The Heart of Dunfermline

Dunfermline is Scotland’s newest city; it was awarded this status in 2022 as part of the late Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee Celebrations. Oddly, it’s also one of Scotland’s oldest cities. Like Stirling and Edinburgh, it has a historic quarter with medieval origins, in this case squeezed between the town’s busy shopping streets and Pittencrieff Park.

There are none of the crowds you’d associate with Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, Stirling Castle or Linlithgow Palace. In fact, if tourist Edinburgh’s sheer busyness wears you down, you could do worse than hop on a train to Dunfermline. If you do, you’ll alight at a station that has been speedily renamed Dunfermline City: it was formerly Dunfermline Town. You also get to cross the wondrous Forth Bridge.

The capital of Scotland

Dunfermline Abbey. Photo: VisitScotland/Kenny Lam.

Dunfermline has a very long history. In the 11th century it was the stronghold of King Malcolm III and arguably the capital of Scotland, so its city status was perhaps overdue. Ruins known as Malcolm’s Tower stand in Pittencrieff Park but the name is misleading; what’s visible probably dates only from the 14th century. However, Malcolm’s residence may well have occupied the same site; there’s a lot of ‘perhaps’ and ‘may’ when we talk about a thousand years ago. We do know that Malcolm married his Queen, Margaret, at Dunfermline in 1070.

Margaret was a particularly devout Roman Catholic and founded a religious house at Dunfermline, importing Benedictine monks from Canterbury to get it started. Four of her sons subsequently became kings of Scotland; even her youngest, David 1, came to the throne, in 1124; this year sees the 900th anniversary of his accession. David was determined to see his mother’s religious community become a major abbey and installed Geoffrey, the former prior of Canterbury, as abbot in 1228. David had grown up in England and he wanted to create an impressive building in stone, like the ones down south, for his mother’s foundation. He imported stonemasons from Durham Cathedral and the nave of the structure they built survives in Historic Scotland’s care, dominating this part of Dunfermline still.

Malcolm and Margaret both died in 1093 and were buried at Dunfermline Abbey. So too, in 1153, was David. Margaret’s and Malcolm’s remains were removed to a new dedicated shrine at the eastern end of the abbey church after Margaret’s canonisation. The shrine was a focus for pilgrims for centuries, but Malcolm’s and Margaret’s remains are said to have been removed for safekeeping at the Reformation, sent to the Escorial in Spain, and then lost.

Royal burials continued at Dunfermline for centuries. William the Lion and Alexander III are among those interred in the abbey. Most famously, Robert the Bruce (minus his heart) was laid to rest there in 1329. The last royal burial was Robert, the infant son of James VI, in 1601. The locations of most have been lost; we need Scottish equivalents of those clever people who identified Richard III of England below a Leicester car park.

St Margaret

Abbey and Palace. Photo: David Mcvey.

Talking of car parks, Margaret was said to pray in a cave near the centre of modern Dunfermline. In recent times the area has been built up and a car park covers much of the site, but the grotto was preserved. Accessed by a steep flight of steps and a tunnel, St Margaret’s Cave became Dunfermline’s oddest attraction. Since the pandemic, access has been limited so it’s best to check before any planned visit. Queen (or Saint) Margaret is multiply commemorated around Dunfermline and Edinburgh, even in the name of the new city’s other railway station.

By the time of the Reformation, the abbey St Margaret founded was the third richest monastic foundation in Scotland. Afterwards, many of its buildings fell into decay, but the nave of the abbey church survived in use as the parish church. In 1821, a new parish church was consecrated on the site of the former choir; its tower is ringed in stone with the words KING ROBERT THE BRUCE so’s you know who’s buried there. The site of St Margaret’s Shrine is still identifiable, outside the church to the east, but its glory has departed.

The refectory is the most complete survivor of the monastic buildings at Dunfermline; an impressive gatehouse, which houses exhibition space and the Historic Scotland shop, links it to the monastic kitchens and the guesthouse. The spiral staircase down to the monastic kitchens is the tightest I’ve ever encountered, and as a history buff I’ve encountered quite a few. It’s strictly one person at a time.

Monks had a duty to provide hospitality for visitors and maintained guesthouses. Like hotels today, guesthouses offered different grades of accommodation; guests could be lowly, penniless pilgrims, and they’d get the budget beds. Yet visitors could also be royalty. The remains of one guesthouse survive at Dunfermline, with its earliest remains going back to the 14th century. It probably offered top of the range accommodation and in the 1580s, James VI’s Queen Anne employed the royal Master of Works, William Schaw, to transform the building into a royal palace. Their daughter (later Elizabeth of Bohemia, ‘The Winter Queen’) was born here in 1596 and in 1600 so was their son, the future Charles 1. Charles was the last ruling monarch to be born in Scotland or, indeed, to be a Fifer. His son, Charles II, visited the palace as late as 1650 but it fell into disuse soon after.

The most impressive surviving medieval buildings in Scotland

Abbot House. Photo: David Mcvey.

Abbey, palace and nave are amongst the most impressive surviving medieval buildings in Scotland, but they’ve been much altered over the centuries. The huge buttresses on either side of the nave were added in the 17th century to prevent the structure from collapsing. The southwest tower did collapse in 1807 and was replaced.

Also in Dunfermline’s historic quarter, the 1821 parish church is usually open to visitors. To the north of the kirkyard is the beautifully restored 16th century Abbot’s House, which has a gift shop and cafe on the ground floor. The rest of the building is not usually open to the public but there are occasional open days when you can explore this fascinating survivor.

In more recent historical times, Dunfermline is perhaps best known as the birthplace of Andrew Carnegie. If the city’s most famous son funded New York’s Carnegie Hall, he also funded Dunfermline’s Carnegie Hall. If he funded hundreds of libraries around the world, Dunfermline’s was one of them. The Carnegie Library now has modern extensions housing a gallery, museum and café making it a visitor destination as well as a community resource.


It’s a city! Photo: David Mcvey.

Carnegie bought the Pittencrieff Estate in 1902 and donated it to his home town; it is now the popular and elegant Pittencrieff Park which extends to 76 acres and is renowned for its peacocks. The magnificent 17th century Pittencrieff House, restored not long ago, used to be a local museum but is now sadly disused. However, the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust (it was set up by Carnegie in 1903 and owns the park) hope to reopen it as a public facility in the future. It would be a fantastic focal point for the park.

The birthplace of Charles 1, the shrine of St Margaret, the burial place of Robert the Bruce, the legacy of Andrew Carnegie; Dunfermline has enough to satisfy the most demanding history enthusiast.

Text by: David McVey.

Main photo: Dunfermline Abbey. Photo: VisitScotland.

Luca leapfrogs Noah to top Baby Names chart

Luca was Scotland’s top name for baby boys for the first time in 2023, according to new figures released by National Records of Scotland (NRS).  Luca climbed four places to the top spot with 344 baby boys given the name. Last year’s most popular name, Noah, is pushed into second place, while Leo remains third. Jack has dropped out of the top three names for boys for the first time since 1996, falling to fourth place. Isla returns to the top slot for the first time since 2020, overtaking Olivia, the most popular name for girls in recent years. Freya is still the third most popular girls’ name.

Scotland’s bundles of joy

NRS Statistician Phillipa Haxton said: “National Records of Scotland is pleased to welcome all of Scotland’s bundles of joy in 2023.  There are more names in use today than there were in previous generations. The number of different names for boys reached a new all-time high in 2023, as did the number of unique names given to only one child in the year. The same pattern was observed for girls’ names, and the variety of names given to girls is still greater than for boys.”

Some of the names rising in use are associated with movies. Luca is now Scotland’s top name for baby boys, rising from 43rd in the charts before the release of the 2021 Pixar movie of the same name. Meanwhile the names of actors in the summer blockbuster movies Oppenheimer and Barbie further increased in popularity, with Cillian up 24 to 99th in the list and Margot up 57 places to 106th.

New entrants in the top 100 names include Oakley, which rose 64 places to 87th and Mabel, which leapt 102 places to joint 93rd.  Choices for baby names differ across Scotland’s 32 local authorities. Luca was top in seven areas and Isla in eight. Luca and Isla were top in Moray and North Ayrshire but Luca shared the top spot for boys with several names.

A celebration of Scotland at the Melbourne Tartan Festival

With a skirl of pipes, the Melbourne Tartan Festival (MTF) will open with the annual Kirkin’ ‘O The Tartan service at The Scots’ Church, Melbourne on Sunday 30th June. This year will celebrate the 150th anniversary of opening of the current Scot’s Church building on the corner of Collins and Russell Streets, Melbourne. The Parade of Clans will be piped into the church, with each Clan being announced and welcomed in both Scottish Gaelic and English.

The Melbourne Tartan Day Parade on Collins Street on Sunday 7th July is another festival highlight event. More than 200+ pipers, drummers and dancers will be joined by Clan representatives as the official party leads them down Collins Street. Preceding the parade will be displays of dancing and piping on the terrace of the Old Treasury Building from 11.30am with pop-up events around the City, including the Block Arcade.

The Melbourne Tartan Day Parade.

A CBD Scottish Connection guided walk with cultural historian, curator and tour leader Kenneth Park will commence at 10.00am–bookings essential. Tickets for the annual MTF Ceilidh dance with Melbourne Scottish Fiddlers at Collingwood Town Hall on the 12th  July will see 200 dancers take to the floor, for what one enthusiast described as “a better workout than a session at the gym”!

During the month-long festival there will be concerts and recitals featuring Fiona Ross, Graeme McColgan ‘The Scotsman’, The Twa Bards and Claire Patti & Pria Schwall- Kearney, each showcasing different genres of Scottish music. The program includes the Victorian Pipers Association Solo Piping Championships, online and in person lectures, whisky tasting, genealogy, Burns Suppers, poetry in the park and pub and much more throughout the month of July.

The Lord Lyon.

The Main Hall of Melbourne Town Hall will be the setting for a grand and ceremonial welcome befitting the Office of the Lord Lyon at the Gala Dinner and Concert on Saturday 20th July, in what will be the premier event of the Melbourne Tartan Festival.

Dr Joseph Morrow CVO CBE KStJ KC LLD DL FRSE, the Right Honourable the Lord Lyon King of Arms has accepted an invitation to be our Guest of Honour . Guests will be piped in on arrival to enjoy drinks and canapés in the Town Hall foyer before entering the glittering Main Hall for a sumptuous gourmet meal accompanied by an assortment of fine wines, and traditional and contemporary concert style entertainment. This will be a night to remember as we welcome the Lord Lyon King of Arms to Australia.

Visit the Melbourne Tartan Festival website for the full program, with more events being added weekly at: and follow the Facebook page.

Images courtesy of Adam Purcell, Melbourne Ceili Camera.

Mighty McVitie’s-Edinburgh biscuits conquer Britain and beyond

By a long stretch the maker of the best-selling biscuits in the UK, producer of the famed Chocolate Digestives, Hobnobs and Jaffa Cakes, McVitie’s is another example of Scottish inventiveness and ingenuity that started small and then snowballed into massive proportions. Incredibly, sales numbers for 2020 show that McVitie’s outsold its two closest competitors by more than five to one.

It all started in Edinburgh with Robert McVitie (1809-80), an apprentice baker from Dumfries. Robert and his father William established a provision shop in Rose Street, Edinburgh in 1839, from where Robert sold his baked goods. These proved so popular that Robert opened another shop at Charlotte Place near Charlotte Square. Robert married in 1844, and with an eye toward continuing and expanding the family business, sent his two sons Robert Jr and William to study bakery on the Continent.

Royal seal of approval

McVitie’s Rich Tea biscuit. Sean Whitton, CC SA-BY 3.0.

In the 1870s McVitie’s had premises at Antigua Street, East London Street, and Queensferry Street. Charles Edward Price joined the firm in 1875 as sales rep. After Robert passed away in 1880, Robert Jr took over the Queensferry establishment. Robert Jr expanded into Merchant Street in 1884, and a few years later hired biscuit maker Alexander Grant of Forres as bakery foreman. Price’s success as salesman led to the partnership McVitie & Price. Business was so brisk and demand so high that the firm couldn’t keep up the required production, so in 1888 the team established the massive St Andrews Biscuit Works in the Edinburgh suburbs.

The company marked another milestone when in 1892 Alexander Grant developed the Digestive biscuit which became a McVitie & Price flagship product. McVitie & Price received the royal seal of approval in 1893 after being requested to bake the wedding cake for Princess Mary and the Duke of York. Going from strength to strength, surging trade south of the border led the firm to establish a factory in Harlesden, North London in 1902. After Robert Jr passed away in 1910, Alexander Grant became the firm’s main shareholder and managing director.

With the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, the British government called upon McVitie & Price to apply its expertise and factories to producing ‘iron ration’ plain biscuits for the British Army. This venture required the opening of yet another production facility, this time in Manchester, in order to meet the demand. The business continued to grow post-war, and in 1922 McVitie & Price acquired Simon Henderson & Sons, an Edinburgh bakery.

In 1923 Alexander Grant donated a £100,000 endowment for the establishment of the National Library of Scotland. McVitie & Price began focusing primarily on biscuit production from 1924, as biscuits kept well, were easily portable and handy to eat on the run. High-profile travellers who used and endorsed the biscuits included George Binney, who led the Oxford University Arctic Expedition in 1924. The firm’s concentration on biscuits led to experimenting with chocolate and the creation of the Homewheat Chocolate Digestive brand biscuit, now famously known as McVitie’s Chocolate Digestives.

A titan on the British and world stage

McVitie’s Hobnobs. Sargant, public domain.

Pastries were still on the McVitie & Price agenda, however, with the now renowned Jaffa Cake appearing in 1927. Flavoured by sweet Jaffa oranges and a tangerine oil jam, the Jaffa Cake was the subject of a controversy when Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise declared that the item was a biscuit and not a cake, and so subject to VAT. The firm succeeded in proving to the courts that the Jaffa Cake is a cake, and decades later the treat remains VAT-free. Another £100,000 came from Alexander Grant in 1928, this time for the construction of the National Library site on the George IV Bridge in Edinburgh. The deprivations and sacrifices of World War II had a profound impact on McVitie & Price. So great was the effect of these challenges that while the company was producing 370 varieties of biscuits and cakes in 1939, in 1945 only 10 different McVitie & Price items were on offer.

McVitie & Price had more royal involvement when in 1947 they made the more than 2.5-metre-tall wedding cake for Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten. Working amidst Britain’s food-rationing restrictions, the cake’s ingredients were imported from overseas. In 1948 McVitie & Price merged with Macfarlane, Lang & Co Ltd to form United Biscuits Group. United Biscuits acquired Edinburgh biscuit company William Crawford and Sons in the early 1960s. William McDonald & Sons, the Glasgow maker of Penguin brand biscuits, came into the United Biscuits fold in 1965, followed by Carr’s of Carlisle in 1972.

Yet another McVitie’s breakthrough occurred in 1985 with the introduction of Hobnobs. So popular was this biscuit that McVitie’s brought out its chocolate variant only two years later, soon followed by another hit, Boasters. Adding to its century-long string of successes, McVitie’s introduced its Milk Chocolate Caramel Digestive biscuit in 1999, and in 2004 the product won the Dunk for Britain campaign, earning the title ‘Nation’s favourite McVitie’s dunking biscuit’. In an effort to make its biscuits more healthful, McVitie’s reduced the saturated fat content of its Rich Tea and Hobnobs brands by fifty per cent in 2009. The company performed more royal duties when in 2011 it was commissioned to create a groom’s cake for the wedding of Catherine Middleton and Prince William – a no-bake cake with McVitie’s Rich Tea biscuits as a main ingredient! Marching further on into the 21st century, McVitie’s has introduced McVitie’s Sweeet™, Digestive Nibbles and Digestive Thins. What would Robert McVitie think that well over a century on, his Edinburgh-based bakery is a titan on the British and world stage?

Did you know?

Digestive biscuits

McVitie’s Chocolate Digestive biscuit. Jolly Janner, public domain.

In 1839 two Scottish doctors originated the semi-sweet digestive biscuit as a digestive aid. The high sodium bicarbonate content of the recipe was believed to work as an antacid. A digestive biscuit’s basic ingredients are course brown wheat flour, sugar, malt extract, vegetable oil, wholemeal, raising agents and salt.  In 1851 brown meal digestive biscuits were offered for sale in The Lancet, and Huntley & Palmers of Berkshire advertised digestive biscuits in 1876. The digestive biscuit developed by Alexander Grant and manufactured by McVitie’s was made from a secret recipe which is still in use today. McVitie’s Digestives remain the best-selling biscuit in the UK, with the Chocolate Digestives consistently voted the UK’s number one snack food.

Rose Street

Kenilworth Bar, 152, 154 Rose Street, Edinburgh. Enric, CC SA-BY 4.0.

