Saturday, 1 January 2011
Last night we made our way down the coast, into the town of Stonehaven for Hogmanay celebrations. We arrived early and strolled around the harbour and up the pier, past all the little fishing boats. Looking up, we could see a line of snow that sat on top of the cliff there, but in the darkness it seemed to hover in the sky. We stopped into a little pub and brought drinks out with us to sit by the water, with the sounds of rocking boats and people talking and laughing all around. It was like arriving in a place you have dreamt.
It was mizzling all around us as we ate dinner, but I would like to think that if there can be "soft days" as a friend from Belfast used to say, there can be soft nights too, and so it was a lovely, soft night and we were hungry and the food was fine. Around 11pm pipe and drum bands started to walk up and down the High Street.
Maybe you can just make out their socks and the tips of their pipes appearing out of the darkness, under the clock tower?
And then as everyone started counting down the last minutes of the old year, as we kissed and shouted in 2011, a bright glow could be seen on the walls of the houses down at the end of the street near the harbour. Then two pipers came walking and piping up the street... and behind them fires swung through the air.
A group of white-haired ladies standing next to me called out the names of the men and women swinging the fireballs, cheering them on.
The lady next to me told me there were 45 people carrying fireballs...
... and that there was a long waiting list of many more people who would like to be carrying them.
One of the men there was in his seventies and had been carrying the fires for over fifty years.
She said the festival had been going on for at least 200 years in written record, though it was surely a lot older than that, but no one could say when exactly it had started.
The fireballs swung so close to us, gave off such heat. Sparks were everywhere and the smell of burning. Sometimes the men or women carrying the fireballs stopped swinging them for a moment and ran over to the sides to kiss someone they knew. And then they were off again, twirling the fires round and round them.
In recent years I've had some good times on New Year's Eve -- last year back in Canada and making the first footsteps in new snow as we followed sounds of music always just past the next hill; the year before in a pigeon house built into a mountain in Cappadocia, Turkey; the year before that speaking with a professor, him in Romanian, us in French, on a train through Romania; and the year before that in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains; and before that, on a train again, going across India woken up by our fellow passengers to celebrate the new year. But all of those were lovely experiences that just happened to fall on New Year's Eve. As far as New Year's celebrations go, this is definitely my favourite of any year.
And finally, the people and fires turned back towards the sea. All of the fireballs were thrown into the harbour, and then the sky filled with fireworks.
A wonderful happy 2011 to you!