Editorial – The Scottish Banner Says….

June  2021 (Vol. 44, Number 12)

Gracing our cover: A Robert the Bruce reenactor. Photo courtesy of: VisitScotland.

The Banner Says…

The spirit of home

Throughout the last year and a half, I have heard from so many readers across the world on how they were just about to visit or were planning a trip to Scotland, and then the pandemic hit.

Millions of people across the globe have had their travel plans thrown into chaos and this has had a devastating impact on the international tourism industry, including of course across Scotland. I too was meant to be in Scotland in 2020 and my plans though in the wings, will happen when it is both practical and safe to do so.

Some have missed births, deaths, marriages, milestones, events and perhaps even their last chance to ever visit Scotland again. I do hope readers of the Scottish Banner have been able to keep their passion and love of Scotland strong by reading our pages, whilst I realise it is not like being there, reading about this incredible country can allow you to dream until you can next book that trip to bonnie Scotland.

Visiting Scotland

Visiting Scotland, and of course anywhere, really can also have such a positive impact to your own wellbeing, this is the benefit of the spirit of travel. I have been an avid traveller my whole life and perhaps it was instilled in me by my parents who made sure we got back to Scotland as a family and also travelled to places near and far for Highland Games and a variety of Scottish events. A quiet life at home was never going to be on the cards for us. During my high school days, a trip was allowed to Scotland by myself with just friends, we landed on a summers morning in Glasgow and that was where the travel bug took hold.

We spent weeks navigating the country, meeting so many people and creating memories of a lifetime. Recently Scotland’s national tourism agency VisitScotland released a paper on the emotional benefits of a holiday in Scotland, which included how it fosters resilience, alleviates stress, increases creativity, boosts confidence and encourages empathy.

Whilst most readers of the Scottish Banner will of course not be venturing far this year as vaccinations still take place globally a small step forward is taking place with Scotland slowly opening up to a largely domestic visitor this summer. This month traditionally would see the summer tourist season beginning to kick in with international tourists coming for those incredible long Highland evenings, the array of events and festivals and of course the
incredible Scottish scenery bursting with summer life.

The value of ourism to Scotland’s economy is estimated at £1.4 billion per year, creating 39,000 jobs and about 5% of total Scottish GDP. This is an industry that will need our support once borders open and we all just may find some personal benefits from taking a well-deserved vacation when able.

In this issue

Robert the Bruce is without doubt one of Scotland’s most famous historical characters. Numerous films, books and historical studies have focused on the man who became to be known as the Outlaw King. June is the anniversary of not only his death (June 7, 1329) but also his most famous battle, The Battle of Bannockburn on 23 and 24 June 1314. This month we look at his life and the legacy he has left for not only Scotland, but Scots around the world.

Another notable Scot who may not be quite as recognizable at Robert the Bruce is David Douglas. David was a botanist and born on June 25, 1799 at Scone, near Perth. He died in Hawaii in 1834, on his final expedition, with causes of his passing still unknown. Douglas was passionate about plants and trees and identified hundreds of plants during his lifetime, including his namesake the Douglas fir tree (being just one of over 80 plant species that bear his name).

Robert Fergusson was born in Edinburgh in 1750 and went on to be one of Scotland’s most prolific poets. Fergusson, who often wrote in Scots, inspired Scotland’s most famous poet Robert Burns. Sadly, Fergusson died in 1774 at just aged 24 and is buried in Edinburgh’s Canongate Kirkyard. In 1787, Robert Burns erected a monument at his grave, commemorating Fergusson as ‘Scotia’s Poet’.

Scottish connection

Many people I speak to often tell me a visit to Scotland is not a once only event and they return for several visits. Many speak of an instant connection or feeling they get as soon as they land on Scottish soil. For a small country there is also a great deal of variety and you can return time and time again and still have new experiences.

Previous qualitative research carried out by VisitScotland found that visitors to Scotland imagine that a holiday there would be an intense experience with the potential to profoundly move them emotionally. They found visitors expected to feel an emotional connection with Scotland and re-centred in their own lives and de-stressing and escapism are viewed as some of the key benefits of a Scottish holiday.

For me it really is a place I am connected within my being, and while I do not live there, it is the land of my ancestors and is always familiar, it is in my psyche and runs through my blood. Like so many, I likely can’t get back to Scotland until at least 2022, but when I do return, I know I will be home.

Perhaps you have been moved whilst visiting Scotland or have a profound emotional connection to Scotland, its people, culture and history? We would love to hear from our readers as to what it is that has captivated them about Scotland. 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.

Real-life stories wanted for North-East granite industry oral history project

Aberdeen City Heritage Trust has launched a Granite Oral History Project to capture the memories and experiences of those who worked in or were in families associated with the area’s granite industry. Granite has defined the character of Aberdeen and towns and villages in Aberdeenshire since it was first used. Industrial scale quarrying started in the 18th century with the industry reaching its heyday in the 19th century when granite was used to pave streets, form harbours and embankments, build buildings and for funerary monuments.

In addition to high status buildings such as Marischal College or the Townhouse, granite was used to build much of a rapidly expanding Aberdeen in the 1800s and continued in use well into the 20th century. It was exported across the UK and the globe giving Aberdeen its world-wide reputation as the “Granite City”. The main period of quarrying in the area came to an end in the early 1970s although its legacy lives on in some local businesses. Aberdeen City Heritage Trust’s vision is that Aberdeen’s historic environment will be better understood, conserved, used and celebrated.

Granite history

Capturing some of the real-life history behind Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire’s granite industry will help to create a better understanding of the human dimension behind this ubiquitous material; an industry which carries with it a fantastic reputation for hard work, skilled craftsmanship and engineering expertise.

The Trust is particularly interested in connecting with those with first-hand experience of granite quarrying, processing, tooling, carving, memorial work, business, administration and distribution of granite and its associated trades. If individuals or family members were personally involved in the industry in some way in the past and are happy to share that memory or story, the Trust would be delighted to hear from them.

The Lord Provost of Aberdeen, Barney Crockett said: “The City of Aberdeen is known around the world for a great many wonderful things, one of which is granite. It is why Aberdeen is often referred to as the Granite City or the Silver City – due to the reflective elements found in the grey granite. The oral history project is a great way to capture the experiences and stories of those who worked in the industry in their own words and I would encourage anyone who has an interesting story to tell to share it with the Trust so it can help provide a fascinating insight in industrial and social terms for us now and for future generations.”

For further information, please contact the Trust by emailing: [email protected]

Castle Cluggy rescue mission begins

Charity’s huge task of repairing and preserving hidden gem for future generations.

An ancient Strathearn castle is to be preserved if ambitious plans to prevent it collapsing further and to open it up to the public are approved by Perth and Kinross Council, but the charity which has taken on Castle Cluggy at Loch Monzievaird for the benefit of the nation admits it is a real “doer-upper”.

Situated on the northern shore of Loch Monzievaird, nestled in the heart of the private Ochtertyre estate minutes from the town of Crieff, Castle Cluggy is one of Strathearn’s ancient dwellings and was the ancestral seat of the Murray baronets of Ochtertyre for several centuries. Now, as befits its dark, feudal past, the drawbridge is potentially being lowered again on access to the Category B-listed structure.

One of Scotland’s least-known historic castles

Castle Cluggy in the late 1800’s.

One of Scotland’s least-known historic castles, Castle Cluggy is situated on a little peninsula called the ‘Dry Isle’, approached in former times only by a drawbridge. The nearby crannog is said to have been used in days gone by as a place of containment for any prisoners held by the castle. Despite its ruined state, this hidden gem hides an incredible history. The castle is traditionally said to have belonged to John Comyn III, known as ‘the Red Comyn’, an important figure in the Wars of Scottish Independence, and Guardian of Scotland for a time. He is probably best known for having been stabbed to death by Robert the Bruce at the high altar of Greyfriar’s Kirk in Dumfries in 1306. One of the possessions of the powerful earls of Strathearn, the site was a pawn in extended blood feuds between the Drummonds and Murrays until ownership was settled in favour of the Murrays. Fortified since at least the 14th century – the fortress was referred to as ‘ancient’ in a charter of 1467 – much of the original castle has been destroyed revealing an impressive square tower with thick walls and arrow slots.

Castle Cluggy Charitable Trust has been set up by Keith Murray-Hetherington, in whose own veins runs the blood of the Murrays. Trust chairman Keith has a deep love of Scotland, its history and heritage, especially castles – which he describes as an active passion. He has made it his mission to preserve what is left of Castle Cluggy and to make it easily accessible to all. Keith told the Scottish Banner: “History buffs and local residents will probably know the old tower, which is still easily discernible as a castle but somewhat spoilt by a multitude of warning signs and protective fencing advising of the dangers of falling masonry. The charitable trust’s purposes are the advancement of heritage and education, in particular through the maintenance, repair, and preservation of the physical remains of the structure known as Castle Cluggy, a building of major regional importance and national significance, for the benefit of the public”.

Keith first visited the estate on holiday as a child but it was only through a chance discovery that he stumbled across the little-known castle hidden by trees, and the connection with the Murray clan sparked his interest in bringing the ancient structure back to good health. He explained: “You cannot see this property from the road and you would not even know it existed, but when you cast your eyes on it for the first time, it undoubtedly brings out the romantic in you. The silhouetted outline of the building looks very dramatic but there are trees growing out of the walls which will cause the castle to collapse further if not removed. We are not rebuilding or restoring the castle to its original appearance, but we are focussed on repairing, stabilising, and preserving the structure in the form it is today for future generations to enjoy. It would have been so easy to allow the castle to collapse into a picturesque ruin but the huge task of rescuing one of the oldest fortresses in Scotland has begun. It is a labour of love. I arise to this labour every morning with increasing desire to complete it.” Keith continued: “My vision is for the widest possible general public to have the fullest access to as much of Castle Cluggy as possible. Ideally, new steps and hand rails up to the castle, and a viewing platform, will be built to allow people of all ages and abilities to enjoy the ancient historical site”.

Books and cards play part in conservation

Substantial work is needed to conserve Castle Cluggy for future generations. Trustees are currently reviewing the quantity surveyor’s report to get a clearer idea of costs for the preservation work, as well as discussing details of the way forward. Castle Cluggy Charitable Trust head trustee Keith Murray-Hetherington said the charity is also actively working with partners to offer young people training in heritage skills, along with residents, community groups, and schools, and it is hoped that the pandemic situation will improve soon so that work can get underway. Those interested in saving the historic castle can also donate to the charity. Keith said: “It is hoped that people worldwide may consider helping with these efforts by making a donation, whatever the amount, to save the castle for future generations”. Products featuring Castle Cluggy are also available to buy, with the proceeds going towards the conservation work. These include a limited-edition fully-illustrated book – The History of Castle Cluggy – ancestral seat of the Murrays of Ochtertyre – Christmas cards featuring a wintry scene of the old tower by local photographer the Strathearn Snapper, and limited edition prints of the castle painted in watercolours by Scottish artist Kimberley Smith.

For more information, contact Keith at [email protected] or call: +44 (0)7788 111729 or go to the Castle Cluggy website at: www.spanglefish.com/CastleCluggy

Archaeology which has changed the face of Scotland’s warrior kingdoms scoops prestigious award

Pioneering work led by the University of Aberdeen, which has revealed a new picture of Scotland’s Pictish past, has won Current Archaeology’s prestigious Research Project of the Year award for 2021. The problem of the Picts: searching for a lost people in northern Scotland was selected through a public vote at the awards celebrating the people and projects judged to have made outstanding contributions to archaeology.

Mysterious people

Since 2012, the research team led by Professor Gordon Noble has been building a very different picture of the early societies of northern Britain given the name ‘Picti’ – meaning ‘Painted Ones’ – by the Romans, to that traditionally presented in popular accounts. The Picts have long been regarded as a mysterious people, leaving behind little evidence of their presence other than their iconic carved stones and so their image in popular culture has at times been of a wild warrior tribe of painted people. Excavations as part of the Northern Picts project since 2012 have shown the Picts to have been a much more sophisticated society, trading across Europe and creating large, hierarchical settlements.

At Tap o’ Noth, an imposing hill which rises above the village of Rhynie to the north of Aberdeen, the team made their most spectacular find yet. In 2020, using radiocarbon dating and aerial photography, they uncovered evidence which indicates that thousands of people may have lived in more than 800 huts perched close to the summit, rivalling the largest known post-Roman settlements in Britain and Ireland. This built on the picture they began unravelling in the valley below at Rhynie where eight years ago they found evidence for the drinking of Mediterranean wine, the use of glass vessels from western France and intensive metalwork production at a site at Barflat farm, just to the south of the village. The finds suggest it was a high-status site, possibly even with royal connections.

Trying to put the Picts on the archaeological map

Other finds were made at the precarious Dunnicaer sea stack close to the iconic Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven. The rocky outcrop, which could only be accessed with the help of experienced mountaineers, was identified as the oldest Pictish fort ever discovered, dating back as far as the third or fourth centuries, with implications for the dating of the Pictish symbol stones found there. While at Burghead, the largest Pictish fort previously known in Scotland, they found evidence of longhouses, Anglo Saxon coins of Alfred the Great and complex feats of engineering which were used to construct enormous defensive ramparts.

These finds, together with their work on the Picts’ most famous legacy – their system of symbols – has radically altered the accepted face of Scotland’s warrior kingdoms. Professor Noble said: “It was a great honour to be nominated, let alone win. Our project has been about trying to put the Picts on the archaeological map, and winning this award is testament to the fact that we have succeeded to some extent. But there’s much we can do in the coming years to ensure that progress continues. Since we began our work on northern Picts in 2012, we have uncovered ever-increasing evidence of Pictish society through large-scale excavations of the scale hitherto rarely undertaken. These have begun to underline the importance of northern Pictland and north-east Scotland to the establishment of the first kingdoms of Scotland. For too long this period of Scotland’s history has been a particularly poorly illuminated part of the so-called Dark Ages. Our work is shedding new light on this and engaging people in new ways with our Pictish past. We are delighted that our work on the Picts has been recognised by Current Archaeology with this award and particularly that people got behind us with their votes.”

Photo: Artist’s impression of the Dunnicaer sea stack based on archaeological findings.

Discovering Scotland’s Distilleries

Produced in Scotland for centuries, whisky is widely celebrated as the country’s national drink. It’s distinct and varied flavours are heavily influenced by the regions in which it is made, a fact that is celebrated as part of national whisky month in May.  Named uisge beatha in Gaelic, which translates to ‘water of life’, whisky is produced at more than 120 distilleries across Scotland, with each producing unique and stimulating tastes. These distilleries are divided up into 5 main whisky producing regions – Speyside, Islay, Campbeltown, Highland and Lowland – and a visit to any one of these represents a memorable way to enjoy Scotland on your next visit. So, pour yourself a dram and get ready to plan your next visit to Scotland, when it is safe to do so, with a stop at one of Scotland’s many great distilleries.


