Fire festival relocates over crush concerns

The Samhuinn Fire Festival attracts thousands of spectators. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The Samhuinn Fire Festival attracts thousands of spectators. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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PUBLIC safety fears have forced one of the Capital’s biggest winter celebrations to relocate in order to accommodate thousands more spectators.

The Samhuinn Fire Festival – which marks the end of summer and the beginning of winter – will now climax at The Mound precinct on a purpose-built stage after more than 6000 people from across the world last year crammed themselves on to the traditional Royal Mile route.

Organisers have revealed that travel arrangements have already been confirmed by revellers from as far afield as the United States and eastern Europe, with news of the Princes Street location expected to draw in many more thousands of visitors in excess of the 2013 figure.

Festival volunteer Erin Macdonald said: “Last year, the festival was full to bursting. Some people could not see and some wanted to be able to see more in order to really appreciate it.

“We’re doing this for safety reasons as well – it was getting too much of a squash.”

Edinburgh has been hosting the Samhuinn Fire Festival since 1995, with its spring/summer counterpart – the Beltane Fire Festival – having taken place on Calton Hill on the last day of April each year since 1988.

The event will be held on Hallowe’en at 9pm on the High Street, with a procession of drums, fire and characters from Celtic tradition making their way down Cockburn Street and on to the stage at The Mound for the final “battle” between the forces of summer and winter.

Ms Macdonald said: “There will be a lot of work involved this year as the stage will have to be put up and come down in one day, but the city council has been fantastic.

“The stage will allow people to watch from very far back – many of them having followed us on the whole route.

“We’re very excited this year. There will be some new aspects to the night to make it a little bit more dynamic – there are some big things involved.”

Visitors should expect a lively, fire-filled adaptation of the story of summer being overthrown by winter, battled out by the seasons’ respective “kings”, performed to music and through dance.

Attendance at the festival is by donation on the night, with no ticket needed.

The festival is organised by the Beltane Fire Society, a charity dedicated to marking the fire festivals of the ancient Celtic calendar and keeping traditional street theatre, music and pageantry alive.

The event is run entirely by volunteers.

Becky Salter, who will play the key role of the Cailleach – a Celtic goddess who oversees the battle – in the festival, said: “Samhuinn is a wonderful event to be part of, full of fire, drums and excitement.

“There’s nothing like it anywhere in the world. We want the people of Edinburgh to share it with us, to join us in marking the end of summer and the rise of winter – and this extended route will mean far more people can witness it all.”