Burn Baby Burn

Fire Festivals. Now then, here’s something that has intrigued me for a number of years. Yeah, ok, we were all intrigued by building bonfires as kids, but a few years back I had the absolute pleasure of attending the correfoc, (fire run) which is part of the annual Catalan, La Merce Festival in Barcelona. Now this thing blew me away. Hundreds of devils and dragons are quite literally run out of the city in an inferno of flames and fireworks. It’s a health and safety nightmare and it’s utterly fantastic. I couldn’t help feeling jealous that we were so reserved, and safety conscious that we could never have this sort of spectacle back home.

However… I was wrong, we do have scattered around the country groups of nutters, enthusiasts, who do have their own fire festivals which sound like they could give the Catalans a run for their money… and we’ve got some here in the north too.  Steeped in Viking, Celtic, Anglo Saxon and ancient British traditions. Check out some of these bad boys;

The Burning of the Clavie. (Jan 11, Burghead, nr Elgin, NE Scotland)

The Clavie, a half barrel filled with tar and wood shavings, is nailed to a post and then set alight, and then paraded clockwise round the town, before being sat on an alter in a stone fort on Doorie Hill. Then they chuck more fuel on, until the entire hillside blazes. Witnesses have said the burning Clavie bears a spooky resemblance to the closing scenes from the film The Wicker Man. Cracking stuff.

The Allendale Tar Barrel Festival. (Dec 31, Allendale, Northumberland)

45 Whisky barrels filled with burning tar…Yes!! Burning tar! Are balanced on the heads of hereditary barrel carriers called “Guisers” and paraded around the town. (no indication of whether that’s clockwise or anti-clockwise)… so there’s flames and sparks flying everywhere and eventually the barrels are used to make a huge bonfire, with onlookers shouting “Be damned he who throws last!” Bonkers!

The Stonehaven Fireball Festival. (Dec 31, Stonehaven, nr. Aberdeen)

A parade of sixty kilt clad, marchers accompanied by pipes and drums, whirling 16 pound balls of fire on wire ropes around their heads. They make their way through the town centre and then they… (quote) “Throw their flaming balls into the sea.” Check out the Youtube link here. Class.

The Comrie Flambeaux Procession. (Dec 31, Comrie, 19 miles west of Perth)

Now this one is basically a torch parade through the town. Except these flaming torches are massive… about 10 feet tall. Paraded through the town, and then thrown from a bridge into the River Earn, ridding the town of the years evil spirits in a very correfoc sort of way.

Up Helly Aa. (last Tuesday in January, Lerwick, Shetland)

Now this appears to be the mother of all fire festivals. Billed as Europe’s Biggest Fire Festival, Up Helly Aa is a 24 hour Viking party, with over 1000 torch carrying Vikings and flaming tar barrels. The Vikings are even referred to as “Guizar Jarl’s Squad.” Guizer’s again, just as in Allendale! The whole event culminates in the burning of a bloody great big Viking Longship.


By Dave on October 21, 2009

Check out all the pics

3 Comments RSS Comment Feed

  1. I live in Stonehaven, fire ball festival is fab,with pipers, drummers, flaming balls and lots of very merry people. Best of all it happens on my street! Well worth a visit, great athmosphere.

    Comment by Helen Swan — November 28, 2009 @ 1:14 am

  2. Helen, would you consider covering this year’s fest for the site? I’m personally very interested in this sort of thing… ( Hmm!!… does that make me sound like an arsonist?) Get in touch!

    Comment by dave — November 28, 2009 @ 10:29 pm

  3. [...] Associated posts: Stonehaven Fireball Festival: http://thenorthernline.com/2009/10/21/burn-baby-burn [...]

    Pingback by The Carron Fish Bar. Stonehaven « The Northern Line — May 20, 2010 @ 12:50 pm

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