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Walk through history and see Olde Towne’s origins and it’s continued evolution.
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Portsmouth’s Olde Towne Scottish Walk tradition is modeled after Scotland’s Hogmanay Festival. Hogmanay Festival is a Scottish tradition celebrating the New Year that dates back hundreds of years and is celebrated by millions of people all over the world. After a COVID hiatus in 2020, the festival returns for its 24th year. The Olde Towne Scottish Walk takes place on December 31st, 2021. It begins at the corner of Washington and Queen Street and winds its way through the historic neighborhood. Step-off is at 4:30 p.m., or for you military/overseas travelers, that’s 1630 hrs. Come join the procession of families, friends and visitors led by bagpipe-and-drums this New Years Eve afternoon.
Hogmanay (pronounced haag·muh·nay) is said to have originated with the Norse Vikings in the 8th or 9th century (most accepted version); the first mention in the English language dates back to 1604. It has been a tradition for many Clans and people of Scottish heritage around the world since then. Over the years some traditions have been adapted while others remain much the same. Intended as a way for townsfolk to honor their merchants and community; the walk rings in the New Year with luck and prosperity. While customs vary throughout Scotland, they usually include gift-giving and visiting the homes of friends and neighbors, with special attention given to the first-foot (the first guest of the new year). Festivities take place all over Scotland and last for three days, beginning at the end of December and ending on 2 January.
Susan M. Heely (pictured above)
Portsmouth’s Olde Towne Scottish Walk tradition began in 1997, introduced by resident Susan M. Heely, quickly became one of the most popular events in Old Towne. Susan wanted to create a free event for all people to gather and celebrate the coming year! Line up at Queen and Washington Streets around 4 p.m. as the walk begins promptly at 4:30. Friends often gather in pubs before and after the walk to enjoy each other’s company, share meal, sample the local ales, and thank the local innkeepers for their service to the community.
People from all over Southeastern Virginia and as far away as Canada gather in the hundreds, sometimes thousands, dressed in woolens, plaids, tartans, and kilts, to see this spectacular display and pride march. The tradition continues thanks to the dedicated efforts of Susan M. Heely, and support from the city of Portsmouth, VA, multiple Scottish Clans, the local restaurants, musicians, reenactors, and many more who are instrumental in making this event happen. Check out a short preview clip of it in action here.
While there are no vendors at the event, arriving early is a great time to chat with other participants and enjoy the spirit of the occasion. If there is a chill in the air and you need a warm up before the start, St. John’s Episcopal Church on the corner opens their doors for free coffee and hot chocolate for the hour before the walk begins. Parking is free in Olde Towne, including at the Monumental Methodist parking lot. The Olde Towne Scottish Walk steps-off at 4:30 p.m. (1630hrs), at the corner of Queen & Washington Streets. From here, you’ll meander through Olde Towne and end at High Street Landing.
Upon arriving at High Street Landing, there will be a few proclaimations before the crowd joins together to sing “Auld Lang Syne” written by famous Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1788. There will also be a flag ceremony that honors George Washington’s raising of the first flag (the Grand Union) on 1 January 1776. After, there is an unofficial pub crawl, with lots of live performances. For the latest information, please visit our Facebook events page here. For listings of all upcoming events, click here.
The Olde Towne Scottish Walk happens only once-a-year. You’ll travel by the famous Seawall, parade through the historic Olde Towne neighborhood, and maybe have an opportunity to make new and lasting friendships. Come early, bring some friends, visit the shops, take in the local art, have some lunch, take a tour, and spend a relaxing day in Virginia’s Historic Seaport. Most importantly, in the spirit of hogmanay, honor the merchants and ring in the New Year with luck and prosperity.