Clan Chieftain – Clan Hope of Craighall

Sir Alexander Archibald Douglas Hope, OBE, 19th Bt of Craighall.

Normally one might expect to read of a clan chieftain living in a stately manor somewhere in Scotland. Perhaps doing a bit of fishing and hunting or delving in company directorships in the realms of establishment and industry enterprises. Happily, the chieftain of Clan hope of Craighall decided to be a little more creative in his pursuits than just those careers and pastimes. So,  if you are unaware of who the Clan Chieftain of Clan Hope of Craighall is this extract from a article on Double Negative (DNEG) the business he co-founded in 1996 might help shed some light.

Rise of DNEG

Alex Hope (3rd from left) and Matt Holben with DNEG’s Academy Award winners.

As film production in the UK ramped up, so too did competition among visual effects studios, many of which happened to be located in the Soho area of London. DNEG Co-founder Alex Hope says the focus in those earlier years was to not only help grow DNEG as a business and as a creative enterprise, but also the local industry as a whole.

“One of our primary aims was to get the visual effects industry in the UK on the map,” recalls Hope. “Through that period, the Harry Potter films started being made, and we first became involved on Prisoner of Azkaban, released in 2004. Those films, and the commitment of Warner Bros. Everyone associated with those films to want them to be done in the UK gave confidence to British visual effects companies, and gave confidence to Double Negative – that we could invest in training and R&D and capital expenditure and build our business.”

Another cornerstone relationship that DNEG cultivated was with Christopher Nolan, first working with the director on Batman Begins and then several others DNEG also quickly became one of the major contributors to other large franchises such as The Hunger Games series, Bond films, the DC Extended Universe and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For that to happen, DNEG had to grow – quickly and creatively – not only in London but around the world. The studio now has locations in London, Vancouver, Mumbai, Los Angeles, Chennai and Montréal.


DNEG has proved its metal in the competitive creative area of VFX production winning multiple awards for its work on a diverse range of feature films and television productions including Academy Awards (Oscars) for: Inception, Interstellar, Ex Machina, Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, First Man and Tenet.

After 22 years Sir Alex left DNEG in early 2020 to take time away from the industry. He’s now involved in some new ventures in the entertainment industry looking to launch in late 2021 and 2022. Sir Alex also serves as Vice Chair of ScreenSkills the UK’s industry led skills body for the screen industry. Clan Hope of Craighall Society looks forward to hearing more about their chieftain’s future business ventures and successes.

You can find out more about DNEG at : and also about Clan Hope of Craighall Society at:

Main photo: DNEG Co-founders Matt Holben (left) and Sir Alex Hope.

Dumbarton Rock: Scotland’s most underrated fortress?

By: David C. Weinczok

Find an outcrop of rock in Scotland and chances are someone, at some point, called it a seat of power. Inland crags, coastal cliffs, and the stone spires left by retreating glaciers 12,000 years ago are commonly crowned by castles or their prehistoric equivalents – duns, brochs, hillforts, lookout towers, and every other type of fortification imaginable.

Nothing, however, serves as a statement in stone quite like building on the carcass of an extinct volcano. Think Edinburgh and Stirling castles, or the island strongholds of Bass Rock and Ailsa Craig, both of which loom large as natural wonders and visitor attractions. In terms of sheer symbiosis between stones crafted by hand and those crafted by nature, however, none can rival Dumbarton Rock. I would not be surprised if you had not heard of it until now. Dumbarton receives little of the fanfare given to the likes of the places listed above. Just why that it is anyone’s guess. Sure, Dumbarton is not at the centre of a major tourism hub like Edinburgh or Stirling; in its shadow is a football pitch, and the area it is in (about 15 miles west of central Glasgow) is much more famous for its industrial heritage and wartime involvement than its medieval history. However, few landmarks in Scotland are as distinctive or ancient as Dumbarton Rock.

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Diageo opens landmark global Johnnie Walker visitor experience

One of Edinburgh’s newest attractions has opened, Johnnie Walker Princes Street, the eight-floor new visitor experience for the world’s best-selling Scotch whisky, in the heart of Scotland’s capital city. Four and a half years in the making, Johnnie Walker Princes Street is the centrepiece of our £185million pound investment in Scotch whisky tourism in Scotland – the largest single investment programme of its kind ever seen in Scotch whisky tourism.

To mark the opening, a Johnnie Walker flag was raised above the landmark building by Diageo’s Chief Executive, Ivan Menezes, and the Managing Director of Johnnie Walker Princes Street, Barbara Smith, who said: “This is a proud day for everyone. Last year Johnnie Walker celebrated 200 years since founder John Walker opened the doors to his small grocery store and today represents the next chapter of the incredible story. Johnnie Walker Princes Street is a landmark investment in Scotch whisky and into Scotland and it sets a new standard for immersive visitor attractions. It celebrates Scotland’s remarkable heritage, our incredible skilled whisky-makers, and looks to the future by engaging new generations of consumers from around the world in the magic of Scotch whisky.”

Johnnie Walker Princes Street is crowned by two world-class rooftop bars and a terrace with breath-taking views of the Edinburgh skyline, including the Explorers’ Bothy whisky bar stocked with 150 different whiskies, and the 1820 cocktail bar where drinks are paired with a carefully curated menu sourced from, and representing in culinary form, the four corners of Scotland.

Americans join fight to save Scottish literary history

A trio of Scottish heritage organizations are asking American supporters for help to save some of the United Kingdom’s most important literary artifacts.

The Honresfield Library, a privately owned collection of manuscripts, letters, and first editions by British luminaries from Austen to Tennyson, was put up for public auction in London earlier this year.  

The collection, which had been unseen by the public for almost a century, also includes Robert Burns’ earliest surviving poems in his First Commonplace Book and Sir Walter Scott’s handwritten manuscript for Rob Roy.

With the real possibility that these culturally priceless artifacts could be lost to private collectors or dispersed overseas, a consortium consisting of eight leading British libraries and museums, including Oxford’s Bodleian Library, the Brontë Parsonage Museum, and the British Library, was swiftly convened by The Friends of the National Libraries.

The collection’s current owners agreed to delay the auction and have given the consortium until the end of October to raise the $21 million (£15 million) needed to commit to the purchase. To date, the group has secured $10.5 million (£7.5 million).

The Scottish members of the consortium – Abbotsford, the National Library of Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland – have worked together to support the UK-wide appeal and have drawn up plans to bring collection items linked to Burns and Scott back to Scotland.

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

Now, the American Patrons of the National Library and Galleries of Scotland and The National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA (NTSUSA) are urging Americans who love Scotland to get involved.

If the money can be raised in time, the three Scottish consortium members will take joint care of the 40 items associated with Scotland in the collection, which have a combined value of $4 million (£2.75 million).

The pieces will be conserved so that they may be put on public display and made available for research. Plans for in-person and virtual programs, as well as loans to local venues in addition to regular and permanent exhibitions at the partners’ main locations, are underway.

Kirstin Bridier, executive director of NTSUSA, said: “Not only do we have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help secure a remarkable collection of literary treasures for Scotland – we have the chance to make them public for the first time. The works of Burns and Scott are deeply significant to Scottish history and culture, and the impact of these writers is still felt around the world today. We are delighted to join this international effort to bring Burns and Scott home to Scotland.”

Peter Drummond-Hay, chair of the American Patrons of the National Library and Galleries of Scotland, said: “It is so rare for a literary treasure trove such as this to come to light and we cannot miss the opportunity to bring it into public ownership in Scotland. It is testament to the extraordinary importance of these items to Scottish culture and heritage that the three institutions have come together to launch this urgent international appeal and we are proud to support it.”

Time is running out to raise the funds needed. To learn more about the Honresfield Library appeal or to make a tax-deductible donation, visit or

US Junior Solo Bagpiping & Drumming Championships to be held online

The 15th annual Balmoral Classic, the only junior solo competition for both bagpipers and drummers in the USA, will be presented on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. This will be a virtual event, with competitors submitting videos to our panel of world-renowned judges. Those invited to compete may sign up for any one of three Prerecording Workshops with professional piper Sean Patrick Regan. Regan will work with competitors to ensure that they are prepared to submit their best recordings.

Events include: Competition videos stream on Facebook & YouTube (8:00am-5:00pm EST), Awards Ceremony, live on Zoom, Balmoral Classic Concert, live in Pittsburgh, featuring Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas (8:00pm EST)  and a Sunday workshops in Piobaireachd and Snare Drumming (instructors and times TBA).

Cultivate musical excellence

“We provided both winter and summer workshops in our second year of online instruction, with classes taught by world-class instructors,” says Balmoral Director George Balderose. “This fall, we’ll be presenting our second online Balmoral Classic, fulfilling our promise to cultivate musical excellence in young pipers and drummers.”

