Recent donation reveals dangers faced by Queensferry’s Briggers

To mark last month’s anniversary of the opening of the Forth Bridge on March 4 (1890), Museums & Galleries Edinburgh have published a book online listing all the accidents that took place during the early phase of construction of the Bridge in the 1880s. The book is an astonishing account not only of the lives of the men, known locally as the ‘Briggers’, working on the iconic bridge and the dangers they faced, but also how they were treated by the earliest ambulance services in Scotland. It records 197 accidents, including nine fatalities, over a 32-month period from 1883 to 1886.

Insight into the construction of the bridge

Forth Rail Bridge from north, under construction.

Collections staff at the City of Edinburgh Museums & Galleries approached a group of Queensferry local historians about the book. Since 2005 The Briggers (taking their name from the nickname of construction workers), have been collecting and researching the history of the Rail Bridge. In 2009 they compiled a list of all known deaths which took place during the bridge’s construction, so it seemed fitting to let them know about the accidents book. The book was recently donated to Queensferry Museum and perfectly complements the existing collections telling the story of the three Forth bridge. The plain cover contains a catalogue of injuries ranging from mild bruising to some of the most gruesome and painful accidents imaginable. It is a unique insight into the construction of the bridge, the conditions of those working on it, and a snapshot of workplace health and safety which is a far cry from today’s high standards.

Consider for instance Matthew Snowden (listed as accident 61), who was lucky enough to get away with just hurting his right hand after falling off a jetty. He was seen by the doctor and soon returned to work. Or poor William Hawkins, a foreman painter who was crushed by a barge, the Tamar, while coming ashore. His left leg was completely smashed above the ankle and had to be amputated at the knee. He was “removed to Infirmary Edinr. by Ambulance”.

Hawkins survived and was paid until he was able to come back to work. Thanks to the tireless efforts of The Briggers, the book has been entirely transcribed. The full text is now available on Capital Collections, the collections portal for the City of Edinburgh Council Libraries, Museums & Galleries. Anyone looking at these pages will be able to search for names of relatives working on the Bridge and find out what happened to them. The Briggers continue to analyse the book and compare it with other existing records. Already, they are aware of one death previously unrecorded and are starting to put together enough information for an emerging picture of how accidents were treated. What’s more, thanks to the book, the team at The Briggers and Museums & Galleries are able to fill in gaps in what is known about the rest of the Forth Bridge collection held at Queensferry Museum. They have tracked a medal in the collection back to its original owner, Patrick Lee, who caught his sleeve on a drilling machine on the February 5, 1886. Thankfully he only sustained a bruised wrist.


Forth Bridge Accident Book exhibition cover.

Alongside the details of accidents, the book also gives information on sick leave, compensation, and any resulting sick pay. It lists the various doctors who attended the injured; among them a certain Dr. Hunter who was one of the Forth Bridge doctors and also the South Queensferry GP.

Many of the injuries listed in this early stage of construction were sustained during the complex operation to build, move and sink the massive caissons in place. These were wrought iron cases lowered into the Forth to give workers access to the seabed to lay the foundations. The caissons were assembled on land and towed by boat to their final positions in the Forth. 2024 is the 140th anniversary of when the six enormous caissons were first launched.

Culture & Communities Convener, Councillor Val Walker said: “The Forth Rail Bridge is iconic and recognised around the world. Research has only just started but already the book is unveiling stories of incredible endurance, hardship and resilience, and allowing us to make links with other objects across our collections. Edinburgh has many local communities, each with their own unique history, and it is through partnerships such as the work with The Briggers that the collections really start to reveal their secrets. Publishing the book online is a great way to share the collections and open up the stories for the world to read. We hope this resource will help anyone interested in finding out more about the bridge, or perhaps those doing family history to discover they have relatives who once worked on the bridge. Museums & Galleries Edinburgh have some astounding collections, and it is wonderful to see they continue to grow with such items as this book.”

Revealing important new bridge information

Forth Bridge, floating caisson.

Frank Hay of The Briggers and Queensferry Heritage Trust said: “The Forth Bridge Accidents Book is an important addition to the collections at Museums & Galleries Edinburgh. It is one of the few (or possibly the only) day-to-day working documents to have survived from the construction period. After a talk at the Queensferry Heritage Trust by Nico Tyack, Collections Information Officer at Museums & Galleries Edinburgh, we volunteered to transcribe and research the accidents book – revealing important new bridge information on, for example, industrial insurance and how the Forth Bridge was on the leading edge of the Scottish first aid and ambulance movement of the 1880s.”

The Forth Bridge was officially opened on 4th March 1890 after an 18-year construction. Various earlier plans were superseded following the catastrophic Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879. The new bridge had to withstand the strong currents of the narrows of the Forth between North and South Queensferry. When completed, the Forth Bridge was the longest bridge of its type, a single cantilever, in the world.

The foundations of the bridge lie on the bed of the Firth of Forth and island of Inchgarvie. One of the earliest stages of construction was to create huge steel blocks, known as caissons, into position to effectively hold back the water and allow the Briggers to the bed to lay the foundations. The six caissons were assembled on land and towed out by barges to be sunk into place. Many of the accidents in the book were sustained in this exceptionally dangerous phase. Caissons were known to burst, flooding the space inside.

Lord Lyon King of Arms – Guest of Honour Melbourne Tartan Festival 2024

The Melbourne Tartan Festival are delighted to announce that Dr Joseph Morrow CVO CBE KStJ KC LLD DL FRSE, the Right Honourable the Lord Lyon King of Arms has accepted an invitation from the Victorian Scottish Heritage Cultural Foundation to be Guest of Honour during the last week of the Melbourne Tartan Festival from 20th-28th July.  The Main Hall of Melbourne Town Hall will be the setting for a grand and ceremonial welcome befitting the Office of the Lord Lyon at the Gala Dinner and Concert on Saturday 20th July, in what will be the premier event of the Melbourne Tartan Festival.

Guests will be piped in on arrival to enjoy drinks and canapés in the Town Hall foyer before entering the glittering Main Hall for a sumptuous gourmet dinner accompanied by an assortment of fine wines and concert style entertainment.

Showcase the best of Scottish/Australia’s talent

Alan Beck, immediate past President of the Robert Burns World Federation will arrive from Scotland in time to deliver the traditional Address to a Haggis much to the delight of the many fans he acquired following his memorable Address and vocal performance at last year’s event. Alan will lead a stellar line-up of artists, having made his operatic début in 1990 for Scottish Opera and moved on to Opera Ireland. He was a principal tenor with the State Opera, Stuttgart from 1996 to 2002, and has also sung principal tenor roles for Lyric Opera Dublin, the Carl Rosa Opera and English National Opera. In 2003, Alan formed the Scottish three-tenor group, Caledon and since then he has sung all over the world.  Pipe Bands, fiddlers and Scottish Highland Dancing will showcase the best of Scottish/Australia’s talent and to close the night out, guests will dance the night away to the fabulous music of internationally acclaimed Celtic folk rock super group Claymore.

This will be a night to remember as Melbourne welcomes the Lord Lyon King of Arms to Australia. More information about the Court of the Lord Lyon can be found at:

The Melbourne Tartan Festival program runs from 30th June – 30th July 2024.

Save the Date:

-Sunday 30th June at 11.00am –  Kirkin’ ‘O The Tartan Service, The Scots’ Church

-Sunday 7th July at 2.00pm – Melbourne Tartan Day Parade on Collins Street

-Friday 12th July at 7.30pm – Ceilidh Dance with Melbourne Scottish Fiddle Club

-Friday 26th July – Victorian Pipers Association recital

-Saturday 27th July – Victorian Pipers Association Solo Championships

For further updates and details visit the Melbourne Tartan Festival website or Facebook page.. Book Melbourne Tartan Festival Gala Dinner & Concert tickets via the website or Trybooking:

Drumlanrig Castle-Yarnwinders and Sycamores

If anyone outside Scotland has heard of Drumlanrig Castle, it’s likely to be in the context of the audacious art theft that took place there in 2003, when the Madonna of the Yarnwinder, a painting attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, was removed from the castle. It was recovered in 2007 and is now on display in the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh, on loan from Drumlanrig’s owner, the Duke of Buccleuch. The heist was the subject of the 2023 BBC podcast series The Missing Madonna.

Drumlanrig is about three miles from Thornhill in Dumfriesshire, in the valley of the Nith. A castle of some description has existed here from around the 14th century. The Douglases owned the land, later supporters of Mary Queen of Scots. In 1575 the house was destroyed as a punishment for their support. Almost every ancient building in Scotland claims that Mary slept there, but here it’s true. She overnighted in old Drumlanrig in 1563.

A baronial mansion

The ruined house was restored and another monarch, James VI, slept there on his last visit to Scotland in 1617. In the second half of the 17th century the present building – a baronial mansion rather than a castle – was constructed for William Douglas, the 3rd Earl of Queensberry, incorporating some elements of its predecessor including the cellars. It was built on a grand scale, with four ranges around a courtyard and sizeable square towers at each corner. Each of the four towers is topped by four pepperpot turrets. And yet the Third Earl didn’t like it, and moved back to his older home at Sanquhar Castle. It was his son James, the 2nd Duke, who eventually shifted his main residence to Drumlanrig, and Sanquhar was left to decay. The building sustained some damage in 1745 when Charles Edward Stewart stayed there during the Jacobite retreat from Derby. Some of the army sacked parts of the castle – and allegedly slashed a painting of King William of Orange!

The castle passed to the Scott’s, the Dukes of Buccleuch, in 1810. It was restored and added to during the 1820s. Today, it remains the home of the Duke of Buccleuch, whose family now bears the rather complicated family name of Montagu-Douglas-Scott. The castle is open for guided tours during certain dates in the summer. The art collection in particular is well worth the effort to see, with works by Holbein and Rembrandt. The supposed Leonardo shows the infant Christ grasping a cruciform yarnwinder, prefiguring his death on the cross. Experts disagree, but it seems probably that Leonardo didn’t paint all of it. In any case, of course, it’s now in Edinburgh.


Wide open spaces at Drumlanrig.

There are three ghosts said to haunt Drumlanrig, if that’s the sort of thing that appeals to you. One of them is a bit out of the ordinary; the ghost of a monkey, which appears, appropriately enough, in the Yellow Monkey Room. More traditional and even old-school is the ghost of a Lady Douglas who apparently carries her head under her arm. A third alleged ghost is of a young woman in a diaphanous dress. It doesn’t sound too unpleasant to me, but it’s supposed only to appear to you if you are taken ill in the castle.

The grounds around Drumlanrig Castle form a country park that’s open all year. There’s broadleaved woodland, pine plantations and open moorland as well as gardens closer to the castle. The woods and moors are crisscrossed by footpaths, cycle routes and mountain bike trails, all signposted from the visitors’ car park. Nearby, in the castle’s outbuildings, you’ll find a café and shop which are open in the summer.

The castle’s setting is a particular joy, and its woodlands are great natural green cathedrals of peace. Walking, cycling or riding a horse (my wife has done the last of these!) on the grand avenue leading to the castle is awe-inspiring too. Your first approach to the castle is by this long, straight, woodland-bordered drive that is impressive enough in itself, even without the view ahead to Drumlanrig’s most imposing frontage.

Once you’ve arrived, I recommend that you pop over to a viewpoint just to the east of the car park. It looks out over an open area of meadowland pasture broken by some trees. One of them, described on the information panel at the viewpoint, is the Drumlanrig Sycamore. This superstar was already one of Scotland’s heritage trees. It’s believed to be around 300 years old and was described in detail in a book called Old and Remarkable Trees of Scotland as long ago as 1887. As part of the late Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in 2022 it was named as one element of the Queen’s Green Canopy, 70 ancient trees throughout the UK recognised for their grandeur. Talking of ‘canopy’, the sycamore’s has been measured as covering around 800 square metres! It’s believed to be the largest sycamore in the United Kingdom.

Roman remains

The Drumlanrig Sycamore.

However, the sycamore is not the only Drumlanrig heritage tree, as you’d perhaps expect in such a wooded environment. The Drumlanrig Douglas Fir can be found in woodland to the north of the castle. It was grown from one of the original seeds sent by David Douglas (who gave his name to the species) to Scotland, and was planted in 1827. At the time, the Clerk of Works at Drumlanrig was John Douglas, David’s brother.

There are three known Roman forts in the Drumlanrig area, a reminder that the invaders forged north in some numbers through what is now Dumfries and Galloway. The area is dotted with Roman remains, notably at Durisdeer just off the A702 road that threads the Dalveen Pass to Elvanfoot. The Romans actually built an early predecessor of the A702 and near Durisdeer you can visit the visible remains of one of their fortlets. This area’s history did not begin with the Douglases of Drumlanrig.

Drumlanrig is a stunning building in a green and welcoming setting. For most visitors to Scotland, it is perhaps a little of the beaten track – but that’s perhaps not a bad thing.

Text and images courtesy of David McVey.

Music, might and gratitude

Bagpiper Jim Roberts reflects on over 25 years of the Virginia International Tattoo.

I’ve played the bagpipes for more than 30 years. My piping has taken me all over the United States and to Canada and Scotland. My band, Tidewater Pipes & Drums, has opened for Rod Stewart—twice—and we’ve played on stage with the Chieftains, the Piano Guys and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. In spite of all these experiences, I can honestly say there is no feeling in the world like performing in the Virginia International Tattoo.   When I think about the Tattoo, I think of the nervous excitement I feel 10 to 15 minutes into the show—when the pipers and drummers are hiding under the elevated stage in Scope Arena, waiting in the pitch black for our dramatic entrance.

Bagpiping journey

Jim Roberts (left) in 2001.

Once our eyes adjust to the darkness, there are silent glances between musicians, fist bumps and whispered words of encouragement—maybe even an inside joke or two. Then the curtains open, we strike in the pipes and play onto the floor and into a flood of light, music and might.  It’s a thrill—whether it’s the Wednesday night dress rehearsal, an educational performance on Thursday or Friday morning, or one of the four shows for paying customers. And when it’s over on Sunday afternoon, we can’t wait to do it all over again the next year.

The Tattoo also makes me think about more lasting things—like the tremendous sense of patriotism that’s now synonymous with the Virginia International Tattoo brand, the strong bonds that develop between the performers every year, and the friendships I’ve formed with the Virginia Arts Festival staff and volunteers over the last 20 years.  My bagpiping journey started when I was 8 or 9 years old. My recollection is that I wanted to play the drums, but my mother’s father was from Scotland, and my guess is that he made the decision for me. His brother, my great uncle, played the bagpipes, and I had the good fortune to inherit his instrument, which I still play.  While I’ve also had stints with MacMillan Pipe Band, Greater Richmond Pipes & Drums and the Cameron Highlanders of San Diego, Tidewater Pipes & Drums has always been my home band. We played in the Virginia International Tattoo for the first time in 1999, and we’ve been in nearly every show since. Over the years, we’ve forged a strong partnership with the Virginia Arts Festival. We now have the honor of wearing the Virginia International Tattoo Hixon tartan and helping to promote the show throughout the year.

The overwhelming thrill of playing

The incredible Virginia International Tattoo.

Even in the years when I’m not performing in the show, “Tattoo Week” is special to me. I spend as much time as possible backstage with my bandmates and with old and new friends from around the world. On Saturday morning, I watch the Norfolk NATO Festival Parade of Nations with my kids, and that afternoon, I volunteer at the Virginia International Tattoo American Pipe Band Championship, a world-class competition that takes place on the Scope Plaza. It is free and open to the public.  I have a tradition of taking my kids to the Tattoo’s final performance on Sunday afternoon, and we always arrive early to experience the “Hullaballoo” activities on the Scope Plaza.

Tattoo Lone Piper, Jim Roberts, in 2011.

My kids love the Tattoo. In fact, my son, who is now realizing my dream of playing drums, isn’t quite ready to perform in the Tattoo, but he will be in the next few years. I know he will love the nervous excitement of waiting under the stage and then the overwhelming thrill of playing for thousands of people. And when he’s older and wiser, I hope he will feel the gratitude I feel now—for the many doors music has unlocked for me over the course of my life.  My Tattoo experience isn’t unique. Hundreds of musicians from all over the world converge in Norfolk every spring to put on this incredible show, and they all have their own stories to share. Thanks to the Virginia Arts Festival and the Virginia International Tattoo for bringing all of us together—and all of our stories to life.

The Virginia International Tattoo will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 18, Friday, April 19, and Saturday, April 20 and at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 21 at Norfolk Scope. Ticket prices start at $20; discounts are available for children (under 18), students (under 25), military and seniors (over 60). For tickets or more information, visit

Highland hospitality at the Tasmanian Highlands Gathering

As you would have read in the Scottish Banner’s December edition, Tasmania has a new Celtic festival based in the Highlands of Tasmania and its inaugural launch in February was a resounding success. Called the Tasmanian Highlands Gathering (THG), kinfolk travelled from many parts of Australia to be treated to a weekend of Celtic music, Tasmanian whisky, Scottish inspired food and highland hospitality. Friday night was a phenomenal start to the gathering at the Great Lake Hotel where guests were entertained by a myriad of musicians playing Irish and Scottish folk songs, some with instruments I’d never seen before. I don’t know if it was the lively music or the convivial atmosphere of so many like-minded people in attendance but I can assure you, many new friendships were made.

Tasmania’s rich whisky heritage

Whisky tasting.

The choices of things to do on Saturday was longer than Rob Roy MacGregor’s arm. Beginning with an unforgettable journey through the world of Tasmanian whisky and held at the quaint Steppes Hall which is nestled in the heart of nowhere, this expo was an absolute delight. We had the pleasure of experiencing the best company and the finest spirits from Callington Mill Distillery, Metcalf Distilleries, Bogan Road Distillery, McHenry Distillery, Derwent Distillery and Belgrove Distillery – each sip a testament to Tasmania’s rich whisky heritage. From there, folks were in the mood for some great music and they got this in spades at the THG Community concert.

The joy of Celtic music.

Others went to participate in the sessioner’s music program to try their luck in playing Celtic music with other musicians, while the rest of us enjoyed a performance by the St Andrews Caledonian Pipe Band on the lawns of the Great Lake Hotel. The sun was shining and the kilts were swinging.

But let’s talk about the Gala Dinner on the Saturday night, which was the main event for the Scots to shine.

Embrace your inner Highlander

Guests dressed in their finest highland attire were piped in to the dining room then treated to a magnificent rendition of the Ode to the Haggis by David Vernon, our guest musician from Edinburgh.  From there, world class Tasmanian whisky flowed, enough Scottish fare to feed Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army plus music by David Vernon and Iain Macleod kept guests competing for space on the dance floor. Guests were also astonished at the magnificent full moon rising over Australia’s highest lake near the edge of the hotel, reminiscent of Sir Walter Scott’s poem MacGregor’s Gathering. The moon’s on the lake and the mist’s on the brae. So gather, gather, gather, Grigalach! And gather we did as a third of the guests at the Gala dinner were MacGregors.

MacGregor’s gather.

Those who did not attend the gala dinner were still able to enjoy a relaxing evening at another venue nearby playing and listening to Celtic music. What better way to wind down for the journey home was with a recovery breakfast on Sunday in the style of those huge English/Scottish breakfasts? I can’t imagine having this sheer volume of food more than once a year.  The success of this event could not be achieved without the support of all the musicians including the pipe band, distillers, Central Highlands Council and the generous hosts James and Andrea Johns. They are the owners of the Great Lake Hotel which has just taken out the Grey Nomads Gold Award for Best Pub Stay in Australia. So, if you want to embrace your inner Highlander, save the date of 21-23 February 2025 and come join us at next year’s Tasmanian Highlands Gathering.

