Stirling’s Royal Mile

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

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

Holy Rude

Church of Holy Rude.

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

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

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

Old Jail

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

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

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

The Valley Cemetery

Solway Martyrs Monument, Valley Cemetery.

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

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

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

Stirling’s history

Ladies Rock.

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

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


Main photo: Stirling Castle. Photo: VisitScotland.

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

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

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

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

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

He was proud of his part in it

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

They even hired a psychic

Tam with the Stone.

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

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

Party politics spilled over again

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

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

It is a part of who we are as Scots

Tam and his wife in 1986.

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

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

Tam was buried with the fragment

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

Main photo: A young Ian Hamilton (centre).

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

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

The unique vision of Mackintosh

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

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

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

One of the greatest architects of the 20th century

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Did you know?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Museums Scotland gifted fleece of Dolly the Sheep

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

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

Extraordinary scientific achievement

Dolly the Sheep. Photo: © National Museums Scotland.

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

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

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

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

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

World Gaelic Week 2024

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

Widespread celebration

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

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

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

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

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

Victorian Pipe Band Championships

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

Development of Heavy Games – International Status

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

Dance program

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

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

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

Love from Scotland

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

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

Romantic locations

Sweetheart Abbey in Dumfries. Photo: VisitScotland.

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

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

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

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

Cosy getaways

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a date night to remember

Glasgow. Photo: VisitScotland.

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

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

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

Perfect places to say ‘Aye Do’

Dundas Castle. Photo: VisitScotland.

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

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

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

For more inspiration for a holiday to Scotland, check out

Main image: Eilean Donan Castle. Photo: VisitScotland.

The 2024 Melbourne Celtic Festival

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

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

Over 100 diverse Celtic artists

Melbourne Scottish Fiddlers.

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

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

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

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

Snow place like Scotland

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

Skiing and snowboarding

Scottish snow season. Photo: TravMedia.

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

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

Cairngorm Mountain.

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

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

Snow with four legs

Photo: Hen Robinson.

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

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

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

The Dunedin Highland Games and Festival

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

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

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

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

Something for everyone to enjoy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whisky Galore: The story of a close-knit community

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

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

Disaster for SS Politician

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

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

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

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

Compton MacKenzie

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

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

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

Worldwide fame and a local legacy

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

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

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

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

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

OzScot Australia to perform at The Hayland Gathering

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

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

Innovative approach to dance

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

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

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

59th anniversary of the Phoenix Scottish Games

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

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

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

Deep ties between Arizona and Scotland

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

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

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

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

The Hebridean Baker at Home

The Scottish Banner speaks to Coinneach MacLeod

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Atholl Brose Cheesecake

Serves 4-6

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


For the Atholl Brose

250ml whisky

70g oats

3 tsp honey

40ml double cream

For the cheesecake

100g butter

250g digestive biscuits, crushed

600g cream cheese

35ml Atholl Brose

100g icing sugar

300ml double cream

100g grated chocolate



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


National Library acquires first-ever Broons annual

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

A magical formula

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

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

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

For further details see:

St Kilda sea stack scaled for first time in over 130 years

A team of climbers has achieved the first ascent of a famous St Kilda sea stack in over 130 years, working with the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) to plan the ascent safely and sustainably. The sea stack is known as ‘The Thumb’, or Stac Biorach, and has caught the imagination of explorers since 1890, although the St Kildans climbed it for centuries before that. Leading the climb was Edinburgh adventurer and climber Robbie Phillips, who worked closely with the NTS to plan the ascent, ensuring they did not disturb the archipelago’s precious seabird colonies or impact the landscape.

Climbing in the fingerprints of the St Kildans

The vertiginous climb up The Thumb was first documented by Martin Martin in 1698 in his book A Late Voyage to St Kilda. He vividly describes the terrifying feat young men would undertake to climb the rock pillar to catch birds and their eggs, without the security of any modern safety equipment. The 70m stack towers above the Atlantic Ocean; young men would scale the rock face with only a thin rope made of horsehair to pull them back to the boat should they fall.

Speaking about his trip to St Kilda, Robbie Phillips said, “Climbing The Thumb was like walking in the footsteps, or climbing in the fingerprints, of the St Kildans. It’s a testament to their bravery and mental fortitude; to climb onto that sea stack 70m above the raging Atlantic without even shoes is wild to imagine. The St Kildans didn’t just survive out here, they thrived with the skills they honed and the traditions they upheld.”

A dual-status UNESCO World Heritage Site

The location of the infamous climb remained a mystery until 1890 when Richard Manliffe Barrington completed it. With no resident St Kildans remaining after the island’s evacuation in 1930, the legend of The Thumb threatened to disappear into history, until this recent ascent brought it back to prominence. Robbie added, “To have such a critical piece of climbing history in Scotland is hugely special to myself as a Scottish climber. This is a unique glimpse into the past that connects us in a meaningful way. That’s why climbing is special, you can experience things exactly as the St Kildans did, albeit hundreds of years apart.”

St Kilda is a dual-status UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of only 39 mixed-status sites in the world, and it boasts an incredible amount of natural and cultural significance. The archipelago came into the National Trust for Scotland’s care in 1957, and since that time they have worked hard to conserve and sustain the islands’ heritage.

Susan Bain, the National Trust for Scotland’s Property Manager for St Kilda, said: “As a professional climber, Robbie had the skills and the back-up to attempt this climb safely, but it’s important to emphasise that the landscape of St Kilda can be very challenging and everyone should be very mindful of its dangers as well as its beauty. It is humbling to think about the St Kildans climbing this stack without modern equipment and communications. St Kilda has some of Scotland’s – or the world’s – most breathtaking scenery and wildlife. These, together with St Kilda’s stories, draw an increasing number of visitors. While we are delighted to share this natural and cultural heritage, we also have to be careful to make sure that visits are sustainably managed. It’s important that visitors don’t inadvertently harm the nature, beauty and heritage they have come to enjoy.”

Main photo: Summiting The Thumb in the dark. Photo: Ryan Balharry, via the National Trust for Scotland. 

Creating the Burns Federation

Anne-Mary Paterson looks into the beginnings of the Robert Burns World Federation, and the man whose idea it was.

Westminster Abbey may seem a strange place for the birth of a global Scottish institution. On 7th March 1885, one year after the one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth, David Mackay and a couple of friends were attending the unveiling of a bust of Burns in Poets’ Corner. Walking along the Thames Embankment afterwards, David suggested to his fellow companions, David Sneddon and Colin Rae Brown that there should be an organisation that Burns Clubs and Scottish Societies around the world could join in order “to strengthen and consolidate the bond of fellowship currently existing among members of Burns Clubs.”  The idea did not lie stagnant for long because on 17th July 1885, the inaugural meeting of the Burns Federation took place at the George Hotel, Kilmarnock.

At this time, David Mackay was secretary of the Kilmarnock Burns Club, one of the oldest dedicated to the bard. David was born in Kilmarnock in 1844, the youngest of four brothers and one sister. David’s first job after school was as a clerk in the Registrar’s office. After two years, he moved to the grocery firm of Wm. Rankin & Son. Later on in the 1860s, he and his brother Adam took over the licensed grocery business of William Wallace & Co. This business was failing so the two brothers had to work hard to restore its fortunes and for it to become one of the most respected businesses in Kilmarnock.

In 1881, David was elected to the Kilmarnock Council. However, in 1887 due the pressures of his expanding business he stood down only to be re-elected in 1891. December of that year was to bring tragedy when his wife Alice died of pneumonia aged forty-four. He was a staunch Conservative and was one of the people instrumental in establishing Kilmarnock’s Conservative Club. However, he was not bigoted in his ideas. Maybe he would not have disapproved of the adoption of Burns’ works by communist countries because of the poet’s supposed left-wing ideas. David was a very sociable and hospitable person and was involved in the bowling club and in winter with curling. He was also a keen angler. These activities must have contributed as well to the success of his business.


David Mackay.

Colin Rae Brown, one of his companions, was born in Greenock in 1821. He was involved in publishing, and this took him to London in 1862 where he founded the London Burns Club. While still in Glasgow, one of the newspapers he assisted in promoting was the Daily Bulletin, the first regular daily penny paper in Scotland. In it, he started the idea that there should be a national memorial to William Wallace. The now prominent monument on Abbey Craig, Stirling was completed in 1861.  The other, David Sneddon was born in Airdrie. In 1843, he came to Kilmarnock to take up a post as an excise man, not unlike Burns himself. Known as a man of great energy, he soon joined the Kilmarnock Burns Club. He was also involved in the Volunteer Movement serving in the First Volunteer Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers. This led to his nickname The Captain.

Seventeen men attended the meeting at the George Hotel. Fourteen were from the Kilmarnock Club, two from Glasgow and Rae Brown from London. As David Mackay had suggested the idea of the federation in London, Rae Brown expressed a wish for the London Club to be designated the Number One club on the Federations Roll. This concept was mirroring the way Masonic Lodges are numbered. Many of the people attending the meeting were Freemasons as were Mackay, Rae Brown and Sneddon.

However, they would be mindful as well that Robert Burns himself was a freemason for most of his short adult life. When he died, he was senior warden of the lodge in Dumfries. Masons are proud of the fact that many of his poems have Masonic content, in particular A Man’s a Man for a’ That. Having persuaded David Mackay that the London club should be the number one, Sneddon, with a twinkle in his eye, put forward the idea to the meeting. If there had been a vote, he would certainly have lost. He then read out the roll with London as number one but Kilmarnock was number zero, still giving it the distinction of being the premier club.

People’s Poet

Dower House.

The Dalry Club established in 1825 claims to be the oldest. However, Kilmarnock was important in Burns life as it was here that John Wilson published the Kilmarnock Edition of his first poems. Because of money problems, Burns was considering emigrating to Jamaica and the publication was to finance this. All six hundred and twelve copies sold in a month so he changed his mind, deciding that perhaps his work was of some worth.  Membership of the Federation was slow to begin with but as news spread of the benefits of friendship and bonding particularly for clubs overseas, applications increased from around the world.

Now the Federation is involved in promoting the poet in more ways including work with schools and students and conserving buildings and places associated with Burns.  Around three hundred clubs, mostly in the English-speaking world, are members, as well as several hundred individuals. His poems have been translated into many languages including Russian, Since the days of the Czar, throughout the Communist years and up to the present day, he is regarded as Russia’s “People’s Poet.”

In the twenty-first century The Robert Burns World Federation as it is now called, is truly international but its headquarters are still in Kilmarnock at 3a John Dickie Street. Prior to this it was at the Dower House, Dean Castle Country Park. Dean Castle once belonged to the Earl of Glencairn, the man who encouraged Burns to go to Edinburgh after the success of the Kilmarnock Edition of his poems. As clubs around the world toast the haggis on Burns Night, perhaps three Victorian gentlemen are looking down, satisfied with their work.


Scotland’s Bard

As William Shakespeare is England’s national bard, so Robert Burns is Scotland’s. And over 250 years after he was born into a poor Ayrshire farming family the universal appeal of many of his poems and songs endures. Burns had a gift for putting himself into the shoes of others and sympathising with their plight. His greatest works gave a unique and vivid insight into the aspirations and anguishes of the brotherhood of man and his words maintain their powerful meaning today.

Robert Burns died in Dumfries on 26th July, 1796, on the same day that his wife gave birth to their ninth child, a son, Maxwell. He succumbed to a form of rheumatic fever, which would have been easily treatable today. In those days, however, the cause and remedy of his ailment were unknown and his demise was likely hastened by a course of sea-bathing in icy salt waters. To make matters worse, Burns died in debt, borrowing from a cousin and an old patron, George Thomson, to bail himself and his pregnant wife out of trouble. The fact is that Burns had lived in near poverty most of his life. He had been engaged in heavy physical farm work since he was a young boy, in a harsh climate and on a very limited diet had taken its toll. He was only thirty-seven years old when he died. He was buried with full military honours as a member of the local volunteer militia, the Fencibles. Burns had joined up the year before as Britain was at war with France and there was a fear of invasion. Sadly, as is so often the case, Burns’ genius was only widely recognised after his death.

Short life

A portrait of Robert Burns belonging to the Tolbooth Museum, Sanquhar, Upper Nithsdale. Photo: VisitScotland.

In his short life he had written a host of poems and songs that would become cherished throughout the world. His words would reach far beyond his native Scotland and continue to resonate over two centuries later words about the human spirit and condition, about nature, love, life and death that are as meaningful now as they were in Burns’ time. Auld Lang Syne, Tam o’ Shanter, Ae Fond Kiss, Red, Red Rose, Scots Wha Hae, A Man’s a Man for A’ That the list goes on and on. But who was this man who died young and in poverty in a small provincial town, who was almost instantly mourned by an entire nation and who is still revered over 250 years after his birth?

Burns was born on a wild and windy night in Alloway on the Ayrshire coast of Scotland, in the family house his father, William, had built with his own hands. Robert was the eldest of seven children. Burns’ Cottage, now a museum, still stands today, although no longer set in rolling fields, but in the new affluent suburbs of the town of Ayr. Robert’s parents were small tenant farmers. William and his wife, Agnes, struggled to make a living on poor soil. But despite their hardships they were keen to educate their offspring, so in 1765 Robert and his brother, Gilbert, were sent to a school two miles away at Alloway Mill. William then clubbed together with three local families to share a private tutor, a young man called John Murdoch, who taught Robert English grammar. He also made the children sing Psalms but, ironically, for someone who went on to pen some of the most well known songs ever written, Robert’s voice was, according to Murdoch, “untuneable”. When Murdoch took up a post at Ayr Academy in 1772, Burns’ father tutored the boys at home, although they continued taking lessons at various other schools nearby.

The following year the family moved to another farm at Mount Oliphant, high on a hillside two miles from Alloway. The rent was steep and the sour upland ground was difficult to cultivate. Life was tough on the new farm. Since the family couldn’t afford hired help, Robert did a full day’s work in the field and farmyard on a diet of oatmeal and skimmed milk even though they lived on a farm, meat was much too expensive.

On the long, dark, bitterly cold Scottish winter nights Robert was often to be found huddled under a single candle, with his nose buried in a book. By the time he was 21 he had read Shakespeare, David Hume, his favourite philosopher Adam Smith and everything in-between. These books helped to fuel his already burgeoning imagination.

Enjoyed the company of women

One of the many statues of Robert Burns found worldwide.

He had already written his first love poems when he was fifteen, to a farmer’s daughter from Dalrymple. It was the beginning of his life-long love of women and his celebration of them in poem and songs. Burns had many affairs throughout his life and enjoyed drinking with friends, but he was far from the over-sexed, booze-sodden farmhand of yore, a slightly misleading myth that has tended to overshadow his literary legacy. He fathered over a dozen children to various women, and his sexual behaviour was radical, especially in 18th century society. The handsome, charismatic poet undoubtedly enjoyed the company of women, from society ladies to servant girls. Burns’ first child was by a servant, Elizabeth Paton, who worked at Lochlea farm in Tarbolton (the family had moved to the village when Robert was nineteen), and one of his most famous love affairs, though never consummated, was with the upper class Agnes McLehose, for whom he wrote the beautiful parting song Ae Fond Kiss.

