Amateur Archaeologists shine a light on 10,000 years of Dumfries & Galloway’s history

Participants in a community archaeology project have made discoveries that tell a story of people living on what is now the Threave Estate near Castle Douglas, 10,000 years ago in the Mesolithic period, a time when hunter-gatherers roamed and Scotland’s flora and fauna were flourishing again following the last Ice Age. The Galloway Glens community archaeology project Can You Dig It carried out a ten-day dig on the National Trust for Scotland’s Threave Garden and Estate in the summer of 2019. They unearthed many finds at the time, including a lead shot from the 16th to 18th century and some flints from the late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age.

Mesolithic period

Can You Dig It volunteers enjoying their work at Threave in 2019.

However, since then, some of the carbonised material recovered has been sent away for radiocarbon dating at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC), and the dates they have revealed are fascinating.  It has long been known that Little Wood Hill on the National Trust for Scotland’s Threave Estate is the location of a significant archaeological site, with the remains of a D-shaped enclosure on top of the hill first recognised on aerial photographs taken in the late 1940s.

It wasn’t until work carried out under Derek Alexander, Head of Archaeology for the National Trust for Scotland, on a Thistle Camp in 2014 that the enclosure was revealed to date back to the Iron Age. The Can You Dig It excavation sought to build on this work, while at the same time transferring key technical skills to volunteers.  A sample recovered by the volunteers from the end of the ditch, where it marked the eastern side of an entranceway, has now been dated to between AD 75 to 214 – firmly within the Iron Age. This confirms the date recovered by the Thistle Camp, which has been recalibrated using the most recent program (IntCal20) to between 41 BC and AD 125.

What our Iron Age ancestors would have used the enclosure for is still a mystery – it may have been a small farmstead, a livestock enclosure or a defensive position within the landscape. Whatever the site’s purpose, its expansive views over the flatlands of the Threave Estate, and its links to the outer world guaranteed by the passing river, makes the site of Little Wood Hill an excellent choice for any Iron Age settler. However, the Can You Dig It volunteers also unearthed a tiny burnt hazelnut shell. This has been dated to between 8,547 and 8,312 BC – evidence of human activity on the Threave Estate from the Mesolithic period.

Derek Alexander, Head of Archaeology for the National Trust for Scotland, said: “Over the years we have gradually built up an understanding of past human activity at Threave throughout prehistory and history. This radiocarbon date for Mesolithic activity is really exciting, as it is the first evidence we have from this time and is the earliest date recovered at Threave so far. It’s great that the Thistle Camp and Can You Dig It volunteers have been able to be part of this process of delivery too.”

Loch Lomond Stadial

Discovered on prehistoric sites across the country, hazelnuts have long been established as a favourite snack of the Mesolithic people. The people of Galloway at that time would have lived nomadically, moving between water and food sources as they became available.

Traces of human habitation within Scotland go back to around 12,000 BC, within the Upper Palaeolithic, but a period known as the ‘Loch Lomond Stadial’ saw a dramatic climatic downturn in Scotland around 10,900 BC. This abrupt return to severe cold conditions, which caused the regrowth of glaciers and likely caused a complete depopulation of Scotland during this time.  By around 9,700 BC, however, the glaciers and ice-sheets had receded and human life began to return to Scotland.  It is possible that the people who burnt this nutshell at Threave could have been amongst the first to re-populate the country.

Claire Williamson of Rathmell Archaeology, who is delivering Can You Dig It for the Galloway Glens said: “The results from these two dates continue to add to the surprises that have already come from this little-known site. Having the Iron Age date of the enclosure confirmed was what we were hoping for, but to also have this small indication of Mesolithic life on the estate is amazing. This could not have been possible without the hard work of the volunteers, who’s enthusiasm for the archaeology never faltered, even in high winds! It’s great to see how, even at this stage, the results of their hard work continue to add to our archaeological knowledge of the area.”

Can You Dig It is managed by Helen Keron, the Galloway Glens Education & Community Engagement Officer. Helen added: “Even as a non-archaeologist, the importance of these finds is clear to me. They show the unbroken line from our modern society right back to the very beginnings of human residence in Galloway. Even the tiniest traces give us an insight into how life was for our ancestors, and that’s a big part of what Can You Dig It is all about.”

Dr Samuel Gallacher, Operations Manager for the National Trust for Scotland’s Threave Garden and Estate, said: “We love to surprise our many visitors with unexpected discoveries and stories at Threave and finding out about this new evidence of our very ancient history will no doubt fascinate many.  We always want to inspire people with the thought of what is still out there to be discovered, and with such great partnerships as we have with the Galloway Glens Scheme’s Can You Dig It initiative, who knows what we’ll unearth next!”

Former Cold War Bunker in Edinburgh gets A Listed

A former RAF Caledonian Sector Operations Centre at Barnton Quarry has been awarded Category-A listed building status by Historic Environment Scotland (HES). The site was nominated by The Barnton Quarry Restoration Project, a community group involved in restoring the building as a unique piece of cold war history in the heart of Edinburgh. Category-A listed building status is awarded to buildings of special architectural or historical interest which are outstanding examples of a particular period, style or building type.

The buildings are a well-preserved physical reminder of two significant global periods of conflict that helped define the 20th century (World War II and the Cold War), and in both cases many of their contemporary related structures have been either heavily altered or demolished, further adding to the significance of these surviving examples. The site was highly fortified by design with 10ft (3m) thick concrete walls and roof to provide protection for the occupants against Soviet fighter-bomber attack.

Philp Robertson, Deputy Head of Designations at Historic Environment Scotland (HES) said: “We are delighted to list the Cold War Rotor Radar System bunker in Barnton after the nomination by The Barnton Quarry Restoration Project, the local community group restoring the building. Listing at Category A recognises the special architectural and historic interest of this building. As one of only four purpose-built radar system headquarters of its type in the UK, the Barnton building is a very rare survival from the Cold War.”

Eden Project signs agreement for preferred Dundee site

The Eden Project has signed a memorandum of understanding with the owners of its preferred site for Eden Project Dundee and released the first image of how it might look. The agreement between Eden, National Grid and SGN will kick off a period in which the partners will explore the practicalities of converting the former Dundee Gasworks on East Dock Street into the Eden Project’s home in Scotland.

The site is set back from the Dundee waterfront on the bank of the River Tay. It has good public transport links, the potential for a new pedestrian connection to the city centre and is less than a mile away from V&A Dundee and the train station.

The existing tall brick walls on the site suggested to the Eden team the potential to create walled gardens, making for a striking contrast to the industrial heritage of the Gasworks. Eden envisages this as a powerful symbol of regeneration, echoing the project’s home in Cornwall which is located in a former clay quarry. Building Eden Project Dundee in this location would also provide an eastern anchor for the Dundee Waterfront regeneration project. Eden Project Dundee will draw on the history of the city’s Nine Incorporated Trades and is themed around nine new “Guilds” – of Healers, Growers, Navigators, Myth-Makers, Noticers, Alchemists, Celebrators, Menders and “Re-Sourcerors”.

Scottish home

David Harland, Eden Project International Chief Executive, said: “This is a really exciting moment for the Eden Project and the City of Dundee. The former Dundee Gasworks site is by far the best location for our Scottish home and we’re delighted to have a formal agreement in place to start working on a detailed plan. The feasibility study was like nothing we’ve ever worked on before, coming as it did during lockdown. Against all the odds, the hard work and dedication of our partners in Dundee shone through – even when we could only talk to them through a computer screen, their passion for the project, their city and country was palpable. Alongside the generous engagement of local businesses and community groups, this has come together, such that we now have a project with genuine air under its wings.”

Eden Project Dundee is one of a sisterhood of UK projects Eden Project International is developing, with plans well advanced for Morecambe (Eden Project North), and others proposed in Derry/Londonderry and Portland. Eden’s global portfolio of projects includes developments in China, Australia, New Zealand and Costa Rica.

Like every Eden Project around the world, Eden Project Dundee will be transformational and regenerative with an overarching theme of humanity’s connection to the natural world. Eden predicts that the project will create 200 jobs (with an additional 300 indirectly created) and contribute £27m per year to the regional economy.

Greenbank-A place of different daffodils

By: David McVey

The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) owns and preserves many tracts of Scottish countryside, both large and small. Some of these properties are spectacular mountain landscapes – in Glencoe, Kintail or Galloway, say – while others are smaller parcels of land close to, or even in, our great cities. One of these is Greenbank Garden in Glasgow’s Southside, near the district of Clarkston.

Now a cherished green space for the city, Greenbank’s surroundings were once entirely rural. Greenbank House was built in the 1760s by Robert Allason, a merchant from a local farming dynasty. Records show that the 16-room house was complete by 1772, the walled garden to the south dates from the same time. It’s now the feature of the site for visitors but was originally intended purely for fruit trees. A wider estate of farms and woodland enfolded Greenbank deeply in the countryside.

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Prehistoric animal carvings discovered for the first time in Scotland

Prehistoric animal carvings, thought to be between 4,000 and 5,000-years-old, have been discovered for the first time in Scotland hidden inside Dunchraigaig Cairn in Kilmartin Glen, Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has announced. The carvings, thought to date to the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age, include depictions of two male red deer, which are considered to have been the largest deer species in Scotland during this time. Full-grown antlers can be seen on both animals, while anatomical detail including a short tail can be seen on one. Three other quadrupeds are also visible, two of which are thought to be juvenile deer. Valuable as sources of meat, hides, and with bones and antlers used for a variety of tools, deer would have been very important to local communities during the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. These are the earliest known animal carvings in Scotland, and the first clear examples of deer carvings from the Neolithic to Early Bronze Age in the whole of the UK.

Neolithic and Bronze Age remains

Dr Tertia Barnett, Principal Investigator for Scotland’s Rock Art Project.