For more information, please follow the THG Facebook page at or email [email protected].

Text by: Frank McGregor.

The Kelpies celebrate 10th anniversary

One of Scotland’s top visitor attractions, The Helix, Home of The Kelpies, together with Falkirk Council and Scottish Canals, has announced plans for a special one-of-a-kind event to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the iconic sculptures, Kelpies 10, which will take place on Saturday 27 April 2024. The world-renowned equine structures, which stand at 100ft tall and weigh more than 300 tonnes each and are situated between Falkirk and Grangemouth, were unveiled in 2014 at The Helix Park.

The Kelpies 10 anniversary event is set to be an incredible celebration of Falkirk’s heritage, with the involvement of many Clydesdale horses from across the country, to mark the breed’s significant contribution to Scotland’s agricultural and industrial heritage and the inspiration behind sculptor Andy Scott’s creation. Scottish Canals commissioned Andy Scott to create The Kelpies, where they now stand in the Helix Park, on the canal link between the Forth & Clyde Canal and the River Carron. Since their launch, Helix Park has welcomed over seven million visitors from all over the world; The Kelpies play a huge role in contributing to a £85 million tourism spend in the Falkirk region annually.

Majestic sculptures

The Kelpies pay homage to the working horses of Scotland.

The Kelpies 10 celebrations will begin at 10am with a host of free events suitable for all the family to enjoy and will be followed by the very first evening concert to take place on the site, headlined by up-and-coming Scottish singer-songwriter Callum Beattie and the world’s most famous bagpipe band, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, who will be performing a set of their groundbreaking ‘Bagrock’, a fusion of traditional Scottish music and rock/pop anthems. Throughout the day, visitors can expect street theatre, circus performers, artists, face painting, community stalls, a local producers’ market, Folk tales and songs from renowned Scottish storyteller James MacDonald Reid, a Clydesdale demo ring where the horses will demonstrate traditional skills, and a Unicorn Dance Party.

Local community groups, such as Sing Forth Choir and pipe bands, will provide additional entertainment and the day will culminate in a huge family ceilidh under The Kelpies, with chart-topping ceilidh band, Whisky Kiss, complete with Oscar winning piper. Gates open at 5pm for the evening event, which will be ticketed. After a screening of Walid Salhab’s ‘The Kelpies’ and a short anniversary film, the live music will kick off from 7pm, featuring award winning Scottish artists, a set from the Red Hot Chilli Pipers and a fire show from Pyroceltica, inspired by Falkirk’s industrial past. The evening will culminate in a 60-minute set from the fast-rising Scottish star, Callum Beattie.

Falkirk Council Leader Cecil Meiklejohn said: “No one could have predicted the impact these majestic sculptures would have attracting almost seven million visitors to the Helix Park since 2014. The Kelpies continue to attract visitors from all corners of the globe who come to marvel at and stand in the shadow of the largest equine sculptures in the world. It also brings a real sense of pride with our communities and the wider Helix Park provides an outstanding local place for our people to enjoy.  I’m sure many more will come to take part in and celebrate the 10th anniversary of these iconic landmarks with a programme of events that will have something for everyone to enjoy with activities for all the family culminating in the first live music concert to be held at the Helix Park.”

Global waterways icons

Photo: Peter Sandground.

Scottish Canals’ Chief Executive Officer John Paterson said: “Scottish Canals had a vision to create a piece of art at the eastern gateway to Scotland’s historic Forth & Clyde Canal. The Kelpies pay homage to the working horses of Scotland which used to pull barges along Scotland’s canals and worked in fields in the area where they now stand. Now almost a decade on and these magnificent works of art are global waterways icons attracting thousands of visitors to Scotland each year. We look forward to celebrating 10 years of The Kelpies, a true celebration of collaborative working. Our magnificent Kelpies will be the big attraction on Saturday, 27 April, with events going on throughout the day for all ages to enjoy. Please join us in celebrating our remarkable structures as we look forward to the next 10 years as we continue to make better lives by water.”

Andy Scott, who is originally from Glasgow but now based in Los Angeles, America, said:  “The Kelpies stand testament to the incredible skills of a whole team of expert engineers, fabricators, lighting designers, landscape architects and many other disciplines from across the UK who were involved in the full-scale artworks’ creation.  I feel immensely proud of what we achieved with The Kelpies – how they’ve been taken to heart by the local people and how they’ve become cultural landmarks for Scotland.”

The Helix, originally created as a space for the communities in the Falkirk area to come together, was awarded five-star visitor attraction status by Visit Scotland and won the ‘Best Visitor Attraction Experience’ at the 2023 Visit Scotland National Thistle Awards. Helix Park, which has a Green Tourism Gold award, is free for visitors, and offers significant amounts of green space and a wealth of things to do, including 27km of traffic free, wheelchair friendly, paths for walking, running, or cycling, an adventure zone playpark, splash play area and sensory play area.

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers at The Kelpies.

To find out more about the Kelpies 10 event and to book tickets for the evening event, please visit:

Tartan Day on Ellis Island

A celebration of Scottish-American history and culture.

Hosted as part of the global celebration of Tartan Week, Tartan Day on Ellis Island is one of the United States’ major annual Scottish heritage events. Each year is highlighted by an exhibit exploring a specific aspect of Scottish-American history and culture. The celebration also features performances by a host of Scottish artists, including pipers and drummers, Highland dancers, fiddlers, jugglers and harpists.

This year is a celebration of Highland Dance. The Highland Dance is one of Scotland’s most iconic cultural legacies, combining rich history with a vibrant modern presence.  Come to Ellis Island to discover the centuries-old story behind the dance and witness live performances.

The event is produced by the Learned Kindred of Currie, a leading Scottish-American cultural and educational non-profit dedicated to preserving and promoting Scottish and Highland heritage and the arts through a wide variety of programs. pipers and drummers, Highland dancers, fiddlers, jugglers and harpists.

The Tartan Day on Ellis Island exhibit is hosted in the Special Exhibits area on the 3rd floor of the Ellis Island Museum. Admission to the Museum and the Tartan Day exhibit is free; however, you will need to purchase a ferry ticket. Advance booking is highly recommended.

For full details on Tartan Day on Ellis Island see:

Royal Research Ship Discovery undergoes critical works

Dundee Heritage Trust has received £1.4million from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) to help save the Royal Research Ship Discovery. The Trust has announced that urgent conservation works began on the Royal Research Ship in February 2024. These urgent works come as the ship approaches its centenary of being officially designated a Royal Research Ship in 1925, and are crucial for the future of the UK’s first purpose-built Antarctic research ship.

Built in Dundee in 1901, Discovery carries an extraordinary legacy including its famous 1901-1904 voyage to Antarctica – with Antarctic pioneers Captain Scott, Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean and more – to oceanographic research that is now used as a benchmark for modern climate science, a history with the sea scouts in London, and its return to its home of Dundee in 1986. Since being moored at Discovery Point, the ship has seen millions of visitors climb aboard its decks, with more than 300,000 visitors in the last five years alone.

The ship’s wooden structure is beginning to decay. Undertaken by JPS Restoration, the programme of major works to Discovery will include vital restoration to various areas of the ship’s ageing wooden structure. Initially, priority will be given to the deck and supporting the stern. Work will commence in the internal hull, bow and propeller shaft including decay in the stern timbers. Work to the portside bulwarks will be addressed in a later phase. The works are estimated to continue throughout 2024 and into 2025.

Dundee Heritage Trust was successful in acquiring two antique teak logs from Robbins Timber, enabling the best quality wood to be used for the deck of the ship. The logs were salvaged from the SS Pegu and give the Trust a unique opportunity to use high quality wood without damaging the priceless resource of teak forests.

A ship of national importance in Scotland

Dundee Heritage Trust are custodians of the Royal Research Ship Discovery, alongside Verdant Works Museum and the associated polar and jute collections, both Recognised as being of National Significance. An independent charity, the Trust generates 98% of its income through admissions, hospitality and fundraising to enable the care of its remarkable collections and to operate its two award-winning visitor attractions.

Emma Halford-Forbes, Heritage & Exhibitions Director at Dundee Heritage Trust said: “These funds from the National Heritage Memorial Fund are crucial in efforts to save the ship for future generations. The ability to bring forward these urgent works will be pivotal in securing the ship’s future, while we work on plans for further conservation works in the coming years. We can’t thank NHMF enough for this critical funding.”

Dr Simon Thurley CBE, Chair of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, said: “We are delighted to support this essential preservation work to RRS Discovery, a ship of national importance in Scotland and the UK.  The National Heritage Memorial Fund exists to safeguard some of our finest heritage at risk of loss, and thanks to our support of £1.4m, RRS Discovery will continue to be an important draw to visitors to Dundee’s historic waterfront. The ship joins the many hundreds of important and much-loved treasures that can be seen and enjoyed across the UK thanks to the National Heritage Memorial Fund.”

The public can follow updates of the works and this important piece of Discovery’s ongoing story online and on social media.  The Royal Research Ship Discovery has been a key part of Dundee’s history since its launch in 1901 and its subsequent return to the city skyline in the 1980s. It is hoped that these crucial works will ensure that this incredible ship will continue to be part of the City of Discovery’s and the nations legacy for many generations to come.

Images courtesy of Dundee Heritage Trust.

Experts begin to put flesh on the bones of Southern Borders’ turbulent history

New research by Scottish Mediaevalist experts is helping to build up a picture of everyday life in the rural Borders community of the Rule Valley, much of which was devastated in 1545 during the ‘Rough Wooing’ instigated by Henry VIII – to build on work already carried out by Archaeology Scotland with help from local schoolchildren and volunteers. As little is known about life in the valley pre mid-16th century, Stirling University’s Professor Richard Oram and Tom Turpie were tasked with delving into the dispersed archival records of the development and everyday life of this part of the rural Borders.

Their research has provided a greater understanding of the area’s economy, society and culture, and fills a critical gap in the interpretation of the mainly archaeological evidence already collected as part of the Twelve Towers of Rule initiative, a project managed by the Campaign for a Scottish Borders National Park (CSBNP).

Medieval Borders community

Although the archaeological remains in the valley and its uplands, from pre-Roman up to early medieval times, it reveals a long history of human settlement. However, there is scant understanding of these settlement’s chronology, patterns and hierarchies. Even the history of this district during the centuries of Anglian Northumbrian domination after c.600 AD is a blank, despite it lying so close to both the early monastic centre at Old Melrose and the minster church at Jedburgh, where an Augustinian priory was founded by Bishop John of Glasgow.  As Professor Oram explains: “The valley of the Rule Water is a clearly-defined territorial block containing all of the environmental elements needed to support an agricultural population. It is likely to have formed the estate of a man of rank from as far back as the Late Antique Little Ice Age, right through the 6th century plague pandemic (and resulting decimation of the population), to the build-up of human settlement again in the 11th century, as glimpsed in the shadowy figures who emerge in a fragmentary parchment record soon after 1100.”

Said Professor Jane Bower, CSBNP chair: “This review of the Rulewater Valley’s archival records complements recent archaeological findings with help, from local schoolchildren and volunteers, that provide a vital piece of the jigsaw needed to build up a picture of this late medieval Borders community. We are very grateful to have had the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland come on board alongside the local community and so many of our other supporters.”

Minke whales visiting Scotland’s west coast set European record

Scotland’s west coast seas are a vitally important area for minke whales – with some of these spectacular but vulnerable marine mammals notching up Europe’s longest sighting histories of almost 30 years, research by the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust shows. A newly published digital catalogue – bringing together photographic identification records submitted by members of the public over three decades – shows that more than 300 individual minke whales have been identified in the Hebrides since 1990.

A third (33%) have been seen more than once – some over many years and others numerous times.  A minke whale named Snowy has visited the region over an astonishing 27-year period – the longest known history of sightings for this species in Europe. A whale known as Knobble holds the title for the most frequently recorded minke whale in the Hebrides, having been spotted more than 60 times since 2002, mostly in waters around the Isle of Mull.

Whale Track

Watching for whales on the Scottish coast.

Minke whales migrate to western Scotland’s seas each summer to feed in the exceptionally rich waters. The substantial timespan of the research is shedding new light on their lives, and is building a long-term picture about their numbers, range and behaviour, and how best to protect them. “Photographs are a powerful tool for strengthening our understanding of whale movements and the threats they face – providing vital evidence for effective conservation,” said Dr Lauren Hartny-Mills, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s Science and Conservation Manager. “This catalogue of identifiable whales is testament to the dedicated community of citizen scientists who diligently submit their sightings and photographs to us. Thanks to so many people over 30 years, we know our seas are world-class habitats which need to be better protected and restored.”

Thousands of photographs a year are shared with the Trust by the public and wildlife watching crews through a community sightings website and smartphone app called Whale Track. Photographs are also collected by volunteers during the Trust’s research expeditions on its research yacht Silurian. Researchers then use photo-identification to look for specific markings or features to identify and catalogue individual whales, dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks seen in the region. While some minke whales have only been recorded once so far, more photographs – whether past or present – from the public will help researchers establish if these individuals have also been making return visits or were just passing through Scottish waters.

Effective conservation

Minke whale.

Sea Life Mull’s wildlife guide Andy Tait, who has submitted thousands of images over the past 30 years, said: “By using the new online catalogue, anyone can match their sightings with known individual whales. They might even discover a new whale that can be added to the catalogue, which is really exciting. This is citizen science in action, and the great thing is that anyone can get involved.”

The new online catalogue is helping the Trust’s scientists assess the health of the whales, and threats facing them. Marine ecosystems are under threat from human activities including warming seas due to climate change, pollution, and habitat degradation. Scars and injuries have revealed that 22% of minke whales have at some point been entangled in marine litter and fishing gear, which can cause mobility problems, injury and even death.  Minke whales are also a target species for commercial whaling in Iceland and Norway.

Whales hunted there are believed to be from the same population as those identified in the Hebrides, but their movement patterns are not fully understood. The Trust hopes its catalogue will help strengthen international understanding of whale movements through collaboration with researchers in other countries, and contribute to wide-scale conservation action to protect these animals throughout their range.

A Minke whale swimming with the Silurian.

The Trust’s marine scientists are carrying out further in-depth analysis of the photo-identification findings, to better understand how faithful minke whales are to the Hebrides and to identify any specific areas of importance. This is crucial for effective conservation and management strategies. The Trust, based in Tobermory on Mull, says there is still much to be discovered. Although record-breaking Knobble has become a local celebrity – starring in a children’s book, Facebook page and song on YouTube – Knobble’s sex, or where the whale goes in winter, are still unknown.

The Trust is asking people to submit photographs of whales and dolphins through its Whale Track website or free smartphone app, or by emailing [email protected]. The charity is also recruiting paying volunteers for its annual research expeditions onboard Silurian.

The Minke Whale Photo-Identification Catalogue for the West Coast of Scotland 1990-2020 is available on the Trust’s website at

All images courtesy of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

Editorial – The Scottish Banner Says….

April- 2024 (Vol. 47, Number 10)

The Banner Says…

Celebrating ‘The Mother of Tartan Day’

Gracing our front cover: Jonny Chainsaw amongst the Scottish woodlands. Photo: Don Beavis.

As many Scottish groups across North America get ready for Tartan Day this April 6th. I recently had the wonderful experience of speaking to an amazing person who not only championed this now continental celebration, but nurtured its birth. Jean MacKaracher Watson still lives in Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast, the place where the idea of Tartan Day was born in the 1980’s.

Celebration of Scottish culture

Today Tartan Day is an annual celebration of Scottish culture, heritage and recognises the incredible contributions Scottish immigrants have made to their new lands. Tartan Day events (big and small) across Canada and the US now take place and champion Scotland’s rich culture and the part Scottish ex-pats have had in growing new nations. Jean told me her and fellow Federation of Scottish Clans in Nova Scotia member Bill Crowell were talking about how to get more younger people to join the Federation and active in promoting Scottish culture in Nova Scotia (a province where Scots are the largest ethnic group with approximately 30% of residents being of Scottish descent). Jean said: “At that time everything was old school, and there was nothing for the young.”

A small spark can ignite a large flame

Jean saw that key Scottish dates on the calendar were events such as Burns Night or St Andrew’s Day, which all came from Scotland. Jean and Bill felt they needed their own dates to celebrate and reflect also more of the local Scottish community, so they decided to start a date for Tartan Day and a date for Scottish Canadians. They would choose April 6th, the date of the Scottish Declaration of Independence in 1320, also known as the Declaration of Arbroath, the historic letter to the Pope, asking him to recognise Scotland’s independence and Robert the Bruce as the nation’s king.

Jean would go on to work on Tartan Day all by herself for the next decade to get Tartan Day off the ground, she spent many tireless hours working to get the date recognised. Jean single handedly reached out to every provincial Legislative Assembly in Canada, as well as other Scottish-cultural societies across Canada, to help get such a date established. With the US soon following and the United States Senate declaring Tartan Day to be April 6th in 1998.

Remember Jean would have done all this before we had the internet and emails, she typed every letter and put on every stamp herself. I mentioned to Jean how incredible it is that from a small meeting in Nova Scotia in the 1980’s we now have a continental celebration recognised by state, provincial and national governments, Jean said “It’s absolutely incredible what has happened, and it really is amazing how a small spark can ignite a large flame.”

International Tartan Day

For our Australian and New Zealand readers International Tartan Day is held on July 1st. This date marks the 1782 anniversary of the repeal of the 1747 Act of Proscription that banned the wearing of tartan and the attempt to extinguish the Highland clan system. Having two Tartan Day’s around the world can certainly be confusing for many and perhaps an annual global day would create more traction, I would certainly be interested in hearing people’s opinion on this.

In this issue

From Scotland’s woodlands to the ice of an Alaskan winter Jonny Stableford, aka Jonny Chainsaw, has literally carved out a fascinating career creating sculptures in wood and ice. Jonny recently travelled from Falkirk to Alaska to take part in the World Ice Art Championships. Chainsaw carving is certainly an art, and we are happy to highlight this fascinating Scot’s work.

The Isle of Canna is the westernmost of the Small Isles archipelago, in the Scottish Inner Hebrides. This month we feature how one man traded up his life in London to open Café Canna. Gareth Cole has had to adapt to island life, good and bad, and this month opens his doors again to what has been dubbed ‘the most remote restaurant in Britain’.

The Mother of Tartan Day

This year Jean will be speaking at a Tartan Day function in Halifax, Nova Scotia and some 40 years later Jean is still promoting Tartan Day and Scottish culture. Jean has opened the door for all of us to take part and grow Tartan Day and as she told me, “There is just so much you can do with Tartan Day and that is a wonderful thing” and she is not wrong there. Jean added that it was in fact the Scottish Banner’s Valerie Cairney that gave her the very appropriate nickname ‘The Mother of Tartan Day’, a term which is often still used today.

Thank you, Jean, for all you have done over several decades, especially all those hours most will never know about that you have put in and for being so selfless and determined. Jean is
our feature letter in this issue, and you can read her comments on our Scotpourri page. Jean’s legacy to the Scottish community is clear and we are so very happy to honour that here this month.

Are you celebrating Tartan Day? What are your thoughts on two dates being used around the globe for Tartan Day?

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We appreciate your support and hope you enjoy this edition.

Jacobite treasures will go on public display for the very first time at the new Perth Museum

The new Perth Museum will open to the public this month at Easter Weekend. As part of the new permanent display, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s sword and a rare Jacobite wine glass will both go on public display for the very first time. This will be the first time the sword has returned to Scotland since it was made in Perth in 1739. Bonnie Prince Charlie’s solid-silver hilted broadsword was made by Perth craftsman James Brown, believed to have been given to him in 1739 by James Drummond, the 3rd Duke of Perth. It would have been an important symbol of Charles Edward Stuart’s claim to the Scottish throne whilst the Jacobite court was in exile in Rome in 1739.

