The Sons of Scotland Pipe Band from Ottawa has enjoyed some very exciting travel opportunities this summer, and they are proud to share them with you here. The band took its annual trip to Scotland in August, and they were joined by three Highland dancing schools, and players from six countries – with two more added in for 2024, and they visited Perth, Glasgow, and played throughout Edinburgh. They had a wonderful 10-day trip, and plans are afoot for a special journey in 2024.
And as soon as they were home, a small group with guest players from the Princess of Wales Own Regiment Foundation Pipes and Drums from Kingston, Ontario, joined them to take a special trip to perform at the Invictus Games in Dusseldorf, Germany. They also visited Berlin, Cologne, Ypres and Amsterdam, and had a terrific time visiting all these cities. With so many other great performance opportunities to come, the band welcomes you to visit their website at www.sospb.com to see how you can take part as a piper, drummer, or guest.
Billed as one of Scotland’s best days out the finale of the 2023 Cowal Gathering lived up to its reputation. Thousands of people from across the world gathered in Dunoon for one of the world’s most spectacular Highland Gathering with competitors, entertainers and spectators joining forces to make sure it was an event to remember. Crowds watched as over a thousand competitors fought to secure some Cowal silverware. Dancers, pipers, heavy athletes and wrestlers were joined by entertainers including cyclists, axe throwers and musicians to ensure the Gathering’s crowds were wowed from early morning until the end of the day. The standard of competition was world class, with every athlete and competitor giving their all to leave the Stadium as a Cowal Gathering winner.
One of the highlights of the Gathering’s final day was, as always, the Cowal Pipe Band Championship. Section and grade winners in the Cowal Pipe Band champions were:
Novice Juvenile B – Renfrewshire Schools
Novice Juvenile A – Kilbarchan Pipe Band
Grade 3 – Coalburn IOR
Grade 3 MSR – Coalburn IOR
Grade 2 – Coalburn IOR
The champion Drum Major was Campbell Gillies of Rothesay and District Pipe Band.
World Highland Dancing Championships
Then came the biggest Highland Dancing competition in the world – the World Championship finals – with dancers from Australia, Canada and the USA pitting their skills against the best the UK has to offer. In the end, it was Eilidh Gammons from Helensburgh who emerged victorious in the World Juvenile finals, followed by Maria Monk of Bearsden and Alice Gill of Melbourne, Australia. The trophy for best Scottish Juvenile Dancer went to Eilidh Gammons and the best Overseas Juvenile Dancer was Alice Gill from Melbourne, Australia. In the World Junior championship, Olivia Burke of Nova Scotia held off the challenge of Lily Kelman from Inverness and Lauren Abrahart of Alberta. The best Scottish Junior Dancer was Lily Kelman of Inverness, and the trophy for the best Overseas Junior Dancer went to Oliva Burke from Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada. The Adult World champion was Rebecca Thow from Belhelvie, followed by Michelle Gordon from Huntly, with Cameron Walker from Denny in third. Fiona Tolley from Ontario took home the Mary McHarg Quaich for best Overseas Adult Dancer. The cup for best Scottish Adult Dancer went to Rebecca Thow.
In the International Heavy Athletics Team competition, Team Scotland were victorious with Team Germany coming runners up. In the overall individual heavy athletics, Craig Winslow from Scotland triumphed in the men’s competition, with Daniel Carlin from Scotland in second and Martin Kuhne from Germany third. In the women’s event, Mhairi Porterfield from Scotland beat off the challenge of Christina Scheffaur from Austria (2nd) and Rachel Hunter from Scotland (3rd).
Speaking on behalf of the Cowal Gathering Board Fraser McCowan said this year’s event will go down as the best in recent times and thanked the people of Dunoon and Cowal for their continued support, as well as the Gathering’s sponsors, “On behalf of the Board of Cowal Gathering, I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to this year’s event. Your hard work over, not only the last months, but years has helped ensure Cowal Gathering continue to grow and develop to be an event fit for the 21st century. We’ve welcomed spectators not just from Argyll and Scotland, but from all corners of the UK and, of course our international visitors who have travelled many thousands of miles, just to be with us. As well as our visitors here in the Stadium I’d like to also thank the thousands of people who joined us online through our livestream. We hope you enjoyed the competitions from wherever part of the world you were watching from. To our wonderful competitors, Cowal Gathering could not be what it is without you. This year’s levels of performance have been simply breathtaking. I look forward to welcoming you back to the 2024 Cowal Gathering.”
Following a very successful sold-out 20th anniversary Dressed to Kilt (DTK) fashion show in Washington DC, DTK has been invited to hold its 2024 show in Toronto, Canada. This will be a very important show as it will be the first time that the Dressed to Kilt show has been held outside the United States. The next show is now confirmed for Saturday evening, April 6, 2024 – Tartan Day. This day is a celebration of Scottish heritage and the cultural contributions of Scottish and Scottish-diaspora figures of history. It is not well known that Tartan Day was actually created in Canada. Founded in Nova Scotia in 1986 and then passed by the Ontario Legislature in 1991. The US Congress followed in 1998.
For those of you being introduced to Dressed to Kilt for the first time, it is the most prestigious and largest Scottish fashion show in the world. It is also one of the highest profile fashion shows in the United States in terms of press and media generation. It was co-founded in 2003 by the late Sir Sean Connery and Dr. Geoffrey Scott Carroll. Though the fashion runways of New York City are the home of Dressed to Kilt, this annual celebrity show has also performed to sold-out audiences in Los Angeles, California; Houston, Texas; and most recently Washington DC.
Dress for Adventure – From Caledonia to Canada
It is a celebrity filled evening of fashion and incredible excitement where previous runway models have included Sir Sean and Lady Connery, Brian Cox, Gerard Butler, Billy Connolly, Kiefer Sutherland, Mike Myers, Kyle McLachlan, Chris Noth (Mr. Big) , Alan Cumming, Matthew Modine, Robbie Coltrane, Rod Stewart. Joan Jett, the Victoria Secret Models, numerous Canadian and American Gold Medal Winning Olympic stars, President Trump (Scottish mother) and many more.
Scotland has had an extraordinary role in the settlement and development of Canada since its inception and Scots have been involved in every aspect of Canada’s development. Scots-Canadians have been at the forefront of the Canadian state, its government, its commerce and its public affairs. Many of Canada’s great universities bear the names of influential Scots who shaped their founding.
The theme of the Toronto fashion show will be “Dress for Adventure – From Caledonia to Canada”. This is a tribute to the fashion of the countryside and the great outdoors. The runway becomes a stage for outdoor lifestyle fashion that encompasses hunting, shooting, riding, fishing and with the Toronto show this will include skating, skiing and winter sports in general. Creativity meets innovation on the DTK platform. There is a Country Chic look that is emerging, and this movement is bringing nature back into urban environments. The influence of the countryside in urban style (tweeds, tailoring, plaid, cashmere, leather and suede) is adding warmth and softness to the city silhouettes and attitudes.
All models will walk to Scottish music, either traditional or current and there are always live Scottish performers and musicians. The show is as much a Scottish musical concert including everything from AC/DC and the Bay City Rollers to Calvin Harris and Lewis Capaldi. The attendees at the show always seem to move and rock to the beat of the runway music.
The Royal Canadian Legion
Canadian designers will also be invited to submit their designs for inclusion in the runway show. While the show highlights a number of Scotland’s premier designers, it will also invite local designers that follow the theme of the “Dress for Adventure” show or designers that showcase the quality and versatility of Scottish fabrics like Harris Tweed, tartan and cashmere. The Toronto show will also honour the late Sir Sean Connery and the late Dame Vivienne Westwood, a huge supporter of Dressed to Kilt and of tartan.
The pulsating rhythm of fashion runways usually reverberates with cutthroat competition, rapid trend evolution and insatiable hunger for novelty. Amidst this dazzling, ever-changing spectacle, Dressed to Kilt has etched a distinctive identity that goes beyond merely showcasing celebrity models in traditional kilts or stunning professional models in the latest fashion-forward attire. At the heart of this show is charity and philanthropy. The charity facet of the fashion show is well-recognized within industry corridors. Dressed to Kilt has raised millions for Veteran’s causes throughout the years, earning acclaim and extensive recognition. The DTK Board of Directors agrees to raise funds for the Royal Canadian Legion with the Toronto show. The Royal Canadian Legion is the largest Veterans charity in Canada and it was founded by Veterans for the benefit of Veterans. They advocate for all who served Canada, regardless of where and when they served. They also provide assistance to their families at no cost. The Legion helps thousands of Veterans each year and makes positive changes in their lives.
It has been a question I have been asked throughout my life, are you related to John Cairney and my reply has always proudly been “That’s my uncle”. John Cairney was the oldest of two boys growing up, quite happily, in the 1930s in an impoverished and now pulled-down tenement in the east end of Glasgow.
Most may remember him for his association with Robert Burns, to this day many still consider John Cairney the leading exponent of Scotland’s bard. He wrote and toured shows about Burns, wrote books on him and was one of the world’s leading authorities of Burns. For me for some time I thought he was Robert Burns, I was of course much younger, but I did think for a time that was his job much like someone may be a doctor, chef or policeman.
Few would mention John Cairney without soon mentioning Burns. I have vivid memories of him calling me up on stage to hold a haggis whilst he performed to his audience, something that was so completely embarrassing for a 12-year-old. I did however always take note of how he used his voice to command a room, from great bellowing tones to the most soft and intimate tone which had people sat on the edge of their seats to hear each softly spoken word, he was a true genius in live performance.
I recall as a boy every time he flew in from Scotland to see us (which generally involved a performance by him both on stage or around dinner table), I was so excited, this is back in a time where you rarely received an overseas call as they were so expensive, and an international visitor was something to get excited about. I would always draw my uncle a welcome picture on my school paper, and I was always filled with excitement when he would tell me all the tales of his travels. From working on film sets in far flung places to finishing off a script for a show touring Scotland, it all sounded so exotic to me as a child, and I was fascinated by him.
For those who enjoy the Scottish Banner today might be also interested to know it was partly because of my uncle’s performances in Canada that the seed was planted to start the Banner, we had tickets to sell and had to tell people! This of course was in a time of no internet and 47 years later the Scottish Banner still is enjoyed by readers across the world, a small part of his great legacy.
That boy from Glasgow’s east
Uncle John had a multi decade career in the arts. His acting resume included films such as A Night to Remember, Cleopatra and Jason and the Argonauts, as well as starring in the BBC 1960s show This Man Craig. His live performances took place all over the world and he really was a true global citizen. Uncle John penned several books, mostly on Scottish topics and well worth a read. His creative flow also was expressed through his art, many would think he was a late bloomer with paint, but he actually loved art from a young age, but fate would lead him to Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s very first acting program and art would come back into his life at a later stage. However my uncle, that boy from Glasgow’s east, was so much more.
Firstly, for me, he was my uncle, whom I am half named after. Both my parents had just one sibling, both called John and I am lucky enough to be named after these two great men, as Sean is the Irish form of John. He was my father’s big brother and such a very proud Glaswegian, the city which he loved and like my father, carried with him wherever he was in the world. Uncle John was also passionate about his family, his craft, football and his spirituality. He was a true performer and anyone who even had dinner with him will know what I mean, my uncle had an incredible voice and language ability which he used to great skill.
A life well lived
My Uncle John passed away in his beloved Glasgow last month at the age of 93. I was very fortunate to see my Uncle John a couple of times in Glasgow earlier this year. I could and would never not see him if I was in town. A few months later and the final time I spoke to him he sounded really good and told me how he still enjoyed his days in Glasgow.
He was also a regular reader of the Scottish Banner and said what a wonderful publication it is and that I was doing a great job with it, this for me was the highest form of compliment, coming from a man who was the best wordsmith and mind our family has ever produced. He also told me his life was like a beautiful cake and he was at the stage of simply enjoying the icing of an incredible life, and a life very much well lived.
Uncle John leaves behind his beloved wife Alannah, five children, nine grandchildren, and seven great grandchildren. Thank you, Uncle John, for leaving the world with an outstanding lifetime of work. And as you take your final curtain call and exit the stage, I will continue to give you a standing ovation not just because of the gift you left us all with, but because quite simply… that’s my uncle.
Do you have a favourite John Cairney performance or book? Did you ever see him live? 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: www.scottishbanner.com/contact-us
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Live Nation are excited to announce additional shows on the forthcoming Deacon Blue tour which sees the band in Australia and New Zealand for the first time since their highly successful shows in 2019. With 2 shows already sold out in Perth, the band have added a new show on Friday November 24 at the Regal Theatre, and an additional show on Sunday December 10 at Auckland’s Powerstation.
A Greatest Hits show with a difference
Thirty-five years since their debut single, Dignity, and millions of record sales since, Deacon Blue are digging out all their old 45s – the Top 10s, the favourites, the sing-along rarities and touring Australia and New Zealand in November and December 2023. The band have always thrived onstage, but they’ve never played gigs quite like this. They’ll go electric for a raucous trip across their hits and play some of their favourites in an intimate acoustic section of the show. Vocalist and songwriter Ricky Ross is raring to go on this celebration of Deacon Blue’s brilliant and loyal fans, roaring the Caledonian gospel from the South Coast to the Uplands. “We’ve decided to play a Greatest Hits show with a difference,’ he says. ‘Yes, we intend to play all (or nearly all) the old 45s, but we also want to play some songs acoustically too. We really can’t wait to come back to Australia and New Zealand, we always love visiting these amazing countries.”
Kicking off in Perth the band then play in Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane in Australia before heading to play New Zealand for shows in Auckland and Christchurch, the first time the band have played the South Island. Ross, co-vocalist Lorraine McIntosh, Dougie Vipond (drums), Jim Prime (keyboards), Gregor Philp (guitar) and Lewis Gordon (bass) will breathe new life into well-loved songs like Dignity, Loaded, Wages Day, Real Gone Kid, I’ll Never Fall In Love Again, Your Swaying Arms, Twist & Shout, Your Town, The Hipsters and City Of Love. And so many more.
The Scottish Banner is pleased to offer 5 lucky readers a chance to see Deacon Blue in their nearest capital city. Courtesy of the Live Nation we have a double pass up for grabs for the following shows: Regal Theatre, Perth-Fri, Nov 24, Hindley Street Music Hall, Adelaide Tues Nov 28, The Forum, Melbourne, Nov 30, Enmore Theatre, Sydney, Dec 2 and Fortitude Valley Music Hall, Brisbane, Dec 5. To enter simply email: [email protected], enter via our website or post (sorry no telephone entries) our Sydney office.
Please ensure you include your full postal address and email/phone details and what city you are going in the draw for. Winners will be notified directly, good luck!
Tickets are now on sale. For complete tour, ticket and VIP experience information, visit: livenation.com.au or www.livenation.co.nz.
Ancient rocks from the Isle of Rum are playing an important role in an international space mission to discover more about Mars. A group of scientists have been collecting samples of rock from the NatureScot National Nature Reserve (NNR) as part of the NASA and European Space Agency (ESA)’s Mars Sample Return Campaign. The campaign is assembling a defined set of rock samples from around the world that are comparable to rock samples from the Red Planet that are scheduled to be brought to Earth in 2033. Due to its unique geology, Rum off the west coast of Scotland has been selected as the only UK site for sampling, as some of its igneous rocks have a very similar mineral and chemical content to those that have been collected by NASA’s Perseverance Rover during its exploration of an ancient crater on Mars.
An intensive study of the rocks from Rum and other high-priority sample sites will crucially help scientists understand what methods of testing and analysis will work best in readiness for when the Martian rocks are brought to Earth. As the first samples from another world, the Mars rocks are thought to present the best opportunity to reveal clues about the early evolution of the planet, including the potential for past life. The Rum sampling is being led by Dr Lydia Hallis, a geologist and planetary scientist from the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow, and a member of the campaign’s Science Group. The field team also included Dr Luke Daly from the University of Glasgow, Professor Helen Williams and Dr Simon Matthews from the University of Cambridge, Professor John Bridges from the University of Leicester, and Dr Mariek Schmidt from Brock University in Canada.
Scotland’s world-class geology
Dr Hallis said: “These Rum rocks are an excellent comparison to a specific geologic unit on Mars – the igneous Séítah Formation within the Jezero crater – which is characterized by the mineral olivine, and which the NASA Perseverance Rover explored and sampled. Not only is the mineralogy and chemistry similar, but the two rocks appear to have a similar amount of weathering. This seems strange when we think how wet and warm Rum is compared to present day Mars, but billions of years ago when the Séítah Formation crystallised on Mars the difference in environment would not have been so pronounced. At this time Mars was much wetter and warmer, with a thicker atmosphere that may even have produced rain (though not as much as we get in Scotland!). Over time the Martian atmosphere thinned leaving the surface much dryer and colder, essentially halting any further weathering within Séítah and preserving the rocks at Jezero Crater for us to investigate today. The rocks on Rum are younger geologically than those that have been collected on Mars by Perseverance, but their exposure to the Scottish elements has produced roughly the same amount of weathering as was produced in the Séítah Formation during Mars’ early wet and warm climate. Because of all these similarities, analysis of the Rum rocks should give us a good head start and help the samples from the Red Planet achieve their full potential when they are returned to Earth.”
Lesley Watt, NatureScot’s Rum NNR reserve manager, added: “With its extinct volcanoes and dramatic mountains, Rum has always been one of the best places to discover Scotland’s world-class geology, but we didn’t quite realise that the rocks here were of interplanetary significance as well. It has been fascinating to learn more about the NASA/ESA mission, and really exciting for the island to play a small part in this truly historic endeavour to find out more about Mars. We hope it will add yet another element of interest for visitors to this special place.”
