the spectre of a dog and the ghost of a servant girl.

By the way, just finished The Pendle Curse. Another unexpected ending. Brilliant.

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HI Rebecca, this is a most amazing discussion. I had no idea this area of Scotland had a celebration like this and reenacted the ritual of the burning of a Viking longship. It is incredible how this activity is planned for and funded by the community.

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I am delighted you listened in, Robbie. I knew that you would be fascinated by this event. The first time I heard about Up Helly Aa was through Ann Cleeves and her crime books on Shetland which became a brilliant TV series. Which is why we traveled to Shetland in 2018 in the first place. I understand with the advent of the Shetland series, Shetland has become a popular tourist destination, much like the Isle of Skye has become based on the Outlander books. We love stories and will travel to become part of those stories. But I digress….

This is from Ann Cleeves on-line diary:

Thursday, February 2nd 2006 : “Up Helly Aa”

“I arrived into Shetland at dawn on Tuesday on the northlink ferry. A clear frosty day. The right way to arrive in the island. The last Tuesday in January. Up Helly Aa. This forms the climax to my book. I’ve never been to the Shetland Fire Festival before. What if I got it all wrong?

I hadn’t expected the scale of the thing. Nearly a thousand men in the parade….”

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I did not know about Ann Cleeves until I watched “Vera” and “Shetland.” I have a couple of her books, but I haven’t opened them yet this year. So many books – we will never ever run out of anything to read. And that gives me great comfort.

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HI Rebecca, so many books. I have just finished Amanda in France and am starting Sally’s new book tonight. I have about 10 poetry books to read and a whole pile of another great Indie books. I’m also listening to The Circle by Dave Eggers as an audio book.

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I am delighted that you listened in, Merril. Up Helly Aa is the stuff of legend! It is a hugely popular event in Shetland, with thousands of people attending each year. It has become an important part of the islands’ cultural identity. I watched it on live stream with people from all over the world on line. When the torches were lit against a dark sky, it was if I was there in person. Many thanks for your comments.

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Thanks Rebecca for bringing us this conversation and thanks so much, Sarah for sharing this experience with us.

Up Helly Aa sounds like a wonderful festival. I’d love to attend, but hearing about it in this virtual visit with have to do for now.

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Thank you for listening and celebrating this amazing event, Dan. I watched it on the live stream with everyone else from all over the world. I felt I was there when they lighted the torches. The sky was alight with flame.

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Fascinating discussion about this fun and fiery festival, Rebecca and Sarah! And I’ll add one more word starting with “f”: fifteen. Incredible to hear about the fifteen-year advance planning for one aspect of the festival. Loved the video, too!

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I am delighted that you joined Sarah and me in Lerwick to experience Up Helly Aa from afar, Liz. Waiting 15 years (and this year after covid 17 years) to be the Guizer Jarl Squad is a testament to the endurance of this remarkable event. I watched via the streaming service and saw the sky light up with flames. I could feel the energy through the screen. Sarah is coming back to discuss gardening in the Shetlands later this year.

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That was wonderful. Sarah’s excitement is infectious, and I loved listening to her voice. I watched part of the youtube video of the event too. Wow. I would get such a kick out of visiting Lerwick for Up Helly Aa. What a huge and incredibly exciting night. It warms my heart to know that these incredible celebrations still happen, honoring the return of the light. Thanks, Rebecca and Sarah, for the fun.

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Thank you so much, Diana, for joining Sarah and me in Lerwick. Shetland is an amazing place, full of stories, myths, ancient sites. What brought us to Shetland was the Shetland series. Many others did the same!

“A new survey commissioned by Shetland Islands Council and VisitScotland showed 28% of visitors were inspired to head north after seeing the remote islands on TV.”,landscapes%20showcased%20on%20the%20series.

The power of story and location is a profound influence on our travel experience. Think of how many people travel to the Isle of Skye because they have read the Outlander Series.

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This is a very interesting episode, all the way from the beginning to the end. Imagine even mentioning WW2 and other items from long ago. Such an interesting discussion about this festival, the people who join for the fun and history. This deserves another time of listening to get all the details, and would be beyond interesting to visit the places where all this takes place. I was thinking as I read these interesting words that this gives a wonderful look into the life and times of this ancient as well as present outstanding civilization! Thank you for this historical look at some very interesting times and people!!

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I knew that you would enjoy this conversation, Frances. Sarah was an amazing host on our 2018 Shetland Adventure. The 2 years of Covid have been difficult! This year was especially memorable – Up Helly Aa has come back in force. We watched the lighting of the torches on our television screen. It was amazing.

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