Significant pieces of Jacobite history

Lucy Brayson Collections Assistant at Perth Museum holds an 18th century Jacobite Glass. Photo Julie Howden.

The stunning Jacobite wine glass will also be seen at Perth Museum for the first time and features the Duke of Perth’s family motto, ‘Gang Warily’. It has recently been acquired by Culture Perth & Kinross, the charitable trust which will run Perth Museum in partnership with Perth & Kinross Council, and with support from the National Fund for Acquisitions. James Drummond, Duke of Perth, played a vital role in the last Jacobite Rising of 1745-6. He raised a regiment in Crieff and met Charles Edward Stuart in Perth in September 1745 where he was appointed joint commander of the Jacobite forces. Although Drummond was well-liked by the prince and his men, he was an inexperienced soldier. He was a member of the Jacobite ‘Council of War’ for the invasion of England, and attempted, but failed, to induce the clans to charge at the enemy during the final defeat at Culloden. He escaped but died a few weeks later at sea in May 1746.

Perth Star Targe. Steel, wood, brass, 1740s. Photo Julie Howden.

JP Reid, Senior New Projects Officer, Culture Perth & Kinross said, “We are thrilled to be able to publicly display these two significant pieces of Jacobite history for the first time. Perthshire sits at the heart of the Jacobite story: the scene of large-scale pitched battles like Killiecrankie and Sheriffmuir, besieged homes, scorched-earth warfare and warring kinsfolk. The Drummonds are key players in the 50 years of uprisings from 1689 – 1746. Three generations of committed Perthshire Jacobites, they gambled and lost everything in their support of the exiled Stuarts.” These two new objects will be viewed alongside other significant Jacobite material from the Perth and Kinross museum collections including a rare and ornate ‘star’ targe or Highland shield, possibly made by William Lyndsay. Lyndsay was a shieldwright from Perth responsible for equipping many of the Jacobite troops during their occupation of Perth.

Cradle of Scotland

Render of the Main Hall inside Perth Museum. Image: Mecano.

Perth Museum will tell the story of Scotland through the story of Perth as the nation’s first capital: how the Kingdom of Alba was forged in the area known as the ‘cradle of Scotland’, and where the modern Scottish nation was later shaped through writers, artists and thinkers connected to Perth. From when the first Scottish King was inaugurated on the Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone, the city became a medieval powerhouse driven by technological innovation, powerful national and international political alliances, and major economic forces which shaped both ancient and modern Scotland. The Stone of Destiny is returning to Perthshire from Edinburgh Castle, close to its origins at nearby Scone, for the first time in over 700 years. As the centrepiece of the new museum, the Stone will be free for all to visit.

Charles Kinnoull, Chair of Culture Perth & Kinross, said, “The collections held here in Perth and Kinross are recognised for their national significance and are in constant development. The opportunity to bring new objects such as this beautiful Jacobite glass and sword alongside loans from national partners and the existing collections and the Stone of Destiny, all within a stunning new home in the former City Hall is one which I could not be more excited about. The collaboration between many different partners to bring all this about in the heart of one of Scotland’s oldest cities has been outstanding.”

Carpow Logboat

Perth Museum. Photo Greg Holmes.

Othe items on display at the Museum include the 3,000-year-old Carpow Logboat. The logboat is 9 metres long  and the largest object going on display. Carved from a single 400-year-old oak tree trunk, it then lay buried in the banks of the River Tay, near Perth, for 3,000 years until it was discovered 22 years ago. The vessel is a rare survival of the Bronze age due to the peaty soil composition of the Perth and Tay Estuary area, a unique environment that preserves ancient organic material that would usually be lost to time. Radiocarbon-dated to around 1,000 BC, the logboat is one of the oldest and best-preserved of its kind in Scotland, giving a tantalising glimpse of the thriving life and advanced technology of the past on Perth’s doorstep. When the logboat returns to public display this month, it will be shown alongside some of the other fascinating Bronze Age finds from the river, notably swords and other metalwork that highlight the importance of the River Tay in everyday and ceremonial life.

Perth Museum will be a new addition to an already vibrant cultural scene in Perth and Kinross which includes the recently transformed Pitlochry Festival Theatre, a facelift for Perth Art Gallery and the ongoing expansion of the Iron Age Crannog Centre in Highland Perthshire. The new museum represents a major investment in the economic and community wellbeing of the area as part of a wider regeneration strategy for Perth. The Museum, which has undergone a £27m transformation of the former City Hall,  is housed in a heritage Edwardian building that once served as a gathering place hosting everything from markets and concerts to political conferences and wrestling matches. The Museum will also feature a café, shop, learning and event spaces, and a major exhibition programme throughout the year.

Perth Museum has also announced that Unicorn will be the first exhibition when the doors of the new museum open. Unicorn is the first major UK exhibition to explore the cultural history of Scotland’s national animal from antiquity to the present day. Through the material culture of this mythical beast the exhibition will explore themes such as Scottish Royalty and national symbolism that also relate to the objects and stories on display in the new permanent galleries.

The new Perth Museum will open its doors in Perth on Saturday 30th March 2024. For more information see:

Main image: Render of Perth Museum. Image: Macanoo.

Finding Scotland’s ‘lost’ ice age pinewoods

A new project from Trees for Life and Woodland Trust Scotland aims to discover Scotland’s ‘lost’ native pinewoods – home to wild Scots pines with an ancestry that can be traced back to the end of the last ice age – so they can be saved and restored before it’s too late. Caledonian pinewoods are globally unique and support rare wildlife including red squirrels, capercaillie and crossbills. Yet less than 2% of the Caledonian forest, which once covered much of the Highlands, survives. Just 84 individual Caledonian pinewoods are now officially recognised, having been last documented more than a quarter of a century ago.

The Wild Pine Project

But Woodland Trust Scotland and Trees for Life have become aware of other lost wild pinewoods, and from historical documents and anecdotal reports, more are thought to exist. The charities have teamed up to identify and save these forgotten pinewoods through the Wild Pine Project, beginning with the western Highlands, where Scots pines form part of Scotland’s rare temperate rainforest. Wild pinewoods have declined over the centuries, and today their recovery is often hindered by overgrazing by herbivores.

“Lost pinewoods are at particular risk because they are unrecognised and undocumented. We want to find them, assess their condition, and revive them before they are lost forever. Finding these pinewoods requires a lot of detective work. They are often small and remote, hidden in ravines safe from deer. Pines, or their remains, are often found scattered among birchwood too” said Jane Sayers, Wild Pine Project Officer.

The Wild Pine Project is identifying lost pine sites by tracing their history through the centuries using historical evidence, including maps which date as far back as the 1500s. Once potential sites are found, historical, ecological and landscape evidence will help establish whether they are wild or planted, and their health and resilience will be assessed. The charities will then work for the recognition and recovery of the discovered wild pinewoods, including by presenting findings to landowners and managers.

Scotland’s national tree

A ‘lost’ native pinewood of wild Scots pines. Image courtesy of Trees for Life.

The unique status of Caledonian pinewood was first documented by HM Steven and A Carlisle in their 1959 book, The Native Pinewoods of Scotland, which included 35 sites. In the 1990s, the then Forestry Commission Scotland compiled a register, which became the Caledonian Pinewood Inventory. Last updated in 1998, the Inventory recognises 84 sites. Last year, a major Trees for Life study into the health of 72 of these known pinewoods concluded many are on a ‘knife-edge’ – with high deer numbers, non-native conifers, lack of long-term management, and climate breakdown representing major threats to their survival. The rewilding charity is calling on the Scottish Government to help tackle the nature and climate emergencies through landscape-scale action to save the woodlands, including through targeted funding for restoration and major reductions in deer numbers.

The need for urgent upscaling of political and public action to save the Caledonian pinewoods was spotlighted by a parliamentary debate held in the Scottish Parliament on 24 January, held to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Scots pine becoming Scotland’s national tree.

For more details, visit

Main photo: A ‘lost’ native pinewood of wild Scots pines. Photo: Trees for Life.

Defending the Realm-Hackness Martello Tower and Battery

At the peak of the Napoleonic Wars when American, French, Danish and Norwegian privateers would go north round Orkney or through the Pentland Firth to harass Scandinavian and British merchant shipping, Longhope Sound in Scapa Flow in the Orkneys offered refuge from the attacks. The merchant ships would rendezvous in Longhope Sound, organise into convoys, and with Royal Navy protection ply the Baltic trade routes.

To defend the anchorage, a battery and Martello tower were constructed at Hackness on the island of South Walls in 1813-14. A sister tower was also built at this time, across the water to the north at Crockness on the island of Hoy. In tradition, the marauding and pillaging of Scottish-American naval captain John Paul Jones have been associated with instigating the construction of the defences. The Hackness tower, situated about 200m from the battery, has three floors. The ground floor housed the water cistern, powder magazine and supply stores. On the first floor, which was accessed by a removable wooden ladder, were quarters for 14 soldiers and an NCO. A 24-pounder gun was mounted on the top floor.

24-pounder cannons

Cannon atop Hackness Martello Tower. Photo: Beep boop beep (CC BY-SA 4.0).

On 14 August 1814 Sir Walter Scott paid a visit to the Hackness battery and tower, then still under construction. Scott reported on this episode, and expressed his scepticism about the military effectiveness of the towers in his account, Northern Lights, or a Voyage in the Lighthouse Yacht to Nova Zembla and the Lord knows where in the Summer of 1814: ‘At a little distance from this battery they are building a Martello tower, which is to cross the fire of the battery, and also that of another projected tower upon the opposite point of the bay.

The expedience of these towers seems excessively problematical. [ . . . ] In the case of Long-Hope, for instance, a frigate might disembark 100 men, take the fort in the rear – where it is undefended even by a pallisade – destroy the magazines, spike and dismount the cannon, carry off or cut out any vessels in the roadstead, and accomplish all the purposes that could bring them to so remote a spot, in spite of a serjeant’s party in the Martello tower, and without troubling themselves about them at all.’

Powder magazine at Hackness Battery. Photo: Beep boop beep (CC BY-SA 4.0).

The Hackness battery was armed with eight 24-pounder cannons. These were mounted in a V configuration on traversing carriages, putting the entire Longhope Sound in their firing line. A sloped parapet assisted in aiming and firing the guns. The battery also held a powder magazine, supply store and soldier’s barracks. Despite the construction and careful preparation, none of the defences apparently saw enemy action by the end of hostilities in 1815. The Hackness Battery is one of the few from the period, and is the best preserved example. For decades, when the battery was rarely occupied by military staff, locals used the battery as a croft and held dances and gatherings in the barracks.

No armed conflict ensued

Hackness Battery barracks. Photo: Beep boop beep (CC BY-SA 4.0).

In 1866 in reaction to the possible threat posed by the American Fenian Brotherhood, the battery and armament were upgraded. Five 68-pounder cannon replaced the 24-pounders at the battery and tower. The four at the battery were positioned to fire through wall embrasures. The barracks were rearranged so that the master gunner and NCOs had separate quarters. Other changes included the addition of a cookhouse, guard house and latrine blocks. But again no armed conflict ensued, and as of 1883 only two soldiers manned the Hackness defences. Perhaps the only time the cannon were fired was on a day in 1892 when the Orkney Volunteer Artillery held drills and target practice. Even during the two world wars the Hackness and Cockness defences were quiet. Circa 1900 the Hackness Tower gun was removed. On display now at the tower is a 64-pound cannon contemporary with the 1866 weapon.

Now in the care of Historic Environment Scotland, Hackness Martello Tower and Battery is open to visitors Monday to Thursday from 1 April to 30 September. Exploration of the site is by guided tours only; these are scheduled at 10:15am, 12 noon and 2:30pm. It’s recommended to book tickets well in advance, which can be done through the Historic Environment Scotland website.  Crockness Martello Tower is situated north of the hamlet of Crockness and Crock Ness Point. A twin of the Hackness tower, the Crockness tower is not open to the public.

Hackness Martello Tower and Battery is open April 1st to September 30th. For more details see:


Did you know?

Martello Towers

One of two windows in Hackness Martello Tower. Photo: Beep boop beep (CC BY-SA 4.0).

In 1794 the French military mounted two small cannon on a stone round tower at Mortella Point, Corsica. The pair of cannon repelled an attack of two British warships, which combined carried 106 guns in firepower. The effectiveness of the Corsican tower led the British to build more than 100 Martello towers along the south coast of England in response to Napoleon’s 1803 threat to invade. The only Martello towers built in Scotland are those at Hackness and Crockness, and one standing sentry at the port of Leith, Edinburgh.

The Leith Martello Tower – locally called Tally Toor – was built in 1809 to protect Leith Harbour, the docks and the City of Edinburgh. The tower was constructed on Mussel Cape Rocks at a cost of £17,000. As with the Hackness and Crockness defences, the Leith tower didn’t see any military action. The Royal Engineers renovated the tower in 1850, and Lieutenant-Colonel Yule added a trefoil gun emplacement. Leith artillerymen were stationed at the tower until 1869. The tower is now partially buried due to land reclamation in the harbour, and sits on the Leith Docks’ eastern breakwater.

Sout Walls and Hoy

Cantick Head Lighthouse, South Walls, Orkney. Photo: Renata (public domain).

With an area of 1100 hectares, South Walls was formerly a tidal island but was joined to Hoy by a narrow causeway constructed in 1912. South Walls forms the southern border of the Longhope anchorage. At Cantick Head, at the end of a long peninsula on the south-eastern coast of the island is the Cantick Head Lighthouse. David and Thomas Stevenson oversaw construction of the lighthouse which began in 1856. The lighthouse went into service in 1858, and wasn’t converted to automatic operation until 1991.

Hoy, with an area of 143 square kilometres, is the second largest island in the Orkney archipelago. The island has some of the tallest seacoasts in all of Britain, with those at St John’s Head reaching 350m. The most mountainous of the Orkney Islands, Hoy’s highest point – and the highest in the archipelago – is Ward Hill which summits at 481m. Hoy also has some of the most northerly woodlands in the British Isles.

Text by: Eric Bryan.

Main photo: Hackness Martello Tower entrance. Photo:  Beep boop beep (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Two tickets to ‘Barradise’

On the morning of my big birthday, I opened the envelope which Julie had propped against my cereal bowl and found the best present I could have hoped for – two return tickets from Glasgow to Barra – and the chance for both of us to fulfil an ambition. Inspired by the writings of Sir Compton Mackenzie, the much-loved film version of his Whisky Galore story and captivated by tales of Barra as recounted by The Coddie, we had long hoped to visit the island. Now, the seats on the little plane which connects Barra to the mainland had been reserved and all I had to do was to book an hotel and hire a car.

Scotland’s magnificent west coast

A call to the Castlebay Hotel quickly secured our room with a grandstand view of the comings and goings of the Caledonian MacBrayne’s ferry but a search of the internet could give me no car hire companies. I rang the Castlebay Hotel again and my query was quickly answered – “You just need to call Mr MacNeil and you’ll be fine” said the hotel receptionist in her delightful, lilting voice. I rang the number given and an equally lilting voice bade me leave a message and assured me that my enquiry would be answered promptly. Given that I was calling from our home in France I was a little dubious but, true to his word, a little while later Mr MacNeil phoned back. We had a pleasant exchange about the weather in France and the weather on Barra, and it transpired during our conversation that Mr MacNeil used to ‘Drive the prawns from Barra down to Spain’.

My mind’s eye pictured a weatherbeaten islander herding a shoal of recalcitrant crustaceans over the Pyrenees until, thankfully, a refrigerated lorry was mentioned! I offered my credit card to secure the booking but the kindly Mr MacNeil told me just to present myself at the airport café, ask for the keys and pay when I returned the car. “What about insurance?” I asked. “Och, it’ll be insured just fine” he replied. I was about to bid Mr MacNeil goodnight when I remembered to ask what kind of car I had just hired. He chuckled, “Och, it’ll be a nice one….” A most enjoyable experience and a simple, honest business arrangement – so unlike the usual morass of paperwork and hidden extras.

On the morning of departure from our son’s home in Glasgow we awoke to blizzard conditions (yes, in April!). Thankful that our taxi was equipped with 4-wheel drive we made it to the airport only to be greeted by the news that the runway on the neighbouring island of Tiree was snowbound, and that our flight to Barra would be delayed until further notice. However, just as we reached the limit of our tolerance for airport coffee, the snow stopped, the sun shouldered through the clouds, our tiny plane skittered along the runway – and we were on our way!

Those seasoned travellers on the Glasgow – Barra route will know what a memorable experience it is to fly at relatively low level along Scotland’s magnificent west coast and to sweep in to land on the cockle strand of Traigh Mhor is simply breathtaking (the Glasgow to Barra service is the only scheduled flight in Europe to land on a beach – with its timetable dictated by the tides!) We touched down in a shower of spray and taxied to the tiny terminal building. The steps arrived and we walked across the white sand to reclaim our baggage and collect the keys of Mr MacNeil’s hire car. (It was indeed, ‘a nice one’!) So began a wonderful week on Barra.


Artisit Frank Mosley.

As an artist specialising in Scotland’s scenery, I was instantly captivated by the interconnected islands of Barra and Vatersay. Julie and I were blessed with long days of sunshine and blue skies and we walked on as many beaches as we could: Traigh Mhor, Halaman Bay, Eliogarry, Sgurabhal and through the famous gate to Vatersay Bay. Pristine sands in myriad hues, crystal clear waters in greens, blues and a turquoise almost blindingly vivid. At times, spectacular waves breaking over some of the oldest rocks in the world. At Vatersay’s Siar Bay we stood in silence at the simple memorial to the 350 emigrants, bound for Canada, who drowned in 1853 when a ferocious storm drove their ship, The Annie Jane, aground. Somewhere, beneath our feet, we knew their bodies lay, where they were hastily buried – the islanders having no means to cope with a loss of life of such magnitude.

Back across the causeway to Barra, we climbed the island’s highest peak, Heaval, and marvelled at the panorama of Castlebay below us – Kisimul Castle, ancient seat of the Clan MacNeil at its centre-point. Near the summit we stood by the statue of Our Lady Star of the Sea and watched, enthralled, as an eagle soared majestically above our heads. Returned to Castlebay, we sat in the sunshine outside the Post Office tearoom drinking coffee and chatting to the island’s friendly policeman. On a land mass with barely more than 1,100 inhabitants and an almost zero crime rate we were intrigued to know how he filled his duty hours. “Simple” he smiled.”‘In the morning I drive slowly round the island in a clockwise direction. After lunch I drive round anti-clockwise…” Even our relaxed pace of life at home in rural France seemed hurried by comparison!

Everyone we met had a smile and a welcoming word and if we left only our footprints on the beaches, we knew we would carry a part of this island ‘Barradise’ in our hearts forever. All too soon it was time to return our car and board our Glasgow flight. As the plane climbed up from the beach and the beautiful islands of Barra and Vatersay fell behind us, I knew that I had found more than enough inspiration for my next series of paintings and that, someday soon, we would return.

Words and photos by Frank Mosley. Frank Mosley is an artist inspired by Scotland. For more information and to view Frank’s work see:

Another Quality Field Heading for the Pipe Band Competition at the 119th Maclean Highland Gathering

Maclean’s reputation as one of the premiere pipe band competitions in Australia will be further enhanced with another quality field heading for the Clarence Valley to compete in the 119th Maclean Highland Gathering on the Saturday of the Easter Long Weekend. Eighteen bands will compete across five grades on Saturday 30 March 2024.