Located just a short drive from Edinburgh, with a twice daily shuttle service running from the city centre, Glenkinchie is known as ‘the capital’s malt’. The distillery’s origins date back to 1825 and its name actually derives from the former landowners, the De Quincys. The site closed in 1853 when its owners, the Rate brothers, were bankrupted, but re-opened in 1881 and has been in constant use since. Aside from being one of the easiest to reach from Edinburgh Airport, Glenkinchie also offers visitors a range of options from access to their exhibitions – with a dram included – to guided tours. Glenkinchie also forms part of a tour within a tour. The malt is one of the ‘four corners’ used to create the world famous Johnnie Walker and one of four stops for fans tracing the roots of the blend.

Location: Pencaitland, East Lothian.


With its 16-year-old malt consistently ranking among the highest scores at international competitions and having featured in books, movies and TV shows, Lagavulin has helped build Islay’s reputation as Scotland’s whisky island. The West Wing, Parks and Recreation and the Walking Dead TV series are just some of the shows Lagavulin has featured in. Someone risked their life to get their hands on a bottle in the latter and it has a taste unique to the isle. The distillery can actually trace its roots back to one of 10 illegal distilleries on the site, which date back to 1742 and, aside from its rich, peaty flavour, the unusual pear-shaped stills are the biggest draw for visitors. The distillery is also a part of the Islay Fèis, Islay’s amazing festival of music and malt, cancelled however for 2021.

Location: Port Ellen, Isle of Islay.

Caol Ila

Another Islay malt, Caol Ila, takes its name from the Islay Straight, which it overlooks from its home in Port Askaig. The distillery has been based here since 1846 although the current building opened in 1974 and it is the largest distillery on the island. You can take a range of tours here, including the Luxury Chocolate and Whisky Tasting Experience and, if you get your timing right, you could visit during the Fèis Ìle Music and Malt Festival, which includes an open day at the distillery. As one of the ‘four corners’ of Johnnie Walker, Caol Ila is the Islay malt that goes into Scotland’s most celebrated blend.

Location: Port Askaig, Isle of Islay.


A distillery which inspired a town, Oban actually built up around the whisky site which opened in 1794. Yes, the area has been settled since Mesolithic times – a cave from this era was actually uncovered below the distillery – but the population grew dramatically when the whisky started to flow. This unique history has placed Oban at the heart of the local community ever since – the distillery is sponsoring Oban Live this year.  Its location also makes it a great launch point for Islay and the isles by ferry. Originally opened by the Stevenson brothers, it wasn’t until 1890 and the rebuilding overseen by J Walter Higgin following a fire, that this whisky really built its reputation for exceptional quality. That reputation saw Oban survive the fire, the whisky crash after 1900 and the risk of closure in the 1960s. And with only two stills and as one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland, it proves that the best things really do come in small packages.

Location: Oban, Argyll.

Blair Athol

The ancient source of Allt Dour, ‘the burn of the otter’, flows through the grounds of Blair Athol from the foothills of the Grampian Mountain range. The distillery is one of Scottish whisky’s great survivors, re-emerging after closure and a period of inactivity since opening in 1798. It has been in permanent use since 1949. A rich and sweet malt, ‘best enjoyed with a dash of water’, its flavour makes it a very popular choice. And the town of Pitlochry is the perfect base for exploring the Highlands and continuing on the whisky trail.

Location: Pitlochry, Perthshire.


Picked for its location, near fresh spring water and peat from the nearby bogs, the Dalwhinnie site was also a stopping point on the ancient drovers’ routes through the surrounding mountains. It is also unusual in that it spent a short period of its life, which officially began in 1897, in the hands of American owners. Their tenure was brought to an end by the advent of Prohibition in 1919. Visitors today are advised to check that the roads are open and tours are running during winter. They are also advised to book in advance, with tours regularly selling out – which is not surprising given the fact that one comes with a special chocolate tasting in partnership with Iain Burnett, the Highland Chocolatier. 

Location: Dalwhinnie, Highlands.

Royal Lochnagar

This distillery’s reputation for single malt whisky has literally been forged in fire. Opened in 1826 after whisky production was legalised, the distillery was razed to the ground not once but twice in suspicious circumstances. The finger was pointed at rivals running illicit stills in the region. Somehow, Lochnagar endured and re-opened in 1845. Three years later Queen Victoria paid a visit from nearby Balmoral Castle, issued a Royal Warrant and the current name Royal Lochnagar was born. Today it is one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland.

Location: Ballater, Aberdeenshire.


Cragganmore was the brainchild and lifelong dream of Big John Smith. Big John had worked as a manager at four different distilleries but was desperate to strike out on his own. He had the knowledge and experience, picking the perfect site near the Craggan Burn and Strathspey Railway and opened the distillery in 1869. With an abundance of raw material and the business acumen to make his idea work, Cragganmore was soon the talk of whisky connoisseurs. That reputation and the distillery endures today, long after the Strathspey Railway closed, and this year Cragganmore celebrates its 150th birthday. The distillery is also a key venue in the annual and very popular Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival (virtual this year from 29th April – 2nd May).

Location: Ballindalloch, Moray Speyside.


One of the jewels on the Malt Whisky Trail, Cardhu is the first distillery to officially be founded by a woman. Helen Cumming actually ran the distillery illegally between 1811 and 1824, before it was licensed. And the tradition of strong female leaders endured when her daughter-in-law Elizabeth took over in 1872. Together they defined and refined the Cardhu flavour which endures to this day. There are a range of tours running on site but aficionados are usually keen to play the whisky guessing game, Guess Dhu and enter the Cardhu Hall of Fame. Call in advance to book a spot on the tours. Cardhu also features as one of the four corners in Johnnie Walker and, like Cragganmore, is part of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival.

Location: Aberlour, Moray Speyside.


Zigzagging back across the country, the Isle of Skye is home to Talisker, one of Scotland’s best loved whiskies and one of the most popular stop offs on the Hebridean Whisky Trail. Founders Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill had a few failed attempts at launching a distillery on the island but their fortunes changed dramatically when they acquired the lease to Talisker House in 1830. Proclaimed ‘the king o’ drinks’ by Robert Louis Stevenson, it is a sweet and full-bodied single malt and the distillery and visitor centre is one of the highlights for visitors to the island.

Location: Carbost, Isle of Skye.

Glen Ord

Glen Ord Is the only remaining single malt distillery on the Black Isle peninsula, which would have seemed remarkable to founder Thomas Mackenzie in 1838 with the area having an abundance of sites, both legal and otherwise, at that time. It has an enduring connection to the McKenzie Clan, with the land the distillery is built on owned by them for over 700 years. The distillery has grown over the centuries and, with people flocking to the Black Isle for tours, a visitor centre opened in 1994. Recently the distillery hosted the inaugural Highland Whisky Festival.

Location: Muir of Ord, Highlands.


Situated on the North Coast 500 route, Clynelish is the final stop on the Johnnie Walker ‘four corners’ tour and is the most northern point of the blend. The distillery overlooks the North Sea and has links to the legendary Brora distillery. In 2019 it will co-host the inaugural Highland Whisky Festival drawing even more visitors to the site. Tours range from the scenic to the connoisseur with the latter including a tasting of some of its rarest malts. One of Scotland’s most northerly distilleries, it’s well worth the visit to Brora.

Location: Brora, Highlands.

World class whisky experience

There are currently more than 120 active distilleries in Scotland, but we’re not stopping there, with two classics ready to come back to life. Their names have been uttered in reverential tones for decades, their whiskies passing into legend. Brora and Port Ellen joined the ranks of Scotland’s ghost distilleries when they closed in 1983 and since then their whiskies have fetched thousands at auction. In 2017 one golden age malt from Brora sold for £15,000 in Hong Kong. Now both distilleries are set to re-open in 2021. They will be among Scotland’s smallest distilleries, with visitor centres on-site and their master blenders working to replicate the original tastes of the whiskies.

Plans are also at an advanced stage to transform one of Edinburgh’s most well-known buildings into a ‘world class whisky experience’ and create yet another landmark on Princes Street. Taking over the former House of Fraser building, the Johnnie Walker Experience will occupy all floors from the ground up and literally raise the roof with a new rooftop bar. The listed building’s original features, including the famous cantilevered clock will be protected. The experience will also create 180 new jobs in the capital and include an events space for performances and shows and a ‘bar academy’. The project is on schedule to open in the summer of 2021.

Text and photos courtesy of: Scotland.org

Glasgow’s Battlefield

By: David McVey

It’s May 2, 1568, and one of the most cinematic scenes in Scottish regal history is unfolding; a former queen is sprung from her prison on an island castle and rowed to freedom by night in a small boat. The keys to the castle are thrown away, they glint briefly in the moonlight, and then slip into the dark depths of the loch. Distantly, those locked in the island castle escape and discover that all the other boats have been disabled and pursuit is impossible.

Whether Mary Stuart’s escape from Lochleven Castle happened according to the romantic legend or not (a bunch of keys was retrieved from the loch centuries later, but it isn’t thought that they belonged to the castle) the escape achieved little, for her forces suffered defeat 11 days later at the Battle of Langside. It’s a battle that isn’t well-known beyond Glasgow and hardly at all outside Scotland.

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Virginia Arts Festival announces 2021 Virginia International Tattoo with new dates and new outdoor venue

June 3-6, 2021, Old Dominion University, Kornblau Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium.

For more than two decades the Virginia Arts Festival’s Virginia International Tattoo has brought a spirit of patriotism, pride, and friendship to Hampton Roads. It is an enormous annual undertaking which hit a roadblock in 2020 when Covid-19 restrictions made presenting a live Virginia International Tattoo impossible. “We heard from so many disappointed Tattoo fans—many of whom had attended every year,” said the Festival’s Perry Artistic Director Robert W. Cross of the 2020 cancelation. “So we are thrilled to announce that we will be presenting the Virginia International Tattoo again this spring.”

Taking the Tattoo outdoors

The 2021 Virginia International Tattoo will take place outdoors, with five public performances scheduled June 3-6 at Old Dominion University’s Kornblau Field at S. B. Ballard Stadium. Some of the world’s great Tattoos take place outdoors, including the legendary Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Scotland. “We’re excited about taking the Tattoo outdoors,” said the show’s producer, Scott Jackson.

“The sight of bands marching with precision across the field…the massed pipes and drums in their colorful tartans…flags waving and the fans rising to their feet to sing their favorite service songs—it’s once again going to be a goosebump-inducing experience. Old Dominion University is excited to host the 2021 Virginia International Tattoo for the first time in the newly renovated S.B. Ballard Stadium,” said ODU Spokesperson Giovanna Genard. “We look forward to partnering with Virginia Arts Festival to continue the tradition of this event in the 757 in a new and unique way outdoors while celebrating diversity, music, military, and the arts.”

A joyful celebration

Every year, the Virginia International Tattoo is a joyful celebration—but this year’s Tattoo offers powerful new reasons to rejoice. Marking the nation’s—and the world’s—emergence from a devastating pandemic, the 2021 Virginia International Tattoo will celebrate the power of the human spirit, with inspiring performances including:

•The finest bands and drill teams of the U.S. Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps

•Bagpipers and drummers from throughout the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom (international performers subject to travel ability)

•Chicago Wheel Jam—daring acrobatics performed inside a steel wheel

•U.S. Marine Corps FAST Company—heart-stopping feats of dexterity and strength

•Old Dominion University Band and Drumline—high-stepping performers to an irresistible beat

•The soaring voices of Virginia Children’s Chorus and Virginia Symphony Orchestra Chorus

•And much more

A salute to the heroes

The show will include a salute to the heroes of the Greatest Generation – our WWII Veterans – which had been planned for the 2020 Tattoo. Plans are underway for a fireworks finale and more spectacular additions made possible by the transfer to an outdoor venue.  The five performances will include a 10:30am matinee on Friday, June 4, which will allow schools from throughout the region and nationally to once again bring their students to experience a lesson in history, patriotism, and musicianship. And one of the most remarkable Virginia International Tattoo traditions continue: Special Audience Night, where children with special needs and their families will be invited to attend the final dress rehearsal for free.

The 2021 Virginia International Tattoo will closely adhere to the most up-to-date CDC safeguards, with information on those as well as parking, dining, and accessibility available on the Virginia Arts Festival website. Tickets for the Tattoo are available online at www.vafest.org or by phone through the Virginia Arts Festival Ticket Office at 757-282-2822. Discounts available for groups of 10+ by calling 757-282-2819.

South of Scotland’s biggest community buyout completes

The South of Scotland’s largest community buyout has been legally completed following one of the most ambitious community fundraising campaigns ever seen and paving the way for the creation of a vast new nature reserve in Dumfries and Galloway. The landmark agreement of £3.8 million for 5,200 acres of land and six residential properties was reached between The Langholm Initiative charity and Buccleuch last October, after the community of Langholm’s six-month fundraising drive reached its target in the final two days.

Tarras Valley Nature Reserve

With the transfer of ownership finalised, the community now owns the land for the first time in its history. Work is to begin immediately on creating the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve to help tackle climate breakdown, restore nature, and support community regeneration.

Margaret Pool, Chair of The Langholm Initiative, said: “Together we’ve achieved something which once seemed impossible, and today we can celebrate as a new era begins for this special land with which our community has such a deep and long-standing connection. Our sincere, heartfelt thanks go to so many people for making this historic moment for Langholm happen – including the generous donors and tireless volunteers, and to Buccleuch for being so supportive and positive in their approach.”

Benny Higgins, Executive Chairman of Buccleuch, said: “To have concluded the sale to the community is a fantastic achievement, and a great example of what can be achieved when communities and businesses like Buccleuch engage openly with one another and work to a common goal. This was achieved by goodwill and working together, following voluntarily all the relevant guidance and protocols. We look forward to seeing the plans for the area coming to life over the coming months, and wish The Langholm Initiative all the very best with this. Buccleuch has been reducing the footprint of its landholdings in the last decade and, having sold approximately 30,000 acres of land in this period to farmers and community organisations, we will continue to reinvest revenue from land sales into a variety of business projects across the farming, forestry, renewable energy, and leisure and hospitality sectors.”

The Langholm Initiative has set up Tarras Valley Nature Reserve for the day-to-day running of the ambitious new venture, and is currently recruiting two new members of staff who will oversee the landscape-scale nature-restoration project.

