Discover Scotland's festivals by the sea
- Ashley Davies
- 27 February 2019
Our urban hubs are not the only places jumping to exciting sights and sounds of top-class festivals, Scotland's harbours, beaches and coastlines also offer a feast of events about food, drink, music and Vikings
It's no exaggeration to say that Scotland has some of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. There are thousands of miles of unspoilt beaches, hundreds of pretty harbours – many of which still play a crucial part in the country's seafood economy – and an abundance of breathtakingly beautiful accessible and remote islands. So it makes total sense that Scotland will be shining a light on this rich resource during 2020 as part of the Year of Coasts and Waters celebrations. With an exciting range of existing festivals already celebrating the theme – from food and drink events to coastal jamborees showcasing our wonderful landscapes – there's lots to dip your toes into throughout the following 12 months.
A rising star on the festival scene is Fringe by the Sea (2–11 Aug) which takes place in the gorgeous seaside town of North Berwick in East Lothian, and is merely a 35-minute train journey from Edinburgh. For ten days, a couple of large Spiegeltents take over the pretty harbour area, hosting a range of shows covering everything from live music and comedy to author talks and children's entertainment. It has an ambitious programming team who continue to attract some big names, many of whom are in the country at that time to take part in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. And between shows you can tuck into some street food, enjoy a beach walk or even go for a swim to work off your fish and chips.
Heading further north (you can take a ferry from North Berwick to Anstruther in the summer), the East Neuk Festival (26–30 Jun) attracts top international classical musicians to this picturesque part of Fife. Churches, gardens, a large barn and some other unusual spaces (including Scotland's Secret Bunker and an aircraft shelter) are used as venues for concerts across a handful of impossibly attractive towns and villages including Cellardyke, Crail (pictured right), Kilrenny and Kilconquhar. You can also enjoy other musical genres, including jazz and world music, as well as spoken-word performances, films and visual art exhibitions. Be warned, though: prepare to spend longer here than you'd planned because you will fall in love with the area.
One of the picture-postcard whitewashed villages in the East Neuk of Fife hosts a splendid event for seafood lovers. The Crail Food Festival (Jun), started off eight years ago with a few market stalls in the community hall, but to satisfy growing demand for delights from Scotland's natural larder, the event has evolved into an unmissable celebration of good food and drink in the area. If fresh, locally sourced seafood is your thing then you'll be in heaven. You'll also find product talks and tastings, demonstrations from chefs, live music, children's entertainment, market stalls and more. People who love whisky absolutely have to put Islay on their must-visit list. A pilgrimage to this exquisite southern Hebridean island (home to eight distilleries and counting) is a wonderful experience at any time of the year, but the last week of May is particularly interesting and fulfilling.
The Islay Festival of Music and Malt (24 May–1 Jun), which has been running for more than 30 years, puts on an enticing range of events focused on – but emphatically not limited to – the uisge-beatha that this part of the country is so famous for. All of the distilleries, including Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Bowmore, Laphroaig and Bruichladdich, open their doors to visitors, and there are tastings and talks as well as the occasional limited-edition bottle or cask. To add to the wonderful atmosphere, there's a great programme of traditional music, including ceilidhs, workshops and lessons, as well as poetry, food and a wide range of other opportunities to delve into island culture. It's also a perfect excuse to forget the rest of the world and absorb the calming natural heritage of the island. And while you're there, do jump on a ferry to check out the neighbouring island of Jura.
For something you're unlikely to find anywhere else on the British Isles, check out the Largs Viking Festival (Sep) which takes place in North Ayrshire. For almost 40 years, this dramatic occasion has marked the 1263 Battle of Largs, the final mainland armed conflict between the Scots and the Norse. Highlights include the ceremonial burning of a longboat at sea, a festival of fire, and 13th-century craft demonstrations.
There's also a chance to find out more about how Vikings lived, as well as lots of food, drink and other entertainment. Portsoy is the destination for the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival (22 & 23 Jun) which welcomes visitors for a weekend of nautical fun, featuring food and drink, children's events, music, crafts and rowing competitions.
The thriving Edinburgh seaside neighbourhood of Portobello hosts the increasingly interesting Art Walk Porty (Sep). The event brings together the artists who live and work there, while at the same time acknowledging and celebrating its heritage as a seaside holiday destination, complete with Victorian promenade and a beach that attracts people from all walks of life.
Keep up to date with exciting plans for Scotland's Year of Coasts and Waters 2020 at visitscotland.com/YCW2020