Burns acknowledging women as individuals who had valuable insights and opinions and were stimulating. He started a life-long correspondence with sometime patron, Mrs Frances Anna Dunlop, a well-to-do Ayrshire widow who admired his poems. In his work he managed to combine descriptions of his prurient exploits with the tenderest of emotions, memorably and simply expressed. Love (and lust!) and poetry were always to run together for Burns. By the time his first collection of poetry, Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect was published in July 1786 he had founded the debating society, the Tarbolton Bachelors’ Club, gained a reputation locally as an outspoken critic of the church and became a freemason. He had started writing seriously after his father’s death in 1784 and this first collection, known as the Kilmarnock Edition’ because that was where it was printed, emerged from the poems that had been passed around locally in manuscript form during 1784-85, gaining him regional notoriety. It included some of his best writing, including The Twa Dogs, Address to the Deil, Hallowe’en, The Cotter’s Saturday Night, To a Mouse, and To a Mountain Daisy, many of which had been written at Mossgiel farm, where the family had moved in 1785. Having already written a handful of poems in English, Burns found his true voice in the Scots language, writing in words that did not come from the classical dictionary but from everyday speech.

His poems touched on themes of injustice, hypocrisy, the hard life of the countryman, radicalism, anticlericalism, sexuality, gender roles, Scottish cultural identity and man’s inhumanity to his fellow man. He wrote scathing satires and tender love songs delivered in a direct, playful, yet sympathetic voice that spoke to all walks of life.

Throughout his life Burns was on the side of the poor and the downtrodden and was always anxious to speak up for them. Inequality made him angry. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the French revolution in 1789 before it turned into a blood-bath, and supported the American struggle for democracy led by George Washington. Poetry was in Burns’ blood but the book was also born of financial necessity. The farm at Lochlea, which he worked with his younger brother, Gilbert, provided little money and an increasingly desperate Burns had considered leaving for the West Indies to find a job as an employee on the slave plantations. He had even booked a berth on a boat to Jamaica but had postponed the trip on several occasions. The Kilmarnock edition got 612 advance subscriptions, mostly concentrated on around a dozen individuals who sold them on to other admirers.

By this time Burns had met and married Jean Armour, who bore him twins in September 1786, despite the strenuous attempts by Jean’s father to prevent his daughter having anything to do with the poet owing to his opprobrious reputation. After an enforced separation Robert and Jean were reunited and she remained his long-suffering wife until his death. She had nine of his children and took in and nursed one of his several illegitimate offspring.

Heaven-taught ploughman

Burns Cottage – The birthplace in 1759 of the poet Robert Burns and now museum in Alloway. Photo: VisitScotland/Kenny Lam.

Burns arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland’s cultural capital, in November 1786 as the sensation of the season. In a review of his poems in the literary periodical The Lounger, Henry Mackenzie coined for Burns the famous epithet of the “heaven-taught ploughman”. It was a sentimental moniker that stuck, the image of the rustic bard with plough in one hand and quill in the other composing poems in the Ayrshire fields. But it was far removed from the reality of Burns’ life, which had been one of toil and hardship.

Burns knew he was different and special and held centre stage in Edinburgh with his powerful charisma and passionate way with words. However, he was also aware of his low social standing in polite Edinburgh society. Poets were certainly not meant to be peasants and he found the drawing rooms of literary Edinburgh reeking with pretension, which he derided memorably in his famous poem Address to a Haggis.

In April 1787 an Edinburgh edition of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect was published, containing 22 additional poems to the Kilmarnock edition, and was subscribed to by over 1300 individuals. But Burns sold the copyright of the book to William Creech for 100 guineas and despite further editions appearing in London, Dublin, New York and Philadelphia, he made no money from these. That same year the first volume of James Johnston’s Scots Musical Museum, a collection of Scottish folk songs, appeared, including three songs by Burns. Burns would go on to contribute nearly 200 songs to future volumes of the publication, many published posthumously. He toured the Highlands and the Scottish Borders collecting old Scottish tunes to which he set his verses, thus helping to preserve the songs and keep a cultural tradition alive. Some of his more bawdy lyrics were collected in a notorious volume entitled The Merry Muses of Caledonia.

Despite his new-found fame in Edinburgh and beyond, Burns was struggling to support his family from either his poetry or the small farm he had leased in Ellisland, Dumfriesshire and he was forced to take a public service job in 1788. After a life-time of unrewarded toil he abandoned farming altogether in 1791 to become a full-time employee in the Dumfries excise, moving to a house in the town. Undeterred by ailing health during the winter of 1790, and depression about the fading prospects of the farm, his muse remained undimmed and he continued his prolific output of songs and poems, completing his most famous poem and arguably his masterpiece, Tam o’ Shanter, in November that year.

Traditional Burns Suppers

Nowadays, the Bard is said to generate in the region of £200m every year to the Scottish economy. Not bad for a man who left debts of £14 when he died. Every year on the night of Burns’ birthday, 25 January, or an evening close to it, his life and work are celebrated as Burns clubs all over the world from Alloway to Adelaide, Moscow to Milwaukee host traditional Burns Suppers. These informal suppers vary from club to club but the general format has remained the same since Burns’ friends hosted the first recorded night in his honour around the anniversary of his birth in 1801.

Guests gather as at any informal function and the host says a few words of introduction before everyone is seated and the Selkirk Grace is said. A starter of soup, usually a Scots broth or Cock-a-Leekie, is eaten, before the centrepiece of the meal, a haggis, is brought in while a piper plays the bagpipes. The host then recites Address to a Haggis and at the lines ‘His knife see rustic Labour dicht, An’ cut you up wi’ ready slicht’, draws and cleans a knife and plunges it into the haggis, slicing it open from end to end in dramatic fashion. A toast is then proposed to the haggis. Mashed potatoes (champit tatties) and turnips (bashed neeps) traditionally accompany the haggis.

When the meal is over, one of the guests makes a speech commemorating Burns and proposes a toast to the great man, known as the Immortal Memory. A toast is then made to the lassies’ in recognition of Burns’ fondness for the fairer sex and sometimes a female guest will reply with a humorous toast to the laddies’. Following the speeches there may be singing of songs by Burns and occasionally guests take to the floor in a whirl of Burns Scottish country dancing known as a ceilidh, although this is not a normal part of a Burns supper.

Finally, to conclude the evening everyone stands, joins hands and sings the song most associated with Burns worldwide, Auld Lang Syne a song which has become an international anthem of brotherhood and has been translated into more than thirty languages. The most important thing about a Burns Supper is to have fun. After all, the man you’re paying tribute to was certainly not averse to a wee party himself!

Main photo: “Rushmore Burns”at the Burns Centre in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland. Photo: Yvonne Morrison/VisitScotland.

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Scotland’s Bard inspires almost 1,000 street and house names across the UK

Robert Burns has inspired the naming of over 920 street and house names across the United Kingdom, according to research from Royal Mail. Although 46% of Burns-related streets are in Scotland, his legacy is felt strongly across the UK. Glasgow contains the most Burns-related addresses in the UK with 72 addresses inspired by Scotland’s Bard.

London (31), Ayr (26), Mauchline (18) and Greenock (16) complete the top five. Some of the more unusual Robert Burns-related addresses include ‘Auld Lang Signs’ graphic designers in Irvine, ‘Haggis House’ in Newbury, ‘Old Whisky Road’ in Dundee and ‘Tam O’Shanter Drive’ in Stirling. The research was conducted ahead of Burns Night, and the Royal Mail revealed that the legacy of Robert Burns extends to the naming of 724 streets across the United Kingdom and 202 houses, with hundreds of the nation’s towns and cities containing at least one address inspired by the iconic poet and his works.

The Company analysed over 31 million addresses in its Address Management Unit to reveal the extent of the impact Scotland’s Bard has had on the names of houses and streets across the UK. Although 46% of Burns-related streets are in Scotland, the spirit of ‘Rabbie’ is very much felt across the rest of the UK – with the word ‘Burns’ featuring in over 450 street names across the UK from Bognor Regis to Barry to Burnley.

The UK’s most popular Burns-related street and house names are as follows:

Most Popular Street Names Most Popular House Names
Burns Road (108) Red Rose Cottage (22)
Burns Avenue (62) Burns House (16)
Burns Close (54) Burns Cottage (14)
Burns Street (43) Baird House (13)
Burns Drive (25) Burns Court (12)
Burns Way (24) Burns Farm (8)
Burns Crescent (22) Red Rose House (5)
Mossgiel Road (14) Baird Court (4)
Paton Street (14) Burns Cottages (4)
Jean Armour Drive (13) The Burns (4)


The legacy of Robert Burns

Photo: Summonedbyfells/CC BY 2.0 DEED Attribution 2.0 Generic.

The various homes that Robert Burns lived in throughout his life are a primary source of inspiration with 28 street names including the word ‘Lochlea’, 47 street names including the word ‘Mossgiel’ and 11 with ‘Mount Oliphant’. The women in his life have also proven to be muses for the nation’s addresses, including ‘Jean Armour Gardens’ in Kirkcaldy, ‘Clarinda Crescent’ in Mauchline and ‘Mary Campbell Court’ in Barnet.

Some other fascinating facts unearthed by the research include:

Several addresses are influenced by some of the poet’s most iconic verses, including ‘Auld Lang Signs’ graphic designers in Irvine, ‘Red Rose Gardens’ in Manchester and ‘Tam O’Shanter Drive’ in Stirling.

There are various street and house names around the country shaped by the more culinary aspects of Burns Night; including ‘Haggis House’ in Newbury, ‘Neeps Croft’ in Nottingham and Dundee’s ‘Old Whisky Road’.

‘Burns Road’ addresses exist all over London, including four in North West London and five in South West London. There is also a ‘Robert Burns Mews’ in Herne Hill.

Steve Rooney, Head of Royal Mail Address Management Unit, commented: “The work and life of Robert Burns forms an important part of Scottish history and the annual celebration of Burns Night represents the long-lasting impact Scotland’s Bard has had on the nation. Royal Mail delivers to over 31 million addresses across the UK, which puts us in the unique position of having direct access to all the amazing street and house names across the nations. Our latest research shows that the legacy of Robert Burns can be felt across the entire UK.”

The top 10 ‘Robert Burns hotspots of the UK’ are as follows:

Glasgow (72 addresses)

London (31)

Ayr (26)

Mauchline (18)

Greenock (16)

Clydebank (15)

Edinburgh (15)

Stirling (12)

Kilmarnock (11)

Manchester (10)

Main photo: Burns Cottage, Alloway. Photo: VisitScotland.

All together now: The history of the ceilidh

Kilts whirling like dervishes, a tireless cascade of notes pouring from fiddles and pipes, and a mass of merry dancers moving as one – this is the quintessential modern ceilidh experience. However, much has changed in just a few centuries. If a time traveller from the 17thcentury Highlands found themselves attending a Hogmanay ceilidh today, they would not recognise the breathless scene before them. So, what are the origins of the ceilidh?

Ceilidh’s as we know them originated in the 19th century amid a flourishing of Gaelic romanticism and civic clubs who revelled in communal dances. It was also a time when previously distinct dance and musical traditions were being blended together to create new genres, with ceilidhs formed from a fusion of Irish, Scottish, English, and Scandinavian folk traditions. The predictability of standard dances such as Strip the Willow, Dashing White Sergeant, and The Flying Scotsman helped everyone to take part and know what to expect. This marks one of the key differences between modern ceilidhs and their progenitors: spontaneity. Ceilidhs of old were organic, unorganised affairs, often prompted by the arrival of an out-of-town visitor or the unexpected but welcome creaking open of the front door at the end of a hard day’s work. They were held in homes, not halls, and no evening of festivities was the same as another. It was, certain social conventions aside, a very informal affair. There might be thirty attendees or just a handful, the latter being no less a ceilidh than the former.


A ceilidh of this kind may have involved music and dancing if a skilled player was present, but the crux of it was storytelling. Stories centred on Ossian and the Fianna were especially welcome. Until the end of the 19th century in Glen Lyon, any traveller who sought shelter among the homesteads of the glen would first be asked, “Bheil dad agad air na Fiann?” (“Can you speak of the days of Fionn?”).  If the visitor answered in the affirmative then others from the community would be gathered to enjoy a long evening of stories, as well as to compare notes on different versions of well-known tales. If such a stranger called, the patriarch of the house would tell the first tale and the visitor was expected to regale the hosts well into the wee hours. If no guest was present and a ceilidh had come together naturally, it would usually wrap up around midnight.

Education and intergenerational bonding were an important part of any ceilidh. News would be shared, crafts and tasks would be done around the fringes of the peat fire, and youngsters especially were encouraged to test their wits with riddles and recitations. If one child did especially well, they would be granted the title of Righ nan Tòimhseachan, the King (or Queen) of the Riddles. All benefitted from observing the skills of their elders, whether in the art of the story or of weaving and mending.

Homes in the Scottish Highlands and Islands were not the locked-up private domiciles that they are today, and the initiation of a ceilidh began not with a knock at the door but with someone sauntering straight in. One source from the Outer Hebrides recalls how, “doors were never closed except to an inhospitable wind.” As for the proceedings themselves, “There were no formalities and no programmes. The events of the evening were spontaneous, unpremeditated and unrehearsed.”

Coming together

Let’s have a ceilidh. Photo: VisitScotland.

Aspects of everyday life quite naturally became a part of the ceilidh’s set dressing. The smoky reek of a peat fire was considered a mandatory element, not only to heat and light the room but to provide suitable ambience. The sounds of livestock, most often black cattle, were ever-present, especially in the winter months when they were often kept in a subdivided section within the home. In the long dark of winter when it is pitch black by mid-afternoon and outdoor labour is difficult and dangerous, ceilidhs provided much-needed entertainment and uplifting to individuals and communities alike. They still do.

Ceilidhs could also be held as part of religious festivals. One such festival was the Latha Feille Brighde, the Feast of St Bridgid, held in Barra on February 1st. Once an annual event formally marked by the community, it fell out of fashion through the late 19th and 20th centuries. For the first time in a very long while in 2010, the feast was revived by Comunn Eachdraidh Bharraidh agus Bhatarsaigh (Barra and Vatersay Heritage Society) at the Dualchas (heritage centre) in Castlebay.

A figure of St Bridgid was made from corn sheathes and adorned by girls and women with clothing of seashells, primroses, crystals, snowdrops, and leaves. Entry to the heritage centre – a substitute for the blackhouses of old – was granted to the bearers of the figure, who chanted, “Brighde bhoideach oigh nam mile beus” (“Beautiful Bridgid, virgin of a thousand virtues”). Moving around the room in a circle, the girls held up the figure as people added adornments to it. It was then placed in a special bed, heralding the first day of Spring. Blessings were given, followed by a recitation of St Bridgid’s genealogy and the ritual tasting of the bannock. This may not sound like any ceilidh you recognise, but its participants very much described it as one. The modern ceilidh may seem far from these origins, yet remains consistent in spirit. In English, ‘ceilidh’ literally means ‘gathering’. Coming together with family and the community to bond, reminisce, sing and dance, and feel lifeful – especially at the coldest, darkest time of year – is the ceilidh’s true meaning.

Text by: David C. Weinczok.

30th anniversary of the Panama City Beach Scottish Festival

The Celtic Heritage Alliance is proud to present the 30th anniversary of the Panama City Beach Scottish Festival on March 2nd, 2024. Get ready for a captivating celebration of culture and heritage! As the waves of the Gulf meet the shores of Florida’s breathtaking coastline, a different kind of excitement is set to ensue. This festival is not just a mere event; it’s a journey into the vibrant traditions of Scotland, right in the heart of Panama City Beach. From the mesmerizing sound of bagpipes echoing through the air to the graceful movements of traditional Scottish dancers, this festival promises a day filled with top-notch entertainment and an unforgettable fusion of Scottish and coastal charm.