The environment at its heart

Globally important peatlands and ancient woods will be restored, native woodlands established, and a haven ensured for wildlife including rare hen harriers, the UK’s most persecuted bird of prey. Plans for community regeneration include new nature-based tourism opportunities. Discussions are continuing between The Langholm Initiative and Buccleuch over another 5,300 acres of land the community wishes to buy, and which could double the size of the new nature reserve. After the launch of the community’s fundraising drive last May, The Langholm Initiative had until 31 October to raise the funds for the deal, to avoid the withdrawal of a £1m offer from the Scottish Land Fund. At times the project appeared to be seriously at risk. The Langholm Initiative now aims to show how community ownership can be a catalyst for regeneration with the environment at its heart, and hopes its success will inspire other communities in Scotland and across the UK.  

The Langholm Initiative, formed in 1994 as one of south Scotland’s first development trusts, facilitates projects making a lasting difference to the local area and people. See: www.langholminitiative.org.uk

The 2021 Camperdown Robert Burns Scottish Festival

The 2021 Robert Burns Scottish Festival (RBSF) is set to return to Camperdown in July this year. The Festivals Chairperson, Dr John Menzies OAM is pleased to announce that the festival is going ahead and promises to be a great festival.  The committee is working hard to ensure that patrons and the local community will be able to attend Covid Safe event.  Dr Menzies said that careful planning will be put onto place by implementing a Covid Safe Plan for approval from the Chief Medical Officer.

The RBSF will see the return of the school children’s program with primary and secondary aged events including art works, poetry, story writing and the popular shortbread baking competition these activities will happen before the festival and delivered in the schools.

Dr Menzies also said that schools can access programs from the Robert Burns World Federation at no cost and connecting to Scotland, the birthplace of Burns is a wonderful opportunity for students, to learn more about Burns. The committee members are working hard to secure and invite back the musicians who were to perform at last years cancelled festival, these include the Melbourne Scottish Fiddle Club, Fiona Ross and Shane O’Mara, Claire Patti, Luke Plumb and Kate Burke, Indigenous performer Brett Clarke,  Austral, and corner house bands are coming to Camperdown this year with a line-up of talented local bands and musicians including Pete Daffy and his band, Tuniversal Music Group, the Twa Bards, Howling Wind ,the Warrnambool Pipes and Drums, and further confirmation from bands to confirm they are coming to Camperdown in July.

Headline performers

The Festival committee are also re introducing the Satellite Concerts and two events one at Darlington on June 19th with live music and a movie night. The second event will be at the Commercial Hotel in Terang on the Thursday 1st of July.  The Gala Dinner will be held at the Theatre Royal on Friday the 2nd of July and promises to be a sumptuous and authentic Scottish meal including an Address to the Haggis, headline performers and more, booking will be essential and numbers will be capped at 100. The popular Music Workshops will be held on the Thursday and Friday with festival musicians running instrumental and vocal workshops and for the first time there will be virtual master classes connecting our festival to the world.

The very popular Cookery Class will be happening with Liz Patterson and Ruth Gstrein which gave participants the opportunity to cook authentic Scottish food and eat a meal at the end of the session.  Booking will be essential due to limited class sizes.  Lecture co-ordinator Bob Lambell has organised four wonderful guest speakers for Saturday the 4th July to be held at the Killara Centre.  Wee Stories at the Library for the children, Activities in the Avenue with music, Highland Dancers and pipes will activate the Clock Tower precinct with Market Stalls and plenty of things to see and do.  A number of concerts at various venues over the weekend will be hosted so there is plenty of variety on offer. Both Saturday and Sunday the Camperdown Heritage Centre and the Masonic Lodge will be open for folk to visit along with the Clock Tower.

Highland Dancing on Saturday will also be opened to the public and for the Golfers the Robbie Burns Ambrose will be hosted at the Camperdown Golf Club. On Saturday evening the family night event with workshop participants coming together to provide the music at the Theatre Royal and smaller events at various venues including the local hotels will give patrons lots of choice.  Sunday market stalls and children’s activities in the avenue, music with the Twa Bards and poetry at the statue in the morning with the Festival Finale Concert in the afternoon winding up the festival.

The Robert Burns Scottish Festival will take place July 2-4. Tickets will be available soon so please check the festival website:  www.camperdownburnsfestival.com.au and www.facebook.com/robertburnsfestival

For further information please contact Catherine O’Flynn RBSF Co-ordinator on 0407 056 126.

The National Piping Centre launches crowdfunding campaign

The National Piping Centre has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to protect the legacy of its Piping Times and Piping Today periodicals. The two-strand project involves digitisation of the magazine archive, a resource that will be free to access online, and the production of a new annual publication that carries the Piping Times title. With the Piping Times and Piping Today together recording over 90 years of piping history, and recognised internationally as the most significant source of piping information, opinion and news, both were forced to cease publication in 2020 due to the unprecedented financial challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Influential in fostering an international piping community

The National Piping Centre’s Director of Piping, Finlay MacDonald, said: “It was with the deepest regret that we have made the difficult decision to cease publication of the two magazines, Piping Times and Piping Today. Both titles hold a special place in the hearts of pipers across the world. Sadly, publication of the magazines could no longer be justified on the grounds of the associated costs. Dwindling circulation numbers – a common trend in publishing in recent years – meant that, despite their long histories, the savings made had a significant impact on the organisation’s ability to weather the pandemic.”

The College of Piping began publishing Piping Times in October 1948. As well as printing competition results, reviewing events and reporting general news in the piping world, it provided a platform for the exchange of opinions and ideas. It was also influential in fostering an international piping community.

Until his death in 1996, the magazine was edited by Seumas MacNeill, a co-founder of the College. In nearly 50 years as editor – a position he took no payment for – MacNeill never missed a single issue. An acerbic style of writing made him a controversial personality but his commitment to the publication bequeathed the piping community a substantial and valuable historical record. Subsequent editors were Robert Wallace, Colin MacLellan and Stuart Letford.  In 2018, when the College was incorporated into The National Piping Centre, the magazine archive and its continued publication became part of the Centre’s legacy commitment.

Great value to the international piping community

The National Piping Centre began publishing its own in-house magazine, Notes, shortly after opening in 1996. As the focus of the publication shifted to the broader world of piping its title changed to Piping Today. The bi-monthly magazine, under the editorship of The National Piping Centre’s then Director of Piping, Roddy MacLeod MBE, maintained a distinctive voice in the piping community for almost 25 years. Head of Piping Studies at The National Piping Centre, John Mulhearn, said: “The history recorded in both magazines’ archives is of great value to the international piping community. The unmatched resource it represents for students and scholars of the bagpipe cannot be overstated. In making this resource more accessible, future research will benefit profoundly.”

The money raised from the crowdfunding campaign will be used to professionally digitise the magazine archive. It will then be hosted on The National Piping Centre’s website and be free for the public to access and search.  Donations to the campaign will also support the design and production of a new physical annual publication under the Piping Times banner. It is planned that the annual will be added to the digital archive each year. Finlay MacDonald continued: “Creating a physical record of the year’s piping news is still a priority for us. By publishing a Piping Times Annual we hope to create a new archive for the future. This first volume, covering the period from Spring 2020 to Autumn 2021, will be of enormous historical importance. While, on the one hand, far less piping activity has taken place due to the pandemic, the innovations that have taken place – most notably the explosion in online competitions – may be seen as a pivotal moment in the development of piping performance. It is essential that this is documented appropriately for researchers of the future.”

The Crowdfunder is now live and you can donate at:  http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/pipingtimes

The 28th Chief of Clan Macpherson, James Brodie Macpherson of Cluny

James Brodie Macpherson of Cluny is the 28th hereditary chief of the Clan Macpherson of Cluny (Cluny-Macpherson). Born on 5th June 1972, he was educated at Summer Fields, Oxford; before going to Fettes College, Edinburgh; and then on to Guilford College, in Greensboro, North Carolina where he obtained a BSc in Sports Management and Business. On his return to Scotland, after working with Whitbread plc in London, he joined Ben Sayers Golf Company as a Commercial Manager before going into property and thereafter he set up his own property business in Melrose, aptly named Macpherson Property. In 2002 Jamie married Annie Alexandra Macpherson, a company director and a daughter of The Lord and Lady Macpherson of Drumochter, who was co-incidentally the son of one of the co-founders of the Clan Macpherson Association in 1947.

Jamie and Annie have three children: William Thomas (younger of Cluny), Lucy Catherine, and Angus James. Hugely passionate about all things Scottish, Jamie also has a great interest in the outdoors which include golf, rugby and fishing. The family home is Newton Castle, Blairgowrie, Perthshire, which has been the home of the Macphersons since 1787. Currently, Jamie and Annie live in Melrose in the Scottish Borders, the home of Rugby 7’s.

The 27th Chief, Sir William Macpherson of Cluny and Blairgowrie, passed away in February and served as Chief of Clan MacPherson for fifty years.

For information on the Clan Macpherson Association see: www.clan-macpherson.org

Paisley Museum’s 150th anniversary

#ETROBYYOU Campaign. Photo: ETRO.

Designer Dr Pam Hogg leads the call to #ShowUsYourPaisley for museum’s 150th anniversary

Fashion designer Pam Hogg is leading a call-out for Paisley-patterned items the public have at home – from clothing to cookware – to mark the 150th anniversary of Paisley Museum. The #ShowUsYourPaisley call-out will encourage the public to share any objects they have incorporating the famous pattern, with the museum considering the most intriguing and unusual submissions for inclusion in a new display being created as part of the museum’s £42million redevelopment. Items can be historic or contemporary, high-fashion or functional, but all need to feature the iconic teardrop motif.

Pam Hogg, Paisley-born designer and Patron of Paisley Museum, said: “The Paisley pattern has had a lasting impact on the world and has been endlessly reinterpreted and reinvented. There are examples of Paisley pattern all around us and I’d like to encourage the public to share their items and the stories of how they were acquired, used, loved and passed down. The most interesting will be considered for display alongside a piece from my 2020 couture show, where I created the Paisley Poodle print incorporating my life-long love of the iconic Paisley design. As a child I was fascinated with the museum’s collection and can’t wait for its expansion.”

The iconic teardrop motif

Objects from Paisley Museum’s collection. Photo: Elaine Livingstone.

Paisley’s Free Public Library and Museum opened on 11 April 1871, aiming to provide local people with the means of self-improvement inspired by the ideals of the Scottish Enlightenment. It was open to all, although it had strict by-laws for entry which excluded anyone “in an intoxicated or unclean condition” or those “in whose house infectious diseases exist”. In 1905, the museum held its first exhibition of Paisley shawls in recognition of the impact the textiles had had on the town’s fortunes. Many gifted these shawls to the museum permanently when the exhibition concluded, and over 115 years later the museum is asking the public to continue this tradition.

Kashmir shawls began to arrive in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, brought back by travellers and via trade routes, including with the East India Company and the Mughal Empire. Many featured the ‘boteh’, a motif in the shape of a curved droplet. By the 1800s they had become extremely fashionable and European textile centres began producing ‘imitation Indian’ shawls. Manufacturers in Paisley quickly adopted new weaving techniques and technologies including jacquard looms, allowing them to mass produce these items and become the market leaders by the 1830s.

This sparked the start of the trend for referring to these shawls as ‘Paisleys’. Kirsty Devine, Paisley Museum Project Director, said: “The iconic teardrop motif has long been associated with Paisley’s history and heritage and is an integral part of the museum’s collection. We will tell the story of this design, so synonymous with the town, from its Kashmir origins all the way through to its modern-day use by major fashion labels. The pattern has been seen on different types of objects globally throughout history. What better way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Paisley Museum than paying homage to the town’s most famous export? We’re very excited to see what hidden gems the public are able to uncover and share with us through the #ShowUsYourPaisley call-out.”

Paisley pattern

Although the fashion for the shawls that made the town’s fortune dwindled by the 1870s, the ‘Paisley pattern’ continued to appear in garments and in the 1960s had a dramatic revival with the likes of rock legends The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix wearing the designs. The pattern has continued to be a source of inspiration for leading fashion designers, including the Italian fashion house ETRO. Jacopo Etro, Creative Director of ETRO Home & Accessories, said: “Paisley has appeared on every imaginable fabric, bridging East and West, masculine and feminine, elegance and eccentricity. The symbol has evolved and morphed as new techniques and colours have been applied to it, carrying the design from clothing into the worlds of accessories, fragrances and homewares.” Away from the world of fashion, the pattern also began to appear on mass-produced objects from the 1960s onwards. The public have sporadically gifted these objects to the museum – from a frying pan to a roll of toilet paper donated for people’s “amusement, edification and enjoyment”. It continues to appear on everyday objects, most recently on face masks during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Paisley Museum is being transformed into a world-class destination which will retell the town’s story to the world and help bring huge volumes of new visitors and footfall to the town. The work is the flagship project within Renfrewshire Council’s wider investment in venues and the town centre aimed at using Paisley’s unique and internationally-significant cultural and heritage story to transform the area’s future.

The public has until Sunday 30 May 2021 to submit their Paisley pattern item suggestions for consideration. They should be emailed to [email protected], or shared on social media using #ShowUsYourPaisley and tagging @paisleymuseum and include a photograph, description and story behind the object.

First look at faces of centuries-old Edinburgh-dwellers

Facial reconstruction of a man by Elysia Greenway.

A first glimpse has been revealed of what people living in Leith up to 700 years ago might have looked like. Forensic artists have used hi-tech software to reconstruct the faces of remains uncovered during the excavation of the medieval graveyard in Leith, dating back to between the 14th and 17th century, as part of the Trams to Newhaven project. Masters graduate students from the University of Dundee, working closely with project sub-contractors GUARD Archaeology and as part of an ongoing internship with the Council Archaeologist, used special 3D scanners to build up digital versions of skulls discovered during excavations outside South Leith Parish Church. These were the basis for lifelike representations created of the former residents, the first step in the aging analysis of bodies.

The first two pictures feature a man and woman both aged between 35 and 50. Early forensic analysis indicates that the woman may have suffered from nutritional deficiencies.  Councillor Karen Doran, Transport and Environment Vice Convener, said: “It’s so interesting to see these images. It really makes you think about what life could have been like in Leith all those years ago and I look forward to finding out more from the experts analysing the remains found.”

Medieval Leith

Council Archaeologist John Lawson added: ‘’These fantastic reconstructions help us connect directly with our forebearers. Often, we as archaeologists just see the physical remains but the work undertaken by Dundee University’s forensic artists helps put the flesh, so to speak, back onto these remains and by doing so I feel brings them closer to us today.’’

Excavations were carried out in summer 2020 outside South Leith Parish Church, Constitution Street, where previous investigations showed that in the medieval period the church’s graveyard extended across the road with graves surviving beneath the current road surface. The team of archaeologists, who were working to remove any human remains that could be affected by the tram works, exhumed more than 360 bodies, dating from between 1300 and 1650, as well as finding the apparent remnants of the original medieval graveyard wall. The remains are now subject to examination and analysis that will reveal information on the origins, health, diseases and diet of the people of medieval Leith. This has involved partnership work with the University of Dundee and Forensic Art MSc graduate students Viviana Conti and Elysia Greenway, who have created facial reconstructions and have recorded vlogs for the Trams to Newhaven YouTube account, explaining their process.