The carvings were discovered by chance by Hamish Fenton, who has a background in archaeology, while visiting Kilmartin Glen. The carvings are located inside Dunchraigaig Cairn on the capstone of an Early Bronze Age burial cist. Kilmartin Glen has one of the most important concentration of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in mainland Scotland, including some of the finest cup and ring markings in the country. This is the first time that animal carvings of this date have been discovered in an area with cup and ring markings in the UK. There are over 3,000 prehistoric carved rocks in Scotland. The vast majority are cup and ring markings which are abstract motifs created by striking the rock surface with a stone tool, such as a large river-washed pebble. Most commonly, cup and ring markings are composed of a central cup mark surrounded by pecked concentric circles. While many of these mysterious carvings can still be seen in the open landscape today, we know little about how they were used, or what purpose they served.

Dr Tertia Barnett, Principal Investigator for Scotland’s Rock Art Project at HES, said: “It was previously thought that prehistoric animal carvings of this date didn’t exist in Scotland, although they are known in parts of Europe, so it is very exciting that they have now been discovered here for the first time in the historic Kilmartin Glen. This extremely rare discovery completely changes the assumption that prehistoric rock art in Britain was mainly geometric and non-figurative. While there are a few prehistoric carvings of deer in the UK, the only other ones created in the Early Bronze Age are very schematic. It is remarkable that these carvings in Dunchraigaig Cairn show such great anatomical detail and there is no doubt about which animal species they represent. This also tells us that the local communities were carving animals as well as cup and ring motifs which is in keeping with what we know of other Neolithic and Bronze Age societies, particularly in Scandinavia and Iberia. Until now, we did not know of any area in Britain with both types of carvings, which poses questions about the relationship between them and their significance to the people that created them.”

Following Hamish’s discovery, experts from Scotland’s Rock Art Project examined the carvings to confirm their authenticity. This included utilizing innovative technology in their analysis. A structured light scan was carried out by HES digital documentation experts to create an accurate and detailed 3D model with photographic texture, and various visualisation techniques were then applied to the model in order to reveal more details of the carvings than would have been visible to the naked eye.

Helping to reshape our understanding of the past

Dr Barnett added: “Digital techniques are being used more and more frequently to create precise 3D models of rock art and reveal details that were previously unknown to us, or that we only suspected. This also means that we are able to make rock art in Scotland more accessible than ever before. As part of Scotland’s Rock Art Project, we have created over 1,000 3D models of prehistoric rock art which are now available online for people to explore. Digital technology is becoming increasingly important for archaeology, and particularly for rock art, and is a key to unlocking the hidden secrets of our past. This incredible discovery in Dunchraigaig Cairn makes us wonder if other animal carvings previously unknown to the UK are hidden in unexpected places in our ancient landscapes, waiting to be uncovered in the future.”

The Cairn, which is a Property in Care of HES, is 30m wide and contained three stone burial chambers, or cists. The third cist, where the carvings are located, was dug directly into the ground, lined with drystone cobbled walls and capped with an unusually large stone over 3.5m long. The remains of up to 10 individuals, some cremated, were also discovered here when the site was initially excavated in the 1860s, as well as artefacts including a whetstone, a greenstone axe and a flint knife.

On discovering the carvings, Hamish Fenton said: “I was passing Dunchraigaig Cairn at dusk when I noticed the burial chamber in the side of the cairn and decided to slide inside with my torch. As I shone the torch around, I noticed a pattern on the underside of the roof slab which didn’t appear to be natural markings in the rock. As I shone the light around further, I could see that I was looking at a deer stag upside down, and as I continued looking around, more animals appeared on the rock. This was a completely amazing and unexpected find and, to me, discoveries like this are the real treasure of archaeology, helping to reshape our understanding of the past.”

The cairn is currently closed while HES carries out further evaluation and puts measures in place to protect the extremely rare, and delicate, ancient carvings. Visitors are encouraged to explore the carvings via 3D models which have been created.

You can explore 3D models of the cairn and its carvings at:

Scottish causes for optimism in 2021

By: David C. Weinczok

Blameless is the person who, in 2021, has become prone to cynicism. The relentlessness of ill news, personal loss, and events beyond any individual’s control or comprehension have so far defined the third decade of the third millennium. Yet within this barrage there are glimmers of hope and good; roots which, if fostered and encouraged to grow, hold the promise of making our world a better place in ways large and small. It is a small sample of these glimmers, as seen in Scotland, that I invite you draw some much needed optimism from.

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On the cliffs of Canna

Standing on the cliffs of the island of Canna, watching hundreds of seabirds swirl and freewheel through the skies, is an assault on the senses. “It’s an incredible thing to watch”, agrees Jeff Waddell, the National Trust for Scotland’s Senior Natural Heritage Advisor.,“The birds are nesting on these beautiful, inaccessible cliffs, with waves crashing in at the bottom. It feels so wild and you’re just surrounded by nature, in every sense.”

Site of Special Scientific Interest

The island of Canna.

And then there are the birds themselves: the puffin with its iconic multi­coloured bill and the beautiful snowy-feathered kittiwake. Here, too, you’ll find guillemots, shearwaters and more. Together with neighbouring Sanday, this island – gifted by John Lorne Campbell and his wife Margaret Fay Shaw to the Trust in 1981 – is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest and has Special Protection Area status. These craggy coastlines support some 11,000 seabirds, who build their nests and raise their young on the cliffs, sea caves and offshore stacks. Their numbers have declined hugely in the last two decades – it’s estimated that there were 21,000 birds here in the late 1990s, for instance. Without the efforts of the Trust, however, things could have been a lot worse.

In fact, some of the seabird populations here are in relatively fine fettle. Since a programme to eradicate rats from the island was successfully completed in 2008 (an operation that cost half a million pounds and saw more than 4,200 traps laid), the colony of shags has doubled from its low point in 2011 to 444 pairs in 2019. But, as is happening across the globe, many seabird populations are facing difficult times as the climate and biodiversity crisis bites. “Most of our seabirds are declining. The vast majority are in serious trouble due to the effects of climate change”, says Jeff.

As the oceans warm, the sandeels that many seabirds feed on move north to colder waters. This forces the birds to change to different prey, which is often less ideal for them. They also often have to use more energy foraging, reducing their body mass and breeding condition. Chicks are less well fed and fewer make it to fledging.

“Seabirds are like a barometer for the health of our seas. Some of the seabird species are potentially threatened with local extinction and, if warming continues, extinction on a wider scale”, Jeff explains.  That means monitoring seabird numbers is more crucial than ever.

50 years of counting seabirds

A black guillemot takes off from the waters around Canna.

Bob Swann, a volunteer who leads a surveying team from the Highland Ringing Group, agrees. Bob first got involved in 1971 and has been on hand to record the highs and lows of the bird populations here ever since. The work is complex and demands experience, as he explains: “We check all the sites on the island every year and literally count how many there are. Some, such as the puffins, are quite tricky, and for those we have study plots where we can just count the number in a particular area. We also have plots where we try to see how many chicks the birds are producing in a year. And we ring a lot of birds. Initially, this was just to work out where they were going when they left Canna, but increasingly it’s being used to try to work out their survival rates, how long they’re living for. Last year we caught a guillemot that was 41 years old – a UK record. We collect information about what the birds are eating and increasingly we’re attaching high-tech loggers such as geolocators.” From this data the team are able to understand some more surprising trends. Kittiwakes have seen massive declines in Shetland and Orkney but are doing well on Canna, with the highest numbers on record counted in 2019.

“I think in the North Sea they are very much hooked on sandeels’, notes Bob. ‘But in the west coast they’ll take a wider range of fish – young sprats or whiting, say. Here they switch and as a result they do better. We’ve been taking samples from them every year, so we know what they’re feeding on. We have also reached record puffin numbers, but that is almost certainly down to getting rid of the rats. Before, the puffins were very much confined to the offshore stacks where the rats couldn’t get at them. But now the puffin numbers on the north side of the island are just going up and up – they have probably doubled.”

He admits that he fears for the future of many of these birds though, remembering years of sharp decline between 2005 and 2010, when a series of mild winters led to warming seas and low fish stocks.  Bob said:  “I’ll never forget going down the north side on one occasion during that period and thinking: ‘There’s something really strange here.’ I couldn’t work out what it was until I got to the lip of the cliff and I realised it was silent. When I looked over, there were no birds – they had all failed. It was very emotional. Canna is a key monitoring site but it means if something is bad on Canna, the whole of the west coast of Scotland and beyond is affected. When something like that happens, you worry that it’s going to be the end of these great seabird concentrations.”

Numbers are up but haven’t fully recovered. “I don’t think we’ll ever get back to the peak numbers we once had. But it would be good if things could just be stable at the level we’ve reached, so these birds will be around for future generations to marvel at.”, says Bob.

Looking after Canna

Committed to doing all they can to ensure this happens are the Trust’s senior rangers, Michael Butler and Gillian Gibson. They believe Canna is a ‘magical’ place, not just to see seabirds but also to experience its rich biodiversity: you’ll find everything here from frog orchids and butterflies to seals, minke whales and eagles, both golden and white-tailed. For Michael, a visit to the puffin stack is the real highlight of any visit to the island. He said: “They do a murmuration like starlings do, which is incredible to see. There are hundreds of puffins swirling around the stack.” Below the puffins on a basalt shelf are fulmars, razorbills, guillemots and shags, with kittiwakes also on nearby cliffs.  Michael continued: “It’s amazing to see so much life on one rock’, he adds. ‘Visitors watch open-mouthed.”

In normal times, helping people to connect with that magic is a key part of the ranger’s work. The aim is to help visitors to understand the importance of conserving our coasts by falling in love with these seabirds. “We came here because we really wanted to be part of connecting visitors to the wildlife. Canna truly is a hidden gem. Considering it’s so small, it has an awful lot to give. It shows there is always something bigger than us humans – that we are just a part of it. And that rather than fighting nature, we should be working with it, for everyone’s sake” Michael says.

