Are you a West Coaster?

Tourism group launches campaign to find kindred spirits.

Visit Wester Ross, a voluntary tourism association based in Wester Ross in the Scottish Highlands, has launched a campaign designed to attract visitors who have an affinity with Wester Ross and the people that live there.  Launched in January, Are you a West Coaster? comprises a series of films featuring West Coasters who run businesses in Wester Ross and are looking to develop sustainable tourism to the area, which is also designated a Biosphere by UNESCO. Douglas Gibson, Co-ordinator at Visit Wester Ross, explains what it means to be a West Coaster: “People living in Wester Ross share the same mindset. We are passionate about where we live, we treat our stunning natural environment and each other with respect and we are proud to welcome visitors from all over the world and share our home. But a key difference is that we take ‘Highland time’ – this landscape and our culture has developed over a long period of time and is not something that needs to be rushed. We think there are fellow West Coasters all over the UK and indeed the world. People who want something different, people who want an authentic experience in a place where people, place and land are inextricably linked, people who want to stay and spend quality time, not just pass through for a selfie. So, we are asking people to identify as a West Coaster and come and spend some quality, Highland time with us.”

Breath-taking landscapes

A series of films will be released featuring West Coasters in their places of work, talking about what it’s like to live in Wester Ross and the impression the area makes on visitors. Viewers will be introduced to the Mountaineer West Coaster, the Nature West Coaster, the Water West Coaster, the Cultural West Coaster and the Foodie West Coaster, each giving their perspective and asking the question: Are you a West Coaster? This campaign is the latest development in the tourism strategy for Wester Ross, supported by national efforts spearheaded by VisitScotland to develop sustainable tourism. Natasha Hutchison, General Manager of the Wester Ross UNESCO Biosphere, is proud that Wester Ross has been included in the world’s first UNESCO trail which was launched by VisitScotland last year.

Natasha highlights the significance of the UNESCO Biosphere designation for Wester Ross: “UNESCO Biospheres are often located in breath-taking landscapes and Wester Ross is no exception. This makes them wonderful places to visit. But living in a UNESCO Biosphere is about actively working towards a sustainable future and finding that delicate balance between development and conservation to ensure the wellbeing of our people and place for generations to come. We hope that this campaign strikes a chord with people and encourages visitors who are as passionate about Wester Ross as we are.”

Wester Ross was recognised as a Biosphere Reserve in 2016 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) for the fantastic array of landscapes, wildlife and cultural heritage that the region offers. Biospheres house dynamic local partnerships, rooted in communities that work collaboratively with Biosphere teams in a global network, to explore how – through education, science, culture, communication and information – we can learn to live in harmony with our environment.

More information about Visit Wester Ross can be found at: www.visitwester-ross.com

Scotland’s anthrax island

Tucked away in a secluded bay on Scotland’s west coast, the remote island of Gruinard concealed one of British Intelligence’s most deadly secrets for over half a century.  Gruinard Island is a small island approximately 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) long by 1 kilometre (0.6 mi) wide, located in Gruinard Bay. The island was selected by Second World War scientists as the perfect spot to test an anthrax bomb after the government of the day became anxious about Hitler’s capacity to develop biological weapons.  The experiment in 1942 was horrifically successful, in that it annihilated a flock of sheep and left the 520 acre island enshrouded in anthrax and out of bounds to any human being until 1990. Approximately 95% of people infected with anthrax die.

Gruinard’s importance

Even though particulars of the pollution programme were familiar locally, Gruinard’s importance was officially recognised in documents declassified in 1997. It was during the 1980s that Dr David Kelly (who tragically committed suicide after being involved in the controversy about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction), was head of microbiology at the Chemical Defence Establishment at Porton Down and oversaw the operation to decontaminate the island.  Cleaning and purifying an entire island proved a mammoth challenge, but ultimately it was accomplished in 1986 with the help of 280 tonnes of formaldehyde dissolved in seawater.

On 24 April 1990, after 48 years of quarantine and four years after the cleaning of Gruinard, the island was certified as safe and four years later a local crofter, John Robinson successfully reintroduced sheep. According to the wartime newspapers, scientists concluded that anthrax had ‘enormous potential’. The wartime government was so taken aback by this statement that it declared that “these forms of frightfulness” should play no role whatever in the war effort.

Today you can take kayaking tours around the island and take it in its beauty. However some experts still today insist that the island will remain dangerous for several hundred years, as it is simply impossible to destroy the remnants of the anthrax in its territory.

Actress Karen Gillan named Grand Marshal of 2022 NYC Tartan Day Parade

The National Tartan Day New York Committee is honored to announce award-winning Scottish actress Karen Gillan as Grand Marshal of the 2022 New York City Tartan Day Parade. The popular Scottish-themed event, entering its 24th year, will be held in midtown Manhattan on Saturday, April 9, 2022, returning in person for the first time since 2019. Gillan will helm the parade, followed by a lively procession of Pipe & Drum bands, Highland dancers, Scottish family clans, Shetlander Vikings and more. The annual celebration of Scottish heritage and culture brings together a rich tapestry of participants along with many thousands of spectators.

“I am absolutely delighted to represent Scotland in the next New York City Tartan Day Parade,” Gillan says. “I’m honored to help celebrate Scotland in America, and I look forward to playing a part in broadening the public’s awareness of Scotland’s history and cultural contributions.”

Karen Gillan is internationally known for her film, television and stage acting in productions including fan favorites from the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame, in addition to several other projects such as Gunpowder Milkshake, Jumanji, Jumanji: The Next Level, and Doctor Who. Her most recent credits include Dual and the upcoming The Bubble. She is currently in production on Marvel’s Guardian’s of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and it was recently announced that she will be voicing the title character in Rhona Who Lives by the River for Disney+. Gillan’s work has been recognized with multiple British film and television awards, such as an Empire Award and a National Television Award. She has additionally received a Teen Choice Award in the United States and nominations for a BAFTA Scotland Award and Saturn Award.

Gillan was born and raised in Inverness, Scotland. In addition to her impressive roster of acting credentials, she is also a filmmaker and garnered a Best Feature Film nomination from British Academy Scotland Awards for her Inverness-set film The Party’s Just Beginning.

Registration for the 2022 NYC Tartan Parade is now open. Groups and individuals are invited to march in the 24th Annual New York City Tartan Day Parade on Saturday, April 9, 2022 for free and can register by visiting:  www.nyctartanweek.org

The King at Pleasure and Prayer

By: David McVey

James IV is usually remembered as the tragic king who not only lost the Battle of Flodden in 1513, but also died on the field. In fact, he was a very much more complex and interesting figure who influenced both the world of the church and the world of the arts. One place where these interests came together was Linlithgow Palace.

Linlithgow figures prominently in the Flodden story; it was in St Michael’s Kirk (adjacent to the Palace and also surviving today) that, before Flodden, James reportedly saw a blue-gowned apparition that warned him not to march with his army to England. Well, we can take that, as all such stories, with a hefty pinch of salt but if James IV were to see a ghost when in church, he’d be likely to see it in St Michael’s for he regularly went to Linlithgow. He commissioned a number of developments and enhancements to the palace. It’s been called ‘James IV’s Pleasure Palace’, but it was also a place of prayer with its own Chapel Royal – as if St Michael’s Kirk wasn’t grand enough.

The arts

St Michael’s Chapel. Photo: David McVey.

James IV had one especially distinguishable characteristic; he travelled about his kingdom a great deal, being seen in public, carrying out engagements and making agreements with local power bases. This was a probably a deliberate contrast to his late father, James III (a lot of Stewarts were called James) who had been criticised for rarely venturing outside Edinburgh. James, by contrast, progressed, in traditional royal fashion, between his various palaces including Edinburgh, Linlithgow, Stirling Castle and Falkland.

James encouraged the arts. He ordered the completion of the Chapel Royal and the Great Hall at Stirling Castle (both of which we can still appreciate today) and poets like William Dunbar and Gavin Douglas were encouraged to flourish. James became the patron of King’s College, Aberdeen in 1505 and in 1507 licensed Scotland’s first printing press. Scottish sacred music also began to get noticed, Robert Carver being its key figure.

Carver was an Augustinian canon at Scone Abbey near Perth, but also a composer of church music. He is most notable, however, for compiling what is now known as the Carver Choirbook, a collection of polyphonic sacred music, which included some of his own compositions. The National Library of Scotland suggests that the Choirbook was put together at some point between 1513 and 1520 (ie, after James IV’s death), possibly for use in the chapel at Scone Abbey, or the Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle. However, it’s just possible that the collection was compiled a little earlier for use in the Chapel Royal at Linlithgow Palace in the presence of James IV.

James IV was devoted to the cult of St Catherine and was known to celebrate her feast day (November 25) at Linlithgow. His alleged spectral warning about Flodden came in the St Catherine’s Aisle of St Michael’s Kirk and he paid fifteen visits to a healing well at Liberton in Edinburgh that was dedicated to St Catherine. The well still survives, in the grounds of a restaurant, and is sometimes known as ‘the Oily Well’ because of the oil that naturally appears on the water from local shale deposits. It may be significant, then, that the Carver Choirbook includes a number of works referencing St Catherine.

The sound of live Renaissance worship

Inside Linlithgow Palace. Photo: David McVey.

Two research projects, involving Edinburgh University and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council – Space, Place, Sound and Memory and Hearing Historic Scotland – have been investigating the appearance, layout and acoustic properties of the Linlithgow Chapel Royal during James IV’s time. The aim is to enable people today to experience what the sound of live Renaissance worship was like. Linlithgow Palace is now mostly ruinous (though still impressive) and the Chapel Royal is a bare, roofless, windowless space. The researchers surveyed the existing chapel using laser technology and studied the likely furnishings and layout of the space in James IV’s time. The aim was to make recordings and to develop an app that would allow listeners to experience the music as it might have sounded in Linlithgow’s Chapel Royal in its heyday.

Informed by the Hearing Historic Scotland project, a CD was recorded and issued, composed of selections from the Carver Choirbook (although none of the chosen music is by Carver himself) including some pieces dedicated to St Catherine. The music was performed by the Binchois Consort, conducted by Andrew Kirkman. James VI is known to have celebrated Easter at Linlithgow in 1512, so the selections are designed to be a possible order of service for that occasion, performed in the presence of a king who reverenced St Catherine. Using the app, listeners can compare how the music would sound in the recreated chapel of 1512, with the sound in today’s cold bare space.

Renaissance sacred choral music may not be your cup of tea, but these studies add to our understanding of James IV. It’s remarkable how much of the world that he knew can still be visited today. The sacred well at Liberton is freely accessible and so are James’ royal palaces, although Stirling, especially, was much remodelled later by his son James V. Even the burial place of his parents, James III and Margaret of Denmark, can be visited at the site of Cambuskenneth Abbey, a quiet spot near Stirling.

Much of what we know about James concerns his piety; the chapels, the music, the sacred sites. There is also his Book of Hours, a spectacular illuminated prayer book created probably in Ghent, Belgium, and now held in the Austrian National Library in Vienna. And yet, in the strange world of the 15th and 16th centuries, he was able to combine his religiosity with a liberal love-life. He had several children by a string of mistresses.

James IV was a fascinating if not a particularly admirable man. Recent research now enables us to appreciate even the music he heard during his devotions. He was more than just the king who received a ghostly warning about an impending battle, ignored the warning, and rode out to his death.

You can see a sample page of the Carver Choirbook at the National Library of Scotland’s website: https://digital.nls.uk/scotlandspages/timeline/15032.html

Details of the Hearing Historic Scotland and Space, Place, Sound and Memory research can be found at: https://www.eca.ed.ac.uk/research/space-place-sound-and-memory

Main photo: Linlithgow Palace. Photo: VisitScotland.

Scotland has a ‘golden opportunity’ to spark snow sports boom after two seasons effectively lost to Covid-19

A group of skiers standing above the entrance to the Back Corries at Nevis Range.

The Scottish ski season is ready to return with a bang after two lost years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. That’s the view of Snowsport Scotland CEO Trafford Wilson, who believes the first full season since the beginning of the pandemic, ongoing uncertainty around overseas travel, plus the impact of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, create the perfect conditions for a snow sports boom in Scotland as its five resorts prepare to fully open this winter. More than 750,000 tickets are sold at Scottish snow sports venues every year in an industry worth more than £30 million to the nation’s economy annually. The Scottish Ski Industry (SSI) also supports a workforce of more than 1,000 people, as well as almost 50 elite athletes involved in the Snowsport Scotland performance programme, which includes stars such as freestyle skier Kirsty Muir. 

However, the pandemic has significantly restricted the last two winter seasons, meaning the upcoming 2021/22 ski season is pivotal to the recovery and future of the industry in Scotland. The past two years have been challenging for the Scottish snow sports industry – with the stop-start disruption of the pandemic grinding ticket sales to a halt, resulting in snow sport facilities facing a £20m reduction in revenue.  Snowsport Scotland, the governing body overseeing Scottish snow sports activity at all levels, independently verified Snowsport facility losses from the pandemic over the past two winter seasons – even accounting for mitigation from furlough, redundancies, and deferred capital payments – are more than £12m.

Look to Scotland this winter season

However, despite the difficulties, Mr Wilson, who marks four years at the helm of Snowsport Scotland in May, believes Covid-19 provided opportunity by putting the industry under the magnifying glass and highlighting its importance to Scotland’s economy and tourism industry. He said: “While Covid has been a massive headache to say the least, particularly the stop and start nature of it, it’s also provided the opportunity to gain heightened support from the Scottish Government and other agencies and promoted the national importance of the snow sports industry.  Snow sports matters in Scotland. As evidenced through independent research the snow sports industry injects £30m into the Scottish economy every year, supports a workforce of more than 1,000 professionals, plays an important role in tourism, and allows literally hundreds of thousands of people each year to enjoy the physical and mental benefits that snow sport activities offer.”

In response to the many financial setbacks spurred on by Covid-19, the Scottish Government provided a £7m “ski centre fund” to safeguard Scotland’s commercially run snow sport centres – Nevis Mountain Range, Glencoe Mountain Resort, The Lecht Ski Centre, Glenshee Ski Centre, Bearsden Snowsports Centre, Snow Factor – Glasgow, Newmilns Snowsports Centre and Glasgow Ski and Snowboard Centre.

However, for the centres and the communities around them to thrive, Mr Wilson believes more investment is needed, which will hopefully be achieved in part, by strong ticket sales in the coming winter season.  With thousands of people also facing uncertainty due to the ever-changing quarantine rules in European countries, Mr Wilson hopes more people may look to Scotland this winter season.  

He said: “There’s a golden opportunity to get people in the UK thinking about coming to Scotland as concerns remain about travelling abroad. We hope that this opportunity allows more people than ever before to experience snow sports in the UK; and want to come back for more in the years to come.  It’s fundamentally important we have a good season. We want people to ski and snowboard in Scotland, enjoy it, and make it a habit going forward. This winter season presents a great opportunity for people to make the most of the varied terrain on offer, explore our backcountry playgrounds and to learn how to ski or snowboard on home soil.  With GB Snowsport looking to confirm 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic squads, Snowsport Scotland expects to see a strong base of Scottish athletes included. We are enormously proud of the number and quality of athletes preparing to compete at the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics and look forward to seeing how their performances help inspire the next generation of snow sport participants in Scotland.”

For more on Snowsport Scotland and its activities, visit www.snowsportscotland.org.

Did you know?

Charne Hawkes from Inverness, skiing high above Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil, at Nevis Range.

•There are 5 mountain resorts in Scotland; Cairngorm Mountain; Glencoe; Glenshee; Lecht 2090; and Nevis Range.

•There are 16 artificial snow sport centres; Aberdeen Snowsports Centre; Glasgow Ski & Snowboard Centre; Midlothian Snowsports Centre – Hillend; Snow Factor; Bearsden Ski and Board Club; Newmilns Snow and Sports Complex; Polmonthill Snowsports Centre; Firpark Ski Centre; Alford Ski Centre; Glenmore Lodge; Huntly Nordic and Outdoors Centre; Lagganila Outdoor Centre; Loch Insh; and, RM-Condor Arbroath.