On a 260-acre expanse of land near Kingussie, Highland in the Cairngorms National Park, you’ll find a menagerie of animals ranging from small Japanese snow monkeys to colossal polar bears. Welcome to the Highland Wildlife Park, operated by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) since 1986. Established in 1972, this safari park originally featured native Highland species. But in 2007 the RZSS expanded its scope to include animals from mountainous and tundra regions around the globe. The intent was to not only attract more visitors, but also provide refuge for endangered species which would be protected in the Highlands. In the 1980s the park gained fame by becoming home to Felicity, a puma reportedly captured locally by a farmer, and several of the mysterious Scottish Kellas cats.
Endangered species from places around the world
Visitors can drive through the Safari Park (Main Reserve) to see bison, elk, Bactrian camels and yaks. Then in the walk-round enclosures they’ll find Scottish wildcats, wolves, red pandas (temporarily resident at the Edinburgh Zoo), wolverines, forest reindeer and others. Originally featuring native Highland animals, in 2007 the RZSS began to shift the emphasis of the park’s theme to endangered species from places around the world similar in landscape and climate to the Highlands. This move proved controversial as some locals and regular visitors to the park regarded it as a place to see native animals in their natural habitat. Some native species removed during these alterations were red foxes, Highland cattle, Soay sheep, European polecats and badgers. The park is divided into sectors which include Woodland Walk, Entrance Reserve, Wolf Wood and Drive-Through Reserve.
Scottish wildcats lurk in Woodland Walk, while Bactrian camels and yak roam the Entrance Reserve. A European wolf pack and herd of European reindeer inhabit Wolf Wood, and in the Drive-Through Reserve European bison and elk wander and have the right of way over vehicles. As the most northerly inhabiting primate (excepting humans), the Japanese macaque or snow monkey is ideally suited to the Highland climate. A large troop of macaques is resident at the park. This has been a successful breeding population, with five individuals born in 2020 and another in 2022. Macaques figure prominently in Buddhist folklore, including in the story The Three Wise Monkeys. The European red squirrel is the only squirrel native to Britain. But this animal is very rare now in Britain, with the vast majority of the remaining population inhabiting woodland pockets in Scotland. The red squirrel is critically endangered due to the presence of the imported grey squirrel, which takes over the territory of and spreads disease to red squirrels. Free range red squirrels roam the park’s Wolf Wood and Forest Habitat, and regularly visit the feeding station in the latter location.
Showcase tales of Scottish wildlife
Other species resident at the Highland Wildlife Park includes the Amur tiger, arctic fox, Eurasian elk, Himalayan tahr, northern lynx, red deer, snow leopard, Bukhara deer and Przewalski’s wild horse. Amongst the park’s birds are Himalayan monal, great grey owl, Eurasian eagle owl and Eurasian crane. Under construction at the park at the time of writing is Scotland’s Wildlife Discovery Centre. Scheduled to open in spring 2024, the centre will comprise three hubs situated around the park. The primary discovery hub will use digital technology to showcase tales of Scottish wildlife from the past (such as legends about ‘Highland tigers’) to the present.
The centre’s learning hub will promote conservation via STEM, outdoor education and science as practised by private citizens. Planned to focus on Scottish wildcat conservation, the hilltop hub will offer views of the park’s Saving Wildcats breeding centre. The work will also encompass the remodelling of the park’s existing visitor centre. Situated seven miles south of Aviemore, visitors can reach the park via a combination of rail and bus. Travellers can catch regular trains from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Perth or London, detrain at Aviemore, then take Stagecoach bus 39/M39 to the bottom of the park’s entrance road, between Kincraig and Kingussie. There remains a half a mile walk to the park’s ticket kiosks. There are also railway stations in the area at Dalwhinnie, Carrbridge, Kingussie and Newtonmore. Kingussie is four miles away from the park.
Formerly regarded as a myth or hoax until one was caught in a snare in 1984, the Kellas cat is a hybrid of the domestic cat and Scottish wildcat. Discovered in the village of Kellas, Moray, the animal is mostly black, 61-110cm long and weighs up to 7kg. It has long rear legs ideal for swift running, and the coat is commonly flecked with white on the flanks and has a white patch on the chest or under the throat. The appearance of the Kellas cat is similar to the description of the cat-sìth, the fairy cat of Scottish folklore.
Unlike Scottish wildcats, Kellas cats have been observed hunting in pairs. Some of the sightings of reported Kellas cats are possibly of black melanistic Scottish wildcats, though the existence of the latter is disputed by some scientists and researchers. The crew of the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World TV programme succeeded in the first known live capture of a Kellas cat in spring, 1986 near Kellas. This female individual, confirmed by chromosomal analysis to be a hybrid of a wildcat and domestic cat, became an inhabitant of the Highland Wildlife Park. Mounted specimens are in the Zoology Museum of the University of Aberdeen, Elgin Museum, and Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh.
A group of 22 Scottish wildcats born in 2022 at the Saving Wildcats breeding centre at Highland Wildlife Park were released into the Cairngorms Connect territory of the Cairngorms National Park in early June 2023. Each wildcat wears a GPS-radio collar for tracking and monitoring the animals. This programme, intended to replenish the population of this critically endangered species in Scotland, will see some 60 wildcats released over the next few years. Five more kittens were born in April 2023.
Colloquially referred to as the ‘Highland tiger’, the number of Scottish wildcats living in the wild had fallen to just a handful due to persecution, road accidents and breeding with domestic and hybrid cats. The 22 individuals freed in June 2023 were first introduced into large enclosures where they could develop naturally and practise their survival skills, to prepare them for living in the wild. The release of this first batch of wildcats is considered a trial run. Close monitoring of these 22 individuals will provide data which will assist in subsequent releases of Scottish wildcats. If successful, the Saving Wildcats programme will result in the repopulation of Scotland’s only remaining native feline species.
Main photo: A wolf in pursuit. Photo: Charlie Marshall (CC BY-SA 2.0).
In the past 66 years, the American Scottish Foundation (ASF) has become a leading voice within our Scottish American community, supporting and amplifying our shared love of Scotland, its heritage and its culture. The Annual dinner allows people to get together, celebrate all things Scottish following the mission set out by their founder Lord Malcolm Douglas Hamilton that the American Scottish Foundation be a bridge between the United States and Scotland. This year the ASF will present the ASF Wallace Awards and the inaugural ASF Young Scots Wallace Awards.
Wallace Award for Philanthropy
This year’s Wallace Award for Philanthropy to Garreth Wood, Scottish philanthropist and advocate. Garreth, a Scottish philanthropist and businessman, founded a property company, The Speratus Group, in 2003. He then expanded into the hospitality business, eventually owning and running 11 venues across Scotland. In 2018, he and his wife Nicola sold the hospitality businesses and co-founded Kids Operating Room, a global health charity dedicated to increasing capacity for paediatric surgery in low- and middle-income countries. The charity has grown rapidly over the past 5 years and become one of Scotland’s leading children’s charities, installing 63 state-of-the-art operating rooms in 24 countries, and creating capacity for up to 100,000 life-saving operations on children.
Young Scot Wallace Award
This year, The American-Scottish Foundation presents its first ever Young Scot Wallace Award to Jamie Douglas-Hamilton, Scottish entrepreneur and adventurer. Jamie is the founder of ACTIPH Alkaline Water, a market leader in Europe and the Middle East. He is a 15x Guinness World Record holder and was the first person in history to row across the Drake Passage from South America to Antarctica. In 2022 Jamie won the Great British Entrepreneur of the year and was included in Sunday Times list of top 100 most disruptive entrepreneurs. Jamie follows in the footsteps of his Grandfather and Uncles all intrepid adventurers – and ASF founder Lord Malcolm Douglas Hamilton – great Uncle to Jamie who will be approving of this award.
The American Scottish Foundation Annual Dinner and Wallce Award’s will take place Friday, November 3, 2023 in New York City. For full details see: www.americanscottishfoundation.com
The employment records of more than one thousand lighthouse keepers are now available to see online for the first time on genealogy website ScotlandsPeople. Over 2,000 new scanned images of the records of the Northern Lighthouse Board give details of over 1,300 lightkeepers working in 92 lighthouses between 1837 and 1921.
Lightkeepers had hard working lives: long days and nights maintaining light and fog signals, as well as cleaning and ensuring the upkeep of their isolated stations in harsh conditions. Many keepers lived in cramped spaces for long periods, often with only basic washing facilities or toilets. They could be isolated from family and friends while they did their crucial work maintaining the safety of shipping around the Scottish coast.
Shine a light on the working lives
The records cover all of Scotland, from Muckle Flugga near Shetland to the most southerly at Drumore, Mull of Galloway. They also include Bell Rock, the world’s oldest working sea-washed lighthouse, and the three keepers of the Flannan Isles who disappeared following a storm in 1900, presumed drowned.
Jocelyn Grant, NRS Outreach and Learning archivist, said: “The last lighthouse was automated in 1998 and these records shine a light on the working lives of over 1,300 men in a profession that has now mostly passed into history. The Northern Lighthouse Board records are frequently requested by visitors to our buildings. If your ancestor worked in a Scottish lighthouse, there’s a good chance you will find them here. This is the latest in a series of popular record sets added to the National Records of Scotland genealogy service ScotlandsPeople as part of our wider programme making more of our archive holdings accessible to people across the country and around the world.”
ScotlandsPeople is the country’s official family and social history research website. Record indexes are free to search, with charges for viewing some images. For more details see: www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk.
Nestled in the Canterbury foothills the tiny Hororata village is again preparing to welcome over 10,000 people to celebrate their Scottish roots. Kilts will swish, bagpipes will cry, cabers will turn and the haggis will be tamed at the 12th Hororata Highland Games to be held Saturday 11th November 2023. The Hororata Highland Games sees all the traditional Scottish competitions take place over one massive day at the Hororata Domain. The festival hosts New Zealand’s biggest one day Highland Dancing competition, top level Pipe Bands, Solo pipers and Drummers, Tug O’ War teams and of course the strong men and women competing in the Heavy events. The Junior Warriors sees primary school aged children competing in light versions of the Heavy events while the Kilted Mile provides an opportunity for the fleet footed to gain a coveted Hororata Highland Games trophy.
Visitors don’t just sit on the side lines they can have a go at tossing cabers, hurling haggis, eating pies, Tug O’ War, running a Kilted Mile or donning on the tartan for the best dressed lad and lassie. New for 2023 there will be a massed Scottish Country Dance where everyone can join in. This dance has been especially choregraphed for Hororata and a video will be released closer to the event so people can learn it. Once people get through the gates there is heaps of free activities to have a go at, no matter your age. Families often say it is the one event everyone right from grandparents to toddlers and even teenagers can enjoy together. There are also musical performances, Scottish story time and have a go bagpipes in amongst a huge range of quality market stalls as well as over 30 food trucks, don’t miss the haggis burgers or black pudding.
Discounted tickets for the Hororata Highland Games 11th November are on sale now, there will be no gate sales this year. Kids under 16 years are free. Held in the Hororata Domain, 45 minutes inland from Canterbury. All profits from the event are invested back into the community. www.hororatahighlandgames.org.nz
The arrival of the railway at Brora, Sutherland in June 1871 was a special day especially for the 3rd Duke of Sutherland who had great plans for Brora. He was interested in engineering, particularly steam engines, and had spent some time at the London & North Western Railway works in England at Wolverton, north of Milton Keynes so that he could learn about railways.
Another project was the coal mine at Brora. How is there a mine so many miles from the Carboniferous coalfields in Fife and Central Scotland? Dorset and Devon are world famous for their Jurassic Coast, but there is another around Brora on the north east coast of Scotland. The Beatrice Oilfield off the coast of Caithness, the only production platform visible from mainland Britain, is part of this geology. What we know about Brora Jurassic coal is that it is not very good quality and contains sulphur so is smelly when burnt. On a still winter day in the 19th and 20th century, Brora might have had an unpleasant odour of bad eggs emitting from its chimneys!
Passion of railways
The 3rd Duke with his passion of railways, was chairman of the Sutherland Railway which was authorised to go as far as Brora but ran out or money and only reached Golspie. He was so anxious for the railway to go further north that he financed it himself to go to Helmsdale and including a private station for Dunrobin Castle. By November 1870 the line was complete from Dunrobin to Helmsdale, but difficult engineering work meant that there was a gap between Golspie and Dunrobin. Until the line was fully open in June 1871, a twice day service which could be used by the public, ran between Dunrobin and Helmsdale.
In September 1870 the Duke had an inauguration ceremony for his station when Princess Helena, Queen Victoria’s daughter and her husband, Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein travelled with the Duke’s locomotive bedecked in flowers, to Helmsdale and back. Once complete the railway from Golspie to Helmsdale opened on 19th June 1871 and Dunrobin Station became private. Not content with that the Duke had got together funding for the railway to go the far North Coast at Thurso and Wick which opened in 1874. The building on the platform at Dunrobin Station had a somewhat Wild West appearance and the signal box was across the signal line. There was a shed to keep the duke’s railway carriage and a siding to park it when it was going to be used. His engine lived at Golpe where there was a workshop. The building at the station today was built by the duke’s son, the 4th Duke in 1901.
The rather English looking building incorporated the signal box in the lower north facing extension. With the arrival of the railway the 3rd Duke decided that the time had come to reopen the mine and brickworks which had been set up by the 1st Duke as their output could be transported to Inverness and the South. Perhaps they would be more profitable than in the past,
He reconstructed the old tramway together with a new branch that went to the station. However, the railway on the approaches to Brora from the south runs along a raised beach so the goods yard and the station were higher than the existing tramway. The branch line had to climb at a gradient of one in ten and then continue on the level to the station. A further short branch went to the duke’s engineering works which was capable of manufacturing anything from a nut to a steam engine. Horses and sometimes a small 0-4-0 saddle tank steam locomotive called Florence, chugged back and forth drawing the hutches loaded with coal on the journey to the station.
Edward James, the colliery manager from Staffordshire commenced production of coal from early 1874 producing between twenty-five and thirty tons per day. This development cost the duke just over £9,600, quite a sum for those days. Another project was a steam plough. The duke was concerned that a lot of the land on his estate was so poor, the farms did not produce enough to support the human and animal population. He was impressed when in Egypt by the steam ploughs which had brought into production previously unusable land. In 1871, he arranged for a fifty-acre field at Uppat, near Dunrobin to be ploughed using a special plough from Fowlers of Leeds, presumably transported there by rail. Very satisfied with the results, by 1878 some 28,000 acres had been developed in Sutherland involving work for five hundred men. One large area was by Loch Shin, near Lairg. The duke built a lunch box there so that he could show off his ideas for improving the land.
The industrial town of the Highlands
In 1874, the duke invited a group of mining and mechanical engineers including David Jones, Highland Railway Locomotive Superintendent, to see some of his enterprises including the work at Loch Shin. They travelled north as far as Georgemas, near Thurso on the line from Helmsdale and viewed a machine for converting peat into charcoal. They descended into the coal mine where a four-foot seam was being worked and finally saw a display of dynamite. Finding workers for the mine and brickworks may have been a problem. In the main street of Brora there is a row of very English looking brick terrace houses that the duke built for his staff. As the coal was not very good quality, it was mixed with better coal from the south which was transported by rail to Brora. The mixture was then sent south by rail to be sold to the public in Inverness and elsewhere. During this period Brora became the industrial town of the Highlands.
The 3rd Duke died in 1892 aged sixty-three and was succeeded by his son, Cromartie who carried on some of his Father’s enterprises including the replacement of the old station building and driving the railway engine. The coal mine and brickworks continued under different father ownership until 1974. In the 21st century, a heritage centre explains further about these interesting developments.
The inauguration of the Chief of the Clan Mackay took at Strathnaver Museum in Sutherland, on Saturday 19th August. The recently refurbished museum is located in the heart of traditional Mackay territory and is home to the Clan Mackay Centre. During the inauguration, Aeneas Simon Mackay, 15th Lord Reay was officially appointed as the 29th Chief of Clan Mackay. He inherits the title and related responsibilities of Chief of Mackay following the death of his father, Sir Hugh William Mackay (14th Lord Reay) in 2013. Organised by the Clan Mackay Society, the inauguration ceremony was conducted in accordance with ancient Highland customs and traditions dating back to pre-Christian Scotland. The ceremonial gathering was centred on and incorporate the Farr Stone, which is an ancient standing stone carved with Celtic symbols. It has been a monument in Farr since at least the 9th century. Following a procession of pipers and banner bearers the Chief was officially inaugurated by the clan in a ceremony with centuries-old roots. In assuming the leadership responsibilities of Chief of Mackay, Lord Reay will ensure that the traditions and customs of Clan Mackay which have been passed down for generations are respected and preserved for future generations.
The importance of ancestral history
As Lord Reay (Chief of the Clan Mackay) commented: “The role of the Clan Chief in modern times, although largely ceremonial, consists of representing the clan and its heritage to the wider world. The Chief, as I see it, is responsible for ensuring that the next generation understands the importance of their ancestral history. As such, the role is somewhat ambassadorial in nature, representing the clan in a positive light whilst preserving and promoting its cultural heritage”.The Chief and his family were joined at the ceremony by hundreds of Clan Mackay members from across the globe, representatives of the local community, invited dignitaries and Clan Chiefs. A weekend of celebrations in the local area to commemorate the event included a meet and greet reception at Bettyhill Village Hall; traditional ceilidh and music at Strathy Hall; a service in Melness Church; and visits to clan Mackay sites of historical significance.