Competition performances will premiere on YouTube, with LiveChat offering viewers the experience of attending a live event. Videos will also be posted on Facebook. Awards will be announced via Zoom at 7:00pm EST, with winners posted on social media immediately after. McCallum Bagpipes, Ltd. will be donating a MacRae SL4 Bagpipe as a prize for the Balmoral Classic’s top winning piper.

Application deadline is October 13th. For further detail or to compete online in the Balmoral Classic see:

More Scottish landowners unite to save Scotland’s wildlife

Ardura is a community forest covering around 500 acres on the Isle of Mull. All images ©

Increasing numbers of Scottish landowners are joining a chain of rewilding projects to tackle the nature and climate emergencies, and create new economic opportunities for rural communities. The Northwoods Rewilding Network is bringing together a diverse group of farms, estates, crofts and community lands, and has more than doubled in size to 28 land partners since its April launch. The sites now cover more than 7,000 acres between them, and Northwoods aims to grow to at least 10,000 acres within two years.

Operated by rewilding charity SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, Northwoods was created in response to a growing number of enquiries from landowners keen to contribute to Scotland’s role in reversing global nature loss and tackling climate breakdown, but who needed more knowledge and resources.

Partnering with small and medium-sized landholdings of 50-1,000 acres, Northwoods is creating a tapestry of nature recovery ‘stepping-stones’ across the landscape, with tailored support being offered to farmers, landowners and land managers.

Large-scale restoration of nature

Ballinlaggan Farm in the Cairngorms.

Most rewilding activity in Scotland is presently limited to large estates and landscape-scale projects. Outside of these initiatives, the challenge of restoring nature and connecting habitats remains.  James Nairne, Northwoods’ Project Manager said: “Northwoods is helping a much wider range of land managers play a bigger role in restoring and connecting nature-rich habitats. The levels of interest show that rewilding is increasingly seen as an important way of helping Scotland’s land and seas recover, and delivering a range of positive outcomes for nature and people.”

Research has estimated that only 29 countries out of 218 have lost more biodiversity than the UK, with Scotland faring only slightly better than the UK average. Rewilding is the large-scale restoration of nature, and goes beyond protecting fragments of nature now left. It restores vibrant living systems across woodlands, peatlands, wetlands, rivers, and at sea, and offers new opportunities for farmers on marginal land.

For more information and a list of Northwoods members, see:

Main image: Highland cattle are used to replicate the actions of extinct herbivores such as elk and aurochs.

The Glenfiddich Piping Championship returns for 2021

Ten of the world’s greatest solo pipers have been invited to compete in this year’s Glenfiddich Piping Championship, as the renowned competition returns to the spectacular Blair Castle on Saturday 30th October. This year’s competitors are defending champion Stuart Liddell, Dollar’s Callum Beaumont, British Columbia piper Jack Lee, five-time champion Roderick Macleod MBE, William McCallum of Bearsden, 2019 title holder Finlay Johnston, The Silver Chanter 2021 winner Angus MacColl, Edinburgh’s Iain Speirs, Glasgow-based Canadian piper Glenn Brown and Connor Sinclair of Crieff.

The participants were selected from the two qualifying events that took place, with Stuart Liddell as the 2020 champion and Callum Beaumont as the overall winner of the Piping Live! Masters Competition. The other competitors were chosen based on previous achievements at the Glenfiddich Piping Championship and will travel to Perthshire this October for the annual meet. Musicians will play in both the Piobaireachd and March, Strathspey and Reel disciplines, with prizes awarded for each discipline, as well as an overall Championship winner.

The chance to tune in online

The prestigious 48th annual event will welcome live audiences to the Perthshire venue’s Victorian ballroom whilst also being livestreamed, allowing piping fans at home and around the world to experience the impressive sights and sounds of The Glenfiddich. The online show is priced at £15 and will be available to view for one week after it is first streamed.

The Glenfiddich Piping Championship was established in 1974 to inspire the world’s finest exponents of Ceòl Mòr or Piobaireachd (the great music) and Ceòl Beag or light music (the little music). Run by The National Piping Centre, the world centre for excellence in bagpipe music, and funded through the William Grant Foundation, the event is held annually at Blair Castle in Blair Atholl, Perthshire.

The National Piping Centre’s Director of Piping, Finlay MacDonald, said: “It’s wonderful to be able to bring The Glenfiddich Piping Championship back to a live audience this year. Blair Castle always makes for a magnificent venue for this prestigious event and the 48th edition will mark a welcome return to live competition, whilst also giving people at home and abroad the chance to tune in online.”

For information and tickets for the Glenfiddich Piping Championship 2021 see:

The Duke of Rothesay marks the 150th anniversary of the Duke of Sutherlands Railway

His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay recently visited Dunrobin Castle Station to mark the 150th anniversary of the Duke of Sutherlands Railway. His Royal Highness was greeted by The Lord-Lieutenant of Sutherland, Dr Monica Main, who presented His Royal Highness to the Earl of Sutherland.

His Royal Highness joined a reception where he met with guests including representatives of the railway industry and the neighbouring castle. His Royal Highness then toured the station with The Honorary Station Master, Daniel Brittain-Catlin.

The only part of the national rail network to have been planned, financed and opened by one person

The Duke of Sutherland’s Railway is the only part of the national rail network to have been planned, financed and opened by one person. Running from Golspie to Helmsdale it opened on 16 May 1871. In September 1870 an isolated section some 17 miles long opened from Dunrobin (a mile north of Golspie) to West Helmsdale (the temporary terminus). This was opened in September 1870 by HRH Princess Helena.  Intermediate stations were opened at Brora and later Loth.

Dunrobin Station (including platform and building) remains in the ownership of the Sutherland Estate and is believed to be the only such station on the network.  Trains to Dunrobin are operated by Scotrail’s Far North Line service which runs between Inverness-Thurso/Wick. The station is situated at the top of the drive leading to Dunrobin Castle and open to the public throughout the castle season from April-October. 

In 2019/20 it was used by 1240 passengers. The cost of the railway was a remarkably cheap £5007 per mile, as the Duke did not have to buy the land. The equivalent sum today for the whole line would be approx £10.5million.  The station was used exclusively by the Sutherland family and guests from 1871 until the second world war. After the war it was opened to the general public but was closed (to the public) in 1965 under the Beeching cuts.

In 1985 it reopened on summer Sundays , but now has a full service when the castle is open. The station has always been a request stop and intending passengers need to hold their arm out to the train driver, like a bus stop. The original low platform is still in use and boxes with three steps are provided so passengers can reach the level of the train.

The most northerly of Scotland’s Great Houses

After visiting Dunrobin Castle Station, His Royal Highness  Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay was then invited to visit Dunrobin Castle’s Formal Gardens. His Royal Highness was welcomed by The Earl of Sutherland and introduced to Iain Crisp, Head Gardener for Dunrobin Castle. His Royal Highness took a short walk around the gardens with The Countess of Sutherland before being invited to take tea on the Coronation lawn.

Before leaving His Royal Highness met local volunteers from East Sutherland who had helped in their communities during the lockdowns over the last 18 months. Dunrobin Castle is the most northerly of Scotland’s Great Houses and the largest in the Northern Highlands with 189 rooms. Dunrobin Castle is also one of Britain’s oldest continually inhabited houses dating back to the early 1300’s, home to the Earls and later Dukes of Sutherland. The Castle, which resembles a French chateau with its towering conical spires, has seen the architectural influence of Sir Charles Barry, who designed London’s Houses of parliament, and Scotland’s own Sir Robert Lorimer.

Dunrobin Castle is open to visitors annually from the 1st of April to 31st October where guests can walk through several of the castle rooms and even experience a Falconry show in the Formal Gardens.

For more information on Dunrobin Castle visit:

Images: John Baikie.

CelticFest Mississippi returns

By: Suezen Mendenhall Brown

CelticFest Mississippi has been a staple in the Jackson metro area for 30 years.  After the cancellation in 2020, the board made the decision to move from our original venue which had multiple indoor buildings, to Lakeshore Park on the Barnett Reservoir so that we would be completely outside.  The 23-acre location is absolutely perfect for hosting a festival and we are pleased to be introducing it to our long time attendees and new friends. 

CelticFest Mississippi has always maintained a traditional music only format and we’re proud to be known as a musician’s fest. We’ve hosted many amazing performers from all over the world and are fortunate to have been able to book A Cherished Few this year, made up of members from internationally acclaimed band, Cherish the Ladies featuring Joanie Madden, Mary Coogan and Mirella Murray with Bruce Foley. We’re beyond excited to have them headline this year’s festival.  We’ll have three music stages and a dance stage plus free heritage, dance and music workshops.  Our Irish Feis Dance competition will also include categories for Celtic Baking, Art, Vocal and Music, which are all open to anyone and all instruments. 

