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As a dozen giant rubber ducks prepare to race down the River Dee, here’s everything you need to know about the Ballater Duck Festival

The festival in action last year.
The festival in action last year.

England has a Yorkshire Pudding boat race, Wales has an Elvis carnival and Scotland has… a Duck Festival? Philippa Gerrard found out more about one of the more unusual events taking place in the north-east this summer.

Mike Forbes is the organiser of the Ballater Duck Festival. He took the time to take part in a Q&A about the event.

Mike Forbes is the festival organiser.

What is the Ballater Duck Festival?

It’s a one-day event taking place in Ballater on Sunday June 2 and suitable for all the family.

There will be more than 50 stalls from individuals and local businesses selling a whole variety of things, along with food trucks with everything from wood fired pizza to fresh doughnuts.

Of course the main event is the duck race – which is exactly as it sounds. We have 12 giant blow-up ducks which race down the river over the finish line. Then we march the winning duck down the main street with a pipe band.

It needs a fitting celebration after all don’t you think?

When did the festival start?

It started in 2016, about six months after the flood which devastated the village. Storm Frank hit in December of the previous year and just washed much of the village away.

More than 30 businesses were affected and 300 people had to leave their homes. But by the following summer the town was recovering well and we wanted to show the rest of Scotland that we were back in business.

Ballater depends on tourism you see so we wanted to show that it was perfectly safe to return to the area.

The Duck Fest committee.

How did you pick a duck festival?

I think the idea came about in a pub actually..! We wanted a festival which could include the whole village and people of all ages.

We already had Victoria Week in August, so wanted something a bit different near the start of the summer. Somehow, the idea of ducks just stuck. And we are in our fourth year now, so visitors must be enjoying it!

What is your role?

I’m one of six people on the organising committee so we plan and look after all the events which run across the whole day. The Duck Fest Committee we call ourselves.

Tell me some of the events you’re organising? What’s new for this year?

Well the ducks themselves are probably the most important thing to mention.

We used to have a random assortment of ducks in various sizes, but we’ve gone up in the world and now have 12 identical handsome ducks which are huge – well over five feet tall and just as wide.

They are each sponsored by local businesses and there is a Tote where visitors can have a little flutter if they have a good feeling about who the winner is going to be.

But as well as that there are a range of fantastic local trader stalls who will be there on the day. We also have a stage where a couple of local bands will be playing.

And there is plenty in the way of children’s entertainment; bouncy castles, donkey rides, merry-go-rounds and the like.

Busy stalls at the festival.

Has it grown in popularity since you first started?

Oh absolutely, it’s great to see so many people descend on the village for a day of fun.

We don’t run the event for profit so it’s not about making money or charging entry fees.

We just want people to come and enjoy the area and any money we do make is put straight back into the community again. In the past couple of years we’ve donated funds to the Ballater Pipe Band – who pipe the winning duck through the village – and to the Aboyne Canoe Club – who keep the ducks on the straight and narrow as they race down the river.

What’s your prediction for 2019’s winning duck?

Ooh it’s difficult to say. We’ve not had much rain in recent weeks to the river isn’t as high as it usually is at this time of year which can affect things.

And it’s important to take the wind direction into account too.

Two years ago we had a very sharp shower just as the race was about the start which nearly put a spanner in the works. Though nice weather for ducks as you might say.

Why would you encourage people to come along on the day?

It’s a good fun day out for all ages, from toddlers to grannies and grandpas! And it’s one of the first festivals of the year, so the perfect opportunity to get your summer off to a good start.

The Ballater Duck Festival takes place this Sunday June 2 across the village from 10am. For more details, visit