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

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

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

A proud Scottish brand

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

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

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

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

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

The 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band.

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

The ancient sounds of the bagpipe and drum

Toronto Police Pipe Band.

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

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

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

Main photo: The 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band.

Culzean Castle-A Castle on a Hill

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

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

Coif Castle

Culzean Castle from the walled garden.

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

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

The gardens at Culzean.

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

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

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

Culzean’s coastal setting

The castle from the Ruined Arch.

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

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

Exotica from the country park.

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

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

Text and images by: David McVey.

Dressed to Kilt 2024: Canadian debut reigns supreme in Toronto

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

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

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

The finest in Scottish fashion

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Scottish fashion and culture

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

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

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

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

For more information about Dressed to Kilt and future events, please visit: www.dressedtokilt.com.

Sandy Ritchie-The pride of Buchan

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

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

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

Bertie Forbes

Sandy receiving his British Empire Medal.

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

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

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

Dame Evelyn Glennie

Sandy receiving his Pride of Buchan Award.

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

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

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

Main photo: Sandy and his book.

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

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

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

A Celebration of Highland Dance.

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

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

Rich cultural heritage

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

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

Dancer Mariah Rust.

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

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

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

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

For more information on Tartan Day on Ellis Island please see: www.tartandayonellisisland.com

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

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

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

A view of the battlefield.

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

The Gentle Lochiel

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing the stories of Culloden

Culloden Moor is a powerfully emotive place.

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

All images courtesy of the National Trust for Scotland.

Thousands attend the 2024 New Zealand Pipe Band Championships

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

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

Pipe bands are for everyone

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

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

Canterbury Caledonian Society Pipe Band.

The winners of each grade were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editorial – The Scottish Banner Says….

May 2024 (Vol. 47, Number 11)

The Banner Says…

Watchers of the Monster

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

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

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

Sir Edward Mountain

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

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


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

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

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

In this issue

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

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

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

Water beast

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

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

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

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Hollywood movie idols influence historic Scottish baby names

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

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

Long-term favourites

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

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

The Battle of Falkirk 1298 Commemoration and fundraiser

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

A pivotal event in Scotland’s history

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

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

If you are able to donate it will help deliver a great event:  https://gofund.me/f8cc3748. To learn more about The Society of John De Graeme see: https://the-society-of-john-de-graeme.weebly.com.

The Berry Celtic Festival-Where Celtic spirits unite

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

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

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

For more information and ticketing visit: berryrotary.org.au.

The Savannah Scottish Games- Where History and the Present Meet

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

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

Phenomenal performances

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

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

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

For more information: www.SavannahScottishGames.com

By:  Catherine Simpson

Images courtesy of Howard Hackney

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

Jonny Chainsaw amongst the Scottish woodlands. Photo: Don Beavis

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

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

Scottish Working Woods

Jonny creating a wooded Scotsman. Photo: James Ross.

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

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

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

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

Jonny Chainsaw

Jonny with Scotty McMoony at the World Ice Art Championships.

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

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

Alaskan nights.

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

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

Text by: James Bartlett

Images (unless otherwise noted) courtesy of Rachel Mirth.

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

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

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

Scotland’s best-selling cookbook author

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

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

Vatersay: Isle of Peril and Promise

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

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

The Meallaich

Vatersay Bay gateway to the beach.

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

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

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

Annie Jane Memorial.

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

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

The Vatersay Raiders

Uidh peninsula cottage with view to Castlebay.

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

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

Eòrasdail abandoned settlement.

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

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

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

Text and photos by: David C. Weinczok.

Serving up at Britain’s remotest restaurant

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

Gareth Cole outside Café Canna.

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

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

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

Remote island

Cattle on the island.

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

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

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

Gareth serving up a feast.

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

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

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

Culinary creativity

Seaweed foraging.

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

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

The view looking across the bay from the restaurant.

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

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

For more details see: www.cafecanna.co.uk


Calling MacLennan descendants to Strathpeffer

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

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

A highly varied program

The Matthew Maclennan Scottish Dance Band.

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

Timaru House, Strathpeffer.

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

The heart of the Highlands

Clan friendship.

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

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

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

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

The Bellingham Scottish Gathering

The Bellingham Scottish Gathering returns to the U.S. Pacific Northwest on June 1, 2024.  The new venue is sure to attract Highland Games enthusiasts, golfers and tourists.  Less that one minute from the Peace Arch border crossing between Washington State and British Columbia, Canada; beautiful Marine Park sits alongside the Salish Sea with amazing views and nature all around.

Bagpipe bands, Scottish athletics, and Highland dancing competitions are highlights.  A featured event is the newly-sanctioned City of Bellingham Open Highland Dancing Championship.  Clan booths, vendors and Scottish breed animals add to the celebration of Scottish Culture.

Semiahmoo Golf Club is a private club opening for the Scotland FOREver Day of Golf on May 30 as part of the Scottish festival.

For more information see:  www.ScottishDanceSociety.org or www.facebook.com/Scottishdance.org

Recent donation reveals dangers faced by Queensferry’s Briggers

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

Insight into the construction of the bridge

Forth Rail Bridge from north, under construction.

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

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

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


Forth Bridge Accident Book exhibition cover.

