For one day in August, the residents and visitors of South Queensferry in Edinburgh, Scotland, are treated to a rather unusual display. A man is dressed from head to toe in burrs, a prickly part of a plant that is similar to thistles, and paraded around this port town along the Firth of Forth estuary. The exact origins of this spectacle have been lost to the mists of time, but there is speculation that is deeply rooted in folklore traditions.
It has been suggested that the Burryman is associated with pagan rituals involving the cycles of death and rebirth, often linked to harvest celebrations. The Burryman’s presence is said to ward off evil and promote good fortune to all those who pay him homage either in monies or alcohol. His appearance happens in conjunction with the town’s Ferry Fair Festival.
As a part of this celebration, a local man will be dressed up in this makeshift suit of spiky flowering buds, and led around the town by two attendants in normal dress. This procession will go on for several hours, all the while this elaborate trio will stop at every pub to collect donations and partake in the drinking of whiskey through a straw.
The Ferry Fair Festival is a weeklong celebration that involves a number of activities and fundraising events. The entire town participates with storefronts decorated and businesses providing floats and motorcades. It usually takes pace over the second week of August, culminating in the crowning of the fair Queen and her court comprised of local children.
Outside of the festival, a Burryman costume—his name is Frank—as well as other artifacts pertaining to the history of the village can be seen at the Queensferry Museum.
Know Before You Go
Check the Ferry Fair website for information regarding the Festival and the appearance of the Burryman.
The town of South Queensferry lies about 10 miles north of Edinburgh. Dalmeny is the nearest train station and is about a 30 minute walk into the center of town.