Citizens have been making their living from the North Sea in what is now Stonehaven on the eastern coast of Scotland since prehistoric times. They have accomplished a few other things there too: created a culture of whirling fireballs on chains round the streets on New Year’s Eve, built a castle which holds for more than eight centuries, hosted poet Robert Burns, and Mary Queen of Scots…and invented the deep fried Mars bar. They also have a lively music festival in July of each year.
This year, Stonehaven Folk Festival, happens on the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th of July, with headline acts such as Old Blind Dogs, vital, innovative ambassadors of traditional music, Brian McNeill, Frank Robb, together with a roster of regional acts. In Scotland, the world ceilidh refers to a vigorous crowd with music, dance, and lots of excessive spirits. There are several of these during the festival, including one called the Aqua Ceilidh, which is actually held in the town’s outdoor swimming pool.
Think a minute about geography: Scotland is in northern Europe, and Stonehaven is on the same latitude as southern Norway. Not so many outdoor pools in Scotland. The folk festival helps keep things hopping in the summer, but when it comes to New Year’s Eve, it’s the Fireballs Festival. A pipe band leads the way marching along the High Street followed by citizens of the town whirling balls of fire made of wood, pitch and other burning things, through the street and down to the harbour, where they throw them into the sea as the new year is rung in. Linked in idea to ancient winter fire festivals, Stonehaven’s has been going on for more than a century.
At Hogmanay 2012, Stonehaven Festivals and Events Group are staging Open Air in the Square which will be headlined by the renowned Red Hot Chilli Pipers and spectators can watch live footage of the Fireballs processions as it is streamed to a large screen.
Dunnottar Castle just outside the town, has watched more than a few fire festivals: it was built in the twelfth century as a strategic lookout across the North Sea. A walk among its ruins, supported by the crash of the sea and the cries of sea birds, immediately evokes other times and other places.
Then there are those Mars bars. The folk at the Carron Fish Bar, formerly known as the Haven, lay claim to the introduction of this treat, in which a Mars candy bar is deep fried in the sort of batter used for fish, chicken and the like. They fired up their preliminary in 1995, so the story goes, and its recognition has only grown since.
So while you are in Stonehaven, you will like to keep your ear out for good music, try a fish dinner fresh from the sea, take a walk through the historic castle, and you may just want to pay a visit to the place where the great fried Mars bar was born.