•There is calculated to be demand for approximately 840,000 ‘skier days’ per year in Scotland, with 580,000 taking place on artificial slopes and a further 260,000 at mountain resorts.

•750,000 ‘skier days’ were recorded in the 2018-19 winter season (the last season recorded prior to covid)

•Currently, 18 of the 48 athletes on the UK Sport funded winter sports programme are Scottish.

•Snowsport Scotland’s membership has increased by 39% over the last 4 years (4,112 new members).

Diana Gabaldon, Bestselling author of Outlander novels, to be honored as NTSUSA’S 2022 Great Scot

American author Diana Gabaldon has brought the romance and drama of Scottish history to life for more than 50 million readers worldwide with her bestselling Outlander novels. Gabaldon’s novels, and the Starz television series they inspired, tell the story of a British army nurse who mysteriously travels back in time to 18th century Scotland. Now, The National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA will recognize her extraordinary contributions to Scotland and America’s shared heritage by presenting her with the 2022 Great Scot Award at their 15th annual fundraising gala, A Celebration of Scotland’s Treasures, on April 14, 2022.

“2022 has been designated Scotland’s Year of Stories, and so it seems especially appropriate to honor Diana Gabaldon, whose stories have come to embody Scotland and Scottish culture for millions of readers and television watchers around the world,” said Helen E.R. Sayles CBE, The National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA’s chair. “We are delighted to have the opportunity to thank her for inspiring so many readers to explore and fall in love with Scotland.”

Ms. Gabaldon’s first novel, Outlander, was published in 1991, and the story has extended across eight additional New York Times bestselling volumes. Her books have sold 50 million copies in 39 languages and 114 countries. The latest and ninth book, Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone, was published in November 2021.  Largely set in 18th century Scotland, many of the Outlander novels use actual historic events as the backdrop for Claire and Jamie Fraser’s romance. Some of these, including the 1746 Battle of Culloden, are historic sites now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. In addition, National Trust for Scotland properties including Falkland Palace, Preston Mill, and the Village of Culross, have been used in filming the Sony/Starz television series based on Ms. Gabaldon’s work. The series stars Catriona Balfe and Sam Heughan, and its sixth season premieres on March 6, 2022.

Americans have embraced Scottish culture through their love of Outlander

Diana Gabaldon visiting Falkland Palace in Fife, Scotland, a property cared for by the National Trust for Scotland.

“I have seen firsthand how Americans have embraced Scottish culture through their love of Outlander,” said Kirstin Bridier, executive director of NTSUSA. “Many Outlander fans have contributed generously to the preservation of National Trust for Scotland sites associated with the novels and television show – sites like Preston Mill. We could not ask for a better ambassador for our work.”

The presentation of the Great Scot Award is at the heart of a black-tie event that raises funds to support Scotland’s largest conservation charity. Past recipients of the award include documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, comedian Sir Billy Connolly, award-winning actors Alan Cumming and Brian Cox, endurance athlete and world-record breaking cyclist Mark Beaumont, sculptor Andy Scott, and authors Denise Mina and Alexander McCall Smith.

A Celebration of Scotland’s Treasures is a festive evening that features a whisky tasting by The Macallan; the recitation of Burns’ Ode to a Haggis by Alasdair Nichol, Chairman of Freeman’s auction house and a frequent appraiser on PBS’s Antiques Roadshow; Scottish country dancing; and live and silent auctions. Before heading home, guests form a circle, clasp hands, and sing Auld Lang Syne. The National Trust for Scotland cares for 100 natural and cultural heritage properties across Scotland, including several sites that commemorate historic events described in Outlander or used for filming the Sony/Starz television show.

The Great Scot Award will be presented on April 14, 2022, at The National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA’s first in-person fundraising gala since 2019. The National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA (NTSUSA) exists to support the work of Scotland’s largest conservation charity. NTSUSA makes grants for projects that protect Scotland’s natural, built, and cultural heritage on behalf of future generations. Since 2000, NTSUSA has committed more than $10 million in funding for the National Trust for Scotland’s most urgent conservation priorities. Donations to NTSUSA, a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization, are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. To learn more about NTSUSA or to become a member, please visit www.ntsusa.org.

To learn more about the A Celebration of Scotland’s Treasures gala, visit www.ntsusa.org/about-us/celebration-gala.

Main photo: Great Scot Award honoree Diana Gabaldon with Outlander stars Catriona Balfe and Sam Heughan.

Auld Lang Syne ritual lodged in Scotland’s past

It is a custom observed worldwide by millions every New Year, now research has uncovered why revellers link arms when they sing Auld Lang Syne. A study of Robert Burns’ best-loved song links the practice to freemasonry, where singing with arms crossed and hands joined was a parting ritual in many Lodges. University of Edinburgh musicologist Morag Grant, who has just published a book about the song, spotted the Masonic connection while sifting the archives of Glasgow’s Mitchell Library. A newspaper report of an Ayrshire Lodge’s Burns Supper in 1879, describes the song being sung as members formed ‘the circle of unity’ —a common masonic ritual, also called the ‘chain of union’.

Global popularity

Dr Grant says the tradition of singing the song at times of parting, and doing so with crossed hands, emerges in the mid-19th century – not just among Freemasons, but in other fraternal organisations too. The Masonic link is hardly surprising, according to Dr Grant. Burns was a Freemason all his adult life and the organisation was instrumental in promoting his work during his lifetime and after his death. Dr Grant has studied a range of historical sources – including written accounts, newspaper reports, theatre playbills, printed music and early recordings – to illuminate the song’s path to global popularity.

Auld Lang Syne’s sentiments didn’t just resonate with Freemasons”, says Dr Grant. “Some of the earliest reports of the song’s use at parting come from American college graduations in the 1850s.” Within decades, the use of the song at graduation had crossed to Japan, where the well-known tune — known as Hotaru no hikari—is still played at the close of business in some shops.

Dr Grant’s study shows that Auld Lang Syne’s global fame predates the invention of sound recording and radio. Many commentators had previously linked its rise to the dawn of the broadcast era. Historical analysis suggests otherwise. In 1877, Alexander Graham Bell used it to demonstrate the telephone, and in 1890 it was one of the first songs recorded on Emil Berliner’s gramophone. The song’s use at New Year emerged around the same time, principally through exiled Scots gathering outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London, but also expatriates living abroad. By 1929, the tradition was so well established internationally that a line from the song was displayed on the electronic ticker at New Year’s celebrations in Times Square. The Scouts too played a key role in spreading its fame. The song was sung at the end of the first World Scout Jamboree in 1920 and versions in French, German, Greek and Polish soon followed.

Song’s origins

Dr Grant’s book, Auld Lang Syne: A Song and its Culture, also explores the song’s origins and Burns’ role in creating the modern song from older models. The book examines the part played by his publisher, George Thomson, in picking the tune generally sung today, which is not, in fact, the one Burns intended. Auld Lang Syne quickly became popular with Scottish audience when it was published in this form in 1799 and soon became well known elsewhere.

A key step in this process was its inclusion in an opera called Rob Roy Macgregor, or Auld Lang Syne – which premiered in London in 1818. Before long, it was being performed in North America. Says Dr Grant, who’s based in the Reid School of Music at Edinburgh College of Art: “It’s remarkable how this song, written in a language which even most Scots don’t fully understand, has become so synonymous with New Year the world over. The many traditions and rituals associated with the song – as well as it simple, singable tune – are key to understanding its phenomenal spread, and why we still sing it today. Auld Lang Syne is a song about the ties that bind us to others across the years and even though its appeal is now global, it’s very much rooted in the world Burns inhabited,” says Dr Grant.

Auld Lang Syne: A Song and its Culture by M J Grant is published by OpenBook Publishers and is available to read free online at: www.openbookpublishers.com/product/1253

Finlay Wilson-The Kilted Yogi

Viral Scottish yoga star Finlay Wilson is back with his new book Wild Kilted Yoga: Flow and Feel Free, get ready for more tartan, more dramatic scenery and more tips and tricks to make your yoga practice extra special. Finlay took time to speak to the Scottish Banner on his love of yoga, his rescue dog Amaloh, tartan and of course Scotland. 

Finlay you have fused Scotland’s incredible scenery, the iconic kilt and the ancient, but non-Scottish, practice of yoga to become a viral Scottish yoga star a few years back. Since then, you have helped sell yoga, kilts and Scotland to the world. How has your life changed since 2017 and are you still surprised how merging these elements has been enjoyed by millions of people across the world?

FW: It constantly surprises me that every week new people engage with it. I get messages and comments from all over, some first timers to yoga, but most that are big fans of Scotland. If it gets more people thinking about yoga and a practice for themselves, then great!

You have said your dog Amaloh is the reason you created Kilted Yoga and that you rescued Amaloh from Sri Lanka with a yoga strap as a collar. Can you tell us more and how has having Amaloh in your life changed you?

FW: If it weren’t for the on-the-spot decision to rescue him, the chain of events would have meant Kilted Yoga never happened! Once Amaloh was over here, I made a video about him that went viral. In the small period of time afterwards people waited for the “what’s next” and were receptive to Kilted Yoga. His three million views were knocked out of the park within 24 hours! On a more serious and less digital note, I had just gone through an awful divorce and having him suddenly in my life gave shape to my days, keeping me from sinking too deeply. He also really enjoys being around when I am doing Yoga, so he was like a familiar that encouraged me to do even that.

As the world changed so drastically last year with many facing isolation and depression. How do you find yoga has helped you during the pandemic and how have you had to adapt your business during a Covid world?

FW: Yoga is my daily practice. The pandemic added a lot more pressure but what it did was move me outside. I found to deal with the challenges mentally, I had to augment my practice by getting outside more and became an avid cyclist, gardener and walker. From a business point of view, teaching online wasn’t new to me, so we were able to transition straight away to online classes without missing a beat. While practicing online isn’t the same as being in person, it was a means to and end that kept our community together and in a routine for the 18 months. Our staff all stayed on full time and our audience grew to span the world, that was a very unexpected bonus!

You do a lot of community outreach from your Dundee based studio and help children, young adults and families and recently became an Ambassador for the Prince’s Foundation, can you tell us more?

FW: I sure can. The studio, Heart Space, just celebrated 10 years since I opened it and now that we are back into the swing of things (albeit with physical distancing still in place) we have a full schedule of classes for families that are free. So far, we offer pregnancy yoga, parent and baby yoga, parent and baby barre, kids yoga, kids aerial yoga, and kids aerial silks and a class called Yoga for Every Body. All of our other classes help fund this and the work we do in the community. With community centres and groups still working out this new environment, we are hoping to keep developing and reforging connections we had 20 months ago.

With this focus and skillset, I was approached by The Prince’s Foundation to be an ambassador for the incredible work that the foundation does around mental health, wellbeing, and education. Without it being too much of a theme, as we come out of the pandemic, my role will become clearer as we find new ways to work with each other.

In 2017 you released the bestselling book Kilted Yoga: Yoga Laid Bare which introduced many to yoga and also some spectacular Scottish scenery.  Now you are releasing Wild Kilted Yoga: Flow and Feel Free. Can you tell us more about the new book, working with your twin brother and how making this book you were able to visit special places in Scotland from your childhood?

FW: Not only was it amazing to get out when restrictions lifted, I also hadn’t spent any meaningful time with my twin brother since the start of the pandemic. So, to be able to go out with a project and a plan felt incredible. Now, the weather had other ideas and we were hit with blizzards as soon as we got to Glen Coe in May, hail, gale force winds and torrential rain. We had to move some of our locations around and for each sequence (fire, water, earth, and air) we shot in two different locations for each as we navigated the weather. Only one of the locations, air, was new to me as we trekked along single track roads for hours to get to Sanna Beach. It looks more like Caribbean waters than what you would associate with Scotland!

Alastair has taken almost all of the images you see on my pages, we do a calendar every year and I wanted to work with someone that knows me very well, understands the poses and when I am fully in them, but also to celebrate that he is as much an essential part of kilted yoga as the guy doing the yoga!

The book follows on from book one which set the foundations of the practice I teach and moves into four very different sequences that build on these foundations. Each sequence has a different energetic with flowing movements for water and strong holds for fire. There is also a bonus chapter in there for two people practicing together, just like book one.

In 2018 you created the Kilted Yoga tartan which gives a nod to the mystical Scottish wolf. Can you tell how important it is for you incorporate kilts in your work and to also champion the art of kiltmaking and Scottish textiles?

FW: I did indeed. The colours are a cry back to a wolf’s coat with a shot of red through there for other parts of my environmental studies with Red Deer and Scot’s Pine (which has a lovely red hue to the bark). It matches the wolf tattoo on my forearm and is something that has held my imagination since I was younger and began my studies. Prickly Thistle helped design and weave the tartans and a big part of their message is the permanence of traditional Scottish industry vs. fast fashion and plastic-based materials. I know a lot of people growing up inherited a kilt, it has a lifespan beyond that, unlike most clothes and I really put mine through its paces.

Finlay what would you tell someone, regardless of their age, who wants to try yoga? Also, can you tell us about some of the ongoing benefits yoga has given you and how does it make you feel to be taking yoga to such a new level across the world?

FW: A lot of people have tried yoga, one of the things we try to let people know is that there are many styles, systems, methodologies and personalities out there. Depending on what you need (and you may not even know) it is worth shopping around a little. One teacher’s interpretation of gentle may be vastly different to another’s. It is useful to find a teacher that is knowledgeable and experienced, especially if you are navigating any injuries but it is best to check with a physical therapist about the best route for that.

For me, yoga makes me less reactive. I have a core that feels steady in the face of challenges. Breath work and endurance have helped me on so many occasions it doesn’t need mentioning! It is this that I hope brings people to my classes, the desire to explore what they can do rather than adding to a list what they can’t do.

And finally, Finlay in your book and your videos you get to travel across Scotland and show off its beauty to many. How does Scotland’s natural settings compliment yoga and do you have a favourite part of the country to visit when not rolling out the yoga mat?

FW: I love practicing all over but if it’s a peat bog and soaking, I am usually miserable!  Give me dry and grippy rock and we are on to a winner. It’s the fresh air, the feeling of life in with each breath. Whenever I am away travelling it is something I look forward to on my return.

Wild Kilted Yoga: Flow and Feel Free by Finlay Wilson is available now. For more information or to keep up with Finlay see: www.finlay-wilson.com

Photo courtesy of: Alastair Wilson/Hodder & Stoughton.

Earlybird tickets on sale now for CelticFest 2022

CelticFest organisers are pleased to announce that Early Bird tickets are now available for the CelticFest Gathering, the festival’s main ticketed event to be held on Saturday 26 March 2022 at the Warwick Showgrounds. For the very reasonable price of $15 for adults and $5 for school age children, festival-goers will be able to immerse themselves in a full day of events to celebrate all things Celtic, including highland games heavy events, pipe band competition, Irish dancing, highland dancing competition, clan gathering, Celtic choir, medieval village, Celtic-themed markets, and music from bands such as Limerick.  In the evening, Irish band The Gathering will get everyone up on their feet and dancing. CelticFest Gathering tickets are available at www.eventbrite.com.au.

A celebration of the Southern Downs’ rich Scottish and Irish heritage

Warwick Thistle Pipe Band.

CelticFest is a celebration of the Southern Downs’ rich Scottish and Irish heritage and continues on from the Warwick Caledonian Society’s 150th Anniversary celebrations in March 2021.

“Those who attended the 150th celebrations in March 2021 will have some idea of what to expect,” said Alexander Manfield, the Society’s chieftain. “From medieval re-enactments to marching bands, from highland games to highland dancing, from pipe bands to Celtic rock bands, from highland coos (cows) to haggis, it will be like the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo right here in Warwick.” The Warwick business community will also experience the benefits of CelticFest, with accommodation providers already receiving bookings for the event, Manfield added. “The Warwick Showgrounds is going to transform into a sea of tartan, armour, music, dance and traditional food,” he said. “This is going to be a brilliant festival.”

