A dramatic river of fire heralded the start of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations as tens of thousands of revellers brought the city centre to a halt before a sell-out Paolo Nutini concert.
Crowds lined pavements on The Mound, Princes Street and Waterloo Street as a band of “Up Helly Aa” Vikings from Shetland’s fire festival and a pipe band led torch bearers from the Old Town to Calton Hill.
Spectators queued for several hours to secure vantage points for the traditional torchlight procession, which had been staged every year since the capital launched official celebrations in 1993.
An estimated 30,00 people took part in the fire parade, which was still coming down The Mound two hours after the first participants set off.
Organisers were forced to apologise after the event as some torchbearers were still queuing up in the Old Town when the fireworks finale was staged above Calton Hill.
Festival director Penny Dougherty said: “The procession was very stretched out this year, which meant that those at the back were not in a position to see the firework finale. We understand their disappointment and are sorry that they missed out.”
The torchlight event, which was ticketed for the first time to accommodate demand from residents and visitors to take part in the parade, kicked off three days of festivities in the city, which are expected to attract more than 150,000 spectators and generate more than £40 million for the economy.
The evening was rounded off by performances from Scottish singing superstar Paolo Nutini and alt-rockers Frightened Rabbit at the first ever “Night Afore Concert” in Princes Street Gardens, which was also followed by a fireworks display.
Paisley-born Nutini, who performed classic hits like Candy and These Streets during his 90 minute set, offered to stage an extra show after his headline slot at the same venue on Hogmanay sold out within just three hours.
Mihoko Yotsui, 27, from Tokyo, who was among the participants in the torchlight parade, said: “I’m only in Edinburgh for one night was so excited when I heard the parade was on.
“It’s such a brilliant, vibrant event and it’s really exciting to hear Scottish music for the first time. There’s something special about everyone coming to Edinburgh to spend the end of the year together.”
Torchbearer Pow Song, 20, from China, who is study media at Stirling University, said: “I read about the event on the Hogmanay website and thought it looked very impressive that everyone could get a torch and join in on the streets. The atmosphere has been very good and it is actually very similar to New Year in China. It is all very friendly. Edinburgh is such a traditional and and beautiful city.”
Lawyer Adelaide Gleadow, 24, from Wellington, in New Zealand, was taking part in the parade on a first-time visit to the city.
She said: “I’m in the city to visit a friend and actually didn’t know this was on until I got here yesterday. It’s really nice to do something that the local people do that is steeped in tradition. I do know that Scotland is supposed to be a great place to spend New Year’s Eve - I’m actually going through to Glasgow for Hogmanay itself.”
Canadian accountant Janice Mowe, 54, who was watching the parade on The Mound, said: “My daughter is working in London at the moment and we decided to come to Edinburgh for a few days to do something a bit different.
“We’ve had a great time, although the crowds have been a bit overwhelming for someone from a small town, but everybody has been so welcoming and friendly. I’d live to come back and bring my husband with me - he’s at home ploughing snow at the moment.”
Edinburgh’s Lord Provost Donald Wilson was at the head of the opening night fire parade through the city centre and is also due to lead one of the closing events on New Year’s Day when he will join another 1000 other hardy revellers in taking the plunge into the Firth of Forth at South Queensferry.
He said: “The torchlight procession is fantastic event to mark the start of Edinburgh’s world famous Hogmanay celebrations and shows Edinburgh at its very best.
“The event brings locals and visitors together in an extraordinary way, creating a unique atmosphere that really can’t be found anywhere else.”
Meanwhile one couple will be enjoying “the Hogmanay of a lifetime” tonight after winning the chance to watch the midnight fireworks from the top of the Scott Monument.
Bob Mitchell and his wife Lorna, from Davidson’s Mains, will be allowed rare public access after he won a prize draw out more than 10,000 participants in a challenge to climb the landmark and the Nelson Monument.
Mr Mitchell said: “Taking part in the challenge was great fun. I live in Edinburgh and even though I walk past the landmarks all the time, I hadn’t climbed them since I was a child so it was great to rediscover them.”