Photo: Knockengorroch World Ceilidh
Celtic Connections is currently in full swing. With over 200 performances spread out over two weeks it has, over the course of the last 25 years, become the biggest and most important showcase of the year for Scottish traditional music. Highlights this year include the Grit Orchestra performing with Danny Macaskill and the special Burns night concert featuring Eddi Reader. Originally conceived as a winter pick me up, the festival offers a brilliant taster for what is on the horizon for music fans in the coming year. Visitors to Scotland summer will never be too far from a traditional performance or festival, here are a few of our highlights and some special places to stay.
Hebcelt, held in Stornoway every July is undoubtedly the biggest traditional music festival of the summer. Held over a weekend in the grounds of the historic Lews Castle there is a strong emphasis on Gaelic song and culture as well as an impressive line-up of international folk singers and rock bands. With so many visitors at this time, make sure you have your accommodation booked well in advance. There are extra ferry sailings to deal with the increased traffic but this still does not guarantee that you will get your vehicle across without a booking. Even if you do not have tickets for the festival itself then it is still a fantastic time to visit, the atmosphere in the town is electric and there are numerous free events and late night sessions taking place. Peninsula Cottage has the benefit of being just outside the town making it easy to escape the mayhem for the serenity of the beach and the hot tub if it all gets too much.
Established only a few years ago as a more intimate, southern isles version of Hebcelt, Eilean Dorcha has proved to be a massive hit with locals and visitors alike. Billed as a family friendly music festival that is open to people of all ages, the stunning location on the Benbecula machair looking out to the Atlantic must surely rank as one of the most scenic venues for a festival anywhere in the country. Cuir na Bhoir sits right on the other side of the bay, a cosy seaside retreat where you can watch the sun go down in peace but still be close enough to the excitement. In fact, at low tide, you could almost walk all the way to the festival with nothing but white sand beneath your toes.
Traditional Music festivals are not only found in the Highlands, Knockengorroch World Ceilidh held every year on a greenfield site among the Carsphairn hills in south west Scotland has a devoted following due to its old school, Glastonbury vibe and focus on global roots music. A grassroots festival operating on a not for profit ethos, it has nevertheless attracted some of the biggest international stars and top Scottish performers over the years and has a bumper line-up for 2018. Part of the philosophy behind the festival and what links its diverse performers is the idea of the relationship between the land and the music and the people who created it. Craigie Knowes is a short drive away and would make a great base for exploring for yourself this often overlooked part of Scotland. Rolling hills, ancient forests and a quiet secluded coastline await you.
The Big Burns Supper will run for another week after Burns Night and rather than a festival it is more like a collection of concerts by big names who have been inspired by the great man. This year sees Donovan, Badly Drawn Boy, Bill Bailey and Dougie Maclean come to Dumfries to take part in what is billed as the world’s biggest Burn’s celebration. Traditional Suppers, whilst fun can often be too formal for some people. A great alternative for the evening would be to take in one of these performances instead, a fitting way to pay tribute to the legacy of our greatest poet. Berryburn is handy for visiting Dumfries and the surrounding Burns country and it can also be best described as having the best of old and new. In the same way that singers, like Eddi Reader, take traditional songs and modernise them for a whole new audience Berryburn still maintains its classic old fashioned style, while also having 21st century luxury.