How and where to celebrate the new year

London
London’s fabulous new year fireworks. Credit: VisitBritain/Britain on View

From festive fireworks to pagan parades, Steve Pill explores five of the best British ways to see in the new year in 2017.

Edinburgh
New year in Edinburgh. Credit: VisitBritain/Britain on View

Hogmanay party, Edinburgh

Last year’s Hogmanay party was truly out of this world as British astronaut Tim Peake broadcast his New Year’s Eve message live to the crowds on “beautiful planet earth” from the International Space Station. So while the absence of gravity allowed Major Peake to finish with a backflip, the thousands of revellers with their feet firmly on Scottish soil still have plenty of reasons to celebrate in 2016.

A street party and concert in the West Princes Street Gardens cater for younger revellers, while the Old Town Ceilidh gives a true flavour of more traditional Scottish folk music and dancing. If you’re a ceilidh novice, there are callers on hand to guide you through the necessary moves. For a more atmospheric accompaniment to the end-of-year festivities, head to the dramatic 14th-century St Giles’ Cathedral on the Royal Mile for a specially curated candlelit concert of baroque music performed by leading Scottish singers and musicians. The truly brave-hearted can then enjoy the Stoats Loony Dook, a bracing dip in the River Forth on New Year’s Day.

London
London’s fabulous new year fireworks. Credit: VisitBritain/Britain on View

New Year’s Eve Fireworks, London

Stand on the Victoria Embankment in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament and the view across the River Thames to the London Eye and Waterloo Bridge is still stunning even on a wet Tuesday in winter. Come the evening of 31 December, however, and the sky comes to life with one of the world’s most impressively choreographed fireworks displays.

After Big Ben counts down the seconds to midnight, the first shots are
fired and the river itself becomes a mirror for every flash of colour and light. Rivalling even Guy Fawkes Night for a spectacle, the London skyline becomes a mere theatre backdrop for more than 12,000 individual colourful explosions – including some from the 32 capsules of the London Eye itself.

The atmosphere on the banks is always celebratory too, aided by the creative flourishes applied to each year’s new display. In 2012, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations inspired a production that included Her Majesty’s speech, while the following year saw LED bracelets and fruity sweets given out to ensure a multi-sensory experience.

Although already a popular British institution, the first proper New Year’s Eve fireworks display in London only took place in 1999, as the world ushered in the new millennium with an estimated three million people in attendance. The annual event has become so popular that ticketing was introduced in 2014, however, so if you intend to head down to the official viewing areas, be sure to book in advance – tickets will be available online from October.

Cliveden
Cliveden

Cliveden House, Buckinghamshire

For a truly opulent way to see in 2017, the two-night New Year House Party
at Cliveden House takes some beating. Black-tie dinners, Champagne receptions and live jazz bands are standard. January 1 hangovers can even be soothed with a stroll around 376 acres of National Trust gardens and parkland. 

While the rooms come at a premium, you will at least be guaranteed to be following in the most illustrious of footsteps. The Grade I listed mansion was built for the 2nd Duke of Sutherland in 1851 on the site of two previous houses. Visitors over the years include Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill and every British monarch since King George I. The Beatles held races on the parterre in breaks between filming for the 1965 movie Help!, while the model Christine Keeler met the MP John Profumo by the outdoor swimming pool, sparking
a scandalous affair that would bring down the Conservative government.

You don’t need famous guests to enjoy Cliveden House though. Less than 45 minutes from London, it is the perfect destination for an end-of-year escape.

webnosgalan
The Nos Galan Road Race

Nos Galan Road Races, Cynon Valley

If Christmas is a time for indulging, the Nos Galan Road Races is a fine way to burn off that extra mince pie. The first 5km Nos Galan road race took place in 1958 to commemorate Guto Nyth Brân, an 18th-century Welsh athlete who legend has it was the fastest man on earth. Guto was born in the village of Llwyncelyn in Rhondda Cynon Taf and the races follow the circuit of his first competitive run. Following a church service in Llanwynno, a celebrity “mystery runner” (in 2015, Welsh former Olympic athlete Colin Jackson kicked things off) carries the Nos Galan torch from Guto’s graveside to the start of the race. A record 1,600 runners turned out last year and there are a host of races in the early evening for all ages and abilities, and with 10,000 visitors expected, it promises to be quite the celebration.

Allendale Tar, Bar’l Festival, Northumberland

Visitors to the small Northumberland village of Allendale who arrive on 31 December will
be forgiven for thinking they have stepped back into the Middle Ages, for it is here that one of Britain’s most vivid and eccentric new year celebrations takes place.

After celebrating the evening in the town’s various hotels and hostelries, the participants
in the Tar Bar’l Festival – known as “guisers” – make their way to an area by the church to collect their “tar bar’ls”. Today these are old whisky barrels that have been cut in half and filled with paraffin-doused sawdust and kindling, which is then set alight. The barrels are carried on the heads of the guisers, despite each weighing around 30 to 40lbs.

With flaming barrels held aloft, the guisers follow the brass band across the market place, past the Wesleyan Chapel and around the village streets before returning to the main square just before midnight. Here the barrels are thrown onto the bonfire as everyone shouts, “Be damned to he who throws last”. Auld Lang Syne is then sung and the new year welcomed in a celebratory fashion.

Quite how this fantastical festival began is unclear. Over the years, the guisers – always local men aged 17 or over and vetted by a committee – have worn various fancy dress costumes and painted their faces. The first record of the celebrations occurred in a local paper in 1884, although many believe it stretches back to the Middle Ages and has either pagan or Christian roots.

Health and safety restrictions may have tempered the wild, pagan atmosphere a little in recent years with the bonfire cordoned off and local fire marshals on standby, but it all helps to make this a family-friendly festival that will live long in the memory.

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