Clans on the Coast is a Celtic festival that has previously been held in Nelson Bay New South Wales. Started by Ron Swan OAM heading a committee of likeminded people the first Clans on the Coast was held in 2007. COVID 19 forced the festival to go into a long hiatus. The committee is now trialling a new location in 2023, as Raymond Terrace is more centrally located. Adam Nicholas one of the event organisers has long thought that this would be a logical move to keep the traditions of the Celtic culture alive in a modern era of screen addictions. Celtic people were amongst the first settlers in the Hunter Region.
Something for everyone
With a fresh outlook on the event, the festival is to be held at Lakeside Sports Complex. Lakeside is a larger venue allowing the festival to be spread out across two football fields. This event provides a family day out, encouraging the involvement of local and regional amateur artists, community groups and service clubs. Opening the day with a massed pipes and drums and the calling of the Clans’ festival goers are encouraged to wear something Celtic to help with the atmosphere of the day. Schools are being invited to march in the opening and the best dressed Celtic student will win some prize money to be equally split with the school they attend. The long running dog competition will not be on this year unfortunately due to ground restrictions as dogs are not allowed in the complex. All the crowd favourites will be there with the strong men, the reenactors, dancers, clans and bands. Pick through the stalls and enjoy the great food. This event will have something for everyone even rides for the children. Following the close of the day with another massed pipes and drums and the award ceremony is the evening event of the ceilidh.
This year the ceilidh is being held in the Raymond Terrace Bowling Club. The Oxford Dictionary definition explains a ceilidh as a social event with Scottish or Irish folk music and singing, traditional dancing, and storytelling. There will be marching a pipe and drum band through the bowling club on the night, you can expect a two-course meal, experience the Address to a Haggis by Robert Burns with a bit of pageantry. Haggis will be optional to try with a side helping of bashed neeps (turnip) and The Ukulele Scotsman will also be playing at this event.
Clans on the Coast takes place on Saturday September 23rd. Tickets are now available online for both the festival and the ceilidh at: www.clansonthecoast.com.au.
Amazing! Awesome! Fantastic! Magical! All these words were heard describing this year’s Glengarry Highland Games. The weather in a season where warnings have become common, was absolutely perfect with warm temperatures and sunny skies. The crowds kept on coming and coming with a forty-five minute wait at noon hour on Main Street to enter the parking areas. The sporting events like the heavyweights, the tug of war, the kilt run and the rugby tournament all brought out crowds of fans to cheer them on. The Wee Bairns Area was overwhelmed with three thousand children enjoying themselves with bouncy castles, facepainting, magic shows and more. The Scottish fiddle area was wall-to-wall for their events both days and the Clan Buildings saw a steady flow of Scots finding more about their history while also filling the showcase area to listen to fascinating presentations of Celtic songs and dancing the Glengarry two-step. The Harp workshop brought in a record number of harpists from experts to beginners and scores of people just enjoying the music while the Scotch Tasting sessions had to turn people away.
The entertainment areas were jammed as favourite Celtic bands filled the floor with dancers of all ages – fathers and toddlers, grandparents, and everyone in between. Those who weren’t on the dance floor were swaying to the beat in their seats. When the Derina Harvey Band, the Friday night headliner, played their set on Saturday in the Metcalfe Centre, there was standing room only. Blessed by perfect weather, the Friday night Tattoo was a spectacular show of music, pageantry and tradition showcasing the RCMP’s 150th anniversary. The fireworks display at the closing of the Tattoo was the perfect end to a magical evening and day.
North American Pipe Band Championship
Of course, the main event at the Games is the piping and the North American Pipe Band Championship™. This year’s solo piping and drumming events brought in a record number of entries so much so that the competitions had to be broken into two groups to facilitate judging. The 78th Fraser Highlanders won the North American Pipe Band Championship™ over former Games champions, the 78 Highlanders (Citadel) from Halifax who came second and the City of Dunedin from Florida who took third place. It was the last Games for the Fraser Highlanders before leaving to compete at the World Championships in Glasgow. It was their fourteenth win of the title since the band was formed in 1981. The Peel Regional Police completed a perfect Ontario season undefeated in Grade 2 before also making the journey to Scotland to compete at the World’s. Fresh from his win of the Piobaireachd Society Gold Medal (Canada) the day before, Daniel Carr of Collingwood, Ontario, was the Professional Piper of the Day, and Hamilton, Ontario’s Cameron McKail was the Professional Snare Drummer of the Day. A special moment took place at the massed bands when the Grade 1 and 2 drum corps played the famous Max Rayne salute by the great Alex Duthart, led by his son, Drew, which brought the capacity crowd to its feet.
The Games came to a close as twelve hundred pipers and drummers played the stirring tune, Amazing Grace, and silence fell over the gathered thousands ringing the field followed by a huge cheer as everyone celebrated a memorable closing and another fabulous edition of the Glengarry Highland Games. Reflecting on the Games, President Eric Metcalfe was overwhelmed and stated, “Even as Games President, I was amazed and thrilled at the response for this year’s Games. Unbelievable! Thanks to everyone who had any part in this year’s fantastic Games.”
The 2023 Glengarry Highland Games are in the history books now, but work is already underway for next year’s Games when the 75th edition of the Games will take place on August 2-3, 2024.
Outlander author Diana Gabaldon opened the 1st international Outlander conference at the University of Glasgow recently and gave a fascinating insight into her creative writing process. Expert scholars and Outlander fans joined Dr Gabaldon to tackle themes such as Jacobite history, screen production, Scottish tourism, Gaelic and Scots, costume design, fandom, Claire Fraser’s medicine, and witchcraft. The Outlander literary series is made up of nine thrilling instalments and tells the tale of a post-Second World War nurse who accidentally time travels to Jacobite Scotland. Outlander has now become one of the bestselling book series of all time and spawned the hugely popular TV series, currently in its seventh season.
The nature of Scottish history
Dr Gabaldon’s talk was entitled, ‘”Why Scotland? Why Not Mexico?” Genes, Borders, Culture and Fiction: Why They Matter and When They Don’t’. The author, who was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Glasgow last year, revealed that her career as a published author nearly finished before it began. She said her first book almost got cancelled due to the difficulty in how to categorise it, adding: “It took the publishers 18 months to figure out what to do with it. I learned later that they came very close to cancelling the contract and giving me back the book because they couldn’t decide how to sell it. This was before Amazon where a book can be classified as several things at once and people can pick off the web what they want, and they still get the same book. Whereas back in the day it was only bookstores, you had to put a book on a certain shelf, the shelf had to have a label and the book also had to have that label.
“My agent finally called me up and said they had decided to publish it but sell it as a romance. I said, ‘What?’ that isn’t what I wrote. He pointed out that a best seller in fantasy fiction was 50,000 copies in paperback while in romance it is 500,000 copies. So, we sold it as romance. My first editor said to me early on these have to be word of mouths books because they are too weird to describe, which is totally true and that is also true about the word of mouth. So that being the case it made total sense to expose the book to 500,000 people in the romance category who will go out and tell their friends and the word will spread. So, we did that and that is exactly what happened.”
She also explained why she picked Scotland as the location of Outlander. Dr Gabaldon said: “Why Scotland? What I learned from my research and contact with Scots is that Scots are and historically were very literate. They wrote down things. They also have a very strong oral culture; they told their stories. They also have a lot of history available. Then there is the nature of Scottish history, it has a lot of heroes and heroines as well as conflict which is what you need for a good story.”
Vivid and visceral
Professor Willy Maley, Professor of Renaissance Studies (English Literature), at the University of Glasgow’s School of Critical Studies, said: “We are delighted to welcome Diana Gabaldon back to the University of Glasgow. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series has had a transformative impact on Scottish culture, generating global interest in the history, languages and landscapes of Scotland. Richly researched, the books open up question about eighteenth-century Scotland and pivotal events like Culloden to a world readership, at a time when new scholarship suggests that some of this history has still to be written or is in need of revision. A notable feature of Outlander is its frank treatment of female sexuality and sexual relations on the whole, including sexual violence. Vivid and visceral, Outlander is an otherworldly but never unworldly phenomenon that takes a time-travelling nurse-turned-doctor and propels her from 1946 to 1743, two worlds of war that collide in an elaborate and painstaking reconstruction that make the series much more than historical fiction and more an innovative and pioneering rethinking of how we excavate and examine the narratives of the past. Shot entirely in Scotland Outlander has also been a brilliant boost for the Scottish film industry.”
Visitors to CelticFest Warwick on the October long weekend will be able to immerse themselves in the best of Scottish and Irish music during the festival, which consists of a two-day ticketed event at the Warwick Showgrounds on Saturday 30 September and Sunday 1 October, and the CelticFringe from Friday 29 September to Monday 2 October.
The craic (fun) at the Warwick Showgrounds will kick off at 2pm on Saturday 30 September, with an outstanding line-up of bands set to entertain and entrance the CelticFest crowd on the Main Stage throughout the afternoon. In the evening, The Gathering Irish band will have the CelticFest audience dancing and singing along to traditional favourites, contemporary tunes, and cover songs.
The Saturday Main Stage afternoon line-up are: Rebecca Wright and Donald McKay, Auld Alliance, Australian Celtic Women, and Highlander. But wait, there’s more! The Scotsman will lead a family ceilidh (like a bush dance) – hosted by the Darling Downs Irish Club – in The Pavilion at the Showgrounds from 5pm, with admission included in your CelticFest Saturday ticket. You don’t even need to have any experience, as The Scotsman will call the dancing and you can learn the steps as you go.
And in case you don’t get the chance to tap your feet enough on the Saturday, there’s more music to come on Sunday 1 October, with the Main Stage again filled with acts from 9am-4pm. You’ll get a second chance to see all the performers from the Saturday afternoon session, plus The Outlanders, Lissa-Kathe Celtic Harp, Munsterbucks and The Scotsman.
It’s The Gathering’s second outing at CelticFest – the band headlined at CelticFest Warwick 2022 – and they are excited to be back, according to Mick McHugh, frontman and award-winning Irish musician. “The Gathering are very excited to be returning to CelticFest Warwick,” McHugh said. “Last year was our first visit to Warwick, we felt so honoured to be celebrating Celtic ancestry with people ten thousand miles from the place of their ancestors. It was a kick-arse Celtic weekend and we can’t wait to be back there again in 2023!”
A wonderful celebration of Celtic culture
The Gathering prides itself on getting their audiences up and having fun with high-energy Irish dancing traditional tunes and well-known rousing Irish sing-a-longs, blended with an array of popular and classic covers. The band has recorded for ABC Music, toured internationally, and entertained at major festivals such as Port Fairy Folk Fest and the Australian Celtic Festival.
The Australian Celtic Women is another act to put high on your list of must-sees at CelticFest – and you’ll have plenty of opportunity to do so! They will be performing short sets on both the Saturday and Sunday at CelticFest at the Warwick Showgrounds, and a full-length feature show at the Club Warwick RSL on Friday 29 September (this show is separately ticketed by the RSL).
Australian Celtic Women was created to showcase women in Celtic music. The all-female ensemble seeks to transport its audiences back to the rolling hills of Ireland and the misty moors of Scotland, with heavenly voices, tantalizing harmonies, dazzling costumes and whirlwind fiddle playing.
“We’re so excited to be going to CelticFest this year!,” said Miranda Starr, Australian Celtic Women director and vocalist. “We are looking forward to performing our full two-hour show on Friday night at the Club Warwick RSL with special guests. Then we’ll be performing on the main stage during the festival on Saturday and Sunday. Looking forward to saying hi to old friends and making new ones – Slainte Mhath!”.
Meanwhile, Brisbane-based duo, Rebecca Wright and Donald McKay, are also looking forward to bringing their authentic Scottish music to CelticFest. “This will be our first time performing in Warwick, and we can’t wait! We love having the opportunity to pop on our kilts and share our songs with an appreciative audience, and we know that CelticFest will be a wonderful celebration of Celtic culture.”
And The Scotsman (aka Graeme McColgan, who is also one half of the Auld Alliance duo) said: “Looking at the lineup for 2023, I cannot contain my excitement to share the stage with such incredible acts. This will be a crackin’ weekend of tunes, dancing and laughs. See you all there!”
CelticFest tickets are available online now from www.celticfestqld.com.au. Pricing for an adult ticket is $20 for Saturday, $25 for Sunday, and $35 for a weekend ticket (Saturday and Sunday). Pensioner pricing is $15 for Saturday, $20 for Sunday and $30 for a weekend ticket. Children’s tickets (for school-aged children between 5-17), are $5 for Saturday, $5 for Sunday and $10 for a weekend ticket. Children under 5 are free.
National Museums Scotland has revealed a new collection of contemporary Highland dress, documenting a vibrant industry in Scotland today. Eight outfits have been added to National Museums Scotland’s world class holdings of tartan and Highland dress, enabling it to tell the story of Scotland’s iconic costume in the 21st century. These important acquisitions mark the culmination of a five-year project supported by the William Grant Foundation, which has fostered ground-breaking research into the Museum’s unparalleled collection of historic tartans and Highland dress.
The latest stage of the project offers a snapshot of the variety of approaches to making and wearing Highland dress in the 21st century. From innovative new makers like Prickly Thistle and Acme Atelier, to long established brands including Kinloch Anderson and Chisholms Highland Dress, these eight outfits celebrate some of the modern craftspeople, designers and outfitters working in Scotland. A new online hub has launched on nms.ac.uk, offering detailed images and descriptions of the new acquisitions along with three new films featuring interviews with designers and makers. In 2021, kilt-making and sporran-making were added to the Heritage Craft Association’s red list of endangered crafts, and sgian dubh-making was added in 2023. The pieces collected for this project are representative of a specialist but vibrant industry which is attracting new makers, creating jobs and utilising technological advancements whilst preserving the knowledge of traditional techniques. Now held in the National Collection, the outfits document these highly-specialised skills as they continue to evolve and adapt.
A flourishing living tradition
William Grant Foundation Research Fellow, Rosie Waine said: “There is a perception that Highland dress never changes, but through working with contemporary makers, this project highlights a flourishing living tradition that continues to adapt and evolve. These new acquisitions showcase incredibly skilled makers and production from across the country. They join our existing collection to provide a comprehensive timeline of Highland dress from the 17th century to the modern day, highlighting its role as an icon of an ever-changing Scotland.”
Once considered an emblem of clan society, the more modern tartan fashions reflect contemporary concerns. Lochcarron of Scotland’s ‘Hame’ tartan was designed during the COVID-19 pandemic to capture feelings of homecoming and comfort. These designs highlight a 21st century approach to production with most new tartan being created through Computer Assisted Design (CAD) programmes such as ScotWeave. Sustainability and efficiency throughout the design process is a key concern for modern mills and makers. A tartan t-shirt and kilt by Prickly Thistle Scotland offer a fresh take on Highland dress for women whilst promoting small batch production. National Museums Scotland has also acquired an antique boat shuttle (a tool used in the weaving process) from the firm, laser engraved with the B Corp Certification mark which they were awarded in 2021. A focus on zero waste design is demonstrated by a sgian dubh acquired from Gordon Nicolson Kiltmakers. The traditional knife is made from offcuts of African blackwood left over from the bagpipe-making process.
National Museums Scotland holds objects spanning over five centuries of Highland dress in its collections, some of which are currently on loan to the V&A Dundee for their ground-breaking exhibition Tartan which demonstrates an enduring appetite for the iconic pattern.
Join the City of Armadale to celebrate all things Scottish at the largest Highland Gathering event held in Western Australia that has people saying things like…
“Don’t miss it. It’s an incredibly unique experience that is all about community.”
“It was a sensory feast of the sights and sounds of Scotland.”
“Omg everything was so well planned! And the diversity of things to see and do is amazing.”
Perth Kilt Run
The morning of Sunday October 8 begins with the fun and quirky Perth Kilt Run, the biggest and only fun run in Australia that’s done in a kilt! Register for the 2.5km Classic or the 5km Warrior challenge, BYO kilts or purchase one with registration. It’s a charity fun run with a difference and you’re guaranteed to have a good time! Both courses are open to walkers and runners, and the 2.5km Classic is accessible for prams and wheelchairs.
As you’d expect… the excitement doesn’t stop there. Following the Perth Kilt Run, we roll straight into the Highland Gathering where you’ll have the rest of the day to experience Highland dancing, pipe bands and heavy event competitions, meet and greet Scottish dogs, explore Clan histories, friendly battles between the medieval groups in the arena, live music and test your taste buds with the variety of Scottish delights, and lots more!
This is a family friendly and smoke/vape free event hosted by the City of Armadale.
The Armadale Highland Gathering and Perth Kilt Run will take place on Sunday October 8th at Minnawarra Park in Armadale, Western Australia. Further details are available at www.perthkiltrun.com.au.
He is one of Scotland’s most famous historical figures but more than 200 years after he died, Bonnie Prince Charlie has been given a new lease of life by experts at the University of Dundee. A team at the University’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID) has recreated the face of the Prince as he would have looked at the time of the Jacobite rising, his unsuccessful attempt to restore his father, James Francis Edward Stuart, to the British throne. Aged just 24 at this time, this new recreation has been produced using death masks of the Prince, which have been painstakingly photographed and mapped by Dundee researchers. Subsequently, 3D models were produced with state-of-the-art software allowing experts to “de-age” the Prince to create a representation of him from the period he is best remembered.