Celtic dance.

Northwest Florida was predominantly settled by Scottish and Irish immigrants. As the Florida Panhandle’s largest and longest running Scottish Festival, we are proud of our ancestors and strive to honor their culture with our festival, fundraisers, and educational events throughout the year. Our local Scottish Festival started 30 years ago as an outreach of Grace Presbyterian Church in Panama City. Early on, the festival was small and was held as an outreach of the church. Then church members, John and Patty McIlroy, Scottish entertainers, took charge of the festival, brought in other Celtic entertainers, Celtic food, and merchandise vendors and the festival grew. The festival did not yet have a full Highland Games. A few athletes were invited and put on games demonstrations for the crowds. Then Pipe bands from around the region would be invited and the festival grew. Eventually John and Patty, with the help of several local people, started our host band, the Panama City Pipes and Drums.

The sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Scotland

Highland athletics.

Eventually an athletic director was found, and the Highland Games became an important part of the festival. The Panama City Scottish Festival and Highland Games were born. Over the years many people, church members and non-members, took leadership roles. The games grew to an all-day event with highland games, musical entertainment, pipe bands, dancers, food and merchandise vendors, car shows, and much more. The festival eventually outgrew the church and had to find a larger venue. In 2016 we moved to Frank Brown Park and became the Panama City Beach Scottish Festival and Highland Games. This, our 30th anniversary, has been dedicated to John and Patty McIlroy. Without their leadership and guidance early on, we would not be here today. Flowers of the Forest dear friends.

Making friends. Photo: Lisa Stokes.

On the 2nd of March in 2024, we are proud to mix the Florida sunshine with the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Scotland! Our bands this year are Celtica Nova, who received the “International Celtic Artist of the Year” award at the 2019 Australian Celtic Music Awards. Co-headlining is Celtic Conundrum, known for creating new traditional music, exceptional harmonies, and heart stopping vocals!  Four of the best Pipe and Drum bands in Florida will provide us not only with the sights but sounds of Scotland. Highland dancers, axe throwing, kid’s games, and of course, the ever-popular Highland Athletic competition will round out the entertainment. Be sure to check out one of the many vendor booths for Celtic-inspired merchandise, or head over to the Clan Village to show off your Celtic pride. Wet your whistle at the Whisky Tasting tent (tickets required), Tea Room, or Beer Tent and enjoy your favorite Celtic food at one of the many food vendors.

Our Festival Highland Games include:

-“Open” Stone Throw

-Light Weight for Distance Throws (LWFD)

-Heavy Weight for Distance Throws (HWFD)

-Weight Over Bar (WOB)

-The Scottish Heavy Hammer

-The Caber

-The Sheaf Toss

We are proud to announce that ticket prices are the same as last year and include parking. Buy your tickets now at Whisky tasting tickets include Festival ticket.

For more information, to sign up as a sponsor or vendor, or to buy tickets, go to

Text by: Dawn Nezat, Panama City Beach Scottish Festival.

2000-year-old Roman Road uncovered in a garden near Stirling

The site of an ancient Roman Road, described as the most important in Scottish history, has been discovered in a garden near Stirling. Dating back almost 2000 years, the cobbled road was built by the Roman armies of General Julius Agricola in the 1st century AD and would have connected to a ford that crossed the River Forth. It was uncovered during a dig in the garden of a cottage, located a few miles to the west of Stirling city centre and next to the 18th century Old Drip Bridge.

The road and the crossing would have been used again by the Romans in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD as legions launched fresh invasions of Scotland under the emperors Antonine and Severan. Many of the key historical figures of Scottish and British history also used the road for military campaigns given its strategic importance for crossing the Forth and reaching the Highlands, as well as its proximity to Stirling – Scotland’s former capital city.

 The most important road in Scottish history 

Stirling Council Archaeologist Murray Cook, who led the dig, said: “This crossing would have been used by the Romans, the Picts, William the Conqueror, Oliver Cromwell and every King and Queen of Scotland, including MacBeth, Kenneth McAlpin and Robert the Bruce – but not Bonnie Prince Charlie who we know crossed the river at a ford at Frew to the west of Stirling.  It is the most important road in Scottish history so it’s an amazing discovery. To literally walk where Wallace and Bruce went, let alone the Romans, Picts and Vikings is astonishing. It has also never been clear before this find where this road ran.To the south the road heads towards Falkirk and would eventually take you to England. To the north, it would take you a crossing over the Tay and the edge of the Roman Empire.”

The dig took place in the garden of the Old Inn Cottage, a former Drover Inn built in the 17th century. This year marks the 900th anniversary of Stirling as a Royal Burgh, founded by King David I in 1124.

Main photo: Dominic Farrugia, Jennifer Strachan and Peter Dun who were all volunteers on the dig.

Campbeltown -Scotland’s Whiskyopolis

Campbeltown was once considered the whisky capital of the world in the Victorian era when it was home to more than 30 distilleries. Now there are just three but there is a whisky renaissance going on there – three more distilleries are planned for the area, two already with planning permission. Campbeltown may be the smallest of Scotland’s five distinctive malt-producing regions, but it is big with whisky history, and a bright future, as Judy Vickers explains.

For Scotch whisky fans there isn’t any time of year which isn’t the right time for a wee dram. But there is something about January – from Hogmanay to Burns Night – which makes this month particularly suitable for a tot of the water of life. Whisky has been made in Scotland since at least the 15th century but it was a mainly undercover illicit operation until the 1820s when changes in the excise law saw legal distilleries spring up and boom all around Scotland. And nowhere did they boom more than in Campbeltown. The small town lies near the bottom of the Kintyre peninsula and these days is considered a fairly remote, tucked-away part of the Scottish mainland. But back in the 19thcentury, the town’s natural assets helped it to become home to more than 30 distilleries and saw it earn the nickname “Whiskyopolis”, the whisky capital of the world, with the highest income per head in the country.

Now there are just three distilleries left; Springbank, Glengyle and Glen Scotia. But with three more distilleries planned, and rumours of others to come, it looks as if the fortunes are on the up for the only town in Scotland considered a whisky-producing area in its own right.


Campbeltown in 1890s. Photo: Iain J McAlister.

Back in the days of steamers and before railways and roads became the main form of transport, Campbeltown’s natural harbour gave it a key advantage in the emerging industry. Iain McAlister, Glen Scotia distillery manager and master distiller, explains: “Campbeltown has the most fantastic harbour in the world, so goods – barley, casks, equipment – could be taken in and out easily.” That harbour also gave the town good links to markets – Glasgow was within easy reach as was Ireland, and the US and Canada, where many Scots had settled after being forced from their land during the Clearances and were keen to have a taste of their homeland. “There were 30-plus distilleries which came and went. It was the renewables of its day – local entrepreneurs were looking to invest in these new distilleries, it took off here like nowhere else and that really continued until the original owners started to die off,” says Iain.

Campbeltown harbour in the 1890s – the barrels on the quay could contain whisky or herring! Photo: Iain J McAlister.

In 1887 Campbeltown had 21 distilleries and was producing more than nine million litres of spirit a year in town of just under 2000 people – no wonder its other nickname was Spiritville. The town’s skyline was spiked with distillery chimneys and its loch harbour filled with boats, serving both the whisky and the then booming herring industry.

But just a few decades later, that picture had changed. The First World War, followed by Prohibition in the United States, then the Depression of the 1930s, saw the whisky industry decimated in the town. Communication methods had been changing over the years too – Speyside was now more accessible and its lighter whiskies were becoming more fashionable and seen as better for blending.“It had run its course. Distilleries were being bought just to close them down to eliminate competition as they were seen as inefficient and by the time the Second World War came there were just three distilleries and there was no recovery until today,” says Iain.

Campbeltown’s distinctive whiskies

The Witchburn Distillery planned for Campbeltown. Photo: Brave New Spirits.

The three distilleries which survive today, only two of the same which were left in the 1930s, have had chequered histories to reach the 21st century. Iain’s distillery, Glen Scotia, was founded in 1832 by Stewart Galbraith. The Galbraith’s held it during the 19th century, but then it was bought by Duncan MacCallum who had an expansive portfolio of distilleries but who tragically drowned himself in 1930, supposedly because he was swindled out of a large amount of money in a dodgy business deal. Iain, however, has his doubts, as MacCallum still left £200,000, a substantial fortune in those days. The distillery changed hands several times and was in the doldrums when it was bought in 1996 by its current owners the Loch Lomond Group. Since then, its fortunes have been reversed and it now produces 700,000 litres a year – 5,000 casks – and has won numerous awards including the top prize for its single malt in the 13 to 15 year old category at the Scottish Whisky Awards

The other two distilleries are both owned by the Mitchell family who have been bound up with whisky-making in Campbeltown since the 17th century. Springbank was founded 1828 on the site of Archibald Mitchell’s illicit still who was already a partner at Rieclachan Distillery, one of the now vanished distilleries of the town. It might have survived to the present day, but Springbank has had a stormy history, literally and metaphorically. In 1883 when wild weather caused the distillery chimneys to collapse and when it was forced to close between 1926 and 1936 due to the effects of Prohibition and again in 1979, reopening in 1989.

Glengyle was begun by William Mitchell, part of the same family, in 1872, when he broke away from his brother John, the Springbank owner, but was hit badly by the First World War and closed in 1925. It was given a new lease of life in 2000 when it was bought back by the Mitchell family and reopened, producing its first whisky again in 2014 under the name Kilkerran. Now those three will be joined by three more distilleries, including Witchburn, which aims to be one of the most environmentally friendly distilleries; Machrihanish Distillery which hopes to become Campbeltown’s first farm-to-bottle distillery and the Dal Riata distillery, which will be located overlooking Campbeltown Loch. And unlike many other industries, Iain says the three established distilleries will welcome their new counterparts, helping to create a whisky renaissance in the town. Iain says: “There has sometimes been an air of sadness to what Campbeltown had been but I think it’s being appreciated again.” And he says there is an appreciation of Campbeltown’s distinctive whiskies, which he says have a saltiness, an oiliness and are a little bit “funky” which set them aside from any other Scottish whiskies. “It’s a very complex whisky with something you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s not a straightforward whisky.”

An artist’s impression of the inside of the new Witchburn Distillery. Photo: Witchburn Distillery.

Did you know?

The whisky regions of Scotland

Campbeltown is one of five “whisky regions” in Scotland, each producing their own distinctive tipples.

Speyside: Probably the most famous whisky-producing area in Scotland which is home to more than half the country’s distilleries. Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, two of the most famous and best-selling single malts, are Speysides. The area around the River Spey in the north-east of the country produces fruity light whisky.

Islay: Islay is known as the Queen of the Hebrides and has eight distilleries, producing whiskies such as Laphroaig – said to be King Charles’ favourite – and Ardbeg. The island is known for its peaty, smoky whiskies.

Lowland: Known for its lighter, sweeter, smooth taste, famous whiskies from this region, in the south of the country, include Bladnoch near Wigtown, and Glenkinchie in East Lothian

Highland: This huge area produces a huge range of tastes, including fruity, salty and peaty. Famous brands include Glenmorangie and Ardmore. This region also incorporates the other whisky-producing islands such as Skye (Talisker) and Orkney (Highland Park).

By: Judy Vickers.

Main photo: Campbeltown harbour. Photo: Springbank Distillery.

Scotland’s first UNESCO Biosphere named on ‘Cool List’ for 2024

The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire (GSA) Biosphere, Scotland’s first UNESCO Biosphere, is celebrating the news that National Geographic Traveller (UK) has named it as the only Scottish destination in the prestigious global Cool List for 2024.  The “editors’ selection of global destinations set to make the news over the next 12 months” identifies the top places around world “where tourism benefits communities and the environment as much as the visitors and locals themselves.”

Cultural significance

GSA Cornish Cairn.

Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere’s listing celebrates the reserve’s natural heritage, its UNESCO designation and its recently extended boundary, which recognises the site’s cultural significance. It was revealed earlier this year that the site has now almost doubled in size from more than 5,200 km² to almost 9,800 km² – incorporating Alloway (the birthplace of Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns), the Rhins of Galloway (Scotland’s most southernly point) and the marine environment out to 12 nautical miles offshore.  The National Geographic Traveller listing also reflects the key role the Biosphere played in the development of the world’s first UNESCO trail, a gamechanger for Scottish tourism.

Welcoming the news from National Geographic Traveller UK on behalf of the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Partnership Board, Chair Melanie Allen, said: “We are thrilled that this year’s National Geographic Traveller (UK) Cool List recognises the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere for developing tourism as a force for good. This is fantastic recognition of southwest Scotland as an outstanding visitor destination and highlights the importance of the Biosphere’s collaborative approach – working with Biosphere Certified Businesses, strategic leaders and partners – to build a secure and greener economic future for Scotland and the UK. Thanks to this ethos visitors can truly enjoy Galloway and Southern Ayrshire safe in the knowledge that their visit is as good for our communities and environment, as it is for their soul. With its awe-inspiring natural landscapes, fascinating heritage, and culture, we already knew the Biosphere was ‘cool’ and now its official!”

Herding Blackface sheep.

Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere Director, Ed Forrest said: “It is crucial that we all work together to find new ways of tackling the biggest interconnected challenges of our time. UNESCO Biospheres provide a blueprint for living in cultures all around the world, and the proof of their value is already being realised, as people begin to realise that sustainability in living, learning and leisure has to become our societal norm. So, it is brilliant to see National Geographic Traveller has included the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere among the top places around the world where visitors can do this.”

Stunning scenery

The Galloway Hills.

Congratulating the Biosphere, VisitScotland Destination Development Director Gordon Smith said: “The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere is an area of outstanding significance for its geological and scientific interest, as well as its stunning scenery. Part of Scotland’s UNESCO Trail, the Biosphere has a key role in contributing to make Scotland a world-leading responsible tourism destination and it is fantastic to see the Biosphere included in National Geographic’s Cool List for 2024. This accolade will help shine the spotlight on the awe-inspiring beauty and diversity of the region as well as the invaluable work between the Biosphere and the local community.”

A bird paradise.

Daniel Steel, Chief Executive of the Ayrshire and Arran Destination Alliance said: “There is a huge amount to be excited about in the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere, so it’s no surprise to hear it has been named on the National Geographic Traveller Cool List. This incredible accolade, and the UNESCO Biosphere’s recently boundary extension, reflects Ayrshire’s cultural significance and provides a fantastic platform to encourage visitors to enjoy our national assets in a sustainable way.”

UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere programme promotes a long-lasting connection between people and nature through over 740 designated sites across the world, including Yellowstone (USA), Niagara Escarpment (Canada), the Everglades (USA) and the Black Forest (Germany). National governments nominate Biospheres for UNESCO accreditation, which is then awarded by the Director-General of UNESCO following the decisions of the MAB international Coordinating Council. UNESCO Biosphere are models of sustainable development demonstrating how living in harmony with our natural environment is good for people, the economy and nature.

For more information about the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere, visit:


Did you know?