Great Celtic events

We’re fortunate to have a working Highland Cattle farm right here in Brandon, Mississippi and so we’ll have some beauties from Cool Creek Highlands here all weekend. Our Heavy Athletics events this year include some of the best Pro Men & Women competing on Saturday with amateur classes with athletes from all over the country coming in on Sunday.  The Elite Women’s Invitational Championship is going to be outstanding with several record holders competing.  We’ll have exhibition games of Hurling, the Irish national sport, and Gaelic football brought to us by members of the Memphis Gaelic Athletics Association and the Little Rock Gaelic Athletics Club.  We don’t have a league yet in Mississippi but we’re hoping to get people excited about that this year and get one formed. 

We’ll be hosting a free kick-off event at The Black Axes Throwing Club in Brandon on Friday evening with music from some of our artists plus we’ll be holding one of two Kindred Spirits Scotch & Whiskey Tastings also on Friday night at The Rickhouse by Manship Event space in the historic Belhaven neighborhood in Jackson. Our second tasting will be at the festival on Saturday evening.  We’ll finish out Saturday night with our famous Céilí Mór- a giant social dance led by our two dance masters, Jackie O’Riley & Rebecca McGowan.  We’re going to adjust the céilí this year to be hands free and it should be a great time. Sunday will kick off with a special Celtic Worship Service and finish out with a finale on our Water’s Edge Main Stage.  Our Host Hotel is the Hilton Jackson. CelticFest offers plenty of free parking and is of course completely family and dog friendly.

Kids under 12 get in free and we also offer college, senior and military discounted tickets which are available now on our website and also at the gate. It’s going be a blast!

CelticFest Mississippi takes place October 23 & 24th in Brandon, MS. For more information see:

Canada’s Sons of Scotland Pipe Band attend The Estes Park International Tattoo

By: Bethany Bisaillion, Sons of Scotland Pipe Band, Ottawa, Ontario

The Sons of Scotland Pipe Band from Ottawa, Canada had the good fortune of participating in the 45th annual Estes Park International Military Tattoo this September and they had a wonderful time. 

Great music

They joined forces with pipers and drummers from across Canada and the United States, and played with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Band from San Diego.  The US Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps and international Highland dancers made for a very special show to mark the return of this great event. 

The band also performed at the Longs Peak Highland Games and did a parade through town – it was a full schedule and a lot of great music and new friendships came of it.  Next year’s trip is already on the books for September 10 to 12, and they welcome you to visit the site for all the details.

The Sons of Scotland is Canada’s oldest civilian pipe band. For details see:

Taking tartan across the world

The Scottish Banner recently caught up with ScotlandShop’s founding director Anna White on being in the tartan business, opening a new North American branch and her love of the Scottish Borders.

ScotlandShop founder Anna White.

SB: Anna thanks for speaking to the Scottish Banner. ScotlandShop was born out of your home in the Scottish Borders, can you tell us about the inspiration behind the business and its reach today?

AW: I started ScotlandShop in 2002 in the spare room of my wee cottage near Duns in the beautiful Scottish Borders, and we have steadily grown from there, driven by requests from customers and the fabulous resource that is the textiles industry in this area. I love colour and the tactile nature of the woollen fabrics we work with, and this was my original inspiration to set up the business. I wanted to bring the history and heritage of tartan to customers all over the world. I am also very passionate about this very rural area, I needed an interesting job myself without commuting into the city, so I created the business and have now been able to offer employment to lots of other local people, as well as supporting the rural economy by using local manufacturers. Today we offer over 500 tartans custom made into all sorts of clothing and interiors products, to customers across the globe.

SB: ScotlandShop has really embraced technology with sites in different languages, virtual Clan consultations and a robust presence on social media. How has using these tools helped ScotlandShop reach new international customers, and have they become even more important during the Covid pandemic?

AW: When I first started ScotlandShop, e-commerce was just beginning and there was a deep mistrust of the technology and of companies who operated purely online. Suppliers didn’t want to work with us as we were regarded as fly by night and not a proper bricks and mortar business. Thankfully over time this has completely changed and of course COVID has really cemented this shift. We have sold to customers in the US and overseas since day 1 and I suppose my personal interest and passion for international markets has also fuelled our growth in these areas. Both the internet and social media have meant that despite being located in a very rural area we are not limited by the local population in how we can grow our business, the opportunity to reach customers is almost unlimited. In the last 18 months our favourite move has been into video appointments and consultations with customers. Everyone is so used to Zoom now, and it is great fun teaching people how to measure and chatting about tartan with someone thousands of miles away, hearing their family stories and why they are choosing that specific tartan.

SB: ScotlandShop has attended Highland Games and Scottish events around the world. How important have these been for business growth and also how important do you think they are for the international Scottish community to have?

AW: So, despite all of the above saying how fabulous e-commerce and video calling is, nothing beats face to face and pre-Covid as we started researching where to have our base in the US, we ran pop-up shops and attended Highland Games all over the country. We started with Tartan Week in New York and had the best time, partying as well as working, marched with our giant Tartan Suited Mascot down 6th Avenue and met so many wonderful people. We then moved on to visit the Chicago Scots and join in their Highland Games, where the famous windy city nearly blew our tent away but again what an amazing welcome for our products. Emily, who will head up our US branch, then subjected herself to two weeks in an RV with myself and my two teenagers while we toured Canada, visiting Glengarry, Montreal and Fergus Highland Games. That gave us a real taste of the enormity of these events, it is very rare to get that many people to one event in Scotland! Just before Covid we also did a tour of Florida and we only just sneaked back home before the borders were closed. Of course we also attend Highland Games here in Scotland, with North Berwick one of our favourite more local ones, full of pipers as it always falls just before the Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow. So how important are these events? The most important of all! You meet people, you hear feedback you would never hear otherwise, you gain an understanding for who your customers are which is hard to do by phone or email, and they really appreciate us making the effort to be there. We loved learning more about the differences between the states and the cultural nuances we were missing.

Just some of the 500 tartans to choose from.

SB: Tartan tells a story and is the core of your business, and when people think of Scotland many will think of tartan. What is it about tartan you love so much and what are some of the things you have learned about the tartan industry since starting the business?

AW: There is much I love about tartan. First up I love colour….I am wearing yellow trainers today which match the yellow in my Doddie’5 Tartan Scarf! I am also very tactile, and the feel of the different wool and cashmere products is one of the reasons I like working in our dispatch department, you get to handle all the products before they are packed and sent off. I worked with a few of the Scottish mills before I started the business and fell in love with the production process, the quality of what we produce locally and the story behind it all. The old files with the colour and dying information, the links to clans and landscapes and the changes from the original plant-based dyes to the chemical ones we use today. Everything has a story, and not just a brief story, hundreds of years of history and my favourite thing is that every day I learn something new and my passion to promote that particular tartan or product is re-fuelled. I wanted to create a business that didn’t just sell product, it sold products with meaning, emotion and story behind them. Also, because I really love this area of Scotland, I wanted to make sure it could survive economically and by selling products produced here I could contribute to that.

SB: Some may think of tartan and thinks kilts, but there is much more to it than just that. Can you tell us about some of the outside the box tartan items that have proved popular?

AW: We do make some quite unusual products as well as the traditional kilts and jackets. Tartan sneakers has to be one of them! I am currently trying to decide whether to have a pair made for myself in my husband’s MacGregor tartan or to simply choose my favourite colour combination. We also make ladies dress shoes and men’s brogues in tartan which are a nice way of adding just a touch of tartan to an outfit. We have made a cloak for a member of the clergy, in Clergy Ancient tartan of course, a suit using four different tartans for a British & Irish Lions rugby commentator, and the doggie bow ties and bandannas came about from a customer requesting them for a wedding. We have had some interesting embroidery to do as well but we love a challenge and as long as it’s in tartan we can usually do it!

SB: ScotlandShop champions quality products and Scottish made. How important is it for you to sell genuine Scottish products? Also how does it make you feel promoting Scottish products internationally?

AW: This is why I started the business, I wanted to sell products made in my local area to promote the economy of the Scottish Borders. We have had to source suppliers from further afield due to customer demand where specific manufacturing skills or capacity aren’t available locally but as far as possible we will always use what is on our doorstep. And of course, you can’t beat the quality of Scotland, and quality is another of those things I just won’t bend on.

Anna White with Emily Redman, who will head up the new Albany franchise.

SB: At a time of great uncertainty around the world ScotlandShop has announced they are opening a US operation in Spring 2022. Can you tell us more?

AW: It does seem a little crazy to open up a new location on the other side of the Atlantic when we can’t even fly into the US right now, however we just feel like we want to be really close to our market and customers and provide even better levels of service than we currently do. So Albany, the capital of New York state is our destination, and we will open a showroom and customer service centre there. Customers can come and see our products and be measured for garments, talk about tartan and peruse swatch books, and we will also be able to handle returns and customer service at hours that suit the US rather than us being asleep when they need answers! Most importantly Albany will act as a base for more pop-up events, attending Highland Games and supporting Scottish Societies and groups with their activities. We can’t wait to get more involved! We will be in New York once a month for pop up measuring and clan consultations from November and booking for that is now open.

