The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

Burns Light Festival in Dumfries

January 25th is celebrated in Scotland in honour of Robert Burns the national poet, and this year was the 250th anniversary of The Bard’s birth.

Dumfries, home of Rabbie for the last 5 years or so of his life, decided on a major celebration in the town and announced the Burns Light Festival, which would include thousands of people carrying lanterns through the town, live bands, an address from the First Minister and the burning of a giant willow figure of Tam O’Shanter (the man in the Burn’s tale, not the hat).

For several months, lantern making workshops have been going on across the region. In fact Maggie has run about ½ a dozen of them.

Here are Maggie & Meg about to set off on the procession with the lanterns they made

Now for a candle-lit lantern procession, you need 2 things to make your lanterns light up – candles and darkness.

Yet someone, in fact many people, as there were countless committee meetings and, I guess, no decent leadership, decided in their infinite wisdom to have the lantern procession shortly after 3pm.

Even in Scotland at this time of year, the sun doesn’t set before 4.30pm.

Rumour has it they wanted the festivities over early because all the high heid yins had a fancy Burns Supper to go to later in the evening.

Also, about 10 days before the festival, someone (or several committees) decided candles in glass jars in the lanterns was a health and safety risk so thousands of glow-sticks were ordered and distributed. Unfortunately it required about 30 of these pathetic little things to equal the lighting power of one nightlight.

But hell, it was bright daylight so it made no difference anyway.

However, the burning of the willow sculpture on the River Nith, was spectacular, and at least the sun had gone down before it was set alight.

I’ve been following the progress of the sculpture, from the welding of the metal frame, through the layers being built up and the transporting it to the river, so I needed to try and find a decent spot to photograph the final burning.

I did find one, but had to stay there for a good 1½ hours to keep the spot.

For those unfamiliar with the tale of Tam O’Shanter, the sculpture depicts a moment when Tam, on his horse, Meg, is trying to escape the witch who has just grabbed hold of the horse’s tail.

Now, do thy speedy utmost, Meg,
And win the key-stane o' the brig;

There at them thou thy tail may toss,

A running stream they dare na cross.

But ere the key-stane she could make,

The fient a tail she had to shake!

For Nannie, far before the rest,

Hard upon noble Maggie prest,

And flew at Tam wi' furious ettle;

But little wist she Maggie's mettle -
Ae spring brought off her master hale,

But left behind her ain gray tail;

The carlin claught her by the rump,

And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.

For the full story, click here: where there’s also a translation for you non-Scots speakers.

Anyway, here are a couple of pics. For anyone linked to me on Facebook, there are a few more in the Tam O’Shanter album.

The willow sculpture of Tam, his horse and the witch on the River Nith

Close up of the sculpture

Flares go off as it starts

Up in flames


Eryl said...

Bugger I missed it! We did have haggis for supper last night though, so I guess that's something. Good burning pics.

Fat Lazy Guy said...

Wow, that sculpture looked amazing.

Sorry to hear the elites made the lantern procession not as good as it could have been.

Anonymous said...

Committees.... please. Down here in the Keys, no one would listen and everyone would do what they wanted with the lanterns and candles--after dark. :) Um, it was 78 here today and the sun sets around 6 p.m. Come visit!

Restaurant Gal said...

Oops, that was me...Anonymous.

debra said...

The sculpture is amazing, and Maggie and Meg's lanterns are wonderful.Too bad that decisions by committee oft make no sense!

the broken down barman said...

good pics my man
what did u think of the dangleberries??
only the 2nd time ive seen them

karatemom said...

Thank you ..thank you ..for sharing this information with me....Its all very interesting.

Kim Ayres said...

Eryl - I had a good veggy haggis once, but I can't abide the real stuff.

FLG - it was amazing, especially close up too

RG - only 78? it must have felt quite chilly where you are ;)

Debra - I still find it dificult to believe a lantern procession was organised to happen when it was light. Even one hour later would have made all the difference.

BD Barman - ah, you are local! I was on the other side of the river, so didn't see much, but the sounds coming across the water were pretty good

KarateMom - I had you in mind when I wrote this post, so hopefully you can let go of your image of a giant hat being burned :)

Carole said...

Your pictures are excellent.

I like the lanterns but think the glow stick idea had to come from the US congress. No one with any sense at all thought that through.

savannah said...

i loved their lanterns! i think i'd light mine every night! xoxo

(thanks for everything, sugar!)

Conan Drumm said...

Fantastic piece of sculpture!

Mary Witzl said...

That willow sculpture is incredible! Too bad you couldn't have real candles, but I'll bet the fire brigade breathed a sigh of relief.

We celebrated Burns Night by making the Turkish equivalent of haggis, plus tatties, neeps, and shortbread plus a little bottle of Cypriot whiskey. It was weird, but it all worked pretty well.

the broken down barman said...

never said i was local!!! was in dumfries for the weekend. really nice place. is that where u are from?

Kim Ayres said...

Carole - I've recently seen a press release which said something like, "as darkness began to fall, the lanterns were lit..." What utter bollocks!

Savannah - :)

Conan - it was indeed

Mary - Can you get Cypriot Whiskey? Must come from the Greek side, as the Turkish side is Islamic

BD Barman - I'm about 20 miles west :)

Sarah said...

bureaucracy strikes again.

the sculpture looked beautiful, well done on the photos! shame about the lanterns though.

shug said...

your photos are a lot better than mine and I had to leave early so didn't see the immolation. I thought it a bit daft about the lanterns, but it was the polis outside the Coach and Horses i thought most ridiculous, however, pushing peaceable folk with drinks in plastic tumblers back in. Nothing like the nation's finest to sour the atmosphere.
All in all I thought the town did well, and it was nice to see the streets reclaimed by so many good natured citizens of Dumfries. Can I nick your burning Tam picture for my blog?

Kim Ayres said...

Sarah - thanks Sarah :)

Shug - welcome to my ramblings and thanks for taking the time to comment. No problem about using any of the pics, although a wee acknowlegement would be nice :)

Mary Witzl said...

The Turkish side may be Islamic, but not so you'd notice, at least when it comes to alcohol. Believe me, there is a LOT of drinking done in TRNC, and it's not all by British expatriates. Even some of the more conservative stores sell just about every kind of alcohol you can think of. If you ever visit, give the Cypriot tequila a miss...

PI said...

Thanks for the memory - we did it at school. One chap looked very close to the blaze - where were health and safety then? Wretched lot raining on Maggie and Meg's parade.

Kim Ayres said...

Mary - I will keep that in mind :)

Pat - it didn't rain - in fact it was sunny. But that meant there was no chance of any of the lanterns showing upany lights inside them

Ché l'écossais said...

What are these "high heid yins" you speak of, and couldn't you just burn them instead ?

PI said...

Honey I meant metaphorically raining with the committee etc. Sorry for being obscure.

Kim Ayres said...

Ché - hmmm... perhaps if we stuffed them with straw first, it might make them a bit more flamable...

Pat - Sorry for being too literal :)

Anonymous said...

Again, I so love your photos. Thanks for more explanation on the story!
Also, I read your comments, and I'm wondering, how is there such a thing as "veggie haggis"? :)

Kim Ayres said...

Freakazojd - Here's a recipe :)

Aulyin said...

After seeing the fun had at Dumfries in January couldn't they have a Festival of INN-Lightenment involving all the pubs along Whitesands and Brewery Street? They seem to have made a tidy wee sum on the 25th.

Cheers, Aulyin

Kim Ayres said...

An official Homecoming pub crawl?

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