Thanks to the Edinburgh Festival, which spans almost the whole of August, Scotland’s capital isn’t just on the map for holidaying Brits each summer, but draws in a huge international clientele too. And the festival’s crowning glory is undoubtedly the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. A tremendous spectacle of pipers, drummers, acrobats, military marching bands, cheerleaders and dancers, if the Tattoo’s outrageous antics – which include motorcycle teams performing gravity-defying stunts – fail to catch your attention, the romantic castle with its Esplanade and ramparts illuminated against the inky night sky will. With the Tattoo fast approaching, here are 10 little-known facts that any first-timer should know.
1) A ‘Tattoo’ isn’t a skin stamp
The word comes from the closing-time cry ‘Doe den tap toe’ (Turn off the taps) in the pubs of the Low Countries. The British adopted the practice of playing a regiment’s drums and pipes through the streets to signal that the keg taps should be turned so that soldiers would return to their barracks before their evening curfew lapsed.
2) International in Scope
Far from being a small-town provincial affair, the Tattoo attracts performers from over 48 countries across six continents. This is reflected in its audience too, as a third of attendees come from overseas.
3) Well Established
The first Tattoo took place in 1950, when there were just eight items in the program. This year pays tribute to HM The Queen’s 90th birthday by celebrating ‘Tunes of Glory’.
4) Sells Like Hot Cakes
With a cast of over 1,000 and an exhilarating program that includes thunderous military flybys, spectacular fireworks, rousing anthems and a holiday atmosphere, it’s unsurprising that 95 per cent of tickets are usually gone several months in advance.
5) A Logistical Wonder
If all the cables required for the Tattoo were spread out from Edinburgh, they would reach Glasgow.
6) Happens Come Rain or Shine
Scotland is notoriously fickle when it comes to good weather, and yet not a single performance of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has ever been canceled.
7) Home Advantage
Edinburgh Castle is HQ to one of Scotland’s most senior cavalry regiments, The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. Also known as the Carabiniers and Greys, the oldest surviving cavalry of the line in the British Army is always at the center of the Tattoo’s pipe and drum action, and boasts not one but three mottos, which range from the Stuart royal family’s ‘No one provokes me with impunity’ to the reserved maxim of the Prince of Wales’, ‘I serve’.
8) Gives Back to the Community
Over the years, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has given $10 million to service and civilian and arts organizations, such as the Edinburgh International Festival.
9) Traditional to the Bone
Custom dictates that the famous Burns anthem, Auld Lang Syne, is sung at the end of each Tattoo, so make sure you’re on friendly terms with your neighbors. And it’s preceded by a spotlit Lone Piper, who plays a haunting lament. The first of these pipers, standing high up on the castle walls, was Pipe Major George Stoddart. He played in every performance for the first 11 years and his son, Major Gavin Stoddart, has upheld his mantle ever since.
10) What To Wear
If you really want to get into the spirit of things, purchase a kilted skirt for the bonnie lass and high-waist Highland trews for the lad at the Tattoo’s official shop.
If talk of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has inspired you to experience the festival for yourself, why not book a place on the Country Roads of Scotland trip, which offers the Tattoo as one of its Signature Experiences.