Thousands of revellers braved the wintry streets of a Moray village to celebrate a medieval fire festival with the crowds warmed by a burning barrel steeped in creosote and tradition.
Fears the foul weather would harm the event were short-lived as the streets swelled with those eager to see the famous Burning of the Clavie ritual in Burghead.
The unique fire festival – believed to date back to the early medieval period – is a celebration of the ancient Scots Hogmanay, which fell on January 11 before the Gregorian calendar was introduced in Britain in the eighteenth century.
To ward off evil spirits for the New Year ahead, the hefty Clavie – a 100kg barrel filled with wood and tar and mounted on a large post – was carried through the village by the Clavie Crew, led by the Clavie King, Dan Ralph.
The celebrations on Saturday were heightened for the Clavie King this year as his daughter, Amy, made a surprise trip home from South Africa to see her father lead the march.
Before lighting the Clavie, he said: “This is my favourite day of the year. People come back here. Family come home. The exiles are more likely to come back on Clavie night than in the summer, for example, because they know they’ll meet all the other exiles and school friends. These celebrations are unique.”
His daughter, 32, added: “Obviously my family are really involved in it, and I’ve known the Clavie ever since I was a baby. I’ve missed the last three because I’ve lived away, and I couldn’t miss one more, so I just decided a few weeks ago that I was coming back. There’s a sense of community and family and, to me, it’s the proper Hogmanay. It’s something quite special, and that’s an important thing for me.”
A sea of woollen hats and gloves followed the flaming vat through the streets to its end atop a stone altar on Doorie Hill.
A chorus of “hooray the caggie” echoed through the dark, as onlookers encouraged the crew to entice the dancing flames with showers of diesel.
The crew played to the crowd and distributed lucky pieces of the Clavie, as young and old captured the stunning spectacle with wide eyes and smart phones.
A Masters degree in Ethnology and Folklore at Aberdeen University gave American student Casey Jack the chance to experience her first Clavie.
The 32-year-old, from the Niagara Falls area of New York, said: “Tom, the head of my department, is the reason I’m here. He told me to come, and I’m here, and I have my piece of the Clavie.
“I think the Clavie is pretty amazing. It’s nice that it’s a community thing. It’s not a tourist thing, and the weather was fine. I’m from western New York, this is nothing.”
Cameron Hogg, 17, came home for the Clavie from Skye to take up his role as the youngest member of the Clavie Crew.
He said: “Ever since I have been born and brought up around here, so every year I’ve always been watching it and growing up knowing that my grandad used to carry it.
“When I turned 16, my mum thought it was about time that I got involved myself.
“Third year in the crew. I always remember it up on the hill at the end. When you see the barrels of creosote being thrown over it and it flaring up. It’s a spectacular site.
“It’s changed my view of it completely. Seeing it built from start to finish. From nothing to watching it fall at the end of the night, It’s changed everything.
“It’s the one and only — it’s great to carry on tradition and I hope it keeps going.”