A SHETLAND Jarl squad led 8,500 fire-wielding marchers through the heart of the capital for the curtain-raiser to the city’s Hogmanay celebrations.
As many as 35,000 revellers took to streets last night for a dramatic torchlight procession which lit up a route from the Old Town to Calton Hill.
The route of the march was altered and the landmark was sealed off in advance for several hours following crowd congestion problems last year.
Onlookers thronged the streets as the marchers paraded from Parliament Square and George IV Bridge down the Mound and along Princes Street for 90 minutes.
Before the marchers set off, Pete Irvine, the creative guru behind the capital’s festivities, said: “In all the years we’ve been running the torchlight parade we’ve never had any problems with the weather and it’s the same tonight.”
After the arrival of the 26-strong group from Shetland’s world-famous Up Helly Aa fire festival on Calton Hill, a huge bonfire was lit. A fireworks finale followed along with the unveiling of a huge “2014” fire sculpture.
This year’s torchlight parade was significantly expanded to mark the first official event of Scotland’s Year of Homecoming.
An extra fireworks display, creating thistle and saltire effects above Calton Hill, shone above the city sky and the National Monument was bathed in blue spotlights throughout the event.
Among the crowd on the hill was Yvonne Enoch, 60, from Edinburgh, who has previously lived in Shetland. She said: “We come to the torchlight procession every year, we actually prefer it to Up Helly Aa. The atmosphere is really special, there is a real feeling of everyone coming together.”
Soon Seng, a 28-year-old medical student from the Netherlands, said: “This is our second time in Edinburgh for Hogmanay – we had a great time when we were here before and although it’s a bit cold there is a really nice ambience.”
Alex Baxter, 68, the deputy mayor of Grimsby, said: “I came last year. It’s fantastic the way they organise these events in Edinburgh.”
Kevin Wu, a writer from Los Angeles, said he had wanted to return to Edinburgh since he first visited 15 years ago as a student. He said: “I was a broke student last time and I think Edinburgh has changed since then. It feels slightly more international.
“Edinburgh is such an accessible city. Its almost like it’s built for visiting. It’s not like London, you can actually see where you’re going. I would absolutely recommend a visit. It’s just like a dream here.”
Dylan Woods, an architect from London, said: “We’d heard about the procession, but had no idea where it started. We were really lucky, because we came out the pub and chanced on it starting right in front of us.”