Clavie night – great weather and an incredible tradition. A few tales of a dog and a phone down the loo!

Last night my wee village was busy I had a few pals overs as it was Clavie Night.

It’s a great night we had fun the weather was perfect with a full moon the village was mobbed.

Photo Al Swadel

As usual my wee house was busy with a few visitors and a dog. Sadly the dog left me a message in my wee office ! Enough said. You know who you are Coll! I blame the owners he also kept me awake and I had to dog sit him during the wee small hours.

We also had a visit from Drummond who arrived on his bike scaring us at the door.

The Drummond.

The we had another visitor who at the end of the evening she left and called in the morning she was missing her phone. Funny enough the loo stopped flushing and the rest was a reminder of my days on Everest clearing poo as my job as Bass Camp Manager. My Rescue skills recovered the phone and Dia —- was informed next day. My bill is in the post.

In all an interesting but smelly night. Great to see old pals and have a laugh. The Clavie of 2020 will go down in my memory forever. Will the phone or my carpets recover? Going for a nap now.

Did Drummond get home?

The Clavie – what is it all about ?

Thousands are attracted to the Broch for the annual event, which sees a tar-soaked barrel set alight and paraded around the streets to ward off evil spirits for the year ahead.The flaming spectacle of January 11 is led by Clavie King Dan Ralph and the local men who make up the Clavie Crew.

At exactly 6pm a burning peat will be used to light the Clavie before it is heaved onto the shoulders of crew members and marched around the town. Smouldering staves are handed out to householders and local publicans along the way and tradition has it that possession of a piece of the burning Clavie brings good luck during the coming year.

The Clavie’s final resting place is atop the altar of the old Pictish fort at Doorie Hill, where the fire is fuelled sending burning embers into the night.Mr Ralph said everything is now ready for the January 11 celebration.

“The barrel is actually made and the Clavie will be put together on Tuesday night. Then on Wednesday, it will be lit at the Old Manse Dyke on Granary Street at 6pm and we’ll be off.”Condemned in the eighteenth century as “an abominable heathenish practice”, Brochers continue to observe the ritual every January 11.

The Ritual

The event takes place on the night of January 11 (the original Hogmanay before the calendar changed in 1660). The “Clavie” is a half barrel filled with wood shavings and tar. In the past, it would have been a herring barrel. Today, iron-hooped whisky barrels daubed with creosote are used. The barrel is nailed onto a carrying post – the same nail is ritually used every year – which is hoisted onto the shoulders of a local villager.

The clavie is then lit, traditionally by a peat from the hearth of an old Burghead Provost and from there carried by the elected Clavie King Each of the ten or so men (traditionally fishermen) take it in turn to carry the burning clavie clockwise around the streets of Burghead, occasionally stopping at the houses of former eminent citizens to present a smouldering faggot of the clavie in the doorway to bring the household good luck for the year ahead.

The men proceed to the stone altar of an old fort on the ancient Doorie Hill, the clavie is set down here and more fuel is added until the hillside is ablaze with a beacon of fire.

Al Swadel Photo

When the Clavie falls to the ground, it is the official start of the Burghead New Year. The flaming embers are snatched up by onlookers and used to kindle a special New Year fire at home, kept for luck or are even sent to relations or friends who have moved away from Burghead.


As well as drawing comparisons with the Celtic festival of Samhain, various theories link its origins to the Picts (there was once a Pictish fort at Burghead) and the Romans. The word Clavie may have originated from the Latin Clavus meaning “nail” and it is speculated that the fort at Doorie Hill may have been an ancient Roman altar. However, contrary views suggest that there is not enough evidence to prove that the Romans came this far North. The festival also has many similarities with ancient Norse culture.

Whatever the origins, the practice of Clavie burning probably took place at many villages in the North East centuries ago, but was not always tolerated by the powers-that-be. It was condemned by the strict presbyterian establishment as “superstitious, idolatrous and sinfule, an abominable heathenish practice”. In 1704 a law was passed against Clavies. But the ritual practice of Clavie burning still continues each January 11th…


About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Family, Friends, Local area and events to see, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

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