Sandwiched between George Street and Princes Street, the narrow Rose Street was constructed in 1770-81 as a secondary east-west road running from St Andrew Square to Charlotte Square. Originally lined with three-storey houses, as of 1820 more and more shops were in operation on Rose Street. This trend progressed until by the mid-20th century the entire street was devoted to shops and bars. The street became pedestrian-only in the 1980s. The Eagle Buildings (1904) and Kenilworth Bar (1899), the latter named after one of Sir Walter Scott’s Waverly novels, are notable establishments on the street.

Jaffa oranges

Sliced McVitie’s Jaffa Cake. Asim18, public domain.

Named for the ancient Canaanite port city, now part of Tel Aviv, Jaffa oranges were developed by Arab farmers in the mid-19th century. Also called the Shamouti, the Jaffa orange is oval with a thick, deep orange-coloured peel. Due to the thickness and toughness of its peel the Jaffa travels well and so is an ideal fruit for export. Despite its hardy skin, the Jaffa is easy to peel and the flesh tastes sweet and is almost seedless.

Text by: Eric Bryan

Main photo: McVitie & Price’s Digestive factory sample, 1870-1900, Victoria and Albert Museum. Gryffindor, CC SA-BY 3.0.

The Glengarry Highland Games-75 times perfection

When the crowds start flooding the gates of this year’s Glengarry Highland Games on August 2 & 3, they will be following in the footsteps of thousands of fans who have made this festival one of the most popular in Canada and one of the premier Celtic events in North America.

This year’s 75th edition of the Games in Maxville, Ontario, will include the traditional Scottish events of highland dancing, fiddling, heavy events and piping that everyone has come to love and enjoy.  To celebrate its 75th, the Games has added many special events making for two jam-packed two days of music, tradition and heritage.

The Games will host this year’s World Scottish Highland Games Heavy Events and welcomes the best in the sport to our infield. Friday night’s famed Tattoo will headline Canada’s Celtic Ambassadors, the Barra MacNeils, and to honour the 100th Anniversary of the RCAF, the RCAF Pipes and Drums will also perform. To the delight of many long-time Games fans, long-term Games MC Reg Gamble has been selected as this year’s Guest of Honour.

At Saturday’s breath-taking Games closing, the massed drum fanfare will return based on the hugely enthusiastic response to the performance at last year’s Games.  Many more surprises are in the works for this milestone celebration of Scottish heritage and the welcome is out to all to come and discover the magic at the 75th Glengarry Highland Games.

The 75th Glengarry Highland Games will take place August 2 & 3 in Maxville Ontario. For details see:

Paisley Museum weaves new chapter in textile history

Paisley’s rich textile history is being brought back to life, as part of a pioneering partnership which is helping the next generation of conservators to make their mark on Scotland’s biggest cultural heritage project. As part of the £45 million refurbishment of Paisley Museum, textile conservation students at the University of Glasgow, have conserved items of clothing dating from the 1830s through to the early 20th century. They include a children’s dress and bonnet, as well as a crinoline ‘cage’ skirt and even a knitted woollen water polo uniform.

UK’s only textile conservation programme

The University is home to the UK’s only textile conservation programme and, as a global leader, attracts students from across the world. The partnership with OneRen, the charity which is leading the refurbishment of Paisley Museum, provided a unique opportunity for students to work on objects which will go on display, rather than back into museum stores. The textiles, in many cases, were dirty, laden with decades of industrial dirt and soot and required delicate, painstaking work to transform them. The results have been phenomenal, with marked differences in before and after photos. However, the work of a textile conservator is not about making objects look as good as new.

The team helped conserve 13 objects in total, with more being worked on this academic year. One of the more unusual pieces conserved is a knitted swimsuit from the early 20th century that belonged to a member of the Irish International water polo team. It was exchanged with William G Peacock, an Olympic water polo player who trained at Paisley’s Corporations Baths in Storie Street.

Scotland’s largest cultural heritage project

Sean Kelly, Collections and Conservation Manager at OneRen, said: “The work done by the students and the team at the University of Glasgow has been exceptional, helping to bring these incredible objects back to life. This has been a fantastic partnership, bringing benefits for both the conservation and care of these textiles and for the next generation of conservators. Of course, what’s even more exciting is that these items will soon be on public display at the refurbished Paisley Museum, where everyone can see for themselves the students’ outstanding work. The refurbishment of Paisley Museum is Scotland’s largest cultural heritage project, creating a world-class attraction with community and partnership at its core. I want to extend my thanks to the team at the University of Glasgow for their continued support and their part in making the new museum a reality.”

Paisley Museum & Art Gallery in Scotland is set to reopen in 2025 with a new public courtyard, a 26% increase in gallery space, hundreds more objects on display and new learning, community-making and social spaces.

Embracing our Heritage: Scotland In The Class Program extends free resources to educators and families

In a world where cultural diversity is celebrated, preserving heritage remains paramount. For Jennifer Licko, leader of the Scotland In The Class initiative, nurturing a deep connection to Scottish heritage begins in the classroom and extends into family homes across the United States.

What truly sets Scotland In The Class apart is the personal connection of its creators to their Scottish heritage. These are not just teachers, but individuals with a profound understanding and love for their culture. They have crafted a program that resonates deeply with both teachers and students, ensuring that Scottish heritage is not just taught, but felt in the classroom.

At the core of Scotland In The Class lies a commitment to inclusivity and accessibility. Offering a comprehensive celebration unit for school spanning art, music, physical education, history, and reading, the program ensures that every grade, from kindergarten to fifth grade, has access to standards-based lessons that seamlessly integrate Scottish culture into the classroom experience.

From captivating lessons on Robert the Bruce to lively Highland Dance tutorials, educators have access to a wealth of materials designed to engage and inspire young learners, all available for free. Moreover, by understanding families’ pivotal role in shaping cultural identity, Scotland In The Class extends its outreach beyond the classroom.

Torchbearer for Scottish heritage

Parents and grandparents are invited to explore the program’s kids corner newsletters, which offer enriching activities centered around Scottish history, culture, and tradition. By fostering meaningful connections between generations, Scotland In The Class empowers families to celebrate their heritage together.

Moreover, the Scotland In The Class program is not just a resource, but a collaborative effort. It invites Scottish organizations and clans to utilize these materials in their own communications, fostering a sense of community and heritage preservation among members. Your involvement is crucial in this journey of cultural celebration and preservation.

The significance of the Scotland In The Class initiative is not just in its practical offerings, but in its role as a torchbearer for Scottish heritage. By embracing our heritage from a young age, we lay the foundation for its preservation into adulthood. Jennifer Licko and her team understand this profound truth and are dedicated to ensuring that future generations carry forward the torch of Scottish heritage with pride and reverence. Your participation is vital in this mission.

As we navigate an increasingly globalized world, initiatives like Scotland In The Class serve as beacons of cultural preservation and celebration. By visiting the website, educators, families, and organizations can access a wealth of free resources to ignite a passion for Scottish heritage in children’s hearts everywhere.

So, let us embrace our heritage, nurture our roots, and sow the seeds of cultural legacy for generations to come. After all our unique threads of heritage weave the most beautiful stories of all.

Visit the website to see all the available resources at:

Glasgow tunes up for Scotland’s biggest week of bagpipes this August

Piping Live! festival and the World Pipe Band Championships get set for summer of sound.

Glasgow is set to host Scotland’s biggest week of bagpipes this summer, with the return of Piping Live! from Saturday 10th – Sunday 18th August, and The World Pipe Band Championships on Friday 16th and Saturday 17th August. The world’s biggest piping festival, Piping Live! attracts over 30,000 attendees to Glasgow each year, with an eclectic programme of events for pipers and music lovers alike to be held at venues across the city. Run by the National Piping Centre and now in its 21st year, the festival will have lively concerts, captivating recitals, hard-fought competitions, engaging workshops and energetic sessions involving 700 musicians on the musical menu across its nine days, including a swathe of free and ticketed events.

The World Pipe Band Championships – a major event which Glasgow first hosted in 1948 and the city has staged every year since 1986 – attracts thousands of pipers and drummers from all over the world to compete in the ultimate ‘battle of the bands’. Organised on behalf of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association by Glasgow Life – the charity which delivers culture and sport in Glasgow. Social media sensation Ally Crowley-Duncan, known online as Piper Ally with a combined following of over 4 million for her innovative piping content, will be flying in to take part in Piping Live!. Originally from New York, Ally will be performing and hosting a Q&A as part of the Street Cafe, taking part in the Piping Live! Big Band, and acting as a secret judge in competitions across the week.

The sound of the pipes to the streets of Glasgow

Celebrated piper, composer and teacher John Mulhearn pictured at the lanuch of Piping Live 2024 outside The Pipe Factory in Glasgow’s Eastend.

Ally the Piper, said: “Being part of Piping Live! is like standing on the grandest stage of bagpipe mastery. It’s where the world’s finest gather to showcase their talents and where every note carries the weight of centuries of tradition. To be invited back to this world-renowned festival is an amazing moment for me in my musical journey and I can’t wait to share the experiences I have with all of my followers. Even though my career in bagpiping largely exists outside of the traditional, I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity to stay connected to the community, and immerse myself once again in the atmosphere of Piping Live! and I am really looking forward to being back in the beautiful country of Scotland and reconnecting with old friends, having first taken part with the Scotia Glenville Pipe Band (now the Capital District Youth Pipe Band) in 2012.”

The spectacular sonic week includes the iconic Piping Live! Big Band welcoming pipers and drummers of all ages and abilities to join the festival’s mass participation event, filling the city centre streets with music as they march from Mansfield Park in Partick to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Also taking place are free, open-air performances by pipe bands from across the globe taking place each day. Including sets from the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Pipes and Drums, the City of Angels Pipe Band from LA, and Old Scotch Pipes and Drums from Australia, these performances offer a fantastic chance to experience world-class piping in the bustling heart of the city centre. In Glasgow’s West End, the iconic Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum will host a recital by an amazing international artist each day of the festival at 2pm, showcasing bagpiping traditions from around the world in the breathtaking Centre Hall.

Finlay MacDonald, Artistic Director for Piping Live!, said: “We are proud and excited to be able to bring the 21st edition of Piping Live! to the city of Glasgow. We are thankful to our supporters, performers, participants and funders who have continued to support this event through some challenging times for the creative industries. As the popularity of piping and traditional music continues to grow and thrive, we have created a diverse, inclusive and engaging programme, showcasing the breadth and depth of the piping traditions whilst celebrating world, indigenous and modern traditional music. There are opportunities for pipers of all levels and ages, whether in competitions, at our Big Band event, or for those who fancy a go, our come and Try Sessions. You don’t have to be a piper to enjoy and take part in Piping Live!, Piping is for everyone and we look forward to bringing the sound of the pipes to the streets of Glasgow.”

The very best pipe bands on the planet

L-R Young piper Emma Hill, Croft No. Five drummer, Paul Jennings, renowned bagpiper and BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2023 finalist Ailis Sutherland, and celebrated piper, composer and teacher John Mulhearn.

The week will come to a fitting crescendo with The World Pipe Band Championships at the iconic Glasgow Green with bands competing from across Scotland and the world in all grades. This year’s ‘Worlds’ promises another fiercely-fought competition involving the very best pipe bands on the planet. Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association Chief Executive, Colin Mulhern, said: “Last year’s spectacular World Pipe Band Championships, which attracted a fantastic attendance from bands from almost every corner of the globe as well as spectators from near and far, demonstrated just how much this iconic event means to the international piping community, and how much interest there is in the music of Scotland’s national instrument. This year’s ‘Worlds’ promises another superb showcase of piping and drumming, and – judging from the number and very strong contingent of bands already signed up – we can look forward to an incredible, hard-fought contest.”

Glasgow Life Chair and Glasgow City Council Convenor for Culture, Sport and International Relations, Bailie Annette Christie, said: “As a UNESCO City of Music, Glasgow has a great international reputation as a fantastic destination for lovers of all types of music, and there’s certainly nowhere better to enjoy world-class piping.  With the city hosting both the world’s biggest piping festival and the pinnacle of the global piping competitive calendar, Glasgow is looking forward to resounding with our national instrument’s very best talent in August. Celebrating Scotland’s culture and music and providing fantastic entertainment, Piping Live! and the Worlds are firmly established highlights of the city’s summer events programme. Attracting thousands of pipers and spectators, boosting Glasgow’s visitor economy and further enhancing its international profile, these much-loved events are extremely important to our city.”

Piping Live! 2024 takes place from Saturday 10th – Sunday 18th August. For more information and tickets see:  The World Pipe Band Championships take place on Friday 16th and Saturday 17th August. For more information and tickets see:

The War Wolf at Stirling Castle

In 1304, Edward I, the Hammer of the Scots, besieged Stirling Castle. It was ‘game over’ for the Scots when a monstrous weapon called The War Wolf arrived on the scene. Robert the Bruce looking on as the terrifying trebuchet flings a pot of “Greek fire” at Stirling Castle makes a memorable opening scene to the epic film Outlaw King. But it’s quite likely that this dramatic episode really happened, and that the War Wolf isn’t just the stuff of legend!

The Hammer of the Scots

An illustration by Jim Proudfoot showing the siege of Stirling Castle in 1304.

After defeating William Wallace at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298, Edward I of England needed a further six years to grasp full control of Scotland. But by April 1304, nearly all of Scotland had been reconquered by “the Hammer of the Scots”. William Wallace was hiding in the countryside, soon to be betrayed to the English. The Scottish nobles had surrendered, submitting to Edward’s rule in exchange for the return of their lands. Only at Stirling Castle did any resistance remain. Sir William Oliphant was the governor and held the castle with about 25 men. On the ramparts, he still defiantly flew the Lion Rampant flag, a symbol of the Scottish crown. In March, Edward had the garrison declared outlaws at his parliament at St Andrews. Preparations began to extinguish the final glimmer of resistance in Scotland.

Edward decided to flex his authority in Scotland as he prepared to travel to Stirling. He no longer had to rely on troops and supplies from England alone. Now, he could order his Scottish subjects to help him take their individual castles. Scottish earls and lords were ordered to send men and horses to Stirling to assist the siege effort. They were also told not to allow their people to try and provision the garrison. Edward did not just want men, though; Stirling was one of the most defensible castles in Scotland and it would require more than bows and arrows alone for it to fall.

Materials for siege engines were shipped from Newcastle and Edward ordered the churches in Scotland to strip their roofs of lead and send it to Stirling. On top of “all the iron and great stones of Glasgow”, five carts from Brechin, 12 from Dunfermline and 22 from St Andrews arrived at the castle filled with lead to be used by the English engineers for their siege engines. By the time Edward arrived at Stirling on the 22 April, the siege was ready to begin. Oliphant attempted to delay the inevitable by asking for permission to send a messenger to the guardian of Scotland, John de Soules. Considering that de Soules was in France at the time, his request was unsurprisingly denied.

The War Wolf

An interpretation of the siege by Heath Gwynn.

When the bombardment began, the “Hammer of the Scots” appears to have wanted to simply pummel this last stronghold of Scottish independence into submission. To do so, he arranged possibly the largest array of siege engines ever assembled by the kingdom of England. The Scots were to be left with no doubt about what another uprising would bring. 13 catapults and trebuchets hurled projectiles at the castle day and night. Robert the Bruce, the future king of Scots, was said to have been present during at least part of the siege. In fact, he provided Edward with several siege engines. It’s possible that Bruce’s experience at Stirling contributed to his policy of destroying castles during his own campaign against England.

Against all odds, Stirling Castle held out against Edward’s siege. For three months, Edward watched on as the catapults flung boulders and fire at the castle walls. He was determined to see it fall. Oliphant must have been fairly surprised too. The defences were holding out and still had plenty of salted beef to feed the men. Little did he know that Edward’s engineers had been working on something special…

Five master carpenters and 50 workmen had been tirelessly assembling massive wooden beams, winches and an enormous counterweight into one of the largest trebuchets ever. When Oliphant saw it in its final stages of construction he knew that it was over. He surrendered in an attempt to save his men and the castle from the destructive power of Edward’s hugely expensive new toy. However, Edward was not in a particularly generous mood. This was to be the final nail in the coffin of the Scots and he wanted them to know it. He had a gallery constructed for the ladies of the court to view this humiliating spectacle. The fearsome engine was christened the “the War Wolf”. When its 140kg missile was released, it shattered Stirling Castle’s curtain wall. Oliphant and his men were publicly humiliated and sent to England for imprisonment.

Political theatre

The siege had shown the overwhelming resources Edward had at his disposal and his attitude towards Scotland. This was not merely a military operation. Unlike most sieges, Edward did not want to break the castle’s mighty walls just to gain a military advantage, Oliphant had already given up. Instead, he designed a piece of pure political theatre. He did not allow the garrison to surrender, so he could make a public spectacle of his power in the form of the world’s largest trebuchet.