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

Boondooma Homestead celebrates Scots in the Bush

An opportunity for a catch up with friends, relatives and performers will, hopefully, without COVID shutdowns, take place at Boondooma Homestead in August, 2021.  An extremely popular Celtic, in particular Scottish, event which attracts patrons from all parts of Australia. This event celebrates the establishment of the 958 square miles Boondooma Station by 3 Scotsmen, Robert and Alexander Lawson and Robert Alexander in 1846. This event celebrates the beginnings of the pastoral industry which has endured to the present day. On the third weekend in August (19 to 22 August) the skirl of the pipes and the beat of the drums will be heard for many kilometres around the Boondooma and Durong areas.  It is expected that at least 400 caravans will converge on Boondooma Homestead for a great Celtic celebration.

Celebrations will actually begin on the Wednesday evening with a sausage sizzle, sound check and performances by walk up artists.  Proceeds from the sausage sizzle will be donated to charity. The walk-up sessions provide a great opportunity for people to share their heritage through song, music, and dance. 

The main program will begin at 1.30 pm on Thursday afternoon and the very popular Scottish ceilidh will take place on Thursday evening.  This is a great opportunity for people to join in the singing and dancing. 

Celtic heritage

Four pipe bands will entertain this year and they are, Noosa and District Pipes and Drums, Dalby Thistle Pipe Band, Murrumba Pipes and Drums and Amberley Pipes and Drums. These bands will join together with individual pipers and drummers to participate in combined band entertainment as well as individual band performances.  There will be great opportunities for pipers and drummers from all over to participate. Ceilidh bands, Celtic Psychosis, Celtic Crossover, Ishka, Thistle Do, Mouldy Haggis and Velcro will provide toe tapping entertainment throughout the weekend.  The Rum City Dancers will once again entertain with the old and the new highland dancers. Amy Bromham from Burdekin Celtic Dancers will delight the crowd with some Irish dancing. The popular Moreton Celtic Fiddle Club together with Limerick will be highlights.

South Burnett’s own Scotsman, Jervase Fullerton will address the Haggis before the evening meal on Friday.  Jervase will thrill the crowd with his dramatic address followed by his favourite Scottish songs. Scottish food will be available throughout the weekend and enjoy a meal of Haggis, tatties, and neeps.  Dundee stew and rumbledethumps and potato damper will be available on Friday evening. Enjoy shortbread, Dundee cake and scotch pancakes for morning and or afternoon tea. Many Clans will set up clan tents and this will give our patrons a great opportunity to check out their Celtic heritage. Come in Highland dress for the Clan and Tartan Parade on Saturday.  Scots in the Bush will be an exciting weekend, with lots of tartans, entertainment and beautiful food on offer.

Due to the Queensland Governments framework for Events, Scots in the Bush 2021 will be a ticketed event.  For bookings and information see: 

Exploring the East of Neuk

The corner of Fife known as the East Neuk has some of the most picturesque towns and villages to be found anywhere in Scotland. Situated along the east coast, close to St Andrews, it is an area steeped in history and renowned for its range of attractions which draw tourists from all over the world. It is extremely popular as a holiday resort partly because of its sandy beaches, rugged coastline and stunning sea views, and also because it offers a variety of quality accommodation at all levels

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Clydebuilt- Celebrating Glasgow’s shipbuilding heritage

By: Nick Drainey

The great industrial achievements of the River Clyde in steam propulsion, engineering and shipbuilding are widely known not just in the UK but around the world. Despite this, there is no single location on the River where this world-class story can be told. The time has come to acknowledge the vision of those who established these industries, of the innovation central to their success and to the individual contribution made by hundreds of thousands of men and women over many decades who toiled through good times and bad to manufacture remarkable products and make the name Clydebuilt synonymous with excellence. The Ship Yard Trust has been formed to focus attention on these achievements and engage with all parties to formulate a strategy that permanently acknowledges this outstanding industrial heritage as Nick Drainey explains.

Once the river was so shallow that, in a few parts, people could wade across it. Ships had to dock at Greenock, and goods unloaded and transferred to small boats in order to travel up the Clyde to reach Glasgow. As Cromwell’s man Thomas Tucker said in the middle of the 17th century: “Glasgow was checked and kept under by the shallowness of her river, every day more and more filling up”. But thanks to the innovative brilliance of engineers and the toil of thousands of ordinary folk, the river that didn’t even need a boat to cross it became famous around the world for its shipbuilding.

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Hoping for sun … and midges

By: Rule Anderson,  National Trust for Scotland Ranger at Kintail, West Affric and Falls of Glomach

We all hate midges … don’t we? Here, Kintail ranger Rule Anderson gives us a few good reasons to buck the trend, for the sake of our wildlife.

Perfect midge weather at Gleann Lichd, Kintail.

Summer is nature’s time for the young. Bats are getting ready to give birth in their nursery roosts in our towns and cities; young hedgehogs may already be in your garden; and field voles should be onto their second or even third litters in grassy corners of the countryside. What’s more, we’re approaching peak season for what is arguably Scotland’s most spectacular wildlife wonder: the vast colonies of nesting seabirds that find their way to internationally important sites in the National Trust for Scotland’s care such as St Abb’s Head National Nature Reserve, Mingulay and St Kilda.

Here at my base in Kintail, red deer are beginning to calve on undisturbed stretches of hillside. The calls of the young animals to their mothers have been mistaken for distress calls from hillwalkers, on one occasion even spurring a futile all-night mountain rescue search.

The weather can make or break my summer plans; if it’s bad, the worst that happens is that I’ll have to cancel a guided walk or redirect volunteers to a work site that’s not too far from the bunkhouse. For some of our wildlife, however, a bad summer is a matter of life and death.

People’s pet hate

Common lizard.

Midges are many people’s pet hate when exploring Scotland’s countryside, but they’re a crucial food supply for many birds, bats and even some plants (the fascinating insectivorous sundew and butterwort have sticky glands or leaves that trap the insect). Midges won’t fly during heavy rain or in a strong breeze, so a prolonged spell of bad weather can be disastrous for those species that rely on them.

Reptiles, such as common lizards, and invertebrates including Scotch argus butterflies and golden-ringed dragonflies can be even more affected by the weather. A sunny summer is good for them, with its reward of vibrant wildflower displays when species such as tormentil and heath spotted-orchid carpet Kintail. Without that sun, there are fewer flowers, meaning fewer sources of food for our creatures. Come August, I’ll be looking out for heather in full bloom on our hillsides. I’m as wary of the dreaded midge as the next person – but for the sake of our wildlife, I’ll have my midge hood to hand, in the hope that this summer is a buzzing one.

Have you had a Scottish midge experience? Share your story with us by email, post, social media or at:

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

Scotland’s top baby names announced

Isla overtakes Olivia as the top name for baby girls for the first time, with Olivia taking the second spot and Emily now being the third most popular name, according to the full lists of 2020 baby names published by National Records of Scotland (NRS). Jack remains the most popular boy’s name, holding on to the top spot for the 13th consecutive year. Noah is now the second most popular boy’s name, having jumped from 7th place last year, and meanwhile James stays in 3rd place. The girl’s name Maeve made a massive leap of 130 places from last year, up to 86th place, and Ayda, the second highest climber in the girls’ top 100 list, rose 63 places to the 91st spot. The biggest increases in the top 100  boys’ list were Roman, which jumped up 68 places to 33rd,  and Finley, which rose 48 places to 88th. 2020 saw the highest ever level of different names, a trend that has continued for some time now.

Of the 23,968 girls registered in Scotland last year, there were 4,347 different names, whilst more boys shared the same name. Of the 22,387 boys registered, there were only 3,375 different names. Children nowadays are much less likely to share a name with classmates than their grandparents were.

Different generations of parents have different preferences

Julie Ramsay, Vital Events Statistician, said:  “We can see from the 2020 names lists that different generations of parents have different preferences for naming their babies. Isla, the most popular name for girls in 2020, was the most popular name with mothers aged 35 and over, but it only ranked 7th with mothers aged under 25. However, Olivia, the most popular girls name of 2019, was ranked 1st by younger mothers and 6th by older mothers. Jack, the most popular name for boys in 2020, was the 2nd most popular name with mothers aged 35 and above, and only 17th with mothers aged under 25. James was the most popular name for boys with older mothers while Noah was ranked 1st for younger mothers. Popular culture often affects how people name their babies. The name Billie rose in popularity by 79% in the past two years with 34 baby girls being given this name in 2020. In the same time, Google searches in the UK for “Billie” and “Billie Eilish” spiked, with the singer having her first number one single in the UK in early 2020. Tommy, a name occurring in the popular TV shows Peaky Blinders and Love Island, has doubled in popularity in the last two years, with 148 boys being given this name. Our data shows it is more popular with younger mothers than with older mothers.”

Glasgow’s Piping Live! confirmed for 2021

Piping Live! is back for 2021 with a nine-day festival packed full of world-class performances, music sessions, recitals, competitions, book launches, workshops and so much more.  Taking place between the 7th and 15th August 2021, the annual festival has confirmed they will present their programme online, in response to current government guidelines. However, if restrictions allow the team will do all they can to introduce a live audience element to the festival if this proves possible under renewed guidelines closer to the event.  The Piping Live! team, with thanks to their funding supporters Glasgow Life and EventScotland, have put together an eclectic and varied programme that ensures the event stays true to its reputation as the world’s biggest piping festival.

Now in its 18th year, the 2021 festival will undoubtedly look a little different to previous editions, however the abundance of top-class performances over the nine days will be accessible to enjoy from across the world. For almost two decades, Piping Live! has brought the world to Scotland, but this year it will take Scotland to the world and showcase the internationally renowned pipers and musicians who are synonymous with this globally recognised festival. Despite the challenges of Covid, this year’s event will continue to extend its reach by providing a platform for pipers and musicians to do what they do best and perform for audiences both at home and abroad.

