Gun Running, Bagpipes and Belgians on Bicycles: The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

The show gets underway as the sun goes down over the ramparts and the sound of the massed pipes and drums fills the air. Then there’s an almighty roar as a Eurofighter Typhoon flies overhead. The flags are raised, the castle gates open and the Edinburgh Royal Military Tattoo is underway. The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Our road to the Tattoo (as it is shortened to by the people of Edinburgh) is probably not the most favourable, we’re actually only going because we have family friends staying and they wanted to go – we’ve all seen it several times before (despite the fact that there’re different acts every year there is a slightly predictably format) – and so I’d be lying if I said that I was excited. It is held in stands on the castle’s espanade, so is open to the elements, and I think it would be fair to say we came away a little damp when we were last there. Not a promising start.

The Royal Edinburgh Military TattooThe show started with the pipes and drums (with the odd trumpet thrown into the mix), but thankfully the new seating appears to funnel the drone upwards, meaning that my ears weren’t assaulted too much. This was closely followed by the first of the ‘overseas’ acts. The army of the Netherlands, dressed in tights and riding old WWII style bikes; there are no stereotypes in this show… I stopped being a grump at this stage and decided that this was an attempt at a cycle display team who also double up as a silver band at the same time, with a bit of slapstick thrown in on the side. Oh the crazy Dutch…

The Royal Edinburgh Military TattooFrom here I think it’ll be easier to ditch the chronological order, otherwise this will be intolerably long (it probably still will be, sorry). Apart from the pipe bands from random parts of the world (I think one came from Oman, or somewhere near there) the major attraction came in the form of the band of the Brazilian navy. These very energetic individuals in their red coats leapt about – in formation, obviously – playing a selection of upbeat numbers, including their naval anthem. There was a slightly awkward moment when they brought on their, rather cold looking, dancers and a couple of the band broke-off for some scripted flirting, but aside from this it was quite impressive.

The navy seemed to be taking centre stage this year as they were on virtually all the time. This started with a bit of gun running. Not in the illegal sense, I hope you understand, but as in a demonstration of how cannons on battle ships of old were run out (it was a bit of an idiot’s guide, but there was enough information to keep it interesting and to promptly forget immediately afterwards) and the risks that the sailors faced. It was then brought back to the The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoopresent day with a field gun race between a crew from HMS Raleigh (a navy training base on the South coast) and one from Faslane (where we keep nuclear submarines and other things over near the Clyde). For those of you who have never seen one of these it is essentially a race to see who can dismantle their gun, run it down to the far end of the arena, reassemble it, fire it a couple of times and then do the exact reverse. It is quite fun to watch (it’s slightly more exciting when there’s an assault course involved), but here there was – the seemingly unexpected, despite it being a fortnight in to the Tattoo’s run… – the extra issue that the Castle’s esplanade has a good bit of a slope to it. In the end my team (i.e. the team on our side of the esplanade) won – naturally – and there was much cheering and jubilation from the visitors in the stands.

We were also treated to a display from the crew of HMS Montrose. For those of you who aren’t aware of this outfit (I would have considered myself lacking in this knowledge beforehand as well) they are part of the ‘Anti-piracy boarding team’ (pretty cool name, I’m sure you’ll agree). More used to boarding ships to rid them of Somalian pirates than abseiling down the ramparts of the castle to save the illustrious MV Edinburgh Castle from the grasp of the pirates, lead by the totally-not-stollen-from-anywhere ‘Cpt. Jock Sporran’ (someone shoot me now, please) they promptly saw off the somewhat lack-luster pirates and saved us all (yay…). We were also treated to the drumming skills of HM bands of the Royal Marines, which is incredibly impressive, regardless of how many times you have seen it.

The Royal Edinburgh Military TattooOther acts that graced the tarmac with their presence were the Bravairan Band of the German army (I’m glad to see we’re not the only people to play up to the stereotype – think laderhosen, accordions and alpine horns) and the obligatory Scottish country dancers. If we ignore the fact that they were celebrating the traditions of fishing in the North Sea (I’ll save you the biologist’s rant about the merits of such things) I still can’t say anything good about them. This is probably because I find country dancing one of the dullest things around – it should be solely the preserve of events where it is done with good humour, not taken too seriously and with large quantities of alcohol.

The evening ended with the amassed bands of all the performers, with a few rousing pieces and some impressive projections onto the face of the castle. There was much marching up and down, singing and the salute. Then we were treated to some fireworks which signal the end of the show (if you live in Edinburgh you will be aware of their explosion as it happens every night, except Sundays, at approx. 10:35pm).

I came away feeling a lot better about the whole thing than I did at the start. Ultimately it is a spectacle for tourists, and as such it is incredible. The show itself is something to behold, but the fact that it takes place with the backdrop of, arguably, the most famous castle in the world, that alone is worth the risk of inclement weather. If you are ever in Edinburgh when it is on I would suggest you get a ticket (although they are sold out months in advance, so you have to be organised), and even when you live here, it is worth going every so often. I did enjoy it, but I think I have had my fill for the next few years…

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