Water, water everywhere: Scottish festivals celebrating the Year of Coasts and Waters in 2020

Water, water everywhere: Scottish festivals celebrating the Year of Coasts and Waters in 2020

Pop on your sea legs and soak up all the excitement of Scotland's themed year

It makes a lot of sense for Scotland to be crowning 2020 the Year of Coasts and Waters. Rivers, lochs, beaches, harbours and burns are among this country's many outstanding features: the mainland boasts nearly 10,000km of coastline, we have 790 offshore islands, and many thousands of people make their living through the water, whether that's in fishing, boating, shipping or the production of world-famous drinks. So when we rave about the importance of water we're not talking about something that's designed purely for tourism: these are important aspects of life for many in Scotland, and those resources are being celebrated in a number of top festivals through the year.

Kick off your spring on the Queen of the Hebrides with a celebration of music and whisky at the Islay Festival of Music and Malt (22–30 May). All the famous distilleries open their doors to visitors for talks, tastings and the odd special tipple, and across Islay you'll find ceilidhs, poetry, food and other fun ways to learn more about island life.

With stunning views of the Firth of Forth and its numerous islands, North Berwick's Scottish Seabird Centre plays host to Marine Fest (1–30 Jun), a celebration of Scotland's extraordinary marine environment and wildlife. Events throughout the month include rock pooling, guided walks, crafts, activities and interactive science shows.

The increasingly good Clydebuilt Festival (19 & 20 Sep) is packed with fun events, on both water and land. The former includes the 13-mile Castle to Crane rowing race, a small craft regatta, a chance to check out some dragon boats, plus a canoe and coracle taster sessions. The dry land fun includes sea shanties, food and drink, markets and a big old afterparty.

Water, water everywhere: Scottish festivals celebrating the Year of Coasts and Waters in 2020

Fringe by the Sea

This year brand new festival Dumbarton Festival River Town (4–7 Jun) features music, arts and recreational events. The historic town has an indelible maritime connection which will be marked by artists, companies, local schools and community groups with a programme themed around Build, Float and Connect.

Another new festival for 2020 is Making Waves (18 & 19 Jul), a family-oriented weekend shindig celebrating the long tradition of Scotland's seaside entertainment but with a modern bent. Expect music, arts, performances and activities taking place on and off the water and centred around the long sandy beach and harbourside of Irvine, with the Isle of Arran acting as the perfect backdrop.

This year's Scotland's Boat Show takes place in Inverkip (9–11 Oct) and is part of the River of Light (10 Oct), a new event which involves communities along the River Clyde and beyond decorating their own vessels with lights and other visuals. The illuminated boats will gather off shore at Kip Marina, where there will also be food and drink, a torchlight procession and family entertainment.

Heading up to the north-west, The Skye Festival/Feis an Eilein (3–12 Jul) returns with a new look especially devised for the Year of Coasts and Waters. Taking place across the entire island, this ten-day extravaganza explores relationships between the area's rivers, glens and dramatic coastline with a broad programme of music, theatre, dance, literature and community events.

Water, water everywhere: Scottish festivals celebrating the Year of Coasts and Waters in 2020

Findhorn Bay Festival / credit: Paul Campbell

The East Neuk Festival (1–5 Jul), meanwhile, is a wider celebration of music – from folk, world and jazz to contemporary, choral and electronic – as well as visual art, literature and more. It all takes place in an interesting range of venues in this particular pocket of Fife, from a former nuclear bunker to a scout hut and RAF base.

Another arts festival that gets better every year is Fringe by the Sea (7–16 Aug), which takes place in the East Lothian seaside town of North Berwick. It features big-name music, comedy and literary acts who are playing up the road at the Edinburgh Festival, as well as some more local acts. Spiegeltents are erected at the harbour, and there's always something for all ages. Have a blissful stroll along the beach and tuck in to some fresh lobster and chips while you're there.

Squeeze out the last few drops of summer by heading to the exquisite Moray for the award-winning biennial Findhorn Bay Festival (23–28 Sep), which features 125 different events this year, including the divine folk music of the Karine Polwart Trio and Duncan Chisholm: The Gathering, while plenty other arts and cultural treats abound for all ages. There are some truly breathtaking beaches in this part of the world, and you'd be well advised to book extra time for exploring if you're heading this way.

And for something completely different, check out the Largs Viking Festival (29 Aug–6 Sep) in North Ayrshire. It marks the final mainland battle between the Scots and the Norse, with highlights including the ceremonial burning of a longboat at sea, a Viking skirmish, a festival of fire and a torchlit parade.

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