‘Best in the UK’ accolade for Scotland’s royal botanic gardens

Stunning Logan Botanic Garden near Stranraer, one of the four sites of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), has been voted Best in the UK in a recent consumer survey. The sub-tropical garden, home to some of the world’s rarest plants, scored a colossal 93 per cent satisfaction rating, achieving the maximum mark of five stars in every category, as voted by readers of a leading consumer magazine.

While Logan was crowned top garden, it was a day of celebration at all four of Scotland’s national botanic gardens as Dawyck in the Borders, Benmore near Dunoon in Argyll and the main Edinburgh site were all ranked within the UK’s top ten gardens.

Incredibly special

Logan Botanic Garden.

Richard Baines, Curator of Logan Botanic Garden, commented: “Logan is an incredibly special Garden and we are delighted to be recognised as such by visitors and voted best in the UK.  The warm climate makes it Paradise for plant lovers and our visitors are always surprised to see some of the more exotic palm trees, Gunnera manicata – the giant ‘rhubarb’, tree ferns and eucalyptus thriving so resplendently outdoors in Scotland. Of course, our most tender plants wouldn’t survive a Scottish winter, so we safeguard species such as our pelargonium collection from South Africa in our Victorian-style conservatory. It’s also the first public conservatory in the UK to be powered by green energy.  As well as thousands of spectacular species of unusual plants, which underline our existence as a research and conservation institute, we offer visitors fine catering from the Potting Shed Bistro and our Studio exhibition space displays artwork from local, national and international artists. Watch out also for our magnificent dinosaur sculpture, Loganosaurus Rex, hiding within the tree ferns.” 

Logan Botanic Garden is located by Port Logan near Stranraer in the south-west of Scotland. As well as being a popular visitor attraction, its collection of plants constitutes part of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s Living Collection of rare and endangered plants.  Many of the species are threatened in the wild or are not yet known to science. Among them, Logan’s dedicated team of horticulturists nurture plants which are growing from seeds collected during expeditions to Vietnam – one of which, Rhododendron tephropeploides, has only recently been identified as new to science.

World’s pre-eminent botanical gardens

Logan Botanic Garden.

With a score of 89 per cent, Dawyck Botanic Garden near Peebles, famed for its awe-inspiring trees and year-round colour, was ranked joint second in the UK. Sister Garden at Benmore, in Argyll, was in joint third place with 88 per cent, impressing visitors with its towering Avenue of magnificent giant redwood trees (Sequoiadendron giganteum) and wild, mountain background.  The main Edinburgh site, located in the north of the city, scored an impressive 86 per cent. With over 70 acres of spectacular landscapes, the Garden dates from 1670 and is one of the world’s pre-eminent botanical gardens. 

Richard Baines reflected: “At Logan, we never stand still – we are always developing the Garden, ensuring that there is something of interest to everyone. As part of our core activity, we have a mission to engage the wider world with the work of RBGE and our fragile planet. We look forward to welcoming new and return visitors to our beautiful Garden.”

Logan Botanic Garden dates from 1869 and acceded to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in 1969. Located on the south-western tip of Scotland and warmed by the Gulf Stream, Logan enjoys an almost subtropical climate, with spectacular and colourful arrays of species from the southern hemisphere.  Dawyck Botanic Garden is located near Peebles in the Scottish Borders and is home to some of Scotland’s oldest and tallest trees including Douglas firs and giant sierra redwoods. In early Summer, it is ablaze with azaleas and Himalayan blue poppies, with a riot of Autumnal colour later in the year.  Benmore Botanic Garden is located near Dunoon in Argyll and is set within 120 acres of mountain landscape. Loved for its welcoming avenue of 150-year-old towering redwood trees, Benmore is also renowned for over 300 species of rhododendrons and spectacular views over the Holy Loch.  The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a leading international research organisation delivering knowledge, education, and plant conservation action around the world. In Scotland, its four Gardens at Edinburgh, Benmore, Dawyck and Logan attract more than a million visitors each year.

The RBGE mission is to explore, conserve and explain the world of plants for a better future. For more information see:  www.rbge.org.uk

Canada and US wins at the 2021 Balmoral Classic, US Junior Solo Piping & Drumming Championships

The 15th annual Balmoral Classic, featuring the US Junior Solo Piping & Drumming Championships, took place in November with piobaireachd contests streaming via YouTube.  This was the second Balmoral Classic that was online, remote and virtual. Scheduling and logistics were intensive and very competently organized and executed by Sean Patrick Regan, Program Coordinator; Leslie Clark, Balmoral’s Associate Director; Elaine Lee, Marketing Director; & Arthur McAra, Master of Ceremonies. Clark and Regan also served respectively as Registrar and Chief Steward for the Classic.

Fifteen pipers were invited to participate in the contest: eleven from six US states and four from Canada. Six drummers were invited to compete in the contest: five from the US, and one from Scotland. Competitors submitted one video for each of two events in their discipline: an MSR and Piobaireachd for pipers, and an MSR and Hornpipe & Jig for snare drummers. The panel of judges was truly international this year, with judges from the United States, Scotland, Ireland, Canada and Australia.


The Overall piping winner was Cameron Bonar of Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, who took first place in both the MSR and the Piobaireachd. As Overall Winner he won a set of blackwood Duncan MacRae Bagpipes donated by McCallum Bagpipes, and the Ralph and Patricia Murray award for a full scholarship at the 2022 Balmoral Summer session. Cameron also won the E.W. Littlefield, Jr.

Award for the MSR event and a Piper’s Choice set of smallpipes donated by Scott’s Highland Services of London, Ontario and the Balmoral Award for the Piobaireachd event and five tutorial bundles from Murray Henderson Piobaireachd Studio. Prizes for 2nd to 5th place pipers included a handcrafted blackwood “MAC 1” pipe chanter donated by MacLellan Bagpipes, an Antique Thistle Faux Seal Sporran donated by Celtic Croft, a Gift Certificate for pipetunes.ca donated by McGillivray Piping Inc.,  and additional prizes. The 2nd to 5th place Overall Winners receive tuition for one week at the 2022 Balmoral School summer session.


The Overall drumming winner, Sebastien Arguelles, from Houston, Texas, USA, also took first place in both drumming contests. He was awarded an Axial “Silver Sparkle” Snare Drum donated by Henderson Imports of Traverse City, Michigan, the David Peet Memorial Award for the Overall Winner, and the Henry Matthews Scholarship for one week’s full scholarship at the 2022 Balmoral Summer session. Sebastian also won the St. Andrew’s Society of Pittsburgh Award for his first in the MSR and The Pittsburgh Firefighters Memorial Pipe Band Award his first in the Hornpipe & Jig. The 2nd to 6th place Overall Winners receive tuition for one week at the 2022 Balmoral School summer session.

After the Saturday contests, there was a Live via Zoom awards ceremony, attended by the competitors, their families, our judges and staff, and Classic supporters. After a break, they were treated to an outstanding concert with Scottish fiddle virtuoso Alasdair Fraser, and renowned cellist, Natalie Haas. Calvary United Methodist Church with its amazing collection of Tiffany stained glass windows, surrounded the audience with special ambiance for the in-person event, which was also live-streamed.

For more information on the Balmoral Classic and to see the full results see: www.balmoralschoolofpiping.org

Photo: Cameron Bonar and Sebastien Arguelles.

The Koala gets a tartan of its own

Marie Lawson with the Koala Tartan.

Gunnedah Shire Mayor Jamie Chaffey has congratulated weavers Fred and Marie Lawson on their officially registered The Koala Tartan, the first of its kind worldwide. Cr Chaffey, as Mayor of the Koala Capital of the World, attended the Cutting-off the Loom ceremony at The Crofters Weaving Mill at Spring Ridge recently, cutting the first weave of the new tartan.  Cr Chaffey said: “It’s an honour to be here in this beautiful part of the world, where the very talented Lawsons have created another masterpiece – an officially registered tartan that celebrates our national icon – the koala. Gunnedah is known as the Koala Capital of the World, and Council is working towards helping the conservation of the koala in this region through our planned Koala Sanctuary and Hospital. The Lawson’s tartan is a wonderful tribute to this much-loved animal. The Koala Tartan, registered through The Scottish Register of Tartans, is now recognised worldwide as the pattern that represents the koala.”

The Koala Tartan is the work of Weaver to the Queen Fred Lawson and his sister Marie Lawson, who originally learnt to weave at a Gunnedah TAFE course more than 20 years ago. Since that time, the Lawsons have successfully designed and created about 10 registered tartans, using only natural materials which are often dyed at their property. As well as designing tartans for the Australian Heritage Tartan, the Australian Heavy Horse Tartan and many other designs, Fred was commissioned to weave a Victorian State tartan for the Queen as a gift after the Victorian bushfires. Marie Lawson says they have had The Koala Tartan in mind for some years, but were waiting for the right blend of colours. “You start with an idea and then come up with a colour set – the number of colour threads and the sequence,” Marie says. “You make a quick sample from the closest colours you have to see how it is balanced. Once you have worked on that, you do another sample weave. You can see how it looks on the computer, but it is totally different once it has been woven. We went through three weaves before we came up with The Koala Tartan.”


Fred at the loom.

A sample was sent to The Scottish Register of Tartans where it went through the stringent approval process that includes ensuring the design is not too close to royal tartans and meets certain standards. It is also recommended the tartan is put on public view. The Koala Tartan was on display at the Liverpool Plains Military Tattoo where it met with public approval. The tartan was approved by The Scottish Register of Tartans, but the original name – The Australian Koala Tartan – was knocked back, so the Lawson’s second choice of The Koala Tartan was submitted and approved. The Lawsons will now work towards a range of products including scarves, silk scarves, shawls, mohair rugs, knee rugs and ties, woven in the distinctive The Koala Tartan. Each piece is individually hand-woven from natural materials.  “The tartan has turned out absolutely beautifully,” Marie says. “Everything just blended so well together.”

About The Koala Tartan colours: Dark and light grey: the majority koala coat colour. White: for the speckles or patches on the rump and chest area and inside ears. Black: for the nose. Pink: for the skin colour around the nose and mouth. Dark brown: for their eyes. Green: for eucalyptus leaves which is their main diet and dwelling tree.

Main photo: Marie Lawson, Gunnedah Mayor Jamie Chaffey and Fred Lawson with the new Koala Tartan.

Scotland’s answer to The New York Highline unveiled

Scotland’s answer to the New York Highline has been unveiled at Bowling Harbour in West Dunbartonshire with the transformation of a disused railway viaduct into a state-of-the-art linear park and walking, wheeling and cycling route at the western gateway to the Lowland canals. The Bowline, the jewel in the crown of a £10m regeneration programme at Bowling Harbour, connects the Forth & Clyde Canal towpath to the wider National Cycle Network (NCN), providing virtually uninterrupted off-road access from Glasgow to Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park.

The fully accessible linear park boasts breath-taking views over the historic canal to the River Clyde and beyond. A new, high-quality access ramp has also been installed, allowing everyone walking, wheeling and cycling to access the National Cycle Network route for everyday and leisure journeys. The latest addition to National Cycle Network Route 7 means everyone, regardless of age or ability, can walk, wheel or cycle between Loch Lomond, Dumbarton and Glasgow on a virtually traffic-free route.

The Bowline marks a new era

The harbour will benefit from the growing number of people choosing to walk, wheel and cycle across the nation, as more people give up the car and take to active travel. Catherine Topley, CEO at Scottish Canals said: “The opening of The Bowline marks a new era for Bowling Harbour, one built upon sustainability that everyone can enjoy. Active travellers making their way along National Cycle Network Route 7 can now take full advantage of the harbour’s regeneration. Our renovated railway arches host a variety of local businesses transforming the area into a hub of activity, creating new jobs and opportunities. It’s a special destination and one that is well worth a visit.”

The investment in Bowling Harbour will not only promote tourism, help tackle health inequalities and fight climate change by promoting carbon neutral travel, but act as a catalyst for further investment around the area.

Scotland’s largest Pictish fort ‘reconstructed’ in new images

Stunning new reconstructions have revealed how Scotland’s largest known Pictish fort may have looked over one thousand years ago. Three-dimensional images of Burghead in Moray have been created based on archaeological excavations by the University of Aberdeen. Funded by Historic Environment Scotland as part of a wider video project to enable the public to learn more about Scotland’s Pictish past, the images showcase the enormous defensive ramparts, which were once thought to be eight metres thick and six metres high, as well as dwellings within the fort. It has long been known that Burghead was home to a Pictish settlement, but it was thought that the 19th century development of the modern town had eroded most traces of this important period of its history. The landward ramparts were levelled, and part of the seaward defences was destroyed in order to build the modern harbour.

More than 30 Pictish carved stones were discovered during this destruction of the fort but just six carved bulls have survived along with a number of fragments of early Christian sculpture. When University of Aberdeen archaeologists first began excavations there in 2015, they expected little to have survived such extensive building work close by. But over the last five years, a very different picture has emerged and the digs, led by the University’s Professor Gordon Noble have yielded some of the most significant Pictish items and building remains ever uncovered. It is this work which has enabled such a detailed reconstruction of how the site may have looked. Professor Noble said: “The scale of houses and buildings we have discovered evidence of show that this was a densely populated and important Pictish site. We have found many objects which have helped us to learn more about the everyday lives of Burghead’s inhabitants between the 6th and 10th centuries AD. From metalworking to weaponry and even hair and dress pins, with each new dig we are finding out more about our ancestors who lived here. The foundations of the huge ramparts have survived far better than anyone anticipated, despite their wilful destruction over the centuries and the midden layers, which is effectively where the Picts threw their rubbish, have provided startling insights into the lives of the Picts to the archaeologists. It wonderful to see the work of our excavations spanning more than five years brought together in these stunning reconstructions which offer an amazing insight into how Burghead may have looked”

Early Medieval Scotland

The reconstructions also include a spectacular well enveloped in the ramparts. Elements of this can still be seen today and the archaeologists have pieced together how this fitted with dwellings and other buildings across the site. Evidence of early Christian occupation was also uncovered in previous excavations, supporting theories that a chapel once stood at the entrance to the site, and this has been translated into the 3-D design.   The fort at Burghead was destroyed by fire in the 10th century – a time when Vikings are known to have been raiding the Moray coastline – bringing to a rapid end a way of life which had endured for centuries. The fort then remained unoccupied until around the 12th century.

