Every year, hundreds of thousands of people come ‘north of the border’ just to experience some of the amazing festivals in Scotland. Hogmanay celebrations, the most famous Arts’ festival in the world and incredible competitions involving ancient sports – all this and much, much more draw people to this hospitable and strikingly dramatic country.
Scotland is a country of spectacular coastlines, imposing mountain scenery and, in Glasgow and Edinburgh, two of Europe’s most impressive cities. In addition, Scottish festivals have an atmosphere all of their own, whether they are the grand city spectaculars or those in the distinctive regional towns tucked away in the glorious countryside.
Two particular festivals that the Scottish have developed are both held early on in the year. New Year is celebrated all over the world but, in Scotland, Hogmanay really is different. All the major towns and cities will have their own Hogmanay parties, which are a mixture of long-held traditions, modern music and an abundance of quite raucous fun. For many Scots, Hogmanay is a more important party time even than Christmas and its paramount importance can be gauged by the fact that not only do they have January 1st as a holiday to recover, they have the 2nd of the month as well!
Later in January, on the 25th, the 1759 birth of the national bard, Robert Burns, is commemorated with Burns’ Night suppers across the country – with the famous address to the haggis a feature of the evening. Also in January, on the final Tuesday of the month, a visit to Lerwick in the Shetland Islands will enable you to see the famous Up-Helly-aa, a fiery Viking festival which culminates in the ritual burning of a full-sized Viking Galley.
St Andrew’s Day, on the 30th November, hasn’t traditionally had the same impact on the Scots as, for example, St Patrick’s Day has enjoyed in Ireland but, as it has been a Bank Holiday since 2008, this is beginning to change a little and develop into a popular festival day.
During the spring and summer months, a highlight in many parts of the country are the traditional Highland Gatherings, which incorporate some stunning athletic events – most notably awesome feats of strength – and music and dance. There are many such Highland Games, with the most notable being the event held annually at the beginning of September at Braemar, a gathering that goes back as far as the 11th century.
It is probably true to claim that, for many people, mention of festivals in Scotland will inevitably conjure up images of the capital city, Edinburgh – a place which has become synonymous with festivals of one kind or another. As well as the long established Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and the month long celebration of the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe festival during August, the city also hosts regular film, television, jazz and blues, science and even harp festivals`, amongst others. About a quarter of a million people attend the Tattoo alone each year and, with the other festivals also bringing in vast numbers of people, Edinburgh has become one of Europe’s most popular cities with festival goers.
Scotland has its share of large music festivals as well – notably T in the Park in Kinross in July and the Wickerman festival in East Kirkcarswell, Dumfries and Galloway. The four day Hebridean Celtic Festival, the largest of its kind in the north of the country, is an ideal excuse to visit this dramatic part of the world during the summer.
Scotland is a country full of remarkable contrasts and the wonderful variety of festivals in Scotland – large and small, ancient and modern – illustrates that perfectly.