All the bands set to compete on the day will begin the festivities with the Pipe Bands on Parade. The competing band will be joined for the Street March by four additional bands; Armidale Pipe Band, Coffs Harbour Pipes & Drums, Grafton & District Services Club Pipe Band and the Murrumba Pipes & Drums Society Inc.

The Pipe Band Competition will commence from 9.55 am at the Maclean Showgrounds as part of a full day of events. All events including the Highland Sports and Highland Dancing, along with the band competition are held in the main arena of the Showground ensuring that all the action can be viewed from the main grandstand and other vantage points around the picturesque grounds.

 Quality of pipe bands

Chief of the Lower Clarence Scottish Association, Peter Smith said “This year we were struck by the quality of bands joining us for the competition. We have three Grade 2 bands, St Andrews and The Emmanuelle College Highlanders from Queensland, as well as The Pipe Band Club from Sydney, which will make this the strongest Grade 2 competition in Australia this year. I’d particularly like to acknowledge The Pipe Band Club. It is a huge undertaking to bring the band up from Sydney and we a glad of their support.” The Grade 3 competition will also feature three high quality competitors, BBC Old Collegians, the City of Ipswich and BBC College No. 1. He also thanked the Queensland Pipe Band community for their continued strong support with 14 of the 18 competing bands travelling across the Queensland border to participate in the Easter Gathering.

“Bands will be judged by one of our strongest panels we’ve had at Maclean with three international judges Donald McPhee (USA/Scotland), Glenn Brown (Canada/ Scotland) and Brian Switalla (NZ). They will be joined by some of Australia’s finest adjudicators,” Mr Smith said.

Chief Peter Smith also praised the contribution of country bands like Warwick Thistle, Toowoomba, Moree Caledonian, the NSW Highlanders and the local favourites, the Maclean and District Pipe Band. “Our aim is to continue to nurture the Scottish culture and it is only with the great support we get from the bands that we can continue to do this.”

At 4.00 pm all 21 visiting bands join together at the Maclean Showground for the Massed Bands display, a not to be missed climax to an amazing day of events.

The 119th Maclean Highland Gathering will be held on Friday 29th and Saturday 30th March 2024. For more information check our website – or check the Lower Clarence Scottish Association Facebook and Instagram pages.


Burgh Hall-A repurposed gem

In my recent visits to Scotland’s historic buildings, a recurrent theme has been repurposing. Too many late 20th and early 21st century structures are abandoned once their initial user discards them; they quickly become derelict, and are often bulldozed for redevelopment. Happily, many of our older buildings prove to be endlessly adaptable and find new and useful lives. In Stirling we saw several historic buildings that have found new uses as hotels, tourist attractions, youth hostels and events venues, and that still look as impressive as ever. The same applies to the rejuvenated Provan Hall in Glasgow.

Now we come to Dunoon’s Burgh Hall, at the corner of Argyll Street and Hanover Street in the small Argyll town. It dates from 1873, with its official opening a year later. This period was perhaps the height of the golden age of Victorian municipal buildings when civic pride and confidence ensured that they were built on the grand scale. The hall was needed because Dunoon had become a burgh in 1868 and the machinery of local government had to go somewhere.

A creative achievement in itself

Dunoon Burgh Hall, Gallery 2023.

The building was not just a place of work for council officials or a place for paying rent or bills. It housed Argyll’s first theatre and over the years saw much jollity – dances, ceilidhs, concerts and the like. And these events occurred in a building that was a creative achievement in itself. The architect was Robert Alexander Bryden and the general look was Scottish baronial (it was the Victorian era after all) in grey schist, the rock of which so much of the Southern Highlands is built. Bryden also designed the building’s neighbour, St Cuthbert’s Church, which is sadly now demolished. The theatre, or assembly hall, was designed to seat 700 people.

The hall’s main window was designed by a celebrated stained-glass maker, James Ballantine; he must have been good because he even wrote some standard textbooks about painted glass, and won a competition to decorate some of the windows in the House of Lords. His design featured a scary-looking Viking, complete with one of those winged helmets that we’re now told Vikings probably didn’t wear, armed with a spear and shield. Interestingly, the face of the Viking is believed to be that of Bryden, the building’s architect! A creative thank-you, perhaps, from the glassworker for commissioning him.

Over the years, minor alterations and extensions were made to the building, but from the 1950s, the new Queen’s Hall at the other end of Argyll Street began to supplant many of the functions of the Burgh Hall and in 1975, with the reorganisation of Scotland’s local government, the very idea of the burgh became extinct and the building no longer had a clear purpose.

In the ensuing decades, the Burgh Hall was only used sporadically, and its fabric deteriorated. By the end of the century, plans were being made to redevelop the building as housing. A company called Fyne Homes bought the building in 2001 but there were many objections to their project and planning permission was refused. It looked as if the building might just moulder away, awaiting demolition. Happily, in 2008, a charitable body, The John McAslan Family Trust, bought the Burgh Hall from Fyne Homes (who by now were probably glad to get rid of it) for a token £1. The vision was for a facility that would serve the local community, a centre for culture and the creative arts. A great deal of fundraising was needed before the vision could become a reality, and a lot of work had to be done to restore the building’s stained glass. The poor Viking in particular had faded a great deal but now he’s as good as new. The refurbished and repurposed building was finally opened in 2017 by then First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

Beating heart of the community

Children and young people from Youthstuff, a youth theatre group based at Dunoon Burgh Hall, celebrate 150 years since the foundation stone was laid when building the Burgh Hall, kicking off a year long program of celebratory events and fundraising. Photo: Peter Sandground.

The building hosts creative spaces for local artists but it is also the home to ongoing art exhibitions. Some of these have had no small ambition, with past shows featuring the likes of Edgar Degas, Andy Warhol, and the much-loved Scottish-based artist Joan Eardley. The Burgh Hall’s café ensures that it’s the beating heart of the community and that even people on low incomes can come along and experience great art and perhaps have a go themselves.

2023-24, of course, sees the 150th anniversary of the completion and opening of the original Burgh Hall and the venue has begun a crowdfunding effort, aiming to raise £50,000 by June 2024 (with 150 people being urged to donate £150, nicely foregrounding exactly the anniversary that’s being celebrated). Central to the success of the Burgh Hall was Colm Docherty, an artist himself who not only curated exhibitions on site but also taught art and encouraged local people to try it for themselves. Sadly, Colm died in a road accident in 2022; in some ways the 150th anniversary initiatives are also a memorial to him.

The project began in August 2023, marked by local children burying a capsule full of items that sum up the experience of being a young person in Scotland in 2023. The idea is that it’ll be recovered in 50 years – the 200th anniversary of the Burgh Hall. I wonder how many of those youngsters will still live locally and remember what they put in there? The Burgh Hall has influential friends. Actor Gaia Wise (daughter of British acting royalty Dame Emma Thompson and Greg Wise) is a supporter and describes the Hall as ‘a place for art, artists and the community to come together, drink tea, laugh, sing, dance and celebrate.’ Which can never be bad things. Gaia sees Colm Docherty as her mentor in terms of art and so is keen to support the project.

So, if you’re around Dunoon make sure you call in at the Burgh Hall, see what’s on and have something in the café. You’ll be in a building with a history that has found new purpose. And a new purpose always means the start of a new history.

By: David McVey.


The 2024 Australian Celtic Festival celebrating the Year of Ireland & The Isle of Man

Renowned as the premier Celtic event of New South Wales, the Australian Celtic Festival is the only event of its kind in the country to recognise different Celtic nations each year. It also boasts the unique setting of the Australian Standing Stones National Celtic Monument in Glen Innes.

For its 32nd year, the festival will highlight the Celtic nations of Ireland and The Isle of Man over four days from Thursday 2 to Sunday 5 May 2024, with events held both at the festival site and throughout the local township. The event attracts clans and societies, cultural groups, performers, artists, and festivalgoers from all around Australia and the world for a unique celebration of Celtic music, dance, art and culture.

The main event

With performances taking place across three stages, attending the festival is the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of Celtic music and dance as you discover an incredible lineup of artists.  Don’t miss the highly anticipated Australian Celtic Dance Championships on the Saturday, where solo, duo, trio and team dancers will put their best foot forward in a competitive multi-genre fusion of Celtic dance styles.

The celebrations will continue into the night, with two ‘Fire & Feasting’ events taking place, including the ‘Friday Night Ceili’ and ‘Saturday Night of Craic!’, both of which will have you toe-tapping and thigh-slapping as you sing and dance the night away with performers, food trucks, and a bar combining to bring you a Celtic gathering experience like no other.

Throughout the weekend, there will be plenty of live action including horseback jousting tournaments by Nova Hollandia, traditional highland games with the team from Highland Muscle, Celtic wrestling matches, the New England Medieval Arts Society reenactment village, and living history group An T-Arm Albannach. Over at the Celtic Kids Marquee, which is home to the very popular Knight School, the kids will be entertained for hours with loads of fun activities.

There will be a range of food and beverage stalls within the festival grounds, as well as the brand-new Celtic Kitchen Marquee, where you can experience culinary demonstrations and tasting opportunities. As you soak in the festival atmosphere, be sure to browse the array of Celtic-inspired markets and connect with your clan to learn about your Celtic heritage.  After a full day of excitement and adventure, kick back at the Boar and Drum Bar, where you can relax to the music with friends, old and new, beside the outdoor screen.

Events around town

A range of exciting events are set to take place around Glen Innes for visitors and the community, catering to all interests and ages.  On Thursday 2 May, Highlands Hub will welcome all to attend the Celtic Cultural Symposium, featuring a variety of free talks and presentations about all things Celtic. That night, the official 100,000 Welcomes Concert will take place at the Glen Innes and District Services Club, setting the scene for what’s to come at the festival, which is a popular event for early arrivals. It’s also the night of the official prize announcement for The Australian Celtic Cultural Awards exhibition at Gawura Gallery.

The Official Opening Ceremony will take place in Town Hall Square on Friday, and talented buskers will contribute to the lively atmosphere throughout the town over the weekend.  A special Australian Standing Stones parkrun on the Saturday morning will see participants make their way around the iconic festival site, which is home to the highest altitude parkrun in Australia at 1,140m above sea level. The street parade that same morning will see the crowds gather to watch the massed pipe bands, clans, and societies marching in solidarity.

Following the parade, be sure to check out the local businesses getting into the spirit with their Celtic-themed shop window displays for all to admire, as well as those participating in the festival’s very first Celtic Food Trail, inviting you to immerse yourself in the tastes and traditions of Celtic fare. Many of the local pubs, clubs and eateries will also play host to a smorgasbord of Celtic-inspired entertainment.

Free shuttle buses to and from the festival will operate throughout the town all weekend, with stops at the Glen Innes Visitor Information Centre, Glen Innes Showground, and various businesses in town.  So prepare to get your Celt on, kilt up, and experience the exciting festival atmosphere and friendly country hospitality for a Celtic celebration like no other in the beautiful Glen Innes Highlands!

Tickets for all official Australian Celtic Festival events are on sale from 9am (AEDT) 1 March 2024, available online at For more information and updates, visit the website and follow the Australian Celtic Festival on Facebook and Instagram. 

The Rugged Island: A Shetland Lyric

This month a 90-year-old silent film shot in Shetland is being shown as part of The Hippodrome Silent Film Festival, Scotland’s only festival of silent film. The Rugged Island was made by the pioneering Scottish female filmmaker Jenny Gilbertson about crofting families and life in Shetland. This piece of historic Scottish cinema, which includes new commissioned music played and composed by Shetland people, will be livestreamed so anyone interested globally can see it, as Judy Vickers explains.

She was the middle-class, university educated daughter of a well-off merchant who left city life in Glasgow behind to become a pioneering documentary maker on the bleak, windswept crofts of Shetland in the 1930s. Now, 90 years on, Jenny Gilbertson’s only drama film is being showcased once more – shining a light on both those who eked out a way of life in tough conditions and the remarkable story of the woman herself. The Rugged Island: A Shetland Lyric is being shown this month at the Hippodrome cinema in Bo’ness, on the banks of the Forth, as part of its annual silent film festival – and is also being livestreamed worldwide with a newly commissioned score from Fair Isle multi-instrumentalist and composer Inge Thomson and Shetland-born musician Catriona MacDonald.

The realities of Shetland at the time

The couple facing the dilemma of whether to stay or go to Australia in The Rugged Island.

The 1933 film was made single-handedly by Gilbertson, who wrote, shot and edited the 56-minute movie with a cast of mainly locals – there was only one professional actor, Enga Stout. It tells the tale of a young couple facing a dilemma; whether to take up the invitation of her uncle to join him on his farm in Australia or to stay and work the family croft in the land of their birth. The Rugged Island was not the first film Gilbertson had shot on Shetland – she had also made a series of short documentaries where she developed her quiet observational style and endeared herself to the locals who took the Glaswegian to their hearts.

Boats in The Rugged Island.

Gilbertson, nee Brown, had been born in 1902 in the city where her father was an iron and steel merchant. With his backing, she studied at Glasgow University, then headed to London for a secretarial course in 1929. The typing and shorthand took a back seat, however, after she saw a screening of a film about Loch Lomond; inspired to become a film-maker herself, she bought a 16mm camera, headed up to Shetland, where the family had taken summer holidays, and made her first film, a documentary following a year in the life of the island and its inhabitants. That film, A Crofter’s Life in Shetland, made in 1931, shows the men and women of the island carrying out their everyday tasks of digging peat, planting potatoes, knitting and fishing. “She spent a lot of time with people, getting to know them and really getting into the rhythm of their lives. Her filming was very natural. That’s what makes it so exquisite,” says Shona Main, a film-maker based in Shetland and a researcher into Gilbertson’s life.

On its premiere in Edinburgh, it caught the eye of “the father of British and Canadian documentary making” John Grierson, who was effusive in his praise, saying she had “broken through the curse of artificiality” and was “an illuminator of life and movement”. Perhaps as important as his encouragement was that he went to buy a series of her short films made on Shetland for the General Post Office Film Unit in London. Inspired by his mentorship, she bought a 35mm camera and headed back up to Shetland to make The Rugged Island, which although it was a fictional story still very much reflected the realities of Shetland at the time, from the scenery and the people to the crofting and the choice the couple in the movie face.

Crofting life

Everyday tasks of locals such as fishermen are part of the action in The Rugged Island.

Emigration from Scotland had built during the years of the Clearances in the 19th century and hit its peak in the 1920s when it is estimated around a fifth of the working population left the country, many on ships sailing from the Clyde to Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and the United States – although ironically in the 1930s, when Gilbertson was filming, there was a surge in people coming back as the worldwide economic downturn took hold. And the record it shows of crofting life at the time is also hugely important, says Donna Smith, chief executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation. “Crofting is an integral part of the culture in the Highlands and Islands, it is a social heritage thing, not just economic,” she says. Modern crofting emerged from the Clearances of the 17th and 18th century, when landlords evicted tenants from their land to create large pastures for more economically profitable sheep but it also left vast areas depopulated. It was only at the end of the 19th century that new laws stopped this.

Bringing in the hay on a croft in a scene from The Rugged Island.

“The 1886 Crofting Act gave crofts a clear status, tenants were given absolute security of tenure and the Act gave them the right to a fair rent,” says Donna. “There are a lot of crofts which were registered in 1886 which are still in the same family because the Act gave tenants the right to pass the croft on. There are duties attached to a croft, including living within a certain area and looking after the croft. A croft is a smallholding with a home built on it and common grazing rights, usually on a nearby open hillside.  Crofts were deliberately created to be small, they were never about making money, it’s about keeping people in the rural townships.  Some people make all their living from crofts but many also have other jobs.” Today those other jobs (there are just under 3,500 crofts on Shetland now, a number which has not changed significantly since Gilbertson’s day) can include holiday accommodation; in the 1930s they were more likely to be knitting for the women and herring fishing for the men. “People might think why put in all the hard work on the land when it doesn’t make enough to live on, but it’s not about the money, it’s about the stewardship and management of the land. A lot of places would not be populated if it wasn’t for crofting.  It’s a massive part of Scotland’s history,” says Donna.

One of the pioneers of female film-making

Shetland film-maker and Gilbertson researcher Shona Main.

And Gilbertson’s films perfectly captured this sentiment and sense of belonging without being over-romantic, says Shona. “It’s not the overblown kind of film we think of when we think of silent films because it’s something rooted in reality,” says Shona. “She was an extraordinary film-maker because of the time she took and the very careful looking and listening. It was a particular time before the oil, before life changed and people lived incredibly frugal lives but they are not shown as victims, they are not romanticised.” Shetland became her home after she married her leading man from The Rugged Island, Shetland farmer Johnny Gilbertson and became a mother of two girls, to an outsider perhaps a strange move for a city girl. But Shona says: “I think she found middle class Glasgow stifling. All those balls, and bridge and golf. She wanted connection and friendship – and that’s what she got and then attended to, both in Shetland then later in the Canadian Arctic.”

But times were changing. Talking pictures had become all the rage and in a bid to make her film more up-to-date and appealing to cinema audiences, she sank £100 of her own money to commission a score to accompany it – “a fantastic amount at that time,” says Shona. It means that there is both a silent and sound version of the film but unfortunately for Gilbertson, while the movie was a success, her distribution company had gone bust and she never saw a penny back on her investment. “It then becomes incredibly expensive to make a film, war arrives and Johnny goes to war and there was no money at that time so she has to give up film-making,” says Shona.

Fishermen feature in The Rugged Island.

She spends the next 30 years as a teacher, mother and wife in Hillswick in Shetland but her career as a film-maker has an unusual post-script. After retiring in 1967 and the death of her husband, she takes her craft up again, this time across the Atlantic. She goes out to Coral Harbour in Hudson Bay to film life in an Inuit settlement. “She spent nine years out there, making extensive films and building long-term relationships with the people there,” says Shona. Well into her 70s she was still making films, including for the BBC and the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC), once travelling 900 miles north of the Arctic Circle at the age of 76 to make Jenny’s Arctic Diary, her films still showing the gentle intuitive touch of her Shetland creations. One of the pioneers of independent, female and documentary film-making, she died in 1990.

The Rugged Island: A Shetland Lyric will be screened as part of HippFest at the Bo’ness Hippodrome on Wednesday 20 March and will be livestreamed online via HippFest at Home,

Main photo: The dramatic Shetland cliffs provide a background for action in The Rugged Island.

Six Scottish Clans to celebrate their heritage and renew alliances at Kilts & Cowboy Boots

It’s time to put an end to hundreds of years of fighting. In a spirit of camaraderie and friendly competition, six warring clans from Scotland’s eastern Loch Lomond region will travel across the Atlantic to the US to fellowship, feast and renew alliances.

The first-ever “Kilts and Cowboy Boots,” sponsored by Clan Colquhoun International Society, is an exciting three-day event, to be held April 4-7 at the Omni La Mansion del Rio, San Antonio, Texas. The event coincides with the San Antonio Scottish Games & Festival, held April 5-6 at Helotes Festival Grounds, Helotes, Texas, USA.

Bringing together clans

Aerial view from Loch Lomond clans at an evening event.

Several Clan Chieftains from the Loch Lomond area are expected to attend the event, including His Lordship James Graham, Sir John MacEwen, and Sir Malcolm Colquhoun of Luss. Invited clans include: Colquhoun, MacFarlane, MacEwen, Graham, Buchanan and Hunter. Members and guests of the six clans are invited to join in the inaugural celebration.