SB: Finally Anna, as passionate as you are about your business, you are also incredibly passionate about your home region of the Scottish Borders. What is it about the Scottish Borders you love so much, and do you have any Border recommendations for a visitor to Scotland?

AW: People fly over the Borders into Edinburgh or Glasgow, or they zoom up the coast on a train and they miss what is one of the most beautiful areas in Scotland. I am a little biased of course but this area has so much to offer, particularly if you love the great outdoors, with walking and biking opportunities galore. The roads are really quiet so if you aren’t energetic enough for a bike, hire a car and you can cruise around and stop at all the many historical sites – my favourite are the smaller, lesser known ones such as Greenknowe Tower in my home village (home of the Gordon clan thousands of years ago) or Smailholm Tower which you might have seen lit up in celebration of Sir Walter Scott, or you can do the Border Abbeys route and take in these 4 better known ruins. If you are here in summertime, you must watch the Common Ridings which remember the traditional riding of the bounds of the local towns and are a sight to behold with hundreds of horse riders and everyone out lining the streets. But best of all is when I stand at my back door, looking out across to the Cheviot Hills, and it is just so quiet, with the only sound the birds cheeping, the tranquillity is very hard to beat. Then I head off into the mayhem of the ScotlandShop office!

For more information on ScotlandShop see:

The new purpose-built Great Tapestry of Scotland gallery opens

The new purpose-built Great Tapestry of Scotland gallery, visitor centre, cafe and workshop space has been revealed in its permanent home in Galashiels, the heartland of the Scottish Borders. The latest addition to Scotland’s national cultural scene was unveiled as world-renowned author Alexander McCall Smith, whose vision it was to create a tapestry telling the history of Scotland, carefully positioned the 160th and final tapestry panel in place with chief stitcher Dorie Wilkie. The Great Tapestry of Scotland is located in the centre of Galashiels, less than an hour by train from Edinburgh on the Borders Railway, and close to Galashiels Transport Interchange.

The brainchild of Alexander McCall Smith and designed by artist Andrew Crummy, the Great Tapestry of Scotland is one of the world’s largest community arts projects. Hand-stitched by a team of 1,000 stitchers from across Scotland led by Dorie Wilkie, over 300 miles of wool was used in creating the 160 linen panels (enough to lay the entire length of Scotland from the border with England to the tip of Shetland). The design of the panels is based on a narrative written by Scottish Borders-based award-winning writer and historian Alistair Moffat.

Speaking on the news of the centre’s opening, Alexander McCall Smith said: “The opening of this wonderful gallery marks the end of a long period of hard work by all of those who have created this astonishing tapestry and its permanent home. But it also marks the beginning of the public life of one of the great artistic creations of our time.”

An artwork truly born from the love of the places, people

The Great Tapestry of Scotland is one of the world’s largest community arts projects.

Councillor Mark Rowley, Scottish Borders Council’s Executive Member for Economic Regeneration and Finance, said: “The Great Tapestry of Scotland truly is a national asset, and we are exceptionally proud to be able to open this phenomenal gallery to house it in the Scottish Borders. I have absolutely no doubt that this will draw in visitors from far and wide and will be an incredibly important development for this region. The addition of new world class museums and galleries like The Great Tapestry of Scotland, the Trimontium museum and the Jim Clark Motorsport Museum add to our impressive array of visitor attractions across the beautiful Scottish Borders. Alongside Scotland’s Year of Stories in 2022 and the Scott 250 celebrations to mark the anniversary of Sir Walter Scott, our region’s incredible visitor assets, including our landscape, will provide a springboard for economic recovery post Covid-19.  Having exhibitions and events of such national historical and cultural significance based in the south of Scotland is an extremely positive development and will deliver wider benefits to the local economy and place the area firmly on the map.”

As well as permanently displaying the Great Tapestry of Scotland itself, the new visitor attraction will be home to a workshop space – where visitors can meet the makers, a café showcasing Scotland’s larder, a shop and Gallery 1420, which will host a series of visiting exhibitions.  Housed in the new visitor centre’s Gallery 1420, the Iconic Scotland exhibit also displays some artefacts relating to some of the individuals appearing in the exhibit including Drew McIntyre’s WWE Championship belt, items donated by Outlander star Sam Heughan, an eighteenth century purse embroidered by one of the daughters of the 4th Earl of Traquair, a salwar kameez worn by pioneering human rights activist Saroj Lal and a Great Tapestry of Scotland kilt created by leading kilt designer Howie Nicholsby at 21st Century Kilts, in an exclusive fabric designed by Lochcarron of Scotland.

Revealing the new exhibit, Great Tapestry of Scotland Centre Director Sandy Maxwell-Forbes said: “The Great Tapestry of Scotland is an artwork truly born from the love of the places, people and stories that feature within it. I’m delighted to reveal that this great love and world-renowned story telling continues into our opening Iconic Scotland exhibit. We have received wonderful contributions from some of the most inspiring and iconic people.  People are such a big part of Scotland’s story. It is the people of Scotland, their achievements and their warmth of welcome that really put our much-loved small country on the map. It is their accounts throughout history and their continued passion and pride that give us our identity. Indeed, this is why the Great Tapestry of Scotland has received global acclaim and also why there will be so much to celebrate in the Year of Stories in 2022. We want to ensure our new national gallery and exhibition space will always be where Scotland’s story truly begins.”

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Gaelic showcase at The Royal National Mòd 2021 in Inverness

An exciting and inspirational celebration of Gaelic language and music is promised at The Royal National Mòd 2021 in the city of Inverness this autumn. The eight-day event will hint at a return to normality as organisers of the prestigious celebration unveil a programme that will include a suite of in-person competitions and concerts.

2021’s hybrid approach will combine face-to-face competitions and concerts as well as a rich schedule of online performances to be broadcast throughout the week. More details on the online streaming content will be announced in the coming weeks.  

Founded in 1891, this year’s festival will take place from 8th – 16th October 2021 from the host venue of Eden Court Theatre – in what will be the first indoor shows at the venue since 2020.

Heritage of the Highlands

Major competitions, including the An Comunn Gàidhealach Gold Medal final on Wednesday 13th October and the Traditional Gold Medal final on Thursday 14th October, will be part of the proposed in-person proceedings, together with key junior contests. In place of the famous choir contests, as a result of choirs not being able to practice together, there will instead be a celebration of Gaelic choral singing.

Alongside the competitions, several live shows are expected to be part of the physical element of this year’s celebration including a lively opening concert on Friday 8th October featuring music from new outfit Staran, the famous Glenfinnan Ceilidh Band and the legendary Gaelic singer Margaret Stewart.

Dubbed “the new sound of a traditional Scotland”, Duncan Chisholm leads an all-star line-up on Saturday 9th October. Taking to the stage with Mairearad Green, James Duncan Mackenzie and the Ar Cànan’s Ar Cèol House Band, alongside some of the Highland’s most incredible up and coming young musical talents, they celebrate the vibrant and thriving musical heritage of the Highlands.

Fiddler Lauren MacColl will also showcase a newly commissioned work inspired by coastal happenings and stories from around the Moray Firth, exploring real events connected to water, coastline, community and loss. Lauren will be joined on Tuesday 12th October by Mairearad Green, Anna Massie and Rachel Newton.

Celebrating the unique language, culture and spirit of the Gaels

MChildren from Inverness Gaelic School L-R: Ava Williams -age 9 (Mòd) ,Ruaraidh MacLeod – age 6 (Inbhir), Isobel Simpson – age 8 (Nis) ,Hunter Williams – age 8 (2021) celebrating the launch of Mòd 2021 on the banks of the River Ness.

James Graham, Chief Executive Officer of An Comunn Gàidhealach, said: “We are delighted that we can once again showcase the best that Gaelic culture has to offer at this year’s Royal National Mòd. The last year has certainly not been without its challenges but to be able to bring certain elements of the Mòd back with a hybrid approach is a huge boost for the event and its community of competitors, performers and fans. It will be a magical moment to hear live performance ring out in Eden Court once more and we look forward to welcoming people from Inverness and across Scotland to enjoy Gaelic song and music with one another. The online element of this year’s programme will also allow us to reach audiences around the world and we’re looking forward to celebrating the unique language, culture and spirit of the Gaels with thousands globally.”

Shona MacLennan, Ceannard, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, said: “We are hugely pleased to be able to continue our support for the Royal National Mòd.  Holding some of the premier competitions live in Inverness will be a huge boost to the Gaelic community and the online events will ensure that Gaelic language and culture can be enjoyed throughout the world. We want to congratulate An Comunn Gàidhealach and other Gaelic organisations that have worked hard during the last 18 months to ensure that many people were still able to benefit from listening to and participating in Gaelic culture despite all the hardships being faced, and be part of a world-wide community based on the Gaelic language.”