  • Galloway & Southern Ayrshire (GSA) UNESCO Biosphere was designated in 2012, recognising the region’s world class heritage and natural environments.
  • One of a network of more than 740 UNESCO Biospheres in 134 countries, Galloway and Southern Ayrshire was the first such designation in Scotland.
  • The GSA UNESCO Biosphere now covers almost 9,800 km² of southwest Scotland and is home to 110,000 people.
  • Its original geographical boundary was based on catchments of the rivers flowing out of the Galloway Hills.
  • The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere launched the innovative Blackface Wool Project, supported by the Blackface Breeders’ Association and British Wool, to promote the versatility of local wool (an integral part of the local heritage and community) and its diverse potential as a sustainable resource.
  • The GSA Biosphere is very much a part of Scotland’s rural southwest, where the land and its uses remain integral to everyday life. Beyond its central Core Area the Biosphere is home to historic industries such as farming, fishing and forestry; a dynamic variety of micro-businesses and SMEs; and communities that range in size from tiny hamlets to small towns.
  • The Biosphere and its partners are working together to promote the idea that ecologically sound activity can take place alongside conservation and research. Education, employment, tourism and enterprise can all be sustainable, and through a cooperative approach, they can achieve a balanced relationship between people and nature.
  • Right across Galloway and Southern Ayrshire, the Biosphere celebrates positive cultural values and identity, to help people learn more about where they live and better understand the heritage they all share.
  • The original biosphere boundary followed the rivers that flow out of the Galloway Hills through forests and farmland, historic villages and towns, all the way to a ruggedly scenic coast.


All images courtesy of GSA Biosphere.

Inaugural Brigadoon Solo Competition

The Brigadoon Executive bands coordinator has over the past few months worked tirelessly with the Pipe Bands NSW Branch to organise the Inaugural Brigadoon/ PBNSW solo competition at the 2024 Bundanoon Highland Gathering. The Bundanoon Highland Gathering Inc. ( in consultation with the Pipe Bands New South Wales Association will initiate their inaugural Solo Pipe Band competition on 6th April 2024 at Bundanoon, NSW.

It will be incorporated into the already famous Scottish Gathering, Brigadoon, which has an annual attendance of over 10,000 visitors. In 2024 they are provisionally looking at over 25 pipe bands (up to 600+ performers) participating at the gathering over and above up to 200 competitors in the solo competition, this would see a significant increase in attendance numbers and with that brings increased visitation to the region.


Entries are open and if you’re interested in participating in the solo competition please contact:
Steven Patterson
E [email protected]

Ph +612 9736 2022

Pipe Bands NSW
PO Box 3695
Rhodes, NSW


Ambitious plans to create an iconic new visitor attraction in Caithness are a step closer to becoming a reality

After a lengthy search for the perfect site, Caithness Broch Project announced that they have identified an area north of Latheron known as Flygla as the preferred site for the “Big Broch Build”, with residents in the Latheron, Lybster and Clyth community council area now being asked for their views on a proposal to build a replica Iron Age Broch in their district. Brochs are stone built, circular towers dating back over two thousand years. They are unique to Scotland and the greatest number of broch sites are in Caithness. The idea to build the first new stone tower since the Iron Age as a visitor attraction and archaeological and educational research centre is the vision of local charity, The Caithness Broch Project.

Unique Scottish structures

The charity’s chairman, Robin Herrick, said: “We have found the owner and local representatives to be very supportive of our outline plans, and we look forward to consulting with the local residents and stakeholders in the coming weeks to ensure their insights and concerns are integral to the project’s next steps.”

The charity believes that re-creating history through its ”Big Broch Build” will show people what these unique Scottish structures would have looked like and experience how they were built. The Broch Project wants to use Iron Age construction techniques as much as possible. The charity believes the replica broch will also encourage more visitors to come to the area to visit the site, spend more time and money in the village and help create more jobs in the community.

Chairman of Latheron, Lybster and Clyth Community Council, Alan Tanner has welcomed the proposal. He said: “This ambitious project is spurred on by great enthusiasm and determination on behalf of the Broch Project committee and deserves all our support as a community.” The charity is embarking on a community consultation exercise to hear the views of local residents, businesses and landowners. Community consultation runs until mid-January.

Celebrating 125 years of Walker’s Shortbread-The Scottish Banner speaks to Sir Jim Walker

From a £50 loan and a small Scottish village bakery, to an iconic multinational household brand, the Walker’s Shortbread family business continues to grow as they celebrate 125 years of their original recipe. In the last financial year, the business recorded a 16% rise in turnover as export revenues boosted by almost 10%. Australia has played a significant role in the growth of the business since its inception in the market in 1972, with Australians consuming the most shortbread per capita outside of Scotland, three times as much per capita than the US. The Scottish Banner spoke to Jim Walker CBE, Director and third generation of Walker’s Shortbread about the iconic product, brand and his love of Speyside.

In 1898 your grandfather Joseph Walker opened the doors to his very first bakery at just aged 21 with a loan of £50 and the ambition to bake “The World’s Finest Shortbread” using just four ingredients. Do you ever wonder what he might think of the Walker’s global brand today? And how does it feel to be a part of such a legacy?

JW: My Grandfather was a very down to earth man, and he would likely have said, “Well done and now let’s get back to work!” It is a great honour to be a part of this business today and see what we have made of it so far.  I have also made many friends around the world because of our products and it has been a wonderful business to be a part of.

Shortbread dates back well into Scottish history, with even Mary Queen of Scots being a fan. What is it about shortbread do you think people love so much the world over?

JW: I think it is the simplicity of shortbread that makes it so loved. If you make it well and keep to the true recipe people will love it. It is a fantastic treat and filled with history and a beautiful taste. Shortbread can be enjoyed at any time of day and at any occasion.

Walker’s Shortbread is an iconic Scottish brand. How does it feel for you to know your family business has not only been such an international success story but that it also represents Scottish quality on the world stage?

JW: It is both wonderful and also a big responsibility. We are determined to keep our independence and keeping the product tasting as good as it has been each and every time. We are one of the largest Scottish ambient food exporters and are a brand now recognised across the world. By doing a simple thing well, being consistent and ensuring the product tastes the same every time in every country is what we strive for and achieve.

Working at the Walker’s factory in the 1980s.

Many generations of locals have worked for Walker’s creating a special and unique Highland community. Walker’s is one of the largest employers in the local area. How does it make you feel to have such a positive impact on the local economy over several generations?

JW: It makes us very proud, and we are determined to support the local community in every way. We are so dependent on the local community for a supply of first-class people who give a fair day’s work and for many it is more than a job it is a way of life. Often two or three members of the same family will work at the company, and we try and work with our workers to be flexible as the locals are so valuable to us. I think there is an inter-dependency between ourselves and the local community, and we both greatly benefit from each other. We have wonderful staff, and we strive to create stable employment for generations of workers.

Jim Walker driving a Walker’s van.

Walker’s is today the largest family-owned biscuit manufacturer in the UK. How much of the company’s success do you put down to being family owned and operated?

JW: A lot of our success comes down to us being a family owned and operated business. Much of our longevity is from being family owned, if we were a normal corporation, it can be all too easy to sell. For us we are just custodians of this generation, and each generation is responsible to run the business and hand it over in a better condition in which they got it. So, we don’t care how much we sell this year, or next year, we care desperately however how much we will be selling in twenty years’ time. A huge order that is a one off is not that attractive to us, but an order that will run for years is the type of business we like and always look for.

The red tartan of Walker’s packaging is so very iconic. How important is it for Walker’s to include it and be known as a true Scottish company regardless of where their customers may be?

JW: Tartan for us is extremely important it is one of several things that defines us and our identity. We use tartan heavily and we always will. We are proud of our use of tartan and certainly not ashamed to incorporate it. Our products lend themselves well to a good strong tartan, partly because the product is indigenous to Scotland but also because we are a proud Scottish business. Tartan compliments our brand, however anyone who thinks they can make shortbread and put some tartan on the box and it will sell is wrong. It will always be the product itself that will bring success in the long term.

Sir Jim Walker.

Walker’s Shortbread calls Aberlour on the banks of the River Spey in Speyside home. For those who may not have yet visited this area can you tell us about this beautiful part of Scotland?

JW: We are in the epicentre of the Scotch whisky industry. Four of the world’s top five selling whiskies are within five miles of our factory. My office looks on to Macallan Distillery and many of the world’s best distilleries are just nearby.  Someone once asked me if Aberlour was like heaven as you have a shortbread factory at one end and whisky distillery at the other, and in between you can fish in the River Spey for next to nothing. It really is a beautiful part of the country with lovely valleys and the stunning River Spey, which is extremely clean and why we have so many distilleries there.  The river water has a peaty flavour which is an extremely soft water. If you like the outdoors and nature, you will love coming to Speyside as we have many varieties of birds and wildlife and walking tracks. It really is a true nature paradise.

In 2022 you were awarded a knighthood from His Majesty King Charles III. Just how does that make you feel to have been honoured in such a way, and as part of a multigenerational family business do you somewhat share that honour with your family members past and present?

JW: Absolutely, I am very honoured and proud to have received it. I received this because our company has been successful exporting and for employing so many people in our local area. I do recognise I received this because of the efforts of my grandfather, my father and uncle (James and Joseph) and my brother, my sister and myself. Sadly, my brother Joe passed away in October 2021 and my sister Marjorie, who so loved Speyside, has only very recently passed away.  The award really was because of the efforts of so many people and I am so very fortunate it was presented to me.

2024 – A Year in Piping & Drumming

Last year was a special year, with so many piping and drumming events around the world back to full strength, with musicians travelling across the world to perform, compete and see friends again. Looking ahead to 2024, we are sure that this year there will be more of the same!

The first piping and drumming event of the new year happens in the Southern Hemisphere, with the Waipu Highland Games, which encompasses the New Zealand Open Solo Piping Championships taking place on 1st January.

The National Piping Centre’s home city of Glasgow comes alive at the darkest time of year, as the UK’s premier celebration of Celtic music, Celtic Connections presents a full 17-day programme from 18th January – 4th February celebrating 31 years of world music. Piping and drumming features across the programme, in so many forms from emerging talent on the Danny Kyle stage through to headlining traditional music concerts from Breabach, Project SMOK, Finlay MacDonald with Jose Manuel Tejedor and a concert by 2023 world champions People’s Ford Boghall and Bathgate Pipe Band and the National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland. Head over to the website now find out more –

As well as Celtic Connections, solo pipers are heading to Kansas City once again this January as Winter Storm, organized by Midwest Highland Arts Fund, returns from 11th – 14th January, after a successful return in 2023. The Competition League for Amateur Solo Pipers also returns in January, with an in-person event in Glasgow on 13th January. This league has an overall and online-only titles so you can compete as an amateur solo player from anywhere in the world. The latest online event saw competitors from Hong Kong to Hawai’i join the event! If you are an amateur player and would like to find out more go to

Southern Hemisphere

The New Zealand Pipe Band Championships.

With summer in full swing in the Southern Hemisphere there is a plethora of pipe band events, solo competitions and more. After the Waipu Highland Games on 1st January, comes Turakina Highland Games on the 27th January. From the 10th – 14th January, the Royal New Zealand Pipe Band Association will host its summer school in Christchurch for young musicians. This Summer School is the perfect opportunity to learn from world class tutors, and it showcases some of the best talent New Zealand has to offer.

On 17th February the National Piping Centre Junior Piping Championship returns, one of a host of fantastic contest for young pipers aged Under 18 across the country every year. It aims to encourage all young players to compete, with chanter competitions through to Piobaireachd events.

In Australia, Ballarat Grammar School in Victoria will host its annual pipe band contest on 2nd March and Haileybury Pipe Band Contest takes place on 17th March. Back over the Tasman Sea, the New Zealand Pipe Band Championships will take place in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland with over 50 bands registered to take part in a huge two days of contest on 15th – 16th March.

On 23rd March, the adult solo piping season kicks off in Scotland with the Duncan Johnstone Memorial Competition which is held at The National Piping Centre and managed by the Competing Pipers’ Association for B and C graded pipers. On 24th March the Victorian Pipe Band Championships take place at the Melbourne Highland Games and Celtic Festival and the Hastings Highland Games in NZ takes place over Easter Weekend, with a huge focus on solo piping with their Commun na Piobaireachd Clasp, Gold and Silver Medals and Premier light music competitions taking place.

The bi-annual Australian Pipe Band Championship will return om 13th April 2024 in Maryborough, Victoria, with bands from across the country as well as the Australian Drum Major Contest taking place. Also in April will be the inaugural World Amateur Champion of Champion Solo Piping Competition, which will feature the 10 top amateur solo players from around the world being invited to take part. This event is designed to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the launch of The Competition League for Amateur Solo Pipers (CLASP), and will be online and available to watch worldwide. Find out more at

World Pipe Band Championships

Piping Live!

As we move into the Scottish summer (keeping everything crossed for some sunshine!) the piping season begins in earnest with a huge range of Highland Games across the country, all of which feature some kind of piping with pipe bands, solo piping and ceilidhs across Scotland. August 2nd -3rd sees the 75th Glengarry Highland Games, which includes the North American Pipe Band Championships. This year’s World Pipe Band Championships has been announced as the 16th and 17th August. Keep up with all the pipe band news at

Piping Live! returns in full force to the streets of Glasgow in the run up to the World’s once again as Glasgow hosts the world’s biggest week of piping! This year, we are celebrating the 21st edition of our festival running from 10th – 18th August, which attracts performers and audiences from across the world. In 2023, we welcomed performers from Estonia, Ireland, Brittany and Northumbria performing on their own styles of bagpipes, as well as Scottish Pipe Bands from Malaysia, USA and Canada and from across Scotland. We can’t wait for the this year’s festival – keep up with what’s happening and register for email updates at

At the end of August, the piping world turns its focus to top level solo competition, with the Argyllshire Gathering taking place in Oban on 21st and 22nd August, and the Northern Meeting in Inverness happening on 29th – 30th August. These see the world’s best solo performers gather to compete for the most prestigious solo piping prizes, as well as a chance to qualify for the Glenfiddich Piping Championship.

The Glenfiddich Piping Championship takes place at the end of October each year, and in 2024 will celebrate its 51st event on Saturday 26th October. 10 competitors will gather at Blair Castle to compete in Piobaireachd and March, Strathspey and Reel disciplines to be crowned champion. As it is a special year there will be a host of extra special moments planned. Tickets to join us in person at Blair Castle or to watch through the livestream will go on sale around mid-July through the National Piping Centre website. Over this same weekend, the New Zealand Silver Chanter competition takes place on 26th and 27th  October for this 48th event.

Massed bands at the Glengarry Highland Games, Canada. Photo: Glengarry Highland Games.

But October isn’t all about solo piping, as on Saturday 19th October, the World Solo Drumming Championship takes place, here in Glasgow, with the best drummers gathering to compete of several rounds to be crowned the best. In a year of firsts for Boghall and Bathgate, who won their first World Pipe Band Championship, their Lead Drummer Kerr McQuillan won his first World Solo Drumming title, edging out the champion of the previous 10 years, Steven McWhirter. This will be a hotly contested event in 2024, that’s for sure!  The Glenfiddich Piping Championship marks the end of the 2024 season, only for the 2025 season to start the very next weekend in London with the Scottish Piping Society of London’s annual competition, which celebrates its 86th year in 2024.

Also, in the USA and Canada there are a number of piping events through November, with the An Crios Gréine – Sun Belt Invitational Solo Piping Competition taking place in Florida and the George Sherriff Memorial Invitational for amateur players taking place in Hamilton Ontario. Dates for these events will be confirmed later this year.  So, if you are travelling this year, come and hear piping in Scotland – or look out for it around the world!

You can find out more about all The National Piping Centre’s projects at or get the latest news and results from the piping world at which will give you details of events happening across the globe.

Text courtesy of The National Piping Centre, Glasgow. Main image: The World Pipe Band Championships. Photo: Glasgow Life.