“This is a historically significant event,” says Michael Lloyd-Stern, executive director of Clan Colquhoun International Society. “We’re bringing together clans in our shared love of Scotland and its heritage. But instead of fighting, we will be feasting – and line dancing, Texas style!”

Sir Malcolm & Lady Colquhoun of Luss, Scotland.

A little background history: For hundreds of years Scottish clans in the Lennox fought for domination and resources. Ancient alliances between the MacFarlane’s and MacGregors against Clan Colquhoun are well documented. The Battle of Glen Fruin is one of the most famous events. In modern times, clans in the U.S. share space in Scottish Games across the country.

The movement is fast growing –an estimated 25 million people in the US are of Scottish descent. The lifting of lockdowns and social restrictions, following the recent COVID 19 pandemic, has generated even more interest in games, as 2023 saw a record number in attendance. “People are looking for community, and the Scottish Games provide it,” says Lloyd-Stern.  “It’s the chance to meet new people, enjoy the outdoors, hear traditional music, and sample some haggis – perhaps even try a shot of Scottish whisky.”

San Antonio Scottish Games

Tossing the caber — it’s heavier than it looks!

In the US, the Highland Games are a unique mix of the sporting, the cultural and the social. They usually comprise a program of field and track events, piping and Highland dancing competitions and ‘heavy events’ like the tug-o-war, the hammer throw and tossing the caber. Kilts & Cowboy Boots is a pre-event to the San Antonio Scottish Games. Held at the Omni La Mansion del Rio along the historic Riverwalk, events include:

  • We kick-off the weekend with a Whisky & Wine Tasting, featuring local wines from Texas, along with whisky flights from four regions of Scotland.
  • Who has the loveliest knees? The Bonniest Knees Competition will settle it! Open to anyone wearing his or her kilt.
  • Discover more about your heritage during Introduction to Genealogy & DNA, led by resident scholar Tiffany McCarter-Evans.
  • Meet your Clan Chief and enjoy a drink at the Clan Drink Reception, Friday, April 5.
  • Test your knowledge of Scottish history and culture at How Scottish or Nottish Are You? Prizes will be awarded to the top team.
  • Sir Malcolm Colquhoun of Luss will give opening remarks at the Kilts & Cowboy Boots Dinner on Saturday evening, followed by line dancing. Formal dress, along with cowboy boots and hats.
Enjoying an old-fashioned tug-of-war among clans.

So, shine up your boots, grab your hats and join us for what will be a very special gathering in San Antonio.

Kilts & Cowboy Boots will take place in San Antonio, Texas April 4-7th.  For further details see: 

Main photo: Clan chieftains leading the Parade of Tartans (left to right): Madame Pauline Hunter of Hunterson, Chief of Clan Hunter; The Marquess of Graham, Clan Graham; Sir John MacEwen, Chief of Clan MacEwen; Michael MacFarlane, President of Clan MacFarlane; Angus John Baillie-Hamilton Buchanan – Younger of Buchanan, Clan Buchanan; Lady Buchanan; Michael Lloyd-Stern, Executive Director, Clan Colquhoun.

Henry Bell’s Comet Designated

Wreck of Europe’s first commercial steamship designated as a scheduled monument.

The wreck of Europe’s first commercial steamship has been designated as a scheduled monument by Historic Environment Scotland. This follows the recent discovery of the wreck of Henry Bell’s Comet in the fast tidal waters of the Dorus Mor, west of Crinan, Argyll and Bute. Created by Henry Bell, a noted 19th century entrepreneur from Helensburgh, Comet was a wooden paddle steamer, built in Port Glasgow by John Wood & Sons in 1811-12. Designed to carry passengers between Port Glasgow and Helensburgh, the name ‘Comet’ is a direct reference to the Great Comet of 1811, a celestial event in which a comet passed by the earth and was visible to the naked eye for 260 days.

Comet was operational for eight years on the Clyde, then the Forth and from September 1819, on a new Glasgow to Fort William service. Wrecked off Craignish Point, west of Crinan, on 19 December 1820, the vessel is believed to have split in half after running aground due to a navigational error. Comet was carrying no passengers at the time of its loss, and Henry Bell and the crew managed to get safely ashore.  A dive survey by Wessex Archaeology in September 2021 confirmed that the visible remains of the wreck which survive on the seabed are likely to be from the front half of the ship. These include the engine assemblage, possible flue and paddle shaft. Further elements of the wreck are likely to survive nearby.

Historic marine protected (MPA) areas are usually the favoured designation for marine heritage sites in Scotland. However, in this instance, it has been decided to designate the wreck as a scheduled monument. This offers protection to this potentially vulnerable wreck as an interim measure until a decision is taken by the Scottish Government on designating the site as a Historic MPA.

National importance

Dara Parsons, Head of Designations at HES, said: “In September 2020 we were invited to assess the remains of Comet for designation following its discovery by members of Dalriada Dive Club, Oban. There are very few examples of pre-1820 steamships known in the UK. As such the remains at the site of the Comet are extremely rare and merit further detailed study. Henry Bell’s Comet is of international significance as Europe’s first commercial steamship and occupies an important place in the history of steam-powered navigation. By designating the wreck with scheduled monument status, this means that visitors can dive on the wreck but must not disturb the wreck or remove artefacts without scheduled monument consent from Historic Environment Scotland, to help protect the remains of this significant vessel.”

Tony Dalton, who coordinated the search for the wreck site, commented: “Over three years of research, exploration and survey by a small group in Argyll established the correct facts behind the wrecking of Comet and enabled us to pinpoint the site. Together with Glasgow Museums it was very much a team effort, leading to diving and discovery by John & Joanne Beaton, together with images of the engine, two centuries after it sank. Comet was one of the earliest steamships to be wrecked in Britain, and the initial survey by Wessex Archaeology reveals a wealth of surviving artefacts that can improve our understanding of very early steamships. We are all delighted that Comet is given the vital protection of designation so that further surveys can gain more knowledge and understanding from this wreck of national importance.”

Further information on the Comet and its status as a scheduled monument can be found on the HES Portal:

Main photo: A sepia archive illustration of the Comet passing by Dumbarton Castle. Image © The Mitchell Library, Glasgow City Libraries and Archives.


The Clan MacEwen search for Chief

In June 2024, Clan MacEwen will come together for what might well be the most momentous gathering in its entire history. The Scottish part of that history began in the 11th century when the Irish prince Ánrothán Ua Néill of the powerful O’Neill dynasty, descendant of the legendary Niall of the Nine Hostages, left Ireland for Kintyre. He died in 1036 with several Clans – Lamont, Maclachlan, MacNeil, MacSween and MacSorley among them, as well as MacEwen – claiming descent from his line.

The MacEwens developed into a leading Dalriadic Clan and had their first Chief in about 1200. Seven more Chiefs followed and in 1429 Swene MacEwen of Otter was recognized as the ninth Chief of Clan MacEwen. At this point, however, things went awry and in March 1432 Swene, presumably in a state of some desperation, resigned his title to the Barony of Otter to his feudal lord, King James. The King restored Swene to his title but designated Gillespie Campbell as heir to the Barony of Otter. When Swene died (it is not sure exactly when), the Barony passed into the hands of the Campbells.

Clan MacEwen Society

Sir John McEwen and family.

Since then, the MacEwen Clan has been landless and Chiefless, sometimes officially designated “a broken Clan”, and always looking forward to better times and back to its time of glory as one of the leading Clans in the West of Scotland. When the 19th century brought greater awareness of Clan histories, the MacEwens made sure to establish as theirs the beautiful restrained tartan they wear, their crest – the stunted oak tree uttering forth new growth – and motto – “Reviresco” which translates as “We Shall Rise Again” or “We Grow Green”. In the 21st century, the Clan decided to add the war cry “Cómhla!” (“Together!”) and a cap badge of yew to its armoury of treasured symbols.

In the 1950s several leading members of the Clan had approached the poet and politician, Sir John McEwen, 1st Baronet of Marchmont & Bardrochat, to see if he would be interested in becoming the 10th Chief of the Clan. He declared an interest in doing whatever he could for the good of the Clan and slowly, slowly, wheels began to turn. While three further Baronets lived and died, not a great deal was achieved but in 1994 the Maclachlans spurred the Clan Ewen Society (as it was called from its foundation in 1977, now, since 2019, the Clan MacEwen Society) into action. The Maclachlans made the erroneous claim that the MacEwen Clan was a sept of the Maclachlan Clan but there was nothing to be done about this because the MacEwens had no representation on the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs, because they were chiefless. The Society approached Sir John McEwen, 5th Baronet, who responded as his grandfather had done.

Since then, after immense volumes of correspondence mainly with the Lyon Court, much assisted by the late great genealogist, Hugh Peskett, the MacEwen Clan has made considerable progress. In 2014 Sir John McEwen was appointed Commander of the Clan for an initial period of five years. In 2019 the appointment was ratified by the Clan. Throughout, Sir John (an actor and playwright, husband of Rachel and father of four) has been actively seeking out further claimants to the Chiefship, especially searching for anyone who might lay claim to descent from the last known Chief, Swene MacEwen.

Family convention

Members of Clan MacEwan meet at Otter Ferry in 2023.

No one else has as yet come forward but the search will continue until the Gathering on June 8th when a senior member of the Lyon Court will attend the “Family Convention” and, if all goes well, by the end of the day the MacEwen Clan will have a Chief once more. The jollification of an inauguration should follow in due course, but the solemn moment of restoration will occur – if all goes to plan – in June. This all depends on the Clan having proved itself over the last ten years to be organized and thriving which, as burgeoning membership and gathering-attendance figures show, it certainly is. In common with most Scottish Clans, much of its energy comes from the diaspora, from the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in particular, but Clan MacEwen is rooted in Scotland and Scottishness and its Commander, Chair and Vice-Chair all live in Scotland. It is very aware, however, of its international identity and indeed exults in it. It has two pipe bands, one German, one Australian, members in France, the Netherlands, Italy and many in England, and it takes seriously its responsibility as a global organization, even if rooted at Kilfinan on the shores of Loch Fyne, where the Chair of the Society now lives.

Responding to the 21st century, the Clan sees itself as a force for good and wants particularly to be known as “The Clan That Plants Trees” and “The Clan That Speaks Gaelic (or tries to)”. The Clan woodland, by its ancestral homeland at Tighnabruich, is just now being planted. The Clans in the 21st century of course play a very different part to that played by their ancestors, but they remain of deep importance and considerable power. The task of all of them is to remain relevant and benevolent, Scottish and international, steeped in history but forging ahead into the future. Clan MacEwen, with a vibrant and relatively youthful leadership group with imaginative and innovative commissioners in every part of the diaspora, has already proved itself more than up to the task of Clanship in the 21st century. All it needs now … is a Chief.

For more information on the work of the Clan, and the Convention, please visit:

Scotland’s oldest tartan recreated

Scotland’s specialist manufacturer and distributor of tartan fabrics and Highlandwear accessories, The House of Edgar, has recreated the oldest-known piece of Scottish tartan ever found, which was buried for centuries. Discovered approximately forty years ago in a peat bog, the Glen Affric Tartan underwent testing organised by The Scottish Tartans Authority last year to confirm it was the oldest surviving piece of tartan, dating from 1500-1600 AD and went on to be exhibited at the V&A Dundee. Although earlier cloths have been discovered in Scotland, this is the first to show a distinctive tartan pattern with multiple crossing lines of different dyed yarns.

The team at Macnaughton Holdings have reconstructed the Glen Affric tartan to continue to its legacy.

The House of Edgar, home to some of the finest and most respected craftspeople in the industry, worked under the guidance of Peter Macdonald, tartan historian and Head of Research & Collections at the Scottish Tartans Authority to recreate the Glen Affric tartan for people to wear as it could have been when it was first dyed then woven. It features the colours that dye analysis of the original tartan had confirmed – this included the use of green, yellow and red, which would have come from woad or indigo to create the green along with other natural dyes. This, along with the determined thread count, helped The House of Edgar bring this piece of Scottish history back to life.

Emma Wilkinson, the Designer for House of Edgar who worked on the project commented: “I create new tartans every day but this project is truly special – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to recreate a piece of history. Tartan is such an iconic piece of Scotland’s identity and it has been a true pleasure to see this fabric come back to life to be enjoyed for generations to come.”

Reach back in time and touch history

Emma Wilkinson, Designer, House of Edgar & Peter MacDonald, Head of Research & Collections, The Scottish Tartans Authority.

Peter E MacDonald, Head of Research & Collections at The Scottish Tartans Authority, said: “It was a privilege to examine the Glen Affric specimen which represents an extraordinary survivor of our textile history. The dye-analysis, Carbon14 dating and a detailed study of the piece, together with a collaboration with House of Edgar, has brought back to life a tartan that allows us to reach back in time and touch history. It is quite special to see the tartan remade as it could have been 500 years ago.”

The reconstructed tartan is included along with 28 contrastingly new tartans in The House of Edgar’s new collection entitled Seventeen Eighty Three, the year in which the company first started textile production. James Wylie, Assistant Curator from the V&A Dundee, added: “The Glen Affric tartan took the world by storm when it was revealed prior to the opening of V&A Dundee’s Tartan exhibition and continued to be a major draw for many visitors over the months. I am delighted that V&A Dundee could contribute to the preservation of this significant artefact. More so, I am excited its legacy can now live on through the studious efforts of The Scottish Tartans Authority and House of Edgar in reinterpreting its design, for the enjoyment and interest of all who cherish tartan’s historic allure.”

The new Glen Affric tartan is available for businesses to purchase from The House of Edgar and the public can request it from any Highlandwear supplier, with a percentage of all sales going to The Scottish Tartans Authority to support its work preserving the fabric of the nation.

Main photo: From left to right: James Wylie, Assistant Curator, V&A Dundee; Peter MacDonald, Head of Research & Collections, The Scottish Tartans Authority; Nick Statt, Sales Director, House of Edgar; John McLeish, Chair, The Scottish Tartans Authority and Emma Wilkinson, Designer, House of Edgar.

The 2024 Victorian Pipe Band Championships come to Melbourne in March

The Melbourne Highland Games & Celtic Festival are honoured to be hosting the Victorian Pipe Band Championships for 2024. This year, the Games, will play host to the Victorian Pipe Band Championships, the culmination contest in the Victorian pipe band calendar.

Pipe Bands Victoria is thrilled to be returning to the Melbourne Highland Games and Celtic Festival in 2024 and hopes to welcome 30 or more competing pipe bands.  The Games on Sunday March 24th and are just three weeks before the 2024 Australian Pipe Band Championships in Maryborough, Victoria. What better way to get those drones and drums perfectly tuned to Victorian conditions? Come, join the clans, the dancers, and the heavy games, Pipe Bands Victoria will make you welcome.

Band entries (closing March 3rd) may be accessed at:

Any non-competing pipe bands who would like to perform at the Games should contact our Bands Coordinator at [email protected]

For more information on the Melbourne Highland Games and Celtic Festival see:

Editorial – The Scottish Banner Says….

March- 2024 (Vol. 47, Number 09)

The Banner Says…

Celebrating a Celtic mosaic

The welcoming commitee on Barra. Photo VisitScotland/Kenny Lam.

Scotland is a land of rugged landscapes, ancient castles, dramatic history and haunting bagpipe melodies and certainly has its very own unique and rich culture, but it also shares deep-rooted connections with other Celtic nations.

Celtic DNA

A letter we ran in the February edition caught my eye as our reader claimed to mostly be Scottish but also had a ‘Celtic DNA mosaic” and ‘a healthy dose of Irish, Welsh and English’ flowing through them. I am sure many of us do, and some may not be aware of how far reaching our Celtic bloodlines travel. I know our family blood is multi-generational Scottish but can also be traced back to the cathedral town of Letterkenny in north-west Ireland for example.

This month some of our Celtic family celebrate their unique, but linked, cultures. The Welsh will be celebrating the life of their patron saint, St David, and the Welsh culture on March 1st. Saint Piran’s Day is celebrated each year on 5th March in Cornwall and the Irish will be out in full force on March 17th in a sea of green celebration.

Part of tradition

Whilst there is no one ‘Celtic language’ there is an estimated two million speakers of the six Celtic languages in existence (Breton, Cornish, Irish, Manx, Scottish Gaelic and Welsh). Irish (Gaelic) speakers are by far the highest of that number, with an estimated over one million speakers. This is followed by Welsh and Breton speakers. Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig) comes in fourth and is a language we highlight regularly in this publication, and the Highlands and islands remain strongholds of Gaelic culture in Scotland. Positively more than 1.5 million people have started learning Scottish Gaelic on Duolingo (a language learning app) since it launched four years ago. Finally Manx and Cornish round up the six Celtic languages still spoken today.

Storytelling is a big part of all Celtic cultures. What Celt doesn’t love to tell a tale, these parts of social history are passed down generation to generation and weave themselves into the story of the nation and part of tradition. Legends, folklore, mythology, facts and fiction all create enchanting tales of magic, heroes, and otherworldly creatures for Celts. Cornwall, Scotland and Wales all lay some claim to King Arthur for example. While the Irish, Scots and Manx all share the mythological Celtic ancestor, Cailleach, the veiled goddess of winter.

Of course, one place we all revel in storytelling is in Celtic music, the stories, humour and sense of place a melody can give is an integral part of any Celtic nations culture and melody.

In this issue

International Women’s Day takes place this month on March 8th, we are again highlighting another great Scottish female trailblazer. Pioneering Glasgow-born filmmaker Jenny Gilbertson created documentary films of a Shetland life that is no more. She also went on to make her mark on Canadian film. You can catch her work this month in Scotland or from home via a special livestream.

One of Orkney’s many historic sites is Hackness Martello Tower and Battery which was built to protect British convoys in the early 1800s. Fortunately the site never had hostile action happen, but it does offer a unique insight into what military life was like more than 200 years ago.

Dunoon Burgh Hall opened in 1874 to celebrate the conferring of Burgh status for the town and was built to provide the local community with a public hall, municipal offices, and the very first theatre in Argyll. Over the last 150 years this Category B-listed Scottish Baronial landmark has hosted numerous events and been a focus for community celebration and connection and we are fortunate to highlight yet another great Scottish historic building.

Celtic spirit

The link Scotland has with other Celtic nations, transcends borders, and is woven through a history, language, culture, and a shared sense of Celtic identity. Whether through folklore, music, landscapes, food or shared struggles, these bonds remind us that the Celtic spirit endures and we certainly all share some common ground with one another.

Scotland of course runs through the veins of most reading this, and the Scottish Banner itself, but that does not mean we don’t intertwine, celebrate, champion and appreciate the incredible Celtic cultures found across the Celtic nations. Celts travelled far and wide before borders were a thing, and perhaps many of us can link our bloodlines across Europe. Could you have more than just Scottish ancestry and your blood line links to Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall, Brittany or Galicia? Beyond that of course many may linto a variety of European and beyond ancestries.

Being a Celt is like being part of an even larger family, and that surely must be one of the great aspects of our shared Celtic spirit.

Do you have a variety of Celtic ancestry? Do you follow any Celtic traditions outside of Scottish? Do you have you any comments from the content in this month’s edition? Share your story with us by email, post, social media or at:

#ScottishBanner, #TheBanner

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We appreciate your support and hope you enjoy this edition.

Stirling’s Royal Mile

Stirling is one of Scotland’s top historic centres and created as a Royal Burgh in 1124. The city is dominated by the imposing Stirling Castle, perched high above the streets filled with Scottish history. Below the castle however the visitor will find historic gems around every corner, as David McVey explains.

