The Torchlight Procession

The Torchlight Procession 2015

Edinburgh has its fair share of world-class annual festivals, but one of my personal favourites is Edinburgh’s Hogmanay – a three day annual celebration that welcomes in the New Year. As I was going to be going along in any case, I was delighted to be asked by the organisers to cover the festivities as part of #blogmanay.

The first and arguably my favourite part of the festival is the Torchlight Procession, where thousands of people take to the streets to bid a fond farewell to the year in one of the most poignant and breathtaking sights you will ever see.

Up Helly' Aa Viking

You can go along to the Torchlight Procession as a torchbearer or as a spectator. Of course you can go along and watch for free, or if you want to carry a torch you can buy a voucher in advance from Edinburgh’s Hogmanay. This year the torches cost £12, with 5% of the proceeds going to UNICEF.

I was really lucky to have a spot at the start of the procession this year – believe me, that hasn’t always been the case! I remember in previous years rocking up around 10 minutes before the thing was about to start and thinking that would be okay… and sure it was in the end, but it did mean we got caught in a huge rammy of people trying to get into their positions! If you have the same idea next year, I would personally aim to get there around half an hour beforehand to make sure you get a good place in line.

Pipe Major

Leading up the front of the torchlight procession are local pipe bands who provide the music for the march, and the Up Helly Aa Vikings who come down all the way from Shetland to get the Hogmanay spirit going! With brilliant costumes and massive torches, it’s always worth trying to catch a glimpse of these guys if you can.

Lighting the torches at the beginning of the Torchlight Procession

Our torches aren’t as big as the Vikings’, but once their torches are lit  the flame soon spreads among the crowd. I don’t know where the initial light comes from, but the unspoken rule is that everyone lights everyone else’s. Seeing strangers offering each other ‘lights’ is just the epitome of the collaborative spirit of the Edinburgh people during this time of year, and it’s definitely one of the most touching moments during this magical evening.

The Torchlight Procession coming down the Mound

Once the torches are lit, the torchbearers make their way along the short route through the city centre. This year the route went down The Mound, along Princes Street then up to the top of Calton Hill. I tried but struggled to take pictures that illustrate the sheer scale of this thing – this year was the biggest Torchlight Procession yet, with 10,000 torchbearers and around 35,000 spectators making for a total 45,000 participants – a sea of glowing flames, hopeful people and an absolutely electric atmosphere.

The Torchlight Procession finishes at the top of Calton Hill, where after a short ceremony the bonfire is lit. Even this on it’s own is a sight to behold, as the flames catch in front of the breathtaking panorama of the city.

Bonfire on Calton Hill at the end of the Torchlight Procession

You’d think after that the evening would be over, but oh no, there is still more to come! Depending on when you arrive on the top of Calton Hill, there might be a little bit of a wait but then there’s the grand finale: the Son et Lumière fireworks display.

It’s probably worth reminding you at this point that this is the WARM UP ACT for the main fireworks show the following night at Hogmanay. As I write this on the morning of the big street party, I really am wondering what they could possibly have up their sleeves tonight that could trump this wonderful display!

The Fireworks at the end of the Torchlight Procession

The Torchlight Procession is a magical evening and an essential part of the Edinburgh’s Hogmanay experience. If you come along to the celebrations next year (which you TOTALLY should) then be sure to plan this into your itinerary.

If you want to find out more about #blogmanay and all the lovely talented people that are taking part this year (seriously – I have no idea how I managed to sneak my way into this awesome cohort!) then be sure to check out the #blogmanay hub over at the Edinburgh’s Hogmanay website.

This post is one of a three part series on #blogmanay, brought to you by the lovely people behind Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, Unique Events, and is supported by ETAG, Marketing Edinburgh, Rabbies Tours and co-creators Haggis Adventures. Even though I have been asked to cover these events by the organisers, it doesn’t change the fact that I think Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is pretty awesome.

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