Plant on parade as Burryman the toast of the town

Burryman, South Queensferry.
Burryman, South Queensferry.
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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.

Yesterday the Burryman was unleashed on his native South Queensferry in a tradition that could stem back some 900 years or more.

No one really knows how the Burryman came into being. But council worker Andrew Taylor continued the tradition by donning the unique costume made of some 20,000 burrs from the burdock plant to parade around his home village for nine hours. 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 a 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 he was scared of as a child. He now revels in the role of upholding the tradition, which is part of the Ferry Fair, and loves being mobbed in the street by people seeking out selfies.

Mr Taylor 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 collected the burr heads needed to make the costume. Many were taken from the nearby Dalmeny Estate and others from Inchcolm island.

From these, about 50 patches of around A4 size are made from the plant heads, which are so sticky 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 said: “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.”

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 the Forth at South Queensferry during the 11th century.

Mr Taylor instead started his Burryman journey yesterday at the Old Provost’s House, where he received his first whisky of the day. He was expected to drink around 15 to 20 nips over the course of the parade.

“It’s such a unique, brilliant tradition that I hope it lasts forever,” he said.