Edward wanted to quench any thirst for resistance in grand and ultimately humiliating style. In showing himself to be overwhelmingly powerful and resourceful, it was not just Scottish military forces that he wanted to crush, it was the idea of an independent Scottish kingdom, an idea of which he had become the destroyer. It was in this atmosphere of total defeat that a young Robert the Bruce launched his campaign to become king of Scots.

Want more stories from Stirling Castle? Then head on over to the dedicated section of the Historic Environment Scotland blog where there’s tales of queens, kings, tournaments and ghosts. And if you’re visiting the castle, grab one of the brand-new guidebooks. They’re packed with research, reconstructions and riveting reads to enhance your experience of the iconic stronghold. See:

Historic Environment Scotland is the lead public body established to investigate, care for and promote Scotland’s historic environment. For more details see:

By: James Macivor. Text and images courtesy of Historic Environment Scotland.

Main photo. Stirling Castle today. Photo: VisitScotland.


2024 Australian Pipe Band and Drum Major Championships

After a 63 year recess, on the 13th April 2024 the Australian Pipe Band Championships returned at last to where it all started, the Victorian goldfields town of Maryborough. Maryborough was the site of the very first Australian Pipe Band Championships on New Year’s Day 1961. On that day, New South Wales Police band won Grade 1, the 17th Battn, Royal New South Wales Regiment won Grade 2, and Knox Grammar (Sydney) won both Grade 3 and the Juvenile Grade.

Singapore’s Lion City Pipe Band.

Forward 63 years, on a beautiful, clear autumn day the 2024 Championships began with a Street Parade along Maryborough High Street. The Mayor, Councillor Liesbeth Long, took the salute from 15 bands. The Parade was led by 2022 Australian Drum Major Champion Dominic Strudwick-Andersen from the Australian Federal Police Pipe Band and, in a nod to the very origins of the championships, headed by representatives from three bands that had competed in 1961 – Hawthorn Pipe Band (Victoria), Knox Grammar (Sydney), and Scotch College (Melbourne).

At 10.08 precisely, the Championships proper began in the stunning setting of Princes Park, Maryborough. The Maryborough Highland Society played host – as they did in 1961 – with the championships being run by Pipe Bands Victoria (PBV), the local branch of Pipe Bands Australia, under the direction of PBV Chair, Mrs Karen Wallace. The State Member for Ripon, Ms Martha Haylett MP, joined the Mayor, PBV Chair, and President of Maryborough Highland Society to formally open the Championships.

Thirty-five bands competed across all seven grades, from Grade 1 to Juvenile Novice B, carefully assessed by three panels of adjudicators, including three international adjudicators. The two white-picket fenced contest circles were embraced by adoring crowds all day, crescendo-ing to the highlight performances by Grade 2 Emmanuel College Highlanders from the University of Queensland and Australia’s only active Grade 1 band, the “local” Hawthorn Pipe Band.

Home of the Australian Championships

The championships were fiercely contested across all grades, especially Grades 4A, 4B, and Novice A. The winners? Grade 1 – Hawthorn Pipe Band (uncontested); Grade 2 – Emmanuel College Highlanders UQ (uncontested); Grade 3 – City of Melbourne Highland Pipe Band; Grade 4A – Scotch College (Melbourne) Pipes and Drums; Grade 4B – Maryborough & District Highland Pipe Band; Novice A – The Scots College Sydney; Novice B – Scotch College (Melbourne) Pipes and Drums No.2.

Drum Major Championship.

As the sun began to sink slowly westwards, the crowds were delighted by the Drum Major Championships. While there were only two competitors, the contest was of the highest standard. Both participants were immaculately turned out, each attaining perfect scores for Dress. With slightly better flourishing, Sgt Benjamin Casey (Pipes and Drums of the 5th/6th Battalion, Royal Victoria Regiment) narrowly edged out reigning champion Dominic Strudwick-Andersen (Australian Federal Police Pipe Band). Thanks to Coastal Scottish from Western Australia for being the duty band for the contest.

Clans on display.

The magnificent day closed with the famous Girl on a Drum, a Maryborough specialty where a local Highland Dancer performs her art on a Bass Drum held high. Amazingly skilled, and slightly scary! Congratulations to all participants. A highly successful day, most fitting of the “home” of the Australian Championships. As expected of Victorian hospitality, the day closed with a ceilidh at the Maryborough Highland Society. The sounds of the pipes and drums rolled on into the night, as did the stories of success from the day.

Text by: Professor Euan M Wallace AM, Secretary, Pipe Bands Victoria.

Images courtesy of Mal Nicolson.

Main photo: Albury Wodonga Pipes and Drums.

Gates reopen to famous castles and gardens across Scotland

As Aberdeenshire’s iconic Craigievar Castle, and the community-run Braemar Castle recently opened their doors following extensive multimillion pound refurbishments, visitors should make the most of the blooms and sunshine with a visit to these and many more of Scotland’s estates, walled gardens and castles as they reopen for the season. Whether an afternoon picnic amongst nature or stepping back in time to marvel at the ancient tales and architecture, find the latest gardens and castle news as well as unique events taking place across Scotland below, to inspire the ultimate day out during a break away.

Castles reopening

Braemar Castle, Aberdeenshire.

Over twenty Historic Environment Scotland (HES) sites have reopened their doors to welcome visitors, as well as several heritage locations too. This includes Lochleven Castle, which famously held Mary Queen of Scots imprisoned in 1567; Iron Age archaeology at the Broch of Gurness; dark historical tales from Hermitage Castle, Spynie Palace, Newark Castle and Scotland’s only circular castle, Rothesay Castle, following essential conservation work. For the full list of reopenings and prices for admission, please visit:

Braemar Castle, Aberdeenshire

Built by the Earl of Mar in 1628, Braemar Castle has been a hunting lodge, fortress, garrison and family home.  An iconic 17th century landmark in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. The castle’s future rests with the small community of Braemar, and over the past ten years the village has been working to raise funds and gradually conserve and restore the castle to provide even better facilities for future visitors. As a result of the communities’ efforts, Braemar Castle is opening its doors following a £1.6 million restoration programme to re-render the exterior.

Craigievar Castle, Aberdeenshire

An example of the best of Scottish Baronial architecture, Craigievar Castle fits naturally amongst the rolling hills of Aberdeenshire. The elegant pink tower of Craigievar Castle was completed in 1626 and is amongst the most loved in Scotland.  The castle is currently undergoing a major conservation project to carry out essential maintenance work, including refreshing the lime wash that gives Craigievar its distinctive and beloved pink colour.  Visitors will be treated to a grand reveal in in the coming months, when the new exterior is unveiled.

Gardens reopening

Crawick Multiverse, Dumfries & Galloway.

Kailzie Gardens, Scottish Borders

Kailzie Gardens is a renowned garden and woodland a mile east of Peebles in the Scottish Borders, with 20 acres to explore. Kailzie Gardens also boasts the popular Courtyard Café that has become a firm favourite with locals. Their seasonal shop offers local produce, gifts and plant sales, as well as a children’s nature trail and a chance to have a go on the Gardener’s 18-hole putting green, or a game of pétanque.

Amisfield Walled Garden, East Lothian

A hidden gem lying on the outskirts of Haddington in East Lothian, Amisfield Walled Garden dates back to the late 18th century and is one of the largest walled gardens in Scotland, with extensive herbaceous borders, fruit and vegetable beds, wildflower meadow, orchard and woodland to explore. The Garden is currently being restored and developed as a community garden by the Amisfield Preservation Trust and a band of volunteers, providing a venue for education and training for people of all abilities.

The Japanese Garden at Cowden, Clackmannanshire

Those looking to embrace serenity should look no further than the beautiful grounds of The Japanese Garden at Cowden. The woodlands and gardens are adorned with an array of exceptional plants and flora which are elevated by the tranquil essence of its Japanese-inspired design and structures, creating a unique and utterly authentic bridge between Scottish and Japanese culture. Numbers in the garden are restricted so that its peaceful atmosphere is not compromised, but despite that, 40,000 people still visit every year. Today Cowden has a team of full-time gardeners, a thriving cafe, and the Stewart Adventure Woodland where children can let off steam.

Da Gairdins, Shetland

This 60-acre site (of which one third is maintained woodland and gardens) is an area of outstanding natural beauty on the Westside of Shetland. Avid wildlife watchers can experience the diversity of Shetland’s wildlife as, due to its proximity to the sea and the salt marsh dividing the gardens between the sea, the area is a magnet for nesting and migrating birds. Wander around and sit on one of the many benches to witness firsthand the fact that Shetland is not a tree-less landscape like many would believe, but instead is an oasis of life, with a surprisingly mild climate, thanks to the North Atlantic Drift which surrounds this captivating location.

Carolside House & Gardens, Scottish Borders

Carolside is an 18th century mansion set in beautiful parkland flanked by wooded hills, nestling in a bend of the River Leader. Carolside is one of Scotland’s finest Private Gardens and is best known for its collection of historic roses, many of them rare today and is home to the National Collection of Gallica Roses.

Crawick Multiverse, Dumfries & Galloway

Located near Sanquhar and spanning the equivalent of over 36 football pitches, Crawick Multiverse is a unique location of outstanding artistic and historical interest and is not to be missed. Designed and constructed on the site of a former open-cast coal mine by renowned landscape architect Charles Jencks between 2011 and 2017. Feel the spiritual and astrological magic of the landforms through the striking landscape, opt to have a picnic in the Sun Amphitheatre, photograph the incredible 360 views of the site and Upper Nithsdale Valley from the Northpoint or peer inside the ‘cave’ of the Omphalos; there’s plenty to see and do.

Main photo: Japanese Garden at Cowden. Photo: Tom Langlands Photography.

Tartan Week celebrated in New York City

New York Tartan Week 2024 was packed full of events hosted by the St. Andrews Society of the States of New York, New York Caledonian Club, the American-Scottish Foundation (ASF) and Clan Campbell.  Alongside the leading organizations events were events hosted or co-hosted with Scottish Government, VisitScotland, Carnegie Dunfermline Trust, National Library of Scotland and Fringe Society.  Amongst the leading visitors from Scotland were Sir Jim Walker of Walkers Shortbread and Charles Lord Bruce who offered closing remarks at the ASF Tartan Day Observance.

Grand Marshal Dougray Scott.

The week was capped off with the 26th annual New York Tartan Day Parade taking place up Sixth Avenue led by Grand Marshal, Dougray Scott. Music was at the centre of the American-Scottish Foundation program this New York Tartan week, shining the spotlight onto several artists who brought great new music to through their performances at two of ASF’s events, the Supper Club and the three days of lunchtime concerts at Bryant Park. Camilla Hellman, President of the American Scottish Foundation noted “The ASF was delighted to be joined this year by new artists, some of whom are well known yet to audiences here. It was such a great lineup of talent”.

Pipe bands always a crowd favourite.

Amongst these artists were: Jai MacDowell, 2011 winner of Britain’s Got Talent, who performed for the very first time in the United States at both the Supper Club and at Bryant Park for the Tartan Day Observance on Friday and Scotland on the Terrace on Sunday, The Laurettes, an all-female Scottish Band who returned once again to New York Tartan Week, playing at the Supper Club and Sunday’s Scotland on the Terrace, and Noisemaker, who worked together with Ainsley Hamill in showcasing their songs from their new production Snow Goose.

Scotland’s cultural voice

Leading the bands.

Claire and Scott Gilmore of Noisemaker said: “Tartan Week is a hugely important event for us as Scottish artists based both in Scotland and in the US, to gather and share our culture, our music, and our work, with the wider Scottish-American community It is an opportunity we’d never otherwise have access to. It’s both beneficial to our artistic development and partnerships, while also deeply meaningful to us as Scots.  This year was particularly special to showcase some artists we’ve come to know through our projects and productions back home. To come together in New York as part of the ASF events and have them perform alongside with us was a privilege and, again, underlines why Tartan Week is so uniquely important to maintaining Scotland’s cultural voice on an international stage.”

ASF also worked with the National Library of Scotland to bring to life scores from the 17th and 18th century that award winning New York based fiddle player, Calum Pasqua, then played with guest friends.  Several of the pieces performed were taken by Robert Burns to set his lyrics too. Calum Pasqua said: “To watch the growth of Tartan Week in NYC, warms my heart knowing our traditions have been revealed to the masses, and are now flourishing. It was an honour and a privilege to share my Scottish fiddling with ….. I couldn’t have asked for a more attentive and interested audience to perform my music for. I simply cannot wait for next year!”

The American Scottish Foundation.

Alongside the musical programming, ASF and the Carnegie Corporation also hosted Scotland’s Dunfermline: Ancient Royal Capital and Newest City and a Tea and Talk with the National Library of Scotland entitled The Rediscovery of Lost Burns and Scott Literary Treasures, which spotlighted how the priceless treasures of Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, part of the Honresfeld Library were rediscovered and brought home to Scotland in 2022.

All images courtesy of Greenhouse/Ben Chateauverts/American Scottish Foundation.

Scotland’s most celebrated historian announced as the Patron of the Scottish Flag Trust

The distinguished academic Sir Tom Devine announced as the Patron of the Scottish Flag Trust at the birthplace of the Saltire. In April Prof Sir Tom Devine was at Athelstaneford the birthplace of Scotland’s national flag the Satire or Saint Andrew’s Cross as he formally took up his new role as Patron of the Scottish Flag Trust. Sir Tom, the Sir William Fraser Professor Emeritus at Edinburgh University, (the world’s oldest professorial chair in the field) takes over the role from the late Winnie Ewing. The Scottish Flag Trust was set up in 1984 to promote the use of the Saltire, one of the oldest national flags in Europe, and is responsible for the establishment and upkeep of the Flag Heritage Centre in Athelstaneford and the national Saltire Memorial.

The announcement comes at a busy time for the charity which maintains the Saltire Memorial and Flag Heritage centre at Athelstaneford. Saint Andrew’s Day, 30 November 2025 will be the 60th anniversary of the unveiling of the Saltire Memorial in Athelstaneford Parish Church. The Trust are mid-way though fundraising for a series of major projects to transform the visitor attraction with ambitious plans for new historic interpretation and improved accessibility which will opening up the site to wider groups of visitors. The Trust is working to implement a new landscape masterplan and renovation of the Saltire Memorial.

The symbol of Scotland

Commenting Professor Emeritus Sir Tom Devine said: “Everyone in Scotland no matter their political outlook can support Scotland’s Saltire and back the restoration of this important site. With the Euro 2024 a few months away there is no better time to rally behind Scotland’s saltire, it is a symbol which all Scots can be rightly proud. I am honoured to become patron of the Scottish Flag Trust in succession to Dr Ewing and lend my enthusiastic support to the fundraising efforts underway now and in the future.”

Trust Chair, David Williamson added: “The Trust is delighted to have Sir Tom as our new Patron as we continue our ambitious programme of restoration and renewal at the birthplace of Scotland’s national flag. The Scottish Flag Trust promotes the Saltire as a welcoming symbol for all Scots whether they are Scots by birth, by choice or through their family roots.”

The St Andrew’s Cross or Saltire is Scotland’s national flag. Tradition has it that the flag, the white saltire on a blue background, one of the oldest flags in Europe originated in a battle fought in East Lothian, near the village of Athelstaneford in the Dark Ages. Today the flag flies proudly all year round from the Saltire Memorial in Athelstaneford parish churchyard to celebrate this special connection. The history of the battle and the adoption of the Saltire as the symbol of Scotland is told in the Flag Heritage Centre through a unique audio-visual presentation. The Scottish Flag Trust promotes the Saltire as a welcoming symbol for all Scots whether they are Scots by birth, by choice or through their family roots.

The Scottish Flag Trust is a registered Scottish charity which maintains the Saltire Memorial and the Flag Heritage Centre at Athelstaneford and promotes the proper use of the Saltire.  The restoration and renewal project will see a new accessible pathway with interpretive timeline telling the history and adoption of Scotland’s national flag from 834AD to the present. The work is being funded through crowdfunded donations at:

Editorial – The Scottish Banner Says….

June 2024 (Vol. 47, Number 12)

The Banner Says…

A link to Dundee’s exploration past comes home

Gracing our front cover: Gracing our front cover: Dunfermline Abbey. Photo: VisitScotland.
It was 150 years ago (February 15, 1874) this year that a baby boy was born in County Kildare, Ireland. He was the second of ten children and at the age of 10 the young boy would move with his family to England. Ernest Shackleton would go on to join the merchant navy at just the age of 16 and a life of exploration and adventure was born.

