In the last few days of our exchange, we’ve been soaking up Highland Games, community gatherings, and Edinburgh during the festivals that dominate the town in August.
Our former hometown of Belliare, Michigan had the Rubber Ducky Festival. It embodied all that we love about local gatherings – the whole town came out for food, craft shows, and whatever theme that was more or less related to the town. In Bellaire, they dumped hundreds of rubber duckies in the river that runs through downtown. Everyone follows a parade that ends with a big front-loader full of the ducks as we cheer on the ridiculousness that is a rubber ducky festival. We used to LOVE it. It’s summer, everyone is smiling, neighbors come out of the woodwork and happy tourists descend about the town to celebrate a sunny day in Northern Michigan.
Scotland has plenty of summertime festivals. We had to strategically plan our weekend celebrations. Do we go to Ale and Rugby fest or the animal show? What festivals are going to have the best food? How far can we realistically drive to attend? What places will keep our kids entertained, and thus, keep the parents in a good mood?
We settled on the following:
Saturday: The Arbroath Seafest in the morning and the Johnshaven Fishfest in the afternoon
Sunday: The Cortachy Highland Games after church
Monday: The Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Festival during the day, maybe the International Book Festival in the afternoon, the Royal Military Tattoo at night
Here’s the quick reviews, plus some pictures, of each fest:
Arbroath Seafest – We weren’t quite sure what to expect from this one. All we knew is that it would focus on the delightful local treat that is the “Arbroath Smokie.”
We learned that you can only call it a smokie if it is actually made within the small town of Arbroath. It is the signature dish of this seaside town and it simple in its deliciousness. The smokie is a local haddock that has been deheaded and gutted before being split in half and smoked over a roaring fire.
The taste and texture of these fish were unlike any other smoked fish I’ve enjoyed – salmon, whitefish, and trout included. It had an almost shellfishy texture with a strong smoke/peat flavor, almost like an Islay whisky. Rachell and the kids? Not as big of fans as I was. The rest of the festival included craft booths, kids’ cooking tent, lots of seafood for sale, a boat tour of a turn of the century herring fishing sailboat, and of course, rides and games.
Our big claim to fame was making it on the Arbroath Seafest facebook page as an example of a local family having fun at Seafest. Ha! Arbroath Seafest Pomerville Pic
Johnshaven Fishfest – You’re probably wondering what the difference is between a seafest and fishfest, right? We weren’t sure about it either and didn’t have the highest hopes for this one because the town of Johnshaven is TINY. It’s a long drive down a steep hill to a fishing hamlet between Stonehaven and Montrose on the NE coast of Scotland.
Without any intended insult to Arbroath, we enjoyed the Fishfest a ton more than Seafest. The whole town seemed to turn up and it was one giant street festival along the harbor. The star of this festival had to be the langoustines, what looked to be a cross between a lobster and a shrimp. The flavor was exquisite. I could eat those all day long…and I did!
Denali was way into these as well. We were amazed by the freshness of them. I’d take langoustines over lobster or crab every time. The other centerpiece of the Fishfest was a homemade raft race. The three entries were a team of Minions, a covered wagon, and an all male cast of Frozen. Hilarious.
We sat on the harbor edge and cheered on the ridiculously costumed paddlers while chomping down on langoustines, fried fish, and candy. Well done, Johnshaven! Also? We found the funniest sentence on any historical marker in all of Scotland. See if you can pick it out…
Cortachy Highland Games – Cortachy is one of the small villages here in the Glens and Kirrieumuir Old Parish. It is a full Highland Games with dancers, runners, a dog show, and heavy game competitions. It was a great way to spend an afternoon outside. Denali was all set to compete in the Highland dancing when she got a bit of cold feet and backed out. No worries, though. She and her brother still competed in a number of races.
Edinburgh – This was the big one. You see, August is festival-time in the capital – The Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Festival (the largest in the world), The International Festival, The International Book Festival, and the Royal Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle. Wow.
There are no words adequate enough to describe the feeling of the city during the festival, as they call it. People from all over the world were EVERYWHERE. Each corner had a different street performer and people were passing out invitations and ads for their shows every direction you turned. We could only do so much and opted to attend to shows from the comedy festival during the day before doing the Tattoo at 9 pm. In between our shows we had incredible food and drinks, toured the castle and amused ourselves with the street performers doing magic, music, acrobatics, and comedy. The shows were both for children. “Flight” was an acrobatic interpretation of “The Little Prince.”
It was written and performed by Curbside Acrobatics from California State University, Long Beach. It was…um…well…ok? Not the greatest show but it did provide us an experience of the Fringe. The kids were mildly entertained but I think the playwright and performers missed the mark on this one. The second show as “Comedy Club 4 Kids,” and it was just that – a comedy club for children. The three comedians were family friendly and geared their performances toward the younger generation in the crowd. We really enjoyed this one, Bryce especially. He went up at the end for a joke competition!
By the way, Bryce is the best person to bring to any performance of anything. He is constantly laughing, gasping, and saying, “How did they do that? That was amazing!” And he is totally genuine in his love of the shows. He was especially into our final show of the night…
The Tattoo was extraordinary.
I have seen more shows than I care to admit, having followed Phish around, growing up in Interlochen, and spending an inordinate amount of time and money watching live music and theater. With all of that background, I can firmly say the Tattoo was one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen.
It was stunning. The performers, the background, the experience itself was beyond our expectations and we all said it was one of the most memorable things we have done on our trip. Wow. Just, wow. I would recommend the Tattoo to everyone. We had to book our tickets five months ago but it was worth it.
After all of this, we drove home from Edinburgh last night at 1:00 in the morning before falling fast asleep in our beds in Kirriemuir. It has been an action packed three days and we are exhausted. Happy, but exhausted.
Way to go, Scotland. You continue to impress. Only a week before we head home and we have enjoyed every moment of our trip. This has been truly outstanding.