Andrew Ducker (andrewducker) wrote,
Andrew Ducker

What I did on my Samhuinn holidays

For the last few weeks my Sunday afternoons have been spent practising to be a Steward at the Samhuinn Fire Festival. This largely involved getting to know my fellow stewards (about 30 of us) and being trained in how to do focussed walking (very useful if you want people to get out of your way), how to put out minor fires (thankfully didn't have to), and how to persuade a few thousand people that they should stand back so that the procession can get through.

This is me at the first walkthrough, in my sexy high-vis jacket:

The stewards were arranged at a variety of useful points to help keep the procession safe, from the starting point at the castle esplanade down the Royal Mile to Parliament Square. Some were down by the stage, some to close off George IV Bridge when the procession passed that point, a "snowplough" on the front of the procession to get people out of the road, some along the side to keep people from running through it, and then five of us at the back ("Tail End Charlie") to stop people from squashing into the back of the procession.

The procession was at 9pm, but we were at the getting ready space by 5:00, applying makeup to each other and making sure we had everything ready. This is me with my face-paint on, and wearing nothing even slightly flammable (all natural fibres, from my leather boots, jacket and gloves to my woollen jumper and hat):

And then off up the hill, in the delightful rain. We were on the esplanade by 8:00, and other groups started turning up shortly afterwards and forming up behind each other. Being at the back I had an excellent view of the back row of the Winter Drummers, and the back couple of torchies - who also flank the length of the procession. With twenty minutes to go we were also joined by some representatives of the Candlemakers of Edinburgh and also some of the bucketeers (who go along with the procession inciting donations from the crowd).

It had been raining since before we got to the castle, so lighting the neid-fire took a while, and lighting the torches was...problematic, but once everything was lit we set off down The Mile. My view wasn't great, but you can see what the whole procession looked like here:

I'm at the very back of the procession, occasionally looking behind me to make sure the crowd are giving us space. At that point, we are just about to cross George IV Bridge, at which point everything opens up and the crowd got a _lot_ bigger. The eight of us who were on the four corners of the crossing point then joined in, and helped to form a solid wall around the back. We got the procession into the performance area, and then kept a tunnel through the crowd open to St Giles Street, where the Wild Hunt and the Winter Drummers had split off to, so that they could enter for the finale of the performance. And then, when that had happened, we closed in behind them, keeping the crowd behind from coming in too quickly and causing a crush. That was probably the scariest bit, and I was very glad to be with some experienced stewards, who had worked on much bigger events.

Here's a bit of video someone took of the stage area. I think shortly before I got there (and almost eactly on the spot where I ended up standing):

and this is one that puts together several different bits of the evening:

And then we had alll of the stewards together, formed in a semi-circle around the stage, and had an amazing view of the final third of the performance. The rain stopped about fifteen minutes before the end, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the amazing costumes that all of the other performers had put together, the defeat of Summer (booooo) by Winter (yaaaaay!) and the presentation of all of the groups (including the Stewards) to the Cailleach. And then a debrief and off to the after party, which was lovely, even if I was completely exhausted and went home to bed very early (about 2am).

And it was less than 24 hours later that I had someone hinting that I should be a Steward at Beltane...

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