Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Burry Man, 2017

Posted on by royvickery |

What is one of Britain’s most enigmatic traditional customs takes place in South Queensferry, about 10 miles outside Edinburgh, on the second Friday in August each year.  The Burry Man, a man totally covered in burdock (Arctium) burs processes around the town from 8.45 a.m. until 6.00 p.m.  No one seems to know when this event started and why, although it is believed that similar figures once appeared in nearby towns.

Visitors wanting to see the Man can find it difficult to locate him; for much of the day he is walking through housing estates, well away from the tourist areas of the town with their stunning views of the Forth Bridge.  The local museum has a model Burry Man, and some interesting photographs, but the person in charge on 11 August 2017 had little idea about which route was followed.

The Burry Man’s outing falls between the Thursday and Saturday on which Ferry Fair is celebrated, and the Ferry Fair Festival 2017 programme contains details of the route, which tells when he will be where; ‘all times are approximate and subject to change’, but, in fact, things seemed to be keeping well on schedule, and after enquiring the whereabouts of  various avenues, drives, and gardens, along the route, it was relatively easy to find the Man.  As he walks from one stop to another a man ringing a bell walks in front shouting ‘Hurray, hurray, it’s Burry Day today’, thus making things a little easier.

The Man and his attendants, who support his arms which have to be held outstretched to prevent their bur-covered sleeves attaching themselves to his bur-clad body, were followed by a small band of folkies and some young people with collecting cans.  It is said that the Man must stop and have a dram at every pub in the town, but where pubs are thin on the ground individual householders bring out tumblers of whisky, which he has to drink through a straw as it’s impossible for him to raise them to his mouth.

Although the town authorities seem to do little, if anything, to promote the Man, it is apparent that the residents of the housing estates enjoy and are proud of the event, turn out to watch him pass by, and gather at his stopping (and drinking) points.

All photographs taken 11 August 2017.

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