CelticFest organisers are also delighted to announce that Warwick Sandstone, Warwick Friendly Society, Proterra and Ironside Industry have committed to providing sponsorship for CelticFest. “It is our pleasure to be able to contribute towards an exciting new festival, CelticFest – another reason to put our great town of Warwick on the must-visit map,” said Jill Bockman, from Warwick Sandstone. “Warwick Sandstone wishes the CelticFest planning committee good luck for an exciting and great outcome.”

Celtic-themed events

In addition to the main Saturday event, CelticFest Community events will be held on Friday 25 March and Sunday 27 March. Some of these events will be free, and some will have their own ticketing. The CelticFest Community events will be held across many of the towns and villages in the region including Warwick, Killarney, Allora and Clifton, and will celebrate the area’s Celtic heritage, music, art, dance and natural beauty including workshops, performances and tours.

Club Warwick RSL, a key CelticFest supporter, will host toe tappin’ Irish band Limerick (the Saturday after St Patrick’s) Day, and is planning other Celtic-themed events leading up to CelticFest. Southern Downs Steam Railway will offer a trip to Clifton on Sunday 27th  March, which will include lunch at O’Shanley’s Irish Bar and Restaurant. The Warwick Art Gallery is holding a Celtic-themed art exhibition, titled ‘Cruthaich’ (Gaelic for ‘create’) between March 3-April 19, 2022, for which it is currently inviting submissions from artists; submissions close 11 February 2022.  

Meanwhile Scots PGC College will run a Pipe Band competition, also on Sunday 27th March, and Glengallan Homestead and Warwick’s Pringle Cottage will host roaming pipers while celebrating the region’s history. Warwick Parkrun will host a Scottish-themed parkrun on the morning of Saturday 26th, and is inviting those in town for CelticFest to get their tartan on for a running start to the event. This is just a taste of what CelticFest visitors can expect from what is sure to be an event that will have something to suit everyone’s interest. CelticFest is assisted by the Local Event Funding Program (LEFP), which is a temporary funding program facilitated by Southern Downs Regional Council and jointly funded by the Australian and Queensland Governments as a component of the 2019 Queensland Bushfires Community Recovery Package under Category C of the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements.

Information about CelticFest and the CelticFest Community events will be placed on the CelticFest website at www.celticfestqld.com.au, and also on the CelticFest Warwick Facebook page as they are confirmed.

The Asheville Celtic Festival-Haggis, Big Athletes, Scotch, Dogs, Swords and Kilts Return

A Winter Indoor/Outdoor Celtic Festival, to be held on Saturday February 19, 2022 at the WNC Agriculture Center in Flecher, North Carolina.

Entertainment will include Live Celtic Music from bands like ALBANNACH from Glasgow Scotland, Kilmaine Saints from Pennsylvania and Unspoken Traditions from Cherryville, NC. The opening ceremony will occur at 11:00 am with the awakening sounds of The Grandfather Mountain Pipe and Drum Band.

Other entertainment will include LIVE Full Armored Sword Fighting at The Castle by The Warriors of Ashe.

More Features:

•             Border Collie Demonstrations

•             Celtic Educational Role Play Groups

•             Scottish Athletic Demonstrations

•             Celtic Dog Clubs

•             Genealogy Research

•             Celtic Foods

•             A Royal Court

•             A Celtic Village of Artisans and Craftsmen

•             Kilts everywhere!

Mission: The Asheville Celtic Festival is the focused event of the Asheville Celtic Group, a Non-Profit 501 (c) 3 Corporation. The group was founded for the primary purpose of creating various platforms for education on the subject of the historic Celtic cultural influences of settlers from the Seven Nations to the specific region of the Western North Carolina Mountains dating from 1750 to 1850.

For more details see: www.ashevillecelticfest.com or www.facebook.com/ashevillecelticfest

Podcast series: The Road to Culloden

Researched and written by volunteers at Culloden Visitor Centre, ‘The Road to Culloden’ follows the deadly game of cat and mouse between Government and Jacobite forces, concluding with the Battle of Culloden.

Four volunteers at Culloden Visitor Centre – Peter Cowe, John Easson, Ewen Macniven and Emma Tautscher – spent months piecing together information from a variety of sources for the newly released The Road to Culloden podcast series. The script was then checked by the National Trust for Scotland’s historians before being given the seal of approval from Professor Murray Pittock, the Trust’s Scottish History advisor and a world expert on Culloden.

The 275th anniversary of the battle

Each 15-minute episode takes a different point of the story as its theme. A new episode will be released every few weeks until April 2022, marking the end of the commemoration of the 275th anniversary of the battle. These podcasts also mark the beginning of Culloden’s programme of ‘war stories’ – this will run over the next two years, tying in with VisitScotland’s Year of Stories 2022.

The Road to Culloden podcast has been supported by many experts and members of the public, all passionate about the history of both the place and the people, before and after the Battle of Culloden. We are deeply grateful to those who have shared their expert knowledge and to those who donated to make this series possible, including eminent military historian Christopher Duffy, Professor Murray Pittock, the National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA and donors to Culloden’s Fighting Fund. The Road to Culloden has been recorded by veteran broadcaster Clare English and a new episode will be released every 4 weeks.

Episodes

At time of press five episodes are now available and episodes include:

1) Matters a-Rising! From political power struggles to dynastic divisions and civil war, part one of the Road to Culloden podcast, Matters a-Rising, positions the central players in the 1745 Rising and sets the scene for the battle for the throne of Great Britain.

2) Cat chases mouse, or does mouse chase cat? Take part in a deadly game of cat and mouse as Prince Charles and his Jacobites advance across Scotland, pursued by Government troops. Ambushes, subterfuge, and brutal skirmishes defined the opening salvos of the campaign and saw the rebel Prince take up residence in Holyrood.

3) The long way there and back. Following victory in the Battle of Prestonpans Prince Charles Edward Stewart’s eye turned to England and the next stage in the Jacobite Rising. Advancing into England at breakneck pace and with London in their sights, poor intelligence and internal squabbles would ultimately shape the Jacobites’ vision.

4) Decisions, decisions. An out-voted Bonnie Prince is forced to head home under duress as the momentum shifts in the 1745 Rising. Sensing blood, the Government marches north in hot pursuit, with ‘Rebellious Scots to crush’, but there was still hope and victories ahead for the Jacobite forces.

5) The Battle of Culloden and its immediate aftermath. Harried and hunted, the exhausted Jacobites gather at Drummossie Moor for what would be one final and emphatic confrontation. The final episode of the Road to Culloden takes us onto the battlefield and among the ranks for the battle and tells of its brutal aftermath, the effects of which still resonate today.

Listen to The Road to Culloden at: https://pod.co/the-road-to-culloden-podcast

Tartan honouring nursing is woven with gratitude

A tartan incorporating the colours of Scotland’s national nurse uniform has been created by nursing students and is the first of its kind to celebrate the profession. The woven cloth features shades of blue with burgundy detail to echo the official outfits worn by NHS nurses, healthcare assistants and student nurses across the country.  The tartan was conceived by Nursing Studies students at the University of Edinburgh, home to the UK’s first nursing degree, the UK’s first nursing research unit, and Europe’s first Professor of Nursing Studies. The Nursing Now – Edinburgh Nursing Studies tartan symbolises identity, kinship and solidarity for nurses, according to its registration with the Scottish Register of Tartans.

Celebrating nursing

The colourful project has been developed in partnership with Nursing Now – a global campaign established in 2018 to promote nursing and its vital role in improving health and transforming heathcare – and as part of the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, which was designated by the World Health Organisation in 2020 to celebrate and enhance nursing.  Jamie Smith, a nurse at NHS Lothian and a PhD student at the University, and Georgia Duffy, a former student at Edinburgh and also a nurse in practice at NHS Lothian, initiated the idea for the tartan and its design and said:  “Tartan is such a symbol of kinship which is synonymous with Scotland. We thought by creating this special tartan just for nurses it could help recognise their contribution – a way to support those who are always there to support us.”

A range of tartan merchandise – including facemasks, lambswool scarfs, shawls, stoles, wraps and tartan ties have been developed. People can also show their support for nurses with a charity tartan ribbon available for purchase on the Nursing tartan website. Georgia Duffy, NHS Lothian nurse said: “Capturing the essence of nurses and nursing was paramount to us on the creation of the tartan. Using the national uniform colours achieves this through highlighting the diversity within the workforce. Anyone can wear the tartan and we hope everyone will and can.”

Sales of the products will help raise funds for projects which will equip nurses and midwives to tackle global healthcare challenges.  Proceeds will also support The Burdett Trust for Nursing, a charitable trust which funds a range of projects to empower nurses and make significant improvements to the patient care environment. The Burdett Trust provides support for the Edinburgh Global Nursing Initiative – a University project launched in 2020 which connects nurses worldwide to share research, innovations and knowledge to boost people’s health outcomes. The global initiative’s pioneering projects have a focus on innovating nursing and midwifery in areas where health systems are affected by challenges such as disease outbreaks, poverty and conflict.

Saved for the nation: Scottish institutions celebrate appeal’s success

The Scottish members of a consortium set up to save a unique collection of literature for the nation have welcomed the news that their international appeal has reached its target of £15 million. This means that the Blavatnik Honresfield Library (formerly Honresfield Library) – a treasure trove of items from the world’s most beloved writers, unseen by the public for almost a century – will no longer be sold at open auction and instead will be shared with libraries and other organisations across the UK. The library, collected and curated by a Rochdale businessman in the 1800s, comprises priceless manuscripts, rare first editions and irreplaceable letters. These include works by Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, Jane Austen and the Brontë siblings.

A UK-wide consortium led by The Friends of the National Libraries, which includes Abbotsford, the National Library of Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland, was successful in raising half the funds needed from hundreds of individual donors, as well as the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Scottish Government, the Foyle Foundation, and other organisations, with the balance coming from a generous donation by Sir Leonard Blavatnik – the largest ever given to the UK by an individual for a literary treasure. This achievement has also been made possible by the vendor’s willingness to give the consortium the time needed to launch and run the fundraising appeal, to which countless people from Scotland, the UK and around the world contributed.

Coveted collection of literary treasures

Rob Roy. Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Arrangements will be made in the coming months for the Scottish organisations to take possession of key works from the collection, conserve them and make them publicly accessible. These include an early volume of poems by Robert Burns in his own hand – containing some of his earliest recorded literary works – known as the First Commonplace Book, as well as individual autograph poems (Cessnock Bank and the Brigs of Ayr), and some of the poet’s earliest correspondence, including the only extant letter to his beloved father.

Other Scottish material of huge importance is the complete working manuscript of Sir Walter Scott’s iconic novel Rob Roy, part of the autographed manuscript of Scott’s verse romance, The Lay of the Last Minstrel, his travel journal of an expedition off the Scottish coast in 1814, a copy of Border Antiquities with extensive manuscript revisions, and an exceptional group of Scott first editions in their original condition.

Culture Minister Jenny Gilruth said: “It’s important for the nation that this coveted collection of literary treasures has been saved from being sold into private hands. Once again, books which play a crucial part in Scotland’s literary history were in danger of being withheld from public view. These include some of Robert Burns’s earliest works and the manuscript of Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy. The Scottish Government is pleased to support the Honresfield Library appeal by providing £400,000 to ensure these valuable books return to Scotland where our culture and heritage organisations will ensure they are cared for, preserved and made available to the public.”

Balmoral 2022 Online Winter Workshop

MacLeod, Gandy, Mathieson & Carlisle to teach at Balmoral’s Winter Workshop.

The Balmoral School of Piping & Drumming is offering a weekend-long Winter Workshop for Pipers, February 4-6, 2022, for a fee of $275 USD. Students who refer new students will receive $50 off the price of the Workshop for each new student referred.

Attendees will receive online instruction via Zoom, with tech help available for those who need it. Our guest piping instructors—Roddy McLeod, Andrew Carlisle, Bruce Gandy, Robert Mathieson— have all won major awards and have incomparable records of teaching and promoting pipe music around the world.

Roddy MacLeod, MBE, of Glasgow, Scotland, won his first Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting in 1986, Argyllshire Gathering Gold Medal in 1988. He is a 10-time winner of the Piobaireachd at the Glenfiddich Solo Piping Championship and has won the overall title five times. While Pipe Major of the Scottish Power Pipe Band, he led it to over 45 Grade 1 Championship prizes including the Cowal Championships and All Ireland Championships. He was Principal of The National Piping Centre from 1996 -2020.

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

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

From Hamilton Scotland, Robert Mathieson is a composer of pipe music, as well as an award-winning Pipe Major. He served as pipe major of the Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band of North Lanarkshire, Scotland, from 1986 to 2010. The band won 30 major championships under Mathieson’s leadership and was a 5-time winner of the World Pipe Band Championships.

Special deal for band members! Bring at least a few members of your pipe band to Balmoral and you’ll receive a highly customizable band clinic, tailored to your band’s needs, as part of your Winter Workshop.

For further details see: www.balmoralschoolofpiping.org/winter-workshop

National Dance Company to headline Te Anau Tartan Festival

An elite dance company of New Zealand’s champion Highland Dancers, renowned for performing innovative choreography worldwide, will perform an exclusive show at the 8th Te Anau Tartan Festival this Easter. The Highland Dance Company of New Zealand is usually in demand performing its energetic and contemporary acts at festivals, tattoos and shows around the world, but opportunities have been stalled by the Coronavirus pandemic.

With assistance from the Regional Events Fund, which was created to stimulate domestic tourism and travel between regions through holding events, the Te Anau Tartan Festival’s invitation to the dance company to headline this year’s event was met with overwhelming enthusiasm. The company will perform a revised version of its Heart of the Highlands show, which included Invercargill in its 2018 tour, specially adapted to suit the Te Anau town hall stage at the Fiordland Events Centre. As part of their goal to inspire and encourage other young dancers, the company is giving those competing at the festival the exciting opportunity to apply to be part of the cast.

How exciting and innovative Highland Dancing can be

Auckland-based Highland Dancer Imogen Grayson, currently ranked number 2 in the country, will join the cast performing the acclaimed show at the Te Anau Tartan Festival this Easter. Photo: Chris Watson/Profocus Photography.

Numbers are limited and priority will be given to Southland-based dancers. Te Anau Tartan Festival convener Kirsty Pickett, who is also a Highland Dancing teacher, said the festival committee was extremely excited to be hosting the dance company, and she hoped as many people as possible would take the opportunity to come and witness the spectacle, “I can’t emphasise enough just what a unique opportunity this is. While we see them in competition around the country, these dancers usually only come together as a troupe for international performances. Shows around New Zealand are rare. Although it’s grounded in our traditional technique, the choreography and costuming is contemporary and dynamic and will appeal to a wide range of people. I think people will be genuinely surprised at just how exciting and innovative Highland Dancing can be. What these dancers are doing for Highland Dancing is akin to what Riverdance did for Irish dancing.”

Past and present champions and nationally-ranked dancers make up the cast, including the reigning New Zealand Champion, Angus Hendry. Full programme details will soon be unveiled, but the Dance Company will perform two shows over the course of the Tartan festival, the first to open the festival on Friday, 15th April. Tickets will be available on the festival website: www.teanautartanfestival.co.nz. Alongside highland dancing and solo bagpiping competitions, other events planned are the ever-popular have-a-go highland games on Saturday, 16th April, that the whole family can take part in, along with food stalls and a market. And, for the first time, piping and Highland Dancing workshops will be offered on Sunday, 17th April, to encourage competitors and their families to stay in the region longer, and learn from some of the country’s leading tutors.

For details on the Te Anau Tartan Festival see: www.teanautartanfestival.co.nz

Main photo: Reigning New Zealand Highland Dance champion Angus Hendry, of Palmerston North, will join the New Zealand Highland Dance Company at the Te Anau Tartan Festival this Easter. Photo: Chris Watson/Profocus Photography.