The main construction works on Leith Walk from Elm Row to Crown Place are currently underway, with traffic management involving Leith Walk being reduced to one citybound lane between London Road and Crown Place for the duration of the works.

Editorial – The Scottish Banner Says….

May 2021 (Vol. 44, Number 11)

Gracing our cover: The ancient art of coopering at The Speyside Cooperage. Photo: VisitScotland/North East 250/Damian Shields.

The Banner Says…

The Water of Life

It is said Mark Twain once made the famous comment “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whisky is barely enough.”

May in Scotland is traditionally Whisky Month, with events taking place across the five whisky regions (Highland, Lowland, Speyside, Islay and Campbeltown) of the country. This year of course things may not be back to normal with the slow and measured opening of Scotland, however virtual events will ensure whisky aficionados are certain to still find ways to celebrate Uisge beatha, the Scottish Gaelic term for water of life. As we hit mid-month a global celebration also takes place with World Whisky Day on May 15th.

Each bottle of whisky produced tells a story

Each bottle of whisky made in Scotland certainly tells a story of the local region in which it was produced. From smokey and peaty Islay malts to the light bodied varieties from the Lowland’s. With over 130 distilleries to be discovered across Scotland you can be just about anywhere and find some liquid gold being produced.

This year alone Scotland is expected to open new distilleries in Loch Lomond, John O’Groats and Falkirk to name a few, with work being planned on future locations such as Edinburgh, Speyside, Islay and the Scottish Borders.

Some may also be surprised to learn of the reported health benefits which come with consuming whisky, at moderation of course! Whisky is said to help with some surprising ailments so raising a dram just may be good for you. Whisky can lower your risk of heart
disease, promote weight loss, help fight cancer, reduce blood clots, aid digestion and of course help with a common cold by having a Hot Toddy.

In this issue

To help celebrate Whisky Month we have featured just some of the great distilleries you can visit when it is safe to next travel to Scotland. Apart from sampling a dram many distilleries also tell a great story and have strong historical links to the local community. Scotland’s distilleries come in all shapes and sizes, from large ones with modern displays and interactive exhibits explaining the process, to small ones which have preserved their distilling techniques and secrets since the 18th century.

The town of Paisley can be missed from people’s itineraries when visiting Scotland. It however is the largest town in Scotland and is only a short trip by train or car from Glasgow and has much to boast about. Paisley’s growth in the early 19th century was mainly through textile production and the name Paisley was given to the Kashmiri pattern of curving shapes found on silk and cotton fabric. Paisley Museum is being transformed into a world-class destination which will retell the town’s story to the world and is looking for the world to share their paisley history with them.

The most significant battle to take place within Glasgow was fought in the southside of the city on May 13, 1568 and was the Battle of Langside. The Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots was overwhelmingly defeated by Protestant forces after which she fled to England where she was incarcerated by her royal rival and distant cousin Elizabeth I and eventually executed.

The dram of Scotland

The first recorded evidence of whisky production in Scotland dates back to 1494 when monks made Aqua Vitae, as whisky was then known, in Fife. It is suspected however the tradition of whisky making pre-dates this, but one thing that is certain is that whisky production is very much a part of Scotland’s culture, industry and psyche.

As whisky began to be known across the country Scottish farmers would distil their surplus grain at the end of the harvest season to make the ever-popular drink. This led to the government imposing a whisky tax in 1644, which caused many a distiller to go underground and an illicit distilling and whisky smuggling boom was born. For well over 100 years canny Scots mixed farming and distilling with great skill, creating a network of stills and distribution to evade customs.

Today whisky is one of Scotland’s top exports with hundreds of countries around the world wanting and consuming the dram of Scotland. It is now an industry that is worth over billion’s to Scotland and has fans across the globe.

I hope you are able to sit back and enjoy your May and if that involves having a wee dram, here is to your good health! Cheers/Slàinte Mhath!

Have you visited one of Scotland’s great distilleries? Do you have a favourite dram? 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

Covid-19 is having a major impact on many of our regular advertisers, with events being cancelled and businesses suffering. The Scottish Banner is more reliant than ever on our readers helping us to provide you with our unique content by buying a copy of our publication, regardless if by print or digital subscription or at a retail outlet.
We appreciate your support and hope you enjoy this edition.

Berry Celtic Festival – Sat 22 May

The Berry Celtic Festival, in Berry, NSW, is to be held on Saturday 22 May and planning is full steam ahead. This year highlights the Welsh Celtic nation and, subject to any Covid restrictions at the time, promises a day full of entertainment. Jousting has been one of the real hits with Berry Celtic Festival goers in recent years and is full of excitement, and the heavily armoured noble knights are bound to once again put on a great show for the crowd.  In the background, other knights resplendent in shining armour re-live battles in hand-to-hand combat demonstrating their skilful swordplay.

The Berry Celtic Festival kicks off at 9.30am with a grand parade of pipe bands marching in their distinctive kilts around the Berry Showground, together with representatives of all of the Clans, medieval knights, and Scottish Terrier dogs.  Come see the marching of the massed bands, musical items, Celtic fiddlers, highland dancing, enchanted singing, and of course, the battles of the medieval knights.  Entry is $10 for adults, with children under 15 years free. Saturday 22 May at the beautiful Berry Showground. The Berry Celtic Festival is a fundraising project of the Rotary Club of Berry.

Check www.berryrotary.org.au for full details.

Remembering Les McKeown

The Scottish Banner spoke to Les McKeown, who sadly passed away this week, in 2018. As a tribute to Les we are featuring some of that interview with the Bay City Rollers icon. RIP Les.

In the 1970’s the Bay City Rollers were five young lads from Edinburgh who were on the brink of global superstardom. The band became the most successful chart act in the UK, selling tens of millions of albums, had a unique look and sound, and they became the biggest global band since the Beatles. Front man Les McKeown spoke to the Scottish Banner on what it was like to reach such super stardom, Rollermania and just how it felt to turn the whole world tartan.

SB: Les thanks for taking the time to speak to the Scottish Banner. Can you start by telling us about how great it is for you to still be able to play Bay City Rollers music today and how it feels to see the Rollers on such a great roll once more?
LM: We love keeping the music of the Bay City Rollers alive for the older fans and of course reaching new fans we play to on the road. Just to clarify The Bay City Rollers are not the band I tour with, in fact we are called Les McKeown’s legendary Bay City Rollers, which is the band I have been with for over 25 years. I have actually been touring all over the world, each year I have been to places like Canada, Japan, UK, Europe, New Zealand and Australia.

SB: The band has its origins in working class Edinburgh. Can you briefly tell us how the band went from the gigs in the Scottish capital to becoming international tartan teen sensations and selling tens of millions of albums worldwide?
LM: Yeah, I don’t know how that happened exactly but the band started in 1967 and at that time were called The Saxons. In 1971 the band a hit in the UK with a song called Keep on Dancing, which made it into the top 10 charts. Then there was quite a bit of disappointment after that with singles that were not making the charts. The previous singer left the band and in November 1973 I was already in a band which were very popular around Edinburgh and across Scotland. The management of the Rollers were looking for a young popular singer at that time and I was asked to join the band and within 3 months we were at the top of the charts again in the UK and this started the “tartan typhoon” that soon began with what became known as Rollermania.

SB: Les we understand a map of the USA helped create the band’s unique name, can you tell us how the name the Bay City Rollers came about?
LM: The guys wanted to have a different name for the band and had this cute idea of trying to find an American sounding name for the band and the idea of the Rollers was born. What happened was they literally threw some darts at a map of America and one of the darts landed on Bay City in Michigan. So, they added Bay City to what they already had and became the Bay City Rollers.

SB: You have called your fans family who have grown up together, can you tell us more about the family connection you feel with your fans?
LM: That’s right, and there is a lot of that today with social media. Through live messaging or Periscope or Facebook live, I can have a chat with the fans and connect with them in real time. I am active in a social media sort of way and love reaching out to fans. Of course, you also get used to seeing fans over the years at the live shows and at times I catch up with them for dinner or have a catch-up during intermission at one of our gigs. Some fans are able to maintain a friendship connection like that and some are still amazingly besotted by my mere presence if you know what I mean, they can still be a bit weak at the knees!

SB: The Bay City Rollers are still today considered as one of Scotland’s greatest musical exports, with a look and sound like no one else, the band also became a “boy band” well before the term existed. How did you handle such a great level of success at such a young age?
LM: We were so young and it was all such a big adventure for us. We were happy to be working so hard and travelling all over the world. It really was so unbelievable and nothing really could prepare us for the level of success and fame that was about to hit us, it truly was phenomenal.
You could say that some kind of reaction was expected if we were successful. I had been to David Bowie and Led Zeppelin concerts and I could see how audiences could react to famous people. When we got famous we expected some reaction, but the reaction that happened to us was way over the top and more like a super reaction. We enjoyed and it was great while it lasted, but of course there was a downside to that after it finished. For me I went on to record albums and continued to write music after the Bay City Rollers and for quite some time it never really stopped for me.
Until 1985 when I moved from London back to Edinburgh and got married and had a child and thought of retirement. Though the money from the record company started to slow so I came up with some new projects as I knew I had to start working again and began to form my own Bay City Rollers again and go out on the road and reproduce the band’s song, songs that I had made a hit with.  I have been building on that ever since and we even went on to do a musical called Rollermania which was successful in the theatres around the UK.
In 1999 we did a Millennium concert at Edinburgh Castle for Hogmanay with all the original band excluding the drummer. It was Eric, Alan, Nobby and myself and the concert was to launch a Rollers get together reunion but unfortunately Alan fell ill and the tour was cancelled but we did manage to do that Edinburgh show which was a huge success.

SB: The energy and excitement of performing all the Rollermania hits must be quite a thrill. How does it make you feel to relive this excitement with fans old and new?
LM: It is even more rewarding now as we take such care to make sure the music sounds good. The BCR have so many hit songs and though we change the set list all the big hits remain in place.  We may do some numbers acoustically or even get fans up on stage to sing with us, but we keep true to the music. It is what people expect and what we love to do.

SB: Fans old and new will love the classic hits of the Bay City Rollers, however you also want to incorporate some “tartan-mania” in your shows. Can you tell us more and how important it has been for the band to include the fabric of Scotland in their identity?
LM: Well it’s in my bones isn’t it? Tartan is part of every Scotsman’s history and we are very proud of it.  It was a big part of the Bay City Roller’s image and was very iconic for what we wore. We had it in our shirts and tartan down the side of our trousers and we wore lots of tartan scarves. When you think of Bay City Rollers you think tartan and you think Scotland. We keep that going and I think that is a really good thing.

SB: Les the music of the Bay City Rollers takes audiences on a unique voyage back to a time when they were the soundtrack for a generation. How does that make you feel to be able to connect to fans so many all these years later whilst at the same introducing a whole new generation to your hits?
LM: There are a lot of new people coming to our shows to see what all the fuss was about. Of course peoples sons and daughters have also grown up to their Mum (and Dad!) playing our music in the car or at home. So the kids know all the songs as well. The male of the species who would never have come to our shows back in the day, are now coming in droves wanting to also hear those songs of their childhood and have fun.

SB: What advice would the Les McKeown of today give the teenage Les starting out with the Rollers in Edinburgh all those years ago?
LM: Keep on doing what you are doing! There have been lots of some extreme highs and sadly some lows, but all in all it’s been a great ride for me. I also never could have known all the influences we have had on people such as bands like The Ramones writers of films, Judy Murray (mother to tennis greats Andy and Jamie Murray) she comes along to our shows. It surprises me to meet so many people who you have had such an impact on their life.

Hidden meanings in Scotland’s historic places

By: Julia Morrison

Many of Scotland’s historic places contain features which may have hidden meanings. Join us as we take a look at some of the favourites from Historic Environment Scotland.

Who else enjoys the rush of excitement you get when you spot something weird or surprising in Scotland’s old and ancient places? Or the sense of satisfaction when you decode hidden meanings? Some folks might disregard a historic ruin as “boring” or not much to look at. But others know that a bit of curiosity and patience can bring rewards!

Masons’ marks, tell-tale signs of lost features, and peculiar details can all capture the imagination. Some are easy to explain, others might forever remain a puzzle. Today we look at some top picks for curious or hidden features at places cared for by Historic Environment Scotland.

A tortured soul?

The art of stone masonry.

Dumbarton Castle has one of the longest recorded histories of any stronghold in Scotland. Mentions of the castle date back to the Dark Ages. Could a twisted face set into the guardhouse wall point to an important story from the castle’s long history? This little carved face peeks out from the masonry of the guardhouse. The grimacing face is said to represent Sir John Stewart of Menteith, keeper of the castle.

It’s likely that Sir John’s troops captured the fugitive William Wallace in 1305 and handed him over to the English authorities. Wallace was transported south to London where he was found guilty of treason and atrocities against civilians in war. In response to the charges he reportedly said, ‘I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject.’ Wallace was dragged by horse to Smithfield where he was hanged, drawn and quartered.

Thanks to his part in Wallace’s capture, Sir John is also known as the ‘the fause (false) Menteith’. The legend also says that Wallace was held at Dumbarton Castle for a short period but, as far as we know, there’s no evidence to support that. While we can’t confirm that this is definitely a depiction of Mentieth, it certainly gives us an excuse to talk about one of the past guardians of Dumbarton Castle.

A host of hidden meanings

Are you ready to be overwhelmed by more hidden symbols and inferred meaning than a Dan Brown novel? Then let’s take a look at the Marian Embroideries. These are a collection of 37 needlework panels created by Mary Queen of Scots during her exile in England. The original pieces are displayed at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh. At Edinburgh Castle, we have exquisite replicas made by the School of Ancient Crafts Heritage Sewing Group between 2014–17. Mary sewed the embroideries while she was under house arrest. The work was done alongside the noblewoman Bess of Hardwick, the wife of the queen’s jailer. There’s a rich language of symbolism woven into these embroideries. You can download a guide over on the Edinburgh Castle website, but here are a couple of our favourites.

The colourful noisy jay symbolised gossip. Mary struggled to protect her reputation against scandal and slander, not least from rumours that she’d had her second husband Lord Darnley murdered and was plotting against her cousin, the English queen Elizabeth.

The apple tree with the surrounding Latin text pulchriori detur – let it be given to the fairer – alludes to the legendary Judgement of Paris. In the ancient Greek story, the Trojan prince Paris awarded the Golden Apple of Discord to the fairest of the goddesses. This might hint at the rivalry between Mary and her English cousin Elizabeth.