Dr Kevin Grant, Archaeology Manager of Historic Environment Scotland said: “Burghead fort was one of the most important places in Early Medieval Scotland and was built to be dramatic and imposing. These reconstructions help us imagine experiencing this spectacular site in its hey-day. We are also delighted to support these excavations, which are transforming our understanding of Pictish Scotland and saving important archaeological remains from being lost to the waves.” Dr Watterson added: “Burghead has certainly been one of our most challenging projects to date. Not only has it been one of the largest sites I have reconstructed, but in order to model its full extent we had to completely remodel the landscape to remove the modern town and rebuild the eroded cliffs. Working in visualisation and outreach involves blending interpretation and research with compelling visual storytelling. For our team, capturing a sense of place for Burghead was particularly important. Its dramatic location on the Moray coast is key not only to its archaeological interpretation but also what makes it such a special place to visit today.”

Additional funding from Historic Environment Scotland is supporting additional excavations at the site which it is hoped will further understanding of how those who lived at the site connected to the wider world. 

Photo: Reconstruction of Burghead. Images courtesy of the University of Aberdeen.

Glenfiddich Piping Championship’s 2021

The overall champion of the prestigious Glenfiddich Piping Championship has been named as Canadian piper Jack Lee from British Columbia. Third time overall champion Jack Lee went up against nine of the world’s greatest solo players at the renowned 48th annual competition at Blair Castle to claim the title.  The Silver Chanter 2021 winner Angus MacColl of Oban was crowned runner-up and 2019 title holder Finlay Johnston of Glasgow was third overall and the Piobaireachd winner. The MSR competition winner was William McCallum of Bearsden.

Jack Lee impressed with his playing of the Piobaireachd and March, Strathspey and Reel disciplines, taking second in the Piobaireachd and third in the MSR to come out on top as the overall Championship winner. The competition was played out in front of a live audience in Blair Castle’s Victorian ballroom and hundreds from around the world who watched the spectacle online. Overall Winner, Jack Lee, said: “It’s an absolute honour to be standing here with The Glenfiddich trophy. This is the third time I’ve had this and I can tell you it’s a very sweet day.”

Solo piping’s ultimate prize

Blair Castle.

The National Piping Centre’s Director of Piping, Finlay MacDonald, said: “The Glenfiddich is solo piping’s ultimate prize and this year’s competition yet again set the bar for world-class piping. I would like to extend my warm congratulations to our new champion and to all of the competitors for their excellent performances. We’re delighted to see another successful year of celebratory competition at The Glenfiddich and to welcome people to the magnificent Blair Castle once again, while also connecting with hundreds watching at home from around the world. We look forward to the event going from strength to strength in the years to come.”

Competitors, travelled from near and far to take part, including 2020 champion Stuart Liddell, Dollar’s Callum Beaumont, five-time champion Roderick Macleod MBE, William McCallum of Bearsden, Edinburgh’s Iain Speirs, Glasgow-based Canadian piper Glenn Brown and Connor Sinclair of Crieff. This year, participants were selected from the two qualifying events that took place, with Stuart Liddell as the 2020 champion and Callum Beaumont as the overall winner of the Piping Live! Masters Competition. The other competitors were chosen based on previous achievements at the Glenfiddich Piping Championship.

The Glenfiddich Piping Championship was established in 1974 to inspire the world’s finest exponents of Ceòl Mòr or Piobaireachd (the great music) and Ceòl Beag or light music (the little music). Run by The National Piping Centre, the world centre for excellence in bagpipe music, and funded through the William Grant Foundation, the event is held annually at Blair Castle in Blair Atholl, Perthshire.

Photo: Glenfiddich Piping Championship Overall Winner Jack Lee. Photo: Derek Maxwell Photography.

185th anniversary of St. Andrew’s Society of Toronto

By: Brendan Fyfe

St. Andrew’s Society of Toronto Charity Ball.

The St. Andrew’s Society of Toronto is celebrating its 185th anniversary in 2021. The organization has been promoting Scottish culture and supporting local charities since 1836. Canada would not become a country until 1867 which makes the Society older than the country it calls home!  Scots have been leaving their homeland for many generations in search of adventure and economic opportunities. As a result, over 50 million people around the globe have Scottish ancestry including 4.8 million Canadians. These numbers are especially remarkable when we consider that the current population of Scotland is only 5.5 million.  

A cultural society often followed whenever a number of Scots ended up in one place. Saint Andrew, as patron saint of Scotland, was a common symbol to rally around. St. Andrew’s Day (November 30) became the annual date to gather and dine on traditional fare. After the meal, which would almost always include haggis, there would be a series of toasts, songs and music.

Founded in 1836

The Mount Pleasant Cemetery Cairn.

St. Andrew’s Societies were established in dozens of cities on six continents. Although they all operated independently, there were some informal connections among them. The first meeting of the St. Andrew’s Society of Toronto was in 1836. The young city had changed its name from York only two years earlier. It had roughly 10,000 citizens but was growing quickly. While many immigrants found success in their new home, others struggled with unemployment, homelessness, and food insecurity.  Present day Canada has multiple institutions focused on helping people overcome poverty. But since few of these programs existed in the 1830s, it often fell to cultural groups to look after their own. Several of Toronto’s most prominent Scots got together and agreed to form a committee to assist their compatriots who had fallen on hard times. It was determined that the focus would be on those who were newly arrived.

Officers were elected and managers assigned to assist those in need. They focused on finding their compatriots work, a place to live and making sure that families didn’t go hungry. Although the lives of many were improved, times were hard, and death lurked around every corner. Whether it was poverty, illness, or misfortune, many would never see the shores of Scotland again.   

The St. Andrew’s Society of Toronto purchased a large burial plot in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in 1886. The intent was that Scots who died in Toronto without resources would be buried in “a small piece of Scotland.” An official dedication came in 1891 along with a cairn. Members in good standing can still apply to be buried in Mount Pleasant.

The 48th Highlanders of Canada.

The connection between The St. Andrew’s Society and the 48th Highlanders of Canada dates back to the late 1800s. A group of local Scottish cultural organizations came together to raise funds and lobby the government to form the province’s first kilted regiment. Despite being rebuffed on their initial requests, the group persevered and achieved their goal. The relationship between the Society and the 48th has remained close since the battalion’s inception in 1891. The organizations have co-hosted the St. Andrew’s Charity Ball for many years with the regiment’s Pipes & Drums a focus of the evening’s entertainment.

Celebrating Scotland in Toronto

Kilt Skate Toronto.

Scottish music, cuisine and whisky are showcased at events throughout the year. A Learn to Curl Social is one of the Society’s most popular get togethers. Attendees include many recent Scottish immigrants who are eager to learn a game that was born in Scotland and beloved in Canada.  Canadians of Scottish heritage will continue to play a key role in the future of Toronto. According to the 2016 national census, 256,255 Torontonians claimed Scottish ancestry (roughly 9% of the city’s 2.7 million inhabitants). Among the city’s ethnic origin populations, only the Chinese (332,825), English (331,895) and Irish (262,965) registered larger numbers.

The modern Society has remained true to the benevolent goals of its founders. Funds are raised for local charities through memberships, donations and events that showcase Scottish-Canadian culture. These experiences range from dance lessons to pub nights and formal affairs like the St. Andrew’s Charity Ball. Everyone is welcome to attend events or become a member. It doesn’t matter whether they were born in Scotland, have Scottish ancestors or are just looking to meet some great people.

Over $1 million has been donated in the past 15 years through the St. Andrew’s Charitable Foundation. These grants benefit newcomers from all nations and focus on the challenges that early Scottish immigrants would have faced – families at risk, public health, homelessness and food insecurity. The Society still welcomes newly arrived Scots with open arms. They are introduced at various get togethers and brought to key events around the city.

Every December, members sign up to support the Society for another year. Members receive partner discounts and the opportunity to buy tickets before the public for most events. Their fees help the Society sponsor Highland Dance troupes, Celtic musicians and others working to keep Scottish-Canadian culture alive. These funds also support bursaries for post-secondary students focused on Scottish studies.

The St. Andrew’s Society of Toronto is still going strong after 185 years. Those interested in getting involved can find out more on the Society’s website at www.standrewstoronto.ca

Susan Boyle-Living the Dream

Scottish singer Susan Boyle rose to international fame in 2009 when she stepped out onto a Glasgow stage and appeared on Britain’s Got Talent. The West Lothian natives debut album I Dreamed A Dream became the UK’s biggest-selling debut album and Susan has gone on to sell over 25 million albums globally. Neil Drysdale spoke to Susan on her incredible rise to fame, her love of Scotland and how she has been getting on since the pandemic began.

Life has ground to a halt for everybody in the last two years and Covid has cast a dark cloud over the arts and entertainment industry. Yet, even as singers and musicians have been forced to find new ways of working, they’ve quickly become used to the world of “virtual” concerts and recording sessions.

Susan Boyle is no exception to this brave new Zoom routine, even if she admits it caused her problems at the outset in 2020.  But the 60-year-old artist hasn’t been idle during the pandemic and is relishing getting back on the road in the New Year. Susan told the Scottish Banner: “Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to perform or do any concerts. My tour in March 2020 just finished before the world shut down. I’ve still been practicing with my vocal coach, Chris Judge, to keep my singing voice active. To begin with, we would practice over Zoom or Facetime. He’d be at his house and I’d be at mine. Technology, eh – it’s fantastic. But now that restrictions have eased, we can meet and sing in person again, which is great.”

I Dreamed a Dream

Photo: Joel Anderson.

Susan Boyle is a resilient character who was the pivotal figure in what remains one of the genuinely jaw-dropping episodes in 21st entertainment; the moment Susan shocked the judges and audience on Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) when she began to sing I Dreamed A Dream. Even now, more than a decade later, she appreciates there was something about her emergence which was similar to the script of the film A Star is Born. At school, growing up in the 1970s, Miss Boyle was a painfully shy youngster, somebody who far preferred being the face in the choir to a look-at-me prima donna. In those days, the idea of her taking centre stage on a reality TV show and singing in front of millions – and then, via YouTube, hundreds of millions of people, and subsequently performing for the Pope and The Queen would have seemed preposterous.

But there again, she wasn’t just putting herself on parade for the Britain’s Got Talent brigade. On the contrary, Ms Boyle says she was paving an escape from the days where she used to struggle to pay the household bills. She told me: “In some ways, life has changed dramatically. Financially, life has moved on from the days when I was unable to afford the gas and electric, to knowing nowadays that I won’t be sitting in the dark again fretting about how I am going to heat the house or keep the lights on. I am still grounded, though. I live in the same family home (in Blackburn in West Lothian) and I don’t need a flashy big house with gates. I have got the same people around me that I always have, and there are wonderful neighbours who look out for me and they would give you the shirt off their back. So, in that respect, life hasn’t changed. I know I have been incredibly lucky to keep such a wonderful balance, to be able to continue my normal life, going to Tesco’s, living in the same house I grew up in and taking the bus. But these are all things I don’t take for granted. It was a conscious decision to try and keep my normal and known way of life just the same.”

There’s a pinch-me quality about her comments which remind you of a star-struck youngster who has seen all her Christmases come at once. Susan said: “There were a few people who helped out in the early days, who have been childhood friends and are still friends to this day. My family were the ones who were so supportive and pushed me to do something more with my life and my mother, in particular, was the driving force who made me promise I would do something with my voice and my life. I started singing as a young girl in school and then joined the church choir and auditioned on a few other TV shows, but it was the support of friends and family who gave me the courage and confidence to try. That said, never in my wildest dreams when I stood on the Britain’s Got Talent stage did I think for a second that, more than 10 years on, I’d still be performing and making albums. I thought it was all over on the night of the BGT final.”

Proud to be Scottish

Scottish singing sensation Susan Boyle. Photo: Syco Entertainment/Nicky Johnston.

Her journey has been a whirlwind series of tales of the unexpected. She never remotely believed when she was “sneaking off from school to watch an Osmond’s concert” that she would eventually meet and record a duet with Donny Osmond. But it taught her another lesson which she regards as crucial. She added: “Meeting and performing with him was something else and he was the nicest and kindest man. They sometimes say: ‘Don’t meet your heroes’, but I can honestly tell you he exceeded my expectations and it was unforgettable. I know I have been fortunate, and I am also incredibly proud to be Scottish, and would never consider leaving or living anywhere else in the world. We have everything in Scotland and more. The best people in the world, the kindest and a real sense of community. We have a beautiful country, and while it may be nice to go off and visit other places, there truly is no place like home. I try to have a glass-half-full attitude and while life always has its ups and downs, there really are not many negatives about living in Scotland. We are very lucky.”

As she casts her gaze forward, Susan told me of her hopes for the New Year after being out of the public gaze for too long. Susan continued: “I am really looking forward to 2022 and the exciting things which are being lined up, which are a surprise, but I promise are exciting. I also hope, like everybody else, that life gets back to some semblance of normality. And I’d like to wish my fans a Happy New Year. May 2022 be a better year for us all and I wish you all a year of health, happiness and your dreams coming true.” Even now, Susan has that down-to-earth approach and sense of wonder in her voice. Susan is also a big fan of Adele’s new single  and said:  “She’s so incredibly talented and I admire her bravery for bearing her heartbreak and creating stunning lyrics.”