Affric Highlands launched to rewild half a million acres of Scottish Highlands

30-year project joins prestigious European group of awe-inspiring rewilding areas.

An ambitious 30-year landscape-scale rewilding initiative to link up a majestic sweep of the Scottish Highlands as one vast nature recovery area connecting Loch Ness to Scotland’s west coast has been launched by charity Trees for Life, and joins a select group of prestigious European rewilding areas.  The Affric Highlands initiative follows three years of consultation between Rewilding Europe, Trees for Life, and other local partners and stakeholders. It will restore nature across a network of landholdings potentially covering an area of over 500,000 acres stretching from Loch Ness across the central Highlands to Kintail in the west, and encompassing Glens Cannich, Affric, Moriston and Shiel.

Trees for Life has brought together a broad coalition of landowners, communities and others to boost habitat connectivity, species diversity, and social and economic opportunities in the region, while tackling climate breakdown. With community involvement and partnership working central to the project, a diverse group of 20 landowners covering at least 25% of the total area and six organisations are already on board, with hopes that more will join. Work is underway to further involve local people, with practical action to connect areas of rewilding land due to begin in 2023.

Affric Highlands

During a ceremony attended by partners and stakeholders at Glenurquhart Public Hall in Drumnadrochit by Loch Ness, Affric Highlands was officially welcomed by Rewilding Europe as the ninth member of its network of large pioneering rewilding areas – taking the organisation one step closer to its ultimate goal of 10 such areas in Europe. Rewilding Europe’s eight other awe-inspiring rewilding areas are Portugal’s Greater Côa Valley; the Danube Delta in Ukraine, Romania and Moldova; Romania’s Southern Carpathians; Croatia’s Velebit Mountains; Italy’s Central Apennines; Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains; the Oder Delta in Germany and Poland; and Swedish Lapland.

“With Scotland’s rewilding movement growing rapidly – and the Scottish Rewilding Alliance calling for Scotland to become the world’s first Rewilding Nation, with the rewilding of 30% of the country’s land and sea by 2030 – Affric Highlands will take large-scale nature recovery to a new level, providing a catalyst for the local economy at the same time,” said Steve Micklewright, Chief Executive of Trees for Life. He continued: “The Highlands have huge potential to help nature to come back and so help people to thrive, and to make a leading contribution to tackling the global climate and nature emergencies. We are delighted Affric Highlands is now one of Rewilding Europe’s large rewilding areas that are inspiring hundreds of other rewilding projects across the continent.”

Because engaging and involving stakeholders from the beginning is crucial to the success of any rewilding initiative, Rewilding Europe has been working with Trees for Life to lay the foundations for this over the past three years – including through meetings with over 50 local stakeholders, drawing on experience from other major rewilding sites across Europe, and a scoping study.

A beacon of hope

As well as connecting habitats, Affric Highlands will bring people together to help nature recover, and strengthen connections between communities and the wildlife on their doorsteps. Forest rewilding has been at the root of Trees for Life’s work for three decades. The charity has so far established nearly two million native trees to restore the unique and globally important Caledonian Forest at its own 10,000 acre estate at Dundreggan in Glenmoriston, and at dozens of other sites in the Highlands, including Glen Affric. In 2023, Dundreggan will become home to the world’s first Rewilding Centre – showcasing how large-scale nature recovery can give people amazing experiences, create jobs and benefit local communities. Rewilding Europe says this work in the Highlands has been a beacon of hope for reversing declines in habitat and wildlife that have left vast swathes of Scotland overgrazed, treeless, denuded, drained and over-managed, to the point that little remains unmodified by humans.

“Affric Highlands is a bold, exciting and inspiring venture for nature’s recovery as Scotland moves up the biodiversity league table. Our decision to accept the project as our ninth rewilding area reflects the hard work and achievements of Trees for Life, its volunteers and its partners,” said Frans Schepers, Managing Director of Rewilding Europe. “Including Affric Highlands in our portfolio of major European rewilding areas will help magnify rewilding’s impact in the Highlands, and put it firmly on the global map.” 

The project will take a grassroots, community-driven approach that grows organically – harnessing an interdependence of nature, people and businesses to create a more resilient area for the future. Rewilding Europe’s rewilding principles, best practices and wealth of Europe-wide practical experience will help to shape and guide Affric Highlands on its rewilding journey.

Find out more about Affric Highlands at: www.treesforlife.org.uk/affric-highlands

Perth named UNESCO City of Craft and Folk Art

UNESCO has announced Perth is to join their Creative City network as a City of Crafts and Folk Art – the first in the UK. After a highly competitive bidding process, Perth will join the established global group of 50 countries from across the world in celebrating craft, including Jaipur, Cairo and Carrera.  Perth’s application was written during the pandemic, led by Perth and Kinross Council and with extensive consultation amongst craftspeople and makers. Further work with the creative and business sectors will take place in early 2022.  It was also announced that Belfast will join the network as a Creative City of Music. 

The UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) was launched in 2004 to promote cooperation among cities which recognise that creativity is a major factor in their development. The network membership lasts forever, as long as the city continues to meet the UNESCO requirements.

Craftistown

The Perth bid focused on the importance of craft to the history and heritage of the city -it was known as ‘Craftistown’ from the early 16th century because of the importance of trades and its Incorporation of Guilds. It detailed how craft is still essential today with a wealth of creative talent across the whole area and the growing creative industry sector. Being a UNESCO city has huge positive impact on a city and the surrounding region; it is a world recognised badge of quality for the area, a driver of funding streams and a way of creating new commercial and learning opportunities for creatives and makers to live and work in.  The bid centred on Perth itself but the designation will include the whole of Perth and Kinross. 

Perth joins the Scottish cities of Dundee, City of Design; Edinburgh, City of Literature and Glasgow, City of Music.  Karen Merkel, Non-Executive Director for Communication & Information, UK National Commission for UNESCO, said: “The UK National Commission for UNESCO is delighted to welcome Perth to the family of UK UNESCO Creative Cities, which now counts four cities in Scotland. Located in the heart of Scotland, Perth’s status as an historic centre of excellence for the trade and production of crafts has been recognised on a global scale for the first time.  The inhabitants of Perth, especially those who make their livelihoods in Craft and Folk Art, can celebrate that, through this UNESCO Designation, their enduring heritage of making, educating and celebrating Craft and Folk Art can continue long into the future.”

The Flower of Scotland

By: Judy Vickers

When a group of Norse fighters crept up in the dead of night, getting ever closer to a sleeping Scots army, it must have seemed to them that the idea of going barefoot to allow a silent attack was a tactical master stroke. But the Ayrshire landscape had a surprise in store, something that is still remembered today, more than 750 years later.  Walking over a bed of thistles without footwear is too much for most, and the invaders shrieked in pain as the sharp prickles pierced their skin. The Scots were alerted and saw off the Norsemen, a precursor to the ensuing Battle of Largs where King Haakon Haakonsson’s men were seen off, ultimately ending five hundred years of Norse occupation.

An emblem of Scotland

Cotton thistle. Photo: Wilhelm Zimmerling/Wikimedia Commons.

While the events of 1263 may be interesting, and they certainly had a major impact on the future of Scotland, it is the thistle that has come out the real winner. From that tale of soldiers being thwarted by the plant, it has become an emblem of Scotland with a global reach, marked by Royal Orders, flags, coins, army units, universities, sports teams and even mascots. Perhaps the most prestigious commemoration of the thistle is The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, the oldest chivalric order in Scotland.

According to the Royal Household: “The Order of the Thistle is the greatest order of chivalry in Scotland, recognising sixteen Knights with the highest honour in the country and recognises Scottish men and women who have held public office or who have contributed in a particular way to national life.”

Its origins are steeped so far back in the mists of history that no-one really knows when the order was founded. Some say King Achaius made an alliance in 809 with the Emperor Charlemagne and began it then. Others claim it was started at the end of the 15th century by James III who had adopted the thistle as the Royal plant badge. What is known is that James VII of Scotland (James II of England) gave a statutory foundation to the order in 1687 – to reward Scottish peers who supported the king’s political and religious aims.

The Queen appoints people to the order as her personal gift, and current knights and ladies include Lady Marion Fraser, a music teacher and former Director of St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh as well as former Chief Scout of the United Kingdom, Sir Garth Morrison. The order has its own chapel at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh and uses the motto Nemo me impune lacessit (No one harms me with impunity), which is the Latin motto of the Royal Stuart dynasty of Scotland.

The Scots Guards also use the motto Nemo me impune lacessit, and have the thistle on its regimental badge. The thistle appears on the badge of the Yeomen of the Guard as well – a bodyguard for the monarch which originated in 15th century England but expanded with the Union of the Crowns in 1603. Following the union, James VI of Scotland incorporated the thistle, with a Tudor rose, into a royal badge and the flower now appears in the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom, as well as the emblems of major public bodies, such as the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court.

A symbol of strength

Clyde the Thistle, mascot for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Photo: Andrew Hendo/ Wikimedia Commons.

But it is not just nobility and the state who lay claim to the thistle as a symbol of strength. In modern Scotland it can be seen in many aspects of life, notably sport. The football teams Partick Thistle and Inverness Caledonian Thistle are the obvious examples, but it is also the name of the national netball team and Clyde the Thistle was the mascot for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

It is also the emblem of the country’s rugby team, who also began the tradition – followed by other sports – of singing Flower of Scotland before games. In fact, images of the thistle are so widely seen in Scotland, you could be forgiven for not noticing them – the flower also forms the basis of the logo for the Scottish National Party and Police Scotland and is the emblem for the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which originated in Edinburgh. Coins in Scotland have made use of the symbolism of the thistle, starting in 1474 with currency issued by James III. In 1536 a sixpence (commonly called a bawbee) was minted under James V showing a crowned thistle. Five pence pieces were minted with a thistle on them until 2008 and are still in circulation.

The Scottish thistle also has worldwide appeal and is in the coat of arms of Nova Scotia. Meaning New Scotland, the province was given the name after British conquest in the 18th century. The flags of Montreal, Canada and in the United States Annapolis in Maryland also use the thistle, as does the crest of Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania.

But which thistle are we talking about?

Many images of thistles on crests, flags, coins and badges are based on the cotton thistle. However, while native to most of Europe, it is only in the last few centuries that it has spread as far as Scotland and in medieval period it would not have grown in the country.

But the spear thistle could well be the thistle trodden on by Norse fighters more than seven hundred years ago. It is still found widely in Scotland, and across the world, including Australia and North America.

Some have wondered if the true thistle of Scotland is the musk thistle, the romantically named melancholy thistle or Our Lady’s thistle. But whatever the actual species, it has a long-lasting place in the culture of Scotland which shows no sign of disappearing.

Main photo: Spear thistle. Photo: Charles J Sharp/Wikimedia Commons.

Dawn of a Dynasty

By: David McVey

In 2014 BBC 2 ran a three-part documentary entitled The Stuarts, presented by Dr Clare Jackson of the University of Cambridge. The series began with James VI and 1, meaning that over 200 years of monarchical history were omitted, as if the Stuarts only became interesting when their dynasty took over the English throne. In fact, the Stuarts – or Stewarts – presided over colourful times when they ruled Scotland alone. And it all began at Dundonald Castle in Ayrshire.

The site of Dundonald Castle has a long history. There was probably an Iron Age settlement on the hilltop and the obvious defensive qualities of the steep, rocky hill were continued when a motte and bailey structure occupied the site. The present structure was built around a 13th century tower which may have been the gatehouse of an earlier version of the castle.

A royal dynasty

The castle belonged to the Stewarts, the hereditary High Stewards of the kings of Scotland who became a royal dynasty themselves. Their first monarch was Robert the Steward, who became Robert II in 1371 at 55. Only four years earlier he had been a prisoner in Lochleven Castle, as would his descendent Mary Queen of Scots 200 years later. He lived at Dundonald and is believed to have improved and enhanced the building in the 1350s. The intent was not, it’s believed, defensive, but rather just to impress. As you approach the castle on the steep path from the Visitor Centre you can only imagine that he succeeded; your view of the castle emerges in an imposing way.

Robert II died at Dundonald in 1390 and his successor, Robert III was also associated with the castle. In fact, it’s possible he also died in his bed here in 1406, though Rothesay Castle on Bute is more likely. A family of local magnates, the Cochranes, bought the castle in 1636 and almost immediately began robbing the stonework for the rebuilding of nearby Auchans House. Cochrane was a Royalist, and after the Restoration was rewarded by being made Earl of Dundonald. A descendent, and 10th Earl of Dundonald, was the legendary naval figure Admiral Thomas Cochrane (1775-1860). A swashbuckling adventurer, Cochrane even served in the Chilean navy during a period when he was out of favour with the Royal Navy. He became the 10th Earl in 1831. His buccaneering adventures are said to have been an influence on two fictional naval heroes; CS Forester’s Hornblower and Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey. And further, the Star Trek team’s debt to Royal Navy history and fiction is well-known, so their supposed inventor of the Warp Drive, Zefram Cochrane, is surely a tribute to the 10th Earl of Dundonald.

A beautiful rising ground

Dundonald Castle was never lived in again after the Cochrane era. Boswell and Johnson visited the ruin in 1773 during their tour of Scotland and Johnson was apparently much amused that such a grubby ruin could have been a royal residence. Johnson used this as the basis for another tongue-in-cheek snook to cock at Scotland’s relative poverty. Johnson doesn’t mention the visit to Dundonald in his A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland but Boswell, in his parallel The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides says of Dundonald:

“It stands on a beautiful rising ground, which is seen at a great distance on several quarters, and from whence there is an extensive prospect of the rich district of Cuninghame, the western sea, the isle of Arran, and a part of the northern coast of Ireland.”

He laments its ruinous, roofless state and goes on: ‘we could not, by any power of imagination, figure it as having been a suitable habitation for majesty.’ Johnson joked about ‘King Bob’ and, according to Boswell, ‘roared and laughed till the ruins echoed.’ As there always are with historic castles, Dundonald has tales of underground passages, leading to Stane Castle and Seagate Castle near Irvine, and to the other Cochrane home at Auchans. Almost certainly there is nothing to these tales, but the children will enjoy hearing them and constructing stories around them.

The building came into state care in 1953. While it is still structurally looked after by Historic Environment Scotland (HES), its day-to-day management is in the hands of a local volunteer group, the Friends of Dundonald Castle. They run a small Visitor Centre with toilets, a café and a small museum. During 2021 HES was forced to undertake consolidation work on some of the building and so it was closed off to visitors. It’s almost a relief to see access limited for a reason other than Covid. However, the Visitor Centre remained open and you can still view the building from outside a temporary fence.

Dundonald Castle has a car park and Stagecoach bus 10 runs here from Kilmarnock. Check in advance to see whether the castle has fully reopened.

Main photo: Dundonald Castle. Image: VisitScotland.

The first Burns Supper

Five years after he died at the age of 37, nine of Robert Burns’ close friends got together to remember him. It was 21 July 1801, the anniversary of the poet’s death. Led by the Reverend Hamilton Paul, they met at Burns Cottage in Alloway to raise a glass to the memory of their friend and quote some of his work. They didn’t know it at the time, but this was the first Burns supper. Haggis and sheep’s head were on the menu, while they recited Address to a Haggis and sang some of the great man’s songs.

Caroline Smith, Operations Manager at Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, said: “The toast to Burns’ life is where the Immortal Memory comes from in today’s Burns Suppers. It was a recollection of his life and some of the things he did. They also recited some of Burns’ liveliest works – as we still do today.” The friends planned another get-together, this time on the anniversary of Burns’ birth, but they got the date wrong and met up on 29 January. It wasn’t until 1803 that they met on his actual birthday, 25 January, now the date on which we remember him.