Festering wounds…

The Nithsdale Lodging is one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Scotland.

Could one of the ornate carved panels at Caerlaverock Castle allude to a historic grievance and persecution? The Nithsdale Lodging is an impressive mansion house, built inside the walls of the medieval fortress by Robert Maxwell in the 1630s. Its façade is covered in a set of impressive decorative carvings. In its heyday these would probably have been brightly painted. The carvings feature coats of arms and scenes from classical mythology. Among the scenes we see here are possible depictions of the stories of Patroclus and Prometheus. Why is that significant?

Well, there’s a theory that it may relate to the trials and tribulations of the Maxwell family. The family were Catholic and suffered under a Protestant king. In the Greek myth of Patroclus, the hero Achilles did not allow the burial of his close friend Patroclus’ body after he was killed in battle. Here the corpse of the warrior is shown being pecked by vultures. It has been suggested this could refer to a troubling episode from the Maxwell family’s past. Robert’s late father lay unburied for five years after his death, as a punishment for his Catholicism. In the story of Prometheus, Zeus, king of the Olympian gods, sentenced Prometheus to eternal torment for stealing fire and giving it to humanity. Robert was imprisoned for five years for his Catholicism and may have felt the story of Prometheus had parallels with his own.

A cheeky chappie at Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral, known as the ‘Lantern of the North’, is one of Scotland’s most beautiful medieval cathedrals. It was once richly carved and adorned with stained glass and painted decoration. A fine collection of architectural fragments hints at the building’s lost beauty.

Hidden behind the shield of this vault boss (a decorative bit of the ceiling) is a secret sculpture. At first, it looks like a simple coat of arms – possibly those of Bishop Columba Dunbar (1422–35). However, look closely and you’ll see fingers clasping the sides of the shield. Hiding behind is a crouching hooded figure. His robe is bunched up around his middle and – if you crouch down yourself – you’ll see that he is naked below the waist. Be warned, though, he is anatomically correct!

The stone formed part of a vaulted ceiling, so the figure would have been high up and hard to see. Could it be a swipe at the monastic orders, living their holy lives inside abbey cloisters? Perhaps a reminder that sin can hide behind a mask of innocence? Or was this naughty nudity just an in-joke among the masons?

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

The Allure of Islands

By: David C. Weinczok

It should come as no surprise that in a year spent in unprecedented confinement, many are turning to Scotland’s islands as beacons of promise and escape. It is nothing new.

The notion of islands as bastions of timeless wonder has long been embedded in popular culture. Scotland’s history contains numerous examples of its islands serving as places to turn to in times of crisis. Recall how Robert the Bruce fled to their embrace when at his lowest point and found salvation in a cave with a spider, or how Bonnie Prince Charlie went ‘over the sea to Skye’ after the catastrophe of Culloden and was saved by the valiant Flora MacDonald.

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ANZAC Day and Scots Who Have Served 2021

As Townsville will now be holding the traditional ANZAC Day Parade along the Strand on Sunday 25th April 2021, Townsville Scottish Community Inc, (TSC) are very pleased to confirm that the Scots Who Have Served contingent will be taking part. TSC are calling for additional people to take part under the Scots Who Have Served banner (seen here in 2019) to help make this year’s parade a great success. This event is coordinated by Les Nicholson on behalf of the TSC. 

Who can take part?

•Current or former military personnel (incl. reservists) of Scottish heritage or their family members;

•People who would like to honour the memory of Scottish ancestors who have served

No restriction on where the person served,  and they may be Scottish or of Scottish descent. Scots Who Have Served is a great opportunity for grand children who are old enough to do the march to join the ranks once filled by older family members.  Tartan needs to be worn – kilt, trews or tartan tie for gents and tartan skirt or sash for women, preferably with black shirt for men and black blouse or dress for women. Wearing service medals is encouraged.

We encourage people to participate in a wheelchair or with the aid of a mobility walker or scooter rather than struggling to do the march without assistance or not doing it at all due to poor health. 

If you or a family member or friend would like to take part, please reply to this email or contact Les directly on 0417637893 or email [email protected]

World Pipe Band Championships 2021 Cancelled

WPC21 updated

The World Pipe Band Championships 2021, due to take place at Glasgow Green in August has been cancelled. The event, which would normally attract around 200 bands from around the world to compete, is expected to return to Glasgow in 2022.

The World Pipe Band Championships is delivered on behalf of The Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association by the charity Glasgow Life and is supported by EventScotland, part of VisitScotland’s Events Directorate.

It is the second year the World Pipe Band Championships have been cancelled because of the impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Before that it has been held in Glasgow every year since 1986.

Kevin Reilly, Chairman of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association said: “The World Pipe Band Championships is the competition where bands, pipers and drummers want to test themselves against the very best. It is a showcase for the best bands in the world and it is evident getting bands ready to play the toughest competition in the world and get them to Glasgow is impossible this year. Everyone involved is naturally disappointed but we remain hopeful we can stage The Worlds as we know them in 2022.”

Dr Bridget McConnell, Chief Executive of Glasgow Life said: “The World Pipe Band Championships is an event Glasgow always looks forward to hosting and in conjunction with the RSPBA and EventScotland we had hoped another memorable occasion on Glasgow Green would be possible. Having taken time to explore several delivery options together, it is clear to all involved that we can’t stage anything like the World Championships people know and love. We hope to be able to welcome bands and supporters back to Glasgow Green next summer.”

Paul Bush OBE, VisitScotland’s Director of Events, said: “The World Pipe Band Championships is the pinnacle of the piping calendar, bringing the world’s best pipers and drummers to Glasgow Green to battle it out to be crowned champions of this spectacular event. While it is disappointing for everyone involved that this year’s event won’t be going ahead, we look forward to working with RSPBA and Glasgow Life to welcome bands back to Glasgow and Scotland for the Worlds in 2022.”

Glasgow first hosted the World Pipe Championships in 1948. In 2019 195 bands from 13 nations competed in front of around 35,000 people bringing people from around the world to play and spectate boosting the economy in Glasgow and Scotland.

Remembering the Battle of Culloden


By: Nick Drainey

On April, 16, 1746 a battle took place on Drumossie Moor that would echo around the world. It was here that the Jacobites lost their final stand against Government forces, and the quest to restore the Stuarts to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland was effectively ended. Culloden remains the last battle to have been fought on British soil, it changed Highland life and still resonates with people across the world today as Nick Drainey explains.

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Editorial – The Scottish Banner Says….

April 2021 (Vol. 44, Number 10)

Gracing our cover: Culloden’s 275th Commemoration. Photo: The National Trust for Scotland.

The Banner Says…

A celebration of mythical Scotland

Scotland is a country rich with fascinating stories of
myths, folklore and legends, sometimes just believing a story may be true is half the fun and also strengthens someone’s connection to the land.

Legends are abundant in Scotland from the world famous Loch Ness Monster who became an international superstar for many, the mythical water horse the kelpie which is said to have travelled Scotland’s lochs and rivers, or legend has it that the Irish giant Finn McCool built the Giant’s Causeway between County Antrim and Scotland, so that he could cross the ocean without getting his feet wet and landed at Staffa in the Inner Hebrides.

A powerful animal that never did exist

Whilst these tales do not make up Scotland’s actual history, they weave a part of its story, and no doubt has been discussed, argued, believed, and unbelieved over the decades. However, one mythological facet of Scotland’s story that is very much still not only part of today’s society but can also be seen across the land is Scotland’s national animal-the unicorn.

Whilst England may have the lion, Canada the beaver, Australia the kangaroo, New Zealand the kiwi or the USA the eagle, Scotland has a powerful animal that never did exist but at the same time is across its history and visible at locations across the country.

Unicorns were first used on a Scottish coat of arms in the 12th century by William I (William the Lion) and are thought to represent strength, purity, innocence, power, chivalry and even magical powers. Since then, several monarchs of Scotland used the unicorn in their coat of arms as it represented their power, the unicorn was also found on coins and royal seals, including that of Mary Queen of Scots. Over time, this led to the unicorn becoming officially recognised as Scotland’s national animal.

Finding a unicorn today

Today the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom still consists of the lion of England on the left and the unicorn of Scotland on the right, whilst The Royal Coat of Arms for Scotland
has them the other way round. Adding to the mystic on both versions of the coat of arms shows the unicorn wrapped in chains, some say as it needs to be chained due to its power and danger, while others say it is a symbol of Scotland being oppressed.

Have you ever seen a unicorn? Unlikely just has those in the 12th century never really saw one, but clearly revered them and held them in incredibly high regard. You can however see over 100 unicorns in different locations across Scotland today. A variety of the nation’s historical sites have remnants of unicorns literally carved into their amazing stories. Just some of the incredible sites you can have a unicorn visit include Stirling Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh Castle, St Giles’ Cathedral and the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, St Andrews University, Linlithgow Palace, on one of the world’s oldest ships the HMS Unicorn in Dundee, and not to forget at the several mercat cross, or market cross, squares where community markets and events took place across Scotland.

In this issue

On 16 April 1746, the final Jacobite Rising came to a brutal head in one of the most harrowing battles in British history. The last pitched battle on British soil lasted less than an hour, but it has continued to hold significance in Scottish history. Culloden took place 275 years ago this month and we look back on this event and how it changed Scotland. I have stood on the battleground as winds swept across my back and thought about what being part of that day would have been like, it is both an eerie and spiritual place and one that should be visited and

Anyone lucky enough to visit Scotland’s islands will well know of the extraordinary beauty and tranquility they hold. From Iona to Orkney to Skye, the isles of Scotland each hold their own unique appeal and tradition. However, as islands, especially during the summer, can be bursting with transient tourists they continue to struggle to keep long term residents on their shores as property prices skyrocket and employment opportunities fall. Whether you are a visitor or a born and bred islander there is real sense of being a castaway amongst paradise.

It is not just unicorns that tell a story across Scotland. Carved in historical sites across the country are scenes of Scotland’s past. From castles to cathedrals hidden meanings can be found at a variety of historic sites and each wall really can tell a tale of the past. Uncovering the meanings of Scotland’s architecture can be fascinating to learn and reminds us all to look closely at these historic sites as there are hidden tales to be told.

National symbol for Scots

April 9th happens to be National Unicorn Day across the globe, which celebrates the mythological animal. However, in Scotland the unicorn is more than that, it has been an important national symbol for Scots for hundreds of years. You will find the unicorn in statues, stonework, flags and tapestries across Caledonia.

The fact Scotland has a powerful mythical unicorn as its national animal, is a great source of pride for many Scots. Today that mythical horned creature continues to be a symbol of resilience, independence and strength and I know on my next visit to Scotland I will certainly be looking out for a unicorn on my travels with admiration and respect.

Have you found any unicorn symbols in your Scottish travels? Have you visited Culloden Moor? Do you have you any comments from the content in this month’s edition? Share your story with us by email, post, social media or at: www.scottishbanner.com/contact-us

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We appreciate your support and hope you enjoy this edition.

16th century seal matrix saved


An important 16th century seal matrix has been acquired by National Museums Scotland. The object belonged to James Stewart, half-brother of Mary Queen of Scots and dates to the 1540s. James Stewart was the eldest son among at least nine illegitimate children fathered by King James V. The seal matrix indicates Stewart’s position as Commendator of Melrose and Kelso Abbeys, bestowed on him by his father, the King.

Dr Anna Groundwater, Principal Curator, Renaissance and Early Modern History at National Museums Scotland said: “This is an important addition to our collection and we are delighted to have saved it for the nation. It has a direct connection to the Royal Stewart dynasty and moreover shows how King James V was prepared to give status and financial security to his illegitimate offspring, whilst also protecting his regional interests. This object has not been seen in public since 1901, so we’re very pleased to bring it into the National Collection where we will be able to put it on display in due course.”  James Stewart’s position as Commendator of the Abbeys of both Kelso and Melrose in the Scottish Borders during the 1540s and 50s gave him significant status in the Borders region. As commendator, he exerted his authority not only over the lands and income of both these affluent abbeys but was also responsible for local defence. 

King James, in placing one of his illegitimate sons in this dual role, promoted and financed his son’s life, and protected the King’s interest in the areas under his son’s control. This was crucial given that at this time, the Scottish Borders were particularly vulnerable due to Anglo-Scottish hostilities in the wars of the Rough Wooing, and the minority of the young Mary, Queen of Scots.  The seal matrix will be added to the Scottish History and Archaeology collections of National Museums Scotland.

Balmoral Summer 2021 – Four World Class Guest Instructors

Balmoral’s online Piping & Drumming Summer School brings you four of the world’s most highly regarded pipers to serve as guest instructors: Roddy MacLeod MBE, Bruce Gandy, Robert Mathieson & Andrew Carlisle. An all-new Drumming Program is in the works, with 2021 guest drumming instructors to be announced shortly.

Pipe Major Robert Mathieson (Scotland) has been at the forefront of piping for over 30 years. Having been a young piper in Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band, he took over as Pipe Major from 1987-2010, leading the band to win over 30 major grade one championship titles, including 5 world titles, as well as 9 champion of champions titles. He is the only Pipe Major to have won the worlds 5 times, playing his own compositions and arrangements, opening each winning medley with one of his own tunes.

Bruce Gandy (Halifax, Nova Scotia) was a member of the 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band when they were the first non-Scottish pipe band to win the World Pipe Band Championships in 1987. His solo awards include the Canadian Gold Medal, Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting, Gold Medal at Oban, and Bratach Gorm. He is a 3-time winner of the MacCrimmon Memorial Cairn for Piobaireachd and is a Vancouver Indoor 6-Time Metro Cup Winner.

Andrew Carlisle (Northern Ireland/Pittsburgh) has won the A Grade Strathspey & Reel at Oban, the A Grade Piobaireachd & Overall at The Cowal Highland Gathering, US Gold Medals for both Light Music & Piobaireachd, and three All-Ireland titles at Senior level. He’s 3-time winner of the Macallan Trophy at Lorient, Brittany, France. Andrew holds the prestigious positions of Professor of Music and Director of Piping at Carnegie Mellon University.

Roddy MacLeod MBE (Scotland) served as Principal of The National Piping Centre in Scotland from 1996 -2020. In 2003, he was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen in recognition of his services to piping. In 2004, was awarded the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Award for Music. Inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Awards Hall of Fame in 2012, he is a 10-time winner of the Piobaireachd at the Glenfiddich and has won the overall title five times. He led the Scottish Power Pipe Band to over 45 Grade 1 Championship prizes.

