Bring in the New Year!
The New Year is fast approaching! With 2019 just around the corner, here at the North Coast 500 we wanted to take the time to introduce you to one of Scotland’s most long-standing traditions: Hogmanay. If you’re travelling the NC500 from elsewhere in Scotland you’ll already be familiar with Hogmanay, but if you’re planning to visit the North Highlands from further afield, it’s time to learn more about this beloved end-of-year tradition.
Although New Year’s Eve is celebrated all around the world, Scotland has a long-standing heritage associated with the last day of the calendar year. This history dates back to the year 1640, when an act of the Scottish Parliament outlawed the celebration of ‘Yule festivities’, effectively making the celebration of Christmas illegal. Although this act was repealed in 1686, this suppression surrounding Christmas continued to impact on festive celebrations for the next 400 years. This was only changed in 1958, when Christmas Day was finally declared a festive public holiday in Scotland. Boxing Day, on the 26th December, followed suit in 1974.
This meant that, for the best part of 400 years, New Year’s Eve was the main winter solstice holiday in Scotland, when families and friends would gather together to celebrate and exchange gifts. New Year’s Eve is called ‘Hogmanay’ in Scotland. The origins of the word are not entirely clear, but it is believed that Hogmanay takes its name from the old Norse word for the feast preceding Yule – ‘Hoggo-nott’.
Among the traditions associated with Hogmanay is ‘first footing’, the practice of visiting homes of friends and family after midnight has struck, to be their first guests of the year ahead. It was long believed that the ideal ‘first foot’ guest was a dark haired male, who would bring good luck to the household. This tradition dates all the way back to the days of Viking raids, when the arrival of a blonde stranger on your doorstep often spelled trouble! It was customary for ‘first footers’ to being gifts, including whisky, shortbread and black bun – a type of rich, dense fruit cake covered with pastry.
Hogmanay is still celebrated all across Scotland, and this time of year is particularly special in the North Highlands. In this blog, we’ve outlined some of our favourite accommodations, activities and celebrations, to help you welcome 2019 in true Scottish style.
If you’re looking for accommodation over the Hogmanay period, there are a wide range of options to suit all budgets and groups along the North Coast 500. Plenty of venues offer exclusive Hogmanay packages, where you can relax and unwind in the knowledge that all of the planning has been taken care of. Another popular choice is to book a self-catering holiday cottage, where you can make your own plans for Hogmanay. This is a brilliant option for larger families and groups of friends – bringing the benefits of a space which is truly your own, where you can have complete flexibility to cook your own meals, arrange your own fun activities and, of course, stock up on plenty of treats! You can search for accommodation via our online interactive map.
If celebrating the New Year in your very own castle appeals, look no further than Ackergill Tower. With enough space to sleep 72 of your friends and family in utmost style, this 15th century retreat just north of Wick is the ideal venue if you’re looking for a place to host your very own Highland gathering. With an exclusive use Hogmanay package including an Imperial Dinner, traditional Highland dress, champagne and canapes on New Year’s Eve, then a Bloody Mary brunch and champagne afternoon tea on the 1st January, this is a truly luxurious experience. If you’re travelling as part of a couple or in a smaller group, you could also hire a room within one of Ackergill Tower’s luxurious, cosy cottages.
If staying close to the city appeals at this time of year, Inverness, the capital of the Highlands and the official beginning and end of the North Coast 500 route, is the perfect choice. For accommodation within a stone’s throw of the city, look no further than Rocpool Reserve. This beautifully renovated Georgian mansion house is home to boutique accommodation and the famous Chez Roux Restaurant, serving the finest dishes made from Scottish ingredients with a French twist by legendary chef Albert Roux. Head over to the website to take a look at Chez Roux’s Hogmanay Menu.
Enjoy a tranquil repose in the beloved Highland hideaway, Glenmorangie House for Hogmanay. A retreat to peace and calm, the crackling fires and drams make for a luxurious way to end the year in style. After a light lunch on arrival at Glenmorangie House, the afternoon is yours to explore the local area. At night, the House comes alive – meet your fellow guests for champagne and canapés, accompanied by a performance by the resident piper, before heading through to the dining room to enjoy a five-course gourmet menu composed by head chef, John Wilson, and then a lift to Dornoch’s renowned street party. The next day, an afternoon tea will be served in the Morning Room followed by a cocktail making session where you will be able to enjoy and learn how to make classic Glenmorangie cocktails. The day closes with cocktails and dinner, with a menu celebrating wonderful local produce complemented by select Glenmorangie single malt scotch whiskies.
Located along the east coast of the North Coast 500 in the historic town of Dornoch, the Dornoch Castle Hotel is the perfect choice for couples and smaller groups looking for a deluxe New Year break. With a choice of two night or three-night stays, including full Scottish breakfast, lunch, evening meals and welcome drinks, this is the ideal base if you’re looking to spend Hogmanay on the beautiful Sutherland coast.
Bring in the bells
‘Bringing in the bells’ is a Scottish phrase for welcoming in the New Year, and in particular, the countdown that takes place as the seconds tick towards midnight on New Year’s Eve. This is associated with celebrations with family and friends, music, dancing, and of course, a dram of whisky when the clock strikes midnight!
The Ironworks in Inverness is one of the best venues for live music in the city. With live music from Rhythm and Reel on Hogmanay, the night of the 31st December, this is the place to go if you’re looking to dance your way in to 2019.
Another popular event with music at its core is the Red Hot Highland Fling. Held at the Northern Meeting Park in Inverness, this popular Highland party includes performances from bands including Tidelines, Blazin’ Fiddles and The Trad Project.
If a more spontaneous approach to Hogmanay is what you’re looking for, Inverness city centre has an abundance of bars and restaurants to choose from, with plenty of brilliant venues to see out 2018 and welcome in 2019.