Stirling Castle is generally pretty busy. No wonder; it’s one of Scotland’s world-class tourist destinations and a visit there is something you will not forget. Stirling’s historic quarter, leading down to the city centre from the Castle, is full of other historic surprises and delights. Two parallel streets, Spittal Street which becomes St John Street, and Baker Street which becomes Broad Street, climb the hill and join to form Castle Wynd, the final approach to the Castle. This, if you like, is Stirling’s Royal Mile. But except for the Castle itself, there are no crowds like those in Edinburgh.

Holy Rude

Church of Holy Rude.

The Castle’s best-known near-neighbour is the historic Church of the Holy Rude. ‘Rude’ is an old word for ‘cross’, ‘Holy Rude’ being the same as ‘Holyrood’ in Edinburgh. Much of the church’s interior is now Victorian, including almost all of the stained glass, but the building dates back 600 years. It was one of the earliest churches in Scotland to embrace the Reformation and is now the only surviving church in the United Kingdom, besides Westminster Abbey, to have hosted to a coronation – the infant James VI in 1567. There’s a memorial in the church to John Cowane, a wealthy merchant who died in 1633; his grave is in the old kirkyard outside. He left a legacy for the building of an almshouse, Cowane’s Hospital, for elderly merchants. The building is still there, across Mar Place from the kirk.

A trust was formed with Cowane’s legacy in 1637 and construction of the hospital began then. Originally it provided accommodation for 12 ailing merchants but has since served a number of uses. In the Victorian era it became the home of Stirling’s Guild of Merchants and the breathtaking interior dates from then. The building has recently been subject to a two-year refurbishment. The exterior is pretty much as it was when built, with Biblical texts, a belltower and a painted statue of John Cowane that was added in 1650. The statue is said to jump down from the tower and dance a jig at Hogmanay! Cowane’s Trust still exists nearly 400 years on (it’s the second-oldest charitable trust in Scotland) and still funds charitable work in the town.

Outside the building is a bowling green that dates from 1712, Scotland’s oldest. In the gardens are two large cannon with a story to tell. They were forged in the Carron Works, just down the road near Falkirk, and were sold to the Russian navy. They were captured by the British during the Crimean War, returned home, and have been at Cowane’s Hospital since 1857. The building is free to visit. For considerably more you can hire it for events. A small takeaway café operates from the building during opening hours. However, Cowane’s Hospital isn’t the only repurposed historic building in this part of town.

Old Jail

Further down St John Street is Stirling’s Old Town Jail. From 1847 this was indeed the town’s prison and is now a popular visitor attraction. The jail replaced the confinement facilities in the Tolbooth, a mostly 18th century building that housed a number of municipal services including courts of law. Since 2000, the tollbooth has also been re-used as an arts and performance venue.

The former Erskine Marykirk church is next door to the Old Jail. This church’s origins are in the 18th century when the splendidly-named Revd Ebenezer Erskine led a secession from the established kirk. Stirling Youth Hostel now occupies the footprint of the 1826 church building but its impressive façade has been retained. In the grounds is an 1859 monument to Ebenezer Erskine.

More repurposing. The Portcullis Hotel, at the foot of the Castle Esplanade, is popular with castle visitors. The building dates from 1787 and was originally the town’s grammar school. It was replaced in 1856 by Stirling High School in nearby Spittal Street. In turn, this school moved to new buildings in 1962 and the old High School now serves as the Stirling Highland Hotel. A remarkable feature of the school was its astronomical observatory, gifted by future Prime Minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman in 1889. It is still in working order, giving the hotel a possibly unique selling point.

The Valley Cemetery

Solway Martyrs Monument, Valley Cemetery.

Adjacent to the Holy Rude kirkyard is The Valley Cemetery. The Valley is the dip between the Castle Rock and the church, and it’s possible that this was the setting for tournaments and jousting in Stirling Castle’s heyday. In the centre is a natural outcrop known as Ladies’ Rock, the spot from which, supposedly, ladies could watch the fun and games. Scott describes it in Waverley: Waverley could not have failed to admire the mixture of romance and beauty which renders interesting the scene through which he was passing – the field which had been the scene of the tournaments of old – the rock from which the ladies beheld the contest, while each made vows for the success of some favourite knight. It’s still a great spot.

The cemetery was opened here in 1858, the brainchild of William Drummond, ‘seedsman and evangelist’. It is laid out very differently from the higgledy-piggledy kirkyard with broad avenues allowing carriage access to every grave. The cemetery was designed as an improving and instructing experience, with statues of Reformation heroes and heroines, including John Knox and Andrew Melville. There is a striking memorial, encased in glass, to Margaret Wilson and Margaret McLachlan, the Wigtown Martyrs. They refused to acknowledge James VII as head of the Church of Scotland and were executed by being tied to stakes as the Solway Firth tides approached, even though a reprieve had been issued.

Adding to the instructive impact of the Valley cemetery, across a narrow lane is the Drummond Pleasure Ground, which was developed between 1862 and 1863. Drummond intended this as a green and pleasant location for people to stroll on Sundays while ingesting symbolic truths about their faith. Its focus is the bizarre Star Pyramid, a monument to the Covenanting martyrs designed by William Barclay for Drummond. Drummond intended the Pleasure Ground to be separate from the Valley Cemetery, a place for pleasant learning and reflection, not a burial place. As it turns out, there is a burial there, just one, Drummond himself. He died in 1888.

Stirling’s history

Ladies Rock.

I think it would be possible to spend an entire day taking in Stirling’s history without going near Stirling Castle. Of course, that would be absurd; the castle is unmissable. And, in normal times, your entry to the Castle also includes a guided tour of Argyll’s Lodging on Castle Wynd. Begun in the 1500s, it is an impressive townhouse with a complicated history of rebuilding and repurposing. By the 1670s it was occupied by the 9th Earl of Argyll, hence the name. In the 20th century became the town’s Youth Hostel. It came into the care of Historic Environment Scotland when the Scottish Youth Hostels Association took over Erskine Marykirk Church. At the time of my most recent visit Argyll’s Lodging was undergoing maintenance work. Check online for likely reopening dates to avoid disappointment.

It’s home to a fantastic castle, but so much more than that. Spend some time in Stirling’s Royal Mile.


Main photo: Stirling Castle. Photo: VisitScotland.

‘Okay Tam where is it?’: Aberdeen GP on how his grandfather kept the Stone of Destiny hidden in 1950

A massive manhunt was sparked after the stone was removed from Westminster Abbey by four students, and Tam Smith from Bannockburn played his part in the now infamous episode Neil Drysdale reports.

The Stone of Destiny was removed from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day in 1950.

Tam Smith was as busy as ever in his engineering workshop early in 1951. But, as he took a breather, his eyes focused on a newspaper which conveyed how police forces across Britain were searching for the Stone of Destiny, which had been removed from Westminster Abbey by four students on Christmas Day a few weeks earlier. As a staunch nationalist, Tam was interested in the story, not least because of the manner in which the youngsters, Ian Hamilton, Gavin Vernon, Kay Matheson – who hailed from Wester Ross, and Alan Stuart, had managed to “liberate” the Stone of Scone – the ancient artefact upon which Scottish monarchs had been crowned – despite a massive manhunt by the authorities.

Suddenly, though, there was a visitor in his presence. It was a senior police officer, a decent chap who enjoyed a natter, but was well aware of his compatriot’s political leanings and thought it would be funny to raise the subject of the missing stone. “Okay, Tam, where is it?” he asked, as the prelude to the pair sharing a laugh. If only he had known that the prized item was sitting just a few feet away! In the aftermath of the heist, the monument, dating back to the 13th century, had become too hot to handle, but one of Tam’s close friends called at his workshop in Stirling early in January with his car and trailer and asked: “Are you 100% Scotsman?” Quick as a flash, he replied: “I am 200%, if that is possible. Bring it in. I had guessed that the cargo on his trailer was the stone.”

He was proud of his part in it

He spoke to the People’s Journal in 1967, omitting some of the more sensitive details to avoid implicating others, but Tam’s exploits became part of his family lore. And his grandson, former Aberdeen GP, Ken Lawton, has talked about the background to one of the more remarkable incidents in Scottish history. He said: “Tam was born in the Gorbals (in Glasgow) in 1890 and he always had a great social conscience and I can remember him with a sticker on his car saying ‘It’s Scotland’s Oil’ in the 1970s. He was a true nationalist and was quite happy to play a role in keeping the stone hidden from the authorities, despite all their efforts to track down it down.

They even hired a psychic

Tam with the Stone.

“In his terms, the stone hadn’t been stolen, but brought back to where it belonged in the first place, and he even took a little bit of the artefact which he kept in a matchbox in a secret drawer and which he would show a few of us at family gatherings. Months passed and the police grew a little desperate. They even tried out a Dutch psychic, who told them that the stone was hidden near a graveyard and close to a small bridge – and both of these fitted the location of my grandfather’s workshop. But they had no joy in their hunt and Tam always thought it was appropriate that here was the stone hidden in a place which just happened to be in Bannockburn.”

Eventually, in April 1951, the police received a message and the stone was discovered on the site of the High Altar at Arbroath Abbey, where, in 1320, the assertion of Scottish nationhood had been made in the Declaration of Arbroath. And, although it was returned to Westminster Abbey early in 1952 – more than two years after Hamilton and his colleagues launched their audacious plan – no action was taken against the quartet of students because it was deemed it would not be in the national interest to punish them in the courts. To some, they were “heroes”, to one or two others, they were ‘traitors’ and that political divide has never healed. Indeed, an argument broke out in recent weeks when it emerged that a “missing” fragment of the Stone of Destiny had been kept out of the public gaze at the SNP’s headquarters.

Party politics spilled over again

Shadow secretary for business, economic growth and tourism Murdo Fraser MSP said: “It may be fanciful to restore this fragment to the Stone of Destiny, given the claim that it results from the damage caused when it was stolen in the 1950s. The crucial thing is to get it on public view, and not kept in a cupboard in an SNP office. People will be delighted to see it alongside the stone in Perth, in the splendid new museum which has been funded thanks to the UK government.”

However, another perspective was offered by the Alba MP, Kenny MacAskill, who is convinced that the events of more than 70 years ago made a powerful statement. He said: “The stone is part of Scottish history, both past and more recently. The actions of those who stole or liberated it were more than just a jolly jape. It was an attempt to keep Scottish identity alive and to push for Scotland’s distinct nationhood. Those involved deserve enormous credit, because there must have been huge risks for them at the time.

It is a part of who we are as Scots

Tam and his wife in 1986.

“The steps later taken, even by Michael Forsyth, an arch unionist (the Stone of Destiny was officially returned to Scotland in 1996 and put on display in Edinburgh Castle) were doubtless partly triggered by that and were a recognition of its symbolic importance. Whilst a growing number of people in Scotland now veer towards republicanism it doesn’t diminish the history and status of the stone. It is part of who we are as Scots. As for a fragment of it going to Perth Museum, then why not?”

Ken Lawton has spoken about his grandfather Tam Smith’s role in hiding the Stone of Destiny in 1950. Ken Lawton has no doubt that Tam, who died in 1987 at the grand old age of 97, and who celebrated his platinum (70th)  wedding anniversary to Janet the year before, would be delighted that the stone was back home. And, for him at least, a small part of it never went away.

Tam was buried with the fragment

He said: “My grandfather was a humble man, but he took his responsibilities seriously when it came to the stone. He never identified who it was who came to his yard back in 1950 and, although he wasn’t part of the plot, he was proud to be a link in the chain.” Ken added: “He was also thrilled he had a small fragment of the stone in his possession from when he was its guardian and I’m sure it was buried with him in Bannockburn Cemetery. It was a different time then, but I’m glad that his story is finally being told.”

Main photo: A young Ian Hamilton (centre).

National Trust for Scotland becomes the ‘safe haven’ for famous Charles Rennie Mackintosh tea rooms in Glasgow

Scotland’s largest conservation charity, the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) joined The Willow Tea Rooms Trust to announce that Mackintosh at the Willow, in Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street, is to become part of the NTS’s portfolio of heritage properties. The Trust’s intervention, made at The Willow Tea Rooms Trust’s request, following difficult trading conditions which threatened the future of Mackintosh at the Willow, has secured this important and original work by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  Enabled by support from its members and donors, the National Trust for Scotland is using £1.75 million of its reserves and acquisition funds to secure the property, with vital additional help given by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF), Glasgow City Council, Celia Sinclair Thornqvist MBE and her husband, Rolf Thornqvist.  As a result, the property will continue trading as normal with many jobs preserved.

The unique vision of Mackintosh

Ladies’ Room, 1905. Photo: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow.

Mackintosh at the Willow, which dates to 1903 and was purchased, saved and restored by Celia Sinclair Thornqvist MBE and The Willow Tea Rooms Trust between 2014 and 2018, is the last remaining original of the several tea rooms designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, working with his wife Margaret Macdonald, for pioneering Glasgow entrepreneur Miss Catherine ‘Kate’ Cranston. The restoration resulted in one of the most spectacular heritage attractions in the city, restoring and recreating jewel-like interior designs and a frontage that pay testament to the unique vision of Mackintosh and Macdonald.

The early 20th century patrons of the tea rooms had never seen anything like these designs before and they quickly became a popular setting in which to socialise, particularly for women seeking a safe space for refreshments and conversation.  The tea rooms are cited worldwide in architectural histories as one of Glasgow’s most important contributions towards modernism and they were, alongside Mackintosh and Macdonald’s other works, highly influential in Europe and elsewhere from the moment of their opening. Although the tea rooms have in the last year attracted over 230,000 visitors, the cumulative impacts of the disruption caused to Sauchiehall Street by the second fire at the Glasgow School of Art and the COVID pandemic had adversely affected the tea rooms’ income, despite the underlying business model being sound.  As a consequence, given the importance of the site to Scotland’s national heritage, the National Trust for Scotland was approached last year to consider options that would ensure the tea room’s long-term security and sustainability.

One of the greatest architects of the 20th century

Mackintosh at the Willow in Glasgow’s Sauchiehall St today. © Gibson Digital / National Trust for Scotland.

Phil Long OBE, the National Trust for Scotland’s Chief Executive, said: “Mackintosh is one of the greatest architects of the 20th century, respected internationally for his breathtaking and innovative design. People from around the world travel to Scotland to see his and his wife Margaret Macdonald’s brilliant work together.  As the custodians of one of Mackintosh’s other rare masterpieces, the Hill House (on which Macdonald also collaborated), we see the acquisition of Mackintosh at the Willow as a perfect fit. The brilliant restoration by The Willow Tea Rooms Trust gifted back to the nation an exceptional example of architectural heritage that we are proud to bring into our care.

Despite difficulties that were outwith the control of The Willow Tea Rooms Trustees and the management team, the work they have done with their staff in welcoming visitors, running community learning and outreach and in providing an exceptional heritage experience is exemplary – and we are certain we can build on their achievements to ensure the long-term sustainability and survival of this wonderful place on behalf of Glasgow and Scotland.”

View of Sauchiehall Street looking E., 1910–12 Copyright Dr Chris Jones Collection.

Celia Sinclair Thornqvist MBE, Founder, Past Chair and Trustee of The Willow Tea Rooms Trust (WTRT), said: “From the beginning, it was our aim to restore and conserve this last remaining and most beautiful example of Mackintosh’s masterful designs for tea rooms to the highest possible standards. Through this new partnership, I am delighted and relieved that a way has been found to sustain this global icon in Glasgow and Scotland, so that it can continue to be protected and shared. I alone cannot take all the credit for the initial rescue of Mackintosh at the Willow and proving its worth.  Many others played a part which enabled the financial independence needed to allow us to function as a living, breathing museum.

Fate though intervened: Unexpected events in the form of the two serious fires at the Glasgow School of Art closed down Sauchiehall Street for many months and were followed by COVID lockdowns and yet another fire nearby.  These proved to have baleful impacts on our trading and business plan.  We were able to survive this despite the odds, but it was proof of the vulnerability of a single standalone charitable Trust, and it was resolved that we needed to find another way forward. We wanted to ensure that Mackintosh at the Willow would be in the hands of people who shared our ethos and passion for the heritage this place represents – and that is why we are so glad that we have been able to come to this arrangement with the National Trust for Scotland.”

Mackintosh at the Willow. © Gibson Digital / National Trust for Scotland.

Mackintosh at the Willow formally became one of the National Trust for Scotland’s properties in January 2024. The property is within walking distance to the National Trust for Scotland’s Tenement House in Glasgow’s Garnethill, which offers a contrasting but complementary experience of Glaswegian life at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.  The tea rooms also join other Trust properties in the region – Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson’s Holmwood in Cathcart and Greenbank Garden in Clarkston. Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Hill House, which is currently undergoing a multi-million-pound restoration under a protective ‘box’, is also owned by the National Trust for Scotland and is just over an hour away from Glasgow by train.

Background information on Mackintosh at the Willow can be found at:


Did you know?

-Charles Rennie Mackintosh is perhaps the greatest and best-known Scottish architect. He was born on 7 June 1868 in Glasgow.

-Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh was born on 5 November 1864 in Tipton, Staffordshire. She created several important interior schemes with her husband, including designs for House for an Art Lover in 1900, and the Willow Tea Rooms in 1903.

-Miss Catherine ‘Kate’ Cranston was born on 27 May 1849 in Glasgow. Her status as one of Scotland’s most important female entrepreneurs was recognised in 2018 when it was announced that she would feature on a design for The Royal Bank of Scotland £20 note – the first woman other than Queen Elizabeth II to be depicted on a Scottish banknote.

-The original Willow Tea Rooms Building was initially opened by Miss Cranston and designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh with design input from his wife, Margaret Macdonald in 1903.

-Mackintosh first worked for Miss Catherine ‘Kate’ Cranston in 1896, designing murals of her new Buchanan Street tearooms.

-In 1898, he then worked on her existing Argyle Street tearooms designing the furniture and interiors and by 1900 Miss Cranston commissioned him to redesign an entire room in her Ingram Street tearooms (the restored Oak Room from which is now on show at V&A Dundee).

-This ultimately led to a commission for the complete design of the proposed new tearooms in Sauchiehall Street in 1903.  Mackintosh for the first time was given responsibility for not only the interior design and furniture, but also for the full detail of the internal layout and exterior architectural treatment.

-The resultant building came to be known as the Willow Tearooms, now known as Mackintosh at the Willow, and is the best known and most important work that Mackintosh undertook for Miss Cranston.

National Museums Scotland gifted fleece of Dolly the Sheep

National Museums Scotland has acquired a fleece from Dolly the Sheep. The fleece, which recently appeared on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, has been donated to the National Collections by Dr William A. Ritchie, the embryologist on the Roslin Institute team that created Dolly, the world’s first mammal cloned from an adult cell. The fleece is from Dolly’s second or third shearing and has been gifted to National Museums Scotland along with scratch-built lab equipment including sharpened glass pipettes, and an electrical fusion machine. The bespoke tools were crucial to the success of the Roslin Institute’s ground breaking cloning procedure.

Sophie Goggins, Senior Curator of Biomedical Science at National Museums Scotland, said: “We are delighted to add Dolly’s fleece and these remarkable instruments to the National Collections, thanks to the generosity of Dr William A. Ritchie. Dolly the Sheep represents one of the most important scientific advances of the 20th century. Her fleece will now be available to researchers ensuring Dolly’s contribution to science continues for generations to come.”

Extraordinary scientific achievement

Dolly the Sheep. Photo: © National Museums Scotland.

Dr William A. Ritchie, said: “When Dolly the sheep was introduced to the world the scientific community went wild. The impossible had been achieved, and to make the story even more remarkable, some of the equipment used to produce this breakthrough was handmade in the Roslin institute’s workshop just outside Edinburgh.  It is only fitting that the equipment and the fleece are reunited with Dolly in Scotland’s National Collections to add to the story of this extraordinary scientific achievement.”

