DAZZLING Scottish thistles and thunderous explosions formed the fiery backdrop to Edinburgh’s Torchlight Procession – the curtain-raiser for Scotland’s Year of Homecoming.
Around 8500 torchbearers bathed the city in fierce torchlight as they wound through the city, led by Shetland’s Up Helly Aa Vikings and a posse of pipers and drummers.
Some 35,000 hardy spectators braved the biting cold to witness the spectacle, which kick-started celebrations ahead of what is set to be an exceptional year for the nation.
Pamela Gourlay, 27, had made the trip to watch the event from Sydney with boyfriend Karl Lansbury, 33. She said: “The fireworks were the loudest I’ve ever heard. Terrifying and breathtaking in equal measure.”
This year’s march was acting as an official launch pad for the Year of Homecoming – and a curtain-raiser on what promises to be one of the most pivotal years in Scottish history.
Sporting highlights ahead include the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup while Scotland’s constitutional future will to be settled by the independence referendum in September.
But it is thought the Year of Homecoming – a sequel to a similar event in 2009 – will attract a huge swell of tourism cash in what is to be a pivotal year in the Capital’s appeal as a city-break destination. The eye-catching festivities in Edinburgh, which will be replicated at Stonehaven, Inverness, Stirling and Biggar tonight, have taken months of planning.
In keeping with city’s count of famous hills, seven huge pyrotechnic displays will illuminate the Capital over the next three days, said Simon Page of Titanium Fireworks, the firm behind this year’s pyrotechnics.
He said around 20 tonnes of equipment would be needed for the three-day extravaganza, and added: “Hogmanay is a major celebration in Scotland. We are delighted to be part of the party and welcome 2014 – Scotland’s Big Year.
“The 2014 display full of Scottish thistles and saltires will hopefully inspire everyone to remember that Scotland is the Home of Hogmanay.”
In a nod to the bumper year ahead for Scotland, First Minister Alex Salmond said the country would “provide a special welcome to the world”.
He said: ”Our unique offering has just been recognised by [travel guide] Lonely Planet which named Scotland one of the top countries in the world for travellers in 2014.
“The second Year of Homecoming offers something for everyone: whether it’s enjoying our inspiring natural resources and outdoor activities, experiencing our vibrant culture, creativity and ancestral heritage or savouring the best of Scotland’s food and drink.
“Combined with the stellar international sporting events of the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup, this programme will allow us to celebrate all that gives the nation its worldwide reputation as a destination with warmth and heart.”
With the eyes of the world on Scotland and Edinburgh in 2014 it is hoped this year’s Homecoming will generate an extra £44 million for the nation’s economy and attract an additional 70,000 visitors.
Supporters were keen to stress Homecoming won’t also allow political campaigning ahead of the independence referendum. Organisers have insisted it will be kept a politics-free zone with project director Caroline Packman insisting it was “absolutely a non-political campaign”.
Cllr Gavin Barrie said the world event will provide a fitting curtain-raiser on a year the city will get to unveil its tram line.
“Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations have become synonymous with New Year and our spectacular fireworks display above the castle will be seen by over a billion people across the globe,” he said.
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill has met with representatives from the Best Bar None scheme, which promotes “high standards” among licensed premises, and Police Scotland to hear how they plan to ensure everyone enjoys a safe Hogmanay. Mr MacAskill held the meeting at the Three Sisters pub in the Cowgate.
He said: “Seeing in the New Year, particularly in the city which is the home of Hogmanay, is one of the most enjoyable parts of the festive period.
“While we want everyone to have fun, it is important you watch how much you drink.”
Tomorrow the annual Loony Dook will see people plunge into the chilly Firth of Forth at South Queensferry. The event has topped a poll of fun ways to bring in the New Year according to web giant Badoo.com.