“I have looked at previous reconstructions of historical figures and was interested as to how these could be done differently,” said Barbora Veselá, a Masters student who initiated the project and whose work featured as part of the University of Dundee’s annual Masters Show, which opened to the public in August. “I wanted to create an image of what he would have looked like during the Jacobite rising. There are death masks of Bonnie Prince Charlie that are accessible, while some are in private collections. We also know that he suffered a stroke before he died, so that made the process of age regression even more interesting to me.” Born to the exiled Stuart King James III of England and Ireland and VIII of Scotland, Prince Charles Edward Stuart sought to regain the Great British throne for his father in the Jacobite rising of 1745.
Despite some initial successes on the battlefield, his army was defeated by government forces at the Battle of Culloden, near Inverness, in April 1746 and he spent the next five months as a hunted man before eventually fleeing to France. He spent the rest of his life on the continent and died in Palazzo Muti, Rome, at the age of 67. Since his death, Bonnie Prince Charlie has continued to inspire writers and historians and has come to the attention of a new generation of admirers through depictions in modern media, including television shows such as Outlander.
Following his death, a cast of the Prince’s face was taken, as was common for notable figures at the time. The Dundee team examined copies of two these masks – located at Highlife Highland’s Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, and The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, creating a composite over several months. Barbora took photographs from all around the masks and then utilised photogrammetry software to establish a 3D model. In total, she estimates that almost 500 images have been taken of both masks as part of the recreation process.
New insight into European history
“It has been a pleasure to work with these artefacts,” she continued. “The access I have been given has been incredible. There are moments, when you are working with the masks, that it suddenly strikes you that this was once a living person. We don’t tend to think about the age of people when we study history, but Prince Charlie was just 24 years-old when he landed in Scotland and to visualise how young he was at this pivotal moment in history is fascinating. He has some interesting features. Beauty is a very subjective thing, but Bonnie Prince Charlie does have distinctive features, such as his nose and his eyes, that encourage you to study him. Hopefully this recreation encourages people to think about him as a person, instead of just a legend. At the same time, it is important not to romanticise him or the era of history. There are many accounts of him but having a face to look at helps us to view him as a human and not just a name from history.”
CAHID’s Dr Tobias Houlton, who specialises in craniofacial identification and forensic imaging, said that this new image would bring new interest in the life of the famous Prince. “This has been a hugely exciting project,” he said. “Through many hours of hard work, Barbora has given us an exciting new insight into European history. This recreation will undoubtedly fascinate the public and the added dynamic of using artificial age-regression to bring him back to the Jacobite era, when he was most famous, showcases the range of expertise we have here at the University of Dundee.”
It’s a case of mistaken identity. For 35 years, thought he was as Irish as they come. Inspired by his enthusiastic grandfather, he spent his life studying Irish history, reading Irish stories and, just generally, embracing his Irish heritage. The whole family celebrated it almost exclusively. And then he took a DNA test and it came back 63% Scottish. “It came as a surprise. I knew I had some Scottish heritage, of course, but I could never have guessed it’d be that much,” says Eamon. “I can’t walk around acting like the second coming of Liam Neeson.”
After getting over the initial shock and surprise of his new-found heritage, he began to wonder what he could do to understand and celebrate his Scottish side. He checked out books about Scotland, listened to podcasts and began to develop an interest in whisky. It was a start, but he wanted more. “You can find out what Scotland is like, but it’s harder to find out what it’s like to be Scottish. I realized that I needed to talk to real, live Scottish people,” he says.
What it means to be Scottish
Podcasts – free online radio programs, essentially – provide the opportunity to discuss topics at length and can be created by anyone with a little technical know-how. An experienced podcaster with an existing show about music, Eamon was familiar with the medium and its potential for informing and entertaining. Not only could it provide him with a unique window into what it means to be Scottish, but he’d be able to share this experience with others, too. “I have a podcast and I work in communications, so I’m comfortable with this sort of thing. I also have degrees in history and political science that give me some confidence in terms of discussing things like Culloden or Independence,” says Eamon. “But I also have a level of ignorance – having not studied Scotland – that positions me well to ask questions that most non-Scots might like to have answered.”
The new podcast, called “63 Percent Scottish,” launched on August 22. The earliest episodes tackled subjects like William Wallace, the Isle of Lewis and whisky. Future episodes will discuss Scottish football, independence, women in Scottish history and more. The interviewees include award-winning journalists like The Scotsman’s Rosalind Erskine, best-selling authors like Coinneach MacLeod and prominent podcasters like Owen Innes. “I can’t believe the calibre of guest we’ve attracted to the show – and they’re all absolutely lovely people” says Eamon. “We also have incredible partners in sharing it with the world. The Scottish Banner has been very supportive, of course. St. Andrew’s Societies and Scottish Societies all around the world – Toronto, Ottawa, New York, Los Angeles and Singapore – are sharing episodes with their memberships. The sense of community just from creating this show is simply overwhelming.”
63 Percent Scottish is free on the Scottish Banner website scottishbanner.com and at 63percentscottish.com. It’s also available on all major platforms – Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Amazon Music. New episodes are available each week.
EP1 “Where to begin?” with Kevin James
63 Percent Scottish: A Scotland Appreciation Podcast, EP 1: “Where to begin?” with Dr. Kevin James from the University of Guelph.
The spectacular finale of The World Pipe Band Championships saw Peoples Ford Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia Pipe Band crowned the winners of the renowned international contest. It is the long-established Scottish pipe band’s first-ever World Champions title. Based in Bathgate, West Lothian, Peoples Ford Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia fought off stiff competition from runners-up, and 2022 champions, Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band of Lisburn, Northern Ireland.
Last year’s runners up, Inveraray and District Pipe Band, finished in third place.This year’s ‘ultimate battle of the bands’, which took place on Glasgow Green yesterday and today, attracted around 35,000 spectators. The highly anticipated championships represent the pinnacle of the competitive pipe band calendar. The event always attracts thousands of pipers and drummers to Scotland, reflecting the level of worldwide interest in our national instrument. Glasgow, a UNESCO City of Music, first hosted the World Pipe Band Championships 75 years ago in 1948, and has hosted the event every year since 1986.
Incredible display of talent and skill
The 2023 championships saw 15 countries represented. With 190 bands taking part in this year’s Worlds, just under 9,000 pipers and drummers took to the field to play over the two days. The nations featuring in this year’s line-up of contenders included Australia, Canada, USA, England, Northern Ireland, Israel, Malaysia, and Zimbabwe. The largest contingent of bands, a total of 116, came from Scotland.
Glasgow’s Lord Provost Jacqueline McLaren, Chieftain of The World Pipe Band Championships, said: “It has been wonderful for the city to host the Worlds once again, bringing together the planet’s finest and most talented pipers and drummers. It’s a contest of huge importance to the global pipe band community and a firm cultural favourite here. Our thanks go to all the musicians and, of course, congratulations to Peoples Ford Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia Pipe Band on bringing the World Champions title back home to Scotland.”
Kevin Reilly, Chairman of The Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association, added: “All of the pipers and drummers who gathered in Glasgow for this year’s championships did their bands and their countries proud. They treated our audiences to an incredible display of talent and skill, making the event a huge success and unforgettable experience. Huge congratulations go to our 2023 World Champions Peoples Ford Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia Pipe Band – they are very deserving winners.”
The planet’s flagship pipe band contest
As the planet’s flagship pipe band contest, the annual event brings together thousands of pipers and drummers from all over the world for the ultimate ‘battle of the bands’. It attracts thousands of supporters and spectators to experience the contest live. Around 35,000 spectators descended on Glasgow Green to watch 190 bands compete for the world champions title in August. The event – which is filmed by BBC Scotland and streamed over the internet – also attracts huge virtual international audiences, reflecting the level of global interest in Scotland’s national music. Competition for the 2023 Worlds were more fiercely contested than last year as the number of bands and nations taking part increased.
2023 World Pipe Band Championships results
1st Peoples Ford Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia (Scotland)
2nd Field Marshal Montgomery (Northern Ireland)
3rd Inveraray & District (Scotland)
4th Simon Fraser University (Canada)
5th Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia (Scotland)
6th St. Laurence O’Toole (Republic of Ireland)
7th Police Scotland Fife (Scotland)
8th ScottishPower (Scotland)
9th Manawatu (New Zealand)
10th Canterbury Caledonian Society (New Zealand)
11th Johnstone (Scotland)
12th Police Scotland & Federation (Scotland)
13th 78th Fraser Highlanders (Canada)
14th St. Thomas Alumni (USA)
15th Auckland & District (New Zealand)
16th Closkelt (Northern Ireland)
Drumming: Simon Fraser University (Canada)
1st Royal Burgh of Annan (Scotland)
2nd Buchan Peterson (Scotland)
3rd Manorcunningham (Republic of Ireland)
4th Portlethen & District (Scotland)
5th Ravara (Northern Ireland)
6th Uddingston (Scotland)
7th North Stratton (Canada)
8th City of Edinburgh (Scotland)
9th Peel Regional Police (Canada)
10th Ulster Scottish (USA)
11th Glasgow Skye Association (Scotland)
12th St. Joseph’s (Republic of Ireland)
13th Brieg (Brittany)
14th MacMillan (USA)
15th Los Angeles Scots (USA)
16th Kilchoman Distillery Isle of Islay (Scotland)
17th Highland Granite (Scotland)
18th Oban (Scotland)
19th Worcester Kiltie (USA)
20th City of Discovery (Scotland)
1st Tullylagan (Northern Ireland)
2nd Robert Malcolm Memorial (Canada)
3rd Vale of Atholl (Scotland)
4th Coalburn IOR (Scotland)
5th McNeillstown (Northern Ireland)
6th Clogher & District (Northern Ireland)
7th Major Sinclair Memorial (Northern Ireland)
8th Deeside Caledonia (Scotland)
9th Kildoag (Northern Ireland)
10th City of Newcastle (England)
11th College of Piping (Canada)
12th City of London (England)
1st Haileybury (Australia)
2nd Cullybackey (Northern Ireland)
3rd Macanta (England)
4th Ross & Cromarty (Scotland)
5th Methil & District (Scotland)
6th Lower Clyde (Scotland)
7th Aven & District (France)
8th Ayr Society (Scotland)
9th Mid-Argyll (Scotland)
10th Arbroath (Scotland)
11th Niagara Regional Police (Canada)
12th Belgian Blend (Belgium)
13th Tweedvale (Scotland)
14th Scottish Borders (Scotland)
1st Burntisland & District (Scotland)
2nd Syerla & District (Northern Ireland)
3rd Cape Breton Island (Canada)
4th Cloughfin (Northern Ireland)
5th Gransha (Northern Ireland)
6th Rothesay & District (Scotland)
7th Raphoe Ulster Scots (Republic of Ireland)
8th Kintyre Schools (Scotland)
9th Sri Dasmesh (Malaysia)
10th Ballyboley (Northern Ireland)
11th Kilbarchan (Scotland)
12th Uddingston Strathclyde (Scotland)
1st Scots School Albury (Australia)
2nd Royal Army of Oman (Oman)
3rd Letterkenny & District (Ireland)
4th Govan Community (Scotland)
5th City of Aberdeen (Scotland)
6th City of Discovery (Scotland)
7th Altnaveigh Memorial (Northern Ireland)
8th Irvine Memorial (Scotland)
9th Bready Ulster Scots (Northern Ireland)
10th Barrhead & District (Scotland)
11th Dunoon Argyll (Scotland)
12th Fraserburgh Royal British Legion (Scotland)
2023 World Pipe Band Championships facts:
190 bands, representing 15 countries, taking part. The A to Z line-up of nations competing, from Australia to Zimbabwe, features: Australia (5 bands), Belgium (2 bands), Canada (12 bands), Eire (8 bands), England (6 bands), France (2 bands), Israel (1 band), Malaysia (1 band), Netherlands (1 band), New Zealand (4 bands), Northern Ireland (21 bands), Oman (2 bands), Scotland (116 bands), USA (8 bands) Zimbabwe (1 band).
Around 8,850 pipers and drummers amassing on Glasgow Green (based on average number of band members) – all resplendent in their band uniforms of kilts in a variety of vibrant tartans, worn with sporrans and Glengarry bonnets
Just under 40,000 metres/40 km/25 miles of tartan kilt fabric. (Based on premium, traditional length. The length of material used in a kilt can vary from between 5 metres to around 7.5 metres)
Competitors ranging from juveniles and novice juveniles to experienced seniors. Around 40% of the competitors are under 21; the youngest are in their early teens and the oldest are in their 70s.
Bands playing a wealth of traditional Scottish musical pieces. Playing requirements differ according to the band’s grade, from march time signatures at lower levels to MSRs (a set of tunes consisting of a march, a strathspey and a reel; three different simple time metres) or musical medleys of varying durations, at higher levels. Grade 1 bands play MSRs and a medley.
103 trophies awarded across the 9 contest grades – plus the ultimate World Champions title.
All images courtesy Alan Harvey/SNS Group and Glasgow Life.
The vast majority of the world’s population are aware that it was the brainchild of Scots engineer and inventor James Watt (1736-1819), while watching the action of steam from a boiling kettle of water, that eventually led to the steam engine which would, in turn, spark the Industrial Revolution. But to his aunt, the young James Watt appeared like similar idle teenagers wasting his time as he silently stared at her kettle and toyed with the condensed water drops. Although, as she continually reprimanded him for what to her was a wasteful habit, little did she realise her nephew was paving the way for his invention of the steam engine. And just to verify the foundation of his genius a first-hand account of the kettle incident of 1751 came to light in a letter from the inventor’s cousin Marion Campbell, who had witnessed her mother, Jane Muirhead, lecturing the fifteen-year-old Watt.
In her historical report Mrs Campbell relates how she and her mother sat at the tea table in their home in Greenock observing a young Watt seemingly wasting his time gazing at the actions of a boiling kettle. She relates how her mother remarked, “Jamie Watt, I never saw such an idle boy, take a book or employ yourself usefully. For the last hour you haven’t spoken one word, but taken the lid off that kettle and put it on again, holding now a cup, and now a silver spoon over the steam watching how it rises from the spout and catching and counting the drops of hot water it falls into.” She added, “It appears that when thus blamed for idleness, his mind was employed in investigating the properties of steam.” The letters eventually went to auction in 2022 following the passing of Watt’s great-great-great-grandson Lord Gibson-Watt.
James Watt was born in Greenock, Renfrewshire, in 1736, the son of a ship’s chandler and town councillor. In 1754 he moved to Glasgow to learn the skills of a mathematical-instrument maker and after moving to London he set up business. What many people don’t realise is that he was employed on surveys for the Forth and Clyde Canal as well as the Caledonian and other prominent canals. He was also accountable in the upgrading of many harbours and in the deepening of the Forth, the Clyde and several other rivers. But his main fascination was always his desire to put steam to use as a motive force and, in 1763/4 a working model of the Newcomen engine was sent to him for hopeful inspection and repair. He restored it to perfection and, utilising the imperfections of the machine, he hit upon the probabilities of the separate condenser. Soon to follow were revolutionary advancements to the air pump, the cylinder and the double-acting engine. After settling in Birmingham in 1774 he soon superseded Newcomen’s machine and went on to create the expansion principle, the double engine, the parallel motion, the smokeless furnace and the governor.
The watt, a unit of power, was named after him, while the term horsepower, another unit, was first used by him. Watt was key in also developing the rotary engine which mechanised weaving, spinning and transport. James Watt passed away in Birmingham in 1819 at aged 83 and during 1899 his belongings, including his library and papers, were moved to Doldowlod House in Radnorshire, the Welsh estate of his descendant Lord Gibson-Watt.
When the Scots mastermind’s papers went on sale a spokesperson for the London auction house maintained that people associate Newton with the apple, Bruce with the spider, and Watt with the kettle. He nominated Watt’s discovery as the most illustrious and, but for him, and his visions, the Industrial Revolution might never have taken place. James Watt was not only the most prolific innovator imaginable, but he also possessed one of the greatest minds of his time.
As a matter of interest, Watt’s marine-engineer son, also named James (1769-1848), fitted the engine to the first English steamer to leave port in 1817 — its name was the Caledonia.
Main photo: A statue of James Watt at Glasgow Green. Photo: dun_deagh/Wikimedia cc-by-sa-2.0.
Looking at some of the dates in this edition’s This Month in Scottish History page, I could not help but notice some of Scotland’s premier bridges get a mention. We all know why bridges are built, to help link two places and very much serve a function.
A bridge is a key part of any nations infrastructure and assist in linking communities, improving travel times and building business. However, bridges are so much more than just being functional. A bridge can have a strong historical or cultural importance and become part of the scenic landscape of a place. Scotland has bridges of all shapes, sizes, ages and lengths found across the country.
The Forth Bridges
Perhaps Scotland’s most famous and iconic bridge would have to be the incredible Forth (Rail) Bridge. The oldest of Scotland’s Forth Bridges this incredible bridge opened in March 1890 and was at the time the longest single cantilever bridge span in the world. I have travelled across this marvel of Scottish engineering several times and have been fortunate to get some great aerial views on flights out of Edinburgh. The Forth Bridge took seven years to build and is made with red steel and around six million rivets. The bridge spans 8,094 feet or 2.5kms and was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2015. This bridge, and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, must be my favourite bridges in the world that I can look at and never tire of seeing.
Today the Forth Bridge is kept in good company as it shares the Firth of Forth estuary with both the Forth Road Bridge and the Queensferry Crossing. The Forth Road Bridge opened 59 years ago this month, in 1964, and the bridge’s two main towers include a fitting St Andrew’s Cross design. This bridge was born due to an influx of cars on Scottish roads to link the Edinburgh region to the north of Scotland. The Forth Road Bridge is now only used by pedestrians, cyclists, emergency services and public transport.
