New Year’s Eve began in the lazy way it should – with a lie in. Previous years have taught me that rising later increases the chances of being awake for celebrations into the early hours. So I got up around 10am and began writing down my thoughts on the night before – the Torchlight Procession that had opened Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations had been a thrilling teaser for what would come today.
13:00 A hearty stomach-lining lunch was served at Th’eatery – a restaurant at Edinburgh’s Theatre catered by the fresh food and thinking of Barry Bryson.
14:00 We follow our noses to Brew Lab, an artisan coffee shop around the corner and consume a speciality caffeine fix.
15:00 My boyfriend still has work to do so I leave him in the coffee shop and take a stroll through Edinburgh’s Old Town now that the skies have miraculously cleared. I weave through the animated crowds on the Royal Mile, resist the offer of a ‘Party Kilt for only £20’ and stick my head in the antiques and gift shops on Cockburn Street (*actual name – I swear!).
Something above the buildings catches my eye – there appear to be people swinging through the sky just over the Waverley Bridge. I head over to take a closer look, passing the crew who are doing a sound check on the Waverley Stage where later CHVRCHES and Django Django will perform. The pavement pulses to the sound of the music.
The swing I spied from afar is the Star Flyer at the Christmas Market in St Andrew’s Square. The queue is minimal so I decide to have a go because I think I can get some good pictures up there. The ride takes me 60 metres into the air and I am almost too petrified to open my eyes, let alone get my phone out for a picture. The wind is biting and brings tears to my eyes but when I do prise them open I can see all the way out to sea. Edinburgh Castle, Calton Hill and the waters beyond take turns to flash into my view. We’re rocking and tipping at a disconcerting angle but I don’t want to have put myself through all this for nothing, so I slip my phone out my pocket and try to take some sly photos with frozen fingers. This is what came out.
16:00 I stroll through the rest of the Christmas Markets on Princes Street and grab a mulled wine to warm my fingers and calm my nerves. Princes Street is in the process of being shut down for the street party tonight and the excitement is palpable in the air.
17:00 I meet up with the boyf who has finished his work for the day and we head to a supermarket for supplies for the night. You are allowed to bring your own alcohol to the street party as long as it is not in a glass bottle. We stock up on premixed cans of vodka and tonic and I find individual servings of Rose wine in plastic glasses at Sainsbury’s. Our evening’s supplies cost no more than £10.
Back at the hotel I begin layering on ALL of my clothes; I am little worried about being out in the cold all night. I settle for the following combination:
Tights, jeans, socks, snowboots, 2 t-shirts, 1 jumper, 2 scarves, 1 coat, a hat, earmuffs and gloves.
I grab my #Blogmanay pass and we are ready to go.
18:00 We join the other bloggers celebrating Hogmanay in Edinburgh at the Huxley, a bar/restaurant situated directly at the entrance to the street party. We order burgers and bubbles and get a seat near the window to watch the street party fill up from our position in the warmth.
20:14 Homecoming Scotland (a year of festival and events celebrating the best of Scotland) is launched with a firework display on Calton Hill at exactly 20:14. From our position in the restaurant we can see directly down the road to the display, there are giant white crosses (the Saltire) sketched into the air.
21:00 The party has started! The street party official starts at 9pm and the first of an hourly firework display to mark the count down lights up the Castle. There are 3 stages to choose from, a Concert in the Gardens and a Kelidh taking place. The street is not too busy at this point but there are queues to access the Concert where the Pet Shop Boys will later perform as well as to get into the Kelidh, which seems very popular. We wander around to get our bearings and end up near the Rewinder Stage on The Mound. The DJ’s are playing retro tunes to a visual set of Scottish history and inventions. There is room enough to dance about enjoying our drinks and time flies in a blur of Eurythmic and Stevie Wonder tunes.
22:00 More fireworks? It must be 10pm already? We tear ourselves away from the Rewinder Stage and head to the Waverley Stage where CHVRCHES have begun their set. The stage is at the far end of Waverley Bridge and we can barely get on the bridge as the crowd is so thick. We push our way forwards to get a taste of the baseline I felt rocking the pavement earlier. We’d listened to the CHVRCHES album at our hotel this morning so recognise a good few of the songs, their live set is going down a treat.