Scotland is the Place to Be in 2024

There are many reasons to make Scotland the place to be in 2024; whether it’s a newly discovered 5,000-year-old tomb in Orkney, or Shetland preparing for its first orbital rocket launch, Scotland offers wow-moments galore. Visitors in 2024 are guaranteed to make unforgettable memories while exploring the country’s vibrant cities and stunning landscapes on new trails, or discovering exciting new attractions. The selection below is only a handful of Scotland’s upcoming openings to look forward to in the year ahead, as the destination is ever-changing and ever-growing to provide the best visitor experience possible.

Perth Museum, Perth, Spring 2024

Perth Museum. Photo: Culture Perth and Kinross.

The new Perth Museum will open its doors in spring, Easter weekend of 2024 after a £26.5 million redevelopment project. The world-class cultural and heritage attraction will highlight the fascinating objects and stories that put Perth and Kinross at the centre of Scotland’s story. The new museum will showcase various objects of interest, including the 3,000-year-old Carpow Logboat and the Stone of Destiny (one of Scotland’s most significant historical objects, an ancient symbol of Scotland’s monarchy that was used to crown Scottish Kings, returning to Perthshire for the first time in over 700 years). Perth, one of Scotland’s eight cities, sits on the banks of the River Tay in the east of Scotland, just a short journey from Edinburgh or Glasgow. Perth is nestled between two sprawling public parks, and has elegant Georgian townhouses, cobbled streets and medieval spires. Explore the monuments, the art gallery and museum before discovering the glorious Perthshire countryside. When visiting Perth, look out for the colourful sculptures in the Hairy Highland Coo Trail, coming to local spaces in summer 2024.

Scottish Crannog Centre, Perthshire, Spring 2024

The Scottish Crannog Centre is currently building a new museum located at the site of Dalerb on the North side of Loch Tay in Perthshire which is set to open in spring 2024. A crannog is a house built over water, usually with a bridge or causeway joining them to the shore, and visitors can step inside one to discover unique insight into life in the Iron Age. The aim of The Scottish Crannog Centre at Dalerb is to be the most sustainable museum in Scotland. The new visitor centre will showcase internationally significant archaeological collections, an Iron Age-inspired village of craft and technology demonstrations, and the first of three expert-led, but community-built, crannogs.

Braemar Castle, Aberdeenshire, Spring 2024

Built by the Earl of Mar in 1628, Braemar Castle has been a hunting lodge, fortress, garrison and family home. An iconic 17th century landmark in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, Braemar Castle is currently undergoing a £1.6 million restoration programme to re-render the exterior which aims to be complete by spring 2024. The castle’s future rests with the small community of Braemar, and over the past ten years the village has been working to raise funds and gradually conserve and restore the castle to provide even better facilities for future visitors.

Craigievar Castle, Aberdeenshire, Spring 2024

An example of the best of Scottish Baronial architecture, Craigievar Castle fits naturally amongst the rolling hills of Aberdeenshire. The elegant pink tower of Craigievar Castle was completed in 1626 and is amongst the most loved in Scotland. The castle is currently undergoing a major conservation project to carry out essential maintenance work, including refreshing the lime wash that gives Craigievar its distinctive and beloved pink colour. Visitors will be treated to a grand reveal in spring 2024, when the new exterior is unveiled.

The 152nd Open at Royal Troon, Ayrshire, July 2024

Royal Troon’s Old Course was founded in 1878, expanded to eighteen-holes ten years later and re-designed by five-times Champion Golfer James Braid ahead of its first Open in 1923. It will host its 10th Open from 14 to 21 July 2024.

The Playbill FringeShip, Edinburgh, August 2024

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world, including over 3,000 shows that span theatre, cabaret, and comedy shows. With visitors flocking to the city to experience the world-renowned festival, Playbill is launching the Playbill Fringeship, the official ‘Floatel’ of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Ambassador Cruise Line’s Ambition – a sustainable and modern cruise ship – will be docked for a week in Edinburgh’s buzzing port neighbourhood of Leith, from 8 – 15 August 2024, carrying up to 1,300 guests in cabins and suites.

Lost Shore Surf Resort, Edinburgh, September 2024

Lost Shore Surf Resort is coming to Edinburgh in September 2024, when it will proudly become Europe’s largest inland surfing destination. Capable of generating up to 1,000 waves per hour, the state-of-the-art surf lake will be set within a 60-acre country park and will offer unique accommodation in the form of premium pods and luxurious lodges, a food market, retail spaces, and a wellness spa.

High Praise for the Far North…

The Far North of Scotland has been named as one of Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel destinations for 2024. The region, which includes Caithness and Sutherland, is home to some of the country’s most beautiful and special habitats including The Flow Country; the most intact and extensive blanket bog system in the world. The travel publication highlights the increased recognition the region may enjoy as The Flow Country aims to achieve UNESCO World Heritage status. Lonely Planet describes 2024 as ’the perfect time to make a trip to the Far North of Scotland, exploring both its unsung boggy interior and a coastline of heartbreaking beauty’.

And the South…

The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere, Scotland’s first UNESCO Biosphere, is celebrating the news that National Geographic Traveller (UK) has named it as one of the most exciting destinations for 2024 in its prestigious global Cool List. Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere’s listing celebrates the reserve’s natural heritage, its UNESCO designation and its recently extended boundary, which recognises the site’s cultural significance. It was revealed earlier this year that the site has now almost doubled in size from more than 5,200 km² to almost 9,800 km² – incorporating Alloway (the birthplace of Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns) and the Rhins of Galloway (Scotland’s most southernly point).

And the Scottish Islands…

The Scottish Islands have been chosen as a ‘Best Place to Go in 2024’ by US travel media company, Frommer’s. Frommer’s describes the Scottish Islands as a ‘breath of fresh air’ and ‘a world apart with more than a hint of magic to each of them’. With a shoutout to the white sandy beaches of Barra and Harris, the world’s finest whiskies from Islay’s distilleries, the dramatic sea stacks in Orkney and the wildlife in Shetland, their overview of this beautiful part of Scotland is just a glimpse into the many reasons why visitors should put the islands on their must-visit list.


Distillery news

From exciting new visitor attractions such as the first vertical distillery located in Edinburgh’s trendy neighbourhood of Leith; and the Gin Bothy Experience where Scottish bothy traditions and culture meet tasting and retail; to innovative ways to make whisky production more sustainable (cue the distillery that recycles its hot air to heat the local swimming pool), there are endless reasons to explore the world of whisky and gin in Scotland. Not least the number of new openings to look forward to in 2024.


Dunphail Distillery, Moray Speyside, Now Open

Opened in 2023, Dunphail is a resolutely traditional distillery, dedicated to crafting the finest whisky the way it used to be made. It has been constructed from a one-time farm steading and sits in the beautiful countryside of the Speyside region. Their exclusive distillery hand-fill is available for visitors wanting to bottle their own whisky straight from the cask.


Eden Mill Distillery, St Andrews, Summer 2024

After lying still for over 150 years, Eden Mill brings the art of distilling back to this historical area in the form of a new distillery experience and a range of premium single malt whiskies and gins. The front wall of the building will feature large glass windows providing beautiful views out over the estuary and the iconic St Andrews skyline. All their electricity will be 100% renewable, coming from either the solar farm belonging to the University of St Andrews or other renewable energy sources. Additionally, the CO₂ produced during the fermentation process will be captured for the University to use.


Edinburgh Gin Distillery & Visitor Experience, Edinburgh, Summer 2024

The Arches on East Market Street, in the heart of Scotland’s capital city, will soon be home to the highly anticipated Edinburgh Gin state-of-the-art Distillery and Visitor Experience. The opening will mark the relocation of their distilleries from Rutland Street and Leith, uniting the essence of the brand under one roof. The meticulously designed brand home promises immersive experiences that will transport visitors on a journey filled with wonder.


Rosebank Distillery, Falkirk, 2024

After 30 years of closure, Rosebank Distillery, once the beating heart of the Scottish town of Falkirk, restarted production in summer 2023. The ancient buildings have been tirelessly restored. Three gleaming copper stills now take centre-stage in a magnificent glass-fronted still house. In the middle, proudly connecting Rosebank’s past and future stands the towering 108ft distillery chimney stack, which has been a famous landmark in Falkirk for as long as anyone can recall. With the visitor centre set to open in 2024, whisky lovers can look forward to re-discovering the distillery during a range of tours and tastings.

closed his Port of Menteith restaurant, has given Nick and his wife Julia the opportunity to revamp the Cook School to the highest order. Fitted with the latest technology and cooking facilities, the Cook School now provides a more intimate setting with a maximum of 12 in each class.


Treacherous Orchestra at the Old Fruitmarket. Photo: Gaelle Beri for Celtic Connections.

With atmospheric crowds, iconic venues and picture-perfect backdrops, Scotland plays host to world leading sporting events as well as music and cultural festivals. Edinburgh is the world’s leading festival city with amazing events taking place year-round, including the world-renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe. In 2024, visitors can choose from small local events to large international crowds, see below to find out what’s in store.


Celtic Connections, Glasgow, January/February 2024

Celtic Connections, Glasgow’s annual folk, roots and world music festival celebrates its connections to cultures across the globe. From 18 January to 4 February 2024, over 2,100 musicians from around the world bring the city to life for eighteen days. During this time, there are concerts, ceilidhs, talks, art exhibitions, workshops and free events for visitors and locals alike to enjoy.


Spectra Festival of Light, Aberdeen, February

Spectra, Scotland’s magical Festival of Light returns to Aberdeen from 8 – 11 February, shining a light on Scotland’s glorious Northeast for the tenth time. Each year, the festival brings a spectacular programme of works by some of the world’s leading visual artists, studios and companies to transform the Granite City with light, sound and eye-catching visual art.


World Athletics Championships, Glasgow, March 2024

Glasgow has a proven track record of hosting major sporting events and 2024 is no different! The World Athletics Indoor Championships will provide the city of Glasgow with three days of world class action from 1 – 3 March. There will be six sessions of sport filled with exciting competition in the Emirates Arena, with some of the best athletes in the world competing for prestigious World Indoor titles. Up to 650 competitors from more than 130 countries are expected to take part, competing in 26 events, 13 for men and 13 for women.


National Cyclo-cross Championships, Falkirk, January 2024

The 2024 National Cyclo-cross Championships will be held in Scotland for the very first time, in Falkirk’s Callendar Park. The championships will take place over the weekend of 13 –14 January. Home to the 14th century Callendar House, the park provides a stunning backdrop to the racing, with the challenging course quickly becoming a firm favourite of riders and spectators alike.


World Orienteering Championships, Edinburgh, July 2024

While often thought of as a countryside sport, from 12 – 16 July 2024 orienteering will take over Edinburgh, when the Sprint World Orienteering Championships visit Scotland’s capital city. Five days of racing – for everyone from elite athletes to complete beginners – will showcase orienteering and allow people of all abilities to enjoy a world-class sport in a world-class city.


Cullen Skink World Championships, Moray Speyside, March 2024

Cullen Skink is a thick Scottish soup traditionally made of smoked haddock, potatoes and onions and takes its name from the town of Cullen in Moray, on the northeast coast of Scotland. On Sunday 17 March 2024, the Cullen Skink World Championships will take place in the Cullen, hosting two events – the Traditional Cullen Skink competition and Cullen Skink with a Twist competition – and spectators are welcome at both. Judges will taste each competitor’s version in a blind tasting, with the contestant with the highest score being declared as the Cullen Skink World Champion.


Scotland on Two Wheels

There are many ways to explore Scotland, but cycling is one of the best. Cycling allows visitors to take their time and see more, relax and unwind, and be more eco-friendly all in one go. Visitors can choose to cycle one of Scotland’s amazing long distance cycle routes, such as the new Kirkpatrick C2C, South of Scotland’s Coast to Coast Cycling route from Stranraer on the west coast to Eyemouth on the east coast. This cycle route celebrates Scotland’s rich history of innovation and the South’s key role in the creation of the bicycle with its 250 miles of uninterrupted joy. In early 2024, the full cycle route will be launched with signposts along the way.


In August 2023, Glasgow was host to the UCI Cycling World Championships. It was the single biggest cycling event in history, bringing together for the first time 13 existing UCI World Championships into one mega event. To capitalise on the legacy of the event, five new cycling routes have been mapped out by Sustrans Scotland, with two in the Scottish Borders, one in Dumfries and Galloway, one in Glasgow, and one in Stirling. Find out more about these fantastic routes here to begin mapping out a cycling holiday in Scotland. In May 2024, Fort William in the Scottish Highlands will feature as one of 15 race weekends in the 2024 UCI Mountain Bike World Series.


For those looking for some culture with their active adventure, head to Orkney and cycle the new Hoy on Hoy route, a 31km road cycle inspired by six-time Olympic Champion, Sir Chris Hoy, which takes in the Scapa Flow Museum, ancient archeology and some of Orkney’s best scenery.



Stirling. Photo: VisitScotland.

Scotland’s history stretches back thousands and thousands of years and fascinating stories of the past await both in the country’s vibrant cities and most remote islands. A number of big anniversaries in 2024 offer the opportunity for visitors to join local communities in the celebrations.

Stirling Celebrates 900 Years as a Burgh

Stirling, a Royal Burgh founded by King David I in 1124, is approaching its 900th anniversary, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in Scotland. Nowhere else in Europe can one traverse from a historic battlefield to a Celtic fort, a medieval palace, and the site of a Jacobite siege, all within a 15-minute walk. Visitors are encouraged to join locals for a year-long celebration of everything that makes Scotland truly unique, from the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie to the significance of tartan and the mysteries of Bloody Scotland.


Robert the Bruce’s 750th Anniversary

Robert the Bruce is a ruler which the history books remember; many regard him as being Scotland’s most successful monarch. With the 750th anniversary of his birth coming up on 11 July 2024 there has never been a better time to follow in the footsteps of Scotland’s most famous king by exploring the Robert the Bruce Trail in the South of Scotland or other locations thought to be connected to him such as Scone Palace and Dunfermline Abbey. On the day itself, Maybole in Ayrshire near where Robert the Bruce is said to have been born will host the Robert the Bruce Heritage Day with medieval fun for the whole family.


HMS Unicorn’s 200th Anniversary

First launched in 1824, HMS Unicorn – which can be visited in Dundee – is the third oldest ship afloat in the world and the oldest ship in Scotland. In celebration of her 200th anniversary, no less than two special presents have been commissioned for the museum ship: A new musical piece about her history will be performed on board as part of a series of events during the anniversary year. And a newly designed statue, a 3 metre all-steel artwork of a unicorn rearing on its hind legs, is set to form the centrepiece of a new garden for HMS Unicorn.


The Kelpies Turn 10

Standing at 100ft tall and weighing more than 300 tonnes each, the magical Kelpies, located within Falkirk’s The Helix Park, are the largest equine sculptures in the world. The stunning sculptures, created by artist Andy Scott 10 years ago, have become iconic on the landscape after being modelled on real-life icons of times gone by — Clydesdale horses Duke and Baron. During a free event on 27 April visitors can enjoy street theatre, storytellers and artists who will create a vibrant and colourful scene to experience alongside the spectacular sculptures, culminating in a big family ceilidh, pipe band demonstrations, not to mention a specially invited guestlist of Clydesdale horses to mark the breed’s significant contribution to Scotland’s industrial heritage and inspiration for Andy Scott’s masterpiece. The day of celebration will be followed by a concert in the evening.