The Bard’s life

Today you can visit Robert Burns Birthplace Museum to see the cottage where the first Burns Supper was held, then get an insight into the Bard’s life with the letters and manuscripts on display in the museum. You can also see prized personal objects such as his writing set. “We have old menus of Burns Suppers in our collection, and in the early years they ate things like boiled sheep’s head, food that was common at the time”, says Caroline. After the first event in Alloway, the Greenock Ayrshire Society started the tradition of the annual Burns Supper.

By 1815, Sir Walter Scott had organised a Burns Supper in Edinburgh, but this was a much grander, literary affair than the celebrations in the west of Scotland. Now, more than 200 years on, we still get together to share the work of the Bard. The haggis is piped in, there are moving recitals of his songs and poems, finishing with a wee dram and a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne.

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

Did you know?

Burns Cottage

Burns Cottage interior.

-This cosy three-room cottage is where Burns was born and lived until the age of seven. Take a look at the tiny box bed that young Robert shared with three of his siblings.
-Burns and his family lived side by side with their farm animals. In the kitchen, they ate their meals together, read by the crackling fireside and received their earliest schooling. The kitchen area is brought to life with a spooky rendition of Tam o’ Shanter, re-creating the atmosphere of the house where Burns’s imagination was first fired.
-Throughout, the walls of the cottage are daubed with fragments of Burns’ verse and a braw selection of Scots words, such as ‘hawkie’ and ‘crambo-jingle.’ Outside is the small cottage garden where Robert tended the crops alongside his father and brother Gilbert.
-The cottage was a privately rented residence and then an alehouse for most of the 19th century, before being restored to its former glory by the Burns Monument Trust in 1881.

Scotland After Dark: Keeping curiosity alive after sunset

Stockbridge steps.

As I write this in Edinburgh on the 4th of December, it is fully dark outside by 15:45. Elsewhere in Scotland, night comes much sooner. Two days ago, a friend who recently moved back to Orkney after several years living in the Central Belt lamented the loss of all-natural light there by 14:30. Tellingly, the Scottish Gaelic term for the month of December is An Dùbhlachd, ‘the darkness’. Confronted with the diminishing daylight, there are two responses: to hibernate, which is wholly sensible; or to embrace the novelty of seeing your world in a whole new (lack of) light, which is arguably less so. More and more, I find myself doing the latter.

Evidenced by the above, at this time of year, ‘dark’ does not necessarily equate to ‘night’ so many of the following wanderings were done in the early evening rather than in the wee hours of mid-night. It always felt safe, although I acknowledge that as a man often accompanied by a dog, that safety comes in no small part from a place of privilege. Before you take inspiration from this, bear that in mind and take whatever steps you need to, perhaps by bringing a companion along, to stay as safe as can be. I can vividly recall the moment when I became enamoured with exploring after dark.

Historic landscapes

Kilmartin gave slabs.

One November evening I was standing on a narrow wooden walkway, unable to see either its beginning or end, surrounded by bog and the ambient silence of night. I was visiting Finlaggan, once the capital of the medieval Lordship of the Isles, in Islay. Finlaggan is a sort of geographic fractal – two islands in a loch on an island in a sea. Earlier that day I visited by daylight, and was curious to see how the cover or darkness transformed the place.  By necessity, each step on this return journey was more deliberate. The ability of my senses to orient myself was considerably dulled, yet rather than blunting the experience I found that it heightened it. By day, the wooden walkway was just a practical, if novel, way of staying dry; by night it felt like a tunnel or portal, inexorably drawing me closer to its invisible yet inevitable destination. Standing halfway along it, for all I knew the world at either end had ceased to exist. It was a little bit terrifying, but utterly thrilling. Arriving flashlight in hand on Eilean Mòr, Finlaggan’s ‘big island’, each step forward exposed a tiny new sliver of the unknown. Casting the light over the fragmentary ruins of a stone chapel, which in daylight seemed entirely innocent, made it appear like a giant’s grasping hand rising up from the dark, waterlogged earth. Everything was familiar, yet otherworldly and slightly hair-raising. I’ll never forget it.

Another experience, also in Argyll, cemented this newfound thrill. Kilmartin Glen is one of Scotland’s most extraordinary historic landscapes. It contains castles, cairns, rock art, standing stones, crofts, medieval settlements, hillforts, harbours, and so much more. I arrived there one April evening as the sun had mostly set, under a soft blue and purple gloaming. After dinner and in full darkness I went to Kilmartin Church to visit one of my favourite collections of medieval and Early Modern artefacts. Within a former mausoleum turned lapidarium are 23 grave slabs, carved between the early 13th century and 1712. They are carved with images of swords, warriors and knights, standing side by side in an unbroken line along the walls from left to right, surrounding you as you enter. I turned on the flashlight and moved it over each one in turn, casting them into sharp, shadowy relief. The spotlight made them appear like statues in the niches of a church, which I’m sure they would be happy to hear. I had seen them several times before, but always in daylight. For reasons I can’t quite explain, this time it felt as though I got to know them better than in all of the previous times combined.

During the past two years when the world sometimes shrank to what’s within walking distance of my front door, I sought out the nocturnal sights of my Edinburgh neighbourhood, Stockbridge. I noticed that how I thought about places that had become mundane through daily repetition took on new, interesting characteristics. There is a set of stairs next to the local pharmacy that I always found intriguing – a zigzag of arched steps that appear almost to float, especially in the dark, wedged into a narrow multi-level close (the Scots term for an alley used as a thoroughfare). I had been up and down them several hundred times before, but as my curiosity piqued due to the lack of anything ‘new’ to see, they became not just any steps, but my favourite steps. Passing by them now I always take a look, as if checking in on an old friend.

Embracing the dark side

St Cuthberts’s Church, with Edinburgh Castle in the background.

Light takes on a whole new life in the dark. My phone is equipped with a function called ‘Night Sight’, which artificially enhances the visibility of features in the dark. It is not quite an honest representation of what the eye sees, but it captures the spirit of it. Blues contrast with oranges, the sky appears ever so slightly illuminated, and the glare from street lamps sends little sparks across the image. With this new way of seeing, I took hundreds of pictures of places I had long ago stopped bothering to photograph. A local twisting path affectionately called ‘the Snakey’ was transformed into trees that seemed almost ablaze against the coldness of the sky. The lights of Dean Village became a scene emanating storybook cosiness. A tiny patch of garden along the Water of Leith containing similar tree specimens to those in the nearby Royal Botanic Garden looked as though it might play host to the next revelry of the faerie folk. St Bernard’s Well, a place known for its healing waters and statue of Hygieia, Greco-Roman goddess of hygiene and health, became a monument of shadows that you might expect Mr Hyde to pounce out from. Other, grander monuments in Edinburgh’s city centre, like the Scott Monument and Edinburgh Castle itself, were no less subject to this transformation.

Maybe this all sounds daft to you and you’d rather stay curled up under a blanket with a hot drink in hand throughout winter, and that’s perfectly reasonable. Normally I would do the same. The circumstances thrust on us since March 2020, however, have necessitated new ways of engaging with our local communities and own our sense of curiosity. Exploring Edinburgh and other Scottish historic sites after hours has been my way of keeping that curiosity alive. Plus, there’s no rule saying you can’t tuck in with a hot toddy afterwards as a reward for embracing the dark side.

Second Season of Men in Kilts set to explore New Zealand

STARZ have announced, Outlander stars Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish will hit the road again for a six-episode second season of the hit travel docuseries Men in Kilts: A Roadtrip with Sam and Graham – this time in New Zealand. Graham who is originally from Scotland calls New Zealand home and will be sure to enjoy showing Sam around his adopted land, with filming is expected to take place in 2022.

Epic adventure

Men in Kilts: A Roadtrip with Sam and Graham is a fun-filled buddy travelogue. Heughan and McTavish will continue their immersive adventure travel experience, this time in New Zealand. They will revel in the Scottish influence of New Zealand, while diving into its own history. In Season one, the two reunited for an epic adventure in Scotland, exploring their heritage and meeting an incredible collection of people who truly showcase what it means to be Scottish.

The half-hour, eight-episode first season of the series offers the duo’s one-of-a-kind perspective on everything from Scottish clans and the Battle of Culloden to whisky tasting and folk dancing, with Sam and Graham’s witty banter and hijinks leading the way. Whether hanging off the edge of a cliff, wrangling a flock of wild sheep or discovering the true legacy of their Outlander characters, both men dive headfirst into each and every experience.

Scotland is Calling for 2022

Misty green landscapes and towering peaks, ancient city streets and tales of the past, freshly opened casks and the scent of seasonal dishes… they are all calling. Calling explorers, thrill-seekers, beach-goers, city-breakers, solo travellers, families, and everyone in between – no matter the season Scotland is the place to enjoy world-class food and drink, events, films, history and culture.

Inspired by the sense of ‘fernweh’, that ache to see far flung places beyond the doorstep, visitors from all over the world are invited to experience the magic of Scotland. Whether meeting new people, sharing new experiences, reconnecting with nature, or just breathing in the fresh air, memories to last a lifetime are waiting to be made in Scotland.

Having worked tirelessly over the past 18 months to adapt to and embrace the new normal, Scottish businesses are open once more and are ready to welcome visitors. Health and safety protocols and guidelines remain in place, and while travel continues to look a little different, visitors can enjoy a safe return to Scotland. Visitors should look out for the Good to Go logo which indicates the businesses that are adhering to government and public health guidance in order to operate safely.

The pandemic has also been a force for positive change, as tourism continues to develop in a responsible way. Visitors are encouraged to respect communities and the environment when exploring Scotland, and to slow down and take time to savour moments along the way – the journey, the destination and the people.  

What’s happening in 2022

Year of Stories 2022

1 January 2022 – 31 December 2022, Nationwide

Scotland’s Themed Year will shine a spotlight on a wide-ranging and far-reaching programme of events and festivals throughout 2022. Visitors to Scotland will be able to experience a diversity of voices, take part in events and explore the places, people and cultures connected to all forms of Scotland’s stories, past and present.  2022 will be a year to celebrate stories inspired by, created, or written in Scotland. Every culture has its stories to tell, and Scotland has a particularly rich heritage of stories and storytelling to spotlight and celebrate. These include our local tales, oral traditions, iconic books, and tales told on the big screen – all inspired by Scotland and its culture and reflected back by many diverse voices and across the widest range of forms. Visitors can follow in the footsteps of Sir Walter Scott, explore the lands that inspired Outlander and find a great read in Wigtown Booktown. Scotland’s Year of Stories will begin on 1 January 2022 and run until 31 December 2022.  

The Burrell Collection

March 2022, Glasgow

Following a multimillion-pound refurbishment, The Burrell Collection is set to reopen in March 2022 set against the beautiful backdrop of Glasgow’s largest green space, Pollok Country Park. The refurbished building, with new gallery spaces, displays and facilities will be an exemplar of sustainable low carbon design. One of the largest personal collections to be amassed, The Burrell Collection displays objects from Europe and Asia representing five millennia of art and history. The collection contains work from the late medieval and early Renaissance, Chinese art, Islamic art and more. On reopening, the museum’s gallery space will have increased by 35%, allowing important and unique objects from the Collection, which have not been seen for decades, or have never been on permanent display, to go on show. New displays will give visitors a better understanding of the artworks, the people who made them and some of the people who have owned them. Highlights include Chinese pottery and porcelain produced over a 5,000-year period, making it one of the most significant collections of Chinese Art in Europe; paintings by renowned French artists including Manet, Cézanne and Degas; Medieval treasures including stained glass, arms and armour and over 200 tapestries and carpets, which are among the finest in the world. 

The Famous Blacksmiths Visitor Attraction 

April 2022, Gretna Green

Famous for runaway weddings since 1754, Gretna Green is a magical place to get married in and to visit. The Famous Blacksmiths Shop will unveil their newly developed Gretna Green Experience in April 2022. Visitors can immerse themselves in the new storytelling experience to learn about the thrill of the chase, meet the Anvil Priests and be a part of the long history of enduring love that is woven into the site.

Jack Vettriano: The Early Years Exhibition

17 June-23 October 2022, Kirkcaldy, Fife

Taking place at Kirkcaldy Galleries, this exhibition will feature early painting by Scottish artist Jack Vettriano. On display will be nearly a dozen paintings produced before he decided to become a full-time artist, signed Jack Hoggan, his birth name. In recognition of the process of development and evolution from the self-taught artist to one of the world’s most sought-after living painters, Vettriano has chosen to return to Fife where he was born and spent his formative years.

World’s first UNESCO trail 

Launched in October 2021, Scotland is home to the world’s first ever UNESCO trail which brings together some of the country’s most iconic, diverse and culturally significant sites. It connects 13 different UNESCO destinations, reaching from the biosphere in the south of Scotland to the island of St Kilda in the west, The North West Highlands Geopark, and the creative cities in the east, and much more in between. The trail is a proud testament to the richness and scope of Scotland’s awe-inspiring nature, its ancient and compelling history, the vibrancy of its culture, and its proud scientific and technological legacy. The trail encourages visitors to slow down, stay longer, visit all year round and to make sustainable travel choices, contributing to Scotland’s world-leading position as a responsible tourism destination.

Perth UNESCO City of Craft

Adding to the growing list of Scotland’s world heritage cities and sites, Perth has become the first city in the UK to be awarded status as a UNESCO City of Crafts and Folk Arts. With an important history and heritage of craft which began in the early 16th century, Perth and Kinross is alive today with a wealth of creative talent and a growing creative industry. Testament to this creativity is Perth’s plan to include craft as part of plans to meet its net zero target. Perth will join the UNESCO trail in 2023.

Sustainable sips

Scotland leads the way in eco-friendly sites, with a number of distilleries across the country running on renewable energy. 2022 is set to be another big year for the whisky industry.

Eden Mill

Spring 2022, St Andrews

Eden Mill will become one of Scotland’s first ever carbon neutral single malt whisky distilleries, which will welcome visitors to their new home in Guardbridge, St. Andrews in 2022. Power and heat for the stills will be generated locally by biomass plant and field electricity, and by solar panels installed by the University of St Andrews on the roof of the distillery and nearby buildings.

The Cairn Distillery

Spring 2022, Grantown-on-Spey

The Cairn, a name that pays homage to the distillery’s stunning location overlooking the Cairngorm mountains, stands near Grantown-on-Spey. Promising to be an immersive and memorable visitor experience for whisky lovers and adventure seekers, The Cairn is expected to attract a global audience for their spring opening.

Port of Leith Distillery

Summer 2022, Leith

Building on Edinburgh’s rich whisky heritage, Port of Leith Distillery will be Scotland’s first vertical distillery when it opens in summer 2022. With panoramic views from the top floor double height whisky bar, visitors will be able to spot Fife and the Forth Bridges, as well as Edinburgh’s iconic landmarks over a dram or two of single malt whisky. And, thanks to locally sourced barley, food miles and carbon impact are cut significantly.

Sustainable Scotland

Diverse landscapes, rich culture and unique experiences are what sets Scotland apart as a destination, and what makes a visit here so special. As a world-leading responsible tourism destination, Scotland is committed to building a better, more sustainable future, with the aim of keeping Scotland as beautiful as ever, for now and for future generations to enjoy.  2022 is the year to slow down, stay longer and savour the local charm. 

Powered by water

The Highland Council has declared a climate and ecological emergency and aspires to be net zero by 2025. The River Ness Hydro scheme opens in spring of 2022 and will help reduce the organisation’s carbon footprint, and further generation and use of renewable energy. The site is perfect for visitors of all ages who are interested in innovative projects dedicated to sustainability.

Travel in sustainable style

Lumo, a brand-new train service travelling exclusively down the east coast of the UK, has launched a new rail service connecting Edinburgh and London which will provide affordable and low-carbon travel. Lumo will initially offer low fares in a bid to encourage more environmentally friendly travel between the two capitals

Green footsteps

2022 is the year to discover new stories and embark on new adventures. The UK’s first Vegan Food Trail, which launched in September 2021, covers Argyll and the Isles, and with plentiful fresh ingredients and locally grown produce, it’s a great way to sample all the seasonal delights and embrace the joy of low impact living. 