The world’s biggest week of piping

The world’s biggest week of piping will launch on Saturday 7th August with the 55th Annual Silver Chanter Event. The Silver Chanter will showcase 6 top players performing MacCrimmon Piobaireachd. This year’s performers are Iain Speirs (2020 Silver Chanter Winner), Stuart Liddell, Finlay Johnstone, Glenn Brown, Callum Beaumont and Angus MacColl.

On Sunday 8th August the Lowland & Borders Pipers Society will programme an evening concert that celebrates the music of the Bellows Bagpipes. Entitled More Power to Your Elbow, this concert will include tributes to departed friends and key players who have been pivotal in the bellows pipes revival, with a particular focus on Iain MacDonald and Nigel Richard. The concert will also be a musical exploration of the music and ballads of the Scottish Borders to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Sir Walter Scott. More Power to Your Elbow will feature guest musicians including Fraser Fifield, Annie Grace, Stuart Letford, Dougie Pincock, Finlay MacDonald, Anna Massie and Gary West.

Monday 9th August will see multi award-winning Scottish supergroup Mànran take to The National Piping Centre stage – one of the only bands on the Scottish folk scene whose sound carries a pairing of the Uilleann pipes and the Highland Bagpipes. Alongside Mànran, the multi-instrumental duo of Mairearad Green & Anna Massie will perform, showcasing Mairearad’s lyrical accordion playing and masterful piping with Anna’s versatility on guitar, fiddle and banjo.

The International Quartet Competition will take place on Tuesday 10th August and, if guidelines allow for group practice, this event will feature seven of the top Grade I pipe band quartets in the world – Field Marshal Montgomery, Scottish Power, Inveraray and District, People’s Ford Boghall and Bathgate Caledonia, Glasgow Police, Johnstone and Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Bands. 

The Masters Solo Piping Competition will take place throughout the day on Wednesday 11th August. This prestigious competition is the qualifying event for the Glenfiddich piping competition and will see the top soloists in the world compete.

The Pipe Major Alasdair Gillies Memorial Piping Competition, Piping Live!’s flagship evening of solo piping, will return on Thursday 12th August. The competition format will see five leading pipers Stuart Liddell, Angus MacColl, Callum Beaumont, Finlay Johnston and Sarah Muir perform a recital of their favourite tunes which must include a piobaireachd ground and an MSR.

Folkie Friday this year is supported by PRS Foundation’s The Open Fund, who have sponsored the TRYST pipers to commission 5 brand-new pieces of music which will be premiered at this year’s festival. Whilst drawing on the tradition of ceol mor, the classical music of the bagpipes, TRYST continue to push boundaries with their unique and innovative compositional style. Joining TRYST on the night will be the powerhouse that is Kinnaris Quintet, who will draw on an array of Irish, Scottish and Bluegrass influences.

On Saturday 15th August The National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland’s pre-recorded event will demonstrate the exciting and novel ways in which this young group has adapted their practice over the past year. Taking the downtime that Covid-19 has afforded them, the young pipers have embarked on a year of learning – writing new pieces of music and working with other musicians out with their genre. They have adapted their practice due to restrictions but have continued to collaborate and create remotely. These pipers will showcase their pioneering new works in some iconic locations across Glasgow as part of this special online concert.

The internationally renowned Gordon Duncan Memorial Competition will take place on Sunday 15th August. This unique event continues to celebrate the late-great Gordon’s links to Scotland, Ireland and Brittany. One Scottish, Irish and Breton piper will each play sets of Scottish, Irish and Breton music and the overall winner will be the best player of all three musical styles.

Finishing the 9-day festival in style will be traditional music trio Hecla, whose musicianship includes piper Ailis Sutherland – a former World Pipe Band Champion. Joining Hecla will be neo-trad trio Project Smok, whose line-up includes BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year piping and whistle extraordinaire Ali Levack.

Learn @ Live!

Day time events, which will primarily take place at the festival’s iconic Street Café (restrictions allowing), will include emerging talent and music sessions where learners can play along at home as well as listening to the performance. There will also be book launches throughout the festival. The educational element of the festival, Learn @ Live! will host a series of workshops across the 9-days which will be a mix of pre-recorded and live events. More details of these will be announced in the coming weeks and tickets will be sold separately.

Piping Live! prides itself on being at the centre of the international piping community and year on year it extends a hand of musical friendship to artists and audiences across the world. Organisers have ensured that this is recognised this year with a number of international showcases being premiered at the festival, including performances from Ireland, Brittany and Canada, with more to be announced.

Finlay MacDonald, Artistic Director for Piping Live!, said: “It’s been a tough year for all of us but we’re so excited to be bringing audiences at home and abroad as close to our normal offering of entertainment as we possibly can for this year’s festival. We’ve programmed 9 days of top-class performances, competitions, sessions and so much more and we’re just delighted we’ll have the opportunity to showcase some of the world’s top pipers doing what they do best this summer. If restrictions allow, we’ll be inviting live audiences to be part of the festival this year too. We’ll do all we can to try and make this possible, whilst ensuring we are adhering to all government guidelines.” Annually welcoming over 30,000 attendees to Glasgow, organisers of Piping Live! hope the festival’s online offering will appeal to the international audience they would usually see attending the festival. With the event’s global audiences in mind, they have allowed for all shows to be available for one week after they are first streamed to avoid any issues with different time zones enjoying the nine-day event.

Piping Live! will run from Saturday 7th– Sunday 15th August 2021. More information and tickets available at:

Images: Elaine Livingstone

Clan MacInnes celebrated at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games

The International Association of Clan MacInnes (IACM) is celebrating its 50th anniversary this summer (a year late due to the pandemic) and the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games has chosen Clan MacInnes as one its featured Clans for its 2021 Games taking place July 9-11 at MacRae Meadows in Linville, North Carolina.

In 1970, seven MacInnes’ from the south-eastern states gathered at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games and decided to create the Clan MacInnes Society to preserve MacInnes heritage and to promote Scottish culture and history. Today the Society has evolved into IACM, an international organization with hundreds of members spread across the world. Clan MacInnes has hosted a tent at GMHG every year since 1971.

One of the oldest Scottish clans

One of the oldest Scottish clans, Clan MacInnes dates to 501 AD. Its origin story tells that three sons of an Irish ruler left Northern Ireland and settled on Scotland’s west Argyll coast to form the Kingdom of Dalriada. For centuries, MacInneses were farmers, fierce warriors and archers settled in the Western Highlands, primarily Morvern, where Clan MacInnes was known as the Keeper of Kinlochaline Castle. The MacInnes Chief and his five sons were murdered in their sleep circa 1358, its lands lost, and the MacInnes Chieftainship has been dormant since. Kinlochaline Castle was abandoned in 1690, sat empty 400 years, was restored in 2000 and is now a private residence.

The Scottish Banner congratulates the Clan MacInnes on its 50th anniversary and for their great work in the Scottish community.

For more information on Clan MacInnes see:

For more information on the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games see:

Get your kicks on Scotland’s K66

Westport Beach.

An epic 66-mile circular route has opened in Kintyre and spans 66 miles, across six stunning regions, coastlines, white sandy beaches and breathtaking views – and has been designed to encourage visitors to slow down and enjoy the ride. Scotland’s answer to Route 66 has now launched– and it’s only a few hours from Glasgow and Edinburgh. The new Kintyre 66, or K66, is a 66-mile circular loop around one of Scotland’s most scenic regions, taking in both the west and east coast of the unspoilt peninsula in Argyll, from the top at Kennacraig to the bottom at Campbeltown.  Covering the region made famous by Sir Paul McCartney’s 1978 Christmas Number One Mull of Kintyre, the route has been developed to showcase the incredible location on the west coast of Scotland – which is swept by the warmth of the Gulf Stream and enjoys views across to Northern Ireland on a clear day.

Inspired by Route 66 in the US, the K66 journey can be taken by bike, foot or car, with the aim of encouraging tourists to slow down following a stressful year, explore the area at their leisure and enjoy an unforgettable staycation on Scottish soil.  Covering six key regions of West Kintyre, Gigha, Machrihanish & Southend, Campbeltown, East Kintyre and Tarbert & Skipness, a new map will provide options to start from any part of the route, whilst also pinpointing trails, places to explore, natural heritage sites, wildlife watching spots and local food and drink to enjoy along the way.

Hidden gem on the west coast

Gigha Ferry.

Niall Macalister Hall, Chair of the Kintyre and Gigha Marketing Group, said: “Kintyre is a hidden gem on the west coast, with beaches that would rival the Caribbean on a good day, a pristine marine environment helped by the warmth of the Gulf Stream, and so many unspoiled places to discover.  With a record staycation summer expected this year, K66 has been developed to encourage visitors to explore the whole of Kintyre – slowly and at their leisure – with plenty of open spaces and places of interest branching off the main route. There’s also the option of taking a short Calmac ferry to the beautiful islands of Gigha, Islay and Jura to the west and Arran to the east and turning the trip into a longer break. After a long and stressful 12-months for everyone, it’s a good feeling to be able to launch the route, and we look forward to welcoming travellers to our friendly community in the months to come.”

Only three hours from Glasgow and four from Edinburgh, highlights on the route include Ballochroy Standing Stones, Saddell Castles, Keil Caves, no fewer than SIX golf courses, beautiful harbours, Beinn An Tuirc Distillery and inviting beaches including Westport – famed for its Atlantic waves that attract world-class surfers from across the globe. Six spur roads offer a deeper venture to Tarbert, Claonaig, Carradale, Southend and Machrihanish with the Isle of Gigha just a short ferry ride from the core route.

The K66 map and downloadable visitors guide is available at:

All photos: Raymond Hosie.

Balmoral’s three times the instruction summer offer

By: Balmoral School of Piping & Drumming

Free to summer 2021 students – 3-month access to Balmoral summer classes.

