Sunday, 5 February 2012


Burghead is a bit behind the times. By that I don't mean it is old-fashioned, but that its New Year celebrations fall 11 days after most of the rest of Britain. On 11 January each year, which is New Year according to the Julian calendar, the village hosts an event called the Burning of the Clavie, a tradition which was once far more widespread, but disappeared from most places following attempts by 18th century churchmen to stamp it out, declaring it "an abominable, heathenish practice". The origins of the tradition are lost in the mists of time, with theories ranging from Celtic to Pictish to Roman. The "clavie" which is subjected to the burning is a half barrel filled with wood shavings and tar. It is nailed to a post, then taken to the Burghead Provost, who lights it with peat. Then a group of fishermen accompanied by an elected Clavie King carry it around the village in a clockwise direction, stopping at various houses to present smouldering embers which are used to light fires in the homes for luck. The clavie's meander around the village culminates in an ascent of Doorie Hill, part of the Burghead Promontory Fort, where there is an altar known as the "Clavie Stone". Once placed on the Stone, fuel is added, and the clavie erupts in flames. Needless to say, all this is accompanied by a great deal of merrymaking.

Burghead is a fishing village located on a promontory jutting out into the Moray Firth. The harbour used to be an important grain-shipping port, and there are stone-built granaries lining the harbour which serve as a reminder of that time. Nowadays the main activity is fishing and leisure boating. There is a sandy beach 5 miles long to the southwest of the village. There is a Visitor Centre at the Burghead Promontory Fort telling the story of the Fort, which is Pictish in origin.

Map of the area.

© 1991, Ann Burgess, via Wikimedia Commons

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