Live events return

Live events are set to return to the big stage to delight audiences in person once again, and Scotland is the perfect stage for events big and small. 2022 is the year to make a date for an event experience like no other, only in Scotland.

Edinburgh Festivals

Home to 11 world-class festivals, Edinburgh is renowned as the world’s leading festival city, attracting an audience of over 4.5 million every year. In 2022, the capital will once more come alive with vibrant colours, shows and events for all ages, and with next year marking the 75th anniversary of the Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Edinburgh International Film Festival, it promises to be a very special year. Here’s a taste of what’s on offer. 

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

5-29 August 2022, Edinburgh

Born from a belief that every story should be heard and celebrated, Edinburgh Fringe Festival is now the world’s largest arts festival, where visitors can watch a wide range of performances including theatre, comedy, dance, cabaret, opera, spoken word and more. And with an open access policy, anyone with a story to tell and a venue to host them can put on a show. 

Edinburgh International Festival

6-28 August 2022, Edinburgh

The Edinburgh International Festival was the original Edinburgh Festival, dating back to 1947, celebrating the performing arts with dance, music, opera and theatre from around the world. It brings ground-breaking art, unique collaborations, world premieres, unexpected takes on classic works, and more to captivate and entertain global audiences, all in one place here in Scotland.

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo 

5-27 August 2022, Edinburgh

Returning to its iconic home on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle for the first time since 2019, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is back with a bang for 2022.

Edinburgh International Book Festival

13-29 August 2022, Edinburgh

Held in the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature, Edinburgh International Book Festival is the largest celebration of its kind in the world. Enjoyable for all ages, visitors can take part in creative workshops, meet famous authors and attend panel discussions.

Scottish International Storytelling Festival

Autumn 2022, Edinburgh

The Scottish International Storytelling Festival is an annual celebration of storytelling, oral traditions and cultural diversity. Visitors can let their imagination run wild with range of talks, tours and activities.

Home – Scottish International Storytelling Festival 

Highland Games

After a two-year absence, the ever-popular Highland Games return in summer 2022. Visitors and locals can experience a sense of community, heritage and celebration like no other, set against the backdrop of a gripping sporting spectacle of champions! At Highland Games across the country, attendees can marvel at the champions’ feats of strength and have a chat with the locals over a delicious plate of mince and tatties. This year, after 18 years of absence, Elgin Highland Games returns in July 2022, starring the undefeated Elgin tug-o’-war team.

Burns, beats and more…

In the vibrant capital of South Scotland, Dumfries, Big Burns Supper returns to celebrate all things Robert Burns, music and performing arts. The programme line-up includes a heady roster of international talent including performer Eddi Reader and comedian Russell Kane.  In Glasgow, Scotland’s UNESCO City of Music, Celtic Connections returns with an extensive programme of events to celebrate traditional folk, roots, Americana, jazz and soul music. As well as showcasing musical talent from around the world, hundreds of performances including ceilidhs, exhibitions, film screenings, talks, theatre productions, workshops and more will take place across Glasgow.

Text and images courtesy of VisitScotland. For details on these and other events and attractions see:  www.visitscotland.com

For These Are My Mountains

The Scottish Banner speaks to Tristan Cameron Harper

Tristan Cameron Harper is a photographer and mountain guide with a passion for Scotland’s incredible outdoors. Tristan took the time to speak to the Scottish Banner on his love of the Scottish Highlands, being a former professional ice hockey player and Munro Bagging.

Tristan you grew up in Dundee and have had a passion for sport your whole life. This passion led you to becoming a professional ice hockey player both in Scotland and abroad, can you tell us more?

TCH: Being a Scotsman playing Ice Hockey then eventually turning professional doesn’t really fit the expected narrative as ice hockey isn’t a common sport in the UK even though it’s gaining more momentum due to Great Britain doing well on the international platform and the professional league in the UK becoming more established.  For me personally, l started off playing Rugby in school always enjoying the physical aspect of it until one day a family friend introduced me to the world of Ice Hockey.  At that moment a chord was struck and l never really looked back, l felt this deep calling, imagining one day that l would play in Canada or America with some of the best and then hopefully making it to the NHL following in the footsteps of a few of my favourite players at the time Wayne Gretzky and Pavel Bure. 

Luckily for me l was fortunate enough my mum and dad let me go to an ice hockey training camp in Toronto during the summer months when l was about 14 years old where l was noticed by a former NHL player Roy Halpin who thought l had the skills to progress in the hockey world.  Without his help l would not have gotten the chance to play prep school hockey in Canada developing my skills further which took me back to Europe signing my first professional contract then back across the pond playing a few seasons between America/Canada, finishing my career in the UK. I had the passion from day one ever since hockey was introduced to me, as cliché as it sounds it was as if a fire had been ignited in my heart and all l ever did was live, think and breath hockey until I reached my next chapter in life. 

Your grandfather would take you as a boy to the Cairngorms and around the Highlands. How has that early exposure to Scotland’s natural setting stayed with you as an adult? 

TCH:  I don’t think l will ever forget those days when l was a wee boy, and my grandad would drive through parts of the Highlands while l sat in the back of his old classic Volvo wondering where he was taking me. Every time l sat in the back of that Volvo it seemed like an adventure and every time l got out there was always something new to see, he would talk about the Grampian Mountains religiously telling stories while stopping off in small Highland towns on route taking me to some great local bakeries and museums trying his best to educate me on all there was to know about the clans and the Highlands.  

So, l would say he did a pretty good job leaving an imprint of adventure, Scotland and how much history our land holds which to this day is a constant interest and passion of mine. 

You have a passion for Scotland and the incredible outdoors. Having travelled so much of the country can you tell us some of your favourite places, or where you recommend a tourist to Scotland should visit and why?

Tristan with his dog Nacho.

TCH:  Definitely not an easy question to answer as there is so many beautiful places and many special places to visit when in Scotland and especially during certain times of the year with how much the flora and fauna changes from season to season. Scotland is filled with an abundance of mountains, lochs, castles, stunning beaches, delicious local food, great pubs, and wonderful cities plus more.  My best answer I could give for this question would be what do you want to get out of Scotland?  Do you want to try experience elements of it all in one go?  Do you want to get lost exploring the highlands maybe finding yourself sleeping in a bothy deep in the Highlands wrapped up in your sleeping bag sipping on some whisky?

Do you want to take a dip in the refreshing Atlantic Sea on a lovely golden sand beach or maybe even do a bit of coastal cave exploring in search of folklore that may get shared around the campfire?

Or would you like to find yourself in a local pub down one of the narrow cobble streets tucked away in Edinburgh dancing the night away with locals in a ceilidh and attending festival shows.  There is so much to choose from, and it can be like jumping from different worlds, but if l had to name a few of my favourite places l would say the Orkney Isles are special, filled with beautiful beaches, ancient standing stones and broch’s, amazing local produce, an abundance of sea birds and sea life and of course friendly local Orcadians.

Must not forget the Orkney Science Festival either which is fantastically put together with some amazing talks and events. As for the mainland, l love the mountains, how raw they are and how much the geology differs from the west to east, on the west coast in particular you have Torridon an epic part of Scotland that has a tremendous selection of mountain ridges and climbing at hand.   And the Cairngorms the heart of the Highlands, the largest of National Parks in Scotland and someplace l would recommend exploring if you really want to immerse yourself in this raw terrain giving you that feeling of solitude away from all. And then one of my favourite lochs, Loch Coruisk, a once hidden gem located on the Isle of Skye along with a fair share of spectacular sites to explore on the Island including some caves, beaches, mountains, waterfalls and castle ruins. 

You also share some of your favourite places with visitors to Scotland with tours that explore the beauty of the nation, can you tell us more?

TCH: Of course, l am a fully qualified Scottish Mountain guide who offers day/multi day tours and bespoke packages with my business North Guides.  It can range from hiking mountains, camping in the highlands, visiting select sites, to going off the beaten track whilst remaining respectful of the landscape and locals exploring places that you would not normally see, chatting flora and fauna along the way and giving you the experience you hope to achieve while in Scotland.  

I offer a range of packages, it doesn’t always have to be hiking big mountains, it can be exploring forests, castles and going to areas that the big tour buses don’t take you. North Guides tries and aims to be as inclusive as possible to help individuals and families explore Scotland, be they Scottish natives or from further afield, and to make the outdoors as accessible as possible. For me it’s a pleasure to take clients to their dream locations as my main goal is to inspire you as best l can with my homeland and hopefully leave you craving the opportunity to come back and explore Scotland again. 

Tristan you have been crowned Mr Scotland, more than once, and competed at the Mr Universe competition. Can you tell us more and what opportunities this has created for you?

Photo courtesy of Andy Barr/www.andybarr.com.

TCH:  Yes you caught me, l was indeed Mr Scotland for 3 years from 2016 getting the chance to attend Mr Universe, I finished 6th overall in the world at the event and got to meet some lovely gents from all over the world who I still remain in contact with to this day.  It was a pretty cool opportunity but definitely not something l had intended to do, it all happened by chance.

It took me further in the modelling industry, walking in fashion events in New York and even appearing on The Real Housewives of New York and other TV appearances, more people wanting to work with me and came at a time when l was just about to retire from the sports world. It gave me an opportunity to see what path it may lead me down and what I wanted in life; it was a learning experience. A fun chapter though, some lovely folk along the way and I made a lot of connections local and further afield throughout the world at the time as a result. 

In 2017 you attended the New York Tartan Day Parade, how was it to be part of such an event and connect with international Scots?

THC:  What an event to be part of, never did l imagine how much support us Scots would get in the Big Apple and how many people love us across there.  It was all quite overwhelming but equally awesome at the same time to be part of it and getting the chance to march down 6th Avenue. 

I have only attended this event on two occasions and both times l had an absolute blast, the event itself and events after are amazing, absolutely wild and filled with fun, and the amount of lovely people you meet along the way, it’s great.  I shall look forward to the next time l make it out for the New York Tartan Day Parade. 

As a Qualified Mountain Guide you have climbed some of Scotland’s most iconic mountains, would you call yourself a Munro Bagger? And which of Scotland’s munros (mountains over 3,000 ft/914.4m) are your favourite to climb?

TCH:  There was a point l might have deemed myself a Munro Bagger as I was reaching for each of those peaks one by one, l have about 200 Munros under my belt and probably done some of the same mountains a dozen times if not more.  But it’s not about bagging as much as I got to the point l just love being in the mountains regardless, l love the rawness and how peaceful they make you feel.  I have quite a few friends who are Munro Baggers so there is probably a good chance l will end up completing all of the 282 Munros with them just because I am happy to go for a walk in the mountains with my friends, but I don’t hike to tick off a list, I do it because I enjoy it as much as I love a challenge.

A few of my favourite Mountains are An Teallach on the west coast which has an amazingly beautiful ridge walk and even better if you manage to walk the ridge during a cloud inversion.  A little more inland l would say Aonach Eagach in Glencoe and my favourite in the Cairngorms and probably in Scotland is Carna Mhaim, not a particular hard Munro but a special one as its located right in the middle of the Cairngorms and almost like you are at the heart of the Highlands. 

You have a passion for photography and your website and social media is full of incredible images of Scotland. What is it about Scotland do you find makes it a photographer’s paradise and do you have a favourite time of year to shoot around the country?

TCH:  The thing about Scotland is that the weather is incredibly dramatic even at the best of times, and we have an abundance of glens located throughout the Highlands and each kind of has its own microclimate.  It’s a unique country as there is so much to photograph from a nature point of view.  l love how you can visit the same place a dozen times throughout the year and each time it feels and looks different giving you a different moment to capture with your camera.  

I believe from my perspective this is how l get the majority of my clients as l try as best l can to capture those special moments in time that might inspire people to explore places they would not think of.  If l had to pick a favourite time of the year l would have to say l love photographing in autumn going into winter, everything is gearing up for winter from tree leaves turning bright yellow/red and animals such as the red squirrels developing their thick darker red coat plus those fresh crisp clear starry nights. 

And finally, Tristan your connection to the outdoors and your love of Scotland is obvious to see. How does it make you feel to be an ambassador for Scotland and be able to show so many people around the world all that Scotland has to offer and highlight its incredible natural beauty?

TCH:  I feel extremely privileged l get this opportunity to do this for a living, the people l meet and how l can inspire someone through my photography, and guiding groups in person with my knowledge and understanding of the land. Each day that goes by l am thankful l am from such a beautiful country, and how much magic we have to offer and how many feel this way about Scotland and how far the passion of the Scotsman/woman travels throughout the world.

And I hope it inspires others to treasure their own homelands, discover what’s on their own back door too and get into the outdoors in general, as well as visit my beautiful homeland. 

For more information on how Tristan Cameron Harper can take you on an adventure via his photography or Explore Scotland Walking Tours see: www.north-guides.com

US Consul General celebrates close ties between Scotland and the US

Friendship between Scotland and the USA celebrated on St Andrew’s Day.

Mr Jack Hillmeyer, the US Consul General in Edinburgh.

The US Consul General visited the birthplace of Scotland’s flag to celebrate the close ties between Scotland and the USA. Jack Hillmeyer the US Consul General in Edinburgh visited Athelstaneford in East Lothian where the US flag was flown at the Saltire Memorial. The Saltire flies from the memorial in the kirkyard of Athelstaneford Parrish Church all year round, flood lit at night. The Saltire is rarely lowered, flying another national flag is a rare honour, particularly on Saint Andrew’s Day.

Commenting Mr Hillmeyer said: “It was a great honour to be in Athelstaneford on Saint Andrew’s Day and it was a tremendous honour to have the Stars and Stripes flown at the Saltire Memorial, it shows the depth of friendship of our two nations especially on this beautiful St Andrew’s Day.”

The birthplace of Scotland’s National flag

Athelstaneford Parish Church.

The Scottish Flag Trust is a volunteer run charity and donations help to cover annual running costs and maintenance. Donations are essential to keep the memorial and flag heritage centre free to visit, so the story of Scotland’s flag can continue to be told. David Williamson, Chair of the Scottish Flag Trust said: “We were delighted to host the US Consul General on St Andrew’s Day and fly the US flag at the Saltire Memorial to celebrate the close links between Scotland and the USA. The Scottish Flag Trust has recently launched an international fundraising drive to restore and renew the birthplace of the Saltire with interest already shown from Saltire and Clan Societies in the USA. Today we are launching a new initiative to allow everyone to have the Saltire flown in their honour at the birthplace of our flag. People can go online to Saltire.scot and sponsor the flag for a day for themselves or for someone special”

Provost of East Lothian Cllr John McMillan said: “It was an honour to welcome the Consul General to East Lothian and to the birthplace of Scotland’s National flag in the village of Athelstaneford. With our historic links, and so many visitors from USA welcomed annually to our famous golf clubs along our coastline, we feel we have so many special points of interest for our USA visitors who will love to learn about the home of John Muir in Dunbar and spend time in our wonderful county.”

Tradition has it that the Saltire, Scotland’s National flag, originated in a battle fought in East Lothian, near the village of Athelstaneford in the Dark Ages. Today the flag flies proudly all year round from the floodlit Saltire Memorial in Athelstaneford Parish Church to celebrate this special connection. The Flag Heritage Centre at the back of the churchyard tells the story of the Battle of Athelstaneford.

Stirling station’s post cards from the past

Work to renew the roof at Stirling Station has opened a window to the past and unearthed a treasure trove of papers and post cards – some dating back to the First World War. The project at the Grade A listed rail station will see the refurbishment of all slate roofs and all roof sections will be inspected and repaired.  It was during an inspection of the crawl space of the roof of the building, that members of the site team stumbled upon a bundle of old papers and postcards. Further inspection revealed that the bundle consisted of official Caledonian Railway postcards, which had been sent to members of the public in the Stirling area, requesting that they collected items which had been sent on the train. Amongst those postcards, which dated back as far as 1912, were several dated April 1916 and had been sent to troops and regiments stationed in the Barracks at Cambusbarron, requesting that they collect kit bags and parcels from the station.

