Loony Dook founders lament current commercial event

Crowds line the streets for the Loony Dook 2020 parade.
Crowds line the streets for the Loony Dook 2020 parade.

Members of the group who came up with the original New Year Loony Dook have lamented its expansion into a world-famous phenomenon more than 30 years after they took the plunge for the first time.

The event, held in South Queensferry since January 1, 1987, has become one of Scotland’s most famous New Year’s Day traditions.

Some 1100 people from all over the world took a dip in the freezing Forth last week with dookers paying organisers Underbelly £12 a head to take part.

But it started out as a drunken challenge between drinking buddies in the town’s former Moorings pub.

Only a handful of hardy souls dived in 33 years ago and a couple of them still take part every year – but believe it has been tarnished by commercialism.

Pete Jackson (71) who was among the inaugural Loony Dookers, said: “No one can charge me to go into that water.

“I know there’s costs involved but it’s still wrong.”

The Loony Dook was started when pals Jim Kilcullen and Andy Kerr – who have both since passed away – were discussing how to celebrate the New Year.

Jim suggested they “jump in the Forth” as a hangover cure. Andy took up the challenge and coined the term “Loony Dook”.

Pete added: “Jim Kilcullen stopped a double decker bus the first time and we went on board with buckets and gave the money to local charities.

“It’s not a local event at all any more.”

Jeweller David Garthley, now 75, who opted to cheer his buddies from dry land rather than get wet and cold, said: “The whole situation then was entirely different to what it is now.

“I think it’s a damned disgrace.

“ It started off as a giggle, and now it’s being used as a commercial enterprise.”

After a few years of only local significance, the Loony Dook in South Queensferry gradually grew in the 1990s, both in popularity and number of participants.

The growth accelerated after the event started to be mentioned in the official Edinburgh Hogmanay publicity material and got a boost when the Millennium edition was broadcast live by the BBC.

Private firm Unique Events were the first to take control of the Loony Dook when the entry fee was introduced.

Current Hogmanay organisers Underbelly this year sold tickets to 1100 people from 23 countries, many of them in fancy dress.

An Underbelly spokeswoman said: “The Loony Dook has grown in popularity since it began back in 1987.

“As it grew, more infrastructure was required and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay was asked to become involved to make it a safe and fun event.”