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Hogmanay in Stonehaven

Hogmanay apparently is the Scots word for the last day of the year and is synonymous with the celebration of the New Year in the Scottish manner. I can’t really remember when I first heard about it, I just randomly stumbled upon it earlier last year. And, while looking for images from various Scottish cities, I noticed the one in Stonehaven. People hurling giant fireballs? Unique in the world? Well … I definitely had to see that. A big plus was also the fact that M lives in Aberdeen, only a few miles from Stonehaven. So there was no need for a better excuse for a short trip to Scotland 😀

Stonehaven is a small town in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. It lies on Scotland’s northeast coast and grew around an Iron Age fishing village and expanded inland from the seaside. At present day the town’s primary industries are marine services and tourism. Dunnottar Castle is another important landmark. Another attractive feature of the town is the long beach facing the North Sea, with large cliffs at either end sheltering small rock pools and inlets. The local harbour features the Tolbooth, the town’s small museum of local heritage.

I’ve been there once before but just to visit the castle, so it seems that even if it’s a small town, I’ve still got things to see 🙂

I’m not sure what hogmanay actually means and even wikipedia says it’s etymology is obscure, but for me it now means a cool street celebration, drunk Scots, giant fireballs, it smells of something singed and tastes like dark ale 😛

Our evening started in the last day of the year, around 7 pm, just a few hours after I landed in Scotland 🙂 We headed to a bus station in the center of Aberdeen where a couple of buses were waiting. There was also a New Years concert in Stonehaven so everything was well organised with buses to take people from Aberdeen city center (and other neighbouring cities) to Stonehaven! We arrived in Stonehaven around 8 so we had some hours to spend before the ceremony.

The bus stop was just outside the city center. We only knew the ceremony was going to take place on the main street, but we had no idea which was it. So we just followed the rest of the people towards the harbour. The town was pretty quiet at that point, as people were just starting to arrive. On our way to the harbour we discovered the High Street, the one where the celebrations were going to take place and decided on a good spot for watching the show.

Then, we headed for the harbour 🙂 On the way, we found a small place that served stovies. I’d never had stovies before and they didn’t look very appetizing, but I have to admit they were yummy! The timing was also perfect since I was just starting to get hungry 🙂 By this time, more and more people were gathering on the streets.

We also passed a place that sold deep-fried mars bars, but I was too afraid to taste them! I was also full from the stovies, so I did have a good excuse not to taste the things, but still … deep-fried mars?!? There was a queue in front of the place though … And I still wonder what they tasted like, so maybe I will try them with the next occasion …

In the harbour we had a short walk and then found an empty spot at one of the few pubs 🙂 I randomly picked an ale based on its name and, predictably, I got one of my least favourite kinds: dark ale. To my defense, ‘snowy winter ale‘ sounded like a really cool drink! We hung around there for a while until people started getting up and heading to town. So, around 10ish, we headed to the spot we had previously picked out.

Luckily we managed to find an empty spot! There were loads of people at this point and the street was all prepared with protective fences and everything. Some windows and balconies were also full of people watching from above.

It was also not so quiet anymore! And so we waited with the rest of the crowd …

Stonehaven street Hogmanay

Around 11.30 the people started stirring! It was finally starting!! It was the music we heard first and then, we saw them! The ones to open the celebrations were a band of pipers! Who else could have opened a Scottish celebration? 😛

Hogmanay pipers

They passed by us and went all the way to the end of the street and back.

Hogmanay pipers

Next came a band of drummers. Unlike the pipers, these were very colorfully and diversely dressed. They also decorated their drums with lights, quite a show! They followed the same path as the drummers and then went off.

Hogmanay drummers

And then, right after the clock stroke midnight, we saw the fireballs!

Hogmanay fireballs first glimpse

I didn’t manage to count how many people there were, but they were surely more than I expected. They were of all ages and sizes 🙂 Some dressed in kilts, some dressed in casual wear. All holding a giant fireball tied at the end of a chain and hurled around and around their heads. They spun them pretty close to the audience too! We could feel the heat from them and also after a while the singed smell. Whooosh whooooosh they went all the way to the end of the street and back. A few times!

Hogmanay fireballs

The fireballs did not look light at all … nor easy to hurl. After a few passes the hurlers were starting to look tired. Sparks were flying everywhere and also the smell was getting heavier. And nothing looked safe 😛 Yes, I was starting to get paranoid and imagining the huge balls flying into the audience, but nothing like that happened 🙂 Everything turned out perfect!

Hogmanay fireballs

After a while they headed back towards the harbour and hurled the fireballs into the sea! 🙂 Everyone headed that way to see as the giant fireballs sizzled away.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the last one disappear in the waves as we had to catch the bus back to Aberdeen and we started heading to the bus station a bit after the first balls were thrown in the sea.

But, on the way to the bus station, we did get to see the fireworks!

Hogmanay fireworks

I’m glad I discovered this unusual NYE custom and got to see it! It was certainly memorable! I really loved the atmosphere!

What was the most unusual NYE celebration you attended?

Here’s a video on youtube to help you get the picture of what it entails:

Useful info:

  • the official site of the ceremony is here
  • there was also a concert going on in the town center so they had buses from various nearby cities to Stonehaven 🙂 Everything was really well organised.
  • if you are looking for a cool place to eat, I’d recommend the Creel Inn. It’s not easily accessible, around 15 mins by car, but the view from there is great and I really enjoyed the food. Particularly the crab soup 🙂 And I also tasted samphires for the first time … they were … interesting …
  • search for great accommodation in Stonehaven

Info sources:

trip date: New Years Eve 2014-2015

2 Comments

  1. Anisa · April 4, 2017 Reply

    Very interesting. I thought Hogmanay was the name of the celebration in Edinburgh. I didn’t realize they had Hogmanay in other cities. This one is really interesting but it does sound really dangerous. I was worried it was going to end with something or someone catching on fire, but glad that it didn’t.

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