This year’s Royal National Mòd will run from Friday 8th – 16th October 2021.  View the full programme now at

The North Coast 500 named UK’s top road trip

The North Coast 500 (NC500) in Scotland has been crowned the UK’s number one road trip destination, research has revealed. The survey of 2,000 motorists found almost half (47 percent) of Brits are planning to take a road trip in the UK now restrictions have been fully lifted, with three quarters (74 percent) of these aspiring to head to the country’s picturesque coastline.

The NC500 starts in the northern city of Inverness, weaves along the west coast to Applecross and then northwards towards the towns of Torridon and Ullapool. From there, you’ll venture to some of the most northerly coastal points in Scotland, passing by Caithness and John o’ Groats before heading south again through Dingwall and finally back to Inverness.

Road less travelled

One in four Brits planning on taking a road trip are eager to take the ‘road less travelled’, while 45 percent claim great company is what makes a road trip memorable. The study from Continental Tyres, carried out by OnePoll saw Scotland take out the both the first and second spots for a UK road trip, with the top five UK road trip destinations polled: 1) North Coast 500, Scotland, 2) The Outer Hebrides, Scotland, 3) North Yorkshire Moors, England, 4) The Atlantic Highway, England 5) Coastal Circuit, Northern Ireland.

Peter Robb from Continental Tyres, said: “It is fantastic that so many are planning on exploring the country in their vehicles. The restrictions over the past 18 months have prevented many people from getting away and with the summer holidays just starting, it is great that so many people are keen to get behind the wheel again and create incredible memories on a road trip.”

Dornoch Firth whisky and oyster project reaches milestone

Glenmorangie Distillery and a team of scientists from Heriot-Watt University have reached a significant milestone in the Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project (DEEP), focused on restoring a sustainable native oyster reef in the Dornoch Firth. August 2021 marked the completion of 20,000 native European oysters being returned to the Dornoch Firth, where they became extinct more than 100 years ago as a result of overfishing.

On the banks of the Dornoch Firth

This phase’s success will pave the way for the restoration of the reef, after years of research, planning and monitoring. As part of the DEEP project, the team is investigating findings that suggest that the restored oyster reef habitat has the capacity to act as a long-term carbon store. Researchers are now researching the carbon value of the calcium carbonate produced in the shell of native oysters, a key component in estimating the total value of the reef’s carbon storage potential.

Conscious of the organic waste discharge from the Distillery in Tain, Glenmorangie has long understood the need for a water quality enhancement strategy while supporting the marine environment at its brand home on the banks of the Dornoch Firth. The oysters will play a key role in purifying the water which contains organic by-products from the Distillery and the local area, with one oyster able to purify up to 200 litres of water a day. The Distillery’s anaerobic digestion (AD) plant commissioned in 2017 has already successfully reduced the Distillery’s biological load on the firth by over 95%, and in a Distillery first, the oyster reef is expected to act in tandem to soak up the remaining 5%. In addition to the water purification role the oyster reef also creates a haven for marine life and will help to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Restoring the reef

Professor Bill Sanderson, from the School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society at Heriot-Watt University, said: “DEEP has allowed us to demonstrate the many benefits of restoration of long-lost reefs, and carbon storage is yet another exciting outcome of the research for the project.  We are still uncovering exactly how much of a game changer this can be but we’re increasingly focusing our research on delving deeper into the role of the oyster reef as a carbon store. It’s great to think that the Dornoch Firth can contribute as a global exemplar for helping to mitigate climate change, especially as we run up to COP26 being held here in Scotland.”

In the process of restoring the reef, Glenmorangie and Heriot-Watt University have worked with rural Scottish oyster growers and brood stock providers across Scotland. In a government-funded report, it was found that for every aquaculture job created in the Highlands, there was a gross value added of about £68k, demonstrating that breeding oysters for reef restoration adds extra economic value.

A Harbour to Treasure

Whenever the name Tobermory, on the lovely west-coast island of Mull, is brought up, the first thing that leaps to everyone’s mind is Spanish treasure, and a vast amount of riches that have defied all attempts to locate and recover it for over four centuries. The romance of the Tobermory treasure began in 1588 with the rout of the glorious Spanish Armada. When the fleet was dispersed to all points, several of the ships attempted to reach home waters by sailing up round Scotland.

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Clan MacNicol Federation World Gathering abandoned

The Clan MacNicol Federation, one of the few Clan organisations to have been granted its own Coat of Arms by Lord Lyon, has had to once again abandon the planned World Gathering in 2021 due to ongoing Covid restrictions and travel problems. The Federation had planned to meet in Dunedin, New Zealand, last year 2020, as a part of its biennial world Gatherings, however this was postponed until 2021 due to the ongoing Covid pandemic.

Now with continuing travel restrictions and even doubt over the Australia / New Zealand travel bubble, it was apparent that members from around the world would not be able to attend, so regrettably the event has been abandoned. The last New Zealand Gathering had been also at Dunedin in 2006. The next proposed Gathering will be on the Isle of Skye in 2023, after the last Gathering was held there in 2018 with over 120 members from worldwide.

For further details about Clan MacNicol see:

Discovering the Shinty Trail

By: Nick Drainey

The sport of shinty looks brutal when viewed from the side of the field. Players wielding long sticks called camans swoop on the ball with a fierceness not usually seen in hockey, or even in hurling, which is more closely related and played in Ireland. But the game is more than a competition between two sides, it is part of the culture and heritage of Highland Scotland and still brings communities together, hundreds of years after it was first played.

The Cairngorms National Park has developed an online Shinty Trail, telling the story of the ancient sport, based around Badenoch where the two big teams of Kingussie and Newtonmore play. The trail also illustrates the strong ties which the Gaelic language has within the history of the sport. Gaelic song and verse was often composed about the game, where music and dance was also a crucial aspect of match-day activities in days gone by. According to the Camanachd Association, the governing body, it is likely a sport called camanachd was played in the fifth sixth and seventh centuries and it is thought the game came to Scotland from Ireland, where hurling was popular. In recognition of a shared history, a team of Scottish shinty players and Irish hurling players have often played an annual game against each other, using a composite set of rules.  

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The Royal Mint celebrates the 250th Anniversary of Sir Walter Scott on official UK coin

The Royal Mint, the Original Maker of UK coins, has launched a commemorative £2 coin to honour the late Sir Walter Scott, 250 years after the great writer’s birth.

One of the most influential Scots in history, Sir Walter Scott is renowned for his contribution to literature with his novels and poems, many of which remain literary classics to this day. Marking the 250th anniversary of his birth, Scott’s legacy has been celebrated for the first time on an official UK coin. Available in gold, silver and brilliant uncirculated, the commemorative keepsake was first unveiled in the 2021 Annual Set and has launched as an individual collectors’ item at The Royal Mint. Sir Walter Scott was a prolific and talented writer and is renowned for popularising historical fiction. His poetry transformed a landscape perceived as wild and mysterious into something truly sublime; a picturesque Scotland graced with magnificent glens and beautiful lochs. He then turned his hand to writing novels, where he weaved history with fiction to create an array of bestsellers that includes Ivanhoe, Waverley, Rob Roy, The Heart of Mid-Lothian and The Bride of Lammermoor.

Novelist, Historian and Poet

Designed by textual artist Stephen Raw, the coin was inspired by the artist’s visit to Abbotsford, the famous home of Sir Walter Scott. On the canvas of a £2 coin, the words Sir Walter Scott and Novelist, Historian and Poet are inscribed in the same calligraphy seen at Abbotsford’s grand entrance and chapel. The design also includes Scott’s portrait modelled on the Scott Monument – one of Edinburgh’s most iconic landmarks. To celebrate the launch, the Original Maker collaborated with Scott’s Abbotsford home and Trustee and direct descendant, Matthew Maxwell Scott – the great, great, great, great grandson of the famous writer.

Clare Maclennan The Royal Mint’s Divisional Director of Commemorative Coin said: “Sir Walter Scott’s status as one of Great Britain’s greatest writers endures 250 years after his birth and the anniversary celebration is a wonderful occasion to commemorate his legacy on a £2 coin. The exquisite design, with the inscription Novelist, Historian and Poet, reminds us of the wide-reaching influence of his work. What a treat is has been to reveal this collectable piece of art in collaboration with his great, great, great, great grandson Matthew Maxwell Scott and the fantastic team at Abbotsford, the famous home of Walter Scott, as part of their Anniversary celebrations.”

One of Scotland’s most influential sons

Matthew Maxwell Scott, Trustee at Abbotsford, said: “I’m extremely proud to see my ancestor recognised on a very special coin from The Royal Mint – a fitting tribute during a year of 250th birthday celebrations. It is a beautiful coin. Sir Walter was a collector of beautiful things and I think he would have loved to have this coin in his collection among the many treasures at Abbotsford.”

