100 Weeks of Scotland: Beltane Fire Festival

IN the run-up to the independence referendum in 2014, photographer Alan McCredie will be telling the story of the nation in photographs.

Beltane Fire Festival, Calton Hill
Beltane Fire Festival, Calton Hill


FOR millennia the Celtic nations of the north had observed the festival of Beltane or “Bright Fire”. Slowly, as Christianity crept though the dark woods and rivers of wild Europe, the old gods stepped aside in favour of the new.

They lingered on at the edges of the continent in a more symbolic form and in Scotland the last public Beltane Fires would, by the mid to late nineteenth century, flicker and die.

Beltane Fire Festival, Calton Hill

As is often the way, what was before will be again and in 1988 the Beltane fire came to life once more on Calton Hill in Edinburgh. This was a small gathering of a handful of performers watched by no more than 100 spectators. As the years have passed the festival has grown and now hundreds of performers tell the Beltane story to thousands of spectators.

What has not changed is the central precept of Beltane – that of rebirth and the welcoming of the summer after the long hard struggle of winter. The lighting of the Beltane fires on the 1st of May would welcome the growing power of the sun and celebrate a sense of renewal and cleansing. This is

symbolised by the procession of the May Queen and the death and rebirth of the Green Man.

This year’s Beltane took place on a beautiful albeit cold evening on April 30th, the eve of summer, and as ever the event was a riot of colour and fire. As the sun sank below the horizon it truly felt as though the dark of winter had been vanquished, replaced by the soft warmth of summer.

When I woke up the next morning I realised it hadn’t.

Alan McCredie began the ‘one hundred weeks of scotland’ website in October last year, and it will conclude in Autumn 2014. McCredie’s goal is to chronicle two years of Scottish life in the run-up to the independence referendum.

McCredie says ‘one hundred weeks...’ is intended to show all sides of the country over the next two years. On the site, he says: “Whatever the result of the vote Scotland will be a different country afterward. These images will show a snapshot of the country in the run up to the referendum.

“The photos will be of all aspects of Scottish culture - politics, art, social issues, sport and anything else that catches the eye.”

You can follow the project at www.100weeksofscotland.com. You can also follow Alan on Twitter.