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Edinburgh’s Loony Dook is one of the craziest activities I’ve participated in, and one of the most exhilarating! In a nutshell, I jumped into the North Sea with hundreds of other revelers to wash away the previous year and get ready for the New Year.
How Loony Dook Started
The name means just like it sounds – a lunatic dunk. The waters in Scotland’s Firth of Forth (a forth is a bay, like a fjord) come directly from the North Sea, and the water is not that far above freezing, especially on New Year’s Day.
The earliest record of jumping into the Firth of Forth was on January 1st, 1946. Soldiers returning from World War II jumped into the sea under the iconic Forth Rail Bridge to wash away the sins of the war and prepare for the new year.
In 1986, three friends suggested the event as a hangover cure for New Year’s. It was repeated again the next year for charity, and thus the tradition was born. Over the years, it developed more and more popularity, requiring some organization to be put in. By the 2000s, hundreds of participants and thousands of spectators were showing up for the event. In 2011, the Loony Dook came under the purview of Unique Events, who started charging £6 ($7.85) to participate. In 2016, the price was raised to £10, and then to £12 in 2020. A portion of the proceeds go to charity, and safety personnel are hired to manage the crowds and also patrol the waters for any health problems.
Since 2017, Underbelly has managed Loony Dook as part of the Edinburgh Hogmanay Celebration. Hogmanay is a whole series of events for New Year’s, starting with the Torchlight Procession down the Royal Mile on the 30th, followed by several events on the 31st like the street party, the Ceilidh (Scottish folk dancing) Under the Castle, and the Concert in the Gardens. The Loony Dook is the big event on the 1st of January, the same day that the Message from the Skies begins.
A Day at the Beach
The Hogmanay Loony Dook takes place in the morning or early afternoon on New Year’s Day, based on the low tide for safety reasons. You must purchase your tickets in advance online, as they sell out before the day of the event. You will still need to register at the RNLI Queensferry Lifeboat Station to get your number, as if this were a marathon.
There is free parking available on the roads leading into South Queensferry. Make sure you arrive early, or you could have a very long walk down to the parade. You can also take a train from Waverley Station or Bus 43 from St. Andrews Square.
Several pubs and cafes in South Queensferry offer breakfast to the participants and spectators. In the past, hot oatmeal was given to those preparing to jump into the water, but that was missing in 2020.
The participants line up in the parking lot by the Forth Rail Bridge Viewpoint. To keep things organized, they are separated into groups. I don’t know if the organizers specifically put the best costumes in the first group, but it certainly looked that way.
For Loony Dook 2020, low tide was at 11:11 a.m. and the parade started at 2:15 p.m. (probably to let people sleep in a bit longer and get over their hangovers). In 2018, the parade started a couple hours earlier and I missed it!
It takes about fifteen minutes to walk from the parking lot to the steps leading down into the forth, although it might take you well over an hour depending on where you are in the procession. The spectators can stand anywhere along the parade route, or on the platform overlooking the beach where the loons do their dook.
If you’re a participant, you’re not expected to do more than be in the parade, walk or jump into the water, and then get out. Most everyone wore sandals or sneakers, as the beach is pebbly rather than sandy. It’s quite safe to leave your shoes, towel, sweater or anything else on the sand, especially with all the cameras around. But chances are, you’ll only be wearing your costume once you make it into the parade.
A key feature of Loony Dook is the costumes. A handful of people go in their bathing suits (which is crazy in itself due to how cold the water and weather are), while others get a little (or a lot) more creative. I felt quite out of place in my California beach shorts. Although I certainly wasn’t the only one in a simple bathing suit, some people went all out.
With 1,100 participants, it’s safe to say there were hundreds of different costumes. Some are handmade, some are purchased costumes, and some make you just want to say “Huh?” or perhaps “What the f@*$?!”
Other Locations for Loony Dook
South Queensferry isn’t the only location for Loony Dook. There are more than half a dozen other towns in southeastern England upholding the tradition, including a big one at Portobello beach in Edinburgh. With only 1,100 tickets available, everyone else who wants to participate has to go somewhere else. There are also those who have no desire to fork out £12, even if a small percentage of the proceeds go to charity.
If you have your own car, I’d also recommend heading out to North Berwick or St. Andrews for their Loony Dooks. These seaside villages are beautiful Scottish towns. While they might not have the thousands of spectators that Edinburgh has, the smaller turnout will have far more camaraderie, much like the original Loony Dooks 30 years ago.
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Planning to visit Edinburgh but not for New Year’s? Here are some other activities to partake in around Edinburgh.
- The Village Hotel in Edinburgh is So Much More Than a Hotel
- There’s a Cat Cafe in Edinburgh!
- Enjoying the Happiest Place in Scotland at Edinburgh’s Chihuahua Cafe
- Begin Your Journey in Scotland with a Secret Food Tour in Edinburgh
- What the Da Vinci Code Didn’t Show You About Rosslyn Chapel
- Camera Obscura in Edinburgh Brings Out the Kid in You
- Experience the Underground Preservation of Mary King’s Close
- Escape Edinburgh: The Most Fun Activity in Edinburgh’s New Town
- Finding the Best Ghost Tours in Edinburgh
- Riding the Most Delicious Tour in Edinburgh on the Red Bus Bistro
- 9 Free Attractions to Visit in Edinburgh
- 10 Activities for The Perfect Day Trip from Edinburgh
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.