Fire on the hill: A Samhain night

A strange mixture of traditions was being celebrated on Cochno Hill in the Kilpatricks above Clydebank on Saturday, November 5. For a start there was the Lomond Mountaineering Club tradition of odd-ball social events: seven club members plus my son Joe, on a visit from down south, marched up the hill to light a fire and enjoy the fireworks across Glasgow – it’s a great viewpoint.

Picture: Holly Duncan
Picture: Holly Duncan

So there was Bonfire Night, where we celebrate the execution of a Catholic plotter; Bommy Night to me and Holly who are from Merseyside, and we both remember when bonfires were held in every back garden down there, instead of the tame neutered public displays. Oh for the days when dad could burn the shed down by nailing a Catherine wheel to the door …

We toasted marshmallows – in my case amateurishly, setting them on fire and sticking them to my teeth. That’s from the States, I think.

We carried firewood up, other food and and gluhwein, with Klaus bringing about a gallon of it and force-feeding half  of that to Joe, who wasn’t complaining. Klaus explained that there is a German festival at this time of year, I can’t remember its name but it involved fire, religion and possibly strong drink.

And of course what we were really doing here in Scotland was marking Samhain, the pagan  autumn fire feast that was subsumed into Halloween by the clever Christians, the ones who turned the winter solstice celebration into Christmas and household gods into plaster saints. Samhain’s last fiery traces were probably later turned into the Guy Fawkes auto da fe.

The wind whipped in from the north and we huddled round the fire, laughed, ate and enjoyed the fireworks from below and our sparklers, flapjack, and stories.

It felt slightly crazy in the freezing cold, uncivilised and invigorating, a few hours to enjoy the raw elements away from the city spread out in lights and flashes below us.

Just the thing for celebrating Samhain, and perhaps the spirits of those from the old, mysterious Celtic communities that once lived along the shores below and in the hills to the north  were drawn to our light and slipped among us.

I think they would have felt at home.