Attend our piping and drumming camp, July 18-23, and you can study all the lessons and enjoy all the recitals of the 2021 Balmoral summer session at your leisure. Here at Balmoral, we understand not every student has time to devote all their waking hours, throughout an entire week, to attend an online piping camp. That’s why we’re offering three months of online access to recordings of our summer piping and drumming classes to each of our summer students. Even if you’re with us every day of the weeklong program, you may want to audit classes you weren’t able to schedule. For example, you chose to attend the Personal Repertoire class with Andrew Carlisle, rather than a Piobaireachd class? Later, you can take Advanced Piobaireachd with Bruce Gandy, in your own home, at your chosen time.

World-renowned instructors

Beginning pipers can work through the basics during the summer program then view the videos of intermediate and advanced classes later, with the option to replay classes as often as they’d like. A drummer could audit a piping class with Robert Mathieson or Roddy MacLeod. Pipers could take drumming classes with Jim Kilpatrick or Ed Best.

This summer, the Balmoral School of Piping & Drumming will offer a greater number of world class guest instructors teaching a wider variety of classes, and many more sessions of one-on-one tutoring. After the session, class videos may be viewed as many times as the student wants during the 3-month access period. The fee for the weeklong session is $375.00 USD. Refer new students and you’ll receive $50 off the price of the workshop for each new student who attends. Bring at least four members of you pipe band, and each member will receive $50 off the price of the school. There is simply no other piping school that can best our line-up of world-renowned instructors. Why not try Balmoral this summer?

For details see:

Historic Highlands castle goes up for sale

One of Highland Scotland’s most iconic Castles has been put on the market, providing a world-class residential or commercial development opportunity. Carbisdale Castle is an impressive and imposing large mansion house built in the Scottish Baronial style on a precipitous site above the inner Kyle of Sutherland with outstanding views in all directions and has 64 rooms (including 19 bedrooms and bathrooms). Carbisdale Castle was built between 1905 and 1917 for Mary Caroline, Duchess of Sutherland, the second wife of George Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, 3rd Duke of Sutherland, whom she married in 1889. Colonel Theodore Salvesen, a wealthy Scottish businessman of Norwegian extraction, bought the castle in 1933. He provided the castle as a safe refuge for King Haakon VII of Norway and Crown Prince Olav, who would become King Olav V, during the Nazi occupation of Norway in World War II.

During that time, the castle was also used to hold important strategic meetings. King Haakon VII made an agreement at the Carbisdale Conference on 22 June 1941 that the Russian forces, should they enter Norwegian territory, would not stay there after the war. Three years later, on 25 October 1944, the Red Army entered Norway and captured 30 towns, but later withdrew according to the terms of the agreement. In 1945 the castle was gifted to the Scottish Youth Hostels Association (SYHA). The castle remained in the ownership of the SYHA until the costs of owning and maintaining the buildings and its contents became untenable and the castle was offered for sale.  The six floor castle is also said to be haunted and is on the market for offers over £1,500,000.

The Douglas Fir Man

Throughout the grandeur of the Perthshire countryside there is an enormous assortment of wildlife living and growing freely, and catching the eye of all who pass with its raw beauty. Perhaps, then, if it weren’t for the environment of his native Scone, David Douglas might not have gone on to become the most distinguished of all Scots explorer-botanists.

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The Glengarry Highland Games carry on

Never would anyone have thought that again this year, the Glengarry Highland Games would be cancelled. Faced once more with that unhappy situation, the Games are developing a variety of events to stay connected with everyone as we eagerly anticipate the 2022 Games when we will once again gather in Maxville, Ontario. As with last year, the Games social media will present a series of online entertainment to give everyone a little taste of the Games. In addition, if conditions allow this summer, the Games will be exploring the possibility of hosting a few small live events extending beyond the traditional dates of the Games. Stay tuned to our social media for more information.

In the meantime, there is one exciting event to share that relates to the Games online entertainment line-up. The Pipers and Pipe Band Society of Ontario (PPBSO) is presenting six online contests for solo piping and drumming open to all its members. Drum majors will also have their own section in the competitions. A separate contest will be held for each of Ontario’s Highland Games with the Glengarry Games registration and submission closing on July 17th. Highland dress isn’t necessary to compete but an overall “best dressed” prize will be awarded for best Highland attire. The final results for the Glengarry Highland Games competition will be streamed live at the traditional time of the closing massed bands on Saturday, July 31. This will be a special treat for those fans who are missing the sound of the pipes and drums.

To find out more about the competition, go to the PPBSO webpage:, or the Games website:

Melbourne Tartan Festival

By: The Melbourne Tartan Festival organising committee

After a difficult year for all, the Melbourne Tartan Festival is back!  The skirl of pipes will be echoing through Melbourne from 10-24th of July during the Melbourne Tartan Festival.    Pop up performances will surprise and entertain city shoppers during the Festival. You never know where one of our performances will be!  Although we’re reliably informed that Saturday 10th July will be a good day to be in the City if you want to see pipers, dancers & all things Scottish. Throughout the Festival there will be a range of virtual and live events including a City CBD Scottish inspired walking tour, genealogy talks, virtual and live Scottish history & arts lectures, whisky tastings and whisky dinner, music recitals, concerts and music gigs. 

Visit the Old Treasury Building during one of our Melbourne Tartan Festival group private guided tours & ‘Melbourne: Foundations of a City’ exhibition on the 13thJuly, and our private guided tour & exhibition Yarra: Stories of Melbourne’s River on the 22nd July.  Join Kenneth Park, lecturer, curator, tour leader and presenter, as he takes you on a walking tour of Melbourne’s CBD where he’ll highlight Scottish settlers’ significant contribution to the development of early Melbourne. The Scots’ Church in Melbourne will hold the Kirkin ‘O The Tartan service on Sunday 11th July, when Clans and Associations will be piped in procession carrying their clan tartans, with a reading in Scottish Gaelic and psalms sung by the Scottish Gaelic Choir of Victoria. 

Scottish music

Following the success of their 2019 Taking Flight concert, Hawthorn Pipe Band returns for a night of piping & drumming.  Legacy is a special musical tribute to the band’s long serving Drum Major and WW2 veteran, Bob Semple and features of mix of new and traditional pipe band music with folk inspirations.  Hawthorn is one of Australia’s top pipe bands and the Legacy concert will see the band at its’ best.  Special guests will include Ballarat Grammar and Scotch College.

The music keeps coming, with Judy Turner and Neil Adam, following wide acclaim from their successful 2019 Edinburgh fringe performances, will present Robert Louis Stevenson – Sing Me a Song at Kew Courthouse Theatre on Sunday 18th July at 2.30pm.

Don’t miss internationally acclaimed traditional Scottish singer Fiona Ross, accompanied by guitar maestro Shane O’Mara, at Kew Courthouse on Thursday 15th July. Fiona & Shane will be performing a concert of Scots song, including songs from their recent album Sunwise Turn – winner of Best Folk Album in Music Victoria’s 2020 awards.


The Caledonian Castaways is a group of ex-pat Scots from Melbourne’s blues/roots scene singing amusing and heart-warming songs about Scots in Australia and back hame.  They wowed a packed National Celtic Festival with their set of original songs and cheeky renditions of some traditional Scottish tunes – ska, rocksteady, funk, blues, country grooves.  They’ve put lockdown to good use in the studio, recording new songs to bring you at Transit, Fed Square on 17th July.  The Westin Whisky Dinner experience is back in 2021 with a five-course menu created by the Westin Melbourne’s Executive chef, Michael Greenlaw, matched to five premium Single Malt Whiskies from some of the world’s finest distilleries, hosted by Whisky Ambassador Andrew Buntine, who will guide you through this exquisite whisky journey. Gather a group of friends and head down to Bell’s Hotel, South Melbourne for a fun Whisky Tasting night on 22nd July with whisky ambassador Andy Bethune, Spirits Platform. 

The Melbourne Tartan Festival Gala Dinner and Concert at Melbourne Town Hall on Saturday 24th July will close out the Festival.  Although we’ve had to make a few Covid-safe tweaks, you’ll experience a night that has become a yearly tradition for some families.  You’ll be piped up the red carpeted staircase of the iconic Melbourne Town Hall for a grand black tie/kilted evening.  Be greeted with drinks and canapes on arrival, a traditional Address to A Haggis, a 3-course gourmet meal and drinks with outstanding traditional and contemporary concert style entertainment. Close the night out with internationally acclaimed Celtic rock band Claymore.

Throughout the Festival try a Highland Hustle introduction workout class, Gaelic language or sit back and relax in your own home while you immerse yourself in one of our Zoom Scottish Arts or History lectures or author talks.  Details of additional events will be released over the coming weeks as we work our way through Covid safe event protocols. Your safety is our priority and we thank you for your patience and support.

The Melbourne Tartan Festival takes place 10-24th July, 2021. For full details and to book event tickets go to

Robert the Bruce- Scotland’s great warrior king

In June 1314 the history of Scotland as a nation was about to change forever. At the Battle of Bannockburn Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, faced down the English army led by Edward II. Edward, keen to retain the stronghold of Stirling Castle, had led a huge army through Scotland to lift the Scots’ siege of his garrison at the castle. Achieving this was vital to Edward’s hopes of re-establishing his weakening grip on the country, but he was stopped short by the army of Robert Bruce. Over the two days of battle, 23-24 June, Edward’s army was repeatedly thwarted by the Scots’ stubborn resistance before finally finding itself trapped by the surrounding terrain with no room to manoeuvre their huge force. The result was an unprecedented rout of King Edward’s army. Located near the historic city of Stirling, the site still evokes the landscape that would have been seen by medieval soldiers in 1314, when the area was a royal hunting park.

Scotland’s great warrior king, Robert I, more popularly known as Robert the Bruce, is a central character in the history of Scotland. Here we document his life from birth to death, including his rise to power, the defeat of Edward II’s army at the Battle of Bannockburn, and the legacy he left behind. Robert the Bruce was born on 11 July 1274, but nobody knows where for sure. An educated guess would be Turnberry Castle in Ayrshire, where he was raised to speak three languages – Gaelic, Scots and Norman French – and to fight for his family’s claim to the Scottish crown. On his father’s side, the Bruce family had its roots in Normandy – a Robert de Brus had come to England with William the Conqueror’s army. Robert’s mother Marjorie was the Countess of Carrick and descended from an ancient Gaelic bloodline.

