Celebrating Hogmanay in Edinburgh has been a goal of mine for a long time. Like most of the Christmas celebrations I have endured, New Years Eve has always managed to be a total let down. Such a big fuss made for a night that is usually pretty sub par.
Hogmanay in Edinburgh is the exception!
I should start by mentioning that my chosen hostel, The Lighthouse Hostel, has got to be one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in. I chose it mainly for the good location and for the somewhat decent price of accommodation over Hogmanay (a £10 per night hostel will become a £50 per night hostel during the New Years period). It is a good idea to book early too, I met numerous people who could not find any accommodation in Edinburgh so were staying in Glasgow instead, and they had an unpleasant bus ride home waiting for them on New Years Day!
So, The Lighthouse Hostel! When you enter, there is a common room on the right hand side full of comfy couches and a huge projector and screen to watch films on. The beds are seriously comfortable, and the pillows are big and soft. The kitchen has great facilities and the bathrooms are clean.
Little hint: out of the three bathrooms (one on each floor) the bathroom on the top floor is the least busy and has the best water pressure by far.
So I arrived on December 30 and I was ready for some Hogmanay fun. I had organised passes for the Torchlight Procession, the Street Party, the Concert in the Gardens and also for the Loony Dook.
Up first was the Torchlight Procession, however due to a shopping cart error, I had accidentally organised two torches, so I was keen to make some new friends and give one away! Lighthouse made that seriously easy, a little time in the common room and I had found two fellow Aussies – Jay and Sarah – and two lovely Brazilian girls to go to the procession with. So before too long we had all rugged up in our warm clothing and we were off to the meeting area on George IV Bridge. It was truly and unbelievably massive! Everybody was packed in like sardines, waiting to get their torches lit, with hands freezing cold, big smiles at every turn and the rumbles of excited chatter growing louder and louder. We were in the middle of the huge crowd, so we had to wait a little while once the procession was announced as officially begun, but not too long that we became over the whole thing.
After lighting our torches and taking a few minutes to stop for the obligatory photos, we were off! The march itself felt like it went far too quickly. We spent the entire time jumping around (probably not the safest thing to do), smiling, laughing, pretending to be Gandalf and telling people that they “shall not pass” and making sure we didn’t lose each other in the crowd – I am pretty sure that between us three Australians we must have uttered the phrase “where is Brazil?” about a hundred times that night.
We also had a little competition going about who could make their torch last the longest. Being the somewhat competitive person that I am, it was of course my lovely torch who came out of battle the surviving gladiator.
Along the way to the final destination – Carlton Hill – we were in the middle of an intense discussion about the merits of all the different fish and chip shops and which one we should have a late night snack in (my only contribution being that I didn’t care where we went as long as I could get my deep fried Mars bar) when we were interrupted by a group of Vikings! Obviously not real Vikings, but their costumes were fantastic and they were more than happy to indulge me in my request for a photo.
Once we made it to Carlton Hill we had no idea what to expect, so the following display of fireworks that was easily the most incredible, big, brilliant, colourful and wonderful I had ever seen was a more than welcome surprise. I will never forget standing on Carlton Hill, my cheeks hurting from smiling so much, and singing along to the Adele song blasting from the speakers. It really was an amazing night, and the perfect way to start the New Years Celebrations.
So, after such a great Torchlight Procession experience, it was always going to be tough for New Years Eve to be as good. I must admit, I am not the biggest drinker, but I did get suitably sloshed on this night. After downing at least four gin and tonics and around four huge pints of cider, it was off to the concert in the gardens and the street party. We did not actually end up staying long enough at the concert to see the Pet Shop Boys (regret!) but Chvrches and Django Django were playing in the street party, so off we went!
Getting anywhere was a challenge and a half, the crowds were truly massive. In the end we ended up kind of sandwiched in somewhere on Princes Street. I vaguely remember fireworks and gin and kissing this cute guy from Glasgow. Then the memory sort of fades away and the next thing I remember is waking up with a hangover that was about a 7/10 in strength. I am pretty sure I had a good night, but really, who knows?
It is actually a miracle I woke up on time in the morning. I remember waking up and wondering why I had woken up so early. I had set an alarm on my phone so that I would be up in time to get to the Loony Dook, however in my inebriated state I had put my phone on the lowest possible vibration setting and on silent. So all I could hear was the faintest buzzing, and it miraculously was enough to wake me up! I was obviously destined to make it to the Dook.
After getting up, packing a little backpack, changing into my tiny little outfit and putting on some make up, I was off to catch the little shuttle bus to South Queensferry. It was so freezing cold that morning, around 2-3 degrees, and I was definitely not appropriately dressed.
For those who do not know what the Loony Dook is, it is annual event where 1000 participants give £10 to charity which gives them to opportunity to dress up in crazy costumes, march through South Queensferry and go for a dip in the freezing waters of the Forth River. You don’t have to be crazy to participate, but it helps!
So I was clad in a little tartan skirt and little tartan scarf masquerading as a bikini top. I do believe it was the coldest I have ever been in my life (at least until I got to Iceland). I had befriended a lovely couple dressed as Batman and Robin and we were chatting as we waited to start marching, but the standing around and not moving was the worst thing we could possibly have been doing in the cold. If it weren’t for some of the alcohol from the previous night still running through my veins, I may not have coped so well. I will say this though, the hangover I woke up with? As soon as I was barely dressed in the cold air, it vanished!
After a while it was finally time to march! This was so much fun, and it helped distract me from the fact that I couldn’t feel my poor toes. There were lots of people gathered around to watch the crazy people who actually dared to jump in the water, and checking out all of the costumes was awesome. Then we hit the rocky beach and it was time to take the plunge.
So putting in my feet was alright, they were already pretty numb. Getting in as far as my knees was a bit cold but still okay. Then I really took the plunge in and let the water go right up to my waist. Imagine the coldest you have ever been, and then imagine it being about 5 times colder. I did end up going right up to my shoulders but that was really bloody hard!
It was certainly a unique way to spend New Years Day, and as cold as it was, I would do it again in a heartbeat! It took me about an hour and about 6 good sized drams of whiskey to feel warm again, but it was so definitely worth it.
Hogmanay in Edinburgh was amazing! I will definitely be back to do it all again, hopefully soon.
What do you think? Would you be down to do The Loony Dook?
Getting to Edinburgh: One of Scotlands largest air and rail hubs – you’ll have lots of options
Lighthouse Hostel: This is a well located backpackers, dorm beds start at £10 per night but these prices go up dramatically during Hogmanay
Booking: I booked all tickets, torches and Loony Dook participation months in advance to avoid disappointment
Camera: Images captured with an iPhone 4s
Remember: Subjecting yourself to the cold is an unpleasant but highly effective hangover cure