Giles Ingram, CEO at Abbotsford, said: “This year we are commemorating the 250th Anniversary of Sir Walter Scott, which is a great occasion to look at Scott’s work and legacy. At Abbotsford, we were delighted to be approached by The Royal Mint to collaborate with them on this beautiful coin. Recognising Scott as Novelist, Historian and Poet, 250 years after his birth on, such a beautiful coin and packaging, truly marks Scott as one of the world’s most famous writer’s and one of Scotland’s most influential sons.”

Speaking of the design, Stephen Raw, who also designed the Sherlock Holmes coin in 2019 and the First World War Armistice coin in 2018, said: “Sir Walter Scott was such a fascinating character, there were so many routes that you could explore. Being a textual artist, I’m fascinated by lettering and I chose a combination of distinctive Gothic lettering from the chapel at Abbotsford alongside some lettering used by Scott in the magnificent entrance to his home. As for the portrait, I used the wonderful sculpture of Scott that sits within his monument on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. I hope that collectors enjoy the design and that when people see the coin, they might be encouraged to visit Abbotsford and the Scott Monument – the second largest such memorial to a writer in the world they say.”

More information about the coin, in a range of precious metals, can be found at The Royal Mint:

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Conservation success as beaver numbers double in Scotland

The number of beavers has more than doubled in Scotland in the last three years to around 1000 animals, according to a NatureScot survey published. The new population survey has not only found that beaver numbers have increased, but that the population is in a rapid expansion phase as beavers spread out from Tayside, with territory numbers also more than doubling to 251.

That population now ranges from Glen Isla to Dundee and Stirling, Forfar to Crianlarich, and is likely to expand into Loch Lomond in the future.

Beavers play a vital role

Robbie Kernahan, Director of Sustainable Growth, said: “Wildlife is declining in Scotland so this extensive survey which reveals an increasing beaver population is great news for nature in Scotland.  Beavers play a vital role in creating and restoring wetlands where other species can thrive, reducing downstream flooding and improving water quality. We also hope that many people in Scotland will enjoy spotting these sometimes elusive but fascinating animals, as they become more common.”

The survey, carried out last winter, is the largest, most comprehensive and authoritative survey of beaver numbers and their range ever conducted in Britain. It gathered detailed and up-to-date information on the locations of active beaver territories, as well as assessing the health and spread of the overall population, to help inform future beaver work. Beavers became a protected species in Scotland two years ago.

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ScotsInUs Podcast from The American Scottish Foundation

The American Scottish Foundation (ASF), national 501C3 organization, offers a bridge between the US and Scotland by strengthening and preserving cultural and heritage ties. ScotsInUs is hosted by Jamie McGeechan and the podcast will shine a light of focus on the ASF and their diaspora partners, events and initiatives taking place in the community.

Scotland and the American Scottish diaspora

It features a range of conversations, news and music all with a focus on Scotland and the American Scottish diaspora. New Episodes launch the first and third Monday of the month. Listen to #ScotsinUS podcast now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, or watch with video on YouTube.

For more information you can get in touch with the ASF at: [email protected] or

Work begins to uncover secrets of Viking burial site

Archaeologists working in Orkney

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) is funding post-excavation analysis on two recently discovered Viking graves that may form part of a previously unknown cemetery uncovered in Orkney, to unlock stories of Viking life in Scotland over a thousand years ago. In 2015, human remains were discovered on the northeast coast of Papa Westray, Orkney. Further investigation determined that these discoveries were in fact the remains of Viking Age burials. Excavations revealed a number of significant finds, including evidence of a rare Viking boat burial, and a second grave richly furnished with weapons including a sword. Similarities with the type of burials and grave furnishings to those previously uncovered suggest the Papa Westray graves may be those of first-generation Norwegian settlers on Orkney.

Archaeologists from AOC Archaeology are now working to analyse the discovery using a range of cutting-edge scientific techniques, with the hope of gaining new insights into the life and death of the Viking community in Orkney during the 10th century. The project will include a detailed programme of osteological work (bone analysis) and radiocarbon dating to help determine the age of the remains, as well as expert conservation and analysis of the grave artefacts that were unearthed.

HES will also be working with the Ancient Genome Project to undertake genetic analysis of the discoveries to determine further information about the individuals in the graves, including genetic ancestry and sex, as well as to gain information on their diet and mobility.

Viking heritage of Orkney

Still from a 3D model showing the excavation of Mayback III, a pagan Norse grave. © AOC Archaeology.

Dr Kirsty Owen, Deputy Head of Archaeology at HES, said: “We are delighted to be funding the work on this exciting project with AOC Archaeology, which we hope will shed new light on the Viking communities in Orkney during the 10th century. Many of the Viking burial sites we know of in Orkney were excavated in the late 19th and early 20th century. This is a rare opportunity to investigate this discovery with the cutting-edge methods and techniques available to us today. We look forward to sharing our findings as the analysis continues, which we hope will enhance our understanding of the rich Viking heritage of Orkney and reveal more about the people who lived on these islands over one thousand years ago.”

Dr Ciara Clarke, Deputy Managing Director of AOC Archaeology, said: “We are excited to be embarking on this project and look forward to working with HES, and an enthusiastic team of experts including Dr Stephen Harrison of Glasgow University, to record, study and analyse the evidence contained in these Viking Age burials. The programme will help us to understand these individuals, their lives and their culture, telling us more about life in Orkney during the 10th century. We will be able to compare and contrast the evidence to other Scottish examples, as well as to similar sites from across the wider Viking world.”

HES will be updating on progress and results regularly throughout the year as the work continues.

Straight from the Sagas: The Vikings’ own guide to Orkney

By: David C. Weinczok

My guidebook on a recent week-long trip to Orkney was 800 years old. A little out of date when it comes to the more practical aspects of travel, sure, yet I could not have hoped for a better companion as I sought out historic sites around the archipelago. Orkneyinga Saga tells of Orkney’s Norse inhabitants from the ninth century to the start of the thirteenth. It is the only medieval chronicle centred on Orkney, with the action fanning out to Norway, Ireland, the Hebrides, and even the Holy Land. No one knows the name of its Icelandic author. The historical individuals it includes come and go like passing seasons; their days are filled with intrigue, farming, spiritual concerns, raiding, and poetry. For five centuries Norse customs, language, and politics dominated Orkney and Shetland, and Orkneyinga Saga provides an invaluable – if not wholly accurate – insight into that period.  

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Glencoe creel house construction underway

The reconstruction of a 17th century creel house using traditional methods is now underway in Scotland’s most famous glen. Led by the National Trust for Scotland, a team of heritage building craftspeople has broken ground and raised the house’s 6m-high timber cruck frame. Two triangular ‘crucks’, which span the width and height of the building, were raised without power tools using an old-fashioned gin pole and hand-winch. This involved the team pulling hard on guy ropes and straps to lift the structure into place. The crucks were then locked together with a horizontal ridge beam, secured with hand-cut joints and pegs. It took eight people two days, plus a lot of skill and physical strength, to complete the task. The frame’s Scots pine and birch timbers have been sourced from Trust’s woodlands at Glencoe and Mar Lodge Estate, carefully chosen from trees with a natural curve to give the cruck its shape. The project’s lead carpenter, Chas Heath, prepared the rough logs in advance to remove the bark, hew them to size with a hand-axe and crafted each triangular cruck with traditional mortice and tenon joints and wooden pegs. More than 2,000 hand-cut pegs are required for the building’s sturdy timber frame.

A glimpse into how people lived                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

A team of heritage craftspeople raise the wooden frame in Glencoe.

The replica creel house is sited next to the Glencoe Visitor Centre, but the building’s design has been informed by a long-lost dwelling discovered by archaeologists during excavations beneath the towering Aonach Eagach ridge in the heart of the glen. It will offer visitors a glimpse into how people once lived in Glencoe around the time of the infamous massacre of 1692. No local buildings survive from that era and creel houses have been completely lost from Scotland’s architectural landscape, but they would have dominated in rural communities in the West Highlands until the 19th century.

The public will be able to witness the next stage of construction which involves the creation of a basket-like ‘creel’ internal framework, woven from freshly cut green wood, and thick, insulating external walls built from blocks of turf. The final stage will be the addition of a roof made from a layer of thinner turf below heather thatch. Support for this innovative project came from donors at home and across the world, who enable the Trust to bring alive Scotland’s heritage by carrying out projects like this.

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

Conservation coos at Culloden

Rocket, one of Culloden’s newest recruits. Photo: Alison White.

Meet the new conservation team helping to preserve and maintain the moorland at Culloden Battlefield. The latest recruits come from a great conservation pedigree and join 12 Shetland cattle, 6 primitive goats and 2 Highland ponies, who all take part in conservation grazing on the battlefield site. Working to control the scrub and create a healthy moorland, these animals play a crucial role in maintaining the landscape to showcase what Culloden Battlefield would have looked like in 1746. The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) relies on the herd to provide continuous work on the moorland to protect the archaeology of the land as well as the natural flora and fauna.