After the death of Alexander III in 1286 there was no direct heir to the throne in Scotland. King Edward I of England was asked to choose between the two main claimants – Robert’s grandfather and John Balliol, who both claimed descent from David I. He gave the crown to John Balliol. Robert and his father refused to recognise Balliol as their king, and in 1296, when Edward I turned on Balliol and invaded Scotland, they gave their support to the English. Robert switched allegiance more than once in his life – showing that his actions were not always purely patriotic, and that he would do whatever it took to achieve his ambitions.

Outlaw King

One of Robert’s ambitions was to rule Scotland. Having seen Edward I install himself as king of Scotland following John Balliol’s downfall, Robert then supported William Wallace’s uprising against the English. When Wallace was defeated, Bruce became a Guardian of Scotland in 1298 alongside his great rival for the Scottish throne, John ‘The Red’ Comyn, Balliol’s nephew.

The two men frequently quarrelled, and in 1306 they met at Greyfriars Kirk in Dumfries, where an argument took place and Bruce stabbed Comyn to death. This sacrilegious crime meant that Robert was in an extremely precarious position. The Comyns and their allies joined with Edward I to get revenge. Robert was hurriedly declared king on March 25 1306, and the poor start to his reign continued when his first rising at Methven ended in defeat.

Robert fled, possibly to Ireland, and the so-called ‘outlaw king’ began to plan his comeback. In 1307 he returned from exile, employing guerrilla tactics to wipe out Comyn’s followers, establish control and even win his first battles against English forces. A granite boulder near Loch Trool is known as Bruce’s Stone and commemorates one such victory. Edward I was infuriated by Bruce’s growing success and reputation. He soon marched his army north to crush the rebellion but died just short of the Scottish border. His son, Edward II, was a very different character and didn’t enjoy the support of his nobles. This gave Robert the chance to strengthen his position and hold his first parliament at St Andrews in 1309. In 1310 Edward mounted an invasion of Scotland, but was unable to find Robert and achieved little. By 1314, Robert and his men had seized most of Edward’s Scottish strongholds – only Berwick and Stirling held out.

The Battle of Bannockburn and its aftermath

Capturing Stirling Castle was the key to controlling Scotland. Edward II mustered a huge army and marched north to invade Scotland. Robert was also busy, training his men near Stirling, which would be the focus of the upcoming campaign. The Battle of Bannockburn took place on 23 and 24 June. Despite being vastly outnumbered, Robert chose his ground well and masterminded a tremendous victory over the English army. Over the two days of battle, Edward’s army was repeatedly thwarted by the Scots’ stubborn resistance, before finally finding themselves trapped by the surrounding terrain, with no room to manoeuvre their huge force. The result was an unprecedented rout of Edward’s army.

However, the victory at Bannockburn did not secure peace and Edward II refused to recognise Robert as king of an independent Scotland. In 1320 Bruce organised for the Scottish nobles to write a letter to the Pope, now known as the Declaration of Arbroath, which made the case for Scottish independence. But it was ignored by the church and Bruce accepted a long-lasting truce with the English. In 1328, after Edward II was deposed, his son Edward III became king of England and his government finally recognised Robert as Robert I, King of Scots, and agreed to treat Scotland as an independent nation.

Death and family

Just one year later, on 7 June 1329, Robert the Bruce died in Cardross, Dunbartonshire. His body was buried at Dunfermline Abbey, and after a failed attempt to take it to the Holy Land, Bruce’s heart was buried at Melrose Abbey in the Scottish Borders, accompanied by an inscription: ‘A noble hart may have nane ease. Gif freedom failye’.

Robert was married twice in his life. With his first wife, Isabella of Mar, he had a daughter Marjorie, from whom the Stewart dynasty was to trace its lineage. His second wife was Elizabeth de Burgh, with whom he had five children – Margaret, Matilda, David, John (who died in infancy) and Elizabeth. His eldest son succeeded his father as King David II of Scotland.


Robert the Bruce has been immortalised in all sorts of ways, from popular culture to national myth. There are commemorations of him across Scotland, including a statue set in the wall at Edinburgh Castle, one at Stirling Castle and the iconic statue of him on horseback at Bannockburn.

In 1995, the character of Robert the Bruce played a relatively small role in the epic (and epically inaccurate) Hollywood movie Braveheart. But the most memorable depiction of Bruce on screen was in the 2018 movie Outlaw King, which was supported by the National Trust for Scotland’s very own Bannockburn specialist, working on the film as a lead historical advisor. In addition, the film Robert the Bruce was released in 2020 starring Scottish actor Angus McFadyen who reprised his role as the warrior king he originally played Braveheart.

It might be a while before we see a feature-length adaptation of the story of ‘Robert the Bruce and the spider’. This Walter Scott-inspired legend has it that during his time as the outlaw king, Bruce was taking shelter in a cave and considering giving up, when he noticed a spider trying to build its web across the damp roof of the cave. The spider failed a number of times, but persevered and eventually succeeded, supposedly inspiring Bruce to try, try, and try again.

Text courtesy of the National Trust for Scotland. For more information on the Trust or to help them protect Scotland’s heritage see:

Aberdeen Highland Games

** Please note due to the NSW Covid crisis this event has been postponed to Saturday, October, 2, 2021.

Following a year of confusion and disruption, due to COVID, the Committee of the Aberdeen Highland Games are really looking forward to getting back running the annual event. It would appear that at this stage the event will run along similar lines to our usual Games but obviously there will be a few changes due to COVID regulations. The event is run as a typical Highland Gathering where the crowds can expect to see the massed pipes & drums, the Kilted Warriors with their feats of strength, highland and country dancing, novelty events for the kids and the numerous stalls.

The Chieftain for the 2021 Games will be Ian McPhee.

These stalls include various clan societies, those with various Scottish and Celtic products as well as a variety of food outlets. We have some fourteen (14) pipe bands booked in for the day; it will be a great spectacle. Further, we trust to have the ADF Precision Drill team with us on the day. Our Chieftain for the 2021 Games will be Ian McPhee, a past Commissioner of the clan in Australia.  The Games will also be honoured with the presence of Air Marshal Melvin Hupfeld, AO, DSC the senior officer of the Royal Australian Air Force, in it’s centenary year.

Tickets are only available online

Air Marshal Melvin Hupfeld, AO, DSC.

The Upper Hunter Tartan has produced a great deal of interest in the local community as well as from other areas. Products including, scarves, shawls, rugs, ties as well as other Games merchandise will be available on the ground on the day. Our kilt maker will be on the ground also and will be able to take any orders for those looking for a kilt in the new tartan as well as to supply the accessories to go with it. The traditional Ceilidh normally run following the Games will not be run this year due to COVID, but we believe there will be something in the evening.  There will be a Quintet Competition for pipe bands, and this will be run at the Aberdeen RSL club, not far from the ground. This event is run under the banner of the NSW Pipe Band Association.

This year, in line with current COVID regulations, tickets are only available online and there will be no gate sales.

The 2021 Aberdeen Highland Games will take place on Saturday, October 2, 2021 in Aberdeen, NSW. Get your tickets early by visiting the web site For further detail of the day please check the web site or go to the Games Facebook page, or for any general enquiries either go to the Scone Visitor Information & Horse Centre or email: [email protected]

Before Burns

By: David McVey

Robert Fergusson was a poet who inspired Robert Burns to take on the craft.  Fergusson, who wrote mainly in Scots, is still considered one of Scotland’s great poets and though he lived a short life his works still place him amongst some of the best Scottish literary figures as David McVey explains.

Edinburgh is full of literary memorials and literary ghosts. Everyone knows about the vast Scott Monument in Princes Street and the statue of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes in Picardy Place. Also well-known are the figures of Alan Breck Stewart and David Balfour, from Stevenson’s Kidnapped, in Corstorphine. And there are many more. One of them, a statue of a lesser-known poet, is often come upon by accident.

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Saving Prestonpans Town Hall

By: Nick Drainey

East Lothian’s Prestonpans Town Hall has been saved by The Battle of Prestonpans Trust to celebrate local history such as the Battle of Prestonpans and to permanently display the incredible Prestonpans and Scottish Diaspora Tapestries. The mothballed town hall will have a new life as plans are now underway to create a museum, exhibition space and activity centre for its local community as Nick Drainey explains.

He was a local man, his own house less than a mile away and within sight of where he was cut down on the field in one of Scotland’s most famous battles. So, it is very fitting that Colonel James Gardiner, the colourful commander who was slain by a Highlander with a scythe in the 1745 Battle of Prestonpans, will be commemorated in a building originally paid for by the local community.

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PPBSO & present a 75th Anniversary Composing Competition

Contest judges Bill Livingstone and Bob Worrall.

The Pipers’ and Pipe Band Society of Ontario (PPBSO) in partnership with has launched a tune composition contest to help commemorate its 75th anniversary in 2022. The association is calling on pipers of all abilities to put their creativity to paper by submitting a new march composition.

The event has two categories: a 2/4 march (4 parts), open to worldwide entries and a 4/4 march (two parts), open to PPBSO members in good standing. The tune titles submitted must include reference to the 75th anniversary.

“The competition is a great opportunity to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the PPBSO. In addition to the prizes for the top 3 entries in each category, the winning 4/4 march will be issued as a set tune to be performed by the massed bands at PPBSO games in 2022. This really makes the tune and its composer a feature element of how we celebrate this milestone.” says Chris Dodson, PPBSO vice-president, who is leading the initiative. has generously donated the the first prize purse for the 2/4 march category. Cash prizes of $1000, $250, and $200 ($CAD) will be awarded to the top three selections. “Encouraging our members, of all abilities, to write original music is an opportunity to develop knowledge of music theory and our genre of music. There are certainly some great tune ideas bouncing around inside someone’s head, just waiting to be heard.” says Jim McGillivray, owner of and Chair of the PPBSO Music Committee. 