Let’s hope we are treated to some new music from Susan as we move out of an awfully long winter.

Editorial – The Scottish Banner Says….

December – 2021 (Vol. 45, Number 06)

Scottish singing sensation Susan Boyle. Photo: Syco Entertainment/Nicky Johnston.

The Banner Says…

Ringing in ‘The Bells’ with Scottish Tradition

As we all look to put this year behind us and move on to what is hoped to be a better year ahead, Scots across the world will no doubt still find ways to celebrate this month’s Hogmanay celebrations. Growing up we always raised a glass to Scotland when the clock struck midnight in the UK, as we would be getting ready ourselves to see in ‘The Bells’. That tradition has stayed with me to this day and I always find myself, no matter where I am, thinking of Scotland when the clock there strikes midnight.

This year Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is back to celebrate the end of what has been a challenging year for many, with three days of revelry, albeit scaled down, including the new Party at the Bells on Princes Street, the popular Torchlight Procession and the return of the iconic Edinburgh Castle fireworks display.

Scottish customs

Regardless of where you are on Hogmanay you can of course include some Scottish customs in your celebrations. Maybe not the most popular one to do, but one I always do, is redding the house for the New Year. Having a spring clean during the day of December 31st and starting the year off in a fresh and clean house, it is also meant to bring you luck and who can ever have enough of that?

Another custom, which again may be hard especially after Christmas, is paying off any debts before a new year begins. Easier said than done I know but it was considered bad luck to see in a new year with a debt.

First Footing is also one of Scotland’s most famous Hogmanay traditions. This obviously dates back as it is just slightly not politically correct in today’s world but the first foot that should enter your home in a New Year should be a dark-haired male (this goes back in history when fair haired men were linked to invading Vikings and no one wanted them coming through the door) to bring your household good fortune for the year ahead. Sadly, blond and red head men and no women of any description were welcome as the first guest of the year as they may cause a household to have bad luck for an entire year.

In this issue

Since 2009 I have had a dream to highlight the incredible Susan Boyle within our pages. We are so honoured to have the Scottish singing sensation in this month’s edition. I remember the week the video of Susan went viral, we happened to be going to press and managed to include Susan in that edition just as her name was beginning to circulate across the globe. I have watched Susan’s famous audition video countless times, especially when I am having a tough day, when she went out on stage a blew everyone’s mind as she sang, I Dreamed A Dream from the global theatre hit Les Misérable. It never fails to put a smile on my face and brings my mood back up. I am so grateful to Scottish journalist Neil Drysdale for preparing this story exclusively for the Scottish Banner and to Susan for having that dream and sharing it with the world.

Scotland is known for its incredible Hogmanay celebrations with revellers drawn to firework displays and fire ceremonies. However, one of Scotland’s unique festive celebrations which takes place during both Christmas and New Year is The Kirkwall Ba’ in Orkney. The winding streets of Kirkwall are the stage for a huge game of street football, which can last for several hours, or even days! The origins of this Orcadian celebration dates back to Norse times and surely must be one of Scotland’s most unique holiday traditions.

In the Scottish Borders you will find the incredibly grand Marchmont House, whose interior is regarded as one of Scotland’s finest. Marchmont was built in 1750 and still today has some of its original interiors. Outside this palatial mansion however the grounds have quite literally gone to the birds, and other natural life, as gamekeeper, naturalist and gardener Shaun Adams has lovingly worked on making the outside just as unique as Marchmont’s interior. The 6,500-acre estate is now home to variety of birds, wildlife, plants and bees and what could be more grand than that?

Auld Lang Syne

Many people around the world may have no idea that a Scottish folk song penned by Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns is by sung millions of people each year as the clock strikes twelve at New Year. Written in the 1700s Auld Lang Syne literally translates to ‘old long since’, or a long time ago, and is about remembering the good old days. I am always amazed that a poem penned in 1788, in Scots, still today plays a part in New Year traditions across the globe. The song was eventually transported across the world by Scots heading to new lands and now is often the first song many people still hear when they bring in a new year.

As we go to press with this issue pandemic life is still offering up challenges to many people across the world. This year has seen our world go through a raft of lockdowns, cancelled events, missed connections with friends and family and a great deal of added stress and isolation for many. Let us hope with 2022 on our doorstep we can all look forward to more confidence and clarity in life with the return of events, travel and a new normal of life, but hopefully with a bit of Auld Lang Syne for us all.

The Scottish Banner wishes you and your family a safe, healthy and happy festive season ahead.

Do you have a favourite Scottish holiday tradition? Share your story with us! Do you have you any comments from the content in this month’s edition? Share your story with us by email, post, social media or at: www.scottishbanner.com/contact-us

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Stirling among places longlisted for UK City of Culture 2025

Stirling has been named among eight areas longlisted for UK City of Culture 2025, unveiled by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries. Stirling is the only Scottish city to make the cut as eight cities have been nominated for the prestigious UK City of Culture title, with the winner set to be announced next year. Following a record 20 bids, the eight longlisted locations are Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, Bradford, Cornwall, County Durham, Derby, Southampton, Stirling and Wrexham County Borough. Winning the prestigious title has enormous benefits with previous hosts attracting millions of pounds in additional investment, creating jobs and attracting thousands of visitors to their local area. The places will now work with a panel of experts and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to finalise their bids before the shortlist is announced early next year.

UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “Winning the UK City of Culture competition has a hugely positive impact on an area, driving investment, creating jobs, and highlighting that culture is for everyone, regardless of their background. This year’s focus is on levelling up access to culture across the country and making sure there is a legacy that continues for generations to come. I look forward to seeing what this brilliant longlist has in store as they continue in the competition.”

Fascinating history and vibrant creative scene

All bids were asked to explain how they would use culture to grow and strengthen their local area, as well as how they would use culture to recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. For the first time, this year each longlisted place will receive £40,000 to support the development of their promising proposals. The winner will be announced in spring 2022 and will follow Coventry’s tenure as UK City of Culture 2021 to take the lead on culture in the UK in 2025. Previous winners Hull and Derry-Londonderry have shown how the competition can deliver greater and long-lasting cultural participation, economic regeneration and local pride, whilst Coventry City of Culture 2021 is already providing a blueprint for how culture can be at the heart of social and economic recovery.

UK Government Minister for Scotland Iain Stewart said: “I’m particularly pleased that Stirling is in the running for this prestigious award. With its fascinating history and vibrant creative scene, it’s a strong contender for the title. The list of cities announced is testament to the outstanding creativity and culture across the UK. I look forward to seeing proposals develop as Stirling strives to bring the UK City of Culture to Scotland for the first time.”

Photo: VisitScotland.

A Kirk with a Past

By: David McVey

Blair Castle.

I’m about to describe one of my favourite spots in Scotland, a restored ruin in a peaceful spot of great beauty in Perthshire. But before I let slip the secret, a bit of history. Blair Atholl is a handsome estate village that originally served the Dukes of Atholl at nearby Blair Castle, but now caters mainly for tourists. If you arrive from the south, you’ll cross the River Tilt by a bridge built in 1823, or the railway bridge that came forty years later. Before the 1823 road was built, though, the road north crossed the river further upstream and the ran further up the hillside. Much of its route survives and the site of the village Blair Atholl replaced is known as Old Blair. Now, of course, the 19th century road and railway are themselves bypassed by the new A9 that appeared in the 1980s.

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Leith ranked one of the world’s ‘coolest neighbourhoods’

Edinburgh’s northern suburb of Leith has been ranked the 4th ‘coolest neighbourhood’ in the world by Time Out magazine. The area of Leith was Scotland’s main port for trade, with huge ships sailing in and out brimming with products and goods such as wool, wine, raw materials and spices. Once a burgh in its own right, following a forced merger with the City of Edinburgh in the 1920s, Leith is now a hugely successful part of the larger city.

The neighbourhood still retains its strong identity and heritage and has reinvented itself. Made famous by Irvine Welsh, Ewan McGregor and co in the film Trainspotting, Leith has two Michelin-starred restaurants, a variety of great bars and a strong sense of unique local identity as the driving force behind Leith’s resurgence. As well as the picturesque shore, there are wide open green spaces. The first recorded rules of golf were said to have been set down in 1744 by players at Leith Links.

A new lease of life

Time Out said: “Once Scotland’s main trade port, Leith’s connection to industry stretches back centuries. Today, however, the north Edinburgh neighbourhood is better known as a cultural hotspot, home to big arts institutions and up-and-coming businesses alike. In recent years, several buildings have been given a new lease of life, including long-abandoned Leith Theatre and the nearby Biscuit Factory, which houses more than 30 creative businesses and its own performance space. The Leith Arches, meanwhile, is a two-tiered pub and events space on the old Caledonian Leith Line – complete with rotating food vendors, a programme of wellness events and the always-excellent Bross Bagels.”

The area slowly began to shed its industrial past and embrace a modern and hip feel, and today visitors to Leith can find delights from unique shops to a diverse range of cafés, restaurants and bars. Edinburgh’s exciting new waterfront development also includes Ocean Terminal shopping centre which includes the award-winning Royal Yacht Britannia add to make Leith one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the world.

Scotland’s connection to Harry Potter

By: Nick Drainey.

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. Photo: Freshwater 2006/Wikimedia Commons.

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,  the first of ten in the hugely successful film franchise.  The magic of Harry Potter began in Scotland, from the first books being written in Edinburgh to its stunning backdrops being used to create scenes in the films, as Nick Drainey explains.

It was 20 years ago this month that three 11-year-olds took to the red carpet in London’s Leicester Square along with celebrities such as Cher, Sting, Richard Branson, Cate Blanchett and the princesses Beatrice and Eugenie. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, about to become better known as Harry Potter, Hermione Grainger and Ron Weasley, looked star-struck and slightly shy as they chatted to the crowds, signed autographs and posed for media pictures. This was the world premiere of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – known as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the US – the movie adaptation of the first of the series of seven books by JK Rowling about the boy wizard and his school pals and first of eight films faithfully following the adventures made by Warner Bros.

If the books were already a sensation – Ms Rowling was working on the fifth instalment, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, at the time the film was released – the films were about to magnify that several fold. By the time of the premiere, the film had already broken box office records by taking the biggest advance bookings for a movie release. It went on make $974 million at the box office worldwide with its first run and more than $1 billion with re-releases. It became the highest-grossing film of 2001 and the second-highest-grossing film at the time, was critically acclaimed and won a host of awards.  It was a vindication for Rowling who had insisted on the cast being British or Irish rather than American and who had worked closely on the script, keeping it faithful to the book.

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Dig discovers footprint of old The Glenlivet Distillery

National Trust for Scotland archaeologists have started uncovering the secrets of Scotland’s whisky history in an excavation at the old site of The Glenlivet Distillery, one of Scotland’s first whisky distilleries to become licensed after the 1823 Excise Act.  The dig at the site of Upper Drumin, in Speyside, which is one kilometre upslope from the modern distillery has so far uncovered the floor of the old site, which dates from 1824. This is where The Glenlivet’s founder, George Smith, risked life and liberty to produce his single malt whisky. He became the first illicit producer to get his licence. Fragments of bottle glass and ceramics believed to have been involved in whisky production were also found. 

Whisky history

Map from 1869 showing the old site of The Glenlivet Distillery.

Investigations which began in October are being carried out as part of the Pioneering Spirit project – a partnership between conservation charity the National Trust for Scotland and The Glenlivet, the original Speyside single malt whisky, to uncover and share the history and impact that whisky production has had on Scotland’s cultural heritage and our modern way of life. The old site was originally a farm, converted to whisky production site by George Smith in response to the 1823 Excise Act, which made licenced production of whisky possible. Before then, Smith, like many others in communities across Scotland – including Speyside and the Highlands – made the spirit illegally, smuggling their produce to customers. Apart from the remains of two of the old mill dams, nothing survives above ground of the distillery. The site, which is on Crown Estate Scotland land, is marked by an inscribed monument marking its important role in whisky history.

Derek Alexander, the National Trust for Scotland’s Head of Archaeology, has a long association with the location and conducted a survey of the distillery remains in the 1990s. He said:  “Returning to this place after nearly 25 years to finally uncover the remains of this special place is really inspiring. Brushing dirt from the flagstones where George Smith, one of the lead figures of Scotland’s whisky industry, stood was incredible.  What’s really interesting is that this is where the illicit production of whisky, which is what we find evidence of on our National Trust for Scotland sites, and the transition towards larger scale industrial production meet; a formative part of the whisky industry becoming one of Scotland’s biggest and most successful. It’s such a powerful part of our national story and identity, which is loved and recognised, at home and around the globe.”

Alan Winchester, The Glenlivet’s Master Distiller said:  “I have always been fascinated by The Glenlivet’s rich history, so to be entering the second year of our partnership with the National Trust for Scotland is a delight. The majority of my career has been spent continuing the legacy of our founder George Smith, so it’s really interesting to have the opportunity to uncover even more secrets about our illicit past and tell new stories about the role Scotch has played in defining Scottish culture.”

Volunteers including staff from The Glenlivet and members of the local community took part in the dig, with the support of the Crown Estate Scotland Ranger Service, as part of the Highland Archaeology Festival.

Main photo: National Trust for Scotland Head of Archaeology Derek Alexander and Alan Winchester, The Glenlivet’s Master Distiller say cheers as they uncover the old site of The Glenlivet Distillery. Photo: Alison White.

Did you know?

Image showing The Glenlivet Distillery and the old site on the hill behind.

