Up Helly Aa has fascinated me ever since I started visiting Shetland and first heard about it. There are various Up Helly Aa festivals held between January and March in different parts of Shetland, but the main festival, the biggie, the Up Helly Aa to end all Up Helly Aas is held in Lerwick on the last Tuesday of January. This presented a problem for me as the last Tuesday in January is always smack-bang in the middle of term time. And it's not as though Lerwick is a place I can just nip up to for a few hours in the evening and be back in time to get a good night's sleep ready for school the next morning.
Because of this, I made a pact with myself that the first chance I get I will be there. As I'm not teaching at the moment that chance is now. I've been keeping an eye on the ferries and at this time of year there are a lot of delays and cancellations due to the weather, so I need to plan to arrive a few days in advance just in case. Imagine shelling out all that money and getting really excited just to turn up in Aberdeen the day before the festival to be told the ferry isn't leaving tonight. It's not a risk I'm prepared to take.
I'm going to go up in the van so I have a place to sleep. It's expensive taking a vehicle on the ferry and as I'll be alone I won't have anyone to split the cost with. Add to that the cost of fuel and this isn't going to be a cheap trip. But without the van I'd have to pay for accommodation and would be limited in what I could do as public transport isn't the greatest. I'd also have to add on the cost of train fares to Aberdeen and if I arrived off the train in Aberdeen to find the ferry wasn't leaving I'd be left hunting for last minute accommodation and shelling out again.
I'm wondering if I'm a little mad planning to spend a week sleeping in the back of a van on a small North Atlantic island in January. But, thanks to the Gulf Stream, Shetland doesn't get anywhere near as cold as other places on the same latitude do in winter; there's not a lot of snow and temperatures don't drop much below zero. So I'm sure I'll be fine, but I will take my duvet as well as my winter sleeping bag.
I wrote about Up Helly Aa here