During World War One, a number of regiments were stationed in barracks around the Cambusbarron area, which is said to have consisted of training camps including areas for live shooting practice. Following the discovery, Network Rail contacted the regimental museums for the Gordon Highlanders, the Cameron Highlanders and the Black Watch in a bid to trace the named soldiers, and determine where they were stationed during the war, and if and when they returned home.

Information gained from the Cameron Highlanders Museum has revealed that the 8th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders left for France in July 1915, landed at Boulogne and took over a sector in the line at Loos on 6th August. The first major battle for the 8th Seaforth was the attack at Loos on 25th September which resulted in a high number of casualties and the battalion losing 718 of the 776 men it started the day with. Having clear detail on some of the postcards has allowed the Regimental Museum to identify and trace, Captain & Quartermaster Arthur James MacDonald of the 8th Battalion of the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders. Captain MacDonald was wounded on 28th October 1918, possibly at the Battle of Cambrai.

Fantastic insight into the past

Given that this was only several weeks from Armistice, the Regimental Museum believes that it was likely he survived the war and possibly returned home. Network Rail are keen to hear from anyone who has any information on Captain & Quartermaster MacDonald. Little is known about the other soldiers named on the post cards and we are keen to uncover more of the men’s stories and are appealing for any information on the soldiers and their regiments: 2nd Lt. J M or H Campbell-11th Gordon Highlanders, Private W Reddiford-B Company 11th Gordon Highlanders, Private George Rankine 6th Black Watch and Officer Commanding A Company, 11th Gordon Highlanders.

Helen Agnew, Network Rail project manager for the Stirling Station roof works said, “It’s been incredible to see these postcards, many of which are more than one hundred years old and to find out about some of the items that were sent on the railway. Finding these items in the roof of the station has already offered a fantastic insight into the past but to be able to trace any family members of those who served would be incredible.”

Ernie Pope, Coordinator for The Highlander’s Museum who was instrumental in the research into Captain MacDonald said “I believe the importance of remembrance is that everyone of us, in this country, will have a distant relative who either, took part in the Great War, or was impacted by it. We should never forget the suffering, loss and sacrifice made by so many during one of the darkest periods of world history. Let us all hope and pray we never see it’s like again.”

The post cards and papers are in a fragile condition and will be properly preserved before being put on display in the future.

To contact Network Rail visit: www.networkrail.co.uk/communities/contact-us

Tartan Up! It’s Kilt Skate Season

By : Don Cummer

In spite of the global pandemic, the Great Canadian Kilt Skate is back for its eighth season of celebrating Scottish culture with bare knees and ice.  And because of the global pandemic, it’s back bigger than ever. Last year, when COVID-19 health protocols closed community events, the Scottish Society of Ottawa (SSO) convened a Zoom meeting of eight kilt skate partners across Canada to discuss options. The seed of an idea was planted: promote small, socially distanced, safely bubbled “micro-skates.” The idea grew to become the “Home Edition.”

From backyard ice, community outdoor rinks, frozen ponds and rivers, and Ottawa’s ever-popular Rideau Canal Skateway, individuals and families sent their photos and videos to the SSO, to be displayed on a website gallery. The number and variety of pictures on the SSO Gallery helped determine which city would be anointed as the Kilt Skate Capital of Canada. 

In the end, the honours went to Winnipeg, MB: a triumph that was duly noted in the Manitoba legislature by Dougald Lamont, MLA, who had sent SSO his video of his own Burns Day skate at the Forks of the frozen Red and Assiniboine rivers (watch it on YouTube).

Canadians celebrated their inner Scot

The Home Edition reached places that had never experienced a kilt skate. Without the need to be at a particular place at a particular time for a community event, Canadians celebrated their inner Scot in their own place at a time of their choosing.  The Home Edition proved to be so popular that it will continue as a feature of the Great Canadian Kilt Skate this year and likely for years to come.  What’s more, the experience of skating in a Home Edition has inspired some Canadians to organize community events for 2022.  In addition to the established kilt skate communities of Montreal QB, South Glengarry ON, Ottawa ON, Toronto ON, Fergus ON, Winnipeg MB, Saskatoon SK, Lethbridge AB, and Calgary AB, kilt skates are now planned for, Halifax NS, Glenaladale PEI, Moncton NB, and Midland ON.

After years of endeavouring to promote kilt skates in Canada’s Maritime provinces, where the Scottish roots run very deep, the SSO’s organizers are particularly delighted that the Home Edition seems to have reached Maritimers.  In Prince Edward Island, for example, the community kilt skate this winter will be part of the year-long festivities to mark the 250th anniversary of the arrival of PEI’s first Scottish settlers on the brig Alexander in 1772.

This winter, the Great Canadian Kilt Skate has received support from Ontario’s Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture. With this help, a video is planned that will showcase the highlights of the 2022 kilt skate season. Meanwhile, the kilt skate phenomenon continues to grow south of the border.  New York City will host its fourth annual Tartan Kilt Skate NYC, organized by the American Scottish Foundation.  There are reports that other Scottish organizations in the USA are considering hosting kilt skates in their cities. You don’t need to be Scottish to kilt skate.  You just need a Scottish sense of fun and fortitude.  Wear your tartans and don a kilt if you have one. Bring your friends and send your pictures to  [email protected].  Let’s add to the Home Edition Gallery the photos and videos of Scottish Banner readers from around the world.

For more information:  https://ottscot.ca/kiltskate and www.kiltskate.com

Book of Deer to return to north-east Scotland for the first time in a millennium

For the first time in more than one thousand years, the Book of Deer, possibly Scotland’s oldest surviving manuscript, will return to the north-east of Scotland in 2022. The community heritage group The Book of Deer Project, based in Aden Country Park in Aberdeenshire, has secured £128,588 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to bring the 10th century text back to the area where it is believed to have originated and to celebrate its return.  It will be on loan from Cambridge University Library, where it has been since 1715, and will be exhibited at Aberdeen Art Gallery in summer 2022, during the Year of Scotland’s Stories. 

The Book of Deer is a rare example of a pocket gospel book, and was produced for private use rather than for church services. It contains the oldest surviving example of written Scots Gaelic (it also includes Latin text) in the world within its margins. Plans to celebrate the temporary return of the Book of Deer are well underway and a series of community cultural events will take place in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire to celebrate the book and its heritage. Parallel events are also being planned in Cambridge.  The programme will include a further archaeological dig at the Abbey of Deer in Aberdeenshire, thought to be the site of the early mediaeval monastery where the Book of Deer was annotated with the earliest written Gaelic.  This community excavation will take place over ten weeks in summer 2022, the longest excavation yet, hoping to find the Monastery of Deer following 11 years of searching. 

Internationally significant

The project will engage with the community and schools in the local area, allowing children, young people and others to be actively involved in the excavation, ensuring the legacy of the book’s loan continues well beyond 2022.   Anne Simpson, chair of the Book of Deer Project, said: “We act as the catalyst for renewed interest, research and community engagement surrounding the book in the north-east of Scotland and beyond. The central objective of our project is to celebrate the book and its heritage in a modern context.    We’re delighted to ensure the Book of Deer will be accessible to the wider public next summer, fittingly coinciding with the Year of Scotland’s Stories. Artefacts like the Book of Deer, and the 200,000 plus rare books and unique manuscripts the University holds in its own collections, are invaluable in shining a light on our past and how that shapes who we are today so we are looking forward to being part of sharing this knowledge with the wider community.”

Cllr. Anne Stirling, chair of Aberdeenshire Council’s Communities Committee said: “The Book of Deer Project has been working to increase the profile of this internationally significant book for many years, so the award of lottery money to bring it back to the north-east in such a high profile way is fantastic and testament to all the hard work that’s gone in so far.  It’s clearly very relevant that it will return to the north-east in the Year of Scotland’s Stories and I’m really looking forward to seeing more details of the cultural programme which will help mark the return of the book and hopefully highlight the existence and importance of this text among many people who may never have heard of it until this point. Just imagine how exciting it would be if the community dig taking place next summer was finally able to identify the site of the Monastery of Deer, adding further to the fascinating story of the Book of Deer and its legacy in the north-east.” 

The Monastery of Deer in Aberdeenshire had the historic book, which highlights the early church, culture and society of the period, in its care by 1,000 AD.

Edinburgh Squadron of the Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry to receive Freedom of the City

The highest honour a city can bestow will be awarded to the Edinburgh Squadron of the Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry (SNIY) following a motion by the Lord Provost and unanimous support at a meeting of the City of Edinburgh Council. The Freedom of the City is Edinburgh’s most prestigious honour and is “bestowed upon those who are held in the highest esteem.” It is a tradition that dates back over 560 years to 1459. The Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry is the Army’s newest combat regiment and is based at Redford Barracks. Entering the Army’s order of battle in 2014, the regiment’s predecessors have a proud history that stretches back hundreds of years. It is formed of four Squadrons: Earl of Carrick’s Own Squadron based in Ayr, North Irish Horse Squadron in Belfast, Fife & Forfar/Scottish Horse based in Cupar Squadron and in Edinburgh the Lothians & Border Yeomanry Squadron.

Edinburgh roots

The latter’s ancestor regiments were formed by Sir Walter Scott and the move to honour the squadron in 2021 marks a further commemoration of the 250th anniversary of his birth. The regiments also protected the Lord Provost on North Bridge, formed the Reconnaissance Unit for the 51st Highland Division at St Valery in 1940 and more recently supported the NHS. Edinburgh’s Lord Provost Frank Ross, said: “The Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry Squadron has become an integral part of this city’s long and proud history. It has a rich history and role in Scotland’s past and at the forefront of the military contribution at home and abroad and has a proud and deep connection within the communities in which we live and serve. With its Edinburgh roots founded by Sir Walter Scott, and in this the 250th anniversary of his birth, it feels particularly fitting to show our pride and gratitude with this lasting tribute.”

One man and his dog complete epic 5,000-mile rewilding trek across Canada

 Canadian PM and Scotland’s Deputy FM extol Perthshire musician’s ‘astonishing feat’.

After a gruelling nine months on the road which began on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, 32-year Michael Yellowlees from Perthshire and his faithful Alaskan husky dog Luna have finally reached Canada’s Atlantic coast, having trekked right across the vast country for Highlands-based rewilding charity Trees for Life.  On Sunday 5 December, throngs of well-wishers gathered at the remote Cape Spear Lighthouse in Newfoundland, while political leaders in Canada and Scotland expressed their admiration for Michael’s heroic venture.

Inspirational adventure

“My best wishes on the successful completion of your incredible walk across Canada, Michael!” declared Prime Minster Justin Trudeau. Noting that Michael has raised $50,000 for the Scottish rewilding charity Trees for Life, Prime Minister Trudeau added: “Michael chose Canada for this mission due to the many Scots who left their homeland generations ago, settled here, and contributed significantly to the fabric of our country.  He was also inspired by the many and vast beautiful natural environments Canada continues to enjoy and protect. Despite the challenges faced by the pandemic, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Michael for his inspirational adventure.”

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney – who is Michael’s local MSP – said: “I warmly congratulate Michael on the astonishing feat of endurance he has accomplished in support of a cause to which he is devoted. Michael has demonstrated the power of individual action to raise awareness of this vital issue of our day. His commitment to restoring our natural environment is an inspiration to us all. I have had the privilege of knowing Michael and his family for many, many years. He is a shining example of the tenacity and inspiration that his family have brought to all they have done”.

Restore the Scottish Highlands

Michael, a native of Birnam and a former pupil of Breadalbane Academy, has Canadian roots and travelled to the country in 2020. While working with sled dogs before he set off on his journey, he befriended Luna, who would become his constant companion every step of the way. Midway through the journey, Michael was distraught when Luna vanished into the Canadian wilderness. After a week searching high and low, aided by local volunteers, the two were joyfully reunited when Luna suddenly reappeared at his side – having chewed away her lead, which appeared to have become entangled in forest vegetation.

“Apart from that horrible scare, the journey through Canada has been amazing,” says Michael. “And so too have the people. I’ve been marched into towns by pipe bands, applauded by crowds lining the streets, and inundated with offers of food, clothing and shelter. It has also been emotional. The huge population of people of Scottish descent in Canada is partly a consequence of the Highland Clearances, which were accompanied by ecological destruction. Canada is a beautiful land with an abundance of woodland and wildlife. This journey has been about raising awareness and funds to help restore the Scottish Highlands to a flourishing ecosystem as part of our contribution to tackling the twin global emergencies of climate change and biodiversity loss.”

Steve Micklewright, Chief Executive of Trees for Life, expressed the gratitude of the whole charity: “We want to say a huge thank you to Michael for walking across Canada for the last nine months and raising so much money for our work rewilding the Highlands. His achievement has been amazing. His journey is a powerful reminder that rewilding offers hope for tackling the nature and climate emergencies, while benefitting people and local communities.”

Michael was especially pleased to receive a video message from Scottish entertainment legend Elaine C Smith, who took time out from her hectic schedule as a pantomime dame in Cinderella at Glasgow’s Kings Theatre to tell Michael: “You’ve done a wonderful, wonderful, thing. It’s just brilliant.”  Michael, naturally, is feeling pretty exhausted and said: “So now I’m looking forward to taking a couple of weeks of rest, decompress, then try and process everything that’s happened because it really has been a magical year and experience.”

Trees for Life is dedicated to rewilding the Scottish Highlands. Its volunteers have established nearly two million native trees at dozens of sites, encouraging wildlife to flourish and helping communities to thrive.

A full interview with Michael can be found either in the November edition of the Scottish Banner or at www.scottishbanner.com. To support Michael and Luna’s epic fundraising drive for Trees for Life, please visit: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/michaelandlunarewild

Carronades by the Clyde

By: David McVey

Geilston House in summer.

Cardross is a quiet commuter village with a spectacular location on the north bank of the Firth of Clyde, midway between Helensburgh and Dumbarton. It’s a small village yet its railway station has direct services to both Glasgow and Edinburgh. A nearby estate has fascinating links to the history of conflict and colonialism; perhaps there are lessons we can learn at Geilston House. The Geilston Estate lies just to the north-west of Cardross, on the Helensburgh side. The name comes from ‘Gilliestoun’ which means ‘Servants’ Farm’.

It dates back to the 1500s, but the oldest parts of the current Geilston House were built around 1660; it’s believed to have had a thatched roof until the early 1800s. As we’ll see, the house has passed through various ownerships.

It was a Thomas Donald who purchased the estate in 1757. He was one of Glasgow’s ‘tobacco lords’ who made their fortunes from the plantations and whose economic and cultural legacy is troublesome given the role of slavery in the industry (not to mention the health effects of tobacco). From 1769 to 1787 the Moore family rented Geilston from Donald. Dr John Moore had been a military medic during the Seven Years War of 1756-1763. His two sons, Graham and John, would also join the army. John the younger became a major celebrity, serving in America, France, Egypt and Holland, acquiring a knighthood and reaching the rank of Colonel. He was killed in 1809 during the Peninsular Campaign but by then was so revered that Charles Wolfe composed a poem, The Burial of Sir Charles Moore. Graham joined the Royal Navy, was also knighted and reached the rank of Admiral. He lived until 1843, died peacefully, and is buried in the churchyard of Cobham in Surrey, England.

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The holly collection at Threave Garden

By:  Michael Lawrie, Head Gardener, Threave Garden

While people often associate holly with Christmas, there’s a lot more to discover about this diverse group of plants. I’d like to invite you to delve into the world of holly – you never know, you might find one you really like. Holly has long been believed to be a symbol of life and continuity. It has been adopted as an emblem of Christianity – the spiny leaves represent the crown of thorns, the berries signify the blood that was given by Christ as a symbol of salvation. It’s also said that holly will ward off evil and negativity – cutting one to the ground is thought to bring bad luck. Druids once placed holly in their hair and beards to keep away evil. Bringing holly inside to decorate homes at Christmas has been a tradition for many hundreds of years; decorating fir trees, as we do today, didn’t begin until the 1840s. And if you’re ever out in a thunderstorm, a holly bush is considered the safest place to shelter under, as the leaves act like mini lightning conductors and will hopefully prevent you from being hit.