All entries will be jointly adjudicated by Bill Livingstone and Bob Worrall, who are donating their time and expertise to this initiative. In evaluating the compositions submitted, they will consider originality, musicality and adherence to the idiom.

Pipers are encouraged to enter both categories, but only one entry per category will be accepted. Entries must be received by Sunday 18th July 2021.  The winning tunes will be announced as part of the results announcement at the conclusion of the virtual Fergus Scottish Festival on August 14th – in their 75th anniversary year.

For details see:

Here comes the Dun: Major project for House of Dun

Work has been underway at House of Dun, near Montrose, on one of the National Trust for Scotland’s (NTS) most significant projects of the year. The NTS are creating a heritage park that will encompass hundreds of years of history and tell the stories of the landscape and its people. Central to the re-imagining of House of Dun will be the creation of a new home for the Angus Folk Museum collection, which was amassed by Lady Maitland of Burnside in the first half of the 20th century. Her granddaughter, Caroline Graham-Watson, swung the first sledgehammer to join together some of the courtyard buildings, where the collection will be housed.

The Culzean of the east

Caroline Graham-Watson at House of Dun.

House of Dun was designed by William Adam for David Erskine, 13th Laird of Dun and a judge of the Court of Session. It was built in 1743 to replace the medieval tower house which had been home to the Erskine family since 1375. The house is surrounded by gardens, which were laid out by Lady Augusta FitzClarence, daughter of William IV and the wife of the Hon. John Kennedy Erskine. A large estate encompasses the house, gardens, policies and farmland, as well as the old Dun kirk (visited by John Knox in the 1550s), the Erskine family mausoleum, the Montrose Basin Nature Reserve and a 2-mile stretch of the River Esk. House of Dun has been in the care of the Trust since 1980 and was opened to the public in 1989. We’re hoping that the new presentation of the 320ha estate will make it ‘the Culzean of the east’!

The £714,000 project will convert under-utilised space in the house’s courtyard area to create a new home for the Angus Folk Collection. This space will tell the wider stories of the Dun estate, the county of Angus and its impact on Scotland’s history; explore the lives of rural communities; and celebrate the estate’s important natural heritage. Work on the project was delayed due to the pandemic, but the NTS expect to open the house to the public in mid-June. The refreshed House of Dun will feature multi-sensory interpretations on subjects ranging from toys of the past and the Declaration of Arbroath to hidden Jacobite secrets and agricultural heritage, as well as costumed story-telling, new cafés and shops.

Hidden gem

The National Trust for Scotland’s Chief Executive, Phil Long said: “It is with enormous pleasure that we’re finally able to begin work on House of Dun. In terms of scale and ambition it’s the largest project that we’re embarking on this year. I’m sure that, when we open the gates for the first time this summer, visitors from near and far will be impressed by what it has to offer.”

Phil continued: “Its reopening will no doubt contribute to the growing interest in the east coast of Scotland as a destination for visitors created by other important cultural landmarks such as V&A Dundee, the newly expanded Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museum, and nearby Glamis Castle and Hospitalfield House. More than any other property, it will bring together everything that the Trust does. House of Dun presents wealth and extravagance alongside agricultural toil, with both as important as the other to the story of Scotland. This place is as much about the manicured, ornamental gardens that surround the Georgian house as it is about Montrose Basin Nature Reserve and its abundance of wildlife. We love this place and we hope to shine a new light on a hidden gem.”

Designed with Georgian pride and baroque extravagance the House of Dun is every bit the perfect 18th century laird’s home set amid glorious gardens and woodland.

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

Robert the Bruce: Scotland’s greatest castle destroyer?

By: David C. Weinczok

A great many things have laid ruin to over 2,000 of Scotland’s castles through the centuries, some more banal than others: the elements, neglect, redundancy, bankruptcy, urban sprawl and, of course, fire and sword. For that final and most dramatic factor, there are only a handful of individuals and wars responsible for most of the casualties. Cromwell’s cannons levelled countless castles great and small; Edward I and III’s numerous invasions were especially destructive, though he also strengthened and even built several; and the Jacobite Risings saw many castles, including the restored and now-iconic Eilean Donan, destroyed or rendered moot by more modern fortifications. Someone you likely did not expect to find on that list, however, is none other than Robert the Bruce.

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Pioneering rewilding project aims to be first of its kind in Scotland

Almost 20 years after spearheading the reintroduction of the beaver to Scotland, Bamff Estate in Perthshire now aims to go further with a pioneering rewilding project to help tackle the nature and climate crises, while inspiring similar initiatives on other farms.  Led by a mother and daughter team, the family-run upland farm aims to create Bamff Wildland by rewilding of 450 acres – with 12 fields, six woods and some of the UK’s most impressive beaver territories transformed into a nature-rich connected area of land.

First of its kind in Scotland

Resident beaver.

Sheep have been removed from the fields, and after a fallow year this land will be linked to the woods and beaver wetlands to form a single rewilding zone – the first of its kind in Scotland. Small numbers of native breeds of pigs, cattle and ponies as proxies for their wild ancestors, will be introduced to create a dynamic mosaic of diverse habitats through conservation grazing. Eventually the animals will be able to roam freely across the whole 450 acres, in an approach shown to be critical for nature to thrive.

A crowdfunder to make Bamff Wildland a reality aims to raise at least £24,000. Funds are needed to kickstart the project, including by creating a perimeter fence so the estate’s internal fencing can eventually be removed. Although the work is all being done for public benefit, currently much of it is not eligible for government funding. 

Sophie Ramsay of Bamff Wildland  said: “As our climate destabilises and threatens human survival, and with heartbreaking accounts of wildlife numbers crashing internationally, farmers and landowners have a responsibility to respond to these twin crises. Rewilding is a powerful way of restoring nature to boost wildlife, soak up carbon dioxide and tackle climate breakdown impacts such as flooding and drought. More ambition for large-scale rewilding on less productive farmland is needed now, across the countryside.”

Putting nature back in the driving seat

Long-eared owl.

The initiative is inspired by Knepp Castle Estate in West Sussex, where – as described by Isabella Tree in her best-selling book Wilding – “putting nature back in the driving seat” has led to remarkable increases in wildlife, including nationally and internationally endangered species.  Bamff Wildland’s Crowdfunder, launched on April 1, has already met over 80% of the initial target attracting donations of all sizes and many supportive comments and shares on social media. Rewards for donations include the chance to “Adopt a Copse” or “Become a Founding Bamff Rewilder”.

“Through a programme of careful monitoring, Bamff Wildland will show what rewilding can do for our diminishing wildlife and for climate action on a Scottish upland sheep farm. Bamff is an averaged sized landholding and could be an example for many similar farms,” said Sophie, adding. “We will still grow food on other parts of the farm.  We believe in more land given over for rewilding, and for connectivity of habitat but also in the importance of local food production. Our Crowdfunder is also helping to demonstrate how public support for rewilding is growing. We hope this will encourage the Scottish Government to support widespread rewilding on marginal land across Scotland, to help meet our climate and biodiversity targets in a cost-effective way. Every single donation will make a difference. It’s an opportunity for people to be part of a groundbreaking project to benefit nature, climate and people.”

Future plans for Bamff Wildland include the creation of ponds, planting of native woodlands and wildflower areas, and erection of osprey platforms. The family is also interested in eventually reintroducing rare or locally extinct amphibian species such as the agile frog, pool frog, moor frog and great crested newt.  New walking trails across the estate are being created this summer to add to existing access.

To support the appeal, visit:

Bank of Scotland unveils new £50 polymer note design

The Bank of Scotland has unveiled the design of its new polymer £50 note which will enter circulation on the 1st of July 2021. Keen-eyed note holders will first notice the change in colour from traditional green to red. Evolving the existing “Bridge Series”, a new image of the world’s first and only rotating boat lift, the Falkirk Wheel, will be visible on the reverse. For the first time, the famous Falkirk structure will be joined by an image of the shape-shifting water spirits, The Kelpies. The two 300-tonne horses’ heads have been added to the £50 note in celebration of the contribution of horses to the history of Scotland. Furthermore, a new UV feature depicts a horse pulling a canal barge, one of the ways horses shaped the geographical layout of the Falkirk area.

Bank of Scotland’s new £50 notes feature the poem Steam Barge, by William Muir. It was written after he saw the newly-invented steam boat passing through Scotland’s Grand Canal. The front of the new note portrays the Scottish novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott, alongside the image of The Mound in Edinburgh, as the current £50 note does today.

Philip Grant, Chairman of the Scottish Executive Committee, Bank of Scotland, said: “Bank of Scotland has issued bank notes showcasing our country’s rich history for more than 320 years. Our new £50 note, with its images of the majestic Kelpies, the Falkirk Wheel and a poem by William Muir, celebrates the greatness of Scottish culture and engineering achievement. I am very proud to be a signatory on the note, in my role as Treasurer of Bank of Scotland.”

Trawl through Gaelic archive thrills film fans

Archive recordings collected by Edinburgh researchers are at the heart of a new film that pays homage to a language and culture in peril. A wealth of material recorded by ethnographers in the 1950s and 60s underpins this remarkable work, which is the first feature-length cinematic documentary in Scottish Gaelic. Iorram (Boat Song) is a stirring portrait of the changing fishing communities of the Outer Hebrides that fuses archive voices and songs with images of island life today. Director Alastair Cole accessed clips from the School of Scottish Studies archive while making the film, which premiered at Glasgow Film Festival to widespread acclaim.

Scotland’s rich oral heritage

The University of Edinburgh researchers who travelled the Hebrides with newly available portable recording devices captured the sounds of a culture that was dying out. Playing catch-up with centuries of tradition, they saved stories, songs and speech that would otherwise have been lost. Over the past decade, these precious clips have been painstakingly digitised. Now this epic, groundbreaking work runs as a continuing thread through Iorram, which saw Cole spend three years filming around the islands while also scouring 30,000 archive entries. Many of those recordings were catalogued by the Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches Project – a unique online record of Scotland’s rich oral heritage.

Iorra’s makers combed the archive for voices that were vivid, dramatic and emotional – sometimes even playful – to bring to life the intimate, perilous relationship between fishing crews and the stormy Atlantic.

In Iorram, these voices are translated with English subtitles for the first time, so that they can be understood, enjoyed and appreciated by non-Gaelic audiences. Present-day inhabitants of the islands are observed on land and at sea, while the ghostly voices of their forebears tell stories and sing songs about life at the mercy of the waves.

Ancient language

The film’s co-producer Magnus Course, a senior lecturer in social anthropology at Edinburgh, says those voices have an added poignancy as the Gaelic fishing community faces the grave challenges posed by Brexit, globalisation and climate change. The project stemmed from the lecturer’s study of the living, breathing relationship between the Gaelic language and fishing. Some 75 per cent of fisherman in the Western Isles speak the language, compared with 50 per cent of the population. The inshore fishing industry is one of the few working environments in Scotland where Gaelic is habitually used.

Dr Course says the film is also a love song to a language and culture at risk of extinction. Once spoken across most of Scotland, Gaelic has shrunk to just 11,000 habitual speakers, Yet, at the same time, interest in the lyrical beauty and cultural value of Scottish Gaelic is booming, with Gaelic schools flourishing in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and more than 560,000 registered learners worldwide. The makers of Iorram hope the film will bring something of that beauty and power to a wider audience, and show that losing this ancient language and culture will impoverish us all. The film features an original score by award-winning fiddle player and composer Aidan O’Rourke of the popular folk trio, Lau, Having premiered at the Festival on Sunday 28 February, Iorram will now go on virtual UK theatrical release.

Remembering Manning Valley Scottish history

We all know that Covid regulations prevented the presentation of many community and other events last year. One of those local events was the annual three-day Bonnie Wingham Scottish Festival (BWSF).  This year the Festival organizing committee has worked hard to present a one-day Festival event which will be the BWSF Festival Fair, to be held on Wingham`s Central Park on Saturday June 5th 9 am – 3pm.  Complying with an approved Covid-19 Safety Plan, the Festival will be the spectacle it has always been – parade, stalls, pipes and drums, games, and heaps of family fun for all.

Because there will be only one BWSF major event this year, a group of community members have organised a separate event to support the Festival`s Scottish heritage theme over the Festival June weekend. This will be a Commemoration Service Honouring the Scottish Presbyterian Early Settlers of the Manning Valley. The Service will be held at the Wingham Presbyterian War Memorial Church on Sunday June 6th at 11 am, all welcome. This special service has been organized to reflect the BWSF Thanksgiving Service held every year early on the Sunday morning of the annual BWSF weekend at the Wingham Wharf, now severely flood damaged.

For further information contact Convenor, Mave Richardson: Phone (02) 6553 5412 or email: [email protected]

Five reasons Sir Walter Scott matters today

Living History

Sir Walter Scott believed that the material culture of the past could bring history to life. Ready access to things created, used and lost by the people of the past was essential to Scott’s inspiration and success as a writer of historical fiction. He was a passionate advocate of experiential learning: encouraging people to visit battlefields, landmarks and ruins; to explore the features of their landscapes, and to imagine their many histories playing out there in full cinematic colour. He was interested in hearing the lost voices and songs of the past, preserving languages and folk customs; in reimagining its buildings and in collecting and wearing historical clothing, arms and armour. All of this underlines his commitment to sensory engagement with the past, the most critical aspect of living history as we understand it today. Scott also had the foresight the appreciate that the present is merely history in the making, and he encouraged his friends to draw parallels between contemporary events and those in times past, using his home and collection as a springboard. Ultimately, through the costumed splendour of the Waverley Balls and King George IV’s visit to re-enactments of his novels on the stage, Scott gave birth to the version of living history we might recognise today.


‘Wood, water and wilderness have an inexpressible charm for me.’ This is more than just the romantic sentiment of a poet: Scott knew that to live well, and to safeguard mental and physical wellbeing, a person should always be able to access and enjoy the natural world. The benefits of physical activity and open air, and the opportunities for conversation and creativity that such activities offered to those taking part, were all championed by Scott two hundred years before they found their way into the health and social policy so topical today. Scott lived his life with a visible disability, but he and his social circle placed the emphasis on what he could do rather than what he couldn’t, and it was never permitted to define him. His life at times was far from easy, and he weathered the stings of bereavement, financial hardship, depression and ill health with an indomitable spirit sustained by walking his woodlands and caring for his trees. Scott is one of very few nineteenth-century figures to talk candidly about their mental health issues and coping mechanisms.


Scott was deeply receptive to the stories and experiences of other cultures and times, so much so that he collected artefacts and studied materials from across the world. He was able to appreciate the bigger picture of the human story in unique and refreshing ways. And yet, he would always consider himself a Scottish Borderer, wedded to the land that was part of his creed and home to his reiver ancestors. His baronial set celebrated his own roots and those of others descended from the people of the Borders, with Abbotsford as the metaphorical heart of the region. Throughout his writing career he endeavoured to show that a sense of place creates distinctive cultural identities, and that regional character and traditions can co-exist alongside one another to create a rich national tapestry.


Scott’s greatest gift was his talent for storytelling. He was able to animate the past by blending history and fiction together, knitting the real and the imaginary with such mastery that sometimes his inventions have become accepted as historical truth. In his private life and social engagements, he was recognised for the same craft, and it was the dramatic tone of his voice, the animation of his face and the sparkle in his eye that enraptured his audiences. To quote a contemporary, to hear Scott speak was like drinking champagne. His home is a three-dimensional example of his vast storytelling capabilities, where the antique, modern and imitation co-exist in unlikely harmony and decisions in design, decoration and craftsmanship are all intended to stimulate conversations, raise eyebrows and communicate messages on a number of levels.


Sir Walter Scott is undoubtedly one of the most influential and relevant cultural figures of the last 200 years. His legacy still looms large in the spheres of architecture, international literature, tourism, lexicography, sustainability, biodiversity and landscape management. Right around the globe, there are places named after or connected with the man or his literary output. Scott’s impact in architecture and the decorative arts was the catalyst for Medieval Revivalism and the Arts and Crafts movement. His poems and novels put Scotland’s landscapes and her people on the map. But his legacy is far greater than the sum of its parts. For a voice from the past, Scott speaks to us intelligently about a whole host of contemporary issues, from national identity and internationalism to gender equality, industrialisation and revolution. Scott was a historical writer who looked toward the future with his eyes wide open, embracing progress whilst fiercely protective of the social values he felt were under threat. In an uncertain world, his perspective and insight has never had so much to offer us.

For more information on the 250th celebration for Sir Walter Scott see:

Sydney welcomes Scottish heritage celebrations

The first major Scottish event in Sydney in over a year will be presented by the Scottish Australian Heritage Council (SAHC) and The Celtic Council of Australia from Friday 25 June to Monday 28 June 2021. This is a great opportunity to wear your tartan again. We will welcome back clan folk, those of Scottish descent and everyone who wishes to celebrate Scottish Culture starting with the Celtic Bards’ Dinner on Friday 25 June at Cellos Restaurant, Castlereagh Boutique Hotel from 6.30pm. The guest speaker is Alasdair Taylor, a graduate of Sydney University, and renowned for his work in Scotland through Earth for Life. He is now with the National Trust of Australia. Entertainment includes the Address to the Haggis, Highland and Irish dancing, poetry from the seven Celtic nations and a dram or two. Bookings are essential.

The annual inspection of the Scotland Australian Cairn ceremony, Rawson Park, Mosman is on Saturday 26 June at 11.00am with our piper leading the Clan march and the Australian Gaelic Choir singing. This is followed by a BBQ lunch and a family Ceilidh in the Drill Hall with the Ceilidh Collective providing the music for singing, dance, etc. Sunday 27 June is the annual Kirkin o’ the Tartan at Hunter Baillie Memorial Presbyterian Church, Annandale, at 9.30am – bring your tartan. Monday 28 June is the Annual Tartan Day lunch at NSW Parliament House at 12 noon. Bookings are essential. In the evening we will present a lecture with Ben Wilkie, Juris Doctor, Deakin University, PHD Monash University (via zoom). The topic is Weaving the tartan, Culture, Imperialism, and Scottish identities in Australia 1788 – 1938.

For all enquiries,  please contact Nea MacCulloch at: 0408 990 413 or [email protected]. Details are also on the SAHC’s website:

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

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

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

Granite history

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

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

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

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

Castle Cluggy rescue mission begins

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

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

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

One of Scotland’s least-known historic castles

Castle Cluggy in the late 1800’s.

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

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

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

Books and cards play part in conservation

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

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

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

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

Mysterious people

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

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

Trying to put the Picts on the archaeological map

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

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

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

Discovering Scotland’s Distilleries

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


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

Location: Pencaitland, East Lothian.


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

Location: Port Ellen, Isle of Islay.

Caol Ila

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

Location: Port Askaig, Isle of Islay.


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

Location: Oban, Argyll.

Blair Athol

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

Location: Pitlochry, Perthshire.


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

Location: Dalwhinnie, Highlands.

Royal Lochnagar

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

Location: Ballater, Aberdeenshire.


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

Location: Ballindalloch, Moray Speyside.


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

Location: Aberlour, Moray Speyside.


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

Location: Carbost, Isle of Skye.

Glen Ord

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

Location: Muir of Ord, Highlands.


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

Location: Brora, Highlands.

World class whisky experience

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

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

Text and photos courtesy of:

Glasgow’s Battlefield

By: David McVey

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

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

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

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

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

Taking the Tattoo outdoors

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

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

A joyful celebration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

•And much more

A salute to the heroes

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

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

South of Scotland’s biggest community buyout completes

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

Tarras Valley Nature Reserve

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

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

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

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

The environment at its heart

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

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