Six years ago, this month, The Queen opened the latest and longest transport addition to the Forth bridges, The Queensferry Crossing. This bridge was planned for today’s volume of cars and replaced the Forth Road Bridge as the main road route between Edinburgh and Fife and can carry 24 million vehicles a year.
One bridge I have walked and driven across numerous times is Glasgow’s Clyde Arc, or as
affectionately known locally as the ‘Squinty Bridge’, which opened this month in 2006. This bridge spans the River Clyde connecting Finnieston in Glasgow’s West End with Pacific Quay and Govan on the south side of the city. The bridge looks fantastic day and night as it reflects the Clyde and compliments the many modern iconic buildings you now find in this part of Glasgow such as the Scottish Exhibitions Centre, The Hydro and the Glasgow Science Centre, whom all sit amongst one of my favourite Glasgow icons the Finnieston Crane.
In this issue
So much of the pipe band world recently descended on the streets of Glasgow for this year’s World Pipe Band Championships, and PipingLive! The dedication of these performers to not only consistently practice to such a high level but also represent their country on the world stage is something to admire. For many bands this also included a hefty flight and travel costs. We are delighted to feature a highlight of the World’s in this issue.
Think of wildlife in the Scottish Highlands and you may perhaps think of Highland coo’s, deer, birdlife or even an illustrious monster! However, at the Highland Wildlife Park you can also ge up close and personal with various native animals like the Scottish wildcat, as well as species from across the globe such as snow leopards, Amur tigers, Japanese macaques and Scotland’s only polar bears (which includes one baby). All amongst the incredibly stunning scenery of Cairngorm National Park, the UK’s largest National Park.
It was over 150 years ago the third Duke of Sutherland, who was a railway enthusiast, brought a railway to Brora in Sutherland. The Duke also built his very own railway station at Dunrobin Castle, near the village of Golspie. Dunrobin station remains in the ownership of the Sutherland Estate and is believed to be the only such station on the UK rail network to have been planned, paid for and opened by just one person.
Connects us all when in Scotland
Scotland of course has far too many bridges to mention in this article. From the very famous and picturesque Glenfinnan Viaduct where the Jacobite steam train runs from Glenfinnan to Fort William and Mallaig, and made famous by the Harry Potter franchise. To the controversial Skye Bridge, which links the Scottish mainland with the stunning Isle of Skye. This bridge which was once considered the most expensive road toll in Europe is now free for all to enjoy a drive ‘over the sea to Skye’. Right down to the small, but so photographed, Swilcan Bridge found on the 18th hole at the Home of Golf, St Andrews.
Perhaps you have a bridge that means something to you, a bridge whose engineering marvels you, or has simply helped you get around Scotland a little easier? We would love to hear readers comments on their favourite bridges that quite literally connects us all when in Scotland.
Do you have a favourite Scottish bridge? 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: www.scottishbanner.com/contact-us
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We call our ships by many names: ‘snakes of the seas’, ‘surf dragons’ and ‘fjiord elkes’. The seas they sail upon we call ‘the whale’s road’, ‘eel home’, fish’s bath’ and ‘Njord’s hall’. Many things may befall you upon the whale’s road so take care. Make offerings to the sea lord Njord before leaving land. Carve runes of protection upon your oars and your mast. Ask Thor for fair weather. Be wary of monsters for many dwell in the murk of deep sea halls. Serpents and sea trolls sink many ships so muster the power of some mighty runes before setting sail.
Seafarer’s Lore from ‘How to be a Viking’ by Art Berk.
In 1262 AD, the King of Scotland, Alexander III when scarcely more than a boy, launched a desperate bid to recover the Western and Northern Isles of Scotland from the King of Norway, Haakon IV. The Scots kings were no longer prepared to tolerate Norse occupation of any part of their kingdom. In 1196 Alexander’s grandfather, King William the Lion, had thrown the Vikings out of northern Scotland. Alexander III was one of Scotland’s better kings, said to be good and wise. He stirred up various Highland nobles such as the Earl of Ross to make war upon the island chiefs on behalf of their King. The chiefs turned to King Haakon for his military assistance to combat the Earl of Ross’s incursions in to what they considered were their lands. Haakon decided to retaliate against the Scottish king. The subsequent invasion and vicious raids by Haakon upon Loch Long and Loch Lomond were almost certainly his response to Alexander’s bold initiative to take territory back from him and his Norwegian Empire. Having sailed up Loch Long Haakon was able to take the local populace of Loch Lomond by surprise by rolling his longships over the narrow strip of land between the sea loch and the land-locked Loch Lomond, at what to us is now called Tarbert. There was much slaughter there as a consequence.
At Largs my extended family often took their evening walks along the esplanade toward the Googie Burn and the Pencil Monument, called that simply because of its shape and built to commemorate the Battle of Largs, fought near there in 1263. My father talked of a great battle having taken place. He spoke of King Alexander III, high on the Renfrewshire hills behind Largs, watching Haakon’s fleet of 120 or so longships beating a passage from the Mull of Kintyre and Lorne, toward the Isle of Bute to finally anchor off the coast of Arran. Eventually the fleet lay off the Cumbraes readying to land at Largs. He continued with the conventional story that Alexander and his army strategically lay in wait with his hidden forces at a place that came to be called Camphill lying in those hills. And went on to say that when Haakon launched his dragon ships upon the coast his Viking crews were met head on and repulsed by Alexander’s cavalry and foot soldiers in a bloody and victorious battle.
That was my father’s version of events; however some historians describe it very differently. They talk of an aging and tired King Haakon bringing his large fleet of longships in an attempt to halt what he saw as Scottish imperialism against his Western Isles Kingdom and his loyal island chiefs. He had bargained on the support of Angus, the chief of the powerful Clan Donald. But Haakon was outsmarted because Alexander held Angus’s son hostage and so Angus was unable to help. Unfortunately for Haakon, he had already delayed too long in making his way through the Western Isles towards Largs. Alexander now wasted another month of Haakon’s time in ‘negotiation’ while Haakon’s unruly men became bored, and discipline became slack. They took to raiding the Ayrshire coast for something to do to fill in their time. Some historians even suggest that Alexander, rather sneakily, delayed Haakon’s progress by sending friars to pretend to negotiate a treaty but in reality meaning to prolong him further toward the season of autumn gales. How they got aboard his ships without getting a battleaxe though their heads is not mentioned. Nevertheless, these gales are said to have played havoc with Haakon’s fleet as it lay in the Firth of Clyde and the autumn storms are said to have wrecked many of his ships before they ever got on to the coast at Largs. Haakon had dithered too long and on the fateful night of the 1st of October 1262 a great storm came in from the west and pushed his longboats toward the coast whether they liked it or not. Haakon was forced to order a difficult landing. With much of his invasion fleet already scattered some longboats got smashed on the shore and many of his men were drowned.
Significant effect upon Scottish history
Some historians would have us further believe that Haakon and his bedraggled Viking warriors, those who had survived this disaster, stumbled ashore at Largs, completely exhausted, to have to face King Alexander and his army including 1,500 armoured cavalry, charging toward them along the shoreline. In the course of a rather confused engagement Haakon’s men were defeated on both the land and the sea to ave to withdraw in disorder. The Scot’s army, then supposedly, politely withdrew to allow the weary Norwegian Vikings, short of food and supplies, never mind fighting spirit, to fall back, retreat and sail away, back by the way they had come. What is known for sure is that Haakon, no matter whether defeated soundly in battle or not, or simply a poor wee king in distress, no longer had the heart and stomach for a future confrontation. Completely disheartened by this turn of events he apparently sailed back to Norway with what remained of his fleet, stopping off on the way in Kirkwall, in the Orkneys, only to take ill, sccumb to fever and die there.
No matter what the truth is about the Battle of Largs. It had a long-term and very significant effect upon Scottish history. Within three years by the Treaty of Perth, made with Magnus, Haakon’s successor the Western Isles and the Isle of Man passed back by sale to the Scots, whilst the Northern Isles, the Orkney and Shetland Islands remained in Norwegian hands as part of the Viking empire. In 1283 King Eric of Norway, was married to King Alexander’s daughter, Margaret to put a seal on the peace treaty of twenty years before. Then tragically within a short time the popular King Alexander died at Kinghorn in Fife when riding up a cliff path in fog to join his young wife. He was found dead at the foot of a precipice. His wife, his daughter and his other children were all dead, one after another within a short time. His surviving three-year-old grand-daughter, Margaret, the Maid of Norway, became heir to the Scottish throne as her infant queen. In turn this child’s untimely death in Orkney led to a dynastic crisis which de-stabilised Scotland, destroyed the relative peace between England and Scotland and began Scotland’s exploitation by England’s Edward I and ultimately to the Wars of Independence. The Battle of Largs was therefore a very significant turning point in Scotland’s history whether it followed the battle script of my father, spoken to me on those delightful evening walks to the Pencil Monument or that based upon the research of more qualified historians regarding that fatal day in 1253.
Australian Jim Stoddart was born in a Glasgow Tenement and raised in a Glasgow Housing Scheme 1943-1965. Jim will be taking readers on a trip down memory lane, of a time and place that will never be the same again and hopes even if only a few people in the Scot’s Diaspora have a dormant folk memory awakened, then he shall be more than delighted.
Main photo: The Pencil Monument, Largs. Photo: VisitScotland.
Orkney Islands Council has voted in favour of considering other forms of governance, such as looking at the possibility of becoming a British overseas territory (such as the Falkland Islands) or even looking to its historic link to Norway or Denmark and becoming part of those Nordic nations. Another option being considered is Crown Dependencies like that of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. The Crown Dependencies are not part of the UK but are self-governing dependencies of the Crown. Councillors feel both the UK and Scottish Government’s short change Orkney in funding support, claiming Orkney receives less funding per head from Government than other island authorities such as Shetland and the Western Isles.
The motion read: “Due to historical and contemporary challenges in relation to equitable capital and revenue funding, and policy support across our island communities, Orkney Islands Council should now explore options for alternative models of governance that provide greater fiscal security and economic opportunity for the islands of Orkney. Those investigations to include Nordic connections, crown dependencies and other options for greater subsidiarity and autonomy to be presented to the community for consideration.”
The UK Government has rejected the notion and a spokesperson for the Prime Minister said: “First and foremost there is no mechanism for the conferral of Crown Dependency or Overseas Territory status on any part of the UK. We have no plans to change the devolution settlement we are supporting Orkney with £50m to grow the economic prosperity of the Scottish islands, through the islands deal. But the government’s position is that the UK is stronger united.”
Orkney was under Norwegian and Danish control until 1472 when it became part of Scotland as part of Margaret of Denmark’s wedding dowry to King James III of Scotland.
Main photo: The flag of Orkney which symbolises the islands’ Scottish and Norwegian heritage.
Previously, I shared five of my favourite Scottish medieval castles and five of my favourite ancient sites. Now, it’s time to pick five from the somewhat awkward middle child, the Early Historic period. You may be more familiar with the term ‘Dark Ages’, though that’s now parlance of the past as more and more is being illuminated by archaeologists and historians.
The parameters of this period are somewhat subjective, with no firm start or end date to anchor it to. In broad strokes, I think of it as encompassing the Roman invasions of Scotland in the first century AD through to the height of the Viking Age in the tenth century. In that time, some things changed drastically when compared with earlier periods, while many of the fundamental rhythms of daily life remained very similar to those in the Iron Age. It may be one of the more ‘obscure’ and less well-understood periods of our history, but it gave Scotland its essential shape – both literally and figuratively – and there are plenty of remnants of it to explore.
Rough Castle, Falkirk
Don’t let the name deceive you – Rough ‘Castle’ is more than twice as old as any actual castle in Scotland. It is the name of the Roman fort constructed along the Antonine Wall to the west of what is now Falkirk. The Antonine Wall ran for 40 miles from Carriden in the east to Old Kilpatrick in the west, cutting Scotland horizontally in two along the Forth-Clyde line. Its defences were made of earth and timber upon a stone foundation, hence why it has not survived as well as sections of Hadrian’s Wall.
The lands between the two Roman walls was populated by Brittonic tribes who responded to the arrival of Rome with varying degrees of hostility and diplomacy. While the legions marched and built forts much further north than this – possibly as far as the Moray Firth – it is thrilling to stand on the steep-sloped embankments of Rough Castle knowing that this is where, as far as Rome was concerned, civilisation ended and the unfathomable wilds began. The scale of the wall’s ditch at Rough Castle is vivid thanks to the open ground around it. In one section, a staggered set of oval-shaped pits are still perfectly visible.
These lilia were fitted with wooden spikes to slow down any attack on the wall itself. Rough Castle also boasted stone buildings including a bath house, granary, and officer’s quarters. All that effort was for nought, however – the Antonine Wall was occupied for a mere 20 years, between 140 – 160 AD, before it was abandoned for a surer, more southerly frontier.
Midhowe Broch, Rousay
As with my choices for my favourite prehistoric sites, Orkney could have monopolised this list. Even choosing just one Orcadian broch is a challenge – the Broch of Gurness is the best-known and obvious pick, or maybe the Broch of Borwick spectacularly sited on the high cliffs of Yesnaby. Yet there’s just something about Midhowe Broch, along the Wesness shore in Rousay, that can’t be beat. Perhaps it’s the sheer gauntlet of history around it that adds to the appeal. Within a ten-minute walk of Midhowe is a Viking-age cemetery, a medieval church, the multi-period site of Swandro, and the gigantic, Neolithic chambered cairn which shares the name of Midhowe, as well as natural stone arches and breathtaking views across the Eynhallow Sound. Or maybe it’s the broch’s construction itself.
One of at least eleven brochs which once lined the shores of the Sound, Midhowe Broch is built between two geos, narrow clefts in the coastal rocks. Razor-like upright stones line its exterior, and a sea wall built with a distinctive technique called cassying makes the whole site appear incredibly powerful in the face of the lashing sea. A community thrived here for several centuries on either side of the BC/AD divide. Though the exact nature of their lives will likely never be known, whenever I visit Midhowe I always take time to sit at the edge of the central hearth, stare through the tall, narrow passageway framing the sea, and feel a moment of unity with them.
The Scottish Crannog Centre, Loch Tay
Crannogs, or at least crannog sites, are instantly recognisable on countless lochs and brackish shores around Scotland. If you see a small, circular islet in a loch, usually with a few trees growing on it, and no other islands immediately around it, there’s a good chance it once hosted a crannog. The Scottish Crannog Centre is on the northeast shore of Loch Tay, which had one of the densest concentrations of crannogs known anywhere. The debate continues to rage about what crannogs were meant for. They emerge in the Early Bronze Age, and some were inhabited well into the Middle Ages. The timber stilts on which their foundations rested imply a measure of defence, yet crannogs were not otherwise fortified.
Theories range from population pressures on the land to crannogs functioning as community strengthening exercises, given that it took hundreds of huge timbers and tens of thousands of hours of labour to build one. The result is a little like the overwater bungalows you see in glossy travel ads set in Polynesia – not the first thing you expect to see on a Highland loch! The Scottish Crannog Centre has a museum dedicated to the material culture of crannogs, as well as a miniature crafts village where visitors can work a lathe, taste a 2,000 year-old recipe for garlic bread, and experience many other hands-on approaches to learning history.
Tragically, the replica crannog itself was destroyed in an accidental fire in June 2021. However, with renewed purpose the Crannog Centre has already begun constructing not one, but three replica crannogs on the opposite side of the loch. Once complete, Loch Tay will have a veritable Early Historic makeover.
Dunino Den, East Fife
Some places have a certain air about them – a pinch of mystery, a bit of playfulness, a hint of foreboding. Few places exude it quite as potently as Dunino Den, a few miles south of St Andrews. A ritual centre for well over 2,000 years, it can be dead still on a gusty day and brooding dark on a sunny one. And, just when you think you’ve settled in, you see the stone face watching you. Tucked in a gully alongside Dunino Parish Church, Dunino Den is now used as a clootie well where people tie strips of cloth to tree branches and leave personal mementos, often in memory to those who departed this world too soon, in its soils.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I even found a face mask strung to a small stump – truly, a symbolic merger of modernity and antiquity if ever there was one. Atop a pulpit-like stone projection which overlooks the gully is a deep, water-logged hole, the bottom of which I’ve never been able to reach even with a very long branch. A narrow stone stair carved into the pulpit descends into the Den itself, with numerous Early Christian crosses carved into the smooth stone wall beside you. More often than not, Christianity did not so much erase the old pagan gods as they co-opted them – a healing well previously dedicated to a pagan deity would just be swapped for a similar saint, for instance.
The most striking carving in the den is a small but incredibly stern and ominous face, its heavy-set eyes and long beard guarding the Den like an elemental sentinel. Fans of Game of Thrones will instantly relate it to the faces carved in the sacred Weirwood trees in northern strongholds like Winterfell. And yet, this is no ancient visage but a strikingly modern one. Locals insist that the carving only appeared in the last thirty or forty years, which goes to show that not all at Dunino Den is what it first seems.
Dumbarton Rock, West Dunbartonshire
Along the otherwise placid banks of the River Clyde, the twin crags of Dumbarton Rock stick out of the landscape like a double-exclamation. Quite possibly the oldest continually fortified site anywhere in Britain, this was once the capital of the Strathclyde Britons, the children of the Rock. A history of Dumbarton Rock reads like an abridged history of Scotland. Its inhabitants watched with trepidation as the Romans built the westernmost outpost of the Antonine Wall just a few miles upstream. In the last few decades of the fourth century, they would have participated in overrunning that grand symbol of empire in what Roman historians called the ‘Barbarian Conspiracy’.