Shackleton would go on to become a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of London, and in 1901 he was chosen to go on an expedition to Antarctica led by Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott. The iconic Dundee built Royal Research Ship (RRS) Discovery was made specifically for Antarctic research and launched in 1901. The wooden vessel was the UK’s first purpose-built Antarctic research ship, it was made for the ice and added to Dundee’s reputation for shipbuilding. RRS Discovery is now a popular attraction and permanently moored at Dundee’s Discovery Point alongside the incredible V&A Dundee.

The Boss

Its first venture to Antarctica carried both Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton. Shackleton would then be chosen by Scott to take part in a sledging trek towards the South Pole. This was still early days of Polar exploration and they had basic provisions, but they managed to get closer to the Pole than anyone before them. Sadly weather, illness and inhospitable terrain forced them back and not realise their goals. Shackleton would of course not give up on his dream to make it to the South Pole and would go on to undertake a further three expeditions to the region and during those he inherited the nickname ‘The Boss’ due to his leadership qualities.

In 1904 Shackleton moved to Scotland and became Secretary of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. Office life was not for him and left that role and turned to politics in Dundee but was unsuccessful with that. He also found employment at the Glasgow shipbuilders William Beardmore and Company. Mr Beardmore would go on to support one of Shakleton’s expeditions and have the Beardmore Glacier in Antarctica named in his honour.

Sir Ernest Shackleton

Sir Ernest Shackleton. Photo: © Dundee Heritage Trust.

Sir Ernest Shackleton, as he would become, was knighted by King Edward VII. In 1921 the Quest was the fourth and final ship to carry Shackleton to the Antarctic. On January 5th 1922 Shackleton suffered a massive heart attack and died at the age of 47. He never did make it to the South Pole, though he did get close and less than 100 miles from his target. What Shackleton did do was leave a huge legacy of exploration and human endurance. He was laid to rest in South Georgia and his grave headstone is made of Scottish granite.

In this issue

Dunfermline may be Scotland’s newest city, it was awarded city status as part of Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee Civic Honours in 2022, that does not stop it from having an incredible history and with a medieval past. Some of Dunfermline’s historic sites are waiting for you to explore and is an easy day trip from Edinburgh.

Greyfriars Bobby must be Scotland’s most famous dog and likely one of the most known, and loved, dogs in history. Some fascinating new images have been released of this faithful companion and one of Edinburgh’s most visited statues and graves. The story of Bobby is just another reason why there is nothing quite like man’s best friend.

Robert McVitie was born in Scotland in 1809. He had a recipe for success with his baking business in Edinburgh. The family business would go on to be a global brand that many of us can now enjoy whether back in the UK or at home internationally with tens of millions of biscuits being sent, and enjoyed, worldwide.

The Hope Cross

As we go to press the RRS Sir David Attenborough is travelling off the Falkland Islands coast bound for the UK. The icebreaker is travelling over 7,000 miles from the southern Atlantic Ocean. On board is a special piece of cargo, the cross from Shackleton’s Hope Point memorial. The Hope Cross was constructed at Grytviken whaling station in South Georgia by crew members of the Quest as a monument to Sir Ernest Shackleton following his death. Measuring almost 3 metres/10 feet tall by 1 metre/3 feet wide and weighing approximately 30kg/65lbs the cross will soon be able to be seen by many more than the few who make it each year to South Georgia.

There can be no place more fitting for Shackleton’s Hope Point memorial to be displayed than at Dundee’s Discovery Point museum; home of the RRS Discovery, the very ship that first carried Shackleton to Antarctica in 1901. This will be the first time it has been in the UK and allow a wider audience to view this important piece of Antarctic heritage and pay its respects to a legendary Polar explorer whose stories are revered the world over. The Hope Cross is due to arrive in Dundee in August and with it a part of Shackleton’s pioneering legacy is returning to Scotland.

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We appreciate your support and hope you enjoy this edition.

Gather the Clan this summer at the Sherwood Park Highland Gathering

The Sherwood Park Highland Gathering returns to Broadmoor Lake Park in Sherwood Park, Alberta, on July 22 and 23, 2024! More than 12,000 people attended last year’s Sherwood Park Highland Gathering with over 400 competitors participating. Saturday offers an amazing cultural experience with sanctioned events in pipes, drums and massed bands, along with highland dancing and heavy events, also new this year will be a Corporate Tug O War.

Saturday evening from 6 pm – 11 pm, you’ll find a family friendly Ceilidh featuring local Edmonton band, Celtara, with their uniquely identifiable Canadiana Celtic sound along with the North Stratton Pipe Band and Celtic Ceilidh Dance Academy. Sunday you’ll find sheep & duck herding demonstrations, other canine capers and a Viking village.

Both days you will also find Food Trucks, a Celtic marketplace, Kids Zone, pet rest area & beer gardens!  The Highland Gathering will be open from 9 am to 4 pm both days. Parking is available on-site and we are also encouraging cyclists to ride down and park in our special Cycle Parking area.

Bring your lawn chair and enjoy these action-packed, fun-filled days in Sherwood Park.

For more information, to purchase tickets or to volunteer, please visit:

The Mackay Scottish Bluewater Fling- Celebrating Mackay’s Scottish heritage

When John Mackay, the leader of a party of predominately Scottish explorers (and the first white men to visit the area), first saw the Pioneer River, the lifeblood of the tropical North Queensland city that would later bear his name, he described it in his diary as ‘picturesque….and unlike anything we had previously seen’. Over 160 years later, that same river is once again the beautiful blue backdrop to another Scottish party – the annual Mackay Scottish Bluewater Fling.

The Bluewater Fling is a free, outdoor, family-friendly community event that celebrates Mackay’s Scottish heritage. The event showcases local and visiting performers including pipe bands from across Queensland, Celtic rock bands, soloists, and Highland dancers. A number of stalls selling Scottish wares and foods and an on-site licenced venue also helps to keep the crowds entertained on the day.

This year’s Fling will be held on Saturday 31 August, at the Bluewater Quay, the ‘town square on the river’, in Mackay’s central business district. Given the idyllic tropical location and winter date, the only thing more certain than having perfect weather at the Bluewater Fling, is having a good time! The entertainment starts with a massed bands at 1.30pm and performances continue until 4.30pm. From there, performers and supporters move to a local indoor venue for the free ‘Fling Afterparty Ceilidh’, where it has been commented that the party really gets started! Live music and ceilidh dancing continues until late into the evening.

Passion for the pipes and drums

One of the highlights of the Bluewater Fling’s programme, the massed bands parade across the Forgan Smith Bridge, which spans the iconic Pioneer River (purported to be one of the bluest rivers in the country, thanks to its sandy base). The Bluewater Fling is an opportunity for pipe bands from North and Central Queensland to come together and share their passion for the pipes and drums. Bands confirmed to be attending this year’s Fling include Townsville Memorial Pipes and Drums, Townsville and Thuringowa Pipe Band, Veterans and Families Pipe Band, 3RAR Pipes and Drums and the Rockhampton Highlanders Pipe Band…but there is always room for more!

The Bluewater Fling is hosted by the Mackay and District Pipe Band, who have been bringing the rich sound of the pipes and drums to the people of Mackay since 1926. In honour of the previously mentioned founder of their home city, John Mackay, the band wears the crest and ancient tartan of Clan Mackay. The band is made up of fifty musicians, tutors, students and supporters from across the Mackay area, ranging in age from children to nonagenarians.

The event is the brainchild of Deborah Orr, a thirty-year veteran of the band and for many years, the band’s Pipe Major. The first Bluewater Fling was held in 2016 and after its runaway success, the band decided to make it an annual event. It continues to grow every year and has expanded to include other events over the course of the weekend, including a meet-and-greet on the preceding Friday night and said rambunctious ceilidh on the Saturday night.

All pipers, drummers and Scottish enthusiasts are hereby invited to play and/or join in the festivities at this year’s event! Individual pipers and drummers are always welcome to join in the massed bands brackets. Register your interest by email to: [email protected]

For more details on the event, head to  If you need any further convincing on why you should make the trek to come play with us in our beautiful region, watch our video:

Launch of global access to Robert Burns Collection

Over 2,500 historic items from the National Trust for Scotland’s (NTS) internationally important collections at Robert Burns Birthplace Museum are now available to explore from anywhere in the world. NTS have launched a new portal that gives unprecedented access to manuscripts, archives and artefacts, including over 1,000 items that are held in store for their long-term preservation and protection. Anyone with an interest in Burns from across the world can now visit our website and engage with Burns artefacts as never before.

With the ability to zoom in on high-resolution images to see full details on manuscripts and objects that would usually be displayed behind glass, the online collection allows users to experience Burns up close and personal – from previously undisplayed handwritten manuscripts by Robert Burns, to sharing the recently acquired items from the Blavatnik Honresfield Library, alongside photographs, letters, objects and wider archival material. Highlights include a fragment of one of only six known manuscripts of Auld Lang Syne dating from 1793; Jean Armour’s wedding ring; a lock of Highland Mary’s hair; and Burns’s blue woollen initialled socks.

Bringing an incredible Robert Burns Collection to people across the world

There are also many manuscripts that have not previously been on display, including Lament of Mary, Queen of Scots, On The Approach of Spring, Scots Wha Hae and an unbound, uncut copy of the Kilmarnock Edition of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. Susie Hillhouse, Head of Collections at the National Trust for Scotland, said: “We are excited to be bringing our incredible Robert Burns Collection to people across the world through this online platform. This project, which has been in the works for over 12 months, will allow people to engage with items in the collections like never before. We’re currently only able to show a proportion of these items at our award-winning Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway. Now, anyone will be able to search the collections, and zoom in to tiny details and experience the full collection of over 2,500 items, 24/7, from anywhere in the world.”

The National Trust for Scotland cares for more than 5,000 Burns-related items at Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway. The site includes an award-winning museum experience, as well as the cottage where Burns was born in 1759.

Main photo: A fragment of Auld Lang Syne, handwritten by Robert Burns.

Holland Celtic Fest set to celebrate with music and dance

With summer’s approach, West Michigan’s Irish and Scottish (and others) will gather for the annual Celtic Festival in Holland. Sponsored by Guinness, this year’s festival is June 21 & 22 at the Ottawa County Fairgrounds on Ottawa Beach Road in Holland, Michigan. More than 7,000 visited the 2nd  annual event in 2023 and the 3rd annual event is expected to attract even more.

“We started in a small park in downtown Holland but outgrew that venue after the first year,” said co-director Pete Grimm of Holland. “The County Fairgrounds work well for us now and give us room to grow for the future as well. Our Highland Games already are among the largest in Michigan.”

“The idea for this festival was hatched during the COVID-19 pandemic”, according to event co-director Craig Rich of Holland. “A bunch of us who regularly celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and other ethnic festivals and events in Holland, thought that we could get together and start something great for the community.”

Great entertainment

The sound of the pipes.

The 3rd annual Holland Waterfront Celtic Festival and Highland Games features 16 Irish and Celtic bands on two stages over two days. Scheduled to appear are Acoustic Vagabondi, Toby Bresnahan, Selkie, Uneven Ground, Belfast Gin, Enda Reilly, The Barley Saints, The Chelsea House Orchestra, Kennedy’s Kitchen, The Conklin Ceili Band, Whorled, The Leprecons, Ironwood, and CrossBow on the Dennis Jones State Farm stage as well as a new second music stage. Headlining Friday night’s “Ceilidh” are Canada’s favorites, The Mudmen. Saturday evening’s grand finale features  The Devil’s Brigade (formerly The American Rogues). Scottish Pipe and Drum bands will perform throughout the event, while area dance companies will perform Irish and Highland dance demonstrations on the United Federal Credit Union Dance Stage. Children will have fun in the kids’ area with games, coloring, temporary tattoos, and more.

Heavy events.

A full schedule of Highland Games will begin at 9:30 am on June 22, featuring more than 70 men and women athletes competing in nine events including caber-tossing, hammer-throwing and other feats of strength. A dozen ethnic food tents/trucks will assure no one goes hungry, while 20 vendors of Celtic clothing and other merchandise will please shoppers. A cash bar is available both Friday and Saturday featuring Guinness, Harp, Smithwicks, Magners and other beers, plus wines, seltzers and more. The all-day festival is Saturday, June 22, 2024, preceded by a Friday evening, 21 & older “Ceilidh” (concert/party) under a huge “Irish Pub” Tent.  Friday tickets are $22.50 and include free return admission on Saturday as a bonus. Saturday tickets are just $12 per person, with those 15 and younger admitted free on Saturday due to the generosity of local sponsors.

The Holland Waterfront Celtic Festival & Highland Games is produced by the Holland Celtic Society, a 501(C)(3) non-profit organization comprised entirely of volunteers.

For more information on the Holland Waterfront Celtic Festival and Highland Games see: or follow

Research reveals Da Vinci Code impact at Rosslyn Chapel – 21 years after publication

Visitors to Rosslyn Chapel, in Midlothian, are still strongly influenced by its role in The Da Vinci Code according to new research undertaken to mark the recent 21st anniversary of the book, which was first published on 18th March 2003.

Research carried out by Shanks Research Consultancy with 6,677 Chapel visitors between March 2023 and March 2024, reveals that:

  • 49% of visitors said that Dan Brown’s novel, and the subsequent film, was a factor influencing their decision to visit the historic site.
  • 72% of them had read the book and seen the film.
  • 43% of them said that The Da Vinci Code was either a ‘very important or important’ influence.

Ian Gardner, Director of Rosslyn Chapel Trust, said “It is remarkable that The Da Vinci Code continues to have such a strong influence on our visitors, 21 years since it first appeared. It has had a huge impact on the profile of Rosslyn Chapel and has significantly increased levels of visitor numbers, which rose from 38,141 to 79,916 after the book was published and to more than 176,000 when the film was released. This has helped us complete a comprehensive conservation project at the Chapel and undertake a major programme of restoration and repair at Rosslyn Castle, enabling  future generations to appreciate these unique buildings.”

One of Scotland’s iconic attractions

In 2023, the Chapel welcomed 142,211 visitors, as numbers started to increase following the pandemic. In the story of The Da Vinci Code, the main characters, Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu, investigate a murder in the Louvre and, in doing so, follow a set of clues to unravel a mystery to find the Holy Grail, taking them to London and then to Rosslyn Chapel. Since publication, the novel has been translated into 44 languages and has sold more than an estimated 80 million copies, making it one of the best-selling novels of all time.

Neil Christison, VisitScotland’s Regional Director, said: “Rosslyn Chapel is one of Scotland’s iconic attractions and a hugely important driver of tourism in Midlothian. The Da Vinci Code was a global phenomenon and it’s wonderful that the book and film are still influencing visitors to this day. This new research chimes with our own visitor surveys which continue to show that film and television productions are still referenced by visitors, sometimes decades, after their initial release.” He continued: “Scotland’s historic sites have been the backdrop to many productions, and this is a great example of the positive impact of screen tourism, which can help support the conservation of our amazing built heritage.”

Rosslyn Chapel was founded in 1446 by Sir William St Clair. The beauty of its setting, in rural Midlothian, and the mysterious symbolism of its ornately carved stonework have inspired, attracted an intrigued visitors and artists ever since. The Chapel is open to visitors throughout the year.

Dan Brown has previously said:  “When I decided to write The Da Vinci Code, I knew that its finale would have to take place at the most mysterious and magical Chapel on earth – Rosslyn.”

The 2024 Aberdeen Highland Games

The annual Aberdeen Highland Games are on the 1st Saturday in July each year. This year will be the weekend of the 6th July, 2024. The day will begin with a parade of pipe bands, clan representatives and others. This leads into the Massed Band Salute and Chieftain’s Address that officially open the day. Pipe bands are what make a Scottish event so special. The unique sounds of the massed pipes and drums fill the air, as bands converge from all around New South Wales at the Aberdeen Highland Games. Nothing encompasses such enthusiasm and colour as Highland Dancing.

And what better sight and sound can there be, that encapsulates the very essence of Scotland, than the bagpipes accompanying a Highland dancer, kilt swaying and feet moving to traditional airs! The young and old can take part in the novelty events, whether it be the three-legged races or the famed Kilted Dash. Everyone is encouraged to dress up in their best Scottish attire, with prizes awarded to the best dressed laddie, lassie, bairn and even dog! The Kilted Warriors are a great part of the event, with a traditional Celtic strongman competition. There is tremendous strength and determination on display when the athletes compete in three events – the lifting of the Stones of Destiny, the Sheaf Toss and the Caber Toss.

Further, the Games anticipate that the Australian Defence Force/ADF Federation Guard Drill Team will be with us again this year and they are a great spectacle not to be missed. A multitude of stores and stands will surround the arena, selling all manner of Scottish heirlooms and souvenirs, clothing and garb, and food and drink to complete your day. There will be a good roll up of Clan Societies, and these are of great help to those chasing family circles. In the evening, the NSW Pipe Band Association have organised a Pipe Band Quintet competition at the Aberdeen RSL Club and hosted by the Tamworth Pipe Band.