Following a five-day quarantine in the National Museums Collection Centre freezer, the fleece has joined a range of material associated with Dolly, including her skeleton, death mask and fellow cloned sheep Morag and Megan. In addition to the material on display, National Museums Scotland holds a huge and globally significant collection across many disciplines and subject areas. Open to research, these collections inform and inspire the science of the future.

Dolly the Sheep, at the National Museum of Scotland. Photo: © Ruth Armstrong Photography.

Dolly the Sheep was born in 1996 at the Roslin Institute just outside Edinburgh. Her birth captured the public imagination and transformed scientific understanding of biology and medicine. Inspired by the adult mammary gland cell used to create her, Dolly was named after Dolly Parton, the country and western singer. She spent her entire life in Roslin where she gave birth to six healthy lambs and died in 2003 aged six. Preserved on a custom-built fibre glass frame, Dolly has been on display at the National Museum of Scotland for almost 20 years and remains one of the museum’s most popular exhibits.

Main photo: Curator Sophie Goggins with Dolly the Sheep fleece. Photo: © Duncan McGlynn.

World Gaelic Week 2024

Seachdain na Gàidhlig (World Gaelic Week) is gearing up for its third and most ambitious year as organisers unveil the first wave of events in the week’s packed programme for 2024, with the theme Do Chànan. Do Chothrom, which translates to Your Language. Your Opportunity.  The first official nationwide language week of its kind in Scotland, Seachdain na Gàidhlig 2024 will run from 19th – 25th February and will see a plethora of vibrant events take place across the country and beyond, both in person and online.  From workshops to walking tours, coffee mornings to cèilidhs, communities are set to come together to share their appreciation for Scotland’s heritage and cultural identity.

Widespread celebration

This year, 53 events across 17 council areas have been funded with help from the Small Grants Fund, supported by Bòrd na Gàidhlig. Seachdain na Gàidhlig is not just for those who have received financial support, however, with organisers keen to emphasise that everyone and anyone can get involved. The essence of the week-long event lies in welcoming individuals, community groups, clubs and schools to take part in any way they can. Whether it’s a casual conversation in Gaelic, sharing a Gaelic phrase or joining any of the numerous events happening throughout the week, every contribution, no matter how small, enriches the tapestry of this widespread celebration.

Anyone keen to take part can add their own event to the week’s programme through the official online diary at:

The Celtic heart of Melbourne beats strongly at the 2024 Melbourne Highland Games & Celtic Festival

The Melbourne Highland Games & Celtic Festival has been around for more than half a century and, as the only traditional Scottish Highland games remaining in metropolitan Melbourne, we intend to be around for another 50 years. The first Highland Games in Ringwood started from a desire to connect to Scottish culture, to bring people together and to celebrate Scots in Australia through staging a Highland Games in the tradition of the ancient Scottish Highland Games.

From the humble beginnings as the Ringwood Highland Games, this community event has survived many challenges and have now grown to be a vibrant diverse Celtic Festival celebrating our shared Celtic culture through music, dance, cuisine, athletics and great craic. To use a very Scottish expression this year’s event is promising to be a “braw” event.

Victorian Pipe Band Championships

The Games are very excited to be the host for the Victorian Pipe band Championships. The last time they were to host the Championships in 2020 it had to be cancelled, so many are working hard to make this year’s championships very special. The plans are to host the Games biggest championships ever with up to 30 bands competing from mainly Victoria. The last two events have been well attended with bumper crowds. When you look at the calibre of the music, dancing, Games and vendors on offer that is not surprising. The 30 or so clans that come to the Games to attest to that.

Development of Heavy Games – International Status

There were no heavy games staged at the Games for 17 years. Five years ago, they worked hard and managed to re-instate the heavy games. Since their re-introduction, they expanded to a full program of Heavy Events that include men and women competitors. This year will be a brilliant lead-up to our March 2025 event which will, for the first time, be an international event with up to 30 athletes joining the Games from overseas.

Dance program

The diversity of our dance program is another aspect of our Games that has flourished over the past five years. We have a dozen different dance groups performing all day. A testament to the calibre of our dancers is that many have been invited to perform at other festivals all over the world.

All are welcome at the Games and there is something for all ages at the festival. The range and extent of our event is such that you can attend and find yourself entertained all day, not just for an hour or two. Whether it be the games, music, dancing, connecting to your clan or browsing the many vendors we have at our event, you can be sure of a full day’s entertainment at the Melbourne Highland Games & Celtic Festival.

The Melbourne Highland Games & Celtic Festival takes place on Sunday 24 March 2024, at Eastfield Park, 119 Eastfield Rd, Croydon, Victoria.  For tickets and details see:

Love from Scotland

With more couples than ever before choosing to tie the knot in Scotland there has never been a better time to escape to Scotland for a romantic getaway unlike any other. From jaw-dropping vistas and cosy hideaway nooks, to luxurious castle stays, Scotland ticks all the boxes for the perfect romantic trip. Escape to the wilderness with a loved one, discover centuries of love stories and heartbreak from some our great romantics or even head to one of Scotland’s bustling cities for a date night to remember. Reach those big, romantic milestones by popping the question, renewing vows or tying the knot and choose from a wide variety of venues and backdrops from ancient opulent castles to cutesy cottages and even Highland Safaris- there is something to suit every couple.

Here is a summary of just some of the most beautiful romantic stays, activities and locations that lovebirds from near and far can discover in Scotland.

Romantic locations

Sweetheart Abbey in Dumfries. Photo: VisitScotland.

Said to be named after Queen Victoria following her visit to the area in 1866, The Queen’s View has since become one of the most photographed areas in Scotland. Soak in the views of the Perthshire forests and woodlands and enjoy the vista that overlooks Loch Tummel- a view truly fit for royalty. Stay at the lovely Saorsa Hotel in Pitlochry, the UK’s first vegan hotel for award-winning luxury.

Visit the south west coast of Harris in the Outer Hebrides and walk along the Caribbean-like Luskentyre Sands, named one of the best beaches in the UK. The beach boasts miles of unspoilt, white sands and stunning crystal-clear waters. Nearby is the island of Taransay with dramatic hills and gorgeous sand dunes. Fall in love with the cottages at The Sheep Station close by.

Take a trip to one of Scotland’s most iconic castles, Eilean Donan Castle. This fairy tale- like castle sits on its own little island, overlooking the Isle of Skye, at the point where three sea-lochs meet and is surrounded by rolling hills and forested mountains. It is no wonder that so many people flock to the west coast to catch a glimpse of this gorgeous vista. For those moving onto Isle of Skye, stay at the nearby island of Raasay, a 25-minute scenic ferry ride from Skye and a truly romantic and wild place. The Raasay House is a beautiful and historic hotel which offers an abundance of activities for couples.

Where better to take a sweetheart than Sweetheart Abbey in Dumfries? Visit the beautiful red-sandstone ruin of the 13th century and discover the history behind it. The Abbey was originally founded by Lady Dervorgilla of Galloway, in memory of her husband Lord John Balliol. When her husband died in 1268, Lady Dervogilla, had his heart embalmed and placed in an ivory casket which she carried with her everywhere. When she died, she was laid to rest with her husbands and the monks renamed the abbey in memory of her. When sweethearts are finished sightseeing, relax at the Cairndale Hotel and Leisure Club, a close 15-minute drive from the abbey.

Cosy getaways

Meeting locals at the Woodman’s Hut. Photo: VisitScotland.

Check out these romantic getaways that will make the perfect gift for a later date.

Cook someone special a delicious meal using some of Scotland’s finest ingredients with the help of Ballintaggart Farm’s Cook School. Choose from a range of classes and courses, from short mini masterclasses to full day experiences, and receive top tips from Ballintaggart’s culinary experts. Enjoy the delicious meal then sneak away to a cosy farmhouse room complete with outdoor terrace and firepit overlooking the farm and the Perthshire countryside.

Hide away in a treehouse or hunker down in a hobbit hut. Nestled in the Perthshire countryside near Dunblane is Craighead Farm, home to Craighead Howf, a handcrafted and luxury glamping provider for adults only. The accommodation ranges from quirky little huts and summerhouses to treehouses and even cottages complete with hot tub, sauna and whisky lounge. The perfect get away for any couple.

Soak up the beautiful surroundings in the Woodman’s Hut. Based in the heart of the Cairngorm National Park beside the Fhuarian burn, complete with stargazing roof, peat fired chimenea burner, eco-hot tub and gorgeous view of the Cairngorm mountains, these little cottages make for the perfect escape with that someone special.

Live it up like royalty at Glenapp Castle on the Ayrshire coast. The luxury Scottish Baronial-style castle is complete with turrets and towers set on 36 acres of beautifully restored gardens with spellbinding views of the Isle of Arran, the Irish Sea and beyond for the ultimate fairy-tale experience. With 17 beautifully designed guest rooms, an award-winning restaurant and even bespoke Hebridean Sea Safari and glamping experiences, a stay at Glenapp is truly an exclusive experience.

For a date night to remember

Glasgow. Photo: VisitScotland.

Have a romantic night stargazing with someone special at The Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park, the UK’s first ever dedicated dark sky park and home to the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory or see the breath-taking Aurora Borealis and catch glimpse of green, red and purple hues dancing in the sky on one of Scotland’s northern islands such as Orkney or Shetland.

Head to Glasgow and catch a gig in the UNESCO city of music. The city is home to some of Scotland’s most prestigious venues such as The SSE Hydro, King Tuts Wah Wah Hut and The Barrowland Ballroom and there are various gigs and shows being hosted all over the city every day. This is definitely the key to any music lovers’ heart.

Board the Jacobite steam train and be whisked away on what is described as one of the best train journeys in the world and float through the romantic scenery of the West Highlands. On the two-hour journey from Fort William to Mallaig, discover Ben Nevis, Glenfinnan and Arisaig and take in the nearby lochs, glens, rivers and mountains and even spot Scotland’s small isles on a clear day. What a way to discover the Highlands with a loved one! 

Perfect places to say ‘Aye Do’

Dundas Castle. Photo: VisitScotland.

Experience 5 star- Scottish hospitality in total privacy with Highland Safaris. Be whisked away to the top of a 1600 ft mountain overlooking the Appin Valley and length of Glen Lyon and after saying the all-important ‘I do’s’, enjoy some of the finest Scottish fare, whiskies and traditional music and dance the night away in proper Highland style.

Experience a real-life Outlander wedding at Dundas Castle in their Auld Keep, complete with a traditional Scottish piper, a medieval banquet and a gifted replica of Claire’s ring by Scottish jeweller Hamilton and Young. The wedding breakfast is served in the castle’s Stag Chamber and whiskies enjoyed by the characters Claire and Jamie are shared with guests before an evening of fireworks and ceilidh dancing.

Say aye in a renovated Abbey turned whisky distillery at Lindores Abbey Distillery in Fife. Have exclusive use of the entire distillery and grounds and even enjoy a dram or two whilst celebrating with loved ones.

For more inspiration for a holiday to Scotland, check out

Main image: Eilean Donan Castle. Photo: VisitScotland.

The 2024 Melbourne Celtic Festival

Hot on the back of a sell-out event in 2023, Melbourne Celtic Festival (MCF) brings a fusion of tradition and modernity in 2024 at the iconic Mission to Seafarers complex in the heart of Melbourne. Featuring special international guest artist, Scottish Indian singer songwriter and harpist, Chloe Matharu.

In spectacular symmetry, Scots Singer of the Year Finalist, Chloe Matharu’s songs draw on her time as a Navigational Officer in the Merchant Navy, inspired by the natural world as experienced at sea. On tour she performs solo with her harp in English, Scots and Welsh. Chloe received Celtic Music Radio’s Album of the Year for her debut album. She lives on her family run Alpaca Trekking and Goat Yoga centre on the West Coast of Scotland.

Over 100 diverse Celtic artists

Melbourne Scottish Fiddlers.

The line-up includes over 100 diverse Celtic artists across 4 intimate stages. Premier Aussie/Scottish rock band, Claymore, much loved legends, The Bushwackers, Austral, Victoria Welsh Choir, Saoirse, Bhan Tre, Apolline, Claire Patti and Pria Schwall-Kearney, Blairdardie, Big Fiddle Little Fiddle, Co-cheòl, Maria Forde and more.

New in 2024 is the Free Ceilidh (Kay-lee) Dance with the famous Melbourne Scottish Fiddlers, Irish hard shoe dance performance and children’s class with National champion, Patrick Gigacz from Christine Ayres Irish Dance Academy, sound bath with Fiona Ross, delicious food from Kilted Haggis and The Wee Kitchen. And MCF is going ‘ON TOUR’ for one show only at Frankston Arts Centre, Friday, March 22. Ticket revenue goes to important mental health initiatives through Australian Rotary Health and Port Phillip Rotary.

Melbourne Celtic Festival takes places Saturday 16 – Sunday 17 March, 2024 at The Mission to Seafarers, 717 Flinders St.  The Melbourne Celtic Festival ‘ON TOUR’ Friday, 22 March, 2024 at Frankston Arts Centre, 27-37 Davey St. Info:

Main photo: Scots Singer of the Year Finalist, Chloe Matharu.

Snow place like Scotland

Are you visiting Scotland over the winter months? There’s nothing better than wrapping up warm and getting outside, especially knowing that the reward for a day well spent embracing the elements is warming up by the fire with a hot chocolate, or a wee dram, as part of a winter break in Scotland. Scotland is the place to be as winter begins to call, opt for one or more of the following winter experiences from the speed of sled dog racing to idyllic ice skating, or an adrenaline-fuelled weekend of skiing and snowboarding!

Skiing and snowboarding

Scottish snow season. Photo: TravMedia.

Scotland’s five ski centres offer the best outdoor skiing and snowboarding in the UK. Surrounded by beautiful Highland and Aberdeenshire scenery, the country’s ski centres are accessible from all of Scotland’s cities, suitable for both beginners and seasoned skiers or boarders. Depending on the weather, the snow season typically runs from December through to April, but be sure to find the latest news, ski conditions, webcams, weather forecasts, lift and road status updates, plus details of indoor and artificial slopes below:

Glencoe Mountain-Sledging at Glencoe Mountain is great fun for the whole family and what’s even better is that it’s free! Take a fantastic ride on the Chairlift and enjoy the views before taking the short walk to the Plateau Cafe and collecting a sledge from the bunkers just outside the cafe. Enjoy racing down the 75-metre slope before savouring a yummy hot chocolate to finish off a fun day. Those looking for more of a thrill can hire skis and snowboards to sample the steepest snow run in the UK – ‘The Flypaper’ before retiring to the on-site micro lodges for a night of regaling and rest. For more information and to book, please visit:

Cairngorm Mountain.

Snowsports at Nevis Range-Boasting Carbon Neutral status, Nevis Range has a variety of runs from gentle beginner slopes by the Gondola Top Station to more advanced off-piste runs in the Back Corries. Drawing thrill-seekers and nature enthusiasts alike, the panoramic views of the surrounding mountains add a touch of magic to every descent. Nevis Range isn’t just for skiers. The winter landscape transforms into a white canvas for snowshoeing and winter hiking. Guided trails lead adventurers through silent forests, where the only sounds are the crunching of snow beneath boots and the occasional call of a distant bird. For more information and to book, please visit:

Snowsports on Cairngorm Mountain-Located in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, with 30km of ski runs, 13 lifts and a fully maintained freestyle park, skiing and snowboarding is sure to provide a brilliant day out, catering to both beginners and experts alike.

Snow with four legs

Photo: Hen Robinson.

Sled dog racing experience- Sled dog racing is the world’s fastest growing winter sport and Scotland is where it’s happening. There are over 150 competitive teams in Scotland comprising of Siberian Huskies; Alaskan Malamutes, Samoyeds, Eskimo Dogs and purpose bred Eurohounds. These dogs are elite athletes, as well as beloved pets, and they live to run. The sport takes place on forest tracks (kinder on the dogs’ feet) and there are races and training areas from Dumfries and Galloway in the south to Inverness-shire in the north. Spend time in nature and get set to be immersed and impressed with the ultimate husky experience – with the opportunity to drive a personal dog team on some of the best trails around. Siberian Husky Sled Dog Adventures are in Stonehaven, for more information, please visit: Or visit Blairgowrie at Bowland Trails for the Siberian husky experiences, sled dog school of excellence and training centre.  For more information and to book, please visit

Meet reindeers! Roaming freely since 1952, visit Britain’s only free-ranging herd of reindeer in their natural environment, The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd. These tame and friendly animals are a joy to all who come and see them, learn all about these fascinating creatures with a guided walk right in amongst them, visitors can get up close and experience feeding these magical beings by hand – with nutritious, reindeer friendly, nibbles supplied.

Photo: The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd. Photo: Alex Smith/The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd.

The Dunedin Highland Games and Festival

The 56th Dunedin Highland Games and Festival will be held at Highlander Park, in Dunedin, Florida, on Saturday, April 6, 2024 from 8am until 6pm. The annual Scottish festival, presented by the Dunedin Scottish Arts Foundation, has been held in Dunedin since 1967.

It was first presented as a coordinated fundraiser event for the Dunedin middle school, high school, and City of Dunedin pipe band programs while simultaneously presenting a Scottish event for the Dunedin community. The Dunedin Scottish Arts Foundation maintains this tradition today by donating the proceeds of the Highland Games back to those same three pipe band programs each year.

Since 1967, the event has grown to become one of the largest events in the United States, attracting the largest gathering of piper’s drummers and Highland dancers in Florida each year. For the 2024 event, the festivities will kick off in downtown Dunedin on Friday afternoon, April 5th. There will be a “Highland Games kickoff party” with live Celtic music and food vendors Friday afternoon, and a Parade of Pipe Bands and Clans in the evening down Main Street in downtown Dunedin. This will be a fun and exciting way to celebrate Tartan Day 2024 and an excellent start to the Dunedin Highland Games and Festival.

Saturday, April 6, 2024 is the big day at Highlander Park in Dunedin, Florida. All parking is off-site and free for the Highland Games, at the nearby Dunedin High School and two local Churches, with complimentary continuous shuttle service all day. Gates will open to the public at 8 AM. Tickets are $25 at the gate and can also be purchased in advance for $20 online at There are also VIP tickets available which covers entry to the Games plus access to the VIP tent which includes catered food throughout the event, as well as complimentary beer, wine, soda, and water. Tickets for the VIP tent always sell out fast.

Something for everyone to enjoy

There is something for everyone to enjoy at the Dunedin Highland Games and Festival. We expect to welcome upwards of 50 Scottish Clans and Societies to our Clan Village area at the game. This is a fun opportunity to learn more about the various Clans represented as well as a chance to explore your own genealogy connections. There are live Celtic music bands performing throughout the day, both in the Clan Village area and in the Main Entertainment Tent/Beer tent area. There are also demonstrations of traditional Scottish Country Dancing.

Scottish Heavy Athletics competitions start early in the morning and always attract a large audience. Events such as the hammer throw and caber toss are always crowd favorites.

The Opening Ceremony at noon is an event you don’t want to miss, featuring pipe bands, and the Parade of Clans. The 2024 Florida Open Highland Dance Championship will feature hundreds of Highland dancers from all over North America and Scotland competing in various traditional Scottish Highland dance events. This event has grown so large that it now runs inside the auditorium of the Dunedin Community Center in Highlander Park.

Bagpipes, drumming, and pipe bands are a highlight of the Dunedin Highland Games. Solo piping and drumming competitions will start at 8 AM. The Dunedin Scottish Arts Foundation proudly brings in Adjudicators from all over North America and Scotland of the highest caliber, which in turn attracts piping and drumming competitors of a high standard. The pipe band contests will begin in the afternoon, and the Closing Ceremonies, where all bands will play together, will be the largest massed bands event in Florida, consisting of hundreds of pipers and drummers. It is an impressive and majestic presentation that is not to be missed! There are lots of vendors to explore at the Dunedin Highland Games.

A vast variety of Celtic merchandise vendors, as well as a large variety of food vendors, offering selections from hamburgers and chicken tenders to Scottish meat pies!  The committee hope to welcome you to Dunedin on April 6th and wish you a great day at the Highland Games.

For the latest information on the Dunedin Highland Games and Festival, please visit and follow them on Facebook at:

Whisky Galore: The story of a close-knit community

Head into the archives of Historic Environment Scotland (HES) to discover the true story which inspired Whisky Galore and go behind the scenes of a comedic cinema classic.

A great Scottish tale published in 1946, Compton MacKenzie’s Whisky Galore was inspired by real-life events surrounding the grounding of a cargo ship off the Western Isles. Three years later, the SS Politician and the Highland Nectar whisky she carried were further immortalised on screen. On the anniversary of the February event, we use HES Scran archives to explore a classic of Scottish storytelling

Disaster for SS Politician

James Morrison from Smerclate in South Uist, with one of the bottles of whisky from the SS Politician. © The Scotsman Publications Ltd.

The SS Politician launched in 1921 under her original name SS London Merchant. Sold in 1935, she was renamed and became affectionally referred to as Polly by her crew. Then during the World War Two, she participated in the Atlantic convoys supplying goods between Britain and the USA. On the morning of 5 February 1941 she set sail from Liverpool bound for New York, carrying many thousands of bottles of Scotch whisky amongst a mixed cargo. Her consignment also included significant amounts of Jamaican currency. The Politician became stranded on submerged rocks along the eastern coast of Eriskay by Calvay, though there is some dispute over the precise location.

South Uist resident Donald MacNeil (Dòmhnall Ban Eachainn). He was just one of the many islanders who liberated bottles from the SS Politician. © The Scotsman Publications Ltd.

The hull was breached, and S.O.S. messages were sent from the ship. Once the crew were safely on shore, the Hebridean locals set about trying to “recover” the whisky. About 24,000 bottles were salvaged. In the ensuing days, police and customs officers from the mainland searched the entire island with the result that several islanders were jailed for theft. These events would go on to be immortalised in the book and film, Whisky Galore.

Compton MacKenzie

Sir Compton Mackenzie in 1933. Photo: © Hulton Getty.

Although born in Hartlepool, England in 1883, Compton MacKenzie found much inspiration in his adopted Scotland. His love of Scotland extended beyond his writing. Best known as an author, he also worked as a soldier, secret service chief, actor, broadcaster and editor. He also made his mark on Scottish politics. He became deeply involved with nationalist politics and was a founding member of the Scottish National Party. The latter years of Mackenzie’s life were spent living on Drummond Place in Edinburgh’s New Town. But when he died on St Andrew’s Day 1972, he was taken for burial at Eoligarry on Barra. MacKenzie was particularly well placed to expand upon the events of the SS Politician, as from 1934 he had lived at Suidheachan, Northbay on the island of Barra. He used this as the background to the picture of island life presented not only in Whisky Galore, but also in his second such comic novel, Rockets Galore.

The heart-warming film version of Whisky Galore! was released into UK cinemas on 16 June 1949. Directed by Alexander MacKendrick, this Ealing Studios classic had a star-studded, mostly-Scottish cast including James Robertson Justice, John Duncan Macrae, Basil Radford, Bruce Seton, Joan Greenwood and the much loved Gordon Jackson, to name a few. Mackenzie himself appeared in a film, in the role of Captain Buncher, the master of SS Cabinet Minister. The film version of events concerns the fictitious Hebridean islands of Great and Little Todday, where a cargo of 50,000 bottles of whisky is salvaged from a shipwrecked freighter, the SS Cabinet Minister, by the islanders, whose own supplies have tragically run dry. It then follows the escapades of locals trying to hide the whisky from the customs and excise men sent to find it. The location for filming was the island of Barra, obviously close to Mackenzie’s heart with its stunning coastal line. Many islanders were used as extras.

Worldwide fame and a local legacy

Joan Greenwood, Bruce Seton and Mary McNeil in Whisky Galore!. © Hulton Getty.

Like other Ealing Studio comedies of the post war era, Whisky Galore! lures the audience into rooting for the underdogs. Throughout the film there’s a great sense of community, as the islanders rally together to outwit the authorities.  The film manages to incorporate local traditions, folk music and Gaelic language into the final cut. In doing so it employs something known as the “Kailyard effect” from Scottish literature. For example, in a scene after bottles have been liberated, the men of the island celebrate the return of whisky. They drink and sing together in puirt à beul, or mouth music. All-in-all it is a joyous event with the illicit whisky being the trigger. Through such use of nostalgia and certain stereotypes, the film elicits a respect for the islanders and sympathy to their response to the complicated situation which has arisen. Almost making the viewer complicit in their violation of the rules and regulations.

When released, the film was embraced by cinema goers and critics alike. In France it is known as Whisky à Gogo, however when released in the USA in December 1949 it had to drop the whisky reference. There were restrictions on the use of the names of alcohol in titles so the film was rebranded Tight Little Island. In 1988, the first pub on the island of Eriskay was built, it was named Am Politician in honour of the stricken cargo ship. Today it still houses some of the artefacts retrieved from the ship, worth a visit for a wee dram if you’re in the vicinity.

By: Jackie Sangster, Learning Manager at Historic Environment Scotland.
Main photo: A film poster for the 1949 release of Whisky Galore. © Scottish Life Archive.

Explore more Whisky Galore! There’s more iconic Getty Images stills from Whisky Galore! in the Scran archives, plus much more material relating to the SS Politician, Compton MacKenzie and the stars of the film. See: Historic Environment Scotland is the lead public body established to investigate, care for and promote Scotland’s historic environment. For more details see:

OzScot Australia to perform at The Hayland Gathering

The second Hayland Gathering is set for Saturday 9th March 2024 on the Hay Plains, NSW. Commencing with a street parade at 10am, the gathering will take place on Hay Oval with stalls, clans, children’s and athletic events as well as a range of Scottish entertainment.

Highlights will be The Scotsman Music who will perform at the gathering and the Ceilidh; Highland Muscle will hold their first heavy events competition for the season; Pipe Bands including Golden City Bendigo, Leeton, Maryborough and Albury/Wodonga will provide displays; and OzScot Australia are travelling a small troupe of dancers from Queensland to showcase their world-renowned choreography. Under Dance Director Cheryl Roach OAM, OzScot Australia showcases highland dancers from all the states and regions in Australia. Assistant Dance Director Amy Roach heads up the OzScot Junior Development Squad, which provides a feeder into the International OzScot Australia Team. Cheryl and Amy will be judging the Riverina Highland Dancing Titles held at the Gathering.

Innovative approach to dance

OzScot looks forward to performing in Hay before touring to Washington DC, and New York, Basel Switzerland and Belfast, Northern Ireland throughout 2024. The first international performance for OzScot Australia was at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Scotland in 2002 as part of a team of dancers from New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and Scotland to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Since that time OzScot has continued to tour and dance at major international Tattoo events throughout the world including Edinburgh, Oman, Virginia, Nova Scotia, Russia and Crimea, Netherlands, Washington DC, Basel and South Africa. OzScot enjoys collaborating with solo pipers, big bands and mass pipes and drums and everything in between.

OzScot thrives with a great blending of music and style from across the waters renewing the strong bond enjoyed by Australia and other internationals groups. OzScot is known for its innovative approach to dance, working with precision, exactitude, and sense of line. The choreography always reflects a unique blending of traditional highland dance steps with contemporary movements providing a challenging combination for the dancer and at the same time delights the audience by the new and unexpected. OzScot looks forward to being part of the Hayland Gathering and participating and joining the local community to celebrate all things Scottish.

The Hayland Gathering Contact takes place March 9th in Hay, NSW. For information contact Gathering convenor Kylie Kerr: 0417 052 491 or follow them on Facebook:

59th anniversary of the Phoenix Scottish Games

Scotland returns to the Desert Southwest during the weekend of March 1st thru 3rd, 2024 with the 59th annual Phoenix Scottish Games to be held at new Gilbert Regional Park in Gilbert, Arizona.  You don’t need to be Scottish to enjoy the games featuring full Highland pageantry with pipes and drums, Highland dancers, athletics, Celtic bands, and Gathering of the Clans. As you move from area to area within the festival, you’ll be treated to a variety of live entertainment, interactive displays, and athletic events. The event hosts championships for Highland dance and pipe band.

Guest international pipe band, the Ingersoll Pipe Band, from Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada.

In addition to those competitions, you won’t want to miss numerous performers of traditional folk, bluegrass and rock music their sound rooted in Scotland. Watch in awe as highland athletes make it look easy to throw a log bigger than a telephone pole or toss a hammer farther than you can throw a ball! Events include the Caber Toss, Sheaf Toss, Hammer Throw and “Putting the Stone” with male and female competitors of all ages from across North America. Returning this year will be the twilight tattoo Friday March 1st. Those in attendance can enjoy an amphitheater concert showcasing the sights and sounds of Scotland underneath the Arizona desert sky! Performers will include Celtic music, a military band, Scottish dancers, traditional pageantry and of course pipes and drums.

Deep ties between Arizona and Scotland

All ages will have fun in the Celtic Village, featuring a variety of Celtic merchants with clothing, music instruments, jewelry, baked goods and other traditional culinary delights that you won’t find at any other festival – traditional shortbread cookies, highland beef dishes and more. There will be Scotch Whisky Tasting where you can enjoy a dram and hear about the whisky making process of each expression. Car lovers don’t forget to vote for your favorite vintage vehicle at the British Car Display and show.

If you are curious about your heritage, join us in the Clan and Genealogy area. Arizona has over 175,000 Scots, you could be one of them! Everywhere you look you can see deep ties between Arizona and Scotland. Douglas, Arizona was named for a Canadian-Scotsman, and the Rose Tree Museum in Tombstone, Arizona features a rose tree grown from a cutting shipped to a young Scottish bride from her family in Scotland in 1885.

But even if you don’t have any ties to Scotland, you will enjoy yourself at 59th annual Phoenix Scottish Games. As long as you relish good music, food, and fun, you’ll have a great time.  The Phoenix Scottish Games are produced by the Caledonian Society of Arizona, the largest Celtic organization in the state, promoting Scottish culture through art, education and athletics. Funds raised at the event supports scholarships to aspiring and professional Highland athletes, musicians, and dancers and/or other individuals or organizations whose mission, project or program promotes Scottish heritage.

The Phoenix Scottish Games takes place March 1-3, 2024 at Gilbert Regional Park, Gilbert, Arizona. For tickets, including VIP, and full event information see:

The Hebridean Baker at Home

The Scottish Banner speaks to Coinneach MacLeod

The bestselling author of Recipes & Wee Stories from the Scottish Islands and My Scottish Island Kitchen is back with his third, highly anticipated cookbook. The Hebridean Baker at Home shares stories and adventures alongside his best selection of recipes yet. Coinneach MacLeod took the time to speak to the Scottish Banner on his new book, celebrating Hebridean culture and his love of the Gaelic language.

Your new book brings Hebridean tradition to the table with everything from bake goods, to comfort food, to having a dram. What is one dish you would recommend to a visitor to the Hebrides to try?

CM: When you arrive off the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry onto the Isle of Lewis, make your first stop the iconic Charles MacLeod Butchers, their award-winning Stornoway Black Pudding is worth travelling across the world for. I have it with breakfast, lunch and dinner! (my Black Pudding Meatballs feature in my new cookbook).

Food often tells the story of people, and you very much tell a Hebridean story with yours. What is it about Hebridean cuisine do you love the most?

CM: Our island recipes have been shared by generations, they are comforting, nostalgic and hearty. You will never leave hungry from a Hebridean kitchen table, be it in mind, spirit or belly!

Your new book is not just great traditional recipes but also includes Hebridean folklore, history and the how to find the best secret beauty spots across the islands. Why did you want to share these aspects of the Hebrides in your cookbook?

CM: As Hebridean folk, we are proudly Scottish, but we are a wee bit different! I want to share the stories of these amazing islands that make us unique. Showcasing our history, legends & tales and hope it inspires people to want to learn more and come visit.

You have been recently named Scotland’s Food & Drink Influencer of the Year. How does it make you feel to be such an international ambassador of not only the Hebrides but Scotland itself?

CM: I am so humbled and unbelievably proud. I pinch myself every day that I can represent Scotland in everything I do. Scotland, for me, has the most wonderful homegrown produce, from our land, sea and distilleries! I love sharing them with folk around the world.

You are also passionate about the Gaelic language and recently swapped the kitchen for the recording studio and teamed up with your partner Peter MacQueen to record a Gaelic rendition of Auld Lang Syne. Can you tell us more about the project and might any future releases be on the cards?

CM: Peter and I won the Royal National Mòd as a duet in 2019 and since then have performed at cèilidhs and events around the world. We are both passionate about the traditions of the Scottish New Year, so we spent time researching traditional tunes and poems on Tobar an Dualchais (, and got the wonderful musician Sileas Sinclair to make new arrangements of these songs. Along with that, we found a Gaelic translation of Auld Lang Syne by the Rev. Roderick MacDonald and went into the studio as the Hogmanay Boys with producer Brian McAlpine to record it. The feedback has been phenomenal from folk around the world, and we were stunned to hear it played on BBC Radio 2 (in between Paloma Faith and James Blunt) on Hogmanay! We will definitely be back in the studio again this year to record another track!

This month will see you on a book tour taking in cities across Canada and the USA, including a special event with Outlander author Diana Gabaldon. Can you tell us more and just how excited you are to again connect with the North American Scottish diaspora?

CM: I am so excited to be returning to North America for my fourth tour. To be visiting new cities that I haven’t been to before including Vancouver, Calgary, Asheville, Houston, Scottsdale, Jacksonville and Pittsburgh along with returning to Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago and Toronto. These events are like nothing else! I tell Scottish stories, sing Gaelic songs, share recipes and there are lots of laughs (and a few drams)! Please join us, all the tour info is at and I will be returning in July and September for more dates.

The Hebrides an incredible history with its own unique language, traditions and legends. You seem to have really got a great ‘recipe’ of sharing both Hebridean food and culture with readers, how important is it for you to bring both elements into your books and videos?

CM: The Hebridean Baker began as a way for me to tell myths and legends of the Hebrides while baking cakes – and things haven’t changed much over the past four years! If you follow my Instagram account @hebrideanbaker, yes, there will be recipes – but they are mixed in with hikes in the Scottish mountains, Gaelic song, trips to our off-grid cabin on the west coast and meeting lots of islanders along the way!

And finally, Coinneach if you were having a special guest to your home and could prepare just one dish for them what would it be?

CM: Well, when she hosts my event in Scottsdale, Arizona, I will be inviting Diana Galbaldon to visit my kitchen in the Hebrides – and there is no doubt we will be sharing stories over a cuppa and a thick slice of Clootie Dumpling!

The Hebridean Baker at Home is out now. For information on the book or the North American book tour see:


The Hebridean Baker shares one of his delicious recipes with Scottish Banner readers

Atholl Brose Cheesecake

Serves 4-6

Imagine Atholl Brose as a 15th century Scottish drink reminiscent of a Bailey’s Irish Cream! Now you’ll realise why this is the perfect flavouring for this creamy, no-bake cheesecake. Remember you’ll need to start your prep at least a day before you’d like to make the cheesecake. I have made enough for you to share a dram of the Brose while you devour this delicious dessert. Slàinte!


For the Atholl Brose

250ml whisky

70g oats

3 tsp honey

40ml double cream

For the cheesecake

100g butter

250g digestive biscuits, crushed

600g cream cheese

35ml Atholl Brose

100g icing sugar

300ml double cream

100g grated chocolate



To make the Brose, pour the whisky over the oats in a bowl and rest under a clean dishtowel for 24 hours.

The next day, use a muslin (or cotton dishtowel) to squeeze out the whisky into a fresh bowl. Be sure to get every last drop! You can discard the oats.

Warm up your honey for 10 seconds in the microwave and whisk into the Brose mix.

Add your cream and whisk again. Now let it rest in the fridge for at least four hours

To make the cheesecake, melt the butter in a pan, remove from the heat and add the crushed digestive biscuits. Mix well until the biscuits have absorbed all the butter.

Press into the bottom of a lined 18cm springform tin. Place in the refrigerator and allow to set for one hour.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Lightly whip the cream cheese then beat in the Atholl Brose and icing sugar. Whip the cream and fold in along with the grated chocolate. When smooth, spoon evenly onto the biscuit base.

Refrigerate and allow to set for a further two hours, then serve with a dram of Atholl Brose.


National Library acquires first-ever Broons annual

The National Library of Scotland has added the last piece to its collection of Broons annuals. Library curators have been searching for the elusive 1939 first edition for at least a decade, only for a copy to appear on a bookseller’s website a few months ago. Sport, Leisure and Newspapers Curator Ian Scott arranged the purchase for the national collections. He said: “We’re really pleased to have found this first edition – the Broons annuals are some of the most important publications in 20th century Scotland. They have had enduring appeal since their inception in 1939, which makes them a publishing phenomenon. These iconic characters, aside from subtle changes to their clothing and technology use, still haven’t changed much in the 80-plus years they’ve been landing in Scottish households at Christmastime. Which is a major achievement for any publication. The Broons’ still has a large readership because even today, you can buy a copy from major retailers, who wouldn’t stock them unless they were guaranteed to sell a considerable number. Their enduring popularity can be put down to the multi-generational appeal. The Broons addresses, in quite a gentle way, generational conflict. In these modern times where societies and cultures are so fragmented, publications that gently chip away at generational conflict and other societal constructs such as class can bring a level of comfort to readers aged 8 to 80.”

A magical formula

Initially, the Broons books and comics were not collected by libraries chiefly because they are distributed via newsagents rather than bookshops. This, coupled with the fact that these publications are deemed ephemeral and therefore discarded, means the earlier editions rarely made their way to collecting institutions such as the National Library of Scotland. Since the 1940 edition (which was published in 1939), The Broons annual has appeared every two years, alternating with the Oor Wullie annual. There was a small gap in 1944 and 1946 due to paper shortages, during which time D C Thomson released Broons jigsaws. Otherwise, it has remained a biannual publication until the present day. On the 80th anniversary of the first Broons book, D C Thomson published The Broons and the Oor Wullie annual in the same year, but that was an exception.

Mr Scott attributes their instant popularity and enduring appeal to many facets, but primarily the Broons’s relatability saying; “The tenement flats, the neighbourhood streets and nearby countryside are relatable to readers all over the country. It replicates the lives people have, the places they live in, and the language they speak. The Broons is written in Scots, which is unusual for a big mainstream publication.” He added: “The Broons is never fashionable and a wee bit behind the times. But in a way, that’s where most people live their lives. It’s a magical formula, this unchangingness means it can never be out-of-fashion. It is current and nostalgic at the same time, which has a very strong appeal.”

The first Broons annual – which is the only known copy in a public collection in Scotland – will be displayed in the Treasures of the National Library of Scotland exhibition in 2024 at George IV Bridge, Edinburgh. Anyone with National Library membership – which is free – can view these comics and annuals at the Library’s reading rooms.

For further details see:

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