Main image: The Kelpies. Photo: VisitScotland.

The 2024 Bellingham Scottish Gathering


The sound of the pipes.

It is with immense pride and enthusiasm that the Scottish Dance Society announce important news about the June 1, 2024 Bellingham Scottish Gathering. The full-scale Highland Games moves to beautiful Blaine, Washington nestled adjacent to the Peace Arch and the international border crossing into Canada. Marine Park is festival center, offering waterside and panoramic views of the Salish Sea, Semiahmoo Resort, Mount Baker and White Rock, British Columbia.

A celebration of Scotland’s culture

The Peace Arch.

First and foremost; the Bellingham Scottish Gathering is a celebration of Scotland’s culture. Blaine’s ‘By the Sea’ theme is the focus of special events planned for the festival. The working harbors of Scotland are mirrored in the city’s active fishing and boating communities. The committee is delighted to provide exciting news to the Highland dancing community.

For the first time, the Bellingham Open Highland Dancing Championship is a feature at the 2024 Highland Games. Newly sanctioned by the Royal Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing; we look forward to welcoming competitors to the prestigious competition in a location sure to attract international visitors. Save the date and check back for updates on events, hotel partners, recreation opportunities and more.

The Bellingham Scottish Gathering will take place on June 1st, 2024. For further details or keep up to date with event updates see: or

Albion Motors-A Glasgow great

The dawning of the 20th century was an auspicious time for Scottish automakers. Argyll, Arrol-Johnston and Halleys all got their starts at this time. On 30th December 1899, Norman Osborne Fulton and Thomas Blackwood Murray, both formerly of Arrol-Johnston, established perhaps the most famous Scottish automotive firm, the Albion Motor Car Company Ltd. Murray’s father John Murray provided financial backing and suggested the Albion name.

With its first factory situated at 169 Finnieston Street, Glasgow, Albion started out with seven employees. The company began automobile production in 1900 with its first car, an 8-horsepower dogcart constructed of varnished wood and fitted with solid tyres. Albion became a private concern in 1902, and by 1904 had moved to a large plant in South Street at Scotstoun, Glasgow. Albion Motors manufactured both cars and trucks; as early as 1902 the company produced a half-ton van.

Sure as the Sunrise

Pictured at a steam rally in northwest England in the 1970s is this 1927 Albion flatbed. Photo: Ed Dingley, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

Investor J. F. Henderson came on board in 1907 as joint managing director. Leading up to the First World War, Albion produced several car models: the 8, 12, 16, 24/30, and 15. Some of Albion’s early cars had a price tag of £280, and were advertised as ‘suitable for the country house’. Variations of Albion cars included taxis and ambulances. The firm moved further into commercial vehicle production, and from 1909 began concentrating on trucks and buses. The early buses were built on Albion A10 lorry chassis.

Albion became a public company in 1914, and in 1915 ceased passenger car manufacture. During the First World War Albion focused on the production of military vehicles. The firm produced a large number of three-ton trucks for the War Office, to be deployed in France. Many of these were converted to charabancs after the war. The Viking 28, announced in 1927, was the first Albion forward-control bus, the driver being positioned beside the engine. Albion’s first double-decker bus, the Venturer 51-seater, was introduced in 1932.

An Albion Model 557 on the road. Photo: Jon’s pics, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence.

In 1930-31 the company’s name was changed to Albion Motors, and the firm began to use diesel engines in its buses in 1933. In 1935 Albion procured Halleys Industrial Motors, based at Yoker, Glasgow. Halleys, which was regarded as one of the Big 10 motor vehicle makers, had produced commercial vehicles since 1906. These included a fire tender, flatbed, tipper and a coach. Halleys also made engines and pumps. During World War Two, Albion assisted the war effort by using its facilities to produce the Enfield No 2 Mk I revolver.

From 1944 the company manufactured its own 4- and 6-cylinder diesel engines, and following the war Albion commenced production of modernised buses with under-floor engines. Albion lorries, which became renowned for their toughness and reliability, proved to be stiff competition for Foden trucks all the way from World War One to the 1950s. Albion reliability was expressed through its slogan, ‘Sure as the Sunrise’, the latter depicted pictorially in its logo by the image of a rising sun.

Tough as the Scots who make them

This preserved Western Welsh bus 7 is a 1960 Albion Nimbus single-decker. Photo: Graham Mitchell, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence.

Albion merged with Leyland Motors in 1951, with Leyland reducing the size of the Albion range.  The final double-decker bus made by Albion was the 1961 Lowlander (marketed under the Leyland name in England). With the founding of the British Leyland Motor Corporation in 1968, production of the Albion Viking buses and the Chieftain, Clydesdale and Reiver trucks continued. Albion took over the Coventry Ordnance Works in 1969, and produced complete trucks and buses in its Scotstoun factory until 1972.

Partial construction or assembly of trucks and buses by Albion continued until 1980, when Leyland finally scrapped the Albion name. Albion vehicles were a once familiar (and a now fondly remembered) sight on Scottish, English and Welsh roads. Albion exported its lorries and buses to South Africa, East Africa, Australia, India and elsewhere in Asia. The vehicles were exemplars of Scottish craftsmanship and engineering at points around the globe. As a 1960s Albion advert read, ‘Albion . . . tough as the Scots who make them.’

Besides the Viking, Albion buses included the Valiant, Victor, Valkyrie and many others. Beyond those aforementioned, amongst Albion trucks were the Clansman, Claymore, CX22S Heavy Artillery Tractor, the WD66 6×6 truck, and the WD.CX24 Tank Transporter. Albion lorry variants included fire tenders, tankers, refuse trucks, wreckers and cement mixers. A 1993 buyout brought Albion back into Scottish hands for several years. Headquartered in Scotstoun, Albion Automotive is now a subsidiary of American Axle & Manufacturing, which took over the firm in 1998. Albion produces and supplies automotive component systems such as crankshafts, axles and chassis systems.

A preserved Highland AL41, an Albion Lowlander/Northern Counties. Photo: Arriva436, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

Though Albion trucks and buses might not be seen regularly on Scottish highways, quite a number of the vehicles have been restored, maintained and preserved in both private hands and in museums. The Biggar Albion Foundation, a Scottish charity in Lanarkshire, runs the Albion Club, the Albion Archive, and the Biggar Rally. The foundation also operates the Albion Museum in North Back Road, which has a collection of historic Albion vehicles. Members of the Albion Club receive the quarterly publication, The Albion Magazine, which has incorporated the Albion Vehicle Preservation Trust Newsletter.

The Albion Museum is normally open on weekends 10 to 2, from April to October. The Albion Vehicle Preservation Trust, a Scottish charity established in 1967, was formed to acquire and preserve a 1950 Albion Valiant coach. The trust also brought a 1967 Viking coach into the fold in 1991. In cooperation with the Albion Club, the trust maintains the Register of Preserved Albions, with the number of vehicles recorded so far across the globe at over 1,000.

A 1963 Albion Reiver RE29. Photo: Pimlico Badger, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence.

Did you know?


The Arrol-Johnston company’s origins go back to Glasgow locomotive engineer George Johnston, who, after studying various continental European cars, decided that he could best their designs with his own. For the project, Johnston teamed up with his cousin Norman Fulton, and Thomas Murray (both of whom would soon move on to form Albion Motors in 1899). In 1895 Johnston and Sir William Arrol, one of the engineers of the Forth Bridge, formed the Mo-Car Syndicate Ltd. Johnston worked as managing director, while Arrol, who provided financial backing, was company chairman. The firm built the first British production car, the Dogcart, introduced in 1898. The Dogcart was made in a factory in Yates Street, Camlachie, Glasgow. Financial restructuring in 1903 resulted in the departure of Johnston, who went on to establish the ill-fated Johnston Car Company (later called the All British Car Company), in Bridgeton. Arrol-Johnston grew to become Britain’s fifth largest automobile producer. Aster merged with Arrol-Johnston in 1927, which resulted in the Arrol-Aster marque. The company restored the Blue Bird, Sir Malcolm Campbell’s famous land speed record car, in 1928. However, Arrol-Aster went into receivership, and ceased production in 1931.

Galloway cars

Established in 1920, Galloway Motors Ltd was a subsidiary of Arrol-Johnston. First based at Tongland near Kirkcudbright, the company moved to Heathhall, Dumfries in 1923. Galloway was staffed and run chiefly by women. In fact, one of its advertising slogans was ‘a car made by ladies for others of their sex’. Dorothée Pullinger, daughter of Arrol-Johnston manager T. C. Pullinger, was director and manager of Galloway. Part of Dorothée’s plan with Galloway was to provide employment for local women. She also raced cars, and took the cup in the 1924 Scottish Six Day Car Trials. Galloway made one model (rather than a whole range) at a time, and the cars were known for their simplicity and durability. The Tongland factory produced a few hundred Galloway autos before the move to Dumfries. By the time the firm had ceased operations in 1928, it had manufactured about 4,000 Galloway cars in total.

Text by: Eric Bryan.

Main photo: An example of the 1911 Albion 24/30. Photo: Stephen Velden, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence.

John MacLean-The most dangerous man in Britain

This year marks 100 years since the death of John Maclean, “the most dangerous man in Britain” and “Lenin’s man in Scotland”.  A Glaswegian born of Highland parents, he was the leading light in the Red Clydeside era. He died at just aged 44 from pneumonia after he’d given his only overcoat to a destitute man. His funeral was one of the largest ever in Glasgow and he was considered both a political pariah and champion of the Scottish working class, as Judy Vickers explains.

On a chilly December day in Glasgow 100 years ago, thousands of people joined a four-mile funeral procession from Eglington Toll to Eastwood Cemetery. Thousands more lined the streets to watch the mourners pass in what is still believed to be the biggest turnout for a funeral ever in the city. The crowds were there to say farewell to John MacLean, dubbed by British Military Intelligence as “the most dangerous man in Britain” but a much-loved hero to the ordinary folk of the city and beyond for his tireless work campaigning for workers’ rights during the famous Red Clydeside era of the early 20th century.

Zeal for reform and revolution

The Glasgow rent strike in 1915. Photo: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

MacLean had been a Communist and a fierce believer in education. Hundreds passed through his evening classes, which at one point he was holding every night of the week on top of his day job, learning about industrial history and economics with Marx as the main textbook. He was opposed to the First World War and the British Empire, views which led him to be imprisoned numerous times, spells which sapped his health, speeding his early death at the age of just 44. He was said to be an electrifying speaker, his 75-minute speech at his trial in 1918 is legendary, and his summer holidays were spent touring Scotland, from Lewis to Hawick, giving impassioned speeches on street corners and outside factories.

His zeal for reform and revolution sprang from his early life, which was a perfect illustration of so many woes of the day. Both his parents had been victims of the 19th Clearances in Scotland, where landlords in rural areas had removed tenants – sometimes forcibly – from their homes and the land they had worked, often for generations, to fill them with more profitable and less labour-intensive sheep. His mother, Anne, came from the village of Corpach in the Highlands, his father Daniel from the Isle of Mull. A potter, Daniel briefly worked in Bo’ness before taking up work at a pottery in Pollockshaws, then on the outskirts of Glasgow, where the family settled.

Tales of injustice

Tales of injustice were part of his childhood, but his upbringing was typical of many at that time – three of his siblings died in infancy and his father died when he was just nine from silicosis (“potter’s lung”) from his working conditions. His brother contracted TB and eventually emigrated to South Africa, joining the many swathes who left Scotland to seek better lives during the early 20th century. Daniel and Anne were far from the only ones to descend on Glasgow during the 19th and early 20th centuries; the city expanded rapidly as casualties of the Clearances and Irish immigration swelled numbers. Housing became difficult to come by and was often poor and unsanitary when it could be found, with landlords dividing tenements into ever-more squalid homes.

After his father’s death, John worked several part-time jobs in order to continue his education and qualified as a teacher, gaining an MA from the University of Glasgow. He taught in schools in south Glasgow, but his real passions were revealed after the school gates closed – teaching in evening classes to workers, joining and helping to organise left-wing and Marxist groups, writing pamphlets and supporting workers to form trade unions, and fight for better wages and conditions. This was a time of unrest in Scotland. The landmark Singer sewing machine factory strike in 1911 was broken by the authorities but this only intensified workers’ efforts rather than quash them.  But it was MacLean’s opposition to the First World War, which broke out in 1914, which led to his more serious clashes with the authorities, including several periods in prison and the loss of his teaching job.

Rent Strike Poster in 1915, Glasgow. Photo: Glasgow Labor Party Housing Association, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

A 1915 strike at munitions factory Weirs of Cathcart – an unofficial strike as the Defence of the Realm Act had made such industrial action illegal and which was led by shop stewards who were former pupils of MacLean’s – failed but helped to hike tensions. When rents were increased, MacLean helped organise a rent strike by the women of Govan and enlisted the support of the men in the shipyards and factories. As the agitation spread across the city, MacLean was arrested and charged with making statements likely to prejudice recruiting to the wartime military.

His penalty was a short imprisonment, but it also cost him his job at Lorne Street Primary School. In the November of that year, as he worked his notice on his job, 18 men were called to court for refusing to pay their increased rents. MacLean was carried shoulder-high by the crowd to the court where he addressed 10,000 people and called for a general strike if the rent rises went ahead. The alarmed authorities pressed through a Rent Restriction Act.

Famous pioneer of working-class education

Maclean’s trial in 1918. Photo: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1916 he was arrested again and sentenced to three years in prison with hard labour after being found guilty of sedition although he was released after 15 months following mass demonstrations, including a protest by thousands when Prime Minister Lloyd George visited Glasgow. In 1918, following the Russian Revolution of the previous year, MacLean was named the Bolshevik Consul for Scotland by Lenin. Such an appointment was never likely to endear him to the British authorities, which were increasingly alarmed at the prospect of revolt and MacLean was arrested again.

At his trial in May of that year, he gave a 75-minute impassioned speech in defence of his views, coining the term “underclass” and declaring: “I consider capitalism the most infamous, bloody and evil system that mankind has ever witnessed. I wish no harm to any human being, but I, as one man, am going to exercise my freedom of speech. No human being on the face of the earth, no government is going to take from me my right to speak, my right to protest against wrong, my right to do everything that is for the benefit of mankind. I am not here, then, as the accused; I am here as the accuser of capitalism dripping with blood from head to foot,” he told the court. He was sentenced to five years and incarcerated in Peterhead Prison in Aberdeenshire, where he was force fed by tube through hunger strikes, severely affected his health. More mass protests saw him released in December 1918, following the November Armistice, and thousands turned out to welcome him home to Glasgow.

Crowds gather as John MacLean’s coffin is removed from his Pollokshaws home. Photo: Public domain – Wikimedia Commons.

He continued to campaign, but his health deteriorated, and he collapsed while giving a speech in Glasgow in November 1923 – he had given his overcoat away to a destitute Jamaican man. He had to be carried off the open-air platform and died on November 30th from double pneumonia.

The colourful era of the Red Clydesiders became an iconic part of Scotland’s political history but MacLean, one of its leading lights, is less remembered. He was, however, commemorated with a stamp issued by the Soviet Union in 1979 and with a 6ft cairn of granite near his birthplace, which was unveiled in 1973,  50 years after his death. The inscription on it describes him as a “famous pioneer of working-class education” and at the unveiling ceremony poet Hugh MacDiarmid described him as “next to Burns, the greatest ever Scot”.

