Standing almost horizontal against gale-force winds and the kind of rain that makes you wish you’d spent your life savings on waterproofs, I begin to question my motives for visiting Shetland in January. I'm pressed up against a cold stone wall, counting down the minutes.

The climax of Shetland's Up Helly Aa festival features the burning of a Viking longship.

Suddenly all the streetlights are extinguished and the tiny town of Lerwick is plunged into darkness. Around me, the dances of sodden spectators trying to warm up regain some of their buoyancy as excitement rises. There’s only one reason thousands of people would come to the edge of the world in the dead of winter to stand outside, for hours, in the pitch black – the Up Helly Aa fire festival.

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