For details go to the web site or visit the Facebook page. All bookings are on line via this web site. For further detail go to [email protected].

Northumberland Scottish Festival and Highland Games

After calling Cobourg home since 1963, the Cobourg Highland Games Society are moving to a new location in Port Hope for their 60th anniversary on June 14 & 15th, 2024. To coincide with the move, they are changing the event name to the Northumberland Scottish Festival and Highland Games.  Everything else stays the same. You will still be entertained by Celtic music, see competitions in solo Piping and Drumming, Pipe Bands, Highland Dancing and Heavy events, learn about your Clan heritage and visit food and merchandise vendors. There’s fun for the little ones too, in the Wee Highlanders area.  The Games are thrilled to announce that Bruce Fummey will be the Honourary Chieftain this year. Bruce is taking time out of his Stories of Scotland Canadian Tour to take on the role of Honourary Chieftain for our Northumberland Highland Games.

Why the move to Port Hope?

The decision was not made lightly, nor in haste, however there are several reasons for the move to Port Hope. While Victoria Park in Cobourg is a beautiful setting beside Lake Ontario, the event is outgrowing the park and in need of a larger space for competitors, vendors and attendees. The Port Hope site offers that additional space, dedicated spots for all events, as well as a large outbuilding where Highland Dancing can take place.

​It’s not only Northumberland residents who attend the Games, with approximately 1,000 competitors from all over Ontario and the USA, who bring family and friends, bringing lots of out-of-town visitors. A big bonus for the new site is the Games can now offer free parking for all guests. As a non-profit organization, comprised solely of volunteers, the Cobourg Highland Games Society are very aware of their financial health.  Operating costs in Port Hope will be reduced and that allows them to pass the savings to guests. As a result, one of the first things they have done, is to lower the entry fee for 2024. But best of all? Parking is free!

Where will the 2024 Games take place?


The new location is at the Port Hope Agricultural Park, which Northumberland residents will know as the site for the Port Hope Fair. If you are not familiar with the site it’s in the east end of town at 62 McCaul St. Port Hope, ON, L1A 1A2. There is easy access to the park from both Highway 2 and Highway 401. Free parking is available at the park.  The Games will always cherish its connection with Cobourg – being able to host an event for 60 years in the town is a remarkable achievement. The committee feel the new title Northumberland Scottish Festival and Highland Games better reflects our ties with Northumberland County and the communities within.  The committee is working hard to make this 60th anniversary memorable, so there’s lots of planning and behind the scenes activities happening right now.

The Northumberland Scottish Festival & Highland Games will take place June 14 & 15, 2024 for full information see: or follow them on Facebook and Instagram for the latest news. You can also email the Games at: [email protected].

ScottishPower Pipe Band brings Scotland’s busiest train station to a standstill with surprise live performance

ScottishPower Pipe Band brought Scotland’s busiest train station to a standstill when it stunned commuters with a surprise live performance at Glasgow Central Station.  The spell-binding performance from one of the world’s leading Grade 1 pipe bands – which has been sponsored by ScottishPower since 1989 –   stopped passengers, staff and passersby at the major transport hub in their tracks. Dressed in their trademark ScottishPower tartan, the Pipe Band raised the roof with a captivating rendition of Dougie MacLean’s Caledonia, followed by their take on Journey’s popular hit, Don’t Stop Believin’.

A real stand-out moment

The Pipe Band, which has played across the globe and regularly places in the World Pipe Band Championships, is led by Pipe Major Chris Armstrong and Drum Sergeant Jake Jørgensen. ScottishPower Pipe Major Chris Armstrong said: “We’ve been lucky enough to perform in some amazing locations across the world, but it was really special to play in Glasgow Central Station. As home to ScottishPower’s HQ and the host city for the World Championships, Glasgow holds a very special place in our hearts, and it was amazing to see the reaction of the audience. We could have played all afternoon! It was definitely one of our more unusual practice sessions and sets us up brilliantly for forthcoming competitions including the UK Pipe Band Championship on 18 May in Bangor and the British Pipe Band Championships on 8 June in Forres. Thanks to everyone who took the time to watch – and hopefully no one missed their train!”

SP Energy Networks’ Scott Mathieson, who is also Chairman of the Pipe Band, said: “The ScottishPower Pipe Band always blow audiences away with their performances, but the added element of surprise at Glasgow Central Station was a real stand-out moment. We’re so proud to sponsor such a talented team of pipers and drummers and loved seeing them showcase their skills in such a fun and different way. There are lots more exciting performances to come this year and we can’t wait to follow them on their musical journey.”

One of the world’s leading Grade 1 pipe bands

The Pipe Band are one of the world’s leading Grade 1 pipe bands having featured as a regular prize winner in all major competitions over several decades. Twice Cowal Champions, Scottish Champions, All-Ireland and British Champions and runners-up in the World Championships are just some of their awards.

They are in demand throughout the world. They have previously performed in the US, Canada, Japan and China. The band have appeared before the late Queen at Braemar, for the Pope at St Peter’s in Rome, with Sir Paul McCartney at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, at the Lord Mayor’s Show in London, at the Official Opening of the Scottish Parliament and at the 75th Royal Variety Performance.

You can watch the magical moment the ScottishPower Pipe Band took Glasgow Central Station by surprise on the Pipe Band’s social media channels: Instagram, Facebook, X and TikTok.

Walker’s Shortbread takes centre stage in the Big Apple during Tartan Week Celebrations

One of America’s most beloved Scottish brands wowed New Yorkers, on Saturday 6 April 2024 at the annual Tartan Week celebrations in New York City, with a miniature shortbread replica of the Empire State Building.   Every April, a wave of tartan sweeps through New York, as the city that never sleeps celebrates Tartan Day and its cultural ties to Scotland. To celebrate the culmination of this year’s event Walker’s Shortbread recreated the iconic 102-storey Empire State Building using 527 pieces of its famous shortbread fingers.   The replica, which was built by UK food artist, Prudence Staite, and was transported to the heart of Tartan Day celebrations. The wee Empire State Building was available to visit at Pre-Parade Registration, at the Algonquin Hotel in Times Square.

The miniature Empire State Building is a fitting tribute from Walker’s, which has long-standing ties with the USA.  The USA was the brand’s first export market in 1976 and home to Walker’s first international office, and the family-owned business has now been sharing the joy of shortbread with Americans for almost 50 years.   The country is still Walker’s biggest export market, with record sales recorded in 2023 and over 50 million pieces of Walker’s best-selling Shortbread Fingers are enjoyed across all 50 states every year.

A proud Scottish brand

Alastair Walker, Head of International Sales at Walker’s Shortbread said: “Walker’s is a proud Scottish brand, however we always try to create a sense of place through our products in the close to 100 international markets that we export to. What is so important to us is that we celebrate our own heritage while also nodding to the cultures and traditions of the markets in which we’re sold. Our shortbread Empire State Building is a great example of this and the ideal way for us to mark the celebrations. We first started exporting to the US, with so many ex-pats living in country it was an opportunity to provide many of them with a taste of Scotland. For almost 50 years we’ve experienced increased demand for our all-butter shortbread, as people want to indulge in a quality product which is made with care, from only four natural ingredients, in the Scottish Highlands.”

Walker’s Shortbread Ltd was established 125 years ago in Aberlour, Speyside, Scotland. Still an independent family concern to this day, the company is headed by the founder’s great- grandchildren, who faithfully maintain the tradition of producing the finest shortbread, biscuits, cakes and oatcakes to original recipes using only the finest ingredients – a policy that has earned Walker’s a global reputation for quality and excellence.

Main photo: Pipers celebrating Tartan Week with Sir Jimn Walker. Images courtesy of Walker’s Shortbread.

Canada’s Premiere Pipe Band Coming to Kingsville-Essex Highland Games

While modern day Highland Games have changed significantly over the years, there are still three pillar competitions that are consistent throughout the world; Highland Dancing; Scottish Athletic Heavy Events; and Piping, Drumming & Pipe Bands. Since its return in 2019, the Kingsville-Essex Highland Games has always proudly presented all three of these events and 2024 will be no exception. The Committee is beyond excited to announce that the prestigious 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band will be competing in Kingsville on June 22nd. The 78th Fraser Highlanders are a top-tier pipe band, one of eighteen Grade 1 pipe bands in the world, only three of which are in Canada.

The 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band.

Since its inception in 1982, The 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band has been an international leader in bagpiping and drumming, boldly presenting innovative music with subtle hints of Celtic tradition. The band travels to Glasgow, Scotland every year to compete on the international stage at the most advanced level (Grade 1), in the World Pipe Band Championships. The 78th holds 14 Canadian Championship titles, 14 North American Championship titles, a ranking position as one of the top 12 bands in the world over twenty times, as well as a very prestigious and historic title: that of being the first non-Scottish pipe band to win the World Pipe Band Championships in Grade 1 (1987).

The ancient sounds of the bagpipe and drum

Toronto Police Pipe Band.

Also, the Toronto Police Pipe Band has now registered to return for the Kingsville-Essex Highland Games competition. As ambassadors of both the Toronto Police Service and the City of Toronto, the band is dedicated to playing good music well and to help bring the ancient sounds of the bagpipe and drum to the people. The Toronto Police Pipe Band are currently a Grade 2 Pipe Band and have competed on the national and world stage over decades. There are 5 grade levels for competing pipers, drummers, and pipe bands, with 1 being the highest.

“We are truly honoured to have these bands choose to compete in Kingsville as they don’t attend all Highland Games. This year is shaping up to be a real treat for everyone who comes to the Kingsville-Essex Games on June 22nd, it’s not every day you have the chance to hear bands of this calibre” said founder and chairman, Doug Plumb. And it doesn’t end there, check the website regularly for updates on the bands that will be joining these two Canadian icons in June.

The Kingsville-Essex Highland Games takes place on Saturday June 22nd, 2024. This year there is a new venue at the Canadian Transportation Museum & Heritage Village, 6155 Arner Townline, Kingsville, Ontario. For more details see:

Main photo: The 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band.

Culzean Castle-A Castle on a Hill

Culzean Castle is famous, perhaps world famous, and deservedly so. Less widely-known is the country park of which it is the heart. The park is a magical gem in itself. Together, both in the care of the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), they comprise one of Scotland’s greatest treasures, a must-see whether you’re a local or have travelled from the other side of the world.

There can be few country parks that include such a wide variety of landscapes; there’s sea and shore and crag; gardens and woodland; ponds and burns and glens. While there is no moor or mountain, there is some farmland as well as the former estate buildings; and, of course, the castle itself.

Coif Castle

Culzean Castle from the walled garden.

We don’t know exactly when the first castle on the site was built but there was definitely something here by the 1400s: it went by the name of Coif (or Cove) Castle. The lands were the property of the Kennedy family from the 12th century onwards. The beginnings of the castle structure as we know it began to appear in the late 1500s when Sir Thomas Kennedy ordered a simple and rather austere L-plan tower house. However, the castle was massively rebuilt in the period 1777-1792 (it was a big project, so it took a while!) on the orders of the 9th and 10th Earls of Cassillis, as the Kennedy’s had become. The architect they employed was the renowned Robert Adam. Essentially, what emerged was a new-build though the old tower house was incorporated into the new structure. The new castle is widely regarded, inside and out, as an Adam masterpiece. As we’ll see, some further changes were made in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but the substance of Adam’s achievement remained.

The castle came into the care of the National Trust for Scotland in 1945. The one thing everyone knows about Culzean is that a self-contained apartment within the castle was made available to Dwight D Eisenhower for the term of his life, as a thank-you from the United Kingdom for his service during the Second World War. You can see some Eisenhower memorabilia in the Castle, but his apartment is now part of an exclusive hotel that helps to fund NTS conservation work at the site.

The gardens at Culzean.

The first thing you notice as you approach the castle is that it’s huge. If you’ve ever seen the 1973 film, The Wicker Man you might have wondered how Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) could inhabit such an enormous property on what was supposed to be a small island; his home was played by Culzean Castle.

Your first view of the castle is framed by The Ruined Arch: this was built as a ruin, part of Adam’s design for a dramatic introduction to the castle, though the idea of a historic ruin pays tribute to the lengthy history of the Kennedy’s. The arch leads to a viaduct which crosses the Walled Garden – picturesque on the left, kitchen garden on the right – and up to the castle itself. It’s a breathtaking way to approach the building. The porch by which you enter the building is a Victorian addition; apparently, Adam’s design didn’t cope well with keeping out the westerly gales, so the porch was included in order to provide an airlock. It leads to the armoury, with, as you’d expect, patterns traced in old pistols and swords. More surprisingly, there’s a First World War aeroplane propeller in the ceiling, presented to the castle by a wartime aerodrome at nearby Turnberry.

The castle’s Oval Staircase is perhaps its most striking feature, an Adam innovation that gave access not only to the new-build parts of the castle but also the older elements that he retained. Some rooms, such as the Library, are actually housed in older parts of the castle, in this case the old tower house. The Dining Room, something of a favourite with visitors – we all like to imagine ourselves dining in state, Downton-style – was remodelled in Victorian times, but in a way that harmonised with the original Adam design.

Culzean’s coastal setting

The castle from the Ruined Arch.

The art displayed in the various rooms is a highlight of the castle for me. Watch out especially for specially-commissioned paintings of the castle itself, and of the surrounding area, by the famous Scottish painter Alexander Nasmyth (1758-1840). As was normal in the landscape painting of the time, Nasmyth tended to exaggerate the height and ruggedness of Culzean’s coastal setting but they still capture the spirit of the place.

After you’ve seen round the house there is still plenty to explore. In fact, a day is hardly long enough to see everything. The Walled Garden is a must, especially on a warm day; the beach is also worth a visit, though be warned, it is not a sandy paradise and can be slippery. Look out for a small, circular, domed building; this is the Round House, actually a grand ancestor of the changing cubicles at your local swimming pool! It was built in the early 1800s as a changing facility when there was a new fashion for sea bathing. In the estate offices – actually some walking distance from the castle itself – there’s a shop and café. Another outbuilding has been repurposed as a second-hand book and CD shop, something I like very much. And, of course, there are the wide-open spaces of the Country Park, Scotland’s first to be so designated back in 1969.

Exotica from the country park.

The site of Culzean Castle has a long history of occupation, even if the Adam building and its Victorian accretions are not really that old. As such, inevitably, there are ghost stories attached to the location. A ghostly piper is said to play on stormy nights (doubters would say it’s easy to imagine pipe music when there is a strong wind hammering into the crags) and also to foretell a Kennedy wedding. There are also tales of a young woman in a ball gown being seen in the castle and a ‘white lady’ – a traditional type of ghost but here said to be the spirit of a maltreated servant girl. I’m a sceptic about ghosts but do let us know if you see (or hear) anything!

Few Scottish historic buildings have anything like the impact on the senses that Culzean Castle does. You often hear about ‘must-sees’; this one really is.

Text and images by: David McVey.

Dressed to Kilt 2024: Canadian debut reigns supreme in Toronto

Dressed to Kilt, the renowned annual celebration of Scottish fashion and culture, made its highly anticipated Canadian debut on April 6, 2024, at the Liberty Grand in Toronto, Ontario. The event reconfirmed Dressed to Kilt’s status as the largest, most prestigious, and exciting Scottish fashion show in the world. This show now also ranks as one of the highest-profile fashion shows in Toronto in terms of press and media generation. For the first time ever, the show generated in excess of two million media impressions and counting.

The Saltire kilt. Photo by Robert Okine/Getty Images for Friends of Scotland.

The show was yet another sold-out evening. More than 400 guests attended this standing-room-only show for an evening of glamour, entertainment, and philanthropy, all in support of the Royal Canadian Legion’s Poppy Fund. The Royal Canadian Legion is the largest veteran’s organization in Canada.

The finest in Scottish fashion

A model walks the runway at the Dressed To Kilt 2024. Photo by Robert Okine/Getty Images for Friends of Scotland.

The runway came alive with elegance and grace showcasing the finest in Scottish fashion. The energy was palpable as guests enjoyed a mesmerizing display of custom-made tartans, including the new tartan created for the Canadian Special Forces Veterans through the Blackstone Association.

“We are thrilled by the overwhelming success and reception of Dressed to Kilt 2024,” said Dr. Geoffrey Scott Carroll, Co-Founder of Dressed to Kilt. “It was an honour to bring this iconic event to Toronto and to witness the outpouring of support from the community. From the stunning runway show to the incredible music, to the sold-out venue, the evening truly exceeded all expectations.”

One of the new additions to this year’s show was the collaboration with George Brown College School of Fashion, the leading university fashion program in Canada. Scotland’s Strathmore Woollen Company donated Tartan fabric to the school and upwards of nine students created bespoke designs for the runway. Their designs were wild, colourful and creative and the audience gave them a standing ovation. This collaboration with a leading university fashion program will likely be a permanent feature of the show going forward.

