This pagan festival marking the beginning of summer, see’s over 300 local volunteers and over 12,000 attendee’s flock to Edinburgh’s iconic Calton hill for a night of fire, body paint, drums and many other interesting characters, bringing together the four elements (Fire,water,air and earth) to life.
in a procession that moves around Calton Hill over the evening portraying the may queen’s ritualistic courtship with the green man of winter.
There are torchbearers, fire twirlers, as well as the white, blue and the more risque red men and women who lash their bodies with red paint and wear nothing more than a simple loin cloth, which is a feat to be admired in the chilly Scottish weather.
To get an idea of what to expect on the night, see the copy of the flyer for 2014 below.
As well as the procession there are many other small activities going on around the hill from drum circles, fire twirling as well as a fire breathing dragon.
The night starts at around 9:15pm and culminates at midnight with the lighting of giant bon fire which is welcomed by the many cold attendee’s and participants who have been braving the weather. (These start times are for 2014, times could differ year to year)
After the bonfire was lit I headed over to watch a group of drummers and dancers who were performing. The highlight of my night was for their very last song they invited the entire crowd to join them in a what felt like a drum rave party, being surrounded by paint covered dancers and people playing drums.
After the final song had ended everyone left Calton hill to return to their homes… or go to the rumored after party that was happening in “The Caves” a popular venue in Edinburgh. I also heard rumors that it was a Beltane tradition to party the night away and at sunrise strip off all your clothes and run naked up Arthur’s seat. However I cannot confirm if this is true or not
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
When is it on?
The Beltane festival takes place on the last evening of April every year in Edinburgh Scotland, The gates open at 7:30pm and finishes at 1am
How much does it cost?
The event is run by The Beltane Fire Society, a charity group, and tickets are 10 pounds to help cover the cost of setting up amenities like portable toilets etc. Tickets can either be bought in advance by checking the Beltane Fire Society website or at the gate. (I bought mine at the gate at 8:30pm and didn’t have to wait in que)
Food and Drink?
There are a few food trucks inside the event that you can purchase food from. I am not sure if they sell alcohol as well, however most people opted to buy their own alcohol and bring it themselves to the event, Which is allowed. However no glass bottles are allowed in the event, I would recommend buying all the alcohol you need before 10pm though as that is when stores in Edinburgh stop selling alcohol. I took up 4x500ml cans of cider expecting it to be a particularly alcohol heavy event however with the moving procession and having to constantly be on the move, weaving between crowds, and taking photos I found that I was more focused on the event than getting through my drinks.
Tips for Surviving Beltane?
- This is Scotland, It is cold, I had gloves,jeans, a long sleeve shirt, hoodie and a soft shell jacket and I was still getting a bit cold from the light rain and wind up on the hill. My advice is to bring warmer clothes than you think you will need. Especially if your used to the harsh Scottish weather. (Like me being from Australia)
- Get there early, The gates open at 7:30pm and the procession starts at 10pm, There is usually a giant crowd making it very hard to see what is going on. However do not despair, The Procession is constantly on the move so if you are quick and at the front of the crowd you can quickly get to the next stop before the procession does.
Want to be a part of Beltane Fire Festival?
If you want to be more than just an attendee at the Beltane fire festival,They take on volunteers, so whether you want to strip down and cover yourself in red paint and unleash your inner beastie or simply want to help with crowd control there are many ways to participate in the event.
For more information check out the Beltane Society’s official page
Have you ever been to a fire festival?