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A Guide to Offbeat Scottish Festivals & Events

There are numerous traditional events and competitions held during the course of the year in Scotland which celebrate the country's long and colourful heritage.

Up Helly Aa

Up Helly Aa takes place every year in Shetland on the last Tuesday of January and marks the end of Yuletide. The day is led by the Guizer Jair and his 'squad' who dress up as Vikings for the day. The Guizer Jarl and his Jarl Squad design and make their own costumes every year with no two suits allowed to be the same. A new shield design is also commissioned each year to fit in with the theme of the squad uniforms.

Once all properly attired and breakfasted on Up Helly Aa Day the guizer's start their first march at 8.30am. The squad carry a 'galley' or Viking longship as they march. The galley takes several months to construct and is painted in a colour that complements the Jarl's uniform.

The marchers stop at Market Cross and to view a painted 'bill' or sign before heading off to the Bressay Ferry Terminal for photographs. There is then a formal reception at the Town Hall followed by squad visits to local primary schools, the hospital and the Shetland Museum. At 7.30pm in the evening the Guizer Jarl signals to the procession to light their torches. The torch procession then completes one final march before throwing their torches on to the galley.

Fireball Whirling

The Stonehaven Fireball Whirling takes place as part of the annual Scottish Hogmanay celebrations. Originally a fisherman's festival, legend has it that the fireballs ward off evil spirits and bring luck to the local fishermen. Over 100 kilt wearing participants carry chains with flaming balls on the end, whirling them around their heads as they march through the town accompanied by a local pipe band. At the end of the procession route the burning orbs are thrown into the choppy sea.

Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival

The Spirit of Speyside Whisky festival is held every year starting on the first weekend in May. It is a celebration of the Scottish national drink and gives connoisseurs the chance to learn about the traditions associated with the drink. Speyside has numerous distilleries for you to visit during the festival including the world famous Glenfiddich and Glen Moray Distilleries. A visit to Speyside Cooperage is a must during whisky festival week. It is the only working copperage in the UK and uses only traditional tools and the best oak to make its casks. Accompanying the whisky festival is the 'Spirit of Speyside Sessions', a music event celebrating traditional Scottish music.

Highland Games

Definitely one of the most famous Scottish events, the Highland Games held annually in Dunoon are a must for anyone looking to learn more about Scottish culture and heritage. There are numerous events that make up the games with the Caber Toss probably being the most famous. The caber is a wooden beam that is 19 feet in length. It is thought that the caber toss originated due to the need for highland inhabitants to toss logs over gulley's in order to be able to cross to the other side. Other events include the stone-put, the Scottish hammer throw and the sheaf toss. As well as athletic disciplines the games also incorporate drumming, piping and dancing competitions.

Golden Spurtle

For those who have never heard of a 'spurtle' it may not be immediately obvious that the Golden Spurtle is the name of the world porridge making competition. A spurtle is a Scottish kitchen utensil that is traditionally used for stirring porridge in such a way as to stop it congealing. Held in Carrbridge, the competition is open to amateur and professional chefs alike. There is a prize for the best traditional porridge as well as a secondary competition to find the best speciality porridge. Rules state that competitors in the traditional porridge category can only use untreated oatmeal, water and salt in their recipes. In 2013 the organisers of the Golden Spurtle teamed up with Mary's Meals to launch 'World Porridge Day' to try and raise awareness of the charities work in feeding thousands of school children across Malawi.

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