Celebrating Scottish fashion and culture

Chef Alain Boss, The Kilted Chef, walks the runway. Photo by Robert Okine/Getty Images for Friends of Scotland.

The success of Dressed to Kilt 2024 would not have been possible without the support of sponsors, partners, and volunteers. Their dedication and commitment played a crucial role in making this event a resounding success. As the event reflects on the unforgettable moments shared at Dressed to Kilt 2024, they extend their heartfelt gratitude to everyone who contributed to its success. Dressed to Kilt look forward to continuing the tradition of celebrating Scottish fashion and culture and watch this space as Dressed to Kilt will be returning to New York City for the 2025 show for the first time since before the pandemic.

Miss Scotland, Chelsie Allison, walks the runway at the Dressed To Kilt 2024. Photo by Robert Okine/Getty Images for Friends of Scotland.

Dressed to Kilt is a global fashion phenomenon that transcends the boundaries of style and culture. Founded by Sir Sean Connery and Dr. Geoffrey Scott Carroll, this iconic event has redefined the fashion landscape, merging the elegance of black-tie attire with the rich history of Scotland. As the world’s most prestigious Scottish fashion show, Dressed to Kilt celebrates the fusion of heritage and haute couture. With a legacy of celebrity-filled shows and a commitment to promoting Scottish heritage, Dressed to Kilt has become synonymous with fashion excellence and creativity.

For more information about Dressed to Kilt and future events, please visit:

Sandy Ritchie-The pride of Buchan

Sandy Ritchie wrote his first book at 93. He’s a champion of history and heritage, loves Doric and even booked Dame Evelyn Glennie to perform in New Deer. Aberdeenshire councillor, Anne Simpson, thinks Sandy is “an amazing man” and the pride of Buchan, as Neil Drysdale explains.

Sandy Ritchie has released his first book at the age of 93. He was recently awarded a British Empire Medal for voluntary services to cultural heritage and the community in north-east Scotland and champions the local Buchan community.

He’s the man who his first book, New Deer and Roon Aboot, at the age of 93, and has gained a reputation as one of north-east Scotland’s most remarkable community champions. And Sandy Ritchie, who is now 94, has been accorded recognition at local and national level after being presented with the British Empire Medal and a Pride of Buchan award on the same day at his home in Aberdeenshire. He was privileged to receive the honour, but upset that Atholene, his wife of nearly 70 years, was not there to witness the ceremony, following her death last year.

Bertie Forbes

Sandy receiving his British Empire Medal.

Mr Ritchie worked as a funeral director for many years, but has never lost his zest for life and has met everybody from renowned musician Dame Evelyn Glennie to international businessman Bertie Forbes and Flora Garry – the Buchan Poetess. He was also among the audience who thrilled at the sight of the Book of Deer – which is more than 1,000 years old – when it was brought back to Aberdeen two years ago and later marvelled at the news that archaeologists had discovered proof of a lost monastery close to his roots. Mr Ritchie, who has been instrumental for decades in the activities of such organisations as the Buchan Heritage Society, the Book of Deer Project and the New Deer Public Hall and Community Association, was presented with his BEM by Aberdeenshire’s Lord Lieutenant Sandy Manson.

For decades, he has chronicled those he has met or families with whom he has had dealings. These included the kith and kin of Mr Forbes, who founded the eponymous business magazine in the United States, and was another who emerged from the little Scottish community. As a young lad, he took down – in shorthand – the minister’s sermon on a Sunday at the Auld Kirk and subsequently read it to his grandfather when he returned home. The bond was strong.

And, as Sandy relates: “Bertie died in 1954 and was buried in New York. But in 1988, his son, Malcolm, arranged for his coffin to be disinterred and taken home and I myself had the great honour of acting as undertaker when Bertie’s remains were re-interred beside his grandfather, James Moir, in the Auld Kirkyard at New Deer.” So, in death, they were back together again.

Dame Evelyn Glennie

Sandy receiving his Pride of Buchan Award.

By 1989, Evelyn Glennie had established a formidable musical reputation, just 24 years after her birth in Ellon Maternity Hospital. Despite her hearing loss as a young woman, which led to her travelling to London to meet Ann Rachlin, the founder of the Beethoven Fund for Deaf Children, she emerged as a massively gifted percussionist. In which light, Mr Ritchie must have imagined he was whistling in the dark when he attempted to coax Evelyn back to the place where her mother had played the organ for the 150th anniversary of St Kane’s Church in New Deer. But, once again, the close ties ensured that he managed to bring the idea to fruition.

He explains: “I had quite a bit of negotiating to do with her people to persuade her to come – and at a reduced fee – and I was successful, I am sure, with the help of mam Isobel. A great evening ensued. I had to lay a wooden plywood covering on the church altar because Evelyn performed her repertoire in her bare feet, getting vibrations up from the floor. It was a never-to-be-forgotten evening that was enjoyed by around 800 people.”

As he noted, the now “Dame Evelyn” has achieved global fame. But that didn’t stop her from maintaining her links to the place where she and her family grew up. And Mr Ritchie will keep encouraging others to remember their roots and their heritage.

Main photo: Sandy and his book.

A Celebration of Highland Dance-22nd annual Tartan Day on Ellis Island celebrates Highland Dance

The 2024 Ellis Island celebration of Tartan Day featured a Celebration of Highland Dance through interpretive exhibits, dance costumes, performance videos and live performances. On Sunday, April 7, over 60 dancers representing the US, Scotland, Canada, and Australia performing traditional dances and a majestic mass Highland Fling in front of the New York City skyline. Performers included members of Shot of Scotch (New York City), the OzScot Dancers (Australia), the Fling Together troupe (US and Canada), the Maloney School of Dance (New Jersey) and Scotland’s Lindsay School of Dancing. Emily Ritter of Shot of Scotch served as Dance Director and piping was provided by John Loiacono.

Commenting on the experience, Debra Henry of the Lindsay School of Dance from Stonehaven, Scotland said, “Dancing on Ellis Island has been an amazing experience for our dancers with the most iconic backdrop of the New York City skyscape behind the Mass Fling. We all have memories to last a lifetime.”

A Celebration of Highland Dance.

Opening on March 27 to kick off Scottish heritage celebrations in New York, the exhibit has been extended until April 18. The program was dedicated to the memory of beloved Scottish dance teacher Mary Stewart. Stewart (1918-2001) came to America from Glasgow in 1951 and became a renowned teacher of champion Highland Dancers.

Producer Robert Currie, Commander of the Name and Arms of Currie expressed his gratitude to the entire event team, especially the incredible dancers, the US National Park Service and the Scottish Government. Additional support and coordination was provided by ScotDance USA.

Rich cultural heritage

Jackie Bird, President of the National Trust for Scotland, and Robert Currie, Commander of the Name and Arms of Currie.

Scottish dancing in North America can be traced back to the migration of Scottish immigrants who brought their cultural traditions, including dance, to the continent. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Scottish settlers and their descendants continued to practice traditional dances, adapting them to the new surroundings. These dances were often performed at social gatherings, celebrations, and events within Scottish communities, helping to preserve and pass on the rich cultural heritage. Over time, Scottish dance evolved and diversified in North America, with various styles and regional influences contributing to its vibrant presence today.

Dancer Mariah Rust.

Highland dancer Mariah Rust who took part added, “Since I first participated in 2018, the Tartan Day on Ellis Island performance has become one of my favorites, not only because it’s in a beautiful spot with views of the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan, but also for the significance dancing on Ellis Island holds. It was amazing to be able to share this experience with so many friends from Shot of Scotch, Fling Together, OzScot Australia and more. Thank you to the Learned Kindred of Currie/Clan Currie Society for organizing this performance year after year and for including me for a third time.”

Part of the North American celebration of Tartan Week, Tartan Day on Ellis Island is one of the United States’ major annual Scottish heritage events. Each year is highlighted by an exhibit exploring a specific aspect of Scottish-American history and culture. The celebration also features performances by a host of Scottish artists, including pipers and drummers, Highland dancers, fiddlers, jugglers and harpists. Attendance regularly exceeds 8 thousand visitors per day.

Past exhibitions have included, Scotland’s Gift’s to the World, Captain Kidd and the Hangman’s Noose, A Celebration of Tartan, and Golf – Scotland’s Gift to the World. The Society also produced the award-winning documentary film The Crafter’s Song – Tartan Day on Ellis Island in 2003.

The event is produced by the Learned Kindred of Currie, a leading Scottish-American cultural and educational non-profit dedicated to preserving and promoting Scottish and Highland heritage and the arts through a wide variety of programs including special events, scholarships and heritage programs.

For more information on Tartan Day on Ellis Island please see:

Images courtesy of Tartan Day on Ellis Island and Fling Together Collective.

New finds at Culloden Battlefield shed more light on intensity of battle

Latest investigations by National Trust for Scotland archaeologists at Culloden Battlefield have recovered a wide range of artefacts, including a buckle they believe to be the shoe buckle of Donald Cameron of Lochiel, who led the 400-strong Camerons regiment into the battle. The large number of musket balls and grapeshot unearthed by the conservation charity’s archaeologists and volunteers in a small 60 sq m area close to the Government frontline, vividly illustrate the intensity of the fighting on the Jacobite right wing. The charity has revealed the findings, made during test pit excavation and metal detecting, as it recently marked the 278th anniversary of the battle on 16 April 1746, which saw around 1,600 men killed in less than an hour.

A view of the battlefield.

Of particular significance and interest to the Trust’s archaeologists were two items found in close proximity – a single piece of heavy lead grape shot and a broken copper alloy buckle. Derek Alexander, the National Trust for Scotland’s Head of Archaeology, explained, “The grape shot has obviously hit something with great force as one side of the lead ball has been completely flattened. The ball would have been around 2-3cm in diameter and, at 102g, weighed about four times a standard musket ball. The flattened side of the impacted ball has a striped impression, with part of the surface gouged and rolled back and an angular cut on one of its edges. It looks like it hit something angular with enough force to flatten the ball but also at an angle to cause the gouge across it.“

The Gentle Lochiel

Recent finds of grapeshot from the Battle of Culloden and the remains of what’s believed to be a shoe belong to the Cameron chief known as ‘The Gentle Lochiel’.

The other item found in the same hole was a flat copper alloy object. This appears to be part of a broken rectangular framed buckle for a strap measuring 26mm wide. The buckle is decorated on the outside with cast beaded dots, plain lines and a central twisted-rope pattern, with a shape reminiscent of the flat, slightly-curved shoe buckles often shown in contemporary illustrations.

Derek Alexander continues, “The juxtaposition of both these artefacts, recovered from the same hole and within 20-30m of the British Army front line, is intriguing and the obvious conclusion would be that the grape shot hit the shoe buckle and broke off one end. This is of particular significance as one of the most recounted stories of the Jacobite charge at Culloden is the wounding of Donald Cameron of Lochiel, known as ‘The Gentle Lochiel’. The late Christopher Duffy, a leading authority on the Battle of Culloden, tells how Lochiel ‘advancing at the head of his regiment [the Camerons], was so near Barrell’s [Government Regiment] that he fired his pistol, and was drawing his sword when he fell, wounded with grapeshot in both ankles. This description shows us that Lochiel was hit in the ankles charging forward and if he had been wearing shoes with buckles, it is possible that these would have been hit and partly absorbed the impact. We can’t prove that this is what happened but both objects combine to tell the story of the terrible events that took place on that day.”

Donald Cameron of Lochiel (1695-1748) was the hereditary chief of Clan Cameron and led their 400-strong regiment at the Battle of Culloden. A staunch Jacobite, he played a key role in the 1745 Rising and marched with his clan regiment to Derby and back. Despite being wounded at Culloden, he managed to escape to France with Bonnie Prince Charlie in September 1746. He died of a stroke in northern France at the age of 53 in 1748. After the Rising, he was give the nickname ‘The Gentle Lochiel’ due to him preventing the Jacobite army from sacking the city of Glasgow in 1746.

Donald Cameron of Lochiel, the current (28th) chief, commented, “This fascinating archaeological discovery adds to the legends surrounding one of my most famous ancestors, the Gentle Lochiel, and certainly tallies with the fact that he was injured by grape shot in that particular location at Culloden. We will of course never know the full picture but it’s intriguing that the battlefield is still producing such interesting artefacts even today.”

Sharing the stories of Culloden

Culloden Moor is a powerfully emotive place.

Gail Cleaver, the National Trust for Scotland’s Operations Manager for Culloden, added, “Culloden Moor is a powerfully emotive place, and it’s rare for a landscape of this age to be so relatively intact. The National Trust for Scotland has been acquiring and caring for parts of the battlefield since 1937. But the field of battle and the views that surround it are increasingly under threat from development, and as well as sharing the stories of Culloden, our charity works hard to protect its sense of place. This is why we set up the Culloden Fighting Fund in 2021. The fund helps us care and protect the battlefield in many ways, including setting up our five-year archaeology programme which has transformed our understanding of the battle and strengthened our advocacy against improper development around the battlefield. As we mark the 278th anniversary of the Battle of Culloden, our charity is grateful to people from all over the world who generously support our work here. Their donations to the Fighting Fund, as well as the encouraging words they send to us, are greatly appreciated and remind us more than ever of how privileged we are to care for Culloden and how important is our work to protect, care for and share it. If you’d like to support us in that, you can donate at”

All images courtesy of the National Trust for Scotland.

Thousands attend the 2024 New Zealand Pipe Band Championships

Thousands of Kiwis descended onto Onewa Domain in Auckland to take in the 2024 New Zealand Pipe Band Championships, the biggest pipe band event outside of the United Kingdom. Fifty-two bands from across Australia and New Zealand competed at the two-day event, culminating with the reigning New Zealand champions, Canterbury Caledonian Society, retaining their premier grade title.

“The strength of the entries and the standard of music right across the grades is testament to how strong the pipe band movement in New Zealand is, and the renaissance we are seeing with young people from all walks of life deciding to take up the bagpipes and drums,” RNZPBA President Iain Blakeley says. “The adjudication panel said this year’s event was the highest standard of competition they had heard in New Zealand in a long time. Having high-quality music across all of the competition grades both helps inspire players to constantly reach for excellence as well as inspire new people to take up the instruments.”

Pipe bands are for everyone

The City of Melbourne Highland Pipe Band, Grade Three winners.

Of note, the 2024 competition played host to the biggest under-18 juvenile event in the world, and for the second time in the history of the national championships a female was awarded Champion Drum Major. Iain continued, “We are proud of the fact we have so many young people from all walks of life wanting to play the bagpipes or drums. It’s an incredible environment for young people to learn new skills, make new friends and have fun. The strength of the public interest in this year’s event shows the unique contribution we can make to communities right across New Zealand. There are strong signs that the event will continue to grow and diversify which is an exciting prospect. No matter your background, pipe bands are for everyone.”

Canterbury Caledonian Society Pipe Band.

The winners of each grade were:

Grade One: Canterbury Caledonian Society’s Pipe Band (Christchurch, New Zealand)

Grade Two: Celtic Pipe Band (Nelson, New Zealand)

Grade Three: City of Melbourne Pipe Band No. 1 (Melbourne, Australia)

Grade Four ‘A’: Hamilton Caledonian Society (Hamilton, New Zealand)

Grade Four ‘B’: South Canterbury Highland Pipe Band (Timaru, New Zealand)

Juvenile: St. Andrew’s College Pipe Band (Christchurch, New Zealand)

Champion Drum Major: Wendy Chisholm (Canterbury Caledonian Society’s Pipe Band)

The 2025 New Zealand Pipe Band Championships will be held in Invercargill 7-8th March 2025, at the Cricket Grounds, Queens Park. The event will be livestreamed for piping fans across the world to enjoy.

Main photo: Grade One winners Canterbury Caledonian Society Pipe Band.

Editorial – The Scottish Banner Says….

May 2024 (Vol. 47, Number 11)

The Banner Says…

Watchers of the Monster

Gracing our front cover: A Celebration of Highland Dance in New York. Photo courtesy of Fling Together Collective.

Welcome to May where many will start to visit Scotland’s shores for the upcoming travel season. As the days get longer in Scotland and the weather improves many events start to kick off across the country. One event that is taking place this month is happening at what must be considered Scotland’s most mysterious place, Loch Ness.

For anyone who has visited the UK’s largest body of fresh water will know not only how beautiful it is but also famous. The legend of the Loch Ness Monster, or also lovingly known as Nessie, is known the world over and excites the imagination of many visitors to Scotland.