In 870 a vast Viking fleet led by Ivar the Boneless besieged Dumbarton Rock – then called Dùn Breatann – for months until its water supplies ran dry. The Britons were enslaved and sold in Dublin markets, though some fled and made their way to their kindred in Wales. Another indignity seized Dumbarton when its governor, Sir John de Menteith, captured William Wallace and held him within the castle before sending him to London to be tried and executed. It was also from Dumbarton that a six year-old Mary, Queen of Scots, set sail for France to marry the dauphin. Much nearer our own time, gun emplacements were set atop the rock to shoot down Nazi bombers aiming for the industrial and shipbuilding heartland of the Clyde.
All of this makes a deep well of imagination and contemplation to draw from while resting at its top. My favourite place to sit is on the smoothened stones on The Beak, the taller of the two crags. I imagine Ivar the Boneless triumphantly placing one foot upon the highest stone; Wallace shouting traitor! to his captor; a young Mary determined not to cry as her feet left Scottish soil. And here you can be, in the footsteps of them all. How lucky we are to have such places to instil wonder in the past, and inspire us into the future.
The fabled Wallace Sword, one of Scotland’s greatest treasures, is back where it belongs in Stirling. The 13th century blade, believed to have been used by William Wallace at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, was returned to the National Wallace Monument. It was removed from the popular tourist attraction in March after an alleged attack on the display case in which the two-handed blade, which is 1.68m long and weighs around 3kg, was housed. Thankfully, the sword was not damaged, but specialist designers from manufacturers Click Netherfield in Livingston had to construct a new showcase at a cost of £10,000.
The new showcase includes anti-reflective, almost-invisible glass which provides an unrestricted view of the legendary sword and its intricate surface to visitors. Stirling Council Leader, Cllr Chris Kane, said: “The Wallace Sword is the iconic showpiece of the National Wallace Monument, celebrated by visitors from every corner of the globe. The Monument attracts more than 100,000 visitors every year and we were extremely disappointed the sword had to be moved to safe storage as a result of actions outwith our control. For many visitors, viewing the sword in such revered and spectacular surroundings is the highlight of their visit. Stirling is a major tourist destination, recognised internationally for its heritage, historic and vibrant city and fabulous scenery. We’re delighted, as we head into the main tourist season, to once again display the sword in all its glory in its natural home.”
The National Wallace Monument was completed in 1869, and it was opened to visitors for the first time on 11th September, the anniversary of Wallace’s victory at The Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. At the time of its completion, the total amount which had been spent on the construction of the Monument was £13,401. The Sword was moved to the Monument in 1888, 19 years after the Monument first opened in 1869. Charles Rodgers, a principle fundraiser for the Monument, had been trying to move the Sword to the Monument since its completion, but his request was refused by the Colonel of the Royal Artillery at Dumbarton Castle in 1875 and it wasn’t until 1888 that the War Office agreed to transfer the Sword, a decision met by protests in the town of Dumbarton.
Newly released 3D digital models of the Crown of Scotland, the Sceptre and the Sword of State will allow users to explore and examine the intricate detail of the Honours like never before. As well as offering a unique perspective on the Honours, the models will also be used to aid future conservation work. The Honours were digitally captured through a process of photogrammetry, where hundreds of overlapping high-resolution photographs are taken around the objects and then analysed by software to work out their relative position. These aligned photographs are then used to create accurate photorealistic models of the objects.
On 5 July, the Honours were formally presented to King Charles III at the National Service of Thanksgiving and Dedication which took place at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh. The blade of the Sword of State is in a very fragile condition, having been broken and repaired in the past, likely around the time the Honours were hidden from Cromwell. In order to protect this historic object, it has been retired from use some years ago with consent of the monarch. The Lord Lyon has commissioned a new sword, The Elizabeth Sword, to be made for ceremonial purposes and Historic Environment Scotland (HES) have agreed to care for this new commission.
The Honours of Scotland are objects of immense significance and have been present at many of the major royal ceremonial events over the past five centuries. Their centrepiece is the Crown of Scotland, crafted of gold and silver and laden with 94 pearls and 43 gemstones including diamonds, garnets and amethysts. James V had the Crown made in 1540, likely in part from the earlier Scottish Crown which had been damaged, and first wore it at the coronation of Mary of Guise that same year.
The Sceptre is thought to have been a gift to James IV from Pope Alexander VI in 1494. This ceremonial staff is an example of High Renaissance Italian craftsmanship, with the finial formed from a globe of polished rock crystal and held up by stylised dolphins and three figures depicting St Andrew, St James and the Virgin Mary. On top of the crystal globe sits a gold orb, capped with a single large pearl.
The Sword of State was gifted to James IV by Pope Julius II in 1507 and represents an exceptionally high quality of decoration. The arms of Pope Julius were used as the theme for the Sword handle design, with oak trees and acorns symbolising the risen Christ and dolphins signifying Christ’s Church. The blade of the Sword is in a very fragile condition and was retired from use some years ago with consent of the monarch.
Kathy Richmond, Head of Collections and Applied Conservation at HES, said: “Using digital technology in this way can help enhance how we enjoy, understand and protect the precious objects of our past.”
The Honours of Scotland have had a turbulent history. Edward I had removed the former Honours of Scotland along with the Stone of Destiny in 1296, with only the Stone surviving. The Honours seen today were pursued by Cromwellian forces, who destroyed the English Crown Jewels. In 1650 they were removed for safekeeping ahead of Oliver Cromwell’s siege of Edinburgh Castle. Unable to be returned to Edinburgh Castle following the Scottish coronation of King Charles II in 1651, the Honours were taken to Dunnottar Castle before being smuggled out during a siege and hidden at Kinneff Kirk. Only with the restoration of King Charles II to the throne could they return to Edinburgh Castle and be used for ceremonial openings of Parliament until 1707.
With the Parliamentary Union of 1707, the Honours were locked away in the Crown Room at the Castle, as they were no longer needed for ceremonial events. They remained there until 1818 when Walter Scott and others, with a royal warrant from the Prince Regent (who would become George IV), broke into the Crown Room, opened the Crown Chest and there rediscovered the Honours.
-Is a new sword of state was used in Coronation service.
-Named after the late Queen Elizabeth II, the ceremonial sword was presented to the King along with the Crown and Sceptre which are part of the Honours of Scotland – Scotland’s Crown Jewels – during the National Service of Thanksgiving and Dedication at St Giles Cathedral on Wednesday 5 July.
-Following the service, the sword and Honours were returned to the care of Historic Environment Scotland.
-Designed by former Ormond Pursuivant of Arms Mark Dennis and worked on by a number of expert Scottish craftspeople, the sword features a pommel of Lewisian gneiss, and a scabbard wrought from Perthshire oak.
-The sword will be used on ceremonial occasions in place of the current sword, gifted to James IV by Pope Julius in 1507, which can no longer be used due to its fragile condition.
The Honours of Scotland
-The Honours of Scotland, comprising the Crown of Scotland, the Sceptre, and the Sword of State, are the oldest Crown jewels in Britain.
-The Honours of Scotland are owned by the Crown, i.e. King Charles III, and are on loan from the Commissioners for the Safeguarding of the Regalia, who are appointed by Royal Warrant. HES acts on their behalf to care for the Honours of Scotland and the Stone of Destiny.
-The Honours were formally presented to Queen Elizabeth at the last National Service of Thanksgiving which took place in 1953 at the High Kirk of St Giles’ in Edinburgh, before being returned to their custodians. The National Service of Thanksgiving and Dedication on 5 July 2023 will repeat this tradition.
-The Honours of Scotland will be escorted from Edinburgh Castle to St Giles’ Cathedral by The King’s Body Guard for Scotland, the Royal Company of Archers and a Guard of Honour formed by contingents of the Navy, Army and Royal Air Force. The Stone of Destiny will be placed in St Giles’ in advance of the Service in a non-public move.
Following the service, the Honours returned to display alongside the Stone of Destiny in the Crown Room at Edinburgh Castle.
Main photo: The Honours of Scotland – the oldest Crown jewels in Britain and among the oldest in Europe – have been digitised by HES.
The Great Tapestry of Scotland, where the people’s story of Scotland begins, has a new royal story to tell after Their Majesties The King and Queen visited the centre in the Scottish Borders. During the royal engagement, The Queen added the final stitch to a new panel commemorating the historic occasion. Their Majesties’ visit to view one of the world’s largest community arts projects in the town of Galashiels, coincided with the 10th anniversary of the Great Tapestry of Scotland’s unveiling. The new panel is the first royal story to be added to the Tapestry since that time.
The King and Queen were welcomed by Mike Gray as Chair of the Tapestry Advisory Board and Centre Director Sandy Maxwell-Forbes, who introduced them to some of the thousand stitchers and wider team responsible for the creation of the Tapestry, including author Alexander McCall Smith who conceived the idea, artist Andrew Crummy (who was presented with an MBE), stitcher coordinator Dorie Wilkie, fundraiser and tour manager Jan Rutherford and historian and author Alistair Moffat, alongside representatives for architects Page/Park who designed the centre’s award-winning building.
One of the world’s longest tapestries
Speaking after the visit, Sandy said: “It was the greatest honour to introduce The King and Queen to individuals who were instrumental in creating this compelling account of Scotland’s history, heritage and culture and one of the nation’s top-rated visitor experiences right here in Galashiels in the Scottish Borders. This marks a significant moment in the Tapestry’s extraordinary success story. Their Majesties appeared to be moved by the Tapestry’s compelling artwork. Indeed, The Queen described it as ‘Absolutely Wonderful’, she said she wished she had more time to take it all in. In keeping with the Tapestry’s original ethos of allowing people to tell their own story in their own way, we were also thrilled that The King and Queen signed our commemorative certificate and Her Majesty added a stitch to our new panel. We specially designed the panel to reflect the significance of this royal visit and The Queen’s own appreciation of embroidery, which was so evident in her stunning Couture Coronation gown, hand embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework. In keeping with the design of the dress and indeed The Great Tapestry of Scotland, there are some beautiful intricate hidden details stitched into the new panel which reflected The King and Queen’s greatest interests in life including nature, wildflowers, The King’s own book, The Old Man Lochnagar and The Queen’s Jack Russells Bess and Bluebell.”
Now in its permanent home in the once thriving textile region of the Scottish Borders, The Great Tapestry of Scotland’s 160 panels tell a visually compelling account of the people’s story of Scotland from millions of years BC to present day. This includes key moments in royal history such as the stories of King Macbeth, St Margaret of Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots and her son James VI of Scotland and I of England, Queen Victoria and her particular love of Scotland, and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation. The purpose-built Great Tapestry of Scotland visitor centre, with two galleries, café, workshop space and shop, opened in August 2021. One of the world’s longest tapestries, hand stitched by a team of 1,000 stitchers led by Dorie Wilkie, The Great Tapestry of Scotland tells the visual story of Scotland’s history, heritage and culture from its formation to present day.
This month, set against the spectacular backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo will welcome local and international audiences to their new show, Stories. Staged between 4-26 August, the show will be a celebration of sagas, myths, and legends, transporting audiences on a journey of ideas – from the earliest campfire stories through to the world stage. Building on last year’s successful return show, Voices, the 2023 performance will showcase performers from around the globe, telling tales that connect us through our unique and shared military and cultural heritages.
Bringing together stories through music, dance, poetry, spoken word and imagery, a cast of over 800 UK and international performers will present Stories through a vivid and eclectic range of expression. From the musical prowess of the Massed Pipes & Drums, the physical storytelling of dance and precision drill, and stunning imagery captured through light and projection, audiences will be transported and enthralled.
This year The Tattoo Arena will host performers from Norway, The United States, Australia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Switzerland, alongside homegrown acts from across the UK and Ireland. As ever, the military will play a prominent role in the show, with the Royal Air Force the lead Service. Audiences will also be treated to the wild skirl of the Massed Pipes and Drums supported by the Tattoo Dancers and Fiddlers.
Making their Tattoo debut on the Castle Esplanade, The United States Air Force Band will wow the crowds with a freestyle musical performance depicting America’s great songbook, while the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force Steel Orchestra will bring a vibrant burst of colour and the excitement of their traditional art forms, including the limbo and fire dance. Precision drill from the King’s Colour Squadron will feature familiar soundscapes from the world of gaming. Exploring the legends and traditions of Switzerland, The Swiss Armed Forces Central Band will also present an exhilarating drum corps talent, which is sure to send sparks flying.
His Majesty the King’s Guard Band and Drill Team of Norway will also be back to stun crowds. Their appearance this August will tell their story as a Regiment, reprising their history and heritage to present day. After their exuberant debut last year, Electro Pipes will return to the stage, where once again Tattoo performers will combine the traditional and new through EDM, electric instruments, lighting, and projection.
The full line-up for 2023 includes: The Band of His Majesty’s Royal Marines Scotland, The Central Band of the Royal Air Force, The Band of the Royal Air Force Regiment, The Royal Air Force Salon Orchestra, Royal Air Force Bands, 1st Battalion The Irish Guards Drums and Pipes, The Pipes and Drums of The Royal Highland Fusiliers 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, The Pipes and Drums of 4th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, Combined Scottish Universities Officers’ Training Corps Pipes and Drums, Royal Air Force Pipes and Drums, The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Pipes and Drums, The Scots College Sydney Pipes and Drums, The Scots College Sydney Old Boys Pipes and Drums, The Scots School Albury Pipe Band, The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Dancers, The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Fiddlers, King’s Colour Squadron Royal Air Force, The Swiss Armed Forces Central Band, His Majesty the King’s Guard Band and Drill Team of Norway, The United States Air Force Band and Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force Steel Orchestra.
Embraces military tradition
2023 marks the second year of the Tattoo’s bold new brand proposition, Performance in a New Light, which embraces military tradition and combines it with exciting new innovations and contemporary touches. Buster Howes, the Chief Executive of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, said: “The Tattoo is distinctive, iconic, and gleeful. It has mass, momentum and energy, and Stories will have all these qualities as well as being whimsical, exhilarating, and surprising. Our lives, loves, triumphs, and disasters are captivated and documented in stories. We grow up with fairy tales and folklore, with Winnie the Pooh and The Gruffalo, and progress to Wuthering Heights and Moby Dick. We are, as children, inspired by accounts of resilience, adventure and heroism; universal themes reinterpreted the world over. Edinburgh Castle is surely a perfect backdrop for all such narratives – come and see for yourselves.”
Have you attended the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, share your story with us! This year’s Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo takes place from 4th to 26th August, to find out more information and buy tickets see: www.edintattoo.co.uk
All images courtesy of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
The world-renowned Piping Live! festival makes its highly anticipated return to Glasgow for its 20th edition this week, celebrating two decades at the heart of Scotland’s cultural calendar.
Running from Saturday 12 – Sunday 20 August, the milestone event promises to fill the streets of Glasgow with the sounds of piping for eight days, embracing tradition, innovation and cultural exchange while showcasing a diverse lineup of concerts, recitals, workshops, showcases and competitions.
Organisers at the National Piping Centre are all set for what will be a busy festival, with a number of events already sold out and anticipated attendances of around 30,000.
With free events making up around half of the Piping Live! programme, there are a huge number of opportunities for people to see some of the world’s best pipe music on Glasgow’s streets and in venues across the city. Tickets are still available to buy for a number of events, as the festival gears up to welcome pipers and piping fans from across the globe.
The magic of Scotland’s national instrument
Finlay MacDonald, Artistic Director for Piping Live!, said: “The team at the National Piping Centre has been working incredibly hard to ensure the 20th edition of Piping Live! is a resounding success. Despite the financial challenges within the sector, I am extremely proud of how we have come together to programme what is promising to be an incredible eight-day event packed with music, fun, culture and community.
“We would all like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has bought tickets and shown their support so far, and offer a warm welcome to piping enthusiasts and music lovers from across the globe who are making their way to the city this week. It’s not too late to get involved and embrace the magic of Scotland’s national instrument this summer.”
Piping Live! aims to create an inclusive and immersive experience for all attendees. From free events such as Gig in the Gallery, a series of daily recitals featuring international styles of bagpipes at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, to enchanting avant guard shows such as Ceol Nua, which will see Fraser Fifield, Graeme Stephen, and Estonian piper Caatlin Magi present new music that pushes the boundaries of traditional sounds, the festival offers something for everyone, promoting a sense of community and camaraderie that resonates with the spirit of Glasgow.
Also on this year’s bill is Canntaireachd, an exciting new collaboration between multi-award winning singers and pipers Kim Carnie (vocals), Kathleen MacInnes (vocals), Brìghde Chaimbeul (small pipes and bagpipes) and Ailis Sutherland (small pipes and bagpipes). The group are joining forces with the formidable collective Staran to celebrate and explore the relationship between piping and Gaelic song, breathing new life into centuries old songs, tunes and stories with new material woven throughout.
Exceptional musical performances
The festival’s flagship event, the Pipe Major Alasdair Gillies Memorial Recital Challenge, will take place at the Strathclyde Suite of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Five exceptional solo pipers, including Angus MacColl, Stuart Liddell, Sarah Muir, Callum Beaumont, and reigning 2022 champion Matt MacIsaac, will take the stage, and perform 25-minute medleys of their favourite tunes. This renowned competition is an annual sell-out success, and promises an unforgettable evening of exceptional musical performances.
The final day of Piping Live! will pay homage to the legendary Gordon Duncan through the internationally acclaimed Gordon Duncan Memorial Competition. Celebrating Gordon’s ties to Scotland, Ireland, and Brittany, this iconic event will feature one piper from each region performing sets of Scottish, Irish, and Breton music. The ultimate winner will be the piper who excels in all three musical styles, highlighting the diversity and richness of the Celtic piping heritage.