-Commenced in August 2020, Pioneering Spirit is a 3-year partnership between the National Trust for Scotland, the charity that for 90 years has protected Scotland’s most loved places and The Glenlivet, the original Speyside single malt whisky, which aims to uncover and share the history and impact of whisky production across Scotland.

-The project is the first of its kind and will see archaeologists carry out field work across the Highlands to reveal the impact of whisky distilling on Scottish history.

-Created by George Smith in 1824, The Glenlivet is the Original Speyside Single Malt, renowned for its heritage as a visionary within the single malt category.

-The Glenlivet has contributed the biggest volume growth of the single malt category worldwide, adding more than any other single malt whisky brand over the past five years.

– The Glenlivet is dedicated to continuing this legacy. Standout initiatives include the release of The Glenlivet Code, a mystery single malt, and the creation of The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve, a great representation of the distillery’s signature style.

Glasgow launches £30bn ‘Greenprint for Investment’

In the run up to COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference, Glasgow City Council has launched its ‘Greenprint for Investment’, a portfolio of investment projects designed to give a significant boost to the city’s target to reach Net-Zero by 2030. In June, the city announced that it had reduced its carbon emissions by 41% since 2006, surpassing the 30% target Glasgow set for 2020. The scale and diversity of the projects reflects and supports Glasgow’s global sustainability ambitions and provides international and activist investors with a mix of decarbonising and transformative development opportunities as well as more traditional robust, investor-ready propositions.

Councillor Susan Aitken, Leader of Glasgow City Council said: “Glasgow is ready to meet the challenges of the climate emergency head on, addressing long-standing social, economic and environmental challenges around fuel poverty, poor connectivity and community blight whilst meeting our climate targets. Our Net-Zero future is about safer communities, warm and efficient homes, sustainable jobs and a prosperous economy. Transition has to be about the social and economic well-being of Glasgow and its people. This will require levels of investment never seen before in local government and adaptation plans which will be vital in delivering a modern, resilient and inclusive city economy. A core element of Glasgow’s Green Deal our ‘Greenprint’ brings together transformational, investable and shovel-ready projects. From an entire new transport system better connecting citizens to opportunities, generating renewable energy from the River Clyde and upgrading hundreds of thousands of homes across our city region, the Greenprint projects will deliver the infrastructure necessary for a low carbon, climate-resilient future. All cities face huge change. Glasgow’s challenges are typical of those of so many of our global peers. As cities rebuild to decarbonise, we can be the demonstrator in shaping those solutions. The success of COP26 will be measured by how cities can take the practical steps necessary to secure the future of our planet. Our Greenprint provides a major part of our roadmap to doing just that.”

Projects include scaling up the Clyde Climate Forest by 9,000 hectares, a Glasgow Metro connecting the city region, a city-wide retrofit programme to make all homes energy efficient and provide new clean energy sources, and a proposal to power district heating systems using the River Clyde – all of which will contribute to Scotland’s target reduction targets and Charing Cross M8 Green Infrastructure Cap which plans to revitalise and re-green the city’s public realm including a cap over a major interchange of the M8, the busiest motorway in Scotland.

The Scottish North American Community Conference

The 19th annual Scottish North American Community Conference (SNACC) will once again be taking place virtually, over the weekend of December 10 – 12th.  The conference looks to build upon the greater audience joining in 2020, encouraging and hoping that you will add your voice to the conversation. The Conference, organized by founders the Chicago Scots and American Scottish Foundation together with the Detroit St Andrews Society, COSCA (Council of Scottish Clans & Associations), CASSOC (Clans and Scottish Societies of Canada) and the Centre for Scottish Studies at the University of Guelph, are developing a three-day program under the title of ‘Expressions of Scottishness”-Exploring the Full Dimensions of Scotland’s Engagement with North America in 2021.

Raise awareness of Scotland and Scottish culture

The Conference is an opportunity for those in the Scottish North American community to share views, values, experiences and best practices. The conference aims to raise awareness of Scotland and Scottish culture; to develop a better understanding of the roles, objectives and operations of the various government, academic, non-profit and private sector organizations that operate in the Scottish-North American community and to identify opportunities to enhance communication and collaboration within the community.

The days focus on various areas relating to the question the conference poses: Friday afternoon focuses upon genealogy and developments around research of one’s Scottish roots.

Saturday turns to the expression of arts, heritage, and culture today.  How the way we engage has changed and is developing – from fashion, to museum and heritage site installations to highland games

Sunday will turn once again to Scotland and hearing of plans for 2022 from leading organizers and organizations. We will hear of plans developing around the Year of Scotland’s Stories, the continuing celebration of the 250th anniversary of Sir Walter Scott, the 75th anniversary of the Edinburgh Festival and the new focus around “Responsible Tourism”.

The Conference will be delivered online on Zoom and will feature prominent guest presenters from Scotland and the Scottish North American community.

Hosted once again by the American Scottish Foundation, daily or weekend tickets are available online at the SNACC website: www.scottishleadershipconference.com or email: [email protected]

The Kilted Coaches

The Scottish Banner speaks to Rab Shields and Stephen Clarke, The Kilted Coaches

The Kilted Coaches are Stephen Clarke and Rab Shields, two Scottish friends based in Perth with a passion for health, happiness, positivity and the wellbeing of the body and mind. The Kilted Coaches have amassed a huge following on social media and their videos have been seen by millions of people. The Kilted Coaches now have a new book out and took the time to speak to the Scottish Banner on their love of Scotland, health, and kilts.

For those that do not know can you tell us just what The Kilted Coaches do and how you both came together?

Coach Rab: Stephen and I have known each other since our paper round days and grew up not far from each other in Fife. We knew of each other for years and as fate would have it our jobs took us both to St Andrews working in the hotel industry. We both ended up moving to Perth as personal trainers and caught up again here and became good friends. In 2014 we both became fathers and ended up having a long lunch and discussing ideas of how we can help people with their fitness goals and established an online business. We viewed that in the fitness industry many people were making themselves unwell in their quest for wellness. People were just taking things far too seriously and getting so super healthy they could not sustain it. We were trying to create a balance between health and happiness, by doing what you can with exercise and improving your nutrition, but also balancing it with a night off and not beating yourself up if you fall off the wagon. It really is a relaxed philosophy for serious results.

You run an online program where people can work from home on their physical, mental health and nutrition. How has this format succeeded during lockdown with so many with time at home?

Coach Stephen: We were already geared up for people being at home before the pandemic hit. We view your wellness being fitness, nutrition, and mindset. There are a lot of great programs out there but the common denominator in all programs is you and what works for you. During the lockdown it was interesting as we would have clients who previously had great results and put in great efforts but during lockdown they may not have been as successful as their mindset was different. If you can get someone fired up and motivated and understand their problems directly, with whatever they are dealing with in life, it allows them to adhere themselves to any program more efficiently. During lockdown people have been dealing with a great deal of stress and anxiety and our approach appeared to work quite well in helping people. The benefit of exercise is well documented, and it really can have a positive impact on people’s lives.

You have said, “Who needs a gym when you’ve got Scotland?” How do you think the incredible scenery of Scotland has helped you get your message out to so many people?

Coach Rab: This all began when we said you don’t need a membership to a fancy gym to get fit. You can either have a space in your home or use outdoor space to reach your health goals. A lot of people are interested in Scotland just now. Shows like Outlander have certainly helped and for people who are not from here they probably enjoy the scenery the most when they get here. People often visualize themselves in a Scottish environment and imagine themselves walking through the heather and amongst the hills we have. Our videos take in some great parts of Scotland, and we have no doubt the backdrop of Scotland helps make them popular and enjoyable to watch.

Congratulations on your new book The Kilted Coaches: How to stick to the damn plan, can you tell us about the book and what it feels like to add authors to your list of achievements?

Coach Stephen: The book is basically the written content of what we have been putting out online. We took some of our key videos and wrote it out for book format. We know not everyone watches our YouTube videos but they may be interested in the book, so for us this is also a different way to get our message out. We have kept the book quite conversational, like our videos.  We have tried to take a relaxed approach and add some humour to the book as we do not want to come across as preachy. There are other books like this where people preach to their readers but that is not our method. When it came to the writing we wanted it to be conversational and for someone to pick it up and feel like they are down the pub with their mates discussing a concept. We have one chapter which is ‘Don’t let your flaws define you’ and was done very conversationally and hopefully when people read it, they do not feel threatened or preached at. The book really is a cross between a self-help book and a coffee table book, it just happens to have two guys in kilts running around the Highlands!

Scottishness is synonymous with tartan and kilts. You have said putting kilts on helped you both be yourselves and show who you really are. Can you tell us more about your love of kilts?

Coach Rab: In the early days we just were not being ourselves and trying to be too clean cut and straight down the line. Somebody said you can’t get away from the fact you are Scottish, so like we talk about in Chapter One of our book, is really being yourself in HD (high definition). This is basically being yourself but a bigger version of you. We thought we obviously can’t get away from being Scottish and we in fact loved wearing our kilts and began to do it our way. Once we put on our kilts, each video we have shot has been done in just one take 99% of the time. The kilts have brought in this natural element of who we are and now we just roll with it.

Historically we mainly wear our kilts to weddings and events and whenever you put your kilt on it was to go and have fun. Whenever we put our kilts on, we always know we are having fun because of the feeling that overcomes you. In a way wearing a kilt is like a superhero suit, we often say you can say what you want when you have a kilt on, meaning you’re not shy to get your point across.

Kilts have really become part of your brand and you have even got your very own The Kilted Coaches Tartan, can you tell how the tartan came about and how proud you are to be able to wear that today?

Coach Stephen: Kilts are just so comfortable to wear, and we started off wearing the Royal Stewart tartan, we chose this as we had different family tartans and wanted a uniform approach. Rab is Clan Duncan and I have Clan Kerr on my side. We always wanted a tartan that is ours and we just recently launched The Kilted Coaches Tartan and worked with a kiltmaker in Scotland to get it designed. Our tartan does pay homage to the Royal Stewart, but we worked in more of a maroon colour, changed the sett and made it our own.

Your videos and new book mention The Viking Mindset, can you tell us more?

Coach Stephen: The Viking Mindset basically gets people back to their Viking roots.  Scots used to go through a great deal of hardship and that made them tougher, for example people had no choice but to embrace the cold. Today we can come home from work and there is food there if I need it, we have entertainment at our fingertips and we can be warm in minutes. The Viking Mindset pays homage to the idea that you can toughen yourself up by taking away some of the comforts that constantly surround us today. Sometimes you don’t know what life will throw at you and it is about being prepared for things regardless of what comes your way. We also use cold therapy such as jumping into a cold loch to reawaken the body and I love a loch swim. Sometimes you need to get comfortable being uncomfortable and challenging your limits, that really is what the Viking Mindset means.

You recently got to work with Joanna Lumley, what was it like to be able to show Scotland off to one of the UK’s biggest stars? Some may be interested to know Joanna in fact has Scottish roots, did she share much of her love of Scotland with you?

Coach Rab: They say don’t meet with your hero’s and we were a bit nervous to meet her, however if every hero was like her, I would say meet with hero’s. She is even better than we thought she was going to be, and we thought she would be amazing. She is half Scottish and loved to chat with us about her roots. Joanna really does love Scotland, and she loves to have a whisky as well. We filmed with her up in Glencoe and it has left such a profound memory for us it is why we went back there and used the image from where we filmed at Glencoe on the cover of the book, to pay homage to her. Joanna was also so kind to provide a quote for our book which is on the cover where she say’s “I never exercise without them.”

And finally, your YouTube channel is filmed in some great places in Scotland. As ambassadors for Scotland what areas of the country do you love to visit whether it be for work or your downtime?

Coach Rab: Glencoe would definitely be at the top of the list as it is both eerie but very strikingly beautiful.  Anywhere as well with castles we love. We have been going up to Dunnottar Castle recently on the east coast in Aberdeenshire, it is a great spot as there are great walks around and the castle itself is fascinating. Just the way it was built and the incredible views the location offers. Anywhere with a great view we love. Scotland is so blessed with amazing hills, lochs, and history. Here in Perthshire, we have great woodlands and waterfalls to take in as well, so we are so lucky to have that on our doorstep.

The Kilted Coaches: How to stick to the damn plan is out now. To order a copy see: www.linktr.ee/Thekiltedcoachesbook or see: www.thekiltedcoaches.com

From Estepona to Bannockburn-An unexpected journey

John Morgan.

In the late 1990’s, in a friend’s holiday villa in Estepona in southern Spain, John Morgan was flicking through the bookshelf, in search of something to take his imagination when his hand fell upon the paperback Path of the Hero King the second book in Nigel Tranter’ epic trilogy The Bruce. “Tranter’s word-craftsmanship was totally immersing” says John, now Senior Partner of Stirling 1314 LLP, producers of two of the worlds’ most luxurious chess sets.

“His ability to use dialogue to bring heroes and villains to life, turned a history lesson into gripping adventure, and an uninterrupted read, cover to cover. So much so, that when I arrived back at Glasgow Airport, I went straight to WH Smith newsagent, where I bagged volumes one and three – books I finished with equal dedication and pleasure. The rest, as they say, is history.”

The story that changed history

Neil Oliver TV Presenter and Historian pictured at the site where the actual battle of Bannockburn happened on the edge of Stirling.