The appeal of cattle at Culloden is truly global. In particular, generous supporters in the US have been known to donate and name new additions to the herd. Some of the new cows and calves give a little nod to Culloden’s past, with Flora and Lady Anne named after strong Jacobite women who assisted the Bonnie Prince during, and in the wake of, the 1745 Rising. Others have more quirky names, including our stellar new calf, Rocket.

One of the most pivotal moments in Scotland’s history

Culloden Battlefield is the site of one of the most pivotal moments in Scotland’s history, where the 1745 Jacobite Rising came to a tragic and brutal end. It’s a place of great cultural significance and therefore it’s essential that the NTS protects it now, and for future generations. A key part of this lies with the cattle and the conservation grazing they have introduced here. It is this essential work on the battlefield, where a variety of livestock, including goats, Highland ponies and Highland cows, graze all year round. They’re an environmentally friendly and cost-effective way to ensure scrub tree growth doesn’t encroach onto the battlefield. The battlefield is now regarded as a war grave, a place where more than 1,300 men lost their lives and where many of them are buried. For many visitors, the site is a place of pilgrimage, a place linked to their family history.

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

The Silver Chanter

Angus MacColl. Photographs by Derek Maxwell.

The 55th Silver Chanter competition, held at the National Piping Centre Glasgow was won this year by Angus MacColl of Benderloch. The 55th annual MacCrimmon Piobaireachd competition saw six top pipers compete playing some of the most well-known piobaireachd.

This event was established in 1967 by Dame Flora MacLeod of Dunvegan Castle and all the tunes played have a MacCrimmon connection. Angus played Lament for Mary MacLeod. Also playing were Stuart Liddell (Lament for the Only Son), Iain Speirs (Lament for MacLeod of Colbecks), Finlay Johnston (Lament for the Children), Callum Beaumont (Lament for The Earl of Antrim) and Glenn Brown (Rory MacLeod’s Lament).

This prestigious event is sponsored by The William Grant Foundation.

Armadale set to deliver another authentic Highland Gathering

A pipe band competition, highland dancers, a medieval joust, heavy events and a mass pipe band haggis are all part of the Armadale Highland Gathering and the Perth Kilt Run being held on Sunday 3 October at Minnawarra Park in Perth’s south-eastern suburb. Amongst the big players of the day will be Pipe Bands WA who has been part of the Armadale Highland Gathering since its inception.  “One memorable moment from our many years of involvement was 2016, when a piper and a bass drummer both played their instruments while running in the Kilt Run. We are absolutely delighted to be back competing and performing at the 2021 Armadale Highland Gathering. With pandemic lock-downs all over the world, we are very grateful to be living in Western Australia and able to entertain crowds without restrictions,” said Stuart Bradford, Chairman of Pipe Bands WA.

Attempt for the largest Kilt Run in the world

The event also features a Meet and Greet with Scottish Dogs, the Clan Village, live entertainment and a range of food and beverage stalls, as well as a Scottish inspired tavern, so there really is something for everyone. If you fancy getting fit before the event starts, the event begins with the Perth Kilt Run, with 2.5 and 5km routes available, with runners donning a kilt to embrace their inner Scotsman and work towards the record attempt for the largest Kilt Run in the world! Registrations for the Perth Kilt Run are now open. 

The Armadale Highland Gathering and the Perth Kilt Run are hosted by the City of Armadale. 

For all the details visit

Dressed to Kilt debuts Sir Sean Connery Tartan in a stunning tribute show

Kilts, craftsmanship, and love for Sir Sean Connery were on full display at this year’s Dressed to Kilt (DTK) after taking a hiatus due to COVID. The hugely popular Dressed to Kilt Scottish fashion show was held on Long Island, New York in July and the Sir Sean Connery Tartan was revealed to the public for the first time, modelled by his granddaughters in a stunning tribute.

Sir Sean Connery Tartan

Natasha Connery and Samara Connery debut the Sir Sean Connery Tartan. Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images.

The show featured an array of Scottish, Native American and Country Lifestyle clothing with the Sir Sean Connery Tartan unveiled as the show’s finale. Beautiful frocks made from the Tartan were modelled by Sir Sean’s granddaughters, Natasha and Samara Connery, and kilt was modelled by event co-founder Peter Morris. The tartan was designed by well-known Scottish tartan designer Mark Gibson working together with Sir Sean’s family; Lady Connery, Stephan Connery his son, and his granddaughters as a tribute to his life and Scottish heritage. It featured red, blue, and yellow hues as a tribute to Connery’s love for Scotland, the Bahamas, and France, where his wife is from. The audience was deeply touched by many of the personal anecdotes and memories from shows past with Sir Sean by show orators and Dressed to Kilt chairs, Dr. Geoffrey Scott Carroll and Peter Morris.

The Dressed to Kilt show is known as the media darling of Tartan Week in the United States. It was originally co-founded by the late Sir Sean Connery and in his honour, event chair and DTK co-founder, Dr. Geoffrey Scott Carroll arranged to have a new tartan designed for Sir Sean with input from his family. The Sir Sean Connery tartan was be debuted on the catwalk in a kilt produced by Glenisla Kilts and a bespoke coat and dress designed by Totty Rocks of Edinburgh.

The largest and most prestigious Scottish fashion event in the world

The show was held at the Mill Neck Manor Estate perched atop a rolling hill, about 25 miles outside of New York City.  The theme of the show was “Country Lifestyle Fashion,” everything from Downton Abbey to the Dakotas. The runway show celebrated Scottish, Native American, and Outdoor Lifestyle and culture with extra exuberance after the hardship endured over the last year.

The show and event raised funds for the Navy SEAL Foundation. Notable models and attendees included Ann Coulter, Buck Sexton, Grace Dove, Ashley Callingbull, Lea Gabrielle, Taya Kyle, and several former Navy SEALS.

From its genesis in 2003, DTK is now the largest and most prestigious Scottish fashion event in the world, and one of the highest profile fashion shows in the United States. We believe that fashion without the enrichment of diverse cultures become hollow. The show is produced by the Friends of Scotland charity which was co-founded by Sir Sean Connery in 2002. In addition to supermodels, this show highlights very accomplished men and women on the runway and it is also filled with A-List celebrities and athletes from both sides of the Atlantic. In recent shows Sir Sean Connery, Gerard Butler, Kiefer Sutherland, Kyle MacLachlan, Billy Connolly, Brian Cox, Martin Compston, Chris “Mr. Big” Noth, Mike Myers and Craig Ferguson have all walked the runway. The charity has raised significant sums for veterans and their families on both sides of the Atlantic. 

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Floral clock blooms in honour for the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s 350th anniversary

Work has finished to complete this year’s design on the world’s oldest Floral Clock in Edinburgh’s West Princes Street Gardens. For 2021, the hugely popular landmark will celebrate the 350th anniversary of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), postponed from 2020 where it was decided with support from RBGE to dedicate the floral clock to NHS and key workers as a message of thanks from the city.

Edinburgh’s Lord Provost Frank Ross was joined by Simon Milne MBE, Regius Keeper of Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, RBGE horticulturists and Council parks staff responsible for creating the clock. Together they officially unveiled this year’s intricate design.

A team of three gardeners took seven weeks to plant over 35,000 flowers and plants used to create the clock, which will be in bloom until October. There are over 15 different plants included in this year’s design including many donated by RBGE such as Agave kerchovei and Agave sebastiana, various species of Echevaria and Cyanotis somaliensis: all of them are integral to the RBGE Living Collection of plants. The two teams had worked closely on the design and creation of this year’s display, with the Council’s Floral Clock experts advising on colours and choice of plants and how best to present the RBGE logo. The logo is representative of the Sibbaldia procumbens, a creeping plant in the rose family, that was named after the Garden’s co-founder, Sir Robert Sibbald.

Oldest of its kind in the world

Edinburgh’s Lord Provost Frank Ross, who spoke at the official dedication said: “I am delighted to once again see the city’s beautiful floral clock completed, which I know will be enjoyed by everyone who passes by it this summer. Much like the city’s floral clock, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is iconic to Edinburgh’s past and present and this year’s design celebrates 350 years. As always, I am delighted to officially unveil this striking and much-loved creation and I’d like to congratulate our dedicated and creative parks team who have put together the design and we can all now enjoy their realised vision.”

Simon Milne MBE, Regius Keeper, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, said: “It’s wonderful to see our 350th anniversary celebrated in such magnificent floral fashion, reflecting the four centuries of friendship between the City of Edinburgh and the Botanics. The Floral Clock is a particularly apt way of celebrating the work of the Garden. At a time when 40 percent of plant species are at risk of extinction, our research and conservation work, supported by our visionary Edinburgh Biomes project, has never been more vital. We are grateful as always for the interest and support of the people and city of Edinburgh.”

