Just for Fun

The Wackiest Scottish Traditions in History

The Wackiest Scottish Traditions in History
By Sophie

Today we're looking at some of the wackiest Scottish traditions. From Haggis Hurling to Coal Carrying us Scots know how to keep a weird tradition going, no matter how strange. Test your knowledge and see how many of these you know.

1. Blackening the Bride and Groom

There is a long-standing tradition, particularly in northern Scottish towns and villages, where a bride and groom are both 'taken captive' by friends and family a few weeks prior to the wedding date. The couple are then paraded around the village for all the community to see.

Commonly, the couple are driven around in an open-backed truck and their journey is accompanied by the clattering and banging of pots and pans by the couple's captors.

There are no strict rules of the 'blackening' itself, with the only rule being that the couple must leave their captivity messy and uncomfortable and that as many of the community as possible see their parade.

Although no one quite knows the origin of the tradition, research suggests that the tradition is linked to an ancient Scottish ritual called 'feet-washing'. It is thought that this washing would have been a somber event, taking place the night before the couple were to wed. From here the ritual developed into the couple's feet being 'blackened' and by the 19th century the ritual had turned into more of the game wee see today.

2. Burning the Clavie

This ancient tradition which is still observed at Burghead Fishing Village. The Clavie is a collection of casks which are split in two. Lighting the construction as a bonfire on the evening of the 11th January (which is New Years Eve in Scotland according to the Julian Calendar). One of the casks is joined together again by a huge nail and then filled with tar. It is then lit and carried around the village until finally being taken to a headland where a ruined alter stands (called the Doorie). From here, the burning cask becomes the center of the bonfire. When the tar barrel falls to pieces, everyone in the village scramble to take a lighted piece with which to light their own New Years fire in their home. Once the bonfire dies, the charcoal from the Clavie is collected and put in pieces up the chimneys of the cottages in the village. This was thought to prevent evil spirits and witches from coming down them and entering the villagers' homes.

3. Redding the House

This ancient tradition is a little like a spring clean, but at New Year. Scottish families would do a major cleanup to get their house ready for New Year. One major feature of the cleanup would be to sweep the fireplace in the home. Once this task was complete, there would be a reading of the ashes from the fireplace - similarly to how some may read tea leaves.

After the big clean up, one of the residents would enter each room in the house with a smoking juniper branch. This was thought to discourage evil spirits and chase away any disease that may be lurking.

4. Haggis Hurling

This unusual sport has been played in Scotland for may years. A widely accepted origin of haggis hurling comes from the tale of a wife, who was preparing a haggis for her husband's lunch. He was out working in the fields cutting peat and there were many rivers running through the crofts as well as bogs. To get to her husband, she would have had to take a considerable detour, so instead she would throw the haggis to him. He would have to catch it with the front apron of his kilt, as dropping it would mean a lunch covered in mud.

In 1977, at the Gathering of the Clans in Edinburgh, the sport of haggis hurling was reborn, with large numbers of clan members desperate to take part. Robin Dunseath had placed an advert in one of Scotland's National papers looking for clan members to take part in a revival of the ancient sport of haggis hurling and the response had been overwhelming. Many of the Clan members believed they were reviving a genuine Scottish tradition. For the next 20 years, Dunseath remained president of the World Haggis Hurling Association. He would send out certificates to champion haggis hurlers worldwide, and even wrote a book called the Complete Haggis Hurler. The book outlined the history and rules of the famous sport. In 2004, Dunseath finally revealed that the entire thing had been a joke and showed that all proceeds had gone to charity, rather than himself.

The official rules of haggis hurling are extremely specific and are enforced by the Hagarian. The Clerk of the Heather starts the event while the Steward of the Heather measures the hurl and confirms that the haggis is still in one piece after it has been thrown.

In terms of the haggis itself, it must be cooked and of a certain weight. For males and females this differs slightly. After the haggis has been inspected to ensure it hasn't been fixed with any firming agents that might keep it together, it is also checked that it has been prepared according o the traditional recipe. The haggis hurler must stand elevated for the throw. This usually takes place on a whiskey barrel. A hurl will win if the haggis has been thrown the furthest and with the most accuracy.

Although Robin Dunseath confessed to his hoax, the sport has not wavered and amongst serious haggis hurlers it remains a popular event at traditional Scottish games.

5. The Kirkwall Ba'

The Kirkwall ba' is a mass football game, which takes place on the streets of Kirkwall, a town in Orkney, Scotland. Every Christmas Eve and Hogmanay, householders and shopkeepers can be seen barricading their doors and windows for the games that will commence the following day.

The game is played by as many men in the town who wish to participate, there is no maximum number. Players are split in to two teams, the Uppies and the Doonies. Which team you were a part of depended on the location of your birth. The words Uppies and Doonies comes from the term 'up the gates' or 'doon the gates' which translates to up or down the road. The town cathedral is the center point from which teams are sorted, so men who are born north of the cathedral are deemed Doonies and men who are born south of the cathedral are deemed Uppies.

The Ba' (ball) is handmade from leather and is filled with cork. Each game is played with a new ball with each one being made by one of the few Orcadian Ba' makers. Normally a finished men's Ba' weighs about 3lbs with a circumference of around 28inches.

The game begins on the town's Broad Street, near St Magnus Cathedral. The goal for the Uppie team is to touch the Ba' against a wall in the South end of the town. The goal of the Doonies is to get the Ba' into the water of the Kirkwall Bay, to the North.

There are no exact rules. The game is notoriously rough, but rising tempers and foul play are not tolerated. Although the game is rough in nature, serious injuries to players are fairly uncommon.

As the cathedral strikes 1pm, a townsmen, usually with a long association with the game, throws the Ba' into the gathered crowd of players. Once landing in the pack, the fight for possession of the Ba' begins. Each side tries to regain ground and carry the Ba' towards their territories.

Like in Rugby matches, a tight scrum around the Ba' is common. When the pack breaks, the game becomes that bit more chaotic with everyone desperate to get their chance at the Ba'.

An average game can take around 5 hours, but there have been games recorded that took more than 8 hours.

When one team finally gets the Ba' to their desired goal, the Ba' becomes the trophy for the winning team. The player on the winning side who has been the most notable participant over a number of years will be awarded this trophy.

6. Coal Carrying

This tradition is a slightly more modern one, but still unique enough to mention...

A test of endurance, the Coal Carrying Championships are held in Gawthorpe and see people racing up to the village maypole whilst carrying sacks of coal on their shoulders. Men must carry 50kg of coal on their backs, while women must carry 20kg. The course is 1km in length and is a serious effort to complete.

On a day in 1963, Reggie Sedgewick and Amos Clapham, a local coal merchant, were having drinks in their local pub. Lewis Hartley, a local, burst into the pub in an cheery mood and slapped Reggie on the back stating he thought Reggie looked tired. In response, Reggie stated that he was just as fit as Lewis and that they should both put a bag of coal on their backs and race each other to the top of the woods to prove who was fitter. While Lewis was considering this challenge, Mr Fred Hirst, who had been observing their conversation, piped up stating that they had been looking for something to do on Easter Monday. He suggested that if they were going to have a race, why not have a proper one from the pub to the maypole in the town. From here, the coal carrying championships were born.