The festival’s sold out Closing Concert will round off the 20th edition with performances by some festival favourites, including the hugely talented multi-instrumentalists Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton, who have been involved with Piping Live! since its earliest days. The duo will perform a double header show with Uilleann piper Jarlath Henderson, who performed at the first Piping Live! festival, and guitarist Innes Watson. People can still catch the sell out show online via the Online Festival Pass, which includes around 30 hours of quality musical programming across the week.
Piping LIve!’s Street Café will be open to everyone from 10.15am on the festival’s Monday to Friday, with this year’s gatherings promising an exciting array of entertainment, from book signings with celebrated artist Malin Makes Music on Monday, to performances from emerging talent Tarran on Wednesday and multi-instrumentalists Kenneth I MacKenzie and Will Marshall on Friday.
The Learn@Live! workshop series will also return this year with three days dedicated to different piping traditions. Held at The National Piping Centre, and running from Tuesday 15 to Thursday 17 August, these sessions will provide attendees with valuable insights into various piping techniques and styles, enriching their overall understanding of various ancient art forms.
Tickets and more information on where and when each performance is happening are available at www.pipinglive.co.uk.
Edinburgh has honoured the life of its second most famous canine with a special event. Greyfriars Bobby, the loyal terrier known for guarding his master’s grave for 14 years after his death, is an iconic story in the Scottish capital and the Disney adaptation of his story in 1961 made a star of the acting pooch who portrayed the local hero – also called Bobby. The remains of the Skye Terrier who starred in the film have been donated to The City of Edinburgh Council and now form part of its archaeology collections. They have been loaned to Greyfriars Kirk for a special exhibition commemorating the legacy near the real-life grave of Scotland’s most loyal companion. At a ceremony in Greyfriars Kirkyard, Depute Lord Provost Lezley Marion Cameron was joined by David Hunter who led the campaign to commemorate the occasion as well as members of the church and friends of the graveyard.
Depute Lord Provost Lezley Marion Cameron, said: “Greyfriars Bobby’s memorial reads ‘Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all’. Countless visitors continue to see Bobby’s grave, his statue, and the many mementos of his life displayed in our Museum of Edinburgh. I’m delighted this further part of the iconic and timeless story of a little dog who would not leave his master’s grave, is going to be on display for visitors to discover. Bobby’s is a story held in enormous respect and affection by people around the world, as is the famous film it inspired. Bobby truly is a world-famous pet, holding a special place in people’s hearts and it’s lovely to be part of this special commemoration.”
Rev Richard Frazer, minister of Greyfriars Kirk, said: “The story of Greyfriars Bobby goes on touching people’s hearts. We are glad to remember this ‘Bobby’ who starred in Walt Disney’s film. The search for his remains is a story in itself, but David’s tenacity and persistence has paid off and now we have an additional item in our museum for people to visit, with a casket made in our Grassmarket Community Project workshop holding the ashes of the wee dog.”
The film pooch, a Skye Terrier and also called Bobby, was gifted to former Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders Police, William Merrilees, by Mr Walt Disney after the film was released. Following the film’s release, Mr Walt Disney gave Bobby to his friend Chief Constable William Merrilees OBE. Mr Merrilees felt that it would be better if Bobby lived with a family, so he gave him to one of his senior officers – Chief Inspector John Turner. Bobby lived happily for the rest of his days with the Turner family in Morningside, Edinburgh. David Hunter, a relative of the Turner family, led a community campaign to find out what happened to Bobby and have his ashes interred at Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh.
Over the years the site of his grave had been lost. However, after hearing the site was to be developed for housing, with the permission of the developer, Mr Hunter and a team of volunteers undertook an 18-month search for his remains. As in all good stories his remains were finally found in the final days, in January 2023. A specially commissioned casket has been crafted from the wood of an old cherry tree that once stood in the Kirkyard. Designed and made by craftsmen from The Grassmarket Community Project. The casket and ashes were donated to The City of Edinburgh Council in 2023 and now form part of its archaeology collections and have been loaned to Greyfriars Kirk for display.
John Lawson, City of Edinburgh Council Archaeologist, said: “It’s not often as an archaeologist that you work on such a unique project to preserve the remains of 1960’s film star. It has been fantastic to work with David, the Kirk and Grassmarket Community and my colleagues in Bereavement Services on this project and to see the enthusiasm and care that everyone has shown in finding a fitting home for his remains.”
The casket will be on display inside the Church together with information about the film and Bobby’s charity work in the city and his life after the film.
American friends of Scotland’s largest conservation charity have enabled the acquisition of the Treshnish Isles, an archipelago of eight uninhabited islands located in the Inner Hebrides, securing the future of this distinctive seascape. The Treshnish Isles are internationally significant as a nesting site for many seabird species, including puffins, guillemots, and kittiwakes. Twenty percent of the entire British population of storm petrels nest on the islands. The waters surrounding the isles are home to Atlantic seals, basking sharks, and minke whales.
Now uninhabited, the Treshnish Isles have a long human history that dates from the Iron Age. They were in the possession of King Haakon of Norway until 1249. The islands feature the ruins of two medieval castles and have strong historical links with the Scottish clans MacDougal, MacDonald, and Maclean. The National Trust for Scotland assumed care of the Treshnish Isles in July. The Trust is responsible for the protection of some of Scotland’s most special places, including the Hebridean islands of Staffa, Iona, and Canna, as well as Fair Isle and the dual world heritage site of St Kilda. In America, The National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA (NTSUSA) raises visibility and financial support for the Trust’s conservation priorities. There has been a strong tradition of American support for conservation in the Hebrides. The islands of Staffa, Pabbay, Berneray, and Mingulay were all gifted to the Trust through bequests from the US, and NTSUSA recently has made significant contributions to preservation initiatives on Canna and Iona.
Protect Scotland’s heritage and natural beauty
Kirstin Bridier, executive director of NTSUSA, noted, “We are delighted to fund the acquisition of the Treshnish Isles. With more than 20 million Americans claiming Scottish ancestry, NTSUSA is committed to garnering international support to protect Scotland’s heritage and natural beauty now and for future generations.” The acquisition of the Treshnish Isles comes as the National Trust for Scotland is investing significantly in the region. With more than 50,000 visitors per year expected on the Treshnish Isles, the Trust will work with local boat operators to ensure that rats and mice cannot reach the island and feed upon vulnerable seabird chicks.
The Trust also will have a ranger on-site to help monitor and educate visitors about the islands’ wildlife. An archaeological survey will ensure all data from historical ruins is captured and will inform development of a preservation plan. The acquisition caps a year in which NTSUSA granted more than $530,000 in funding for projects at nearly twenty National Trust for Scotland properties. This included $208,000 to support the digitization of 18th century manuscripts in poet Robert Burns’s hand held in the collection of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, Ayrshire. The result will be a website accessible to Burns scholars and fans across the globe.
The National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA (NTSUSA) is an independent non-profit organization that exists to support the work of the National Trust for Scotland’s most urgent conservation priorities. Donations to NTSUSA, a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization, are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. To learn more about NTSUSA or to become a member, please visit: www.ntsusa.org
Main photo: View from Lunga toward Bac Mòr (or Dutchman’s Cap).
The Southern Downs will play host to not one, but three national championships during CelticFest Warwick 2023, on the September long weekend (Sep 30-Oct 1). The Australian Highland Games Championships will be held at the main ticketed event at the Warwick Showgrounds. Meanwhile, as part of the CelticFest Fringe (separately organised and ticketed events, where applicable), SCOTS PGC College will host the inaugural Australian Juvenile Pipe Band Championships on Saturday 30 September, alongside the Australian Solo Piping and Drumming Championships on Friday 29 September.
Feats of strength
A field of 20 professional strongmen will battle it out for the Australian Highland Games Championships open men’s title at the Warwick Showgrounds on the afternoon of Saturday 29 September and all-day Sunday 1 October. The strongman crowned Australia’s national highland games champion will represent Australia at the World Amateur Highland Games Championships in Norway in March 2024. Previously the Australian Highland Games Championships had been held at The Gathering in Ipswich, but with that event taking a break for 2023, the search was on for another venue.
Championship organizer, Highland Muscle’s Rob Mitchell, said that the decision to hold the event during CelticFest was due to the timing of the event, and the ability for CelticFest to hold a ‘decent crowd’. The latter is based on the outstanding reception for the highland games heavy events during CelticFest 2022 when the Portley Grandstand and surrounding area were packed with onlookers, reveling in the feats of strength from strongmen and women in events such as putting the stone, hammer throw, weight for height, and everyone’s favourite, the caber toss.
By CelticFest, athletes will have competed in four qualifying events: The Hayland Gathering, Melbourne Highland Games and Celtic Festival, NSW Central Coast Highland Challenge, and the Australian Celtic Festival in Glen Innes. Each competitor placing top 3 in their division in these events automatically qualifies for the Australian Highland Games Championships.
There will be four divisions: Open Men’s, Open Women’s, Masters’ Men’s, and Men’s under 90kg. Mitchell said all current champions will compete in Warwick – Terry Sparks (Open Men’s), Fran Fitzpatrick (Open Women’s), Stephen Henry (Master’s Men’s), and Morgan Westmoreland (Men’s Under 90kg) – with around 25 athletes in total.
Other athletes to watch out for are Sian Cooper, Kalina Vikilani, and last year’s Open Men’s winner at CelticFest, Macauley Tinker. Mitchell himself is aiming for the Men’s Master’s crown after coming back from injury late last year.
Australian Juvenile Pipe Band Championships
The SCOTS PGC-hosted inaugural Australian Juvenile Pipe Band Championships will see some 15 school-based bands travel from around Australia to participate, including from as far afield as Perth. Confirmed participants include Presbyterian Ladies College Perth, Scotch College Melbourne and The Scots School Albury Pipe Band, which will join SCOTS PGC Pipes and Drums and Brisbane Boys College, among others.
SCOTS PGC is also planning recitals and workshops over the weekend with another expected highlight being the participation of Alisdair McLaren. McLaren is the current Pipe Major of the Pipes and Drums of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and the West Australia Police Pipe Band; he has also performed as the REMT’S Lone Piper, as well as for King Charles and the late Queen Elizabeth. In addition, SCOTS PGC College will host the Australian Solo Piping and Drumming Championships on Friday 29 September, showcasing some of the country’s best pipers and drummers.
Excitingly, senior and junior pipe band players will join the Warwick Thistle Pipe Band as it celebrates its centenary year in a stirring spectacle of a street parade on the morning of Saturday 30 September. Coincidentally, SCOTS PGC will also celebrate 75 years of their kilted pipe band and is welcoming past students to march in this special event. The street parade is expected to attract around 300 performers. Meanwhile, tickets are now available for CelticFest, to be held at the Warwick Showgrounds on the evening of Saturday 30 September and all-day Sunday 1 October.
For more information about CelticFest and to purchase CelticFest tickets, go to www.celticfestqld.com.au or search for CelticFest Warwick on Eventbrite. Further details about CelticFest Fringe will also be available on the CelticFest website, Facebook page and Instagram account.
Piping Live! will once again have a great programme of online events as part of festival for 2023. With around 30 hours of content, you can watch the best solo piping, traditional music, Gaelic song and so much more, all from the comfort of your own home.
The event has a new online viewing software for 2023, through The National Piping Centre channel. Here you can subscribe and watch all the events taking place online. This year, the events will be a mix of livestream and premiered events which will be recorded as live and broadcast after the event.
The events this year are: Livestream The Masters Solo Piping Competition on Monday 14th August – both events The Pipe Idol Grand Final on Thursday 17th August The Gordon Duncan Memorial Competition on Sunday 20th August
Premiering Concerts Lunchtime Recital Tuesday – The Pipes of John MacColl – premiering at 6pm on Wednesday 16th August Canntaireachd with Kim Carnie, Ailis Sutherland, Kathleen MacInnes and Brighde Chaimbeul – premiering at 7.30pm on Wednesday 16th August Lunchtime Recital Wednesday – The Pipes of Hugh McCallum – premiering at 6.00pm on Thursday 17th August The LBPS presents inB – premiering at 7.30pm on Thursday 17th August Lunchtime Recital Thursday – The Pipes of Gordon Duncan – premiering at 6.00pm on Friday 18th August Friday Night Folk featuring Project SMOK and The Eryn Rae Band – premiering at 7.30pm on Tuesday 22nd August The Closing Concert with The Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton Band and Jarlath Henderson and Innes Watson – premiering on Monday 21st August at 7.30pm
You can buy a Piping Live! Online Festival Pass for £55, which lets you watch all live and premiering events across the week, or each concert is individually available to purchase. You can rewatch all these events until 12noon on Monday 28th August. All times stated are in BST UK time.
Work has finished to complete this year’s design on the world’s oldest Floral Clock in Edinburgh’s West Princes Street Gardens. For 2023, the hugely popular landmark will celebrate 100 years of Flying Scotsman, the world’s most famous steam locomotive. A team of three gardeners took just four weeks to plant over 50,000 flowers and plants used to create the clock, which will be in bloom until October. There are 20 different plants included in this year’s design such as antennaria, crassula, echevaria, sedum, saxifrage and annuals such as pyrethrum, begonias and geraniums.
The dedication of the clock coincided with a visit to the Capital from the iconic locomotive. The Lord Provost Robert Aldridge was joined by floral clock gardeners Gillian and David to welcome Flying Scotsman at Edinburgh Waverley. Edinburgh’s Lord Provost Robert Aldridge said: “I am delighted to once again see the city’s beautiful floral clock completed, and blooming in time for the special visit from Flying Scotsman. Each year the iconic clock marks special occasions and events in the heart of the Capital and this year it is a unique tribute coinciding with celebrations taking place around the country to celebrate 100 years of Flying Scotsman. My thanks and congratulations to the dedicated and creative parks team who have put together the design that I’m sure will be enjoyed by everyone who passes by it this summer.”
The oldest of its kind in the world
Edinburgh born Andrew McLean, National Railway Museum Assistant Director and Head Curator, said: “I first saw the clock when I was a boy and my grandfather was involved in helping maintain it as part of his job as the Clerk of Works for the City of Edinburgh Council from the late 1940s until the early 1980s. It is an important part of Edinburgh’s history and was always a source of great pride so bringing the clock and Flying Scotsman together is a great joy for me.”
The Floral Clock was first created in 1903 by then Edinburgh Parks Superintendent, John McHattie, and is the oldest of its kind in the world. It initially operated with just an hour hand, with a minute hand added in 1904, followed by a cuckoo clock in 1952. Until 1972 the clock was operated mechanically and had to be wound daily. Since 1946 it has been designed in honour of various organisations and individuals, including the Girl Guides Association, Robert Louis Stevenson and the Queen, for her Golden Jubilee. In the clock’s centenary year in 2003 it won a Gold Medal at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Flying Scotsman, the world’s most famous steam locomotive, turned 100 in February 2023. Synonymous with the golden age of rail travel, the locomotive is renowned as a feat of design and engineering. It is a star attraction in the collection of the National Railway Museum (part of the Science Museum Group) in York, where it is a working museum exhibit
Did you know?
-The clock was created in 1903 and is the oldest floral clock in the world.
-It is housed in the plinth of the Allan Ramsay Monument at the north-east corner of West Princes Street Gardens.
-Planting begins in May each year.
-Up to 50,000 plants are used in the design each year (compared to 13,000 in the 1930s; 25,000 in the 1950s).
-In 1946 the clock began celebrating a different event or anniversary each year.
-In 1952 a cuckoo clock was added and still chimes every 15 minutes.
– In 1973 was when the clock began being operated electrically.
-In 2003 the clock won a Gold Medal at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
-Clock circumference: 36 ft. Clock width: 11 ft 10 ins. Weight of large hand (when filled with plants): 80lbs. Weight of small hand (when filled with plants): 50lbs.
Floral clocks are now distributed worldwide and many were made in Edinburgh, where the idea originated. They can be found in India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America, United States of America, Canada and many other European countries.
-Flying Scotsman was built in Doncaster in February 1923, as an A1 class locomotive for the newly formed LNER and converted to an A3 class in 1947 costing £7,944.
-It was the first locomotive of the newly formed LNER (London and North Eastern Railway). Designed by Sir Nigel Gresley and numbered 1472, the locomotive was not named Flying Scotsman until the following year when it was picked to attend the British Empire Exhibition in London and renumbered 4472.
-The locomotive went on to operate in service until 1963 and later in preservation, which included tours of the USA, Canada and Australia, where it captured the hearts of millions.
-The Flying Scotsman is officially the first steam locomotive to reach 100mph, and the first to circumnavigate the globe.
-It holds the world record for a non-stop run in a steam locomotive, set in 1989 with a 422-mile trip.
-Today the locomotive is owned by the National Railway Museum in York and is operated and maintained by Riley & Son (E) Ltd, based in Heywood, Greater Manchester.
Main photo: The 2023 Floral Clock. Photo: Steve Morgan/Science Museum Group.
Wemyss Bay Station was presented with the Best Loved Station award by broadcaster and historian Tim Dunn. The station, which serves the village of Wemyss Bay in Inverclyde, emerged victorious in the highly anticipated World Cup of Stations 2023 as champion, surpassing 47 other stations to claim the title. Pictured with Tim Dunn, broadcaster and presenter, Tracy Stevenson, Community Relations for Scotrail, Ronnie Cowan, Scottish National Party MP for Inverclyde and Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party, MSP for Greenock and Inverclyde, Friends of Wemyss bay station.