The following year, that experience took a different turn for the Morgan’s, one that is about to take on a new life this month as Stirling 1314, seeks to relaunch their two luxury offerings – the Battle of Bannockburn and the Robert Burns Chess Sets.  We caught up with John as he was filming blog content for their new Chess Set website in the Globe Inn, Dumfries, the favoured haunt of Robert Burns in the latter part of his life. Sitting in the very chair adopted by Robert Burns when he frequented the Inn, John was quick to point out, “I have earned the right to sit in Burns’ chair having have paid the mandatory forfeit – ‘a recitation of Burns – or buy a drink for everyone in the house’. I would gladly pay a small ransom to share this chair with his memory, but I love nothing more than reciting Burns, and a few verses of Tam O’ Shanter were payment in full”

As he moved the crafted, pewter pieces across the stunning metal chess board, John reflected on the early beginnings of their Scottish chess set adventure. “In the late 90’s, my wife Morag and I had Cornerstone Gallery and Gift Shop in Dunblane”, said John, “One day, an artisan model-maker, Steve Trickett, breezed in and asked if we would be interested in selling the Fantasy Pewter Chess Set he had modelled. Unlike conventional chess sets, all 32 of Steve’s chess pieces were different, everyone a revelation: from fairies to goblins; knights to castles: and things even more preposterous. I was lost for words but, in that moment, the flame was lit for an even bigger adventure – a Battle of Bannockburn Chess set with 32 different pieces, each one marking a player or place in the story that changed history. When I told Steve what I was thinking, he just looked at me – and I knew he was already on the case!

Believing faithfully in the principle, ‘if you don’t ask…you don’t get’ I plucked up the courage to contact Nigel Tranter, who amazed me by agreeing instantly to being involved and to give his name to the set. He then introduced to us, young Scottish costume historian, Andrew Spratt who went on to provide illustrations in the most minute detail, of the style and heraldry of every character, right down the shape of a belt buckle or the hinges in a suit of armour.

Over the next two years, the four of us created a simply remarkable chess set. Sadly, neither Nigel nor Steve are with us any longer, Nigel passing in 2000 and Steve in 2016, only months after completing the last figure on the Robert Burns Chess Set. In the case of Bannockburn, Nigel’s endorsement of the set has been inherited by Scottish television historian and writer Neil Oliver, retaining for the Battle of Bannockburn Chess Set the gravitas with which it was born. It was remarkable to know them both and an extra privilege to know Nigel, not only as a brilliant writer, but as a complete gentleman and a true friend. Which is why our 700th Anniversary Edition is dedicated to his memory.”

The Robert Burns Chess Set

John Cairney.

The Robert Burns Chess Set, endorsed by actor, writer, raconteur and Burns legend, John Cairney, was a challenge of a different kind for Stirling 1314, as more a tale of ordinary folk and their fantasies within the culture of 18th century Scotland. Where else would you find Witches and Warlocks blended with the simplicity of love, honour, and a deadly twist of humour?  John has been Chairman of his own Old Manor Burns Club of Bridge of Allan for the last 40 years, and one of the 37 members of the Robert Burns Federation Guild of Speakers. So, it was no surprise that his next move was to create the stunning Robert Burns Chess Set.

“My original inspiration was unquestionably Nigel Tranter” says John, “But the pen of Robert Burns and his mark on the life of all rue Scots, had a quite different influence on my life. As much in his life as in works, there is love and treachery, inspiration, and hypocrisy, all of it now encapsulated in beautifully crafted chess pieces. As though to complete a circle of sorts, Robert Burns features in both sides: predictably, as the King in the light side but, in irony, as a dark knight in his noted role as Exciseman.”

Says John with perceptible pride, “For me, the crowning glory of this fabulous set is the chess board. It is so stunning I am often tempted to hang it on the wall! The squares are cast in pewter, with a different quotation for each light square, individually etched in the style of Burns’ handwriting. An interesting twist to any chess match would be to have to recite a few lines from the poem your piece lands on. But maybe that’s for another day!”

There are no plans yet to develop a third chess set. As John noted, “Bannockburn was epic in every sense – scale and national significance first and last, whereas, by dint of his incredible life and outstanding variety of work, you could do a second Robert Burns set and still have characters left over. But I think we’ve got enough to be going on with for now…”

A wee bit of Scotland in the heart of Armadale

Minnawarra Park in the heart of Armadale was transformed into a wee bit of Scotland in October when around 20,000 people enjoyed the Scottish-themed Armadale Highland Gathering and Perth Kilt Run. Every year, the City of Armadale celebrates all things Scottish at the City’s unique family friendly event which attracts Scottish and non-Scottish festival goers from across the state.

City of Armadale Mayor Ruth Butterfield said: “It was fantastic to see such a large and enthusiastic crowd enjoying the many Scottish-themed events at the Armadale Highland Gathering from the massed pipe band procession to the address to the haggis, Scotty dog agility demonstrations and traditional heavy events. This year, even with the threat of terrible weather, we had our highest number of participants in the Perth Kilt Run bringing us a step closer to vying for the world record attempt. It was great to see so many people, including families, dressing up for the run. A personal highlight was seeing the imaginative entries for the Loch Mess Monster Upcycle Schools Challenge. This is the City’s community arts initiative aimed at engaging local schools in a creative recycling project as part of our Armadale Highland Gathering and I’m delighted to announce the winners of the challenge were Armadale Primary School for the Primary School Loch Mess Monster Award,  Salvado Catholic College for the Secondary School Loch Mess Monster Award, and Armadale Primary School was also awarded the People’s Choice Award.”

The largest Scottish-themed event in Western Australia

Mayor Butterfield continued: “Following the Perth Kilt Run, festival goers experienced Scottish arts and crafts, highland dancing and pipe band competitions, amongst a range of other events such as the medieval fair and the opportunity to delve into Scottish heritage at the clan village, and a variety of performances of live music and Ceilidh dancing. The Armadale Highland Gathering and the Perth Kilt Run is steered by a dedicated committee of volunteers who help to present the different areas to create the largest Scottish-themed event in Western Australia. It’s terrific to see the dedication and hard work of the volunteers rewarded by such a successful day. On behalf of the City, I warmly thank the members of the committee who freely gave their time in the lead up to help organise this tremendous event as well as volunteers, suppliers, competitors and those who came along.  It was a fantastic day.”

Those that attended the event can share their thoughts and ideas on what was great and what could be better, and also go in the draw to win a $200 visa gift card by completing the City’s event survey at:  www.perthkiltrun.com.au.

MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards 2021: The Pipes of Christmas Virtual Concert

The Pipes of Christmas Virtual Concert, produced by The Clan Currie Society / The Learned Kindred of Currie, has been nominated for an award in the prestigious MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards (Na Trads) 2021.

The Learned Kindred is nominated in the ‘Trad Music in the Media’ category, sponsored by Sabhal Mòr Ostaig (University of the Highlands and Islands).

Contribution to Scotland’s culture

Arthur Cormack, Chief Executive of Fèisean nan Gàidheal, the overall sponsors of the 2021 event said: “Fèisean nan Gàidheal believes in recognising the significant contribution to our culture of some of our most celebrated performers and we are delighted to once again support the Traditional Music Hall of Fame.”

Traditional Celtic music for a worldwide audience

Despite the challenges of hosting the Pipes of Christmas during last year’s global pandemic, the Learned Kindred of Currie, building on over two decades of producing live concerts, seized the chance to create a new virtual Celtic experience for a worldwide audience.

This exciting virtual format, took the Learned Kindred to some of Scotland’s most beautiful and historic settings to create new and evocative material – a celebration of Scotland’s heritage.

Among them were the Isle of Skye, Glasgow, and Dornoch Cathedrals and the Isle of South Uist, such an important place in the Currie family history. The result was a musical journey through Scotland emphasizing the beauty and culture of Scotland.

Learned Kindred of Currie

The Learned Kindred of Currie is a not-for-profit organisation that supports young people in education in Scotland, Canada and the United States. It plays an active role in the preservation of Scotland’s Highland heritage.

Robert (Bob) Currie producer of the Pipes of Christmas and Commander of the Name and Arms of Currie said of the nomination: “I was proud to have the opportunity to produce the 2020 concert and was delighted to hear of our nomination in what is a very strong category.

“While traditional Celtic music has always played an important part in my life, the Learned Kindred’s production of what was the 22nd annual Pipes of Christmas concert was particularly significant and satisfying.”

“Despite the very difficult conditions we wanted to be bold and innovative, to create beautiful music for people to enjoy at such a special time of year.”

“It was an opportunity to bring together a group of talented musicians, technicians and others to work on what is a joyous video production, especially during a time when live gigs were few and far between. Their dedication, expertise and good humour made it all possible.”

“The positive reaction from our audience, old friends and many new friends, to the presentation was especially rewarding to everybody involved in the process.”

Voting for the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards 2021 closes on Sunday 14 November at midnight.

If you would like to vote for the Pipes of Christmas you can do so here. https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/Tradsvoting2021. The Pipes nomination can be found under category 12 – (more than one vote is believe to be allowed).

The results will be announced on 4 December, live at Glasgow’s Engine Works. Viewers will be able to watch on BBC Alba and other platforms.

Plans for Dumfries and Galloway countryside transformation

Conservation charity the National Trust for Scotland has revealed an ambitious 100-year plan to transform 81 hectares of Dumfries and Galloway countryside into rich natural habitats once again.  The Threave Landscape Restoration Project will transform land at Kelton Mains, part of the charity’s Threave Estate in Dumfries and Galloway, through a century-spanning plan to restore native wetlands and woodlands in the area.

Amongst the first steps is ‘undraining’ the land, allowing the River Dee and its floodplain to revert to more natural flow patterns and enabling the wetlands, for which the area is so well-known to re-establish, and expanding the habitats available for a wide range of native and migrant waterfowl, and many other species too.

Native woodland species

Another key focus for 2021 is reintroducing native woodland species, with the ultimate ambition to create a 30-hectare native woodland on the site, through planting and woodland regeneration methods. We will also be exploring how livestock can be managed in new ways to balance agricultural production with nature recovery.

Dr Sam Gallacher, Dumfries and Galloway Operations Manager for the National Trust for Scotland said: “We’ve been building up research on how we do this at Threave since 2017, working with experts in woodlands, grasslands and wetlands. Studying holistically the whole site, we have put together both an immediate and long-term plan to help kickstart and support natural processes, but also use this site as a massive experiment to help us find best practice and methods that we hope will be useful and inspire others in similar settings whether in Scotland or further afield. It will be an exciting experience for our visitors and members to learn and engage with landscape restoration in action and showcase the work our charity does to protect Scotland’s natural heritage.”

The path network around the site will also be improved, giving better visitor access. Public outreach to visitors and community to discuss further the project and its long-term benefits is now underway.

Regular updates on the progress of the project will be posted online at www.nts.org.uk.

If I could walk 5,000 miles-Michael and Luna a rewilding journey across Canada

Michael Yellowlees, from Perthshire, Scotland, is walking across Canada with his Alaskan Husky Luna, to raise awareness and money for Trees for Life, a Scottish charity whose aim is to restore the Caledonian forests. The Scottish Banner spoke to Michael while he was taking a much-deserved rest in Quebec as he prepares to finish his epic 5,000 mile (8,000 kms) journey in Newfoundland on the Atlantic coast of Canada.

Michael you left British Columbia on the west coast back in March to raise money for Trees for Life by walking across Canada. Can you tell us why you chose this incredible journey to take place in the 2nd largest country in the world?

MY: One of the reasons is the wilderness in Canada, it is that wilderness we have lost in Scotland. Scotland used to be hugely forested with a variety of different wildlife.  A lot of the landscape in Scotland, especially in the north-west, is very barren from an ecology basis. Though the Highlands are very beautiful it is so sad to see such an absence of woodland and wildlife.

This is also part of the story of Scotland. People from the land were sent over in ships to places like Canada, America and Australia and this then also ties in with the history of Scotland and hopefully encouraging Canadian Scots to look at their ancestral home.

Also being a climate issue, I wanted to let Canadians know how precious what they have is and encourage them to look after it.

Can you tell us more about Trees for Life and why they are so special to you?

MY: Scotland is home to me. I am from Dunkeld in Perthshire which is known as the gateway to the Highlands. Trees for Life have been working on projects to restore the Caledonian Forest from coast to coast. Much of the Highlands has no trees and Trees for Life is looking to rewild those once wild spaces in Scotland.

This deforestation has been a lengthy process and there are a lot of different lands involved. It really started with the building of the British Empire and a lot of shipbuilding. Many things were made with Scottish timber. There was also the Industrial Revolution and two World Wars which put a strain on Scotland’s natural environment.

I would love to see the Caledonian Forest restored and for natural life to be brought back to the land I love so much.

The famous Proclaimers song talks about ‘If I could walk 500 miles’, but you are in fact walking 5,000. What type of preparation have you had to put in and what has been the most challenging part of the trip so far?

MY: I am a very avid walker and had done major walks before. I have walked across Spain and India before, so I have already done seriously long-distance walks. There was not a lot of preparation as I have always kept myself relatively fit. Physically your body kind of gets used to it and adapts. It was probably more of the mental aspect I needed to prepare for and adapting to being on the road.

You talk about The Proclaimers, they also did a song called Letter From America and that song funnily enough is the inspiration for the walk itself. There is a line which goes “I’ve looked at the ocean tried hard to imagine. The way you felt the day you sailed from Wester Ross to Nova Scotia” and song also talks about returning home and has really inspired me to do this.

What has the reaction been by everyday Canadians as you have walked by in your kilt and with Luna?

MY: The reactions to Luna have been instant and incredible. It has also been great to speak to so many Canadians with Scottish ties. So many have come up to me and said they are proud of what I am doing for their homeland, it has been really beautiful. So many people have been so hospitable with offers of a bed, food and support and just so kind.

You are undertaking this epic voyage with Luna, your beautiful dog. How has it been to have Luna by your side and what extra precautions have been necessary to factor Luna in on the walk.

MY: Luna has been a massive superstar through all this and has been my rock. She is very much part of my pack family, and she keeps me going. She encourages me to get up and get moving and is like my very own personal trainer. Luna gets up and is ready to go every day and licks me in the face in the morning to tell me to get going and has been fantastic to have by my side. In regard to precautions there has not been too much as long as she is well rested and happy. If she needs a rest, we take them and I always look out for her health and happiness.