The fee for the weeklong session is $375.00 USD. So, save the dates – July 18-23, 2021. For details see: www.Bagpiping.org

Culloden’s 275th Commemoration moves online

Culloden’s 275th

Conservation charity the National Trust for Scotland has shared its plans to reveal some of the latest historical and archaeological research to mark the 275th anniversary of the Battle of Culloden at a series of online events on Saturday 17 April. Working with historians, archaeologists and local partners the Gaelic Society of Inverness and XPO North, the Trust has created a thought-provoking programme to share the latest research and to promote the protection of the battlefield. Events begin at 11am (GMT) with a special service to remember the events of 16 April 1746 and the many who fell.

One of the most harrowing battles in British history

On 16 April 1746, the final Jacobite Rising came to a brutal head in one of the most harrowing battles in British history. Jacobite supporters, seeking to restore the Stuart monarchy to the British thrones, gathered to fight the Duke of Cumberland’s government troops. It was the last pitched battle on British soil and, in less than an hour, around 1,600 men were slain – 1,500 of them Jacobites.

Talks by historian Professor Christopher Duffy and archaeologist Derek Alexander will consider the significance of the latest map and LIDAR (light detection and ranging) analysis of the site and its impact on our understanding of the battle, art historian Count Peter Pininski will reveal insights into the real character of Charles Edward Stuart, the driving force behind the 1745 uprising which ended at Culloden. Planning for the online programme started in April last year when physical commemorative events could not take place due to the coronavirus pandemic.

National Trust for Scotland Operations Manager for Culloden, Raoul Curtis-Machin said: “We are really excited about the latest LIDAR analysis and historical research. Having a better understanding of Culloden Moor’s boggy uneven terrain will help inform the physical challenges faced by the Jacobites. We look forward to welcoming people from all over the globe as we remember 16 April 1746, and consider how it continues to resonate, almost three centuries on.”

Conserve and protect the moor for future generations

The battlefield is under greater threat than ever from developments, and there will be interactive debate and discussion about how it can be better protected through Culloden 300, a Trust initiative which seeks to establish how people would like the site to look in 2046, 300 years after the battle. To help the conservation charity respond to the ongoing challenge of protecting and preserving the site of the UK’s last pitched battle, the charity is also launching Culloden’s Fighting Fund – www.nts.org.uk/campaigns/cullodens-fighting-fund

Raoul adds: “As a charity, we rely on voluntary income to do this and a donation to Culloden’s Fighting Fund will help us conserve and protect the moor for future generations.”

Donations will:

•Enable the Trust to continue to fight future development proposals that would encroach on the battlefield, ensuring we can protect this significant place for Scottish heritage. Culloden Battlefield is regularly threatened by residential and commercial developments and the Trust has recently objected to three residential housing plans.

•Help educate children across Scotland and beyond about the importance of the Jacobite Rising and how Culloden changed the course of European history.

•Help care for the animals who graze the battlefield to ensure the moor doesn’t become overgrown. A small herd of goats, ponies and Highland and Shetland cows keep the grass short, just as they would have done years ago, ensuring that the site looks as it would have in the 18th century.

Culloden Battlefield is accessible to local visitors in line with current Scottish Government restrictions. The visitor centre is currently closed.

The full programme and booking information is available at: www.nts.org.uk/stories/culloden-275

The unicorn – Scotland’s national animal

The Virgin and the Unicorn, by Domenico Zampieri (Domenichino), fresco, 1604-5.

In Scotland we’re known for our love of legends, from ghosts and witches to giant water monsters. But how did the magical unicorn become our national animal?

Why is the unicorn Scotland’s national animal?

If we asked you ‘what’s Scotland’s national animal?’, you might ponder between a couple of our iconic wildlife species. You probably wouldn’t think of a magical horned creature typically seen on children’s lunchboxes! But it’s true: the unicorn really is the official national animal of Scotland. And our love for this famous mythological creature dates back many centuries.

Unicorns have featured in many cultures going as far back as the classical age, including the ancient Babylonians and the Indus civilization. With its white horse-like body and single spiralling horn, the unicorn is a symbol of purity, innocence and power in Celtic mythology. Legend also tells that their horns can purify poisoned water, such is the strength of their healing power.

These proud, untameable creatures are fiercely independent and famously difficult to capture or conquer, which will sound familiar to anyone who has read their Scottish history. Even though unicorns are mythological, Scots have always felt drawn to what they represent.

When did the unicorn become the national animal of Scotland?

Mary, Queen of Scots’ coat of arms at Falkland Palace.

The answer to that question lies in heraldry – the age-old practice of designing and displaying coats of arms or crests to distinguish between groups of people, armies or institutions. Using heraldry as our guide, we can see that the unicorn was first introduced to the royal coat of arms of Scotland around the mid-1500s.

Prior to the Union of the Crowns in 1603, our coat of arms was supported by two unicorns. However, when King James VI of Scotland also became James I of England, he replaced one of the unicorns with the national animal of England, the lion, as a display of unity between the two countries. Of course, folklore fans will know that lions and unicorns have always been enemies, locked in a battle for the title of ‘king of beasts’.

An interesting thing to note is that Scottish unicorns in heraldry are always shown with gold chains wrapped around them. Why? Although we don’t know for sure, it’s believed that this was a way of showing the power of Scottish kings – that only they had the strength to tame the untameable.

Where to find unicorns in Scotland

The mercat cross in Culross.

For thousands of years, people around the world believed that unicorns did exist. However, in 1825, a prominent French naturalist called Georges Cuvier attempted to dispel the myth by stating that an animal with a split hoof could never grow a single horn from its head (he also argued against theories of evolution). Nevertheless, the spirit of the unicorn has lived on ever since – people even celebrate National Unicorn Day every year on 9 April.

So … do unicorns exist in Scotland? Of course they do! You just have to know where to look. Here are some places in Scotland where you can spot our country’s national animal:

When exploring Edinburgh you’ll see a number of unicorns of various shapes and sizes. There’s a fine example on a heraldic shield by the gates to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, another in the Royal Apartments at Edinburgh Castle, and several hiding among the Victorian woodcarvings at St Giles’ Cathedral, just down the road from Gladstone’s Land.

Wherever you see a mercat cross (a Scottish market cross and an old symbol of trade and prosperity for many of our towns and cities), look for a unicorn atop the tower. There are many different examples across the country, ranging from the modest to the ornate, in towns and cities such as Edinburgh, Culross, Prestonpans, Dunfermline and Falkland.

Further north, you’ll find interesting examples of Scottish unicorns at Stirling Castle, home of the ‘Hunt of the Unicorn’ tapestries, and Dundee, where HMS Unicorn, one of the oldest warships in the world, proudly displays a unicorn as its figurehead.

Unicorns in National Trust for Scotland collections


The gorget at Castle Fraser.

There are also lots of unicorns at Trust places, being cared for as part of our historic collections. In the wine cellar at Brodick Castle you’ll find a silver gilt cup intricately chased with three oval plaques containing a lion, a bear and a unicorn. Another unicorn features as part of the royal coat of arms of the House of Hanover, which takes centre stage on a gilt military gorget (a kind of metal collar) at Castle Fraser.

Several pieces of furniture in our collections feature unicorns, including a Dutch oak cupboard in the high hall at Crathes Castle that has a grotesque portrait of a unicorn on one panel. A footman (or metal trivet) in the parlour at the Georgian House has a unicorn as part of the decoration on its top.

  • Finally, you’ll see some interesting depictions of unicorns among the collections at Fyvie Castle, where a unicorn mid-stride is at the heart of the design on top of a brass stand. Culross Palace boasts an alms plate with a unicorn beneath a tree at its centre, and Falkland Palace has Mary, Queen of Scots’ coat of arms painted in a framed panel, showing two unicorns with saltires.

Story by James Walsh. Text and images are courtesy of the National Trust for Scotland. For more information on the Trust or to help them protect Scotland’s heritage see: www.nts.org.uk

Edinburgh landmark clock restored

One of Edinburgh’s best-known landmarks, which for decades has been a meeting place for people in Scotland’s capital, has been restored by Johnnie Walker. The beautiful cantilever clock is located on the corner of Princes Street and Hope Street at the heart of the city, making it the ideal rendezvous point for people meeting before an evening out. It is known locally as the ‘Binns Clock’ after the former department store that first installed it in 1960.

Meticulously restored

Sadly, the classic timepiece had fallen into a sad state of neglect and disrepair over recent years. But it has now been meticulously restored to its former glory as part of the Johnnie Walker Princes Street development and unveiled as a symbol of hope for future generations who will meet again under the clock, at the whisky visitor experience, in the future. The clock has been restored over the past year by The Cumbria Clock Company, one of the UK’s leading specialist restores, which has worked on some of the UK’s most famous timepieces, including The Great Clock (Big Ben) and the Royal Liver Building, led the restoration.

They dismantled the timepiece to study its original mechanics and colours, including the hand painted Highland figures that march out of the clock to mark the hour and half hour, before meticulously rebuilding it. They have also repaired the musical mechanism which plays the traditional Scottish tunes Caller Herrin and Scotland the Brave every half an hour as the kilted figures march out of the clock. In keeping with tradition, the Highland figures will emerge to the musical accompaniment every seven and 37 minutes past the hour.

Heritage and connection

Barbara Smith, Managing Director of Diageo’s Scottish Brand Homes, said: “The restoration of the clock has been a lovely part of our work at Johnnie Walker Princes Street. Its heritage and connection with the local community is so poignant, particularly now when people are desperately missing being able to meet and socialise together. We wanted to unveil the restored clock this year as a symbol of hope for the future, and we can’t wait to see future generations meeting under the clock at Johnnie Walker Princes Street, before enjoying a wonderful day or night out in Scotland’s capital city.”

Mark Crangle from the Cumbria Clock Company said: “It has been a meticulous process restoring the clock to its original condition. We had to delicately strip back worn paintwork to source and match the clock’s original colours and gold trimmings, and we spent a great amount of time on the speed and timings of the bells, tunes and pipers to ensure it all matched perfectly. Working on this restoration project has been such a privilege and I’ve really enjoyed hearing the stories of what the clock means to locals and how it’s played a role in so many special memories. These stories really consolidate why we do what we do, and we can’t wait for Edinburgh residents to now be able to enjoy the clock again in all its grandeur.”

Johnnie Walker Princes Street will tell the 200-year-old story of the world’s best scotch whisky across an eight-floor multisensory visitor attraction. Due to open in summer 2021, the whisky experience will feature rooftop bars, private dining areas, modern sensory tasting rooms, personalised tour and tasting experiences, and live performance areas. The opening of the state-of-the-art visitor centre is part of Diageo’s £185m investment into the transformation of its Scotch whisky experiences, which will also see investment into 12 of Diageo’s Scotch whisky brand homes and the revival of lost distilleries Port Ellen and Brora.

Three-quarters of Scots support rewilding says new research

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) fishing at dawn, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland.

Findings come as call launched for Scotland to become world’s first ‘Rewilding Nation’.

More than three quarters of Scots support rewilding in Scotland, according to research conducted for the Scottish Rewilding Alliance, a coalition of over 20 organisations. The findings come as the Alliance launches a campaign calling on the Scottish Government to declare Scotland the world’s first Rewilding Nation, with a commitment to rewilding 30% of the country’s land and sea within a decade, ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) to be held in Glasgow in November. A new opinion poll shows that 76% of Scots support rewilding – the large-scale restoration of nature to the point it’s allowed to take care of itself – with just 7% opposed.

Nature recovers, wildlife flourishes and people prosper

The Rewilding Nation campaign has now been launched with an inspiring new animation narrated by wildlife presenter and filmmaker Gordon Buchanan showing how rewilding can help make Scotland a place where nature recovers, wildlife flourishes and people prosper.

“The world faces overlapping nature, climate and health crises, but Scotland has the opportunity to show bold leadership by becoming the world’s first Rewilding Nation. We have the space, political influence and public backing to become a world leader in saving nature and ourselves,” said Steve Micklewright, Convenor of the Scottish Rewilding Alliance and Chief Executive of Trees for Life.

With habitats and species being eradicated rapidly worldwide, the United Nations has declared 2021-2030 the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. The Scottish Government has committed itself to bold action to tackle the crisis facing biodiversity through its Edinburgh Declaration. Yet far from being the nature-restoration trailblazer it could be, and despite many superb conservation initiatives, Scotland is lagging behind other countries – with nature in steep decline and its landscapes among the world’s most nature-depleted. Only 1.5% of Scotland’s land is national nature reserves and just 4% native woodland, while 25% is severely nature depleted and does not support the nature-rich forests, peatlands and river systems it should. Rural landscapes now support fewer people than previously.

Declining or at risk species include red squirrels, wild cats, capercaillie and great yellow bumblebees. Recovery or return of species such as beavers, cranes, sea eagles and pine martens happen slowly, while elk and lynx are among the species already made extinct.

The Scottish Government has put 37% of Scotland’s seas into forms of designation, but damaging activities such as scallop dredging and bottom trawling are only banned from less than 5% of coastal waters. Government assessments reveal that the extent of seabed habitats continues to decline. Wild salmon populations are at historically low levels. Seabirds are feeding their chicks plastic waste.

“It’s past time to reboot our relationship with the natural world, and Scotland can lead the way. By working with nature instead of against it, rewilding can restore life to hills, glens, rivers and seas – while tackling climate breakdown and offering fresh opportunities for farming and local economies,” said Rebecca Wrigley, Chief Executive of Rewilding Britain.

Rewilding inspiration globally

The Alliance says rewilding at least 30% of Scotland’s land and sea by 2030 can be achieved by restoring and expanding woodlands, moorlands, peatlands, rivers and marine habitats, and without loss of productive agricultural land.

Hugh Raven, Chair of Open Seas, said: “The new opinion poll shows people know that nature’s health is our nation’s wealth. Incentivising lower impact fisheries around our coastline would help degraded habitats and fish populations recover, and regenerate our harbours and coastal towns. Recovery in places like Lamlash Bay shows what can be achieved by communities, but we urgently need to rewild larger areas of our seas.”

Tom Bowser, farm owner and Ranger with Argaty Red Kites, said: “Declaring ourselves a Rewilding Nation would be a powerful statement of intent that we’re serious about tackling the climate and nature crises, reconnecting people with nature, and regenerating our communities.”

The Alliance recommends using rewilding as a natural solution for increased absorption of atmospheric carbon, building rewilding into post-Covid green recovery plans, and establishing a native species recovery policy and a nationwide network connecting nature restoration projects.

“We’re being seriously outpaced by climate breakdown and biodiversity loss, so trying to save nature piecemeal isn’t enough. Scotland has the opportunity to restore the web of life that supports our health and wellbeing, while acting as a rewilding inspiration globally,” said Peter Cairns, Director of SCOTLAND: The Big Picture.