Sir Edward Mountain

This year marks the 90th anniversary of Sir Edward Mountain’s famous expedition with the ‘Watchers of the Monster’, an expedition in which 20 men with cameras and binoculars were placed around the cold dark waters of the loch for five weeks in 1934. This was the first organised surface watch of Loch Ness, and its very famous resident, with over twenty sightings recorded by Mountain’s team. Sir Edward was a business magnate and the founder of Eagle Star Insurance which became one of the largest insurance companies in the United Kingdom.

Later this month in honour of the anniversary of that expedition a search is again being planned (May 30-June 2nd) with the hopes that our advancing technology will further assist the organisers, Loch Ness Centre and Loch Ness Exploration, in finding some answers to the many questions many still have about the elusive monster.


Organisers are aware of many potential sightings and strange noises heard from the depths of Loch Ness, The Loch Ness Centre is planning an even bigger search as it continues its goal of uncovering the loch’s mysteries. Whether you are sitting by the edge of the loch looking or perhaps sitting at home across the world and viewing by webcam everyone is being invited to help look for Nessie. This includes scientists and universities, as well as pioneers of exploration NASA to provide equipment and expertise in the search. With new equipment from experts the Loch Ness Centre is hoping science can help uncover the mysteries of the loch and the unexplainable sightings since the Watchers of the Monster expedition 90 years ago.

For several decades there has been reported sightings of Nessie, with the most recent being in April 2024. Last year, one of the biggest searches of Loch Ness took place as we reported, with a hydrophone capturing loud underwater noises and several potential sightings.

Paul Nixon, General Manager of the Loch Ness Centre, said: “Last year we captured the world’s attention with one of the biggest ever searches for Nessie, with participants joining us from America, Canada, France, Italy, Japan and more. With unexplained noises heard, alongside possible sightings, this year we are determined to find out more about the elusive Loch Ness Monster. As well as asking for the help of budding monster hunters to help us on our quest, we are asking for the help of experts. We’re excited to make this search the biggest ever, as we look for new equipment to help us uncover the loch’s biggest mysteries.”

In this issue

Whilst Nessie may hide from the limelight tartan, tweed and Scottish design was proudly on show recently in Toronto for the Dressed to Kilt fashion event. This was the first time the ‘world’s most prestigious Scottish fashion show’ was presented outside the USA and celebrated both Scottish and Canadian designers. Tartan of course was the showstopper and as many readers of this publication will agree, is always in fashion.

With many celebrations taking place across North America last month for Tartan Day it was wonderful to see Highland Dance being recognised in New York City. With dancers from across the world taking part highlighting this skilled tradition of Scottish culture.

I have been fortunate to have visited Culzean Castle, the castle perched on the Ayrshire cliffside, a couple of times. Whether it has been strolling through the grounds or taking in the incredible interiors it really is something you should consider adding to your Scottish itinerary.

Water beast

The Loch Ness Centre, which was reopened last year following a renovation, is located at the old Drumnadrochit Hotel, where, 90 years ago, hotel manageress Mrs Aldie Mackay reported seeing a ‘water beast’ in Loch Ness – sparking our modern-day interest in the phenomenon.

Will the US space agency take up the offer to get involved with the search for one of this planet’s biggest mysteries? Time will tell but it does not take rocket science to know the legend of Loch Ness is bigger than any underwater monster might be and regardless of what they do or don’t discover the legend will live on.

Will you take part in the search for Nessie this month? Have you been to Loch Ness? Do you have you any comments from the content in this month’s edition? Share your story with us by email, post, social media or at:

#ScottishBanner, #TheBanner

The Scottish Banner is more reliant than ever on our readers helping us to provide you with our unique content by buying a copy of our publication, regardless if by print or digital subscription or at a retail outlet.

We appreciate your support and hope you enjoy this edition.

Hollywood movie idols influence historic Scottish baby names

Hollywood stars Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn influenced the names of Scottish babies in decades gone by, according to new analysis by National Records of Scotland (NRS). For the first time statisticians have looked back through all the names used since 1935 and charted the top 100 names in each year. NRS Statistician Maria Kaye-Bardgett said: “Over time we see an increase in the variety of names being used, with stars from the silver screen having an impact.

For example, Marilyn rose to popularity in 1946 and peaked in 1953 when Monroe starred in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire. The name Audrey appeared to get a boost from Audrey Hepburn’s career, rising to reach a peak of 36th in 1963 before dropping out of the top hundred in 1976. This shows pop culture was already influential 70 years ago and continues to have an impact on what parents decide to name their children today.”  Another key finding from this report is the relative stability among boy’s names. A dozen names have stayed in the top 100 for babies born in Scotland over the last 88 years and all of them are for boys. These names are Adam, Alexander, Daniel, David, James, Joseph, Matthew, Michael, Robert, Samuel, Thomas, William.

Long-term favourites

Maria Kaye-Bardgett commented: “These twelve names are long-term favourites that have stood the test of time, interestingly none of them are for girls. The only girls name that came close to this sustained popularity was Elizabeth which was in the top 100 every year except 2018 and 2021, perhaps reflecting the long reign of Elizabeth II.” Many parents seem to choose comeback names, something which was popular in decades gone by. Names like Louis, Finlay and Emily are all popular again having fallen out of the top 100 in previous decades. Maria Kaye-Bardgett added:  “One name which has bounced back recently is Flora which returned to the top 100 after a 78-year absence. It was previously in the top 100 from 1935 to 1943. Its return could be a result of the renewed interest in the Jacobite era with the hugely successful Outlander TV series including the character Flora Macdonald, famous in history for having helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape after defeat at Culloden.”

The latest statistics also found some one-offs; names that made it into the top 100 for one year only. This category included the name Jan for boys in 1946. The vast majority of baby boys called Jan had a father who was in the Polish military. Up to 200,000 Polish soldiers, sailors and airmen trained in Scotland between 1940 and 1947. Many Polish people were interned, imprisoned or conscripted during the war but thousands escaped and were sent to Scotland to train Another one-off was Kylie in 1988, when there were 104 baby girls given the name in the year Kyle Minogue left Neighbours to launch her music career.

The Battle of Falkirk 1298 Commemoration and fundraiser

Since 2016 The Society of John De Graeme has worked in partnership with The Society Of William Wallace (so effectively it would make both Wallace and Graeme proud) to deliver The Battle of Falkirk 1298 Commemoration in Falkirk.  Their aim is to bring history to life with a community-based event that retells the story of The Battle of Falkirk 1298. The Battle of Falkirk 1298 Commemoration pays homage to those who fought and died in defence of their home.

A pivotal event in Scotland’s history

The Society’s feel other than time there is no difference between honouring those at The Bulge or Dunkirk to those at Falkirk, a Scot fighting and dying to protect the freedoms of his homeland is no different and should be remembered. The events aim is also to raise awareness for the Battle which was a pivotal event in Scotland’s history without Falkirk there would be no Bannockburn. Falkirk saw the largest English (in terms of lead by) host brought to Scotland and lead by Edward I himself. Edward I would go on to assemble a large army and on 22 July 1298 defeat William Wallace’s men at Falkirk. And though the Scots were defeated this event celebrates Scotland’s culture and helping to educate people on Scotland’s dramatic history.

The Society of John De Graeme has a crowdfunder to help with running costs of this year’s event, taking place on Saturday July 20th, which remembers those who fought and died on the fields of Falkirk. The event has not been very successful with grants in previous years and has required help from the community.

If you are able to donate it will help deliver a great event: To learn more about The Society of John De Graeme see:

The Berry Celtic Festival-Where Celtic spirits unite

The Knights, all the bands, all the Clans, medieval villagers, singing and dancing will unite Celtic spirits at the 17th Berry Celtic Festival in Berry, NSW. Visit the Berry Showground on Saturday 25 May to see what medieval life was like in Celtic times. The 2024 Berry Celtic Festival steps off at 9.30am with a grand street parade of pipe bands marching in their distinctive kilts, together with representatives of all the Clans, medieval knights, and Scottish terrier dogs. The Parade proceeds down the main street of Berry and on to the Berry Showground where the rest of the day’s activities are held.

The 2024 Berry Celtic Festival continues the castle keep feel with stalls, Scottish soldiers’ camp, Celtic musicians, spinners and weavers, and artisans forming an avenue around the parade ground where the pipes and drum bands, knights on steeds, dancers and Scottish soldiers feature in the entertainment program. As well as hand to hand combats and strongman competitions, heavily armoured noble knights on horseback joust one another to see who is the last one standing. You’ll hear the thunder of the hooves as horses charge at one another with the jousting knights aiming their lances at each other.

The Berry Celtic Festival is a fundraising activity of the Rotary Club of Berry where proceeds go towards disaster relief projects, youth development programs and community development. The Rotary Club thank the Shoalhaven City Council and all sponsors.

For more information and ticketing visit:

The Savannah Scottish Games- Where History and the Present Meet

The 46th Savannah Scottish Games will be held May 4, 2024, at Bethesda Academy. As you enter the beautiful grounds overlooking the Moon River, be prepared to spend the day enjoying entertainment for the entire family. Heavy Athletes who like to throw heavy things compete in seven events, including the famous Caber Toss. Next, take in the ScotDance Southeast Regional Highland Dance Championships at the dance venue in the morning where the Premier U.S. Highland dancers in the southeast compete for slots at the nationals, while demonstrating the strength and beauty of this ancient method of testing warriors’ stamina and agility before and after battle. The afternoon Pre-Premier Highland Dance Competition provides an opportunity to see the younger dancers and those at various levels as they are evaluated on three major criteria: timing, technique and deportment.

Pipe and drum competitions return to Savannah this year. The thrilling and haunting music of the bagpipe is the soul of Scotland. Coupled with the drums, their sounds become even more enthralling.

Phenomenal performances

Music lovers can also enjoy phenomenal performances by bands including North of Argyll, Lochlann, Junkfield and Monkey Stew (Stewart & Winfield, Junkyard Angel, Monkey Man: A Stones Band). North of Argyll plays upbeat Celtic fusion music with great visual delivery and retelling of the history of the stories behind the songs. Lochlann sings and harmonizes Celtic songs accompanied by fiddles, recorders, flutes, guitars, and the bodhran. There are many activities for the wee ones. They may encounter Zephyr, a mythical fairy, and then listen to a wide selection of Scottish tales by a famed storyteller. Children can also participate in golf, hockey, a sheaf toss, caber toss, haggis hurl, stone throw, welly toss, and a sack race. A children’s kilted run is held on the athletic field. Lads and lassies are also offered a Games Passport at the front gate to be redeemed for a prize at the information tent.

The Birds of Prey and the Border Collies are always crowd favorites! The Shire of Fort Castle makes history come alive through medieval activities, such as armed combat, dance, and juggling You can learn ancient arts like calligraphy, armoring, and Metalworking. Visit Clan Non Con & The Highland Independent Company of Darien portraying Scottish Highlanders of the 1736-1746 era who were some of the best soldiers in the world! If you’ve ever wondered if you have a bit of the Scots in you or are interested in a specific clan or clans, visit the many clan tents surrounding the Scottish Games arena. You can also ask the genealogists at the genealogy tent to help trace your family tree. The Savannah Scottish Games also has food and beverage vendors who offer traditional Scottish foods, American foods, sweets, craft beers, and mead. The Scottish Marketplace has 15 or more vendors offering Celtic goods including a T-shirt commemorating the event

Mark your calendar for May 4! The games begin at 8:45 am and culminates with the Closing Ceremony at 4:30 p.m. New this year (from 4:15 until 7 pm) we will gather to enjoy Stewart’s Ceilidh Roots Rock Festival!

For more information:

By:  Catherine Simpson

Images courtesy of Howard Hackney

From Falkirk to Alaska to the Isle of Gigha-Jonny Chainsaw: Wood and Ice

Jonny Chainsaw amongst the Scottish woodlands. Photo: Don Beavis

Jonny Stableford has only been back from Alaska for a few days, but he’s already hard at work on the Isle of Gigha, just off the west coast of Kintyre. “Gigha was one of the first community buy out islands,” he says, noting that there’s a population of around 150 people there. “Pretty much everything here is owned by the island trust, and this is my third visit in 13 months.”

A wood sculptor and carver, Jonny is working in the public access Achamore Gardens, which has some nationally rare and significant plants, and he and the team are dealing with some of their high-risk trees. “The island, like the rest of Scotland, was hit hard by storms.” Stableford, 41, was born and raised in Linlithgow, and moved to Falkirk four years ago. He first became interested in sculpting at Barony College in Dumfries, when he was pursuing a career in the Ranger Service.

Scottish Working Woods

Jonny creating a wooded Scotsman. Photo: James Ross.

“There was a two-week block in chainsaws, and one of the instructors had some of us doing exercises like making little chairs, and it wasn’t long before the dark side dragged me under!” he laughs. “When I left college, I became involved in pole climbing. With spikes on your feet and a harness, you climb up the 80 feet as fast as you can. My best time was 12.8 seconds, and between climbs, there was usually a chainsaw carver to watch, and after being given a book on how to carve, the touchpaper had really been lit.” He carved in the evenings and at weekends for nearly 20 years before looking to enter competitions and work for himself.

“I won second place at the Scottish Carving comp last year, which was pretty special on home turf, and I’ve just been granted use of The Scottish Working Woods label, which is a recognized seal of quality assurance.”  Jonny’s small workshop is in the Muiravonside Country Park, and he explains that over the years he has carved everything from a Lego man, Xbox Controller, and an old-fashioned diving bell. His trip to Alaska came about because he wanted to know more about ice carving, something that he often does for corporate clients.

“I’ve carved the Cruachan Dam, known as “the hole in the hill,” twice now. I really like the unusual stuff, as it gets me thinking much more. You can push and shove wood about, and it doesn’t complain too much. But ice doesn’t like that. You also lose perception of depth when working with ice, and getting it to look “right” can be a huge challenge.”

A marathon journey involving 10 flights saw him arrive at the World Ice Art Championships (WIAC) in Fairbanks, Alaska, back in February – with temperatures ranging from -40 to -60 when he arrived.  Jonny has volunteered for the “boot camp”, which he describes as “basically on the job training, teaching everything from reading ice, construction of multi block structures and then putting as much fun and creativity into the park construction as possible.” He also took part in the Ice Harvest, where hundreds of square blocks of ice are cut and lifted from local waterways in preparation for the competitions, and to create the huge children’s park.

Jonny Chainsaw

Jonny with Scotty McMoony at the World Ice Art Championships.

“The company I work for in Edinburgh manufacturers ice blocks something like 100 x 60 x 30cm, but this is on a very different scale,” he says, adding that he showcased some of his exploits in interior Alaska on his Instagram feed, where he goes under the name Jonny Chainsaw.  “The cold was a phenomenal experience which I loved,” he admits. “Those temperatures slow everything down, and you have to be dressed perfectly for working. Not too hot, not too cold. Tools are much more sensitive when you use them too, and you have to be very aware of the impact on your body when you’re using them.”

Jonny was embraced by the international community of carvers that had assembled, and said that he was thrust into carving the first day on site. “I was quite nervous to be entrusted with other people’s tools and equipment, particularly chisels and cutters that I’d never used before. I loved it though,” he adds, noting that his two-week stay came at a high financial cost, even with accommodation provided and a hectic schedule. “I only had one day off, but on it we managed to go ice fishing. Kaila, a local trapper’s wife and seamstress, provided us with the equipment, and later crafted me a beautiful beaver hat. Fur is a touchy subject in the UK, but the truth is it’s like timber. An excellent natural and sustainable product and in this case, great for keeping out the cold.”

Alaskan nights.

He also managed to visit a famous local attraction and sponsor, the Chena Hot Springs, though he was never finished with his work in time to visit the local Ice Museum, which is located in an old art deco cinema.  Jonny also worked on some ice sculptures of his own, and the first one was “Scotty McMoony,” the first Scottish astronaut, who had a thistle insignia on his chest, carries the Scottish flag, is labelled Made in Scotland, and “and has a half bottle of bucky in his back pocket. I was fairly chuffed with it,” he admitted.

Jonny hopes to return to the six-week long WIAC as a competitor, but right now he’s back at work on the wood in Gigha, and looking to keep himself happy and fit.  “Working a saw can be the cause of many problems, and so to relax I go stand-up paddle boarding as much as I can. I also do a bit of hunting, which ties in with the woodland management theme, as well as putting food in the freezer.” He is also keen to get involved with visual strength grading in timber, which is becoming more in demand, and helps to promote Scottish quality timbers.  “And like most carvers, I dream of a small house with a workshop in the woods. If anyone happens to know of one at a good price, I’d love to hear about it!”

Text by: James Bartlett

Images (unless otherwise noted) courtesy of Rachel Mirth.

Hebridean Baker’s sell-out North American book tour brings date with Outlander author

Coinneach MacLeod is celebrating his sell-out third North American book tour with the announcement that he has become Scotland’s bestselling cookbook author in the USA. Talking on return from his thirteen city book tour, Coinneach said “I have loved my tour across North America. I’ve been so proud to share the recipes, culture, history and stories of the Outer Hebrides and Scotland, and delighted they have resonated with so many folk across the Atlantic.”

