“Not many people can say they are the Burryman”

Andrew Taylor as the Burryman in 2017. Some believe the South Queensferry tradition is at least 900 years old. PIC: Doc Rowe.
Andrew Taylor as the Burryman in 2017. Some believe the South Queensferry tradition is at least 900 years old. PIC: Doc Rowe.
0
Have your say

There is no one else quite like the Burryman - a curious folk figure covered head to toe in sticky plant heads with only his eyes and mouth on show.

This week, the Burryman will be unleashed on his native South Queensferry in a tradition that could stem back some 900 years or more.

Around 20,000 burrs from the burdock plant are used to make the Burryman costume, with the figure thought to bring good luck to the village. PIC: Lisa Ferguson/TSPL.

Around 20,000 burrs from the burdock plant are used to make the Burryman costume, with the figure thought to bring good luck to the village. PIC: Lisa Ferguson/TSPL.

No one really knows how the Burryman came into being but this Friday, council worker Andrew Taylor will don the unique costume made of some 20,000 burrs from the burdock plant and parade around his home village for nine hours.

READ MORE: 7 weird and wonderful Scottish traditions

As he goes, the Burryman embarks on the tradition of accepting nips of whisky from prominent addresses in the village, as well as local pubs, while raising cheer as he strides through the streets accompanied by helpers.

Mr Taylor, 36, who was raised in the village, said it was a true honour to be the Burryman - a figure that he was scared of as a child.

Tradition dictates that the Burryman accepts nips of whisky during his nine-hour tour of the village. PIC: Lisa Ferguson/TSPL.

Tradition dictates that the Burryman accepts nips of whisky during his nine-hour tour of the village. PIC: Lisa Ferguson/TSPL.

READ MORE: 5 old wedding customs of Scotland

Today, he revels in the role of upholding the tradition, which is part of the Ferry Fair, and speaks of being mobbed in the street of people seeking out selfies.

He said: “When you are a kid you are scared of the Burryman. I was one of the kids who would always get a fright when I saw him. That is my first memory of the Burryman.

“Because I am from Queensferry, I know how important the Burryman is.

“People from all over the world see it. You start to realise what a big tradition it is.”

For the past fortnight, Mr Taylor, who is in his seventh year of being the Burryman, and his team have been collecting the burr heads needed to make the costume with many taken from the Dalmeny Estate and others from Inchcolm island.

From these, around 50 patches of around A4 size are made from the plant heads, which are so sticky that they naturally bind together without the need for glue. The patches are then placed over a protective suit made from long johns, a long-sleeved top and a hood.

The costume is unique - as well as the sensation it creates.

Mr Taylor added: “It’s a weird one. You get into a zone with it. It isn’t the most comfortable thing as they stick to you, they scratch you and once you are in the costume that is you for the whole day, from 9am to 6pm.”

“I love the tradition and I love the whole day. I have got a great team around me and we just all enjoy ourselves, from collecting the burrs to doing the patching.

“There are not that many people who can say they are the Burryman.”

In 1860, the Dunfermline Press described the Burryman as “a lad covered all over with burs, with small apertures along being left for seeing and breathing.

“When stationary, the Burryman resembles a knight clad in chain armour with flower to represent plumes of feather on the head.

“When however he walks, the rocking motion, occasioned by the legs requiring to be kept wide apart, gives him the appearance of a bear.”

On Friday, Mr Taylor will set of on his Burryman journey and head first to the Old Provost’s House, where he will receive his first whisky of the day.

He will drink around 15 to 20 nips over the course of the parade, although the excitement of the day keeps drunkeness at bay, Mr Taylor said.

Early accounts detail how the Burryman would once collect money from the village to spend at the annual summer fair.

It was also said the Burryman commemorated the passage of Queen Margaret, wife of King Malcolm III, from Edinburgh to Dunfermline and her voyage across cross the Forth at South Queensferry during the 11th Century.

Another theory is that The Burryman used to go around the town to collect evil at a time when the herring boats would leave South Queensferry for the herring catch.

Others believe it dates from 1687, when townsmen who applies to be the ‘Burryman’ and walk the boundaries of South Queensferry while completely covered in Burdock burs.

Mr Taylor added: “The thing about the Burryman is that no one can say how it started and that also makes it special.

“The story that I was always told is that the Burryman takes all the evil spirits out of Queensferry and then people come and touch you for luck.”

“I could never imagine there not being a Burryman day in Queenferry. It’s such a unique, brilliant tradition that I hope it lasts forever.”