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

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

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

Revealing important new bridge information

Forth Bridge, floating caisson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showcase the best of Scottish/Australia’s talent

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

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

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

Save the Date:

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

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

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

-Friday 26th July – Victorian Pipers Association recital

-Saturday 27th July – Victorian Pipers Association Solo Championships

For further updates and details visit the Melbourne Tartan Festival website wwwmelbournetartanfestival.com.au or Facebook page.. Book Melbourne Tartan Festival Gala Dinner & Concert tickets via the website or Trybooking: www.trybooking.com/COAUQ.

Drumlanrig Castle-Yarnwinders and Sycamores

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

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

A baronial mansion

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

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


Wide open spaces at Drumlanrig.

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

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

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

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

Roman remains

The Drumlanrig Sycamore.

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

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

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

Text and images courtesy of David McVey.

Music, might and gratitude

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

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

Bagpiping journey

Jim Roberts (left) in 2001.

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

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

The overwhelming thrill of playing

The incredible Virginia International Tattoo.

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

Tattoo Lone Piper, Jim Roberts, in 2011.

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

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

Highland hospitality at the Tasmanian Highlands Gathering

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

Tasmania’s rich whisky heritage

Whisky tasting.

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

The joy of Celtic music.

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

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

Embrace your inner Highlander

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

MacGregor’s gather.

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

For more information, please follow the THG Facebook page at www.facebook.com/tasmanianhighlandsgathering or email [email protected].

Text by: Frank McGregor.

The Kelpies celebrate 10th anniversary

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

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

Majestic sculptures

The Kelpies pay homage to the working horses of Scotland.

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

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

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

Global waterways icons

Photo: Peter Sandground.

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

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

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

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers at The Kelpies.

To find out more about the Kelpies 10 event and to book tickets for the evening event, please visit: www.thehelix.co.uk.

Tartan Day on Ellis Island

A celebration of Scottish-American history and culture.

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

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

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

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

Program extended to April 23rd! For full details on Tartan Day on Ellis Island see: www.tartandayonellisisland.com

Royal Research Ship Discovery undergoes critical works

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

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

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

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

A ship of national importance in Scotland

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

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

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

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

Images courtesy of Dundee Heritage Trust.

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

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

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

Medieval Borders community

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

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

Minke whales visiting Scotland’s west coast set European record

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

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

Whale Track

Watching for whales on the Scottish coast.

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

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

Effective conservation

Minke whale.

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

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

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

A Minke whale swimming with the Silurian.

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

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

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

All images courtesy of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

Editorial – The Scottish Banner Says….

April- 2024 (Vol. 47, Number 10)

The Banner Says…

Celebrating ‘The Mother of Tartan Day’

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

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

Celebration of Scottish culture

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

A small spark can ignite a large flame

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

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

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

International Tartan Day

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

In this issue

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

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

The Mother of Tartan Day

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

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

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

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

#ScottishBanner, #TheBanner

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We appreciate your support and hope you enjoy this edition.

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

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

Significant pieces of Jacobite history

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

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

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

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

Cradle of Scotland

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

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

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

Carpow Logboat

Perth Museum. Photo Greg Holmes.

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Scotland’s ‘lost’ ice age pinewoods

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

The Wild Pine Project

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

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

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

Scotland’s national tree

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

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

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

For more details, visit treesforlife.org.uk.

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

Defending the Realm-Hackness Martello Tower and Battery

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

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

24-pounder cannons

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

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

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

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

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

No armed conflict ensued

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

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

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

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


Did you know?

Martello Towers

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

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

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

Sout Walls and Hoy

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

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

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

Text by: Eric Bryan.

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

Two tickets to ‘Barradise’

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

Scotland’s magnificent west coast

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

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

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

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


Artisit Frank Mosley.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Quality of pipe bands

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

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

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

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

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


Burgh Hall-A repurposed gem

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

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

A creative achievement in itself

Dunoon Burgh Hall, Gallery 2023.

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

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

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

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

Beating heart of the community

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

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

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

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

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

By: David McVey.


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

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

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

The main event

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

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

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

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

Events around town

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

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

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

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

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

The Rugged Island: A Shetland Lyric

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

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

The realities of Shetland at the time

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

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

Boats in The Rugged Island.

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

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

Crofting life

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

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

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

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

One of the pioneers of female film-making

Shetland film-maker and Gilbertson researcher Shona Main.

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

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

Fishermen feature in The Rugged Island.

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

The Rugged Island: A Shetland Lyric will be screened as part of HippFest at the Bo’ness Hippodrome on Wednesday 20 March and will be livestreamed online via HippFest at Home, www.hippodromecinema.co.uk/silent-film-festival.

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

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

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

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

Bringing together clans

Aerial view from Loch Lomond clans at an evening event.

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

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

Sir Malcolm & Lady Colquhoun of Luss, Scotland.

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

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

San Antonio Scottish Games

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

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

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

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

Kilts & Cowboy Boots will take place in San Antonio, Texas April 4-7th.  For further details see: www.clancolquhoun.com/san-antonio 

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

Henry Bell’s Comet Designated

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

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

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

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

National importance

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

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

Further information on the Comet and its status as a scheduled monument can be found on the HES Portal: https://portal.historicenvironment.scot

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


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