Brian Ferguson: Plenty to look forward to in 2014

Revellers brave the cold waters in South Queensferry on New Years Day. Picture: Neil Hanna
Revellers brave the cold waters in South Queensferry on New Years Day. Picture: Neil Hanna
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THERE cannot be many finer spots in the land to take stock on the first morning of the year than in the shadow of the Forth bridges.

I had half an hour to kill in South Queensferry before the colourful parade of participants in the annual Loony Dook began to assemble on the waterfront.

It was impressive enough that all 1,100 places for the long-running event were snapped up well in advance – especially with an official start-time of 10:30am.

But if you are unable to summon any inspiration from the sight of the costume-clad masses cavorting around in the undoubtedly-icy waters then all hope is probably lost for you.

I pondered how many had vowed to take part after seeing some of the hundreds of pictures captured by the small army of photographers the previous year – and who would be following suit after admiring the latest antics.

While duty was calling for The Scotsman on the day in question – although my fully-clothed self and prominently-wielded notebook didn’t stop a couple of people from trying to entice me in – the whole spectacle did get me wondering why I could only recall one occasion when I had taken a proper dip in Scottish waters.

That was a fair few years back on one of my favourite Hebridean beaches, on the blissfully peaceful island of Berneray. It was one of those impossibly long summer days up there – when it never seems to get entirely dark and both the sun and moon seem to loom much larger.

It struck me as a bit odd that I hadn’t taken the plunge again last summer, when my annual trip to the islands coincided with that prolonged bout of cloudless skies that had the nation repeatedly stripping down.

And so, on the way back from South Queensferry, did I begin to shape my year’s resolutions – with a vow to take an “al fresco” plunge sometime, somewhere, somehow in Scotland before 2014 is out.

The cut-off point may handily rule me out of the Loony Dook next year but with the tentacles of the Second Homecoming – as I’ve taken to calling it – spreading far and wide, and more than 400 events around the country, there really is no excuse for piking out.

It was a couple of days later, while anxiously waiting to board a Calmac ferry heading into the eye of another winter storm, that my second 2014 challenge came to mind.

The late-afternoon gloom was pierced by the magnificent sight of Scotland’s only touring cinema, the Screen Machine, which was en route to bring the new Hobbit film and box office smash Gravity to Hebridean film fans.

It must be nearly a decade since a friend and I finally fulfilled a mini-ambition and managed to pin down the Screen Machine for a movie – even if it was the teenage chick-flick Legally Blonde 2.

A lack of time for a proper reunion with that big blue truck this past weekend, particularly thanks to a swift departure to avoid yet another storm, means I will need to track it down to one of the umpteen far-flung locations it will visit this year.

Having spoken to so many and written so much about Homecoming 2014, it is inevitable that I have a few other pressing challenges in mind. I’ve decided this will be the year I make a return to either Orkney or Shetland, with a bit of a hiatus having built up since I last landed on their shores.

The island of Eigg is also calling me in more ways than one – its new “Howlin’ Fling” must be the first festival in the country to hoist the sold-out signs this year – and it remains a matter of shame I’ve never visited a place of such repute.

I’ve decided it’s also time to hit the road in search of the ultimate theatrical experience of the year. Between the nine-month Commonwealth Games culture programme and the National Theatre of Scotland’s ever-adventurous exploits, I shouldn’t be short of options.

Much has already been written about Generation, Scotland’s biggest ever celebration of visual art, which will transform some of the nation’s best-known gallery spaces for six months. I’ll be lucky if I eventually manage to catch even half the works on display, but a good starting point will be the many participating venues spread around Scotland I’ve never been to.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll hit the fitness trail properly and take my bike with me for some of these escapades. But, then again, I wouldn’t want to overdo it.

Now, where’s my new diary – and that 2014 events spreadsheet?