Luna is in fact a Canadian dog and I got her when I worked in the Rockies and at the end of my job I was allowed to keep her and she has been with me since.

Can you tell us how you have been able to connect with the local Canadian Scottish communities on your travels and has that inspired you to keep going?

MY: The story has kind of got out as I move eastwards of what I am doing, and Scottish groups have reached out and come out to meet me. I have been met by Scottish groups in places like Ottawa, Montreal and small towns and it has been really beautiful. It has also been surreal as I have walked alone for long periods on the road and suddenly have a pipe band play and people come out and cheer me on is something I will never forget for the rest of my life. It has been so special to connect with so many Canadian Scots.

And finally Michael, you plan to reach Newfoundland in November, just as the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) wraps up in Glasgow. What message would you send to the leaders attending the conference and do you wish they could walk those 5,000 miles in your shoes?

MY: I really challenge them and for all of us to get up and do something. A lot of people out there really care about the environment, and I encourage them to get out there and have your voice heard. We are at the front line of a battle, and we all need to be doing our part. We can still all stand up and work against the climate crisis and biodiversity loss.

You can support Michael and Luna on their incredible journey at: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/michaelandlunarewild or follow them at: www.facebook.com/MichaelandLuna

Love and loss at the world’s first animal hospice

A woman whose compassion led her to set up the country’s first animal hospice is now concerned that too many dying humans lack the love and care they deserve. Some years ago Alexis Fleming was bedridden with a severe chronic illness and wanted to end her own life – but thanks to her beloved dog Maggie, she made it through. Maggie died two years later of lung cancer on a vet’s operating table and Alexis founded the Maggie Fleming Animal Hospice, based near Kirkcudbright, so that other animals would not die alone and in distress. She also set up its sister project the Karass Sanctuary for Farmed Animals.

Loved, safe, secure and cared for

Alexis’ days are long and demanding – feeding, medicating, exercising and cleaning so that the dogs, cats, cockerels (including a magnificent bird named Adam Jones), sheep, cattle and even turkeys are comfortable, happy and (for the sick) pain free. Much of the idea is to make them feel loved, safe, secure and cared for. With one collie that had spent much of its life chained to a post (losing most of its teeth trying to chew through the metal) her ambition is that for even just a little while it can feel like “the best wee dog in the world”. The story is told in her book No Life Too Small which Alexis recently discussed at the Wigtown Book Festival in Scotland’s National Book Town. But already a new chapter is unfolding. She says: “A lot of people are facing death alone and one of the things I’m interested in is doing for them the equivalent for what I do for animals. Just visiting people in their own homes, talking to them, perhaps helping them feel more comfortable and at ease.”

A good death is possible

It’s something Alexis feels is sadly lacking in contemporary society where we fail to face death or grief very effectively. The idea is in its early stages, and something she is considering offering locally, but it comes from a conviction that a good death is possible, one where anxieties have been addressed, old wounds healed and the end can come without fear.  She said: “The more I have done this with animals, the more I realise I want to do this with other humans – it’s having a connection with someone and that’s the key.” These are feelings closely related to Alexis’ own experiences of desperation and the battle she faced to make it through. 

And in the meantime people are already benefiting from her work – turning up and enjoying time with the creatures on her 4.5 acres of land. She says: “There are a few folk who have just left their phone at the door and gone up on the hillside to sit in a field – for a bit of sheep therapy.” Many of the farm animals are on palliative care. Some have been passed to her by farming families who took sympathy on them including “lambs that were born blind, or a bit wonky or just not put together quite properly”.

For more details see: www.themaggiefleminganimalhospice.org.uk

Official Opening of the Sixth Session of the Scottish Parliament

The Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament Alison Johnstone MSP escorts Her Majesty The Queen.

Her Majesty The Queen attended the Official Opening to mark the Sixth Session of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh on Saturday October 2nd, joined for the occasion by Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Rothesay. The Opening Ceremony is a tradition started in 1999 to mark the beginning of every new session of the Scottish Parliament. This year’s ceremony paid tribute to ‘local heroes’ chosen from across Scotland for the part they have played during the pandemic and their communities both locally and nationally.

This was the first time Her Majesty the Queen has attended the opening of parliament without her husband Prince Phillip, who died earlier this year. Her Majesty, 95,  said as she addressed the parliament chamber: “I have spoken before of my deep and abiding affection for this wonderful country and of the many happy memories Prince Philip and I always held of our time here. It is often said that it is the people that make a place and there are few places where this is truer than it is in Scotland, as we have seen in recent times.”

The Crown of Scotland

The Crown of Scotland carried by the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon.

The Crown of Scotland was featured at the Opening Ceremony of the Sixth Session of the Scottish Parliament. The Crown of Scotland was received by the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon at Edinburgh Castle. It was then proceeded to the Scottish Parliament accompanied by Pipes and Drums of The Royal Highland Fusiliers (2 SCOTS). The Crown of Scotland was carried by the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon, and was escorted into the courtyard of Queensberry House by the Lord Lyon King of Arms, Officers of Arms, the Royal Company of Archers. The Crown is part of the Honours of Scotland or the Scottish Regalia.

The other pieces are the Sword of State and the Sceptre. In early January 1540, with the imminent coronation of his new queen, Marie de Guise, King James V ordered that the Crown of Scotland, in a damaged and broken condition, was to be remodelled. From the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 to the Treaty of Union in 1707, the Honours were brought down from Edinburgh Castle with great ceremony and taken to Parliament House on the Royal Mile adjacent to St Giles’ Cathedral for the state opening of Parliament. The Riding of Parliament as we know it today is thought to originate from this ceremony, though it has its origins in the 15th century, if not earlier.

This elaborate procession from Edinburgh Castle down the Royal Mile to Parliament became known as the Riding of Parliament. It has been reinstated since the opening of the new Scottish Parliament in 1999.  The ‘riding’ in 1999 was one of the largest ceremonial events in modern Scottish history. The Sword of State and the Sceptre are no longer in regular Royal ceremonial use.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addressing the chamber. Photo: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament.

All images: © Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.

Haunted Homes of History

From phantom pipers to cursed castles, Historic Environment Scotland uncovers stories of Scotland’s haunted homes this Halloween.

As it’s Halloween, Historic Environment Scotland (HES) thought they would share some spooky tales attributed to some castles in their care. Before we begin, it’s worth remembering that ghost stories are – well, just that – stories! HES can account for historical dates and records, but not the ghosties. These are speculated spooks. Still, if you fancy a chilling read to celebrate 31 October in style, read on…

The Curse of Cardoness Castle

Cardoness Castle is a 15th century tower house in Galloway. The land was first inhabited by the Cardoness family and then, in the late 15th Century, McCulloch lairds built the current Cardoness Castle. There are rumours of a curse which afflicted those that dwelt on the land. A curse that that led each family to tragedy, eventual ruin or even death. Accounts tell that the Laird of Cardoness had nine daughters, but he wished for a son. He threatened his wife that unless she produced one, he would drown her and all her nine daughters in the Black Loch (nice, huh?).  A male heir was indeed born and to celebrate, Laird Cardoness suggested that a party should be held on the frozen loch, because that sounds safe.

All the family assembled except one daughter. With the revels in full swing, the ice gave way, and everyone tragically plunged to their death in the dark frozen waters. The absent daughter married one of the McCulloch clan who would then build and inhabit the castle. The McCullochs made good use of their highly defendable castle but were involved in a lengthy and bloody feud with their neighbours. They frequently encountered troubles and spells of financial hardship and ruin. Could both these unfortunate tales be linked to the reputed jinx? If a curse isn’t enough, there has also been alleged reports of apparitions, including that of a ghostly lady…

Dunstaffnage Castle and the Lady in Green

The second of our (allegedly) haunted homes is Dunstaffnage Castle in Argyll and Bute. This dates back to the 13th century, making it one of Scotland’s oldest stone castles. It was the mighty stronghold of the MacDougalls, built on a huge rock above the Firth of Lorn.

Notable figures from Scottish history are connected to the castle including Flora MacDonald, who was held there in 1746 before being sent to the Tower of London for aiding Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape. Like many castles, it has a long and exceptionally violent past, besieged and rebuilt many times. Legend has it that the castle is haunted by a lady in green known as “Ell-maid of Dunstaffnage”, reputedly seen on the ramparts at times of peril. If she smiles then the outcome will be good, but if she weeps, trouble lies ahead for the castles owners.

Edinburgh Castle and the spooky troubadours

Edinburgh’s castle rock has been occupied since the late Bronze Age, but the buildings of the present castle date from the 12th to 21st centuries. Edinburgh Castle is reputed to be one of the most haunted spots in Scotland! Some have reported stories of a phantom piper, a headless drummer and even the ghost of wandering dog. What a musical motley crew, wonder what their band name is?

Have you had any spooky experiences in Scotland? Share your story with us! Do you have any comments from the content in this month’s edition? Share your story with us by email, post, social media or at: www.scottishbanner.com/contact-us

Main photo: The Green Lady of Dunstaffnage Castle.

Dumfries City Status Bid

Stakeholders and community members from across Dumfries and its surrounding areas have met to discuss the potential of Dumfries applying for City Status as part of Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee next year. Dumfries has previously applied for city status in 2011 and key requirements include having a distinct identity, civic pride, cultural infrastructure, interesting heritage, history and traditions, vibrant and welcoming community, and associations with Royalty.

South Scotland MSP Emma Harper said: “Dumfries, and our surrounding areas, has a rich culture, history and civic pride. This is an exciting opportunity for Dumfries to be the First City in Scotland when people head north. Through our connections to Robert Burns, J.M Barrie, Moat Brae and Peter Pan and Robert the Bruce, the Theatre Royal, the Crichton Estate and Calvin Harris our fantastic community events like the Big Burns Supper and Guid Neighbours, as well as our Universities and College, we meet the required criteria for City Status and more. We also have abundant green spaces in Dock Park, Heathhall Forest, King George IV Park and the Crichton Gardens, to name a few. We are surrounded by forestry, cycling and active travel infrastructure and these fantastic historical, cultural and environmental assets deserve the recognition and benefits that City Status can bring.”

Several towns across the UK will be granted city status ahead of the Platinum Jubilee in 2022 and the application deadline is December 8th. The bid is now being considered by Dumfries and Galloway Council.

Editorial – The Scottish Banner Says….

November – 2021 (Vol. 45, Number 05)

Stephen Clarke and Rab Shields, The Kilted Coaches in Glencoe.

The Banner Says…

Glasgow looking to make the world a Dear Green Place

As we go to press with this issue many readers may notice Glasgow in the mainstream news overseas this month. The UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties 26 (COP26) will take place in Scotland’s largest city from 31 October to 12 November. COP26 will see global environmental, and possibly life-changing, policy discussed in Scotland.

Glasgow will be the stage for one of the most important climate conferences in memory, and will bring together heads of state, climate experts and campaigners who will all be there to debate and negotiate global policies to tackle climate change under the Paris Agreement.

Glas cau

Over 30,000 people are expected to descend on the city which has for many years been dubbed the ‘Dear Green Place’, so it is quite fitting Glasgow was chosen to host such an important climate event. It is in fact thought green is built into the name of green hollow or as we know today Glasgow, a combination of the words glas meaning green and cau meaning hollow. Glasgow today has more green spaces per capita than any other city in Europe, and has over ninety parks and gardens.

These green spaces are a huge asset to the city, and I have certainly enjoyed walking in the city’s many green spaces whilst there. Glasgow was chosen as host city due to its event experience, commitment to sustainability and world-class facilities. The city has morphed from being an industrial workhorse littered with ship building sites and factories to a modern forward-thinking city of culture and arts, services industries and embracing new green technologies.

Glasgow is considered a European leader in public transport, its amount of green space, the number of green-rated commercial buildings and the city is working to reach its goal of achieving net zero carbon by 2030. Glasgow is also now looking to become a National Park City.

In this issue

While global leaders and policy makers meet in Glasgow this month to talk about the impact of climate change, one Scot has been doing something about it for months. Perthshire native Michael Yellowlees has been walking with his beautiful husky dog Luna across Canada to raise money for a Scottish tree-planting charity. Michael is walking to raise money so Scotland will be able to restore some of the wilderness that has been lost across the Caledonian Forest. It would be fantastic if any Scottish Banner readers get behind Michael and donate for not only a great cause but an incredible Scotsman doing an incredible thing.

The Kilted Coaches are Rab Shields and Stephen Clarke, two friends from Perth who are fitness gurus and show millions of people how to keep fit while proudly wearing their kilts. The down to earth duo not only promote healthy living of the body and mind, but also show off Scotland to millions of people through their social media platforms and it is great to have them both in this issue and across our cover this month.

Back in the late 1990’s a little bit of wizard magic was taking place in Edinburgh. Author JK Rowling was working on the first Harry Potter book and often using Edinburgh cafes as her office. This month marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the first film, which had seven more to follow. Scotland was not only used as film locations for the franchise but Edinburgh and Scotland no doubt brought huge inspiration for the characters and settings in what has become one of the world’s most successful film series.

Net zero future

Scotland’s green credentials are also likely to be under the spotlight this month and the Scottish Government has set a legally binding target to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2045, and whilst this will not be easy, it is five years ahead of the target date set for the rest of the UK and many other nations. Glasgow for years has had an impact on the world and let us hope this conference has positive international outcomes.

COP26 is the perfect opportunity to showcase Scotland as a global leader in sustainable development and to create opportunities to help shift and prepare Scotland’s economy for a net zero future.