Coinneach’s sixteen-night sell-out tour took him to Vancouver, Calgary, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Asheville, Dallas, Houston, Scottsdale, Jacksonville, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Toronto, which finished with an appearance on primetime Canadian TV show The Social, where he shared his recipes and stories with the celebrity guests and presenters.

Scotland’s best-selling cookbook author

The highlight of the tour was hosting a sell-out Hebridean Baker x Outlander event with international bestselling author Diana Gabaldon. Gabaldon, who has sold over 55 million copies of her Outlander series, took to the stage with Coinneach to share stories and their shared love of Scotland. “I’ve signed over 3,500 copies of my cookbook and have loved meeting many folk with Hebridean and Scottish connections across the country” said Coinneach. “I’m already looking forward to returning to the US in July for Grandfather Mountain Highland Games.”

Coinneach MacLeod, from the Isle of Lewis, the most northerly of the Outer Hebrides recently celebrated the news that he was officially Scotland’s best-selling cookbook author for the past three years.

Vatersay: Isle of Peril and Promise

Vatersay is so often spoken of in the same breath as Barra, its larger and only recently-conjoined sibling to the north. Most visitors to the two islands make a quick foray to the famously beautiful Vatersay Bay before returning to Barra and, often, progressing north to Eriskay and the Uists along the Hebridean Way.

Dwell in Vatersay a while longer, however, and you will find a community and history worth knowing in much greater depth. It is a place I have returned to five times already, and one which – despite being there just two days ago when writing this – I already yearn to see again.           

The Meallaich

Vatersay Bay gateway to the beach.

Everyone has their own pictorial metaphor for how Vatersay appears on a map. A quartet of peninsulas extend out on an east-west axis from its pinched middle, that glorious central strand of white sands and dunes littered with creels and cattle. I think of it as a butterfly, one wing larger than the other with a brittle middle. The Meallaich, the local name for the sandy tie that binds Vatersay’s two hilly halves, formed 7,000 years ago when sea levels were lower. In the grand scheme of things – and we are talking about a land where the exposed Lewisian gneiss is among the oldest rocks in the world – Vatersay’s status as a single island is a relatively new phenomenon.

When the first people arrived in the Outer Hebrides they beheld two islands, not one. So, it may be again. Some estimates say that by the end of this century, Vatersay will once more be split by the sea. It has not been unknown for particularly harsh storms to wash over the Meallaich to temporarily strand Vatersay from itself again.

Vatersay’s ancient inhabitants left quite a few traces of themselves for us to follow. The island has several brochs and dùns, Iron Age stone towers and stone-walled enclosures, respectively, which may have served as the local headquarters of elite families. Dùn Chaolais in the north and Dùn Vatersay in the south are the two best-preserved examples. There are also a handful of small standing stones located in hill passes, and the ruins of an early medieval Celtic chapel at the very tip of the beach-laden Uidh peninsula accessible only at low tide.

Annie Jane Memorial.

The personalities of the two beaches on either side of the Meallaich can differ wildly from each other. On a calm day Vatersay Bay (Bàgh Bhatarsaigh) is heavenly. Its broad and gentle curve, backed by dunes laden with marram grass, looks out to a sea of turquoise and silver ribbons. Even when the weather turns, which it can in an instant, there is something irrepressibly joyous and calming about it. Cross the band of dunes and make for the West Beach (Tràigh Siar), however, and a different character enters the story. Beautiful it is, certainly, yet the water here is greyer and colder in spirit. The unabated Atlantic crashes onto the sands, channelled by craggy shores to the north and south. It is fearsome where Vatersay Bay is placid, menacing where its counterpart is inviting. Though perhaps that perception has something to do with knowing what happened here.

Shipwrecks were a common feature of life in these isles, but the wreck of the Annie Jane during the night of September 28th – 29th, 1853, will be remembered by the people of Vatersay for many years still to come. Sailing out from Liverpool and bound for Quebec, the Annie Jane carried around 500 people including crew and children, many of whom were emigrants from various parts of Scotland, England, and Ireland. Damaged in a storm off St Kilda, the Annie Jane drifted helplessly back towards the Barra Isles and shattered upon the submerged rocks of Tràigh Siar. Only a little more than one hundred survived. The rest were buried among the dunes, and still lay somewhere within them. They are commemorated by a small monument which overlooks the scene of the tragedy. In this resting place they join many others from ages past. A dense concentration of Bronze Age funerary cairns dot the bay’s northern shore at Treasabhaig, dubbed by the archaeologists who surveyed them as the ‘valley of the dead’.

The Vatersay Raiders

Uidh peninsula cottage with view to Castlebay.

Yet tragedy is just one part of Vatersay’s story. Another is people power. In the late 19th century and early years of the last century, the absentee aristocratic landlord Lady Gordon Cathcart evicted the tenants of Vatersay’s multiple settlements and ran the whole island as one large sheep farm. Several years later, some among the original tenants who had relocated to Barra sailed back to their homelands to reclaim and rebuild their crofts.

These were the Vatersay Raiders, and their resistance to oppression and desolation drew national headlines. Cathcart’s overseer in Vatersay rounded up the Raiders’ cattle and demanded payment for the release of each one, but Duncan Campbell opened the pens and freed them. Cathcart’s rebukes echo the sentiments of modern wealthy landlords, saying that MPs sympathetic to the Raiders were “hostile to business” and that the people of Barra and Vatersay should, in only slightly modified language, simply pick themselves up by their bootstraps instead of clinging to their old, outdated ways.

Eòrasdail abandoned settlement.

The Vatersay Raiders faced a trial in Edinburgh, with images of them circulated in newspapers garnering widespread public support for their cause. Ultimately they were released and crofts were re-established in Vatersay, which was bought from Cathcart by the government. The most evocative of the Raiders’ reclaimed settlements is Eòrasdail, located in the southwestern extremity of Vatersay and inhabited until c.1966. There stands a single roofless house and the gable ends of several more, with traces of lazy beds for potatoes, cairns of stones cleared from the surrounding fields, and iron fittings still in place.  Descendants of the Vatersay Raiders still call the island home, and speak with great pride about what they achieved against all material and political odds.

I like to think that the Raiders would have stood alongside modern residents in celebrating the opening of a causeway connecting Vatersay to Barra by land for the first time ever in 1991. Prior to this it was only possible to go between the two by boat, an often perilous journey despite its shortness. Many images in the archives of Dualchas, the heritage centre in Castlebay, Barra, show cattle being precariously swum across the Sound of Vatersay led by men in small boats. Numerous records mention several extended periods where crossings were impossible due to weather. Now, in no small part due to the lifeline of the causeway, Vatersay joins Barra as the only islands in the Outer Hebrides which are not only maintaining but growing their populations.

Episodes of tragedy and promise, of upheaval and resurgence, of hardship and liberty: these are the notes in the millennia-spanning song of Vatersay. The land itself seems aware of this, with idyllic machair beaches – not just Vatersay Bay and West Beach but also the smaller but magnificent Bàgh a’ Deas (South Bay) and Tràigh Bharlais in the northwest – giving way to harsh and bare uplands. If you ever get the chance to be there, do yourself a favour and don’t just pop over to Vatersay Bay for a picnic and photo opp. Stay a while, and dance along the butterfly’s outstretched wings.

Text and photos by: David C. Weinczok.

Serving up at Britain’s remotest restaurant

Perched on the stunning Scottish island of Canna is a restaurant which has been dubbed the remotest in Britain. Gareth Cole gave up life in London to move to an island measuring just two miles across and with only eighteen permanent residents to develop Café Canna. The business opens again for the season this month and Gareth will use his many skills he has had to learn to make a remote island restaurant work, as Judy Vickers explains.

Gareth Cole outside Café Canna.

It was one chilly Sunday in early spring when Gareth Cole took a look at the restaurant on Canna with the idea of taking it over. It was pouring with rain, he had no experience as a chef or in the catering trade and the tiny island only has 18 inhabitants as potential diners so it’s perhaps surprising he decided it was a viable business option. “But I’d had all sorts of really bad ideas of how to live and work on the west coast – like almost buying a dilapidated lighthouse – so this was actually quite a good idea,” he says now.

Just a month later, he opened Café Canna’s doors with the simplest of menus (“just fish and chips and the odd lobster”).  That was six years ago – now having weathered storms which swept his picnic benches into the bay, frequent power cuts which mean he’s now adept at cooking by candlelight and sometimes erratic boat deliveries, he has brought out a cookbook featuring the recipes he’s created from the ingredients he can source from the island and its seas.

But perhaps more importantly, he is living the dream he had when working as a website developer in London when sailing trips up the west coast of Scotland became his passion. “I was spending more and more time here to the point of wondering if I could live on the west coast and visit London rather than the other way around,” he says.

Remote island

Cattle on the island.

Now his commute to work is a short stroll down a shoreside track that’s virtually carless – only locals are allowed vehicles – with sea eagles soaring overhead and seals playing in the bay to the whitewashed restaurant which looks out over the water.

Canna is a curiously remote island. The most westerly of the Small Isles – the others being Rum, Eigg and Muck – it is reached by a three-hour ferry from Mallaig, a town on the west coast located on the end of the Road to the Isles, itself around a four-hour drive from Glasgow. Yet on summer nights the restaurant is stowed out. The bay has a natural “double” harbour making it one of the most sheltered spots to drop anchor for the yachties who come from far and wide to enjoy the stunning west coast.

“Canna has an amazing anchorage so it’s a popular sailing spot – they radio us on VHS for a table and row ashore for their meal,” says Gareth. It’s not the only quirky feature of this four and a half mile long by one mile wide island. Visitors staying at the only campsite or the handful of self-catering properties can walk up Compass Hill, composed of volcanic rock with such a high iron content that passing ships’ compasses point to it rather than north.

Gareth serving up a feast.

The island is renowned for its wildlife, including puffins, sea eagles, orcas, dolphins and basking sharks, the latter the second biggest fish in the word – 83 were once recorded in a single day off Canna. It is home to the Gaelic archives of John Lorne Campbell, the famous folklorist, Gaelic scholar and “people’s laird”, known as the man who gave away his island – gifting it to the National Trust for Scotland, which still owns it. His extraordinary collection of texts on history, linguistics and folklore are still housed at stone-built mansion Canna House.

The few roads are private so locals don’t pay road tax and the only shop is unmanned – there is an honesty box. Canna is linked to the neighbouring, smaller tidal island of Sanday.  There’s not much in the way of mobile phone reception. “And our Wi-Fi is very unstable, in order to take card payments I have to stand on a particular spot on a picnic bench,” says Gareth.

The picnic benches themselves once got washed into the bay – Gareth says the job comes with “inherent calamity” – and he’s become well used to power cuts, adapting his menu so that everything can be cooked on a gas hob by candlelight. “It does happen reasonably often, at least once a month,” he says. “But there’s always stuff going wrong, there are always deliveries that haven’t come, that’s part of the job, to make the best of things.”

Culinary creativity

Seaweed foraging.

The vagaries of the ferry and deliveries have led Gareth to come up with the culinary creativity that appears in the cookbook. When supplies of beer failed to turn up and the restaurant ran dry, Gareth decided to start brewing his own beer. There were regulatory hoops to jump through in order to get beef from the island’s farm on the menu but now the meat comes from the fields that surround the restaurant. Rabbit is provided by a local and seafood, including lobster, crab and langoustine, from the seas around the island via local fisherman.

The biggest “game changer” was seaweed, foraged from the shore. “I thought it might get a bit of a laugh from the dining room but I didn’t expect this amount of enjoyment. It’s our most popular dish. But then by the time you visit Canna, you have probably visited several places coming up from Glasgow, so you’ve probably got haggis bonbons coming out of your eyeballs so it’s nice to try something different. And we have become a bit more resilient by using these ingredients.”

The view looking across the bay from the restaurant.

The restaurant opens this month for the season until October. Winter is for “fixing things that have been broken, experimenting with new dishes and time to experience the mainland, the real world – I can’t leave the island from April to October, it’s a full-on season.”

Winter is also a time for a few party nights with the locals, who he says have helped him so much stepping in to help with supplies or staff. “It’s our co­­mmunity space as well as a restaurant,” he says. And on such a small island it’s not just the locals who might have to step up to the mark. “It’s a running joke that anyone who comes to Canna will get a few nights as a dishwasher!”

For more details see:


Calling MacLennan descendants to Strathpeffer

The romantic Highland spa village of Strathpeffer will be the backdrop for the Clan MacLennan Gathering in July this year. Chief Ruairidh MacLennan of MacLennan says: “I hope MacLennan descendants from all parts of the world will join us at Strathpeffer for six days of fun and fellowship.” The storied origins of the Clan MacLennan focus on the area around the Five Sisters of Kintail – located in the West Coast mountains inland from Skye.

The Clan became loyal supporters of the McKenzie (later “Seaforth”) chiefs from the 1300s – including roles at their strategically located Donan’s island (Eilean Donan), Kintail. By the 1500s, the McKenzies, with McLennans and other supporters, had acquired the main route from west to east – through Strathconon, and, by 1630, controlled Lochalsh, Lochcarron, Applecross, Gairloch, the Isle of Lewis, and parts of the Black Isle. In the 1620s, the powerful Seaforths established their principal castle at Brahan near Strathpeffer. The fort on Eilean Donan was destroyed by English forces in 1719 and would remain in ruin for over 200 years. The parts mentioned above are the main districts where MacLennans were to be found in earlier times.

A highly varied program

The Matthew Maclennan Scottish Dance Band.

Neil McLennan, Chair of the Scotland committee, says: “We’ve developed a highly varied program to suit a range of interests and different ages.” Events will run from Wednesday, July 3 to Tuesday, July 9. He notes: “Due to the success of our 2018 Gathering, this year, we have found a larger venue for the 2024 Gathering – in an attempt to accommodate greater numbers than ever.”  Strathpeffer is half an hour by car west of Inverness. The historic Ben Wyvis Hotel will be the venue for many of the activities. MacLennan descendants from many countries have already committed to attending the Gathering. Usually, visitors plan to stay additional days and explore places where their ancestors lived. To help identify these places, a free eBook can be easily be found on the internet by searching ‘A guide to some MacLennan Places across Scotland’ – this resource includes map co-ordinates that enable directions straight from the book on your phone or tablet. In the past, many MacLennans lived in and around Strathpeffer and the first activity of the Gathering on Wednesday July 3 will be a guided tour to the ancient vitrified fort on Knockfarrel, above the village. From there, a Clan guide will point out places where MacLennans lived and other significant locations.

Timaru House, Strathpeffer.

On Thursday July 4 – the focus will be on Clan Genealogy with a full day activities and a wide range of speakers, including: a Member of the Scottish Parliament, an author of a book about Auldearn, a leading DNA researcher from Strathclyde University, and much more. The Clan has developed an extensive genealogy resource which consists of a database and books collection at – to be highlighted throughout the day. Many on-line talks about districts that are important to the Clan are available from Finding your Ancestors videos on the Clan Genealogy webpage. The next day – Friday July 5 – will include the key event, the Clan Parliament, to be held in the spectacular Inverness Town House. In the afternoon there’ll be a guided tour of MacLennan places around the village of Strathpeffer. And in the evening, a grand ceilidh will take place in the Strathpeffer Pavilion. The music to be provided by Matthew Maclennan from Edinburgh, an award-winning accordionist, with his professional Scottish Dance and Ceilidh band. The ceilidh is expected to be one of the most popular events.

The heart of the Highlands

Clan friendship.

Saturday July 6 will offer a tour of a distillery that was started in 1838 by a Donald McLennan (1806-1894). A visit to a nearby water-powered corn mill also as part of this event. Later this day, there’ll be an alternative tour to Castle Leod that might suit younger attendees. In the evening, there will be a formal dinner with a special guest speaker. On Sunday July 7 a church service is available, followed in the evening by lively musical entertainment. A full day of activity on the Monday July 8 – sees an opportunity to “walk in the footsteps of our ancestors” on the “McLennan Way” as described in the free eBook A guide to some MacLennan Places across Scotland. This event will take us through the beautiful Strathconon glen, and finish with lunch at a baronial lodge. En route the attendees will stop at places significant to MacLennans. On the Tuesday July 9 – a “fringe” event gives Clan members a chance to enjoy a day in the famously beautiful Tomnahuirich Cemetery on the edge of Inverness.

Neil McLennan says: “We look forward to warmly welcoming MacLennans descendants from around the world to our 2024 Gathering in the heart of the Highlands.”

Interested parties are advised to book early as some events have limited numbers. Bookings can be made via a link on the Clan MacLennan worldwide website:

Main photo: Chief Ruairidh on the shore of Loch Duich.

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