Today, Edinburgh’s singular take on the ancient Celtic ritual which once ushered in the start of summer is a ticketed spectacular which, though the weather is often stubbornly un-summery, still draws thousands of locals and tourists to the summit of Calton Hill for an evening of fire, drumming, acrobatics and more.

But on April 30 1988, when the first modern Beltane Fire Festival took place in the capital, it was a much smaller affair. Back then no tickets were required and there was no knowing the landmark cultural event it would become.

Instead, its participants were what the Beltane Society’s website describes as “a small group of enthusiasts”. Among them were academics from the University of Edinburgh’s influential School of Scottish Studies and members of London-based Test Dept, the sprawling industrial music collective who once boasted a certain Vic Reeves on bass and whose mainstay, Edinburgh-born Angus Farquhar, would go on to found ground-breaking, Glasgow-based environmental arts organisation NVA.

Students of modern history and pop culture afficionados will also know that the late 1980s coincides with the rave era, when there was a groundswell of interest in neo-paganism – Stonehenge became a site of pilgrimage almost for so-called New Age travellers – and alternative philosophies, politics and lifestyles.

All this comes together in the Beltane Fire Festival.

The event has grown and mutated over the years, but its core rituals and traditions remain intact. Essentially it takes the form of a procession which begins at what Beltaners refer to as the Acropolis, the Ordnance Survey map lists as the National Monument, and Edinburghers call Scotland’s Disgrace: intended as a war memorial to commemorate the dead of the Napoleonic Wars, it was left incomplete in the late 1820s.

From there the procession moves in an anti-clockwise fashion around the hill, meeting up with various groups along the way who add theatricality to the proceedings by helping or hindering the two figures at the procession’s head – the May Queen, representative of summer, and the Green Man, that hoary old figure of myth and legend who represents nature. In the train are various other characters linked to those two in stories or by symbolism, and after a stage performance the Green Man’s death and rebirth will be signalled by the lighting of a bonfire marking the start of summer. Later, the participants congregate in an area known as the Bower, and then melt into the night, ready to start again next year.

There are still tickets available for the event, which begins at 7.30 on April 30 and runs until 1am. Cost is £15 plus booking fee, and children under 16 go for £5. And, for once, the weather forecast doesn’t look too bad.