VISITORS to a historic castle this weekend may find themselves burning juniper leaves, cutting holes in cheese and walking around while holding a fish above their heads.

The unusual activities are part of Hogmanay House, a “first foot adventure” at Lauriston Castle which combines contemporary magic with elements from Scotland’s traditional new year celebrations, a feast which took precedence over Christmas following the Reformation.

The festivities were often known as “the daft days”; also the title of Robert Fergusson’s 1772 poem where he contrasted midwinter’s bleak skies with the lights and merriment of Auld Reekie.

“Be thou prepar’d,” Fergusson warned however, “to hedge us frae that black banditti, the City Guard.”

The daft days don’t end, strictly-speaking, until January 6, once known as Handsel Monday in Scotland, where it was customary to exchange a gift as a good luck token for the coming year.

That’s surely license to have a party this weekend – if you can keep out of trouble.

And visitors to Hogmanay House will be well occupied by a group of entertainers including singer-songwriter Ainsley Hamill (pictured), musician Ron Jappy, mindreader Drew McAdam, storyteller Jock Ferguson and card magician Lewis Barlow.

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They’ll also be invited to explore the 16th-century castle’s rooms, secret passages and hidden chambers as they discover more about Hogmanay and take part in rituals involving “lucky cheese” and burning juniper to ward off illness and evil spirits.

Hogmanay House is held as part of the Edinburgh International Magic Festival, which recently moved from its usual summer slot to winter following the success of the MagicFest Christmas Show which they have run for the past three years.

Organisers Svetlana McMahon and her magician husband Kevin Quantum completed preparations for the event at Lauriston Castle earlier this week.

“Scotland has some wonderful Hogmanay traditions, and this is a time of year that is closely associated with the mystical and magical,” says McMahon.

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“Hogmanay House is a fun way to welcome in the new year with a celebration of Scottish culture,

plus entertainment by some wonderful performers, who will entertain audiences with magic, mind-reading, music, stories and song.”

McMahon adds: “We very much look forward to welcoming people into this beautiful and historic building for a real first footing adventure.”

Today and tomorrow, Lauriston Castle, Edinburgh, 3.30pm, 5.30pm, 7.30pm, £20 adult, £18 concs, £15 child. Tel: 0131 226 0006.