Strange British traditions: Whuppity Scoorie

March 1 is Whuppity Scoorie in Lanark.

That sentence was entirely in English. Let’s take it apart.

Is is a verb. March 1 is a date. In is a preposition. A preposition is anything you can do in relation to a cloud: You can be in it, on it, under it, near it. Lanark is a town in Scotland–a royal burgh, to use its formal description. You can be in it or near it. It’s awkward to be on it or under it, but it’s not impossible. It has a population of 8,253 (or did at last count) and is 29 1/2 miles from Edinburgh and 325 miles from London.

In between all those words is a festival, Whuppity Scoorie, and if you hurry you still have time to go, which is why I’ve added an extra post this week. Welcome to another oddity of British culture.

A royal burgh? That’s a Scottish burgh with a royal charter under a law abolished in 1975. Which is sort of like giving directions by telling you to turn left where the cafe used to be, but history’s a powerful beast and the phrase lingers even if the law and the cafe are gone

A burgh? That’s an incorporated town. In Scotland.

Scotland? It’s that stretch of land covering the north of Britain.  

We could keep this up all day but let’s move on. What’s Whuppity Scoorie?

To help explain that, a 2011 article in the Scotsman quotes the chair of the community council, who describes it as an “ancient ritual . . . despite the fact that nobody really knows when it started or what it means. But hey, it’s fun and it’s aye been.”

It’s aye been? That’s one of those things the Scots say to mess with the English. I’m American and easy to mess with, linguistically speaking, especially since Google translate won’t divulge the secret of what that means. But I dug deeper, with Lord Google’s permission, and found that it means it always has been.

And if it doesn’t, I’m sure someone will correct me.

Okay, you’ve stuck around long enough to prove that you’re serious, so let’s find out what happens at Whuppity Scoorie: The town’s kids run around the kirk (that’s the church) three times, going anti-clockwise and swinging paper balls around their heads on strings. At the end, the kids scramble for small coins scattered on the ground. Since it’s evening, the coins are hard to spot.

A man scattering scattering coins told the Scotsman, “I just keep walking. If you stop, you’re surrounded. Nothing against the kids, but I’ve seen vultures no as bad as this.”

What do people think it means? One local woman thought the ritual was pre-Christian and was meant to chase evil spirits to the neighboring village.

Good neighbors, those Lanarkians.

Did either town exist in pre-Christian times? Possibly. I can’t find a date for either place. The evil spirits have been chased onto the internet and they’ve taken the dates down.

Other people believe the ritual welcomes spring and still others that it mimics the seventeenth-century “practice of taking prisoners from the nearby Tolbooth and whipping them round the kirk before scouring them of their sins in the River Clyde.”

Another belief dates it to the nineteenth century, when Lanark kids would march over to New Lanark to throw stones at the kids there.

Like I said, good neighbors.

Lanark has two other yearly festivals. Het Pint started in 1662. It takes place on New Year’s Day and involves pensioners getting a free glass of mulled wine at the Tolbooth. Lanimer Day sounds like a carnival but it lasts five days.  

It’s a very strange place, Britain. That’s not a complaint, just an observation.

141 thoughts on “Strange British traditions: Whuppity Scoorie

    • I wish I had the kind of imagination that could produce that. I have tried. I went through a stretch of time where I found myself wondering what I’d suggest if we were going to introduce a new “traditional” festival to the village. The best I ever came up with was rolling those giant round hay bales down the hill and letting them act like demolition equipment when they come to the spot where the road turns and they don’t. It wasn’t one of my more responsible ideas. Or my more believable ones.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. It’s good to embrace the strange, the weird, the and the outright batshit, takes our mind off the serious stuff. Perhaps the Cof E should adopt this one, I’m pretty sure if someone was dropping money around the churches everyone would be quite happy to run round it to pick it up, and the dwindling congregations would be a thing of the past.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for writing this. Now I’ve gotta read all your posts that I’ve missed…
    Love, light and glitter
    Enjoy the sunshine whilst it lasts (no clue what part of the UK you are, but here there’s blue sky)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What a fun weird thing to do. I have sudden desire to have my own private Whuppity Scoorie event here at home. I adore March 1 because as far as I’m concerned winter is over, spring is here on that date. So why not celebrate it Whuppity Scoorie-style?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Reminds me of the time I went to New Orleans and discovered they have multiple parades every day of the year. It would drive me nuts living in a town with parades or Whuppity Scoorie or other such things, especially ones that have “aye been”! Thanks for the warning, Ellen!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. A bit of genealogical digging a few years back shied my father’s people coming from Lanark — or at least that’s where the ship sailed from. But from where I sit, in NE USA, Lanark looks a bit inland to have a shipping port. Any chance you can shed light here, Ellen?

    I do enjoy your posts. But then that does not make me unique.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love how very localised such traditions and festivals are. We had nothing like Whuppity Scoorie where i grew up in central Fife but we did have scrambles. As kids, we would always stand around outside the Registry Office on a Saturday morning knowing there would be a wedding and that the groom or best man would initiate a scramble and we could collect coins to spend on sweeties later.

    Liked by 2 people

      • I think the scramble is more broadly Scottish and not specific to a region, though I’ve no claim on being an expert. Likewise, giving pewter (or silver – or these days a coin) to a new baby to ward off the fairies and their changeling plots seems to be pretty universal in Scottish culture. I’ve known people to place a coin in the pram of a new baby not even knowing why it’s good luck or why it’s a tradition, it’s just so ingrained to do it.

        Liked by 2 people

        • The same way people will knock on wood (or their head in the absence of anything that came from a tree) to keep something they said from being jinxed. Oddly enough, I haven’t seen anyone tossing a bit of salt over their shoulder in a long time, although that may be because people are less likely to have salt on the table than they used to be.

          Strange creatures we are.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Due to some Scottish ancestry, we had an unmarried lady carry our baby up the road and into her Christening. It’s supposed to thwart the evil spirits and convey fertility/marriage on the lady.

          Liked by 2 people

  7. Re: Belief in evil spirits – many in the Former Colonies have now become believers.

    When I read your first sentence, a smudge on my glasses (spectacles, I mean) lead me to believe it said “MACH 1 is Whuppity Scooree… “thereby confusing me in a scientific way into thinking it had to do with the proposed speed of Brexiting.

    One of the US’s more underrated festivals is The National Hollering Contest, held every summer in Spivey’s Corners, North Carolina.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The National Hollering Contest is new to me. If I was closer, I’d go.

      I see your point about Mach 1 and Brexit. We’re headed somewhere at high speed and we have only the vaguest idea where it is. Talk about insane festivals.

      Liked by 1 person

    • We mustn’t ignore the Smelly Sneakers competition held each March in Montpelier or the “ambling of the heifers” each June in Brattleboro. Both here in beautiful Vermont where it’s currently about 3 degrees (F) but the sun is out and the storm has finally passed.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’m glad I don’t have to judge the first contest. Given that it’s sneakers, it can’t be too ancient a tradition.

        We’re stormless here at the moment as well, and basking in sunshine. I won’t tell you the temperature–it’d be unkind–but it’s warm for the season and people are telling each other that we’ll pay a price for this weather.

        Liked by 2 people

    • It’s entirely possible that you did. I don’t think I understand it but it’s got a convincing ring to it.

      The problem with an uppity scoorie is that you can throw as many coins upward as you like, but they’ll come back down all the same.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Years ago, I worked for a writers organization that often brought in visiting writers to work with local (and less established) writers, and someone on staff had to meet them. Fortunately, that wasn’t me, because I’m unbelievably bad about recognizing faces. But the guy who for a while did used to complain about photos that were twenty years out of date. Or that had some single identifying feature. He went to meet Audre Lorde once and realized he was looking for the turban she’d worn in her photo. I don’t think he’d bothered to take in the face under it at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Should you need help with current Glasgow vernacular, this link might help…
    From the inter war period my father recalled that at dances in Glasgow the ladies’ excuse me was known as waur the hairy.
    More recently the view that tower blocks were examples of bad planning practice was exemplified in the Jeely Piece song…if the link works.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I recently opened a Tumblr account/App on my Smartie-phone. Since I am a true Anglophile, I naturally searched for those “Anglo-things.” Here are my favorites, so far, that I am following: adore-london, sometimeslondon, myverybritishblog,cozylondon, and for exquisite photography and links to other sites, “fuckitandmovetobritain.” (Don’t think we haven’t entertained that comment and thought often about such a move. I could have dual citizenship in Ireland… That’s the O’Neil part of me.) Thanks for this fun thread.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. So not to nitpick, but actually you CAN’T be on a cloud. Not unless it’s The Cloud, and once you’re on that there’s no getting around it so I don’t think that counts either. But regular clouds? Nope – you fall through. Every time. Ask anyone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m going to sound like Bill Clinton discussing what the meaning of is is, but it depends who you are. If you happen to be yourself, or mine, yup, crash, right through and onto the hard ground. Splat, and a nasty end to the story. If you happen to be a molecule of water, on the other hand, you’re fine. Which grammatically, if not in any practical terms, you could be….

      Grammar’s a funny thing. It can wave the most unlikely things past approvingly and kick up a fuss when you say something perfectly sensible, like, “It’s me.”

      “No, no, no,” it says. “It is I.”

      It’s not. It’s damn well me.

      Liked by 2 people

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  12. Pingback: More Strange British Traditions: The Honiton Hot Pennies | Notes from the U.K.

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