Honeymooning at the Heb Celt Festival

AS TICKETS for Hebridean Celtic Festival 2008 go on sale today (May 1), it's been revealed that visitors from 70 countries are set to travel from around the world in order to enjoy the sights and sounds of both the Heb Celt and the Western Isles.

And this year they will even be joined by a Scottish couple who have chosen to schedule their marriage around the festival – with the first day of their honeymoon coinciding with the opening night.

The festival has pioneered the use of the internet in attracting a global audience and their independent website data shows people from all over Europe, the USA, Canada, Russia and Japan will be in Stornoway this year to celebrate one of the leading music events in the UK.

Commenting on the global interest Caroline MacLennan, Festival Director, said: "The internet is a key driver in our plans to attract a worldwide audience.

"Out website data also shows we are generating interest in unusual locations such as China, Thailand, Vietnam, Israel and the Lebanon. It's exciting to see our traditional music and culture appealing to such diverse audiences through modern day technology.

"It's a great credit to the festival workforce and in particular, our website team at Reefnet based here in Lewis."

Caroline added: "Our 300 early bird tickets were all sold online. Now the rest of our tickets go on general sale on May 1.

"We know out website system is capable of handling the massive demand for our shows and we're looking to increase our website functions for future years in order to extend the enjoyment of the Hebridean Celtic Festival."

Anne MacAulay of Reefnet, who have looked after the Heb Celt website since 2001, spoke of its success: "The website attracts 5,500 visits a month and rising. There are over 1,000 page views every day and each person visiting the site reads an average of five pages.

"It's a great amount of traffic and we're pleased to have built a website system that can handle the various functions essential to the festival, such as online ticket sales and news about the programme."

Attracted by four days of family friendly live Celtic music concerts, day sessions and educational workshops, over 15,000 people enjoyed last year's Heb Celt; with visitors arriving from over 40 different countries.

And this year proves to be no different. Arriving from Hamilton, Ontario in Canada with three others, including wife Jan, will be Brain Winer, one of the many attracted to the festival from website viewings.

"None of us have any direct relationship to the Outer Hebrides but my wife and I have had a keen interest in all things Scottish for many years. We have attended innumerable Highland Games in Canada and the USA and generally share a common love of Celtic music in all its forms," he explained.

"We have been following the news of the Hebridean Celtic Festival for three of four years on the website and finally decided to plan another trip to Scotland with the Festival the focal point of the trip.

"It will mean a round trip of almost 10,000 miles and will cost thousands of dollars, but it will be worth it to get to this year's Hebridean Celtic Festival."

And so much is the attraction of the Heb Celt that bride to be Catriona MacKenzie has arranged her wedding to enable her to join in the festival fun.

Now living in Dumfermline, both Catriona and her mother are originally from Point and the family usually holiday in the islands during the first two weeks of August.

"Although I've been away for a while it always feels like I'm coming home when I come back to Lewis," Catriona said.

"We've never actually been to the festival before as we always miss it coming up in August, but this year I managed to get everyone to change their usual plans and we're heading up for the wedding on Tuesday 15 and then staying on to soak up the Heb Celt atmosphere."

Excited about her up-coming nuptials, Catriona continued: "We're getting married in the Broadbay Guest House. They've never done a wedding before, but have been really great in helping us get organised.

"I'm getting excited about the wedding and you'd better believe I'm getting excited about the four day Heb Celt party afterwards! We've bought season tickets for our wedding party and at least ten of us will be there for the big blue marquee when the main gigs begin.

"We thought it would be a fantastic way to celebrate our wedding and it should be a wonderful start to married life together," she added.

Tickets for the festival – which takes place this year from July 16 to 19 – are now available online at www.hebceltfest.com, as well as by telephone on 01851 621234 from 10am to 5pm, by post or at the festival office which will be open on Saturdays from May 17 to June 28 (11am to 4pm) for bookings only. The Festival office opens full-time (Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm) from June 30 for ticket pick ups and bookings – if still available.

Don't be disappointed this year – get your ticket and get geared up for Heb Celt 2008.