Edinburgh Hogmanay 2019: Loony Dook tickets, start times, and origins of the traditional New Year’s Day celebration

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From the swinging of fireballs in Stonehaven to the burning of the clavie in Burghead, many beloved Hogmanay rituals date back centuries - except for one.

Perhaps the strangest Scottish New Year tradition is actually a relatively modern invention. 

The Loony Dook has become a popular Hogmanay tradition.

The Loony Dook has become a popular Hogmanay tradition.

The first ever ‘Loony Dook’ took place on 1 January 1987, and has become an almost obligatory annual New Year’s Day celebration for the people of South Queensferry since then. 

The event sees thousands of ‘dookers’ in fancy dress – ranging in age from eight to 80 – taking a plunge in the freezing Firth of Forth on New Year’s Day every year to raise money for good causes.

While tickets for the event have already sold out, people interested in the Loony Dook can still watch on as spectators, and cheer on those braving the icy waters of the Forth.

According to the Edinburgh Hogmanay website, check-in for ticket holders opens from 12:30pm on 1 January, and participants must be there by 1:45pm.

The site also says:

The first ‘Dook’ took place on 1 January 1987, after a conversation between locals in The Moorings Lounge bar during the Christmas break of 1986.

Friends Andy Kerr and Jim Kilcullen were suggesting different ways to usher in the New Year when Kilcullen thought up a novel hangover cure.

David Steel, a Loony Dook organiser, told the Scotsman that the pair agreed that jumping in the Firth of Forth might clear their heads after Hogmanay. Steel said that it was Kerr who coined the term ‘Loony Dook’ - and the new tradition was born.

Only a handful of people took part in that very first Loony Dook, but two of them – friends Jim MacKenzie and Ian ‘Rambo’ Armstrong – have continued to jump in the Forth every 1 January since.

After 1990, the small local affair began to capture people’s imaginations, and there was a gradual increase in the number of participants and spectators.

In the late 1990s, the event was first included in Edinburgh’s Hogmanay publicity material produced by Unique Events – who have officially organised the Loony Dook since 2009 – and this helped to attract people from all over the world.

“It really exploded at the Millenium as the Loony Dook was filmed live by the BBC and beamed world-wide,” said Steel.

The Dook now welcomes over 1,000 participants – and around 4,000 spectators – every year.

Steel suggests that the success of the Loony Dook is due to the combination of the huge media attention and the fact that it offers something a little bit different for visitors.

“What could be more ‘different’ than jumping into the freezing Forth? The fancy dress aspect is also an attraction – people just love to do crazy things,” he said.