For more details and to view the Scottish Rewilding Alliance’s new animation, Rhythms of Life, see www.rewild.scot

The Scottish Coalition USA and National Tartan Day Capital Committee (Washington DC) present a Celebration national Tartan Day and presentation of the 2021 National Tartan Day Award

Join us as we celebrate National Tartan Day on April 6th! As one of the founding members of the Scottish Coalition USA, The American Scottish Foundation (ASF) along with our partners at the National Tartan Day Capital Committee (Washington DC) present A Celebration of National Tartan Day and the presentation of the 2021 National Tartan Day Award. The Commemoration will include readings, music and messages from various Scottish American organizations across the USA. The 2021 National Tartan Day Award will be awarded to Gus Noble, President of the Chicago Scots and Caledonia Senior Living.

Buy tickets and register for Zoom link through the ASF website in the Events section: https://americanscottishfoundation.com/events/index.html

North American Scottish cultural leaders join forces in hosting Virtual Tartan Day

Project 1320 established to be global Scottish arts celebration.

The producers of Tartan Day on Ellis Island and Tartan Day Ottawa have joined forces to launch a new global Tartan Day initiative.  Dismayed over the cancellation of so many Tartan Day activities, Robert Currie, Commander of the Name and Arms of Currie and Bethany Bisaillion, Pipe Major for the Sons of Scotland Pipe Band have created a virtual concert hall on Facebook to showcase Scots talent across the Diaspora.

Commenting on the initiative, Currie remarked, “We wanted to create a platform where performers from beginners to professionals could post their work for all to enjoy. Both Bethany and I have been producing Tartan Day events for over 15 years and we were both heartsick that the global pandemic has caused the cancellation of our events and also Highland games and gatherings. We devised this platform to permit us to celebrate our Scottish heritage in a safe and socially distanced way.”

Long-time supporters of Scottish heritage

Bisaillion added, “Bob and I have been long-time supporters of Scottish heritage and culture and once we put our heads together, it didn’t take long to conclude that this virtual “open mic” experience might just fit the bill.”

Both Bisaillion and Currie have a considerable contact base in the global Scottish arts community, so this program promises to be a success.  The duo has established a lofty goal for their program – collecting 1320 performance submissions by Tartan Day on April 6. Currie added, “We know we’ve set a high bar with this program, but why not? Social media is flooded with musicians, singers, dancers and the like that are offering their considerable talent, all we’re doing is aggregating these performances in one spot.”

For details or to post your music see: www.facebook.com/Project1320

Men in Kilts: A Roadtrip with Sam and Graham

Outlander’s Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish take viewers along on their adventures, discovering the rich, complex heritage of their native country, meeting local artisans and experts, and experiencing genuine moments of awe and fascination.

Men in Kilts: A Roadtrip with Sam and Graham is a fun-filled buddy travelogue through Scotland led by Outlander stars Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish. The two have reunited for an epic adventure, exploring their heritage and meeting an incredible collection of people who truly showcase what it means to be Scottish.

One-of-a-kind perspective

The half-hour, eight-episode series offers the duo’s one-of-a-kind perspective on everything from Scottish clans and the Battle of Culloden to whisky tasting and folk dancing, with Sam and Graham’s witty banter and hijinks leading the way. Whether hanging off the edge of a cliff, wrangling a flock of wild sheep or discovering the true legacy of their Outlander characters, both men dive head-first into each and every experience. Sam and Graham’s shared love of Scotland helps make this series so special as they experience, learn and fall more in love with their very own homeland.

Graham McTavish told the Scottish Banner: “I feel very strongly about bringing people to Scotland and showing them what the country has to offer, not just historically, but in terms of its contemporary life-the great food, the wonderful tradition, the people, and the landscape. There is so much and that’s what we try and cover in the TV show.  I was amazed at how much I learned while we were doing all this, doing the research, working on the book (Clanlands) and filming.  Hearing just wonderful stories from traditional Scottish storytellers, from clan chiefs, from other historians, just such fabulously rich conversations with people. I always knew Scotland was full of these amazing characters, but had no idea that these sorts of people existed. We met some wonderful people filming that you could not have made up. The stories they told, the places they lived made it really a journey of discovery about the character of Scotland through the people we met.””

The many things Scotland is famous for

Cheers to Graham and Sam!

Each episode takes viewers on a journey to sample some of the many things Scotland is famous for and meet’s some great people. Christina Davis, president, original programming of Starz, said in a statement: “The genuine curiosity and passion that Sam and Graham have for the landscapes they visit and the stories they uncover while travelling through the heart of Scotland make this show a truly enjoyable journey of discovery for the audience. The series gives context and texture to Highland life and history, woven together, much like the tartan for which Scotland is so famous, and we look forward to taking this road trip with these two great friends.”

E 1: Scotland’s cuisine and whisky are renown throughout the world, for di­fferent reasons. Sam and Graham explore (perhaps a little too passionately) what it takes to make the world’s finest whisky and to cook “only in-Scotland” dishes like Haggis.

E 2: The duo also explores both classic and modern Scottish sport as they take on everything from lifting stones and throwing the Highland Games Hammer, to golfing at the revered St. Andrews and suiting up for a rugby lesson at Murrayfield Stadium.

E 3: Scottish music and dance played an integral role in the culture, serving as a form of celebration, communication and in certain times, rebellion. Sam and Graham set out to meet the artists who continue this tradition and try everything from sword dancing to sheepherding.

E 4: Deep belief and reverence for the supernatural characterize the culture of the Scottish Highlands. Sam and Graham take a deep dive into old superstitions, witch trials and their imprint on the country. Plus, Sam spends the episode trying to scare Graham at every turn.

E 5: Few countries on the planet rival Scotland when it comes to proud tradition. Despite centuries of British rule, remote rural communities persist in ancient rituals of craft, language and storytelling. Sam and Graham will roll their sleeves up and take part in some of the traditions that have shaped Scottish culture.

E 6: Simply put, Scotland is one of the most beautiful countries on the planet, off­ering rolling hills, epic mountain ranges and jagged shorelines sure to make any viewer’s jaw drop. This episode lets Sam and Graham share (and show off­) the natural wonders of their home country with the world.

E 7: Scotland’s feudal clan system defined the country and still plays a massive part in the modern culture and identity of its people. Sam and Graham set out to discover how they (and their Outlander characters) fit into a system forged through war and peace.

E 8: No moment in Scottish history helped shape the country more than the Battle of Culloden. All of the elements in previous episodes will point to this critical turning point both for the nation and the Outlander series. In this final episode, Sam and Graham will discover how a single hour on the battlefield forever changed a nation and its people.

Natural way of bantering

The chemistry between Sam and Graham is a natural fit to showcasing all that Scotland has to offer. Graham continued: “I just can’t imagine doing this with anybody else.  It required a very particular combination of things for it to work and touch wood, I think it has worked. And honestly, I would not have been able to say for sure that that would have been the case beforehand. But in the actual doing it, it became clear very quickly that we have a very natural way of bantering with each other that is not forced. So, yeah, it’s a lot of fun.”

No doubt, like Outlander, Men in Kilts will also sell Scotland to a wider audience around the world. It is hoped when travel recommences this will translate to people looking to visit either again, or for the first time. This will of course provide a huge shot in the arm for Scotland’s tourist industry, who have been doing it incredibly tough. VisitScotland estimates that about 8% of leisure visitors to Scotland (approximately 700,000 people) came due to seeing Scotland on the big or small screen. The national tourist board released a paper in 2019 called The Outlander Effect and Tourism which reported that attractions that appear in the Outlander TV series have seen visitor numbers soar by 67% since 2013, from 887,000 to 1.5million.

Men in Kilts, which is produced by both Sam and Graham, will give viewers a snapshot of some of the country’s historic sites, culture and iconic locations in the hopes it inspires people to take their own road trip to Scotland. There is already talk of a further series to travel not only to parts they missed in this series such as the far north and very south of Scotland but also an international version to see where the Scots have made their impact in places such as North America and Australasia. Men in Kilts transports people across some of Scotland’s diverse locations, stopping at stunning locations such as Pittenweem in Fife, Edinburgh’s Old Town and Glencoe to name a few. For those of us that have been waiting to get back to Scotland this may just help us keep our dreams alive until we can safely travel again.

Have you seen Men in Kilts? Tell us in the comments below.

Clan Donnachaidh: The rescue of an ancestral kirk, and new initiatives for the future

Struan Kirk.

Three years ago, the Scottish Banner carried a report on the upcoming International Gathering of this oldest of Scotland’s clans. It’s the only one which still uses its original Gaelic name: Clan Donnachaidh, or the Children of Duncan. Robertsons, Duncans, Reids, and proud bearers of the many other sept names, came from around the world to the clan’s Highland Perthshire home for a week of celebrations to mark the 80th birthday of their Chief, Gilbert Robertson of Struan. Gatherings in the Clan’s homeland have been a regular annual event for a long time now. Progress with easing of current pandemic-related travel restrictions permitting, another is planned for August 2021.

Ancient historical lands

It had been Clan Donnachaidh’s unwavering support of the Jacobite monarchy through the 17th and 18th century Risings which accelerated the process whereby, by early in the last century, the clan had lost almost all its ancient historical lands. These had at one time covered more than a thousand square miles, including Lochs Tay and Tummel, and stretched as far as the gates of Perth. Yet the pride of Clanspeople across the globe in their history had remained unquenched. The result of this unquenchable spirit was first the vigorous and international renaissance of the Clan Donnachaidh Society after World War II, and then in the 1970s the raising of substantial funds to construct a Clan Donnachaidh Centre, including what was Scotland’s first purpose-built Clan Museum, at Bruar in Perthshire, very close to the Chiefs’ historical base at Struan.

Fifty years later, another dream took shape. That too has now come to fruition. It was at the time of that 2018 Gathering that clan members launched another fundraising drive: this time, for money to support an ambitious plan to purchase, from the Church of Scotland, the place where a thousand years of their ancestors lie at rest: Struan Kirk. Their dream has now been realised. A new Trust was formed, the purchase completed, and the Trust now owns the Kirk with a mandate to preserve this place of peace and beauty in perpetuity.

Over the past two years, a programme of substantial repairs to roof, doors, windows and entrance porch has been carried out to safeguard the building’s future as a place both of worship and of gathering. Challenges ranging from Highland winters to rare bats requiring protection under the law, and from commissioning and installing fine new stonework to dealing with serious issues around heating, ventilation and water needs, have been faced and successfully overcome. While less radical than the entirely new church building which had been constructed some two centuries earlier, this rescue of what the Clan has always regarded as its own spiritual home was the second time in a very long history when Robertsons and other Clan Donnachaidh names had stepped in to save this special part of their heritage.

A sacred site

A young Clansmen climbing in the Grampians.

To understand the significance of the place where this happened, we have to go back some 1300 years — before Picts and Scots had united into one people — to when Christianity first came to Highland Perthshire. The point where the River Garry meets Errochty Water, where the kirk stands, was likely to have already been a sacred site when a tonsured monk, from Iona in the Hebrides, chose this spot as the place where he would preach the gospel in Perthshire for the first time. Errochty means assembly place in Gaelic, and Struan means stream or the place of streams. A succession of church buildings were erected there over the centuries, wooden initially, the first one dedicated to St. Fillan, a legendary Scottish Saint originally from Ireland, and later built of stone. An 8th century bronze handbell known as St. Fillan’s bell, now in Perth Museum, was quite possibly one which marked the calling to prayer and the rituals of early worship at Struan.

By the 15th century, Struan was absolutely at the core of the Clan’s extensive lands, and the churchyard had by then become the burial place of the early chiefs, as of members of the local cadet houses and indeed of many others of the Clan. A Highlander laid great store by letting his dust mingle with that of his ancestor. The parish of Struan was in due course united with Blair Atholl and others locally, some time before 1638. About two hundred years after that, the then Duke of Atholl, with support from the Dunkeld presbytery, proposed the kirk’s suppression, partly because of its very poor state of repair. The Clan would have none of it. 1,500 heads of household in the area signed a petition that ‘Strowan shall be rebuilt on the old ruins, preserving what will always be very dear to them, the stance of their ancient altar and the graves of their kindred and friends.’ The heritors went to law and appealed their way to the Lords of Council and Session, the highest court in the land. Its decision was that Struan Kirk could not be closed. Led by Duncan Robertson of Kindrochit, plans for a new church were submitted by Clan members in 1826, and construction was completed in 1828.

Spiritual home of the Clan

Some remodelling of the interior was carried out in 1938, and further improvements in the 1960s, partly funded by the Clan Society, included a new baptismal font. It was this 19th century building and spiritual home of the Clan which has now been rescued for posterity.

Clan Donnachaidh continues to look to the future with new initiatives, but always with an eye to and a connection with its history. One such is the Clan Donnachaidh Youth Award, launched in 2018 to coincide with Scotland’s Year of Young People. The award is given annually to a youngster living in Perth and Kinross — chosen by the Clan from nominations put forward by teachers, parents or peers — who has shown exceptional courage and determination in overcoming disadvantage or difficulty. The award was inspired by Clan Donnachaidh’s first chief’s legendary ancient friendship with King Robert the Bruce, and by the old story of how Bruce, on the run from the English redcoats and hiding in a cave at the lowest ebb in his fortunes, watched a spider refuse defeat and “try, try and try again” before finally succeeding in spinning its web across the cave. 

The accompanying shot of one of its young Clansmen climbing in the Grampians illustrates the sort of courage and determination of which the Clan is so proud.

For more information on Clan Donnachaidh and its Society visit: www.donnachaidh.com

Historic Canongate tenements returned to former glory

Major conservation work, led by Edinburgh World Heritage, has just been completed on the last of three historic tenements on the Canongate comprising of 16 residential dwellings and 5 shops. Work was funded by the charity’s Conservation Funding Programme, which is supported by Historic Environment Scotland. Edinburgh World Heritage also provided expertise, advice and support to the residents and shop owners throughout the project.

Cordiner’s land

Also known as cordiner’s land, 195-197 Canongate is a 17th century tenement, which, together with its neighbours, embodies an important part of the Old Town, part of the Old and New Towns World Heritage Site. The cordiners were tanners, curriers (people who prepared leather for sale) and shoemakers who derived their title from the French “Courdouanier” meaning “of Cordova”, the source of the finest leather at the time. In 1825, they rebuilt the front half of the tenement and it became their meeting-place. The cordiners would also have sold their goods in the premises on the ground floor of the tenements, known as ‘luckenbooths,’ a purpose these tenements retain to this day. Throughout this period, the Canongate was its own royal burgh, established by King David I in 1128, and independent of Edinburgh until the two were united in 1865.