Main photo: John MacLean in 1918. Photo: Hulton Archive, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Leading branches of Clan Campbell ‘are not related’

Two leading branches of the Clan Campbell have been found to be unrelated to each other in research carried out by Alasdair Macdonald and Graham Holton at the University of Strathclyde. The genealogists at the Strathclyde Institute for Genealogical Studies (SIGS) have identified the genetic profile of the Campbells of Glenorchy, a family descended from Sir Duncan Campbell, 2nd Lord of Glenorchy, who died at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. The research used DNA evidence to conclude that the family dates back to the 13th century and is a separate line to the Campbells of Argyll, whose descent is from the first Lord Campbell, also Sir Duncan Campbell, who died in 1453. The Campbells have one of the largest number of cadet families, descended from the sons of clan chiefs, of any clan in Scotland.

The study is ongoing, and is likely to take some time to develop solid conclusions on the earlier history of the Glenorchy lineage, but the researchers have proposed several possibilities. The study used the Y chromosome, which can only be passed directly down the male line from father to son. Over the last 18 months, testing of several people with four distinct lineages, all descended from the second Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy, has revealed that they are defined by a genetic marker called R-Y33315. This included two lineages that share Sir Duncan Campbell, 1st Baronet (c.1550 – 1631) as their common earliest ancestor and a further two with documented descents from Archibald Campbell, 1st of Glenlyon (c1490 – 1552), who was the younger brother of Sir Colin Campbell, 3rd of Glenorchy (d 1523).

Two major families named Campbell are not genealogically related

Alasdair Macdonald said: “Dating of marker R-Y33315 suggests that the common ancestor of those who carry the marker was born around 1500. Another, smaller branch, defined by the marker R-Y130955, and also carrying the name Campbell, probably branched off a little earlier, with these two branches having a common ancestor defined by the marker R-BY23069 around 1150. The Campbells of Glenorchy and the Campbells of Argyll share a marker called R-L1065, but the common ancestor lived around the 3rd century. To all intents and purposes, these two major families named Campbell are not genealogically related but it is not yet certain why the Campbells of Glenorchy carry a different genetic marker, and so have a different male-line ancestry, from the Campbells of Argyll.  An ancestor of the Campbells of Glenorchy may have adopted the name Campbell out of loyalty in the thirteenth century, but how did one or perhaps more members of this family come to be accepted as sons of Duncan Campbell, the first Lord Campbell?”

Graham Holton said: “It could be that this acceptance happened due to illegitimacy but this might be too simplistic, as the Campbell branch which carries the R-Y 130955 marker shared the same progenitor as the Glenorchys. This line traces back to Kenmore on Loch Fyne but may have moved there earlier from Perthshire. The common ancestor between this branch and the Glenorchys was a man who lived around 1150. This date may be firmed up by further testing of documented descendants, but it is clear that there was a major family named Campbell, genetically different to the Campbells of Argyll, in existence from the earliest days of fixed surnames. The maternal grandmother of the first Lord Campbell was Mariota, the heiress of John of Glenorchy. It’s also possible that he was a Glenorchy Campbell and that a male relative of John of Glenorchy was fostered. Many questions currently remain unanswered but further targeted testing of well-documented male line descendants may provide some answers.”

Anyone who may be able to assist the research project by having a documented descent, or by commenting on the current findings, is invited to contact Graham Holton or Alasdair Macdonald at SIGS. Funding of test kits was provided by the University of Strathclyde, the Clan Campbell DNA Project hosted at and private individuals. An article detailing the initial findings is to be published shortly in West Highland Notes & Queries.

If you have a long documented descent from one of these lines, please contact Graham S Holton and/or Alasdair F Macdonald at the following addresses: [email protected] or [email protected].

Glasgow’s Medieval Marvel

Cathedrals in medieval times were more than just places of worship; they were seats of power and their bishops and clerics were major players in society. They generally held great riches, not least in the form of land. Glasgow Cathedral owned a large swathe of countryside to the north-east of the city. Its senior clerics had a residence called Lochwood, on the shores of the Bishop Loch. They would ride out there for a few days rest and perhaps some fishing or hunting. Or it might be used for meetings on cathedral business. Cathedral lands were used to generate income. Employees managed the lands, farmed them, extracted minerals or did whatever they needed to ensure an income that would keep the cathedral functioning.

Secular ownership

Remarkably, in Provan Hall, a building from that era survives in Glasgow. There was probably a structure there as early as the 13th century; a roof-beam in the current building has been dated to then. However, it dates from rather later, and the veteran roof-beam is an early example of salvage and reuse. Provan Hall and its lands were in the possession of the Prebendary of Barlanark, which held a seat on the chapter of Glasgow Cathedral.

William Turnbull, who later became Bishop of Glasgow, was Prebend from 1440 and it’s thought possible that he started the building of the current Provan Hall, which would have been the base of farming operations. Other sources suggest that the building may date from the 16th century. After the Reformation the building went into secular ownership, first with the Baillie family and then the Hamiltons. In its early days, James IV is said to have spent a night there. So is his granddaughter, Mary Queen of Scots. Of course, there are few buildings of the right age, and some that aren’t, where she isn’t said to have slept. Baillie was an advisor to Mary, so perhaps the story isn’t too far-fetched.


The City of Glasgow purchased Provan Hall in 1677 from Sir Robert Hamilton (whose family crest is still visible above the gateway that leads into the courtyard) but sold it again in 1788 to Dr John Buchanan, something of a mystery figure, who may have made his fortune on the Jamaican plantations. As such, today we’d regard his money as somewhat tainted. The house passed through a succession of owners, including in the 1840s one Reston Mathers who is remembered as a celebrated breeder of Scotland’s national horse, the Clydesdale.

The last of the Mathers family left the building to their housekeeper Mary Holmes. She, along with Dreda Boyd, a local author and historian, raised funds to preserve the building when it was threatened by subsidence from coal mining and quarrying. Mary lived in the house until the 1950s, after having passed it to the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) in 1938. The NTS worked in partnership with the city authorities in Glasgow to present the building to the public. So, in a way, the city got back the building it had owned for a century many years earlier.

RMS Titanic

A succession of caretakers and custodians looked after Provan Hall, beginning with Mary Holmes herself. In the 1950s, Harold Bride took over. You may have heard the name, especially if you are interested in the tragic RMS Titanic. Bride had been the wireless operator on the ship. It’s been suggested that without the new invention of wireless radio, and Bride operating the system, there might have been no survivors of the Titanic. He served in the Royal Navy during the First World War and then moved to Scotland to work as a pharmaceutical representative and spent the rest of his life here. Sadly, his tenure as live-in caretaker didn’t last long as he died in April 1956. What a thrill it must have been to have been shown round Provan Hall by one of the heroes of the Titanic tragedy!

By the 1950s and 1960s, Provan Hall was set in an urban green space, Auchinlea Park, and was being surrounded by development as the housing estate of Easterhouse took shape. The main building has been much altered over the years but still forms one side of a courtyard entered by the impressive gateway. The building opposite probably dates from the 18th century. The fourth side of the courtyard opens onto the gardens. Glasgow City Council recently refurbished the buildings and gardens, and they now look tremendous. Day-to-day running is in the hands of the Provan Hall Community Management Trust who have a team of volunteers to look after visitors while the building is open to the public (usually Thursday to Sunday). There are displays in the original building; the kitchens are especially impressive, and I especially like how they have devoted the ground-floor space in the tower as a place for quiet reflection. The other building houses a shop and visitor centre, which also informs the public about the nearby Seven Lochs Wetland Park.

Provan Hall is close to another, very different, kind of attraction, The Fort Retail Park. While this sprawling facility is much less lovely than Provan Hall, it does at least mean that there are frequent buses from the city centre, and plenty of food and coffee venues once you have visited the house. Provan Hall is quite possibly Glasgow’s undiscovered gem. Hop on a bus to The Fort and find out for yourself.

Words and images by: David McVey.

The Tasmanian Highlands Gathering

There’s a new Highland Gathering in Tasmania and yes, it’s being held in the central highlands of Tasmania where it should be. Many of the early Scots who came to Tasmania in the 1800’s gravitated to the Central Highlands because it reminded them of home. There was a soft launch earlier this year and it proved so successful that it’s now going to be an annual event held each year on the last weekend of February. The concept for a Scots/Celtic gathering in the Highlands of Tasmania came about when three MacGregors of ‘good repute’ got together over dinner to discuss ideas on how they could get kinfolk back into the highlands to recognise and acknowledge the input early Scottish immigrants (and possibly some Irish and Scottish convicts) had in the formation of Tasmania.

James Johns, Frank McGregor and Charles Wooley.

These three likeminded Highlanders who share a passion for music, haggis and a wee drop of that pure and distinctive amber liquid, whisky, agreed that a highland festival was the best solution to replace the annual Richmond Highland Gathering which has sadly folded. When we say MacGregors of good repute, it is tongue in cheek because anyone with a knowledge of Scottish clan history is well aware that Clan Gregor were known as a fierce and warlike clan. However, these three MacGregors who all happen to be members of the Clan Gregor Society will welcome you to the highlands with open arms. James and Andrea Johns are the owners of Miena’s Great Lake Hotel and are the generous hosts of the festival. Charles Wooley is a veteran print and TV journalist best known for his role with 60 Minutes Australia and Frank McGregor is the High Commissioner for Clan Gregor Australia and the Tasmanian Honorary Consul for the United Kingdom.


Then with a clink of glasses and a resounding toast of “Slainte” from these three gentlemen, an idea was born. Did we mention music? There will be music all weekend from Friday night through to Sunday by musicians from Tasmania and interstate. The Tasmanian Highlands Gathering committee is also delighted to announce that a huge drawcard for people who appreciate great musicians will be excited to know that renowned Scottish accordion player and piper David Vernon is flying in from Scotland to perform at the Gala dinner being held on the Saturday night. David is the accordionist in the popular “Spirit of Scotland Show” (Edinburgh’s premier traditional Scottish show), which averages over 250 performances per year.

So, if you are interested in spending a weekend in the Great Lake area of Tasmania known for its natural environment and you enjoy Celtic music, whisky tasting, gourmet Scottish food and scran, pipe bands, fly fishing, hickory golf, dancing, tall tales, kinship and a chance to don your tartan, then attending the Tasmanian Highlands Gathering is the place for you.

This festival weekend in Miena Tasmania is 23-25 February 2024. Please follow the Tasmanian Highlands Gathering Facebook page or email [email protected] for more information.

Falkirk FC launch Heritage Kit for the 2023/24 season

Falkirk Football Club are pleased to announce the launch of their new Heritage Kit for season 2023/24, which is the first in a series which will pay homage to people, events or landmarks strongly connected with Falkirk and Falkirk District, as they look ahead to their 150th anniversary in season 2026-27. This season the striking yellow and dark blue design features the embattled motif from Falkirk’s coat of arms on its front. This is based on the original Livingston of Callendar crest, with the embattlement feature later added to signify the Antonine Wall which runs through the town.

Sir John de Graeme

The rear commemorates the life and death of one of Falkirk District’s most famous sons, Sir John de Graeme/Graham. Born in the 13th century at Dundaff Castle, John de Graeme was considered to be William Wallace’s right-hand man, fighting at Stirling Bridge and losing his life at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298. 2023 marks the 725th anniversary of the battle and the back of the strip features the lion rampant, 1298 and the Graeme coat of arms which adorns Sir John’s tomb in the graveyard of Falkirk Old Parish, the site of the original ‘speckled church’ from which Falkirk derives its name.

Wallace was said to be distraught at his friend’s death, and the top is signed off with a line from Blind Harry’s epic 15th century poem The Wallace in which he describes the outpouring of grief from all of the local townsfolk who attended Sir John’s funeral. Today, the name of Sir John de Graeme/Graham lives on in Falkirk in the Grahamston District, Grahamston Train Station and Graham’s Road, as well as the Graeme Hotel and Graeme High School whose badge also carries the clam shell motifs from the Graham coat of arms.

As a mark of respect the third strip will remain sponsor free and a share of profits from all match-worn and replica sales will be donated to charity. Dundaff Castle lies at the head of the Carron Valley so, in memory of Sir John de Graeme, Strathcarron Hospice has been chosen as the beneficiary for this season.

The club also wishes to express its deep gratitude to The Society of John Graeme for their help and support with the launch of the kit.

For more information on Falkirk FC see:, or to learn more about Sir John de Graeme or The Society of John Graeme: or

Scotland a Winter Wonderland

As the days get shorter and the nights extend, Scotland becomes a winter wonderland and a feast for the senses with celebrations, light shows and magic. Scotland transforms in the winter months and a winter walk is the perfect way to make the most of the short, crisp days, watching as landscapes sparkle in the ethereal light and distant hills are capped with snow.

There’s nothing better than wrapping up warm and getting outside, especially knowing that the reward for a day well spent embracing the elements is warming up by the fire with a hot chocolate, or a wee dram, as part of a winter break in Scotland. If this sounds like the perfect match, then Scotland is the place to be as winter begins to call. So, coorie in and find out where the magic is happening this winter!

There ain’t no party like a Scotland party

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Torchlight Procession. Photo: Ian Georgeson.

Winter is not a time for hibernation, it’s a moment for celebration! Kicking off the festivities is St Andrew’s Day on 30th November. Celebrating Scotland’s patron saint is a great reason to put on a playlist of top Scottish tunes, get some haggis on the go and be inspired for future travels to Scotland.  For those in Scotland on this day, this year, Blazin’ Fiddles will be setting toes tapping at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh and Mharsanta in Glasgow will be hosting an evening of traditional Scottish food and drink.

Looking ahead to all that awaits in the New Year, Scotland’s cities hold festivals and events throughout December, culminating in Hogmanay. At times like this, it seems as though the whole country is celebrating together with whisky, fireworks and ceilidh dancing. This year, Edinburgh’s four-day Hogmanay celebrations will kick off with the return of the Torchlight Procession which will blaze a trail through the capital’s Old Town for the first time since 2019. On Saturday 31 December, the tranquil Candlelit Concert at St Giles’ Cathedral provides a festive celebration featuring stunning music for brass, choir and organ.

New for 2023 Edinburgh’s Hogmanay introduces First Footin’, an afternoon of free live music and performance taking place across the Old and New Towns in some of Edinburgh’s landmark attractions, incredible venues and independent pubs including Cold Town House, Greyfriars Hall at Virgin Hotels Edinburgh, Rose Theatre and The Auld Hundred in Rose Street, the Grassmarket’s Black Bull and The Huxley in the West End. First Footin’ audiences can explore the city enjoying Hogmanay traditions of friendship, food and drink along with live music.

Beyond the cities, the party atmosphere spreads far and wide. Those venturing to Aberdeenshire can discover one of the oldest New Year celebrations in the world… The Stonehaven Fireballs. It doesn’t all end there; the festive spirit continues throughout the season with the Up Helly Aa Fire Festivals across Shetland (Jan-Mar), and on Burns Night, visitors can enjoy birthday celebrations for Robert Burns. Also in January, Celtic Connections, the city’s annual folk, roots and world music festival, comes to Glasgow – Scotland’s UNESCO City of Music.

Bright Lights

Castle of Light: Magic and Mystery.

The winter nights come to life across Scotland thanks to a variety of light trails and installations; the dark skies become dazzling spectacles transforming some the country’s most beloved attractions in unexpected ways.

Castle of Light: Magic and Mystery, Edinburgh Castle-Returning to transform the city’s skyline for a fourth fantastic year, Castle of Light promises to bring even more unmissable moments to Edinburgh Castle as the iconic landmark is illuminated with extraordinary light and sounds displays through much of December and into January. An enchanting experience for all ages, guests can uncover the secrets of Scotland’s past in the unique after-dark walking trail as a tapestry of all-new storytelling projections dance across the castle walls telling tales of magic, mystery and spectacular sorcery.

Monteviot Winter Light Trail, Jedburgh-Monteviot House and Gardens, near Jedburgh, will host its inaugural winter light trail, Monteviot Lights, until 10th December. The trail will shine a light on the beauty of the Scottish Borders as visitors embark on a captivating outdoor illuminated journey in Monteviot House’s spectacular gardens.

Winter Essentials

Glasgow’s Christmas festivities. Photo: Glasgow Life.

It wouldn’t be the festive season without a few seasonal essentials… Think meeting Santa, Christmas Markets and seeing a reindeer or two! Roaming freely since 1952, The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd is Britain’s only free-ranging herd of reindeer with daily hill trips to see the reindeers up close.

Glasgow’s Christmas festivities -George Square will see the city’s festivities throughout December, as well as the Christmas Lights Switch On in late-November. As the event which kicks off the countdown to Christmas in Glasgow, a series of traditional festivities will follow. Among the family favourites are the Blessing of the Crib in George Square, the Style Mile Christmas Carnival and Baby’s First Christmas. St Enoch Square will be hosting The Christmas Fair where little ones can enjoy rides including The Blizzard and Santa’s runaway train. George Square will also be taking part in all the festive fun with its own Christmas Fair which will feature various attractions including an ice rink.  The much-loved Glasgow Santa Dash takes place on Sunday 10 December, giving participants a chance to raise funds for the Beatson Cancer Charity and the Lord Provost’s Charity Fund.

Tis the season of giving! Drop by one of Scotland’s eight cities for a spot of festive shopping. Think artisanal gifts from Perth, the UK’s first City of Craft. Pick up a tartan gift celebrating V&A Dundee’s landmark exhibition Tartan which runs to January 2024. Get historical in Dunfermline, Scotland’s former capital and go local in Stirling, exploring the Victorian shopping mall filled with independent retailers. Across Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen there’s a great mix of brands and local businesses to discover where shoppers can pick up the perfect gift of Scotland.

Head to a magical winter wonderland at Dundee’s WinterFest @ Slessor Gardens. Have fun at the vintage funfair, enjoy views over the city’s skyline on the Big Wheel and finish off with the Bavarian bar for some festive drinks or opt to dawn some ice skates and make the most of the open-air WinterFest ice-rink. Braemar’s Festival de Noël, featuring family events, 40 market stalls, Christmas concert and workshops. The Deeside village will be transformed into a winter wonderland with a Santa train, horse and carriage rides, wreath making and a host of workshops, including photography and chocolate and beer tasting with local producers. Sunday is market day, with over 40 food, drink and craft stalls spread over three venues — with free carriage rides to take shoppers from A to B as they are serenaded by carol singers, pipers piping and a brass band. Festival de Noel will take place from Friday 8th – Sunday 10th December 2023.

Get cosy and coorie in

The Wallace Monument in Stirling. Photo: TravMedia/VisitScotland.

Ross Bay Retreats, Dumfries & Galloway-Situated in the UNESCO Galloway & Southern Ayrshire Biosphere – a world class environment for people and nature and fifteen minutes away from the lively fishing port Kirkcudbright – ‘The Artists’ Town’, get set to be greeted with a homemade welcome cake upon arrival at one of these cosy coastal cottages overlooking Ross Bay. Featuring stunning scenery and sea views, guests can roam across the working farm (with the option to meet some of the animals) or opt to explore the acres of forest and coastline. Four legged friends are welcome, with pooches receiving a welcome pack of their very own.

Loch Katrine Eco Lodges, Stirling-Choose from 10 lochside lodges in one of the most beautiful parts of The Trossachs overlooking Loch Katrine and Ben Venue. Located seven miles from Callander and five miles from Aberfoyle, this eco camp is the perfect base to get away from it all but still be within a short drive to bustling tourist hubs. Walk, cycle and explore the beauty of this exceptional place, part of one of Britain’s largest National Nature Reserves. Set sail onto Loch Katrine and make the most of the festive celebrations on board including Santa sailings (over 11 days in December) on Lady of the Lake and in the Steamship Café, or opt for a New Year sail on 1st and 2nd January on the restored Steamship Sir Walter Scott (providing an hour long sail with a traditional Scottish band playing on board, a New Year welcome drink and shortbread).

Highland Coast Hotels, North Coast 500-Highland Coast Hotels brings together a collection of unique hotels on the North Coast 500. This winter, guests can embark on an adventure like no other, exploring three stunning coasts thanks to the East Meets West itinerary package. It’s the perfect way to be immersed in the local culture, explore hidden gems and tuck into seasonal produce at different properties along the route with a luxury winter lunch picnic.

Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder-Scotland’s own Glorious Playground comes alive at Christmas, with decorations designed to evoke the wintry scenery of the surrounding Perthshire countryside. The hotel will be transformed into a magical wonderland and a whole range of family friendly activities.  From brisk trail walks, and outdoor adventures by day, to roaring log fires and decadent dining by night, there is something for everyone at Gleneagles.

Glenapp Castle, Ayrshire-Glenapp Castle, set on the stunning Ayrshire coast, is the perfect retreat to enjoy long scenic walks on a crisp winter day, whether that be throughout the estate or along the stunning Ayrshire Coastal Path. Choose to unwind with a relaxing in-suite massage, or warm up at the private members coastal spa nearby. Those looking for something more active can choose from Glenapp’s unique Glenapp activity programme, which offers over 70 different amazing activities and experiences both on and off-site, including axe-throwing, archery, hiking, mountain biking, cookery lessons, and more. After a day of exploring, tuck into a wonderful dining experience with a three-course gourmet dinner, offering mouth-watering canapes and handmade petit fours at the award-winning, three AA rosette dining room.

Main and cover photo: Winter magic at Glenmore Forest Park, Cairngorms National Park. Photo: VisitScotland/Kenny Lam.

The inauguration of the Celtic Nations Monument

Nestled in amongst the iconic Brisbane River, the venerable Wesley Hospital and popular Auchenflower Stadium, the historical Moorelands Park, Brisbane proved to be a truly ideal setting in not only installing the Celtic Stones Monument as a tribute to all Celtic Nations but also the ideal venue for a day of dedication and celebration of all that is Celtic. Billowing clouds occasionally swept across the sky during the ceremony but the dark clouds, breezy conditions or threatening horizons couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm and celebration of the day.

Celtic stones

Sunday the 8th of October 2023 will forever be recorded in Brisbane history as the date of the Celtic Council of Australia’s (Queensland) Inc. (CCAQ) Inauguration of the Celtic Nations Monument. Much preparation had gone into the setting up of the site with the grounds ringed by a row of tents representing a number of Celtic organisations, the undercover seating, the stage and of course the Standing Stones. In connecting Brisbane with the Celtic nations, what better way to acknowledge that ancient Northern tradition with a Southern Hemisphere nuance. As a result, the Brisbane Celtic Stones are configured in the shape of the Southern Cross. A truly local touch to the Celtic past. After the Ceremony, a splendid free concert was then provided by representatives of all the various Celtic nations.

What are Celtic Stones? The concept is ancient, and their true origins are clouded in the mists of time. However, research has discovered Celts raised the stones to commemorate a notable event, in identifying the seasons to assist in the sowing and harvesting of crops but most importantly as the principal venue for Celts to gather in celebration.

For more information on the Celtic Council of Australia (QLD)  see:

The 2024 Tallahassee Highland Games

Over 12 years ago, Tallahassee saw what was expected to be its last Highland Games. But in 2023, a new organization, May & Fain Cultural & Sports, took up the mantle and revived the Games under their nonprofit. The event was massively successful, boasting a guest turnout of 7,000 guests in spite of torrential rains, 45 athletes, Heavy Athletics, Stones of Strength, 2 stages hosting music and dance, and an abundance of vendors and food! This coming year, The Tallahassee Highland Games will be held February 3-4, 2024, in Tallahassee, Florida. May & Fain Cultural & Sports is absolutely thrilled to invite all Scots from around the globe to attend and/or participate in this event!

Active support for revival of Scottish heritage

The joy of Celtic music.

After an enormously successful first year, 2024 projections are exponential, with an expected 18,000+ attendees for the event. The Games will be held at Apalachee Regional Park, boasting 90 cleared acres of space and providing ample room for growth. May & Fain is taking great care to provide the best support possible for Scottish heritage and strength activities – both in 2024 and future years.  For Athletics, a $4,000 Prize & Scholarship pot is available for our events. We are proudly hosting the International Highland Games Federation United States Caber Toss Championships as part of our Heavy Athletics Competition. Stones of Strength will be featured, including events honoring Tallahassee’s Bicentennial Celebration. Lastly, we are hosting multiple World Record Breaker attempts!

The feats of the Heavy Events.

Clans are receiving special care and support in 2024, where our 18,000+ attendees will provide ample opportunity to reconnect with friends and recruit new members. All clans and nonprofit heritage organizations are granted FREE entrance to our event. To support accessibility, volunteer assistance is available to help with the setup of clan tents and displays. Additionally, clans will be placed near the Athletics Field with a clear view of the action. We are also offering time on-stage to present Historical and/or Heritage Talks, including Clan History.

To help “bridge the gap” between generations, we are seeking new ways to engage younger guests with Clans. To this end, we are hosting several optional Clan Competitions this year: Best Whisky, Best Clan Presence, and Best Kids’ Activity. What is “Clan Presence”? It’s not the number of representatives – it’s the richness of tent displays and hospitality.

The Earl and Countess of Caithness

The 2024 Tallahassee Highland Games welcomes the Chief of Clan Sinclair and his wife, the Rt. Hon. The Earl and Countess of Caithness, all the way from Scotland as they host their Annual General Meeting at our Games. Clan Sinclair is our 2024 Honored Clan, and we hope this launches into a tradition for these Games. Their presence underscores the significance of Clan Sinclair within the Scottish diaspora and promises to make our event even more memorable.

Entertainment will feature three stages, including traditional and modern Scottish music, pipe bands, dancing, a beard competition, historical talks, and more. Additional activities include on-site whisky tasting, heritage demonstrations including falconry, blacksmithing, archery, and historical martial arts, and an on-site Saturday evening Cèilidh and Sunday morning Kirkin’.

Where do the proceeds go?

Highland dance displays.

May & Fain Cultural & Sports is dedicated to the promotion and preservation of strength sports and the cultures surrounding them. In addition to the Tallahassee Highland Games, May & Fain promotes, hosts, and donates to a plethora of other events and activities. In 2023, we provided over $2,500 in donations and support for Scottish & Irish Dance Schools, and we assisted one school in hosting a cèilidh fundraising event. An additional $1,000+ was donated to local Music Groups. We have assisted with the revitalization of several local music groups, and promoted our local St. Andrew’s Society with notable success. In coming years, we hope to see an increase in these numbers as we build our organization.

For Heavy Athletics, May & Fain successfully launched what is affectionately dubbed “Team Tallahassee” – a volunteer group offering weekly training in Highland athletics at no cost! This includes the efforts of several professional-grade Highland athletes generously donating their time and expertise to increase access to Scottish strength heritage, and a plethora of equipment provided by our nonprofit. May & Fain actively works with the Special Olympics powerlifting team to provide support and hopefully assist with hosting a local meet.

Last year, we featured Broken Caber at our event – an organization assisting Adaptive Athletes (those missing limbs, suffering neurological disorders, etc.) in training and participation in Highland Games globally. We have an active relationship with other nonprofits as well, including the St. Andrew’s Society of Tallahassee, North Florida Facial Hair Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, and more. Our long-term goals are to host diverse and accessible events highlighting Strength and Heritage, such as the Highland Games. While we are building our Highland Games and Strongman events (including the America’s Strongest State Championship), we hope to expand into other athletic and heritage areas as well. Slàinte Mhath, and we hope to see you there!

To learn more about the 2024 Tallahassee Highland Games, purchase tickets, or donate, please visit: If you would like to participate as a clan representative, athlete, vendor, or volunteer, please reach out at: [email protected].

Text by: Ryan May, Tallahassee Highland Games Organizer, President: May & Fain Cultural & Sports.

Winner of the 150th Glenfiddich Piping Championship crowned at Blair Castle

The overall winner of the prestigious Glenfiddich Piping Championship 2023 has been named as Callum Beaumont, as the event celebrates five decades of sensational piping. The prestigious Championship, which was first held in 1974, was founded by Sandy Grant Gordon of William Grant and Sons, and Seumas MacNeill who was Principal of the College of Piping at the time. It was established to inspire the world’s finest exponents of Ceòl Mòr or Piobaireachd (the great music) and Ceòl Beag or light music (the little music). Run by The National Piping Centre, the world centre for excellence in bagpipe music, and funded through the William Grant Foundation, the event is held annually in Perthshire. Callum Beaumont went up against nine of the world’s greatest solo players at the landmark 50th edition of the annual competition at Blair Castle last night to claim the title, his first time lifting the trophy.

Finlay Johnston was crowned runner-up and Alex Gandy was third overall. Callum Beaumont was also named the Piobaireachd winner, and the March, Strathspey and Reel (MSR) competition winner was Alex Gandy. The recipient of this year’s Balvenie Medal, which is awarded annually for services to piping, was Roderick J MacLeod MBE. The five-time Glenfiddich Champion was nominated for the award by his peers for his huge contribution to the world of piping through his solo, pipe band and professional career.  The Championship played out in front of a packed live audience in Blair Castle’s Victorian Ballroom, with advance tickets having sold out well ahead of the event, as well as hundreds of spectators from around the world watching the competition online.

Legacy of great pipers

Callum Beaumont.

Overall winner Callum Beaumont said: “I’m honoured to be taking home the Glenfiddich trophy today. It was fantastic to be part of the 50th edition of the Championship competing against such incredible pipers – everyone gave it their all so it means a lot to be the overall winner, and to join the legacy of great pipers who have received this honour in the past five decades.”

The National Piping Centre’s Director of Piping, Finlay MacDonald, said: “It was fantastic to have ten of the world’s best pipers competing here at Blair Castle for this special edition of the Glenfiddich Piping Championship. The Championship is the peak of all solo piping competitions, representing the very best in piping talent from around the world. It was a tough competition, with some incredible performances, so congratulations to our winners and runners up this year and a big thank you to everyone who came along to watch or tuned in online, and anyone who has supported the Championship over the past 50 years.”

This year’s competitors were once again chosen from the list of qualifying events, with Willie McCallum the Overall Winner of the 2022 Glenfiddich Piping Championship. Callum Beaumont won The Clasp for Senior Piobaireachd and the Former Winners MSR at the Northern Meeting, where Innes Smith was the Gold Medal Winner and Finlay Johnston took second in the Former Winners’ March, Strathspey and Reel. Angus MacColl was the Senior Piobaireachd winner at the Argyllshire Gathering, with Alex Gandy winning the Former Winners’ March, Strathspey and Reel, Alasdair Henderson taking the gold medal and Jack Lee taking second place in the Former Winners’ March, Strathspey and Reel at the same event. At the Scottish Pipers’ Society of London Competition, Fred Morrison was named the Overall Champion, while Bruce Gandy was awarded the Bratach Gorm, as well winning the Piping Live! Masters Solo Piping Competition overall prize.

Images courtesy of Derek Maxwell.

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