Flying the flag for the Saltire

Glen Robertson launches this years saltire festival at  Carberry Tower in East Lothian. Picture: Jon Savage
Glen Robertson launches this years saltire festival at Carberry Tower in East Lothian. Picture: Jon Savage
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IT is believed to be the oldest flag in Europe and originated in a ­battlefield during the Dark Ages.

But many of those who were proudly waving the ­saltire during the independence referendum may not have known as they were doing so that the distinctive flag originated in a tiny ­village in East Lothian.

Legend has it that it hailed from a battle fought near the East Lothian village of Athelstaneford in AD 832 after King Angus saw a cloud formation of a white saltire against the blue sky.

Now it is hoped the story will reach a widespread audience and that its origins are celebrated during a special festival in East Lothian at the end of the month.

“People don’t know it originated here,” says local ­Councillor John McMillan, who is East Lothian Council’s tourism spokesman.

“People know the flag and know of St Andrew but don’t know the story of how the flag was seen in the sky. It’s such a strong part of our history and we want to bring people into the county to celebrate such a key part of Scotland’s history and make people aware of our role.” The Saltire Festival runs from November 26 to 31, coinciding with St Andrew’s Day on November 30.

A whole host of events will be taking place throughout the week – from a race day at Musselburgh and golf tournament to a farmers’ market and comedy and music events.

“The festival is all about encouraging people to come to East Lothian and getting to know the county,” explains John. “It’s a perfect way of highlighting all that’s great in East Lothian.”

On November 29, a special St Andrew’s Day-themed farmers’ market will be held in Haddington. Visitors can pick up a St Andrew’s Day Menu and shop from a selection of home-produced specialities. There will be cooking ­demonstrations and free tastings, including cullen skink and live, traditional Scottish entertainment.

The Saltire Epicurean Affair at Haddington Corn Exchange will also take place on November 29, and is an evening designed for foodies featuring fine wine and ­gastronomic delights.

A special themed race day at Musselburgh Racecourse will take place on November 28. Attendees will be welcomed by a lone piper. There will be a prize for the best dressed – with a tartan twist.

An action-packed family fun day will take place on November 29 at Foxlake Adventures in Dunbar. The John Muir Carnival will bring together a collection of ­sporting activities for all to try from trail running to ­cyclocross racing, coastal rowing, open water swimming and wakeboarding.

There will also be local food and drink, a Christmas traders’ market, children’s fun zone, music and a licensed bar.

The Brunton Theatre in Musselburgh will be hosting an evening of Scottish music and comedy on November 29 ­featuring Hue and Cry and comedian Mark Nelson.

On St Andrew’s Day itself, proceedings will start with a special service at the historic Athelstaneford church ­followed by a ceremonial handing over of the flag as local children sing The Saltire anthem.

Members of the public are invited to follow the flag as it progresses through East Lothian’s towns and villages.

The Saltire Concert – a celebration of Scottish music and verse - will be held at St Michael’s Parish Church, Inveresk, on St Andrew’s Day. The concert will feature music and literature and the winners of the local school poetry and composition competition. And Scotland’s Golf Coast Trophy, which runs from November 24 to 28, will give participants the chance to test themselves on some of the region’s finest courses, starting with a challenge at Longniddry Golf Club.

Festival organisers have had to cancel the climax event, The Saltire Spectacular, which was due to take place at Carberry Tower and feature Big Country, Fred MacAulay and the Red Hot Chilli Pipers.

John says: “I think with it being an outdoor event, people may have been concerned about the weather so they sadly needed to cancel as early as possible rather than hope for tickets being sold.”

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and ­External Affairs, adds: “It is fantastic to see new events being included to the East Lothian line-up.”

For more information on all the events and to book tickets go to visiteastlothian.org/thesaltire2014.