Britain's biggest fire festival and torchlight procession takes place in Lerwick on the last Tuesday of January. Over 800 colourfully dressed 'guizers' parade with flaming torches behind the "Jarl Squad" of Vikings and their longship through the darkened streets of the town to the burning site. Here the official ceremony ends in a spectacular blaze as the torches are thrown into the galley! Why not combine this dazzling event with some outstanding winter birding and wildlife viewing?

Long-tailed Duck


Grey Seal

Viking Longship Burning

Up Helly Aa Procession


Aurora Borealis

DAY 1  Saturday - Welcome Dinner

Late afternoon / early evening rendezvous at the Sumburgh Hotel. During our orientation dinner we will run through our planned itinerary and enthuse over the exciting prospects the days ahead offer. Overnight at the Sumburgh Hotel.

DAY 2  Sunday - South Mainland

After a filling breakfast (porridge is obligatory!) we spend the day in the south Mainland, seeking out our common winter residents: Black Guillemots, Whooper Swans, Greylag Geese, Long-tailed Ducks, Goldeneye, Great Northern Divers, Eiders, Purple Sandpipers and Golden Plovers should all be seen in good numbers. Mammal buffs will be entertained by scores of both Common and Grey Seals and if sea conditions are calm enough, Harbour Porpoise. Endless flocks of 'larids' should also keep us entertained and among them we would hope to find both Glaucous and Iceland Gulls. Overnight at the Sumburgh Hotel.

DAY 3  Monday - West & North Mainland Otter Quest

We head for the sheltered inlets of the north and west Mainland to search for Otters. Shetland is the north European stronghold for this species and we're fortunate to have a population in excess of a thousand individuals. Our knowledge of their movements and feeding habits is second to none and we hope to give you some truly outstanding views. In recent winters we've found several sites with family groups - our tried and tested field craft of reading tracks and following tides pays dividends! In our quest to find these striking animals, a number of arctic-breeding birds will also be on view - Slavonian Grebes winter in just a handful of secluded bays, as do diminutive Little Auks. We end our day by visiting a roost site for the majestic and highly secretive Long-eared Owl. Overnight at the Sumburgh Hotel.

DAY 4  Tuesday - Up Helly Aa - Lerwick Fire Festival

A day of festivities! With the Raven Banner hanging from Lerwick Town Hall and scores of local men magnificently dressed as Vikings you may well think that the clock has turned back 1,200 years! We spend the morning enjoying the Guizer Jarl's parade and admire the huge Galley built for the 2020 festival. We take a break to view an impressive gathering of Grey Seals and should also find Glaucous and Iceland Gulls nearby. We'll also search the Tingwall Valley for Arctic Hares, which at this time of year, are dressed in their white winter coats. As dusk approaches and the atmosphere builds, we ensure ourselves a grandstand view of the Up Helly Aa climax. Under the black winter skies, over 800 colourfully attired guizers muster and carry their burning torches through the streets of Lerwick, producing a riot of colour. The Galley is towed to its last resting place and the ranks of guizers encircle the doomed longship. A bugle calls and, as the last note is sounded, blazing torches are flung in a shower of fire and flame to a proud rendering of "The Norseman's Home". As the chants and songs continue, the inferno consumes the ship until she's no more than a scattering of ashes. We return to the hotel for our farewell dinner and hope that we can end the holiday by showing you one of nature's most beautiful gifts - the Aurora Borealis. Overnight at the Sumburgh Hotel.

DAY 5  Wednesday

After breakfast we'll transfer you to Sumburgh airport, or make arrangements for you to travel to your onward destination in Shetland. Alternatively you may wish to extend your stay and we are happy to make any necessary arrangements for additional accommodation, car hire etc.

Holiday Information 2020 Operating Dates

Sat 25th January


Wed 29th January





Single Supplement





Group Size - max 8 travellers



White-billed Diver
Great Northern Divers
Red-throated Diver
Whooper Swans
Slavonian Grebes
Lesser Scaup - wow!
King Eider
American wigeon
White-fronted Geese
Hen Harrier
Iceland Gulls – lots
Glaucous Gulls
Kumlien's Gulls
Long-eared Owls
Little Auks
Snow Buntings

Killer Whales
Harbour Porpoise
Otters - lots!
Grey Seals
Common Seals
Arctic Hare - lots!


The Aurora Borealis!


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