SCOTTISH towns have a reputation for being charming and friendly – but they also have a rich history of being a bit weird.
How else can you explain the odd traditions?
In Moffat, in Dumfries and Galloway, there’s an annual sheep race down the main street.
Meanwhile, brave volunteers from Irvine gather to climb a greasy pole in an attempt to retrieve some ham.
There are bizarre customs like this all across Scotland, but none quite as mesmerising as South Queensferry’s Burryman, which visitors to the area need to experience.
In the shadow of the Forth Rail Bridge, Forth Road Bridge and, of course, the new Queensferry Crossing, one “lucky” local is nominated to be the Burryman every August.
Armed with two staves and a floral hat, he’s covered from head to ankle in sticky burrs from the burdock plant and paraded seven miles through the area.
The result is either a fascinating example of ancient local traditions around our wee nation, or a potential infernal man-shrub sent to drag you to pagan hell, depending on your point of view. Perhaps a little of both.
If you can’t make the Burryman’s Parade, which takes place in August each year and dates back to the 17th Century, you can see a life-size representation of him at the South Queensferry Museum.
Thankfully, the Burryman is contained in a glass case, but the rest of the museum is a remarkable record of the history of the town.
Charming artefacts from the distant past, a touching memorial to the locals who fought in the world wars and the now ancient-looking tools which constructed the famous bridges across the Forth are on display.
A highlight is the fantastic telescope mounted at the window.
On a clear day you can easily spend upwards of half an hour training the crystal-clear lens of the spyglass on fishermen, wildlife, passing ships – and of course the brand new Queensferry Crossing.
Along with the Rail and Road Bridges, it’s a remarkable piece of engineering.
We’ve come a long way – almost a thousand years – from when King Malcolm III’s wife, Queen Margaret, made the trip across the water on a primitive boat. Her trips gave the area its name.
It used to a be a major European trading port, and South Queensferry’s cobbled main street is lined with the historic buildings to match.
A stroll down it on a Sunday afternoon in late summer, perhaps with a coffee from the railway-themed Railbridge Bistro, is more than pleasant.
We make our way to the Dakota Edinburgh, our hotel for the evening, which is located in Ferrymuir Retail Park.
It might be a large four-storey black box of a building, but the staff are so gracious and desperate to please, you wonder if they’ve mistaken you for a minor Royal.
Immediately we’re upgraded to an executive suite, which happened twice to a friend who stayed prior to us. Does it happen to everyone who stays?
Prices vary but there’s a deal for a room for two, a two-course meal plus a cocktail (not forgetting breakfast) which comes in at £120.
It’s imposing on the outside, but the Dakota’s interiors really don’t belong in a retail park overlooking a Burger King.
It’s stylish and contemporary, not to mention pristine.
Those who struggle with low light might want to pack their night vision goggles, though – the charcoal-on-shadow colour scheme might seem rather gloomy.
You won’t find a pastel painting of a yacht on the walls of the lobby, here.
A crab linguine costs £16 – free with our deal – but doesn’t really taste like it, unfortunately, nor does the £17 roast breast of chicken.
Restaurants in Edinburgh will make tastier dishes for half the price.
Our Dakota desserts are a peanut butter cheesecake and a chocolate tart, and they save the day.
The cheesecake is sweet, nutty and, as they say on MasterChef, plated magnificently. All the dishes are – Dakota Hotels clearly understand the power of an Instagram post.
In the morning we emerge from the shadowy interior of the Dakota blinking and squinting, even though it’s thoroughly overcast.
A trip on the Maid of the Forth, departing from Hawes Pier, and chuntering to Inchcolm Island, follows as we round off our trip to South Queensferry.
The bridges tower above us and it’s easy to speculate on someone spying on us with the telescope from the museum we browsed the previous day.
Hopefully, it’s not the Burryman.
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