The World Cup of Stations
The World Cup of Stations, supported by the Rail Delivery Group and Community Rail Network, captivated station staff, volunteers, train operators, and customers across England, Scotland, and Wales through a week-long competition with over 70,000 votes cast across 11 regions and nations of Great Britain. The ScotRail managed station won the award through its remarkable achievements Including: its outstanding volunteer work, the development of a vibrant and colourful community garden and the establishment of the station bookshop which resonated with voters, earning them widespread admiration and support.
The epitome of railway excellence
As part of Community Rail Week, the competition highlighted the remarkable diversity of stations and the imaginative ways in which they are utilised, often with the invaluable assistance of Community Rail volunteers who tirelessly work towards improving local stations for residents, the environment, and the local economy. The plaque symbolises the station’s exceptional standing and recognition as the epitome of railway excellence in Great Britain. The station’s triumph highlights its historic significance, awe-inspiring architecture, and dedication to community engagement. The Friends of Wemyss Bay, in collaboration others have transformed the station into a vibrant community rail destination, capturing the hearts of locals and visitors alike. In receiving this award, Wemyss Bay Station joins the ranks of the country’s most beloved and cherished stations, cementing its status as a beacon of excellence in the railway industry.
The South of Scotland Destination Alliance has created bespoke themed routes following in the footsteps of Robert Burns and inspired by the Great Tapestry of Scotland Two new driving trails have been formally launched by the South of Scotland Destination Alliance (SSDA) and partners, designed to immerse visitors in the story-filled landscape of the south of Scotland as they follow in the footsteps of Robert Burns and experience the parts of the region immortalised in the magnificent Great Tapestry of Scotland. Created using new digital functionality funded through VisitScotland’s Destination and Sector Marketing Fund, the Great Tapestry Trail and the Burns Trail on the SSDA’s Scotland Starts Here website have been painstakingly curated to guide visitors around key landmarks in the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway, highlighting great places to stay, eat and discover along both themed journeys.
“The south of Scotland is absolutely jam-packed with fascinating stories and heritage just waiting to be discovered. In developing these two new driving trails, we’ve worked hard with our partners to showcase the stand-out highlights of our region’s connections with both Burns and the Great Tapestry, while weaving in lots of useful recommendations for fantastic places to stay, eat, drink and visit along the way, said Sarah Macdonald, SSDA Project Lead – Stories Experience Collection, who co-designed both trails for Scotland Starts Here. “It’s especially exciting to be unveiling these new trails in 2023, which promises to be such a momentous year for the whole of the south of Scotland – not only were we named among the 30 best places in the world to visit this year by Lonely Planet but we’re champing at the bit to launch our epic new 250-mile Coast to Coast cycle route from Stranraer to Eyemouth this summer.”
“The South of Scotland is steeped in history and these itineraries will help bring to life the region’s fascinating past, encouraging visitors to uncover the hidden gems, attractions and diverse places to eat and drink. By encouraging visitors to stay longer, visit all year round and explore more widely, they can in turn contribute to the sustainable quality of life of the communities they encounter. Tourism is a force for good. It creates jobs, sustains communities and contributes significantly to the economy,” said Annique Armstrong, VisitScotland Destination Development Director for the South of Scotland.
The 187 mile-long Burns Trail takes visitors on a six-day tour from Berwickshire to Dumfries, following in the footsteps of Scotland’s national bard. The journey takes inspiration from the tour of the Borders the then 28-year-old Burns took in May 1787 with his friend Robert Ainslie, beginning in the coastal town of Eyemouth, where the pair were made Royal Arch Masons of St Ebb’s Lodge – to this day, the cutlery Burns used at his repast are still treasured by the Eyemouth Lodge. The Burns Trail then progresses westwards, passing the ruined abbeys of Kelso, Jedburgh and Melrose, the Border towns of Selkirk and Galashiels and into Dumfries and Galloway, visiting Moffat and Ellisland Farm where Burns and his family lived for three years in the late 1700s and where he wrote Auld Lang Syne before culminating in Dumfries, the place of his death in 1796 at the young age of 37.
“Ellisland is the only home built by Burns and definitely the best preserved and most authentic and romantic. Some of Burns’ most creative years were spent in Dumfriesshire and of course he was greatly inspired by the Borders, so bringing the two together in both these fantastic new trails makes perfect sense, ” said Joan McAlpine, Business Development Manager at Burns’ former home Ellisland Museum & Farm, which features in both trails.
Great Tapestry of Scotland Trail
The Great Tapestry of Scotland is the result of a Scotland-wide community art project involving 1,000 stitchers aged four to 94 to tell the colourful history of Scotland from pre-history to the modern day, featuring battles, Romans, religion, Vikings, innovation, sport, kings and queens and much more. The 143m-long tapestry, first exhibited in 2013 at the Scottish Parliament and now housed in a new, purpose-built exhibition space in Galashiels, is made up of 160 beautifully embroidered linen panels made over 50,000 hours with 300 miles of wool thread. Visitors spending seven days travelling along the 283-mile Great Tapestry Trail start at the Tapestry Centre itself before wending their way to the Berwickshire coast and then west again to the Border towns and Abbotsford, home of great historical novelist Sir Walter Scott. The trail then weaves in Roman history with a stop at Trimontium Museum, Melrose where in AD80 the Romans established a major fort and which is one of the UK’s most significant archaeological sites from that period.
Taking in the fascinatingly-named Devil’s Porridge Museum just outside Gretna next, which pays tribute to the world’s largest WW1 munitions factory, trail-followers will then catch up with Robert Burns in and around Dumfries before heading to Wigtown, Scotland’s national book town and the location for cult film The Wicker Man, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2023. Stopping to see the ruins of Glenluce Abbey where Mary, Queen of Scots once dined and slept while on a pilgrimage to Whithorn, the trail ends at the dramatic clifftop lighthouse in the Mull of Galloway – Scotland’s most southernmost point, at the end of the Rhins of Galloway.
“We are delighted to be have been part of this fantastic project with SSDA. Many of the 160 panels in the Great Tapestry of Scotland feature the compelling and rich history of the people and landscape of the south of Scotland. The Tapestry trail vividly brings stories to life of history, heritage, battles and culture across the entire region. It is such a compelling journey travelling to locations which feature in the tapestry, everyone will find something to explore and intrigue them,” said Sandy Mawell-Forbes, Centre Director The Great Tapestry of Scotland.
Two Scottish researchers are trying to piece together part of Scotland’s religious past by combining hi-tech science with historical knowledge. A combination of scientific and historical research is shedding light on the physical and chemical properties of medieval stained glass, as well as its wider religious meaning. The researchers, Dr Craig Kennedy from Heriot-Watt University’s Institute for Sustainable Building Design, and Dr Michael Penman, a historian from the University of Stirling, hope they can bring the past to life with the project, and fill in the knowledge gaps created by the Reformation.
They’ve been supported by two research associates. Helen Spencer, Heriot-Watt, carried out the analysis of glass from Elgin Cathedral, while Tom Turpie, Stirling, contributed research on cults and popular religion in the pre-Reformation era.
Reformation’s destruction wiped out church windows
During the Protestant Reformation of 1560, most of Scotland’s Catholic churches faced widespread destruction. Items considered idolatrous were targeted and destroyed. Significantly, stained glass windows were smashed and buried on-site, or otherwise left to decay, and were replaced by austere, plain glass. In England and across Europe, church windows survived and still bathe visitors in their colourful light. In Scotland, visitors and historians have had to use their imaginations. That’s what Dr Kennedy and Dr Penman want to change with their research.
Dr Michael Penman said: “If you visit the great medieval churches at Canterbury, Westminster or York, the stained glass windows are the main attraction for visitors, alongside the paintings on the walls. In medieval times, most of the congregation would have been illiterate, so stained glass and paintings would have been the best way to address them. Nowhere else would they have seen anything so colourful and lavish. They were positioned and designed based on when the light would move round the church and shine through to best effect. You can step inside these cathedrals and get a real sense of what congregants would have experienced, sitting for worship several times a day, basked in colour. In Scotland, the Reformation was much more destructive, and absolutely nothing remains in place. We want to try and recreate this experience and learn more about medieval daily life by combining historical research with scientific findings.”
Recreating church windows from just 16 shards
The team has focused on two churches: Elgin Cathedral and Dunfermline Abbey. Dr Craig Kennedy previously worked on a project that tested 30 shards of glass from Elgin Cathedral. They were tested using the university’s state-of-the-art electron microscopy facility and x-ray fluorescence to identify the elements present, which in turn revealed the colour of the glass, and where it came from. Dr Kennedy said: “Over the last few decades, we’ve been able to recover shards of medieval church glass during excavations. We can narrow down the age of the glass to part of a century, and from there we can use scientific techniques to determine where it was produced. We can work out when it was produced from some decorative patterns. We know the colours but so much more. The presence of certain glass tells us where Scotland had trade routes, and who sponsored or supported churches here.”
Combining scientific information and historical studies has led to an educated guess on how the chapel windows may have looked at Elgin Cathedral. “The glass recovered from Elgin was red, brown, blue, green and clear, and many of the clear sections were decorated in the French grisaille style. Elgin Cathedral’s windows may have had grisaille borders and abstract top lights highlighting saintly figures. As to who those figures were, we have a number of candidates. The Virgin, Thomas Becket, St Columba of Iona and a few others are known to have regional dedications in the northeast of Scotland.”
Trying to accurately imagine the stained glass windows of Dunfermline Abbey is proving difficult: only 16 shards of glass have been found. Dr Kennedy continued : “It is fascinating that a site of such national importance as Dunfermline Abbey has yielded so few glass shards to date. This site, Scotland’s national mausoleum, yielded red, white and blue glass samples. This site had a highly spiritual connection with St Margaret and we can assume that high-quality narrative glass was at some time installed in the Abbey.”
Next steps: A modern day medieval church window
Kennedy and Penman hope that they will win funding to support two researchers, one historical and one scientific, so that they can try to answer a simple question: what did the glass look like? Using scientific techniques to trace the origins of the physical glass and historical studies to understand the religious stories that were conveyed, an attempt to recreate these lost windows can be made. Further, through engaging with local communities near these sites, they aim to shed a light on a previously unknown part of Scotland’s religious history. They’d like to commission an expert glass artist to create medieval glass to tour Scotland and give people a window to the past. Penman said: “All the stained glass currently in Scottish churches of a medieval origin is modern, from the 19th and 20th century and often for Protestant congregations. If our research can identify a distinctive Scottish palette and styles for stained and painted medieval church glass, either figurative or decorative, then an artist might be able to recreate the imagery and thus the spiritual and huge emotional effect of such windows on Scottish worshippers before the Reformation.”
In the May 2023 edition I reflected on five of my favourite Scottish castles following twelve years of non-stop exploration. Let’s now turn the clock back, way back, into the mists of prehistory. Scotland has tens of thousands of prehistoric sites, from intangible yet significant Mesolithic settlements hinting at the first people to walk the post-glacial landscape to massive monuments like standing stones and chambered cairns. Even if you live in central Edinburgh or Glasgow, you’re never far from something dating back 5,000 years or more. Some of the prehistoric sites chosen as my favourites, such the rock art of Kilmartin Glen and the many tales surrounding the Eildon Hills, have been covered in-depth in previous editions of the Scottish Banner. All the more reason to revisit the back catalogue!
The Dwarfie Stane, Orkney
Orkney could easily have monopolised this list, and the temptation to let it was strong. The Ring of Brodgar, Maeshowe, Taversöe Tuick, Skara Brae, the Broch of Gurness – need I go on? Yet, monuments similar enough to all of the above can be found elsewhere in Scotland. There is nothing anywhere quite like the Dwarfie Stane. At the head of Trowie Glen in Hoy, Orkney, is a solitary mass of rock. When the glaciers retreated some 12,000 years ago, they dropped this monumental erratic in their wake. Five thousand years ago, people wielding nothing but bone and stone tools hollowed it out and carved a stone bed, complete with a pillow-like ledge, inside. A block, now a few feet in front of the entrance, can plug it like a cork in a bottle of wine. Naturally, a place as strange as this became an epicentre for folklore.
One story tells of its creation by feuding giants. Another, no less than Walter Scott’s The Pirate, makes it the home of a Norse dwarf name Trolld. The Trowie Glen was home to the last of the fairy or ‘peedie’ (an Orkney Scots word meaning ‘small’) folk in Hoy, and many a local over the centuries was lured into their subterranean dwellings for what seemed like a few hours only to emerge years or decades later. The Dwarfie Stane has long been a draw for eccentrics, hence the texted carved in its side in Persian and reverse Latin by Major William Mounsey which reads, “I have sat two nights and so learnt patience”. It still is, hence my own visit, and hopefully one day your visit, too.
The Fortingall Yew, Perthshire
There is one very special thing about the Fortingall Yew which separates it from all other prehistoric sites in Scotland. It’s alive. At around 3,000 years old, the Fortingall Yew is one of the oldest living organisms in the world. Set within church grounds, it would have been a place of veneration for people for dozens of generations before the first whispers of Christianity were heard. Beltane fires were often lit at its base, which eventually caused the great yew to split. A report from 1769 says that it was then possible to drive a horse and carriage through the gap. Yew trees like the Fortingall specimen are revered as embodiments of the cycle of life and death. When their branches grow so long as to graze the ground, they can foster new offshoots. This may be one of the reasons why they are so often found in churchyards, given the central belief in resurrection.
More recently, the Fortingall Yew has undergone another jump across a dichotomy. In 2015 one of its branches was observed to have three berries. This is extraordinary because the Fortingall Yew is male, and yet, male yews don’t have berries. It is possible for whole yews, or at least individual branches, to change sex, and that is precisely what appears to be happening. However, the Fortingall Yew’s future could be cut short. On my most recent visit, I observed a New Age-type group praying at the tree only to then break branches from it to take as keepsakes. This type of vandalism is killing the yew, and if it is not stopped the tree will be dead as soon as 2050. I hope that it has not endured 3,000 years just to be undone by those who claim to revere it.
Achnabreck, Kilmartin Glen
Given my previous coverage of the rock art of Kilmartin Glen in the July 2022 edition of the Scottish Banner, I’ll keep this one short and sweet. Achnabreck is just one of dozens of rock art sites situated within Kilmartin Glen, an area which boast over 800 sites of archaeological significance within just a few square miles. Other standout rock art sites include Ormaig, Kilmichael Glassary, and Cairnbaan, each with their own distinctive patterns and atmospheres.
Yet it is at Achnabreck that the grandest display of rock art is on show. Carved between 6,000 to 3,500 years ago, the patterns on several sloping escarpments include rings several feet wide, deep cup marks which cradle the morning dew, and teardrop-like ‘tails’. Many are integrated into the natural features of the rock, incorporating cracks and divots into the motifs. They are best viewed at sunrise or sunset, especially in winter when the sun’s angle is low and catches every groove. No one knows what they mean, but that only deepens the wonder of being here. A lifetime could be spent trying to observe and understand the carvings in Kilmartin Glen alone (indeed several have). Some things will forever elude us, and Achnabreck teaches us that there is a certain magic in not knowing.
Kingarth Standing Stones, Bute
This is one category which could easily have been cornered by an example from Orkney, but in lieu of the many possibilities from further north, my mind kept circling – pardon the pun – back to a much less-well known example from the Isle of Bute. At Kingarth in the south of the island you will find three very unusual standing stones which I like to call the Three Weird Sisters. They were once part of a much larger stone circle, but only these three remain. They are composed of conglomerate, with one of the stones – distinctly red in hue – almost looking as though it was an arts and crafts project consisting of compressed quartz and gravel. White quartz is prominent on these stones and was used in funerary and megalithic monuments throughout the shores of the Firth of Clyde due to its shimmering nature.
While they may not be the most dramatic standing stones in Scotland, or even in Argyll and Bute, they provide fascinating insights into why such places were created and how their changing environments can alter our perception of them. For instance, most of Bute’s standing stones are positioned at valley terminals, almost like ‘gateways’. Furthermore, a book from 1893 shows the stones being enclosed by tall trees. This was the case when I visited them in 2016, lending them an air of secrecy and seclusion. Yet, these trees were far from ancient – they were a plantation, and when I returned in 2022 the stones stood instead in an open, stump-filled field visible from afar. This entirely changed the experience of visiting them, as it became possible to see what other sites they are intervisible with today and likely would have been when they were raised. It’s little insights like this which make some places stand out despite their superficial shortcomings.
The Eildon Hills, Scottish Borders
At first, the choice of the Eildon Hills may seem a strange one. After all, there is very little upon them made by people from any era which is still tangible. The reason why the Eildons resonate is due partly to their innate beauty, and to their role as a centre of gravity for countless other historic sites and stories in their literal and metaphorical shadow. One of few exceptions to the lack of tangible remains are the outlines of earthen ramparts atop the summit of Eildon Hill North, which was once the site of the largest hillfort in Scotland.
The summit was used as a gathering place since at least the Bronze Age, with room enough for up to 3,000 people to assemble – more than the modern population of Melrose. The relationship between this great hillfort and the huge Roman fort of Trimontium, which is swallowed by the shadow of Eildon Hill North as the sun sets, remains up for debate. Like Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, the Eildons are said to be ‘hollow hills’ containing unimaginable wealth and the hidden realm of the fairy folk. Thomas the Rhymer, the renowned prophet of the Borders, gained his gift of prophecy through a seven year-long visit to this hidden kingdom. Another Borderer shrouded in mystery, Michael Scott, is said to have created them during an escapade with a demon. Of course, Walter Scott merits a second mention here as the Eildons were a beloved part of his life in and stories from the Borders. Looking out to them from the majestic lookout point of Scott’s View, it is easy to understand why.