Calton Hill for The Beltane Fire Festival

Last Thursday I and thousands of others ascended Calton Hill via Waterloo Place to attend The Beltane Fire Festival. Our tickets were purchased in advance for £5.50 from The Forest Cafe on Bristo Place, but could have been purchased on the night for £7. As we walked up to Calton Hill a myriad of face painted Beltane volunteers offered programmes for sale. After a few pints of lager in Edinburgh we’d decided Calton Hill wasn’t such a big space, so were somewhat dismissive of their attempts; infact we totally dismissed their taunts that “we’ll be lost without a programme”.

A hour later we were, along with thousands of others, slightly tiring of the spectacular twilight view across Edinburgh from Calton Hill. Dozens of red painted Beltane performers stood in the dark and there wasn’t a flame in sight. Surely a delay? Perhaps no matches? We were beginning to feel the cold and duly went for a little walk - to our surprise, fires raged behind the Acropolis and performers swirled infront. Perhaps a programme would have been a good idea after all! Wandering aimlessly amongst the 11,000 people in the crowd became a feature of our night - when a performance was in full flow it was entertaining for a short while, but it was difficult for our group at least to get any sense of continuity from the Beltane Fire Festival.

If, like myself, you don’t know your Green Men from your Red Men or May Queen from the White Women you should read up. My understanding of The Beltane Fire Festival is that it’s a modern interpretation of the ancient Gaelic festival of Beltane, which marked the beginning of Summer.

A woman, researching her thesis, asked if we were at Beltane for pagan reasons. “Ermm no” was our answer - we were slightly bemused - the huge gathering of international visitors and students on Calton Hill suggested we weren’t alone in our viewpoint! The Beltane Fire Festival seems very much like a showpiece than a way of life for its attendees.

It’s clear the Beltane society put a lot of effort into the Beltane Fire Festival, which is really something to saviour. However for the four hours the Beltane Fire Festival ran we found it all a little stop start. Personally Beltane isn’t something we’ll regularly attend.

However, if you’re planning on attending the Beltane Fire Festival next year here are some tips:

  • There’s no need to arrive too early for the festival, as there won’t be any bottlenecks getting up to Calton Hill
  • Bringing your own food and drink (including alcohol) is fine, just make sure you have no glass bottles
  • Calton Hill is a big space so you really need to buy a programme if you want to know where the action is
  • Facilities include portable toilets (although expect a large queue) and food vans (burger, chips, etc.)

One Response to “Calton Hill for The Beltane Fire Festival”

  1. I was there it was fantastic!!!!!

    come to our midsummer exgtravaganza

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