Nithraid 2014 is a return of a fun and spirited public celebration of the River Nith crossing Dumfries. Masterminded and organised by The Stove artists’ collective, this year’s Nithraid is bigger and more eventful and colourful. Some 5000 spectators lined the riverbanks on September 13 to see the Salty Coo parade, BMX demonstration, Roller Derby skating and skateboard performances, visit the market stalls, take hand at metal casting and, of course, to cheer the finale of the boat race.
The Nithraid celebrates the past, present and future role of the river in the flourishing of Dumfries. The river was once a busy international and domestic trade route making Dumfries an important harbour. The boat race from Carsethorn to the Caul at the Whitesands, each boat carrying a symbolic ‘cargo’, is designed to remind Doonhamers of this historical role. The sailors have to negotiate the trait0rous sand traps, unreliable currents and low bridges to ride up the high tide, where the salty waters of the sea mingle with the ones of the river. The race takes place around the time of the Autumn Equinox when the tide is at its highest, however many a boat doesn’t make it to the Whitesands where the winning crew member has the honour of releasing the Salty Coo, a sea salt cow statue, to dissolve in the Nith.
As an event photographer it was a pleasure to join the documentary team and be re-united with the Stovies who worked tirelessly and selflessly to ensure the smooth running of the Nithraid’s multiple components. Artists are often viewed as these slightly useless creatures producing luxury items for the privileged, but here in Dumfries and Galloway they are a visible constructive social force, concerned and actively involved in the area regeneration. Market stalls were erected and the Curry lorry parked to serve as a stage. The whole area was beautifully decorated with banners and flags. I was amazed how brisk, quick and practiced the whole process was!
A miniature model of the race, complete with the river, model boats and bridges, was constructed in the sand ‘amphitheatre’ where the current positions of the boats was updated by the radio unit patrol, marked on a score board and reported to Doonhamers. It became the kids’ fav place to play.
Meawhile, a festive procession carried the Salty Coo through the town down the Friars Vennel to the Whitesands and across Devorgilla Bridge. A carnival band played the music commissioned to accompany the statue, and a flock of young ceilidh dancers entertained the onlookers. The Salty Coo was then afixed in a tongue in cheek sculptural bull holder mechanism and raised on a specially constructed pontoon waiting for the dunking ceremony in the middle of the river.
On seeing the cow (and the bull) John asked me: ‘Is it deliberate? I mean, the cow and the bull doing it, you know…’ Well, that’s the carnevalesque spirit for you!
I came home with a lot of images for the Stove, tons of new impressions, a burned forehead (it was such a sunny day) and a feeling of gratitude to the Stovies for implementing such a fantastic successful event!
Below are my favourites from the day.