Landscaped beauty

At Threave, the holly collection has been added to since the School of Heritage Gardening (the only Scottish garden dedicated to the training of horticulturists) was gifted the land from the Gordon family in the 1960s. I have a particular fondness for this plant and like to add to the collection whenever possible.  The collection currently consists of over 70 different types of holly (Ilex). Some of these are species plants such as Ilex ciliospinosa (Asian holly), others are cultivars, such as Ilex x altaclerensis ‘Ripley Gold’, but they all have a few identifying characteristics. All Ilex have alternate leaves (i.e. they grow alternately up the stem); they are dioecious (male and female flowers are on separate plants), with the berries being produced on female plants; and the berries are toxic to humans. If you’re interested in our holly collection, you should visit Threave in the late autumn/winter to really appreciate these wonderful and interesting plants.

Threave’s wonderful garden has been created over the years by students of the Trust’s School of Heritage Gardening – and is a fine example of landscaped beauty. The garden is divided into a series of smaller gardens to showcase different styles, including a rose garden, rockery and walled garden. At the centre stands Threave House, designed in the Scottish Baronial style in 1871 for the Gordon family. Many of its rooms are displayed as they were in the 1930s.

Threave Garden & Estate is 1 mile west of Castle Douglas and only a short drive from Dumfries. For more information see: www.nts.org.uk/visit/places/threave-garden

The Kirkwall Ba’ – Orkney’s Alternative Festive Tradition

By: Susanne Arbuckle

Since at least 1850, The Kirkwall Ba’ has been a regular sporting fixture in Orkney’s festive calendar. Orcadians don’t indulge in the same Hogmanay celebrations and Christmas Day dinners that take place around the rest of Scotland. Instead, friends and families gather in the town centre to socialise and watch the highly physical matches, which can last an average of 5 hours or more, being played through the historic streets of Kirkwall and is unique to Orcadian culture as Susanne Arbuckle explains.

On the days leading up to Christmas, the sound of hammering reverberates around the historic streets and closes of Kirkwall. The sight of householders and shopkeepers barricading their windows and doorways with heavy-duty timber is a sight likely to fill first-time visitors to the capital of the Orkney Islands with apprehension. For Orcadians, these well-rehearsed annual preparations stir up excited anticipation as they signal the final countdown to The Ba’ season. Since 1850, The Kirkwall Ba’ has been a regular sporting fixture in Orkney’s festive calendar, although its origins date back centuries before that. Games take place twice a year, on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, between two sides known as ‘Uppies’ and ‘Doonies’. When babies were born at home, the side a player joined was dictated by the side of the town he was born in, either north (Doonies) or south (Uppies) of Kirkwall’s Mercat Cross. With most births now taking place in hospital, players choose their own allegiance, usually guided by family loyalty.

Festive greetings

There are two matches played each day starting with the Boy’s Ba in the morning. Seen as a rite of passage for many Orcadian males under 16, this is generally a smaller and less brutal event than the Men’s Ba’. It is an opportunity for local youngsters to serve their apprenticeship in a game that has often been played by generations of men in their families before them. In the afternoon, as the majority of Scotland sits down to enjoy traditional Christmas celebrations or recover from Hogmanay excesses, hundreds of Orcadians gather in front of the 12th century St Magnus Cathedral for the Men’s Ba’, the main event of the day. For many, The Ba’ is an opportunity to exchange festive greetings with family, friends, neighbours and colleagues, making it as much a social occasion as a sporting spectacle.

As game-time approaches, rival male factions of Uppies and Doonies advance from their respective ends of the town in a uniform of rugby tops and steel toe-capped boots, with several hundred players meeting in the middle ready for battle. Supporters roar encouragement as both sides lock themselves in a tight mass facing the Mercat Cross. The crowd cheers as the 1 pm cathedral bell chimes and a locally handcrafted leather ball, known as the Ba’, is thrown into the baying pack and immediately disappears. What follows is a highly physical and drama-filled game of mass street football that has no real rules and no time limit.  Each side attempts to force their way through the historic narrow streets to reach their designated goal at equidistant ends of Kirkwall.  For the Uppies, the goal is against an unassuming wall in the south end, for the Doonies, it is in the chilly waters of Kirkwall Bay in the north end.  On rare occasions, the game has been won in minutes but most games are played well into the winter darkness, lasting an average of 5 hours or more. 

Close to the heart of any Orcadian

Long periods of the scrum making little progress are interspersed with bursts of high drama, excitement, and thunderous stampedes when a player manages to make a break with the Ba’.  Although it is termed street football, feet are rarely used, with hands being the preferred means of passing. Often subterfuge is required, with players smuggling the ball out under their jersey.  The sheer exertion of the pack generates clouds of steam, while every obstacle – be it a wall, roof, or building, is overcome in relentless pursuit of the goal. The wooden barriers prevent players from being forced through glass windows and doors although accompanying volunteer medics are on hand to treat other inevitable injuries that include men passing out from lack of oxygen to having bones broken in the crush. Veteran participants jostle around the fringes directing the younger players and as the adrenaline rises, some year-long personal grudges are settled with fisticuffs. Onlookers pursue the game as it manoeuvres around the town, sometimes tediously slowly, other times at a surprisingly high pace. Seasoned spectators keep a safe distance, and their exit options open in anticipation of a sudden charge in their direction.  Following who has possession of the ball is a challenge for both competitors and bystanders.

As the hours tick by, clothing becomes increasingly ripped and tattered in the mayhem, and friends and family offer up supplies of food and water to boost exhausted players. Other than a pre-match team talk and a good night’s sleep, there is very little preparation before game days, although it is obvious to anyone watching that a high level of fitness is needed to endure the hours of punishing physical activity. Marcus Shearer, a 25-year ‘Doonie’ veteran summed up the experience as “hard” with players needing to be “committed and observant for anything and everything that can happen”. 

In the end, one side is eventually victorious and the winning team’s song is chanted loudly through the streets, but the competition doesn’t quite end there. The overall individual winner of the Men’s Ba’ is fiercely debated by his teammates, although only long-term committed players make the shortlist. Once the victor is decided, he is duly hoisted above the singing crowd with his coveted ball in hand. His name is added to the legendary list of Kirkwall Ba’ players and in return for receiving the ultimate honour, he is responsible for hosting the afterparty.  The celebrations last many more hours and occasionally they have been known to go on for days. Asked about what it means to those that play in The Ba”, Marcus replied, “It means the world, carrying on a tradition which is close to the heart of any Orcadian” and it is that local pride and passion that continues to attract generation after generation of Kirkwall men and boys prepared to risk life and limb for a leather ball.

The bird man of Marchmon

By: Nick Drainey

Marchmont House. Photo: Mark J Richards/WikimediaCommons.

He’s the birdman of Marchmont. A gamekeeper turned gardener who has enjoyed a lifelong passion for all feathered creatures, domesticated and wild. Shaun Adams has been a key part of the grand restoration of a Grade A listed 18th century Palladian mansion in the Scottish Borders. As well as work on one of the finest arts and crafts interiors in Scotland, there has been a transformation of the 6,500-acre estate at Marchmont, near Greenlaw. The work includes tree planting and other measures to encourage wildlife. Enter Shaun, who became gardener five years ago after three decades as a gamekeeper. In that time his job has evolved from straightforward gardening – including in the magnificent walled garden – to looking after the wild birds and the bees.

Lifelong love of birds

Hugo Burge at Marchmont House. Photography from: Colin Hattersley Photography.

This has built on his own lifelong love of birds – for decades he has kept, and successfully shown, birds and in the garden of his home on the estate he currently has at least 100 hens (including Light Sussex and Modern Game), ducks (including Indian Runners and Muscovy ducks) and geese (Nene or Hawaiian geese). And if any more proof of his passion was needed, his car number plate is B4 HEN. Shaun commented: “I’ve kept poultry all my life, my grandfather and my dad kept poultry. I’ve got all sorts and I used to show poultry as well, but I keep them as a hobby now. It is nice to rear something from an egg and see them right through. Everybody thinks I’m mad because I have all this extra work on top of my job; I’m up first thing in the morning taking the dogs out and doing the chickens. But it’s in my blood, I’ve done it all my life.”

His day job involves looking after 120 bird boxes, as well as a growing number of owl boxes. Shaun continued: “Last year we had 75% with birds in them, mainly the tit family; great tits, coal tits and a few nuthatches and some robins.” Shaun has become an expert in what the owl boxes should be like, working with a charity to get it right. The best, he says, are actually in barns – where the young ones can practice flying from beam to beam. A good box has a platform where the young ones can wander about and look at their new world. But at Marchmont they have more than this. There is now an Owl Temple – like an Ancient Greek temple to Athena – which is set on a tall carved pillar. It has been created by the renowned stone carver and sculptor Michelle de Bruin who has a studio nearby as part of Marchmont’s Creative Spaces which encourages the creative arts.

It was Hugo Burge, who, with his father, is behind the restoration project, that had the idea for the “rather spectacular” owl temple in the walled garden. He said: “I have spent some heavenly evenings watching barn owls scouring and floating across the landscape, some very precious and special interactions that strike to one’s core. I thought it would be extraordinary if we were able to encourage a barn owl into the walled garden. Gardening is new to me and what I love doing is closing my eyes and dreaming of what the landscape will look like in 20, 50 or 100 years. We have a new topiary avenue down the centre of the walled garden – it was a dream to imagine a barn owl flying down that little avenue through the mist one morning or late one evening.”

Relationship between arts, nature and humanity

Marchmont House Gardeners. From left are: Shaun Adams, Charlie Alder- Bateman and David McColm. Photo: Colin Hattersley Photography.

The initial idea was a wooden temple but that blew over and broke. So, Hugh brought in Michelle. Hugh said: “I started to discuss whether it was an excessively potty idea to think about carving one out of stone and we both got more and more excited about it. The result is the extraordinary work she has created which I find a bit mind-blowing.- it is a wonderful symbol for craftmanship, something that is incredibly grand which we will hope will last for hundreds of years and something that really supports nature in a very beautiful way. It is something I am extremely proud of; it has been an unexpected journey and it still takes my breath away when I see it – bringing together the sensibilities of what we are doing at Marchmont.” Hugo describes taking on the renovation of Marchmont as “daunting” but at the same time he entered into it with pleasure, enthusing about the “relationship between arts, nature and humanity”. Hugh continued: “Everything about Marchmont is a celebration of creativity and that is a subject close to my heart. In a strange kind of way, if you look back to the 18th century, although the buildings were a great demonstration of building prowess, elegance, and grandeur, often they feel very comfortable in the landscape and the environment. There is a sensibility to nature and a sense of awe and closeness to nature – it is an unusual balance that seems to work.”

Shaun’s introduction to gardening growing up in the 1960s in Annitsford, North Tyneside was less grand, but just as passionate. He said: “My dad kept an allotment, so I was brought up growing veg and in the garden my dad had chickens. I’m over the top with my garden, hanging baskets on the kennels. I just like to keep the place tidy.” Ever keen to embrace a challenge, Shaun is now looking after a quarter of a million bees in hives the estate brought in to improve biodiversity. He said: “That was totally new … it is unbelievable how much there is to learn about, they are a marvellous little insect.”

Shaun went on a beekeeping course and had a mentor for a year, and now produces dozens of jars of honey each year. Hugo said: “We don’t get enough honey to sell it. Really it is a treasure and a treat for myself, my family and occasional lucky friends. And Shaun gets some too. Hugh continued: “It (keeping bees) felt like a very natural thing to be drawn to … a small way in which we could help to create a sense of balance at Marchmont between our human needs and requirements and the natural environment. And it is hard not to be swept up by the concerns around declining bee populations; having taken some interest in this it is very alarming, and it felt like something we could do in a practical, small way to support the bee environment and the eco-system at Marchmont.” And he is full of praise for Shaun: “He is passionate about nature and the collections of his own ducks and geese which he nurtures with pride. He also took up the challenge of beekeeping with enormous relish. He has a wonderful hands-on expertise with nature.”

Arbikie-Distilling the world’s first climate-positive spirits

Arbikie Highland Estate is a 400-year-old family farming business based on Scotland’s sunny east coast. In 2014, the Stirling brothers opened the Arbikie Distillery on the Estate with a plan to combine the best of farming and traditional distilling with innovation. Over the last few years, it has become clear that the focus is to make Arbikie one of the world’s most sustainable distilleries.

The Stirling brothers.

When the Stirling brothers set up Arbikie Distillery on their family farm on Scotland’s east coast in 2014, their plan was to combine the best of farming and traditional distilling with innovation. Over the last few years, it has become very clear to them and all the Arbikie team that their focus is to make Arbikie one of the world’s most sustainable distilleries.

Arbikie have a clear mission to become the global leader in a new category of single-estate, sustainable spirits. They were not satisfied with carbon-neutral, so they focused on distilling the world’s first climate-positive spirits. They achieved that goal with the launch of their climate positive, Nàdar Gin in early 2020. The brothers continue to set ambitious goals, but ones rooted in the commercial reality of building a business that retains family ownership, whilst also celebrating their family’s over 400-year farming heritage. The Stirling’s are building a long term, legacy business and so commerciality, balanced with sustainable considerations are at the forefront of their planning.

A zero-carbon distillery

Wheat.

Their six-year sustainable journey has been one of ongoing collaboration with partners, including the James Hutton Institute and Abertay University. Arbikie are a rare, field to bottle distiller as they grow what they need to distil on their own farms, whether barley, wheat, potatoes, peas and chillies, or botanicals like juniper, coriander, lemongrass, and limes. They have pioneered field to bottle distilling across a range of spirits, including gin and whisky, as this fits with their circular economy approach to minimising their environmental impact. The brothers are the latest custodians of the family farms and so are mindful to pass on a business with a

positive legacy to the next generation. They have adopted regenerative farming practices, minimising chemical inputs and are reviving heritage barley varieties; not only increasing crop diversity on the farm, but promoting regional differences and reviving traditional flavours in the resultant single malt whiskies.

Arbikie uses science to unlock distilling conundrums such as with Master Distiller, Kirsty Black distilling the world’s first climate- positive spirits as her PHD. Nàdar Gin was launched in 2020 following years of endeavour by Kirsty and partners, Dr Pete Iannetta at the James Hutton & Professor Graeme Walker at Abertay University

Distilled from peas, Nàdar is carbon-negative, avoiding the release of 1.54Kg of CO2 into the atmosphere. The aim is to deliver a zero-carbon distillery which can be replicated across the distillation industry and highlight the opportunities for the acceleration of the hydrogen economy. The Stirling brothers and the Arbikie team realise they are on a journey, with lots still to do, but their journey to Net Zero and beyond will be greatly helped by world leaders focusing on our climate change challenges at the recent COP26 in Glasgow, and beyond to COP27 in Africa.

Arbikie is involved in a number of climate-related projects, from partnering with ecoSPIRITS to remove single-use glass bottles from their supply chain, to implementing hydrogen as part of the UK Government’s Green Distillery competition. The aim is to deliver a zero-carbon distillery which can be replicated across the distillation industry and highlight the opportunities for the acceleration of the hydrogen economy. Arbikie will be opening our new Distillery Experience in Arbroath in April 2022 allowing visitors to come and experience what they do first-hand.

For information on Arbikie Distillery see: www.arbikie.com

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

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

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

Incredibly special

Logan Botanic Garden.

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

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

World’s pre-eminent botanical gardens

Logan Botanic Garden.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piping

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

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

Drumming

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

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

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

Photo: Cameron Bonar and Sebastien Arguelles.

The Koala gets a tartan of its own

Marie Lawson with the Koala Tartan.

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

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

Hand-woven

Fred at the loom.

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

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

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

Scotland’s answer to The New York Highline unveiled

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

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

The Bowline marks a new era

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

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

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

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

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

Early Medieval Scotland

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

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

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

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