The Floral Clock was first created in 1903 by then Edinburgh Parks Superintendent, John McHattie, and is the oldest of its kind in the world. It initially operated with just an hour hand, with a minute hand added in 1904, followed by a cuckoo clock in 1952. Until 1972 the clock was operated mechanically and had to be wound daily. Since 1946 it has been designed in honour of various organisations and individuals, including the Girl Guides Association, Robert Louis Stevenson and the Queen, for her Golden Jubilee. In the clock’s centenary year in 2003 it won a Gold medal at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Jason Baines smashes the caber toss world record at the 45th annual Montreal Highland Games

Jason Baines (centre) and the MHG athletes team.

Sunday, August 1 was a cool and misty day in Montreal, reminiscent of the Highlands of Scotland and perfect weather for tossing a caber. Despite the COVID health guidelines that prevented the gathering of the usual 5000 plus spectators, the Montreal Highland Games (MHG) went ahead with a unique virtual event that went off without a hitch thanks to advance planning, dedicated volunteers, and meticulous marching orders.  The Games are thrilled to announce that Canadian champion Highland Heavy athlete Jason Baines beat the Guinness World Record for the number of cabers tossed in one hour! In a moment filled with drama and excitement, he blew past the previous record of 122 tosses, eventually reaching a phenomenal new record of 161 tosses.  Thanks to the kind generosity of our friends and viewers, over $6,000 was raised for the Douglas Hospital Foundation. The Douglas Hospital (founded by Scots) is a world-class mental health treatment and research facility, and we are proud to support its important work in the community. Donations continue to poor in daily as more people are made aware of Jason Baines and his world record and his goal to raise awareness of the need for mental health support via the Building Hope Movement of the Douglas Foundation.

Historic occasion

Photos: Peter Matulina

Many thanks to everyone who contributed to this historic occasion: the athletics team who supported Jason and kept the cabers moving (no small feat), the pipers and dancers who shared their art, the frontline workers amongst who shared their stories, presenter Kelly Alexander, and the dedicated team of volunteers whose hard work made this all possible. The Games especially thank our fans, for their enthusiastic participation! The event video has reached 2,000 views and continues to climb.

If you missed the live event or would like to re-experience the drama, you can watch it again on the Montreal Highland Games YouTube channel.

MHG look forward to seeing you next year on July 31, 2022, on the grounds of the Douglas Hospital in Verdun, Quebec for the Montreal Highland Games live and in person.

To watch the video or for more information see:

Cowal’s Virtual Gathering poised to leap into action

The countdown is well and truly on as one of Scotland’s top family friendly events prepares to step back onto the virtual stage for the second time as Cowal Highland Gathering welcomes people from across the world to gather online and celebrate the 127-year-old event.

Cowal’s Virtual Gathering was first held in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the world in its tracks. The event proved so popular that, when the 2021 event had to be cancelled due to continued uncertainty over large-scale events, organisers immediately started planning a second virtual event for Gathering fans across the world.

Running over what would have been the Cowal Highland Gathering weekend from Thursday 26 – Saturday 28 August the three-day event includes something for everyone.

The Cowal 5K is back and invites anyone to take part, wherever they are in the world. A special exhibition competition, filmed under COVID conditions, will see some of the Gathering’s favourite Scottish heavy athletes compete against each other. A new and exclusive choreographed dance, featuring Highland dancers from across the world will be unveiled and, of course, we’ll have something for pipe band fans as well as an opportunity to take your partners for a Cowal ceilidh with the Inverhooley Ceilidh Band.

Showcase of traditional Scottish culture

Cowal Highland Gathering’s Chairman Ronnie Cairns is looking forward to this year’s Virtual Gathering saying: “We had a phenomenal response to last year’s Virtual Gathering and while we didn’t expect to be hosting a second virtual event this year, I’m looking forward to sharing what we’ve been working on over the last few months. Like last year we’re inviting people to interact with us, sending us their photos of how they’re celebrating with us. Whether that means putting on their trainers and running or walking in our Virtual 5K, getting on the floor for dance with our ceilidh band or competing in their own highland games events, we want to share their stories. None of this would be possible with the support of EventScotland who have helped us fund Cowal’s Virtual Gathering and ensure it reflects the essence of the Gathering.”

Paul Bush OBE, VisitScotland’s Director of Events, said: “EventScotland is delighted to be supporting the Cowal Virtual Gathering. Scotland is the perfect stage for events and while we are not ale to welcome audiences to the Cowal Highland Gathering in person again this year, the Virtual Gathering will be a wonderful showcase of traditional Scottish culture for fans around the world to enjoy over the three days.”

Cowal’s Virtual Gathering will run on Cowal Highland Gathering’s Facebook page and YouTube channel from 26 August – 28 August 2021. For more details email [email protected] or visit

Help the Sons help the Tattoo

The Sons of Scotland Pipe Band from Ottawa, Canada, has been patiently waiting, kilted and untuned, for the great opportunity to go somewhere and share their music. That time has come, and the band would love your support. This is the best way to mark the pipe band’s 125th anniversary year, and you can be part of it. The Estes Park International Military Tattoo is taking place in Estes Park, Colorado, in September, and the Sons of Scotland are bringing their music to the Tattoo.

They are looking for support for travel to Colorado from Ottawa. 100% of funds raised will get us to the Tattoo, and anything extra will be used for travel to Europe next May for VE Day events in the Netherlands – they love Canadians there eh – and the band are hoping you might want to be part of this effort. As a thank you for your donation, Pipe Major Bethany Bisaillion will be composing a special tune for the Tattoo, performing it there for the first time, and you will get a copy of it and bragging rights that you’re a part owner of the tune. Your kind support will ensure the Tattoo’s continued support, and truly help them bring their music to many, and help them be part of the international pipe band community. The band said: “We are all in this together, and the band love our kindred ken along on this journey with us.”

You can see more on the Sons of Scotland Pipe Band at and the tune will be sent directly to donors, so be sure to include your details. The Learned Kindred of Currie, as part of their commitment to the Scottish arts, has graciously offered to accept online donations from US donors and will issue tax receipts to US donors. Funds raised will be put directly towards this initiative. You can donate here or directly with them at

£1million project to bring Walter Scott’s poetry to new audiences

A million-pound project will enable the publication of a complete edition of Walter Scott’s poetry and help to make it accessible to new audiences. Researchers at the University of Aberdeen have been awarded funding to revisit the original manuscripts of the author, who transformed Scottish literary culture, and create a new edition of his poems. Scott has been credited with popularising tartan, saving the Scottish banknote, and rediscovering the nation’s Crown Jewels. His string of best-selling books dominated the 19th century, changing how the world saw Scotland and Scotland saw itself. But the speed of publishing driven by an unquenchable thirst for his work – combined with his notoriously spidery handwriting – meant that many errors occurred during the printing process.

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen’s Walter Scott Research Centre will be able to return his poetry to a form which more closely reflects his original intentions and to create five volumes of what will eventually be a complete 10-volume edition of his verse published by Edinburgh University Press. They will also bring to life the extensive notes that Scott added to his poems to offer readers a deeper insight and understanding of the meaning behind them. Few of these notes survive in modern editions but Scott used them to provide fascinating pieces of background information for his poems.

Rich legacy

The project will be led by Professor Alison Lumsden who said: “Unlike Walter Scott’s novels, which have never been out of publication since they were released, there are very few editions of his poetry and those which do exist are severely compromised by 19th century editing practices. Scott was a prolific writer and as well as the poems themselves, he produced long notes which are almost like alternative stories. He is such an important part of our cultural heritage, and this project will ensure that his legacy is preserved with the accuracy and detail it deserves.”

In addition to Scott’s own notes, the research team will also provide their own detailed explanations to support the modern reader and to help open up his work to new audiences. They will work with staff at Scott’s home, Abbotsford, now a living museum, to create teaching materials for schools which will introduce pupils to the stories in Scott’s poetry and the rich legacy they provide for Scotland.

Scotland’s Castle Corridor

By: David C. Weinczok

There is a place on the west coast of Scotland where the driving forces of history are condensed into a single voyage. For the vast majority of human history waterways have served not as barriers but as connectors, linking communities across distances both near and vast. Imagine, for a moment, a Scotland without rail lines, motorways, or airports. Doing so flips our understanding of movement entirely on its head; suddenly, the easiest and safest way to get from one place to another – say, from Inverness to Dumfries or from Kirkwall to Edinburgh – is not by going overland, but by taking to the seas. Places of power were built to control these seaborne superhighways, and cultures rich with lore grew out of their opportunities and perils. Few areas instil this understanding more deeply than the Castle Corridor.  

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Treasured 16th century manuscript secured for the nation

The National Library of Scotland was successful in securing the manuscript known as the Chronicle of Fortingall at auction recently. Scribes compