Hundreds of locals and visitors braved the subzero temperatures in one Moray village to watch the 1,600-year-old tradition of the Burning of the Clavie last night to mark the old New Year.
The procession started amidst a party atmosphere at the house of the Clavie King, Dan Ralph, who is now in his 30th year of his reign.
His role in the event is to ensure that the rituals remain as untouched by modernity as possible.
The fire was struck outside the king’s house with the first cheers led by the crew that has to carry the Clavie before the first smouldering embers are traditionally given to the Station Hotel just round the corner.
David Hill, 60, the proprietor of the hotel said: “This is an exciting night, it is one of the best nights of the year for us.
“This is Burghead’s New Year, everybody gathers for this and it is one of the busiest nights for every business.”
The very tough Clavie crew then carry the burning cask dripping with molten tar along a route down Granary Street following the outline of the ancient Burghead settlement, which was once a Pictish capital. All the time the smoke and the flames from the Clavie is said to be warding off evil spirits.
Along the route the crew would occasionally stop to stoke the fire, change the carrier, and to give certain homes a ‘lucky’ piece of the Clavie to households, some of whom have been receiving it annually for decades.
One such household was Isobel Taylor’s a 59-year-old cleaner at Burghead Primary School.
She was waiting on the street hospitably with a dram for passers-by and was handed a piece of the Clavie by a passing relative.
“The boy that gave it to me was my nephew, he is one of the carriers,” she said.“I get it every year, I have been getting it the past 10 years.”
She explained that to carry the Clavie you have to be born and bred in Burghead.
“His Dad was a carrier, he could carry because be is a Brocher as well – he could carry. Alec my youngest son could carry and my grandson Jamie could carry because they are all Brochers.”
After a few more stops the hardy crew then continued up to Doorie Hill overlooking the Moray Firth, site of the last surviving section of a now ruined Pictish fort, where it is set in the ground and the fire really gets going.
Accompanied by more cheers, more and more casks were piled onto the flames along with tar being poured in after it.
The gathered crowds scrambled to get their hands on the embers which along with those handed out on the route were traditionally used to kindle the New Year’s fire at home and are said to bring good luck.
The charcoal from the Clavie is then gathered and later placed in the chimneys of Burghead to prevent spirits and witches from descending and emerging from under the mantelpiece.
Visitors from all over world fired up by spectacle
The Burning of the Clavie is not just for locals – as was proved by an international turnout to watch the spectacle.
Among those from further afield who had come to Burghead to witness the festivities for themselves was Kristin Keel, 29, from Melbourne, Australia, who works in a school. She said: “I was at Hogmanay, then I heard about this and my friend Chris brought me along.
“It is brilliant, it is so awesome.
“It is so different anything that I have ever seen before. It’s pretty good.”
The friend spreading the fame of the night across the globe was Chris Andrews, 37, a cabinet maker from Elgin,
Despite having lived in the town for some time, last night was his debut.
“Though I have been working here for a few years, this the first time that I have managed to get down,” he said.
“I just wanted to make the effort and have a look to see what is going on.
“It is fantastic, I can’t believe how many people have turned up. When you speak to people they are from all over the place as well, not just from the local area, so it’s very good for the area and for the village, I think.
“We have heard that there are a few local parties going on so we might pop along to one of them, I am sure.”
As for the tradition of getting the wood to ward off the evil spirits coming down the chimney, he said: “We could all be doing with a bit of that, I think.”
The fiery Burghead ritual celebrates Hogmanay according to the Julian calendar by torching a 100kg cask filled with tar and wood that is fastened to a post and marched through the village.
The term Clavie likely comes from the Scottish Gaelic cliabh which has a similar pronunciation and can refer to a basket used for holding combustibles.
Celebrating on January 11 stems from the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in the 18th century which caused huge outcry at the time even triggering public disorder in some villages. However, the people of Burghead simply saw an opportunity to celebrate Hogmanay twice.