What Time is it in Scotland? Don’t trust the Balmoral Hotel

What time is it in Scotland? We can tell you – but watch out for Edinburgh’s prominent and permanently fast clock, and there are other unusual Scottish public clocks including one with a missing minute and another that once hung a musical outlaw.

The Time In Edinburgh…

Here’s a clock….
At the moment, Scotland runs at the same time as England, the country to the south of us.

This time is known as Greenwich Mean Time, though strictly speaking, only in the winter months.

At the end of March each year, the clocks go forward on a system called British Summer Time or Daylight Saving Time, returning to GMT in October.

Mid-June sunset, Moray Firth. What time is it in Scotland? Later than you might think.
It’s exactly 2157hrs – 3 mins before 10 o’clock, 3 days after midsummer. The sun still hasn’t quite set over the Moray Firth.

Why Is It Darker In Scotland In The Winter?

Because of the latitude. We are quite a long way north. People from the south of England notice it when they visit us. Naturally, we Scots have the advantage in the summer though, when it’s much lighter here at night.

The thorny issue of scrapping Daylight Saving Time is sometimes raised by right-wing English MPs.

It is probably true that – statistically – most folk in the south of England would favour this. And that’s perfectly understandable.

It was tried between 1968 and 1971. The clocks did not go back an hour and – surprise, surprise – it was terribly dark in the mornings in the north of Scotland.

I have vivid memories of walking to school in pitch darkness. The sun didn’t rise till well after 9am.

But it could be something that England may want to do when Scotland becomes independent. England can run an hour ahead of us in the winter. You’ll just have to re-set your watch when you get to Berwick-upon-Tweed. All sounds reasonable. 

Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh. This clock is set fast - so don't ask what is it in Scotland!
The Balmoral Hotel and its clock tower are prominent in the Edinburgh skyline.

Some Quirky Clocks In Edinburgh And Beyond

The clock tower of the Balmoral Hotel stands 190ft / 58m high and overlooks Waverley Station. The building was opened as the North British Hotel in 1902.  

A ‘railway hotel’, owned by the North British Railway at the time, the clock has always run three minutes fast, to help travellers catch their train!

Apparently it only runs at the right time for one occasion each year – Hogmanay. This is what Scots call the last day of the year, when Edinburgh (and plenty of other places) have a very special party.

Millenium clock, National Museum of Scotland
The Millennium Clock in the National Museum of Scotland always draws a crowd when it goes into action.
The Millennium Clock Tower

– National Museum Of Scotland, Edinburgh

This ten-metre high contraption in Edinburgh’s popular National Museum of Scotland is utterly weird, but probably in a good way. It always attracts quite a crowd when it performs. And note: it doesn’t strike – it performs.

There are all kinds of allusions to events, historical figures and ideas that were prominent in the century past. Some find it disturbing and grotesque, others inspiring.

The music played by the clock is the 3rd Movement of Concerto in A minor, Allegro BWV 593, by Johann Sebastian Bach. And you’ll certainly know when it starts!

What time in Edinburgh? See the Floral Clock
What time is it in Edinburgh? Well you can see both the Balmoral Hotel Clock and the Floral Clock (as here) from Princes Street Gardens. It’s been admired by generations of visitors.

(Above) Dating back to 1903, this wacky floral timekeeper requires 45,000 plants to be inserted annually on its face, with themes changing annually. It is said to be the world’s oldest floral clock.

What time is it in Scotland? Check the time ball – Calton Hill, Edinbrgh

At the same time as the gun is discharged from the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle, a time ball falls from the top of the Nelson Monument on nearby Calton Hill.

The time ball pre-dates the gun and was intended to be a signal to ships in the port of Leith.

The One O’clock Gun

Edinburgh Castle.

Guaranteed to startle visitors and pigeons alike (if they aren’t expecting it), the One o’ Clock Gun has been a time-check since 1861.

And, yes, the local visitor information centre has sometimes been asked ‘What time does the One o’ Clock Gun go off?’

Calton Hill, Edinburgh, with Nelson Monument prominent.
Calton Hill, Edinburgh, with Nelson Monument prominent and hosting the Time Ball.

(I always think in the old days about the poor watch-keeper charged with setting the ship’s clocks must have been terrified to take his eyes off the tower – liable to get into a sort of ‘dammit! missed it again today’ situation.)

This visual signal was of no use if it was foggy, so the gun was introduced.

And, yes, I agree, sound travels much more slowly than light, so we might be talking wee discrepancies here…

Two more examples of Scottish clock towers with stories to tell.

What time is it in Scotland on the Crimond Parish Church Clock?

The face of this clock in out-of-the-way rural Aberdeenshire has got an extra minute inserted into it between 11 and 12. Some say it was a mistake.

Others say it was to give the parishioners an extra minute to arrive at the church on time. (Eh?)

Whatever the truth, a former Polish soldier called Zygmunt Krukowski repaired the clock mechanism in 1948 and while he was up in the tower, repainted the clock face with the correct number of minutes.

The locals made such a fuss that it had to be painted once again, with the extra minute restored.

The clock face also bears the words ‘The hour’s coming’ in appropriately gloomy Presbyterian style.

The name Crimond also recalls the usual tune for the 23rd Psalm ‘The Lord’s my Shepherd’ – composed by the minister’s daughter, Jessie Seymour Irvine, in 1871.

Macduff church with no clock
Here’s a wintry picture of Macduff, as seen from Banff, with the blank face of the clock as a small grey dot at the top of the church tower.

Macduff Parish Church

And The Outlaw MacPherson

Another church clock in Aberdeenshire with an odd association, this Presbyterian kirk of 1805 is sometimes called Doune Church, after the town of Macduff’s original name.

Anyway, its tower has a clock face on three sides out of four. The fourth side is blank and faces Banff across the estuary of the River Deveron.

The story goes that this is because of the hanging of one Jamie MacPherson in 1700. He was a half-gypsy freebooter and cattle rustler, who, long story short, was targeted by local toff, Duff of Braco.

However, MacPherson was at the same time under the protection of another landowner, the Laird of Grant. Important detail: MacPherson was also a great fiddle-player.

What time is the execution?

Duff eventually seized MacPherson because of his depredations, and got his chum, the local Banff Sheriff, to sentence him to death. (They were probably both in the local Rotary Club.)

Grant pulled strings to have him pardoned. Sure enough, on the day of his execution, with the minutes ticking down, a rider carrying a reprieve was spotted on the road.

Immediately Duff of Braco had the town clock moved forward fifteen minutes and had MacPherson hung ‘on time’ – though not before the bold outlaw had sung a song and then broken his fiddle to make sure nobody else would play it.

What Time Is It In Banff?

No Point In Looking To Macduff.

Great story, eh? OK, the church across the estuary with the clock that doesn’t show its face to Banff wasn’t actually built until 105 years after his execution.

Perhaps the folk of Macduff were still annoyed the reprieve didn’t get through as they had sided with MacPherson against their landlord, Duff of Braco.

Anyway, the hanging of MacPherson did actually happen according to the local records – and, certainly, there is to this day a large old clock in Macduff that doesn’t let neighbouring Banff know the time!

Cat in the Clan MacPherson Museum
Anatomically unlikely waving feline. I’m certainly not touching that cat in the Clan MacPherson Museum

MacPherson’s Rant (or Farewell)

The whole affair became a ballad that was re-written by the poet Robert Burns (who was also a great folk-song collector and improver). As MacPherson’s Rant, it’s still heard in folk clubs today.

And there’s a cafe in Banff called The Broken Fiddle (at least there was in my day!), while the actual, uhmm, broken fiddle is in the Clan MacPherson Museum at Newtonmore. 

When I last visited the Clan MacPherson Museum I managed not to photograph the broken fiddle of MacPherson. Sorry. What was I thinking about…

However, though we are straying just a little off-topic, I did sneak a wobbly picture of this curiously disturbing feline with its anatomically unlikely salute.

Actually, I think the cat may be making it clear that it isn’t wearing a watch – so there’s no point in asking him what time it is.

The Clan MacPherson motto is ‘Touch Not the Cat Bot a Glove’ (‘Bot’ here means ‘without’.)

Wait – I feel a talk-bubble coming on… Anyway, here is a quote from ‘MacPherson’s Rant’.

“There’s some come here to see me hang / And some tae buy my fiddle /
But afore that I do part wi’ her / I’ll brak’ her through the middle
…The reprieve was comin ower the Brig o Banff / To set MacPherson free /
But they set the clocks a quarter afore / And they hanged him frae the tree…”

And let’s give the last  reference to time via Robert Burns again, in his poem Tam o’ Shanter.

“Nae man can tether time or tide;
The hour approaches, Tam maun ride; 

More on Robert Burns’ poetry and the Music of Scotland.