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Guy Fawkes Night in Scotland

Written by James Walsh
Bright red, pink and silver fireworks explode against the black night sky.
A fireworks display on Guy Fawkes Night | Image: Koah, Shutterstock
What is the story of Guy Fawkes Night? And how is it marked in Scotland?

Remember, remember
the 5th of November –
gunpowder, treason and plot

For more than four centuries, 5 November has been a notable date in the British calendar. Every year on Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Bonfire Night, people come together to fill the dark autumn skies with fireworks, wave sparklers, and enjoy some sugary delicacies.

Who was Guy Fawkes?

The story is an explosive one ... or at least it could have been! On 5 November 1605, guards caught a man, who called himself John Johnson, attempting to light 36 barrels of gunpowder under the Palace of Westminster in London, now more commonly known as the Houses of Parliament.

After several days of torture, Johnson confessed. Along with several other plotters, he had hoped to protest against the persecution of Catholics in England by blowing up the parliament building and the people inside, which included King James VI & I. Also, his name wasn’t really John Johnson; it was Guy Fawkes.

The Gunpowder Plot had been hatched the year before, in a London pub. It was masterminded by a man called Robert Catesby, who enlisted Guy Fawkes to light the fuses. Fawkes was a well-liked and highly skilled soldier who had been fighting with the Spanish army on the Continent against Protestant Dutch reformers. It helped that his face was less familiar in Westminster than those of his co-conspirators.

Fawkes stashed gunpowder under the Palace of Westminster in the run-up to the opening of parliament. This proved surprisingly simple – with storerooms available to rent, he was able to come and go as he pleased and hide the barrels beneath the building in advance. On the evening before he visited the storeroom to check everything was in order, but little did he know that a few days earlier a letter intended to warn Catholic sympathisers in Westminster of the plot had found its way to King James’s men, who were now hot on his heels.

Fawkes was caught, arrested, tortured, charged and then executed, in the space of just a few days. His fellow conspirators suffered similar grisly fates, while both Parliament and King James were left unharmed.

  • Did you know?
    When fighting in Spain, Guy Fawkes became known as ‘Guido’ Fawkes, which is how he signed his first and last confessions after the failed plot. The signatures show just how much his body and mind had deteriorated under torture – the second signature is barely a scrawl and is hard to decipher.
An old engraving on brown paper of the group of men involved in the Gunpowder Plot. All are labelled. Beneath the illustration is a large section of text in Latin, French and German describing the plot.
The Gunpowder Plot Conspirators, 1605, by Crispijn de Passe the Elder | NPG 334a © National Portrait Gallery, London

What is Guy Fawkes Night?

At the time, the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot was seen in England as a sign that the country was protected by God. In 1606, the government passed a law (known as the Thanksgiving Act) that made it mandatory to hold (and attend) religious services on 5 November each year – this law was only abolished in 1859.

It’s worth noting that Guy Fawkes himself was barely mentioned in the original 5 November services. Instead, the ‘celebrations’ were more focused on demonising Catholicism. Over time, other traditions sprung from the religious commemoration, with people lighting bonfires, ringing bells and setting off fireworks – a nod to the failed explosives of the plot.

By the 20th century, the tone of the celebrations changed: 5 November had become more of a light-hearted and family-friendly event. More attention was paid to the fireworks and bonfires than anti-Catholicism,or even the remembrance of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot. Nowadays, you’re more likely to hear people refer to 5 November as Bonfire Night or Fireworks Night rather than Guy Fawkes Night, which shows how times have changed.

A very large bonfire burns against the black night sky. Fences and other wooden objects can be seen piled under the flames.
A large bonfire to mark Guy Fawkes Night | Image: Alex Penna, Shutterstock

How do we mark Guy Fawkes Night in Scotland?

There are certain things that are associated with, if not essential to, Guy Fawkes Night in Scotland. These Scottish traditions are much the same in other parts of Britain.

  • Bonfires – People tend not to build their own bonfires in the street like they used to (for obvious reasons), but large communal bonfires are still organised in cities, towns and villages all over Scotland. Not only is it strangely calming to bask in the glow of a huge bonfire, but the extra warmth is always welcome on those chilly November nights.
  • Fireworks – This tends to be the most popular Guy Fawkes Night tradition, with many people attending organised public fireworks events. Don’t forget to practise your oooohs and ahhhhs ...
  • Sparklers – With most of the celebrations taking place after dark, sparklers are another fun way to light up the night.
  • Toffee apples – People love to keep warm on Guy Fawkes Night with hot drinks and food, but one sweet snack is particularly popular at this time of year: crunchy apples wrapped in hard, sticky toffee, and popped on the end of a stick.
  • ‘Penny for the Guy’ – This tradition is not seen as often these days, but it involves collecting loose change to try to raise funds for effigies and fireworks.

Depending on where you are in the country, you might find different local traditions – some towns take Guy Fawkes Night more seriously than others.

Where can you celebrate Guy Fawkes Night in Scotland?

Here are some places in Scotland that typically host a sparkling Bonfire Night celebration, along with nearby Trust properties that can make your day even more exciting.


Aberdeen typically hosts a big firework display by the sea, with music and plenty of family-friendly activities at the same time.

Aberdeenshire is also famous for its castles and stately homes, so if you’re looking for something to do in the day, pay a visit to Castle Fraser, Drum Castle or Haddo House.


Wrap up warm for the outdoor displays in Inverness and the surrounding area. Recent celebrations in the city have been accompanied by fairgrounds, food trucks and other fun things.

Before the sun goes down and the festivities begin, spend your day visiting nearby Culloden to learn about the Jacobites, or venture further afield and visit West Affric to enjoy beautiful mountain landscapes.


There are lots of popular fireworks displays in Glasgow on Bonfire Night. Wherever you go, you’re bound to see bright displays popping up from local events.

Before you head out for the evening’s fun, why not spend the day exploring some of the city’s historic properties, like Pollok House, Holmwood and the Tenement House.


Edinburgh is known for its spectacular Hogmanay firework display and New Year’s Eve parties, so expect to find lots of great Bonfire Night celebrations trying to build the same kind of buzz – often in surrounding areas like South Queensferry and Currie.

Fantastic Trust properties you can visit beforehand include the Georgian House in the famous New Town, or stunning Newhailes in the coastal town of Musselburgh. If you’re coming to Edinburgh for the weekend, you can even stay at the beautiful apartments at Gladstone’s Land on the legendary Royal Mile. This tenement was built around the same time as the Gunpowder Plot.

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