Glasgow is the city of my family and one I love to be in. I hope it is also a place that creates not only words, but action so we all have a better planet to pass on to the next generation, because who does not want to live in a ‘dear green place’?

What are your hopes for COP26 Glasgow? Have you walked amongst Glasgow’s green spaces? Share your story with us! Do you have you any comments from the content in this month’s edition? Share your story with us by email, post, social media or at: www.scottishbanner.com/contact-us

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Toil & Trouble: Witchcraft in Scotland

A new student-led exhibition will explore 200 years of suspicions and actions that fueled the myths we associate with witchcraft today. Toil & Trouble: Witchcraft in Scotland will examine the dark history of witchcraft in the country, particularly from the 16th to 18th centuries. The recently launched online exhibition has been curated by MLitt Museum Studies students at the University of Aberdeen. Drawing on the University’s rich collections, it will take virtual visitors on a journey of discovery examining aspects of early modern Scotland in an attempt to bring understanding to why witchcraft accusations were so rife at this time.

Objects ranging from a 17th century handbook for hunting a witch written by a king to devices used to punish the accused to more innocuous items thought to bring good luck will be used to consider the broader aspects of the subject, which has long fascinated the public imagination. The impact of gendered violence and oppression, the perceived difference between magic and medicine and the role of the church and religion will be introduced through the curation. As part of the MLitt Museum Studies the students select the topic, select items for display and work on every aspect of the exhibition from delivery to promotion.

The mysteries of witchcraft is Scotland

Caitlin Jamison, who worked on the interpretation for the exhibition, said: “I loved the process of delving into the mysteries of witchcraft is Scotland. In writing the content for this online exhibition, my classmates and I have tried to shape how people understand this important topic. Magic, medicine and religion collide in a way that still has resonance today, which makes it so fascinating to explore.”

Lisette Turner, part of the Design and Marketing curatorial team added: “It was important to me to be able to convey the other sides of witchcraft through its history. People often have preconceived notions of haggard women on broomsticks or hexing their neighbours. There is so much more depth to the topic than that. We wanted to change that visual representation with this exhibition and focus more on the naturalistic side of the craft and how often it was that ‘common’ women found themselves in trouble when thought to have toiled in anything seen as unholy.”

Toil & Trouble: Witchcraft in Scotland is available online at:  www.abdn.ac.uk/toil-and-trouble

Photo: This Glaswegian woodcut block print depicts a scene from the famous narrative poem, Tam o’ Shanter, written by Robert Burns in 1791. In the poem, drunken farmer Tam, happens upon a meeting of witches and the Devil in the local haunted church and the ensuing chaos.

Sailing down the water- Scotland’s steamboats

By: Nick Drainey

In their hundreds, they once chuffed and puffed their way along the mighty River Clyde, as well as many other canals and waterways of the west coast of Scotland. Before the advent of diesel power, it was steamboats that ruled the water, carrying cargo and passengers to remote communities and scenic holiday spots. And it was fitting that the area became home to so many steamers – while there were several inventors and engineers around the world working on the idea of putting Scotsman James Watt’s steam engine to work in boats, it was in Scotland that key developments were made in an industry that was to transform the world.

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The Florida Keys Celtic Festival returns to Marathon, Florida for this Keys annual event

Police Pipes and Drums of Florida.

The southernmost Celtic festival on the U.S. continent will be held at Marathon Community Park January 7-9, 2022 (Friday-Sunday), in the heart of the Florida Keys. Attendance has more than doubled since the festival’s inception and the organizers are excited to accommodate even larger crowds.

The festival begins Friday evening with a “Kilts in the Keys Party” at The Dockside, Boot Key Harbor. Musical group West of Galway entertains from 5pm-7pm with a guest appearance by Police Pipe and Drums of Florida. There will be door prizes and raffles, plus plentiful ale, spirits and other refreshments.

Something for everyone

Blue Sky Pipes and Drums.

The main event takes place at Marathon Community Park. Saturday times are 10am – 8pm, Sunday times are 11am – 5pm. Festivities include musical performances from world-renowned musical groups Albannach, Screaming Orphans, West of Galway, and Byrne Brothers. An international contingent, the “Ladies of the Keys Celtic Festival”, will compete in sanctioned Highlands athletics, while the Official Florida Keys Haggis Hurling Championship will be open to all. Also returning will be a sheep herding demonstration.

Police Pipe and Drum of Florida will be joined by Blue Skye Pipe & Drums, the world’s only all-female pipe band. Other features include Irish and Scottish dancing, authentic Celtic food, beer, vendors, parade, a Clan Call, Irish Tea Garden, Children’s Glen, “for the wee ones”, and Celtic merchandise. Organizers promise that there is literally “something for everyone”.

Bring the Clan!

Sunday morning at 10am Church service on the festival grounds led by Rev. Debra McConaughey St. Columba Episcopal Church produces the Florida Keys Celtic Festival in cooperation with Monroe County Tourist Development Council, and Florida based entertainer producer Celtic Heritage LLC. Tickets are $10 per day or $15 for a two-day pass, children 12 and under are free. Tickets are available at www.KeysTix.com.

Tickets may also be purchased at St. Columba Episcopal Church, through website www.floridakeyscelticfestival.com or by calling 305-743-6412. Proceeds for the event support the Hammock House, an outreach of St. Columba Episcopal Church, featuring free after-school programs and summer camps, providing continuing education and nutrition.

For further information please go to www.FloridaKeysCelticFestival.com, follow Florida Keys Celtic Festival on Facebook, e-mail [email protected] or phone 305-743-6412.

Main photo: Albannach.

Canna-A small island with a big future

Crowd funding appeal to build three community owned houses on the remote Isle of Canna.

The tiny community of 15 on the Isle of Canna is appealing for donations to help complete the funding package to build three community owned houses.  The aim is to gradually increase the population of Canna to around 30 but currently there are no available empty houses on the island to enable the population to grow.  The Isle of Canna Community Development Trust (IoCCDT) has launched a crowd funding appeal to complete the £750,000 total of funding required to build the houses. The community has to raise £200,000 as their contribution to the overall cost.

The houses will be managed and owned by the community; they will be warm, energy efficient and let at affordable rents.The island’s owner, the National Trust for Scotland, have released the land needed for this development. It is planned to start building these 3 new community owned houses inspring 2022 so that Canna can welcome its new residents later in 2022. 

Geraldine Mackinnon, Chair of the Isle of Canna Community Development Trust, said: “The Isle of Canna Community may be small but we are always up for any challenge that will help us create a sustainable future for our island. We have a positive track record with previous projects and hope everyone will come on board and help us make our Community Housing a reality.”

The Small Isles archipelago

The Isle of Canna is the westernmost of the Small Isles archipelago, in the Scottish Inner Hebrides. It is owned by the National Trust for Scotland and is a two-hour ferry journey from Mallaig. The current number of permanent residents on Canna is 15. This housing project is a major step toward their eventual aim of having 30 people on Canna. Canna is home to the award-winning Cafe Canna, is renowned for its safe harbour, a wealth of wildlife and a vibrant community. The IoCCDT was set up in 2013 to enable sustainable development and manage community assets. Since 2013, IoCCDT has successfully set up a community shop, community moorings, an all-tides road to enable Sanday residents vehicular access at all times and an integrated renewable energy project.

The IoCCDT has worked with the Community Housing Trust to develop the current housing project and funding is available from the Scottish Government’s Rural Housing Fund and a range of trusts and foundations.Building on islands increases costs by an estimated 30-40% and the tiny population of Canna needs to raise enough money to fill the funding gap for houses that are essential to its sustainable future.

The IoCCDT’s development plan for the island’s future include the renovation and development of Coroghon Barn and the creation of a Visitor Hub to provide for the over 10 – 15,000 visitors every year. With these ambitious plans there is a need for more people on Canna to help make this future a reality. There are several other employment and self-employment opportunities on the island including staff for existing businesses and new business start-ups.

Contributions toward making Canna a more sustainable place to live can be made via our crowd funding page: www.crowdfunder.co.uk/isle-of-canna-housing-project

Artist’s year capturing the landscape and the lives of Threave’s Ospreys

Audio-visual installation explores the environment and eco-system that is home to one of Scotland’s rarest birds of prey.

Osprey chick. Photo: John Wallace.

One of Scotland’s rarest birds of prey, and the ecosystems that allow it to maintain its fragile presence in Scotland, are the focus of a new video art installation.  A year in the landscape of the Threave ospreys was recently screened at Kelton Mains Farm, one of the handful of places where these magnificent hunters can be easily viewed by the public in Scotland today.  

Video artist and filmmaker John Wallace has spent a year exploring the landscape and waterways around Threave, in Dumfries and Galloway, where the conditions are right for ospreys to survive and breed when they arrive annually from West Africa.

The project is part of Artful Migration which supports artists to create work informed by wildlife, the natural world, the environment and climate change.  Among the compelling images in John’s work is a close-up of a young osprey’s eye. It was taken when the un-fledged birds were being ringed for study purposes.

John, who is based in the region, said: “What’s fascinated me is how much has to be in place when the birds arrive in Scotland from Africa each March. There’s a huge and diverse system of flora and fauna that changes during every season and creates the right conditions for them. With this work what I’m trying to do is to dig into this one place where they breed and rear young and show it across the year, including when they’re far away. The story of how these birds were able to re-establish in the area is also notable. They were spotted in the area, a nest platform was built to get them started, and sure enough a pair moved in – or rather back into a landscape they were always part of until they were wiped out 100 years ago.”

Majestic ospreys

The multi-screen installation, which recently played at the National Trust for Scotland’s (NTS) Threave Nature Reserve, coincides with the start of the conservation charity’s 100-year Threave Landscape Restoration Project to improve habitats and make the area at Kelton Mains more resilient to climate change.

John added: “As top predators, osprey catch the large fish, but the big fish need small fish to feed on and the small fish need their own conditions to thrive and so on. This has to happen all along their migration path, so you just have to hope the ecosystems in all those stopping places will be able to cope with continuing climate change. Hats off to the NTS that they’re already doing work to help that happen here.”

Film-maker John Wallace at work in the River Dee on the Threave Castle estate. Photo: Colin Hattersley Photography.

The art project has involved getting very close to nature, with John spending substantial amounts of time wading in the River Dee and neck deep in vegetation and biting insects.  

He said: “It’s Scotland, but in summer it really is a jungle out there! Getting the kit and myself into position can be tricky, you get a wee bit warm you know, but it’s been a real gift being able to work at all during COVID. I’m so lucky to have had the support and a huge thanks for keeping a light on for the arts.” 

Dr Samuel Gallacher, NTS Operations Manager for Threave Castle and Estate, added: “We are very pleased to be involved in this incredible project which showcases Threave and all the reasons why it is loved by so many, so powerfully. It’s very fitting timing as we’re just embarking on our 100-year project to restore this landscape and make it even better for the many species, including the majestic ospreys which visit us each summer.”

Clan Chieftain – Clan Hope of Craighall

Sir Alexander Archibald Douglas Hope, OBE, 19th Bt of Craighall.

Normally one might expect to read of a clan chieftain living in a stately manor somewhere in Scotland. Perhaps doing a bit of fishing and hunting or delving in company directorships in the realms of establishment and industry enterprises. Happily, the chieftain of Clan hope of Craighall decided to be a little more creative in his pursuits than just those careers and pastimes. So,  if you are unaware of who the Clan Chieftain of Clan Hope of Craighall is this extract from a article on Double Negative (DNEG) the business he co-founded in 1996 might help shed some light.

Rise of DNEG

Alex Hope (3rd from left) and Matt Holben with DNEG’s Academy Award winners.

As film production in the UK ramped up, so too did competition among visual effects studios, many of which happened to be located in the Soho area of London. DNEG Co-founder Alex Hope says the focus in those earlier years was to not only help grow DNEG as a business and as a creative enterprise, but also the local industry as a whole.

“One of our primary aims was to get the visual effects industry in the UK on the map,” recalls Hope. “Through that period, the Harry Potter films started being made, and we first became involved on Prisoner of Azkaban, released in 2004. Those films, and the commitment of Warner Bros. Everyone associated with those films to want them to be done in the UK gave confidence to British visual effects companies, and gave confidence to Double Negative – that we could invest in training and R&D and capital expenditure and build our business.”

Another cornerstone relationship that DNEG cultivated was with Christopher Nolan, first working with the director on Batman Begins and then several others DNEG also quickly became one of the major contributors to other large franchises such as The Hunger Games series, Bond films, the DC Extended Universe and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For that to happen, DNEG had to grow – quickly and creatively – not only in London but around the world. The studio now has locations in London, Vancouver, Mumbai, Los Angeles, Chennai and Montréal.


DNEG has proved its metal in the competitive creative area of VFX production winning multiple awards for its work on a diverse range of feature films and television productions including Academy Awards (Oscars) for: Inception, Interstellar, Ex Machina, Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, First Man and Tenet.

After 22 years Sir Alex left DNEG in early 2020 to take time away from the industry. He’s now involved in some new ventures in the entertainment industry looking to launch in late 2021 and 2022. Sir Alex also serves as Vice Chair of ScreenSkills the UK’s industry led skills body for the screen industry. Clan Hope of Craighall Society looks forward to hearing more about their chieftain’s future business ventures and successes.

You can find out more about DNEG at : www.dneg.com and also about Clan Hope of Craighall Society at: www.clanhope.org

Main photo: DNEG Co-founders Matt Holben (left) and Sir Alex Hope.

Dumbarton Rock: Scotland’s most underrated fortress?

By: David C. Weinczok

Find an outcrop of rock in Scotland and chances are someone, at some point, called it a seat of power. Inland crags, coastal cliffs, and the stone spires left by retreating glaciers 12,000 years ago are commonly crowned by castles or their prehistoric equivalents – duns, brochs, hillforts, lookout towers, and every other type of fortification imaginable.

Nothing, however, serves as a statement in stone quite like building on the carcass of an extinct volcano. Think Edinburgh and Stirling castles, or the island strongholds of Bass Rock and Ailsa Craig, both of which loom large as natural wonders and visitor attractions. In terms of sheer symbiosis between stones crafted by hand and those crafted by nature, however, none can rival Dumbarton Rock. I would not be surprised if you had not heard of it until now. Dumbarton receives little of the fanfare given to the likes of the places listed above. Just why that it is anyone’s guess. Sure, Dumbarton is not at the centre of a major tourism hub like Edinburgh or Stirling; in its shadow is a football pitch, and the area it is in (about 15 miles west of central Glasgow) is much more famous for its industrial heritage and wartime involvement than its medieval history. However, few landmarks in Scotland are as distinctive or ancient as Dumbarton Rock.

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Diageo opens landmark global Johnnie Walker visitor experience

One of Edinburgh’s newest attractions has opened, Johnnie Walker Princes Street, the eight-floor new visitor experience for the world’s best-selling Scotch whisky, in the heart of Scotland’s capital city. Four and a half years in the making, Johnnie Walker Princes Street is the centrepiece of our £185million pound investment in Scotch whisky tourism in Scotland – the largest single investment programme of its kind ever seen in Scotch whisky tourism.

To mark the opening, a Johnnie Walker flag was raised above the landmark building by Diageo’s Chief Executive, Ivan Menezes, and the Managing Director of Johnnie Walker Princes Street, Barbara Smith, who said: “This is a proud day for everyone. Last year Johnnie Walker celebrated 200 years since founder John Walker opened the doors to his small grocery store and today represents the next chapter of the incredible story. Johnnie Walker Princes Street is a landmark investment in Scotch whisky and into Scotland and it sets a new standard for immersive visitor attractions. It celebrates Scotland’s remarkable heritage, our incredible skilled whisky-makers, and looks to the future by engaging new generations of consumers from around the world in the magic of Scotch whisky.”

Johnnie Walker Princes Street is crowned by two world-class rooftop bars and a terrace with breath-taking views of the Edinburgh skyline, including the Explorers’ Bothy whisky bar stocked with 150 different whiskies, and the 1820 cocktail bar where drinks are paired with a carefully curated menu sourced from, and representing in culinary form, the four corners of Scotland.

Americans join fight to save Scottish literary history

A trio of Scottish heritage organizations are asking American supporters for help to save some of the United Kingdom’s most important literary artifacts.

The Honresfield Library, a privately owned collection of manuscripts, letters, and first editions by British luminaries from Austen to Tennyson, was put up for public auction in London earlier this year.  

The collection, which had been unseen by the public for almost a century, also includes Robert Burns’ earliest surviving poems in his First Commonplace Book and Sir Walter Scott’s handwritten manuscript for Rob Roy.

With the real possibility that these culturally priceless artifacts could be lost to private collectors or dispersed overseas, a consortium consisting of eight leading British libraries and museums, including Oxford’s Bodleian Library, the Brontë Parsonage Museum, and the British Library, was swiftly convened by The Friends of the National Libraries.

The collection’s current owners agreed to delay the auction and have given the consortium until the end of October to raise the $21 million (£15 million) needed to commit to the purchase. To date, the group has secured $10.5 million (£7.5 million).

The Scottish members of the consortium – Abbotsford, the National Library of Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland – have worked together to support the UK-wide appeal and have drawn up plans to bring collection items linked to Burns and Scott back to Scotland.

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

Now, the American Patrons of the National Library and Galleries of Scotland and The National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA (NTSUSA) are urging Americans who love Scotland to get involved.

If the money can be raised in time, the three Scottish consortium members will take joint care of the 40 items associated with Scotland in the collection, which have a combined value of $4 million (£2.75 million).

The pieces will be conserved so that they may be put on public display and made available for research. Plans for in-person and virtual programs, as well as loans to local venues in addition to regular and permanent exhibitions at the partners’ main locations, are underway.

Kirstin Bridier, executive director of NTSUSA, said: “Not only do we have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help secure a remarkable collection of literary treasures for Scotland – we have the chance to make them public for the first time. The works of Burns and Scott are deeply significant to Scottish history and culture, and the impact of these writers is still felt around the world today. We are delighted to join this international effort to bring Burns and Scott home to Scotland.”

Peter Drummond-Hay, chair of the American Patrons of the National Library and Galleries of Scotland, said: “It is so rare for a literary treasure trove such as this to come to light and we cannot miss the opportunity to bring it into public ownership in Scotland. It is testament to the extraordinary importance of these items to Scottish culture and heritage that the three institutions have come together to launch this urgent international appeal and we are proud to support it.”

Time is running out to raise the funds needed. To learn more about the Honresfield Library appeal or to make a tax-deductible donation, visit https://ntsusa.org/protect/honresfield-library or www.americanpatrons.org

US Junior Solo Bagpiping & Drumming Championships to be held online

The 15th annual Balmoral Classic, the only junior solo competition for both bagpipers and drummers in the USA, will be presented on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. This will be a virtual event, with competitors submitting videos to our panel of world-renowned judges. Those invited to compete may sign up for any one of three Prerecording Workshops with professional piper Sean Patrick Regan. Regan will work with competitors to ensure that they are prepared to submit their best recordings.

Events include: Competition videos stream on Facebook & YouTube (8:00am-5:00pm EST), Awards Ceremony, live on Zoom, Balmoral Classic Concert, live in Pittsburgh, featuring Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas (8:00pm EST)  and a Sunday workshops in Piobaireachd and Snare Drumming (instructors and times TBA).

Cultivate musical excellence

“We provided both winter and summer workshops in our second year of online instruction, with classes taught by world-class instructors,” says Balmoral Director George Balderose. “This fall, we’ll be presenting our second online Balmoral Classic, fulfilling our promise to cultivate musical excellence in young pipers and drummers.”

Competition performances will premiere on YouTube, with LiveChat offering viewers the experience of attending a live event. Videos will also be posted on Facebook. Awards will be announced via Zoom at 7:00pm EST, with winners posted on social media immediately after. McCallum Bagpipes, Ltd. will be donating a MacRae SL4 Bagpipe as a prize for the Balmoral Classic’s top winning piper.

Application deadline is October 13th. For further detail or to compete online in the Balmoral Classic see: www.balmoralschoolofpiping.org

More Scottish landowners unite to save Scotland’s wildlife

Ardura is a community forest covering around 500 acres on the Isle of Mull. All images © scotlandbigpicture.com

Increasing numbers of Scottish landowners are joining a chain of rewilding projects to tackle the nature and climate emergencies, and create new economic opportunities for rural communities. The Northwoods Rewilding Network is bringing together a diverse group of farms, estates, crofts and community lands, and has more than doubled in size to 28 land partners since its April launch. The sites now cover more than 7,000 acres between them, and Northwoods aims to grow to at least 10,000 acres within two years.

Operated by rewilding charity SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, Northwoods was created in response to a growing number of enquiries from landowners keen to contribute to Scotland’s role in reversing global nature loss and tackling climate breakdown, but who needed more knowledge and resources.

Partnering with small and medium-sized landholdings of 50-1,000 acres, Northwoods is creating a tapestry of nature recovery ‘stepping-stones’ across the landscape, with tailored support being offered to farmers, landowners and land managers.

Large-scale restoration of nature

Ballinlaggan Farm in the Cairngorms.

Most rewilding activity in Scotland is presently limited to large estates and landscape-scale projects. Outside of these initiatives, the challenge of restoring nature and connecting habitats remains.  James Nairne, Northwoods’ Project Manager said: “Northwoods is helping a much wider range of land managers play a bigger role in restoring and connecting nature-rich habitats. The levels of interest show that rewilding is increasingly seen as an important way of helping Scotland’s land and seas recover, and delivering a range of positive outcomes for nature and people.”

Research has estimated that only 29 countries out of 218 have lost more biodiversity than the UK, with Scotland faring only slightly better than the UK average. Rewilding is the large-scale restoration of nature, and goes beyond protecting fragments of nature now left. It restores vibrant living systems across woodlands, peatlands, wetlands, rivers, and at sea, and offers new opportunities for farmers on marginal land.

For more information and a list of Northwoods members, see: www.scotlandbigpicture.com

Main image: Highland cattle are used to replicate the actions of extinct herbivores such as elk and aurochs.

The Glenfiddich Piping Championship returns for 2021

Ten of the world’s greatest solo pipers have been invited to compete in this year’s Glenfiddich Piping Championship, as the renowned competition returns to the spectacular Blair Castle on Saturday 30th October. This year’s competitors are defending champion Stuart Liddell, Dollar’s Callum Beaumont, British Columbia piper Jack Lee, five-time champion Roderick Macleod MBE, William McCallum of Bearsden, 2019 title holder Finlay Johnston, The Silver Chanter 2021 winner Angus MacColl, Edinburgh’s Iain Speirs, Glasgow-based Canadian piper Glenn Brown and Connor Sinclair of Crieff.

The participants were selected from the two qualifying events that took place, with Stuart Liddell as the 2020 champion and Callum Beaumont as the overall winner of the Piping Live! Masters Competition. The other competitors were chosen based on previous achievements at the Glenfiddich Piping Championship and will travel to Perthshire this October for the annual meet. Musicians will play in both the Piobaireachd and March, Strathspey and Reel disciplines, with prizes awarded for each discipline, as well as an overall Championship winner.

The chance to tune in online

The prestigious 48th annual event will welcome live audiences to the Perthshire venue’s Victorian ballroom whilst also being livestreamed, allowing piping fans at home and around the world to experience the impressive sights and sounds of The Glenfiddich. The online show is priced at £15 and will be available to view for one week after it is first streamed.

The Glenfiddich Piping Championship was established in 1974 to inspire the world’s finest exponents of Ceòl Mòr or Piobaireachd (the great music) and Ceòl Beag or light music (the little music). Run by The National Piping Centre, the world centre for excellence in bagpipe music, and funded through the William Grant Foundation, the event is held annually at Blair Castle in Blair Atholl, Perthshire.

The National Piping Centre’s Director of Piping, Finlay MacDonald, said: “It’s wonderful to be able to bring The Glenfiddich Piping Championship back to a live audience this year. Blair Castle always makes for a magnificent venue for this prestigious event and the 48th edition will mark a welcome return to live competition, whilst also giving people at home and abroad the chance to tune in online.”

For information and tickets for the Glenfiddich Piping Championship 2021 see: www.thepipingcentre.co.uk/glenfiddich

The Duke of Rothesay marks the 150th anniversary of the Duke of Sutherlands Railway

His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay recently visited Dunrobin Castle Station to mark the 150th anniversary of the Duke of Sutherlands Railway. His Royal Highness was greeted by The Lord-Lieutenant of Sutherland, Dr Monica Main, who presented His Royal Highness to the Earl of Sutherland.

His Royal Highness joined a reception where he met with guests including representatives of the railway industry and the neighbouring castle. His Royal Highness then toured the station with The Honorary Station Master, Daniel Brittain-Catlin.

The only part of the national rail network to have been planned, financed and opened by one person

The Duke of Sutherland’s Railway is the only part of the national rail network to have been planned, financed and opened by one person. Running from Golspie to Helmsdale it opened on 16 May 1871. In September 1870 an isolated section some 17 miles long opened from Dunrobin (a mile north of Golspie) to West Helmsdale (the temporary terminus). This was opened in September 1870 by HRH Princess Helena.  Intermediate stations were opened at Brora and later Loth.

Dunrobin Station (including platform and building) remains in the ownership of the Sutherland Estate and is believed to be the only such station on the network.  Trains to Dunrobin are operated by Scotrail’s Far North Line service which runs between Inverness-Thurso/Wick. The station is situated at the top of the drive leading to Dunrobin Castle and open to the public throughout the castle season from April-October. 

In 2019/20 it was used by 1240 passengers. The cost of the railway was a remarkably cheap £5007 per mile, as the Duke did not have to buy the land. The equivalent sum today for the whole line would be approx £10.5million.  The station was used exclusively by the Sutherland family and guests from 1871 until the second world war. After the war it was opened to the general public but was closed (to the public) in 1965 under the Beeching cuts.

In 1985 it reopened on summer Sundays , but now has a full service when the castle is open. The station has always been a request stop and intending passengers need to hold their arm out to the train driver, like a bus stop. The original low platform is still in use and boxes with three steps are provided so passengers can reach the level of the train.

The most northerly of Scotland’s Great Houses

After visiting Dunrobin Castle Station, His Royal Highness  Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay was then invited to visit Dunrobin Castle’s Formal Gardens. His Royal Highness was welcomed by The Earl of Sutherland and introduced to Iain Crisp, Head Gardener for Dunrobin Castle. His Royal Highness took a short walk around the gardens with The Countess of Sutherland before being invited to take tea on the Coronation lawn.

Before leaving His Royal Highness met local volunteers from East Sutherland who had helped in their communities during the lockdowns over the last 18 months. Dunrobin Castle is the most northerly of Scotland’s Great Houses and the largest in the Northern Highlands with 189 rooms. Dunrobin Castle is also one of Britain’s oldest continually inhabited houses dating back to the early 1300’s, home to the Earls and later Dukes of Sutherland. The Castle, which resembles a French chateau with its towering conical spires, has seen the architectural influence of Sir Charles Barry, who designed London’s Houses of parliament, and Scotland’s own Sir Robert Lorimer.

Dunrobin Castle is open to visitors annually from the 1st of April to 31st October where guests can walk through several of the castle rooms and even experience a Falconry show in the Formal Gardens.

For more information on Dunrobin Castle visit: www.dunrobincastle.co.uk

Images: John Baikie.

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