More and more people are pushing forward and I begin to feel like I am always in the way. The next act on the stage will be Django Django and they seem to be even more popular with the ever-swelling crowd. In need of a toilet break we begin to make a retreat.
The crowds are much less thick on Princes Street but you can still get a sense of what is going on because of the screens and speakers dotted along it. There are also food trucks and bars spread throughout the event. I’m attracted to one with the words ‘Deep Fried Mars Bar’ on the menu, a Scottish phenomenon I have wanted to try since we arrived here. Surprisingly (or maybe because we’ve had a few drinks) it tastes delicious. We order it from a donut stand so the batter is fairly sweet and they serve it with a dollop of whipped cream. The plate is cleared within minutes.
23:00 My pass gets me access to the Hogmanay Media Centre which is on the top floor of the Mercure Hotel on Princes Street. There are large numbers of portaloos and urinals staggered around the event but I know the bathrooms in the Mercure are heated so we retreat to these (I’m a wimp when it comes to the cold, you can probably tell by now!)
From the 7th floor you can get a spectacular view of the event below. People are piling into Princes Street in preparation for the big firework finale and I can see rows and rows of people moving en masse in the Keilidh below. (One of the bloggers who attended the Keilidh said this was actually a bit of an optical illusion. He described the dance more like a Monet painting – beautiful and coordinated from far away but a mess up close. A fun mess though, he said.)
There is no entry to the street party after 11pm so it seemed everyone was coming in now and selecting their final spot for the midnight fireworks. We raced outside just before the 11pm display and went to work out where would be best for us to see in the new year.
24:00 I’m a shorty so anywhere within a dense crowd wasn’t working out so good for me in terms of seeing the display we knew would come from the Castle and being able to photograph it without any heads in the way. As we had been at the Rewinder Stage earlier we knew it was elevated and less packed than other stages. We headed back up that way and tapped our feet to more retro tunes for the last minutes of 2013.
The whole street is counting down the seconds. Thousands of people chanting: 10, 9, 8. I want to film the moment to be able to show you but most of all I want to be in it. I put my phone away and holler: 5, 4, 3, 2..
Edinburgh Castle erupts – in a good way. For 6 minutes the crowd are transfixed, heads turned to the sky. People ooh and aww. I hear an Aussie voice behind me say, “Blaaady Hell”; I think it belongs to my boyfriend.
Everyone is momentarily stunned when the display finishes in a flash of white light and then quietly I start to hear the words,
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never bought to mind?”
The people around me catch on and suddenly the whole street is screaming “AULD LANG SYNE”. Some of us know the words more than others (I’d had to look them up in the Hogmanay booklet earlier), but it doesn’t matter because everyone is swaying and smiling and celebrating in a way I have seen anywhere else in my life. Couples embrace in the middle of the melee and the Aussie and I do the same.
The music comes back on and the party continues. Some people are trying to make their way out, but in a friendly way, they wish us a Happy New Year as they push past. We step to the side near a barrier as our hotel is at the bottom of the hill so we don’t want to head uphill with the rest of the crowd. The area empties pretty swiftly and we make our way down to Princes Street to see what else is happening.
01:00 The food trucks are shutting up and the last of the evening’s acts are finishing. People are jigging at the Scottish Stage and spilling out from the gardens singing their praises to the Pet Shop Boys. We slowly walk in the direction of our hotel, not wanting the party to be over but loving every minute we have experienced so far.
02:00 There are bars still open along our way home but we are feeling pretty danced out and the allure of the Grilled Chicken shop calls us in. The man has only burgers and chips, and he insists on giving us a portion for free when we suggest we would like to share. We make it home somewhere before 3am with grins plastered across our faces and me not feeling half as cold as I feared.
Edinburgh’s Hogmanay was one of the biggest, best and slickest parties I have ever attended. I couldn’t think of a better way to start the year.
Coming Next: my top tips for celebrating Hogmanay in Edinburgh.
#Blogmanay is brought to you by Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and is supported by ETAG, EventScotland, Homecoming Scotland, VisitScotland, Edinburgh Festivals, Marketing Edinburgh and co-creators Haggis Adventures. Created and produced by Unique Events. As always, all opinions expressed here are entirely my own.