Scotland is host to an enormously wide range of festival all year round. At around this time of year many people are planning holidays; why not fit a holiday around a festival so that you can experience the real Scotland ?
In this ‘Year of Natural Scotland 2013’ I thought I would focus on festivals that have some connection with the outdoors. I’m not talking about cultural festivals, the various Edinburgh Festivals (International, Fringe, Film, Book and Hogmanay) being the best known. Neither am I referring to various sporting events such as the Mountain Biking World Cup, Tiree Wave Classic windsurfing competition or Etape Caledonia cycle race. And nor do I mean the many music festivals including the Hebridean Celtic Festival, Glasgow’s Celtic Connections or T in the Park.
No, this is simply a sample of those festivals which celebrate the best of natural Scotland – a little food, drink and culture thrown in for good measure !
10. Torridon Walking Festival (mid-October)
In one of the finest mountain environments anywhere, the Torridon Walking Festival features a range of guided high- and low-level walks. For the adventurous there are a range of opportunities to go mountaineering, rock climbing and kayaking nearby.
9. The Enchanted Forest (throughout October)
This award-winning festival uses the backdrop of Faskally Wood near Pitlochry, in the heart of Perthshire’s ‘Big Tree Country’, for magnificent light show put to an original music score. It’s now been going for ten years. Having visited it, it’s a spectucular event with the whole of Pitlochry sharing in the buzz that surrounds the festival.
8. Fort William Mountain Festival (late February)
The Forth William Mountain Festival is a celebration of mountain cultures in the UK’s Outdoor Capital. It incorporates a series of lectures by leading mountaineers and climbers, opportunities to have a go at snowboarding, ice climbing and mountain biking, together with a film night featuring the best of the Banff Mountain Film Festival.
7. Scottish Traditional Boat Festival (3rd week in June)
Portsoy, on the Aberdeenshire coast, is host to a unique maritime and cultural festival. The 20th annual festival takes place in 2013 including various sailing and rowing events, dance, music, sports and local food.
6. Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival (early May)
Come and discover the traditions and passions behind the unique Speyside Single Malt Whiskies in distilleries along the world-reknowned River Spey. The Whisky Festival offers plenty to suit every visitor’s taste – from sipping single malts and drambling from distillery to distillery to watching wildlife, savouring the flavour of local food, getting to grips with challenging golf courses or dancing the night away at a local ceilidh.
5. Stonehaven Fireballs Festival (Hogmanay)
Dating back to the Middle Ages and earlier, around 45 participants swing parade up and down Stonehaven’s High Street enthusiastically swinging fireballs above their heads. The origin of the festival is unclear; the ceremonial fires were either intended to ward off demons and witches or to mimic the sun’s life-giving power to plants, animals and humans. Either way, it’s a real spectacle.
4. Isle of Arran Mountain Festival (mid-May)
Arran is one of Scotland’s most accessible islands and this four-day festival features a range of guided walks among Arran’s impressive mountain ridges and hills.
3. The Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Championship (early October)
The 20th World Porridge Making Championships take place in the Highland village of Carrbridge. Competitors from as far afield as Denmark, Germany, Sweden, USA, and England (as well as those from Scotland) to compete for the coveted Golden Spurtle trophy and – shock, horror – the 2012 Championships were won by an Englishman !
2. Scottish Borders Common Ridings (throughout June and July)
Having met my wife on Gala Day, when we both lived in the Scottish Borders, I have a real soft spot for the Common Ridings. They date back to the 13th and 14th centuries when the border lands were often fought over by raiders (or reivers) from the major Borders families. Townspeople would ride their boundaries, or ‘marches’, to protect their common lands and prevent encroachment by neighbouring landlords. These days, the common ridings are the most important celebration of local traditions and history, featuring lots of horses, bunting and drinking !
1. Up Helly Aa (late January)
Shetland’s ‘Up Helly Aa’ Festival dates from the 1880s and centres around a series of marches, a torchlit procession and the burning of a Viking galley. Guizer Jarl is the leader of the Vikings for the day and together with his ‘Squad’ (of between 50 and 70 men), they lead the day’s events. The following day is a public holiday in Shetland to allow the locals to recover.