In the mid-20th century, these three tenement buildings were part of the substantial restoration of the historic Canongate Tolbooth area spearheaded by city architect Robert Hurd. His proposals respected the scale and nature of existing buildings and retained much of the original fabric of the buildings. Further conservation work, grant-aided by Edinburgh World Heritage, was completed in 2015 to 183-187 Canongate, a 300-year-old tenement, also known as ‘Bible Land’ after the carved stone cartouche on its frontage, and in 2019 to 189 and 191 Canongate, probably best identified by its striking red lime harling and limewash, reinstated as part of its conservation. Today, these tenements represent nearly 1000 years of Scotland’s history.

Historic buildings

The restoration and conservation of 195-197 Canongate, a five-storeyed, six-bayed block, was carried out by David Willis at CLWG Architects, and retained the traditional features of the tenement. These include repairs to the rubble and dressed stonework, timber-framed multi-paned sash and case windows and the carved panel in one of the central bays between the first and second floors which displays the emblem of the cordiners (shoemakers). Additional work included repairing chimney heads and gables, overhauling roofs, gutters and flashings, repairing the south external masonry wall, removing loose paint and re-painting the north elevation, and repairing rainwater goods.

Brenda Clark, the representative of the residents of 185 Canongate, said “Edinburgh World Heritage’s support and expertise in the field of restoration of historic buildings was invaluable. We were delighted to see our neighbours in the tenements next door follow suit and the rear elevation of the buildings look very impressive. We are now trying to persuade our neighbours in the adjoining building overlooking Gladstone Court to tackle the repairs to their building and would encourage them to approach Edinburgh World Heritage for their help and advice.”

Ray Disotto, owner of the Fudge Shop on the ground floor of 195-197 Canongate said “The generous grant offer by Edinburgh World Heritage made this work possible, and it has revived the look of the building which now blends in with rest of the Royal Mile. I’m sure it will improve business for all in the street.”

World Heritage Site

Christina Sinclair, Director of Edinburgh World Heritage, said: “The Conservation Funding Programme provides invaluable support to residents and owners of traditional buildings in and around the World Heritage Site to help them organise, to provide them with expertise, and to offer practical financial support, from beginning to end. Following the success of the conservation work at 195-197 Canongate, we are exploring how to better engage communities in areas outside of the World Heritage Site.”

City of Edinburgh Council Planning Convener Councillor Neil Gardiner said: “As a Planning Authority, we’re ultimately the guardians of our historic built heritage and our listed buildings guidance works to protect period properties right across the city. We’re very lucky to have such unique buildings in all corners of our Capital – including of course within our World Heritage Sites – and Edinburgh World Heritage provides invaluable support to keep them secure, sustainable and well looked after. As a City, we all need to play our part in making sure the listed buildings we live in can still be occupied and enjoyed for generations to come, and Edinburgh World Heritage regularly engages with property owners and tenants to preserve Edinburgh’s historic built environment. The conservation work carried out in the Canongate is a perfect example of a community working together. I hope other property owners see the incredible difference it makes and feel compelled to follow suit.”

Is Scotland ready for the return of lynx?

An extensive and impartial study to assess people’s views about the possible reintroduction of Eurasian lynx to the Scottish Highlands has been launched by a new partnership of the charities SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, Trees for Life and Vincent Wildlife Trust.

Ecological research has shown that extensive areas of Scotland could support lynx, but the charities say returning the shy and elusive animal is less about science and more about people’s willingness to live alongside a species that’s become forgotten on these shores.

The year-long Lynx to Scotland consultation will impartially and accurately assess public and stakeholder attitudes around the idea of lynx reintroduction, including in rural communities.

“With a global biodiversity crisis, we have a responsibility to have open and constructive conversations around restoring key native species to the Scottish landscape – and science shows that apex predators like lynx play a vital ecological role in maintaining healthy living systems,” said Peter Cairns, Executive Director of SCOTLAND: The Big Picture.

Lynx are now expanding in range and numbers across mainland Europe as hunting laws are enforced and public attitudes to large predators soften. Several successful lynx reintroductions since the 1970s have brought ecological and environmental benefits to countries more densely populated than Scotland, and in areas used for farming, hunting, forestry and tourism.

Solitary woodland hunter

European Lynx (Lynx lynx) adult female peering out from behind tree in winter birch forest. Bardu, Norway (c)

As a shy and solitary woodland hunter, lynx are rarely glimpsed and attacks on humans are virtually unknown. Research suggests the Highlands has sufficient habitat – and more than enough roe deer, the cat’s preferred prey – to support around 400 wild lynx.

Steve Micklewright, Chief Executive of Trees for Life, said: “Scotland has more woodland deer than any other European country, and their relentless browsing often prevents the expansion and healthy regeneration of our natural woodlands. By preying on roe deer, lynx would restore ecological processes that have been missing for centuries, and provide a free and efficient deer management service.”

Jenny MacPherson, Science and Research Programme Manager with the Vincent Wildlife Trust, which will lead the study, said: “Reintroducing lynx would inevitably bring challenges. Lynx to Scotland will actively include stakeholders representing the full range of perspectives,in order to produce meaningful conclusions about the level of support or tolerance for lynx, and therefore the likely success of any future reintroduction.”

The Eurasian lynx is native to Britain but was driven to extinction some 500-1,000 years ago through hunting and habitat loss.  Lynx to Scotland runs until February 2022 and is not associated with any other previous or current initiatives to restore lynx to Britain.

For details, see: www.scotlandbigpicture.com/lynx-to-scotland

Legendary author Sir Walter Scott is star of Saturday night show

An international celebration for the 250th anniversary of the life and works of Sir Walter Scott gets underway this weekend (Saturday March 20th) with an online broadcast of a spectacular light show from the Scottish Borders.

Scott fans around the globe are being invited to view the stunning display at Smailholm Tower by visiting the website, www.WalterScott250.com, at 6pm (GMT) on Saturday, which is World Storytelling Day (March 20th).

Scott enthusiasts

The broadcast will feature well-known Scott enthusiasts, including Outlander author Diana Gabaldon who will share how Scott inspired her and what her writing has in common with the 19th Century author. This will be followed by the world premiere of a brand-new short film of the Young Scott, created by artist and director, Andy McGregor, which will be projected onto the 15th-century tower.

The 250th anniversary launch event is being funded by EventScotland and organised by Abbotsford, home of Sir Walter Scott, on behalf of the international Walter Scott 250 Partnership.

Smailholm Tower, which is owned by Historic Environment Scotland, was chosen as the location to start the celebrations because of its influence on Scott as a child. The tower is next door to the farm where Scott lived as a boy, and his early experiences here continued to inspire him throughout his life.

The programme for the launch evening is: 6pm Start of broadcast at: www.WalterScott250.com.

Glengarry Highland Games-See you at the Games in 2022

By: The Glengarry Highland Games Organizing Committee

It was difficult last year when we realized we had to cancel the 2020 Glengarry Highland Games. This past fall with hints of a Covid vaccine and infection numbers going down, the Games were optimistic that 2021 would see a return to the traditional Games with world class competitions, the sights and sounds of great Celtic entertainment, and in reunion with family and friends. However, as Games President Eric Metcalfe states, “I never thought we would have to make this decision two years in a row, but we do not have a choice. After much discussion, all are in agreement that this year’s 2021 Games are not going to happen.”

Look to the future

As everyone knows, vaccinations will still be rolling out over the summer and most likely mass immunity will not be reached that would allow for large groups to gather in August. Again this year, the Games is most disheartened to not be hosting one of the premier Highland Games in North America. In the meantime, the Games are monitoring the Covid situation and developing ideas on how the spirit of the Games can be celebrated this summer in some fashion. Keep checking back on the Games website and social media to see the plans that come up for entertaining everyone.

As President Metcalfe encourages, “While we will not be seeing you in 2021, with optimism, we look to the future. As soon as we can we will be busy planning your return to our fairgrounds and excitedly look forward to hosting a reunion like only Glengarry can!”

Until then, take care, stay Covid negative and get vaccinated as soon as possible.

The next Glengarry Highland Games will take place in Maxville, Ontario on July 29-30, 2022. For details see: www.glengarryhighlandgames.com

2021 New Zealand National Pipe Band Contest

Hawke’s Bay on the North Island’s East Coast will ring to the music of 55 pipe bands in March when the region hosts the New Zealand national pipe band championships. Bands from throughout New Zealand and perhaps even some from Australia, if travel restrictions permit, will be in Hawke’s Bay on 19 and 20 March, bringing with them a significant economic boost to the local economy.  Up to 3,000 visitors are expected over the time of the contest. Chair of the organising group, Kerry Marshall, says that what is truly exciting is the record number of juvenile bands entered where the age limit for pipers and drummers is 18 years of age.  “This reflects the strength of youth involvement in the pipe band movement here in New Zealand, something we’ve seen here in Napier and Hastings as well.”

World-wide interest

Mr Marshall expects the NZ contest to be one of the few major pipe band competitions to be staged next year.  “The livestreaming of the event will attract world-wide interest and be a great opportunity to showcase Hawke’s Bay,” says Mr Marshall.

Local Mayors and councils are pleased that the iconic event is being staged in Napier and Hastings.  March is going to be another busy month for events in the Bay with the national athletics champs and the International Horse of the Year show being held here in the weeks preceding the contest. Pipe Major, Jarrod Cawood, of the HB Caledonian Pipe Band, which is taking part in the contest, says the organising group, The Piping & Drumming Academy of Hawke’s Bay, is appreciative of the support of local councils and sponsors.  “The input of so many organisations will ensure that this event reflects well on the region and provides a boost for our local pipe bands.”

The main venue is Mitre10 Sports Park where the music competitions will be held while the street march event will be in Napier’s CBD on the Friday afternoon. The contest website, nzpbchamps.nz, will be updated with more details once scheduling is complete.  The website has links for local accommodation and other information about the contest.

Here’s looking at Coo

Highland cattle in Dumfries & Galloway and Edinburgh are aspiring social media influencers in a new VisitScotland video wishing future international visitors a ‘happy coo year’.

Highland cattle from Kitchen Coos and Ewes star in the social media video.

The video was promoted on the national tourism organisation’s social media channels during January and has been viewed more than 90,000 times. Captured on VisitScotland’s own “coo cam”, the animals were filmed throughout November enjoying their day-to-day lives against the breath-taking backdrop of Kitchen Coos and Ewes near Newton Stewart and Swanston Farm in the Scottish capital. VisitScotland hopes the footage will provide a moment of light relief for the many international travellers whose trips to Scotland were disrupted or cancelled last year by the pandemic, and as we stay at home.


Highland cows are a major talking point on the national tourism body’s social channels which is reflected in the popularity of the weekly Coosday posts published every Tuesday. Scottish farm life is a major part of the appeal of agritourism. The tourism trend, which includes farm visits and food and drink experiences, had its first virtual conference in November and could grow in popularity in the wake of the pandemic, as visitors seek a more rural-focused experience. The conference was hosted by Scottish Agritourism, the membership organisation for agritourism businesses in Scotland which sits within the umbrella of the national Scottish Tourism Alliance.

Malcolm Roughead, Chief Executive of VisitScotland, said: Highland cows have long been the stars of our social media channels and we hope our coo cam will provide a much-needed smile to those travellers who have been unable to visit due to the pandemic. We look forward to a better year ahead for our industry and visitors, and we will continue to provide support and inspiring content as we celebrate Scotland’s Coasts and Waters in 2021.” All footage was captured on a GoPro Hero 8 by experienced farm professionals who care for and look after the cattle daily. VisitScotland advises that visitors do not approach Highland cattle when exploring the country, so as not to alarm them. The video can be viewed across VisitScotland’s social media channels.

St Kilda-The island that time never forgot

General view of the site (© GUARD Archaeology Ltd).

Newly published research has revealed how archaeologists discovered evidence of inhabitation over 2,000 years ago on St Kilda. Archaeological investigations were carried out between 2017–19 by GUARD Archaeology, who were contracted in preparation for the development and refurbishment of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) base on the archipelago’s main island of Hirta. This resulted in the largest archaeological excavation ever undertaken on the island, which revealed traces of inhabitation on St Kilda over 2,000 years ago during the Iron Age.

The island group of St Kilda, a UNESCO designated dual World Heritage Site, is situated c40 miles west of the Outer Hebrides. The islands are all that remain of an eroded volcano that was active during plate tectonic movements and the creation of the North Atlantic Ocean around 55 million years ago. The excavations took place in the south-west of the main island of Hirta, overlooking Village Bay.

Iron Age

Overhead view of the excavated channel (© GUARD Archaeology Ltd).

Radiocarbon dating of carbonised food remains adhering to sherds of pottery that had been washed into a stone channel indicates intensive inhabitation nearby at some point between the early part of the 4th century BC to almost the end of the 1st century BC. Most of the pottery recovered dates from the Iron Age, although a sherd of a possible early Bronze Age Beaker and two sherds of medieval pottery were also found. The pottery assemblage demonstrates the land in the vicinity of the excavated area was subject to occupation from at least the Bronze Age.

Alan Hunter Blair of GUARD Archaeology, who directed the excavations, said: “The recent archaeological work has revealed that the eastern end of Village Bay on St Kilda was occupied fairly intensively during the Iron Age period, although no house structures were found. The presence of large quantities of Iron Age pottery across the site suggests settlement must have existed nearby. One of the most significant problems facing archaeologists working on St Kilda is that earlier buildings were dismantled and cleared away in order to build new ones using the old stone as a building resource. Stone was also cleared, including that in burial mounds, to increase the available cultivation area, leaving little trace of what may have been there before. The fact that any archaeological remains survived at all on the investigated area is remarkable given the location of the site on extensively used and landscaped ground. The remote island group of St Kilda has not been immune from change, but understanding what is left allows us to understand the lives of its past inhabitants in a little more detail.”

Tantalising glimpses of life on St Kilda

Village Bay, St Kilda.

Susan Bain, Manager, Western Isles said: “These results are very encouraging, that the evidence of very early settlements on the islands can still be identified. We have tantalising glimpses of life on St Kilda 2,000 years ago, not only from their pottery but also the remains of a souterrain, or underground store, that was discovered in the 19th century. These few clues tell us that people were well established on St Kilda as part of the wider settlement of the Western Isles.”

Chief Executive of the National Trust for Scotland, Phil Long, added: “St Kilda is a place that has proved to be deeply fascinating to people the world over. Much of that is to do with the pathos of the evacuation of the last St Kildans in 1930, but we now know from these archaeological findings that their story goes much further back in time than previously understood. This further adds to the knowledge and evidence that justifies St Kilda’s special status and the need for our charity to continue to raise funds to provide for its study, conservation and protection.”

The archaeological work on St Kilda was commissioned by QinetiQ working on behalf of the MoD. ARO42: Hirta, St Kilda by Alan Hunter Blair is freely available to download from the ARO website: https://archaeologyreportsonline.com/publications.html

Text and images are courtesy of the National Trust for Scotland. For more information on the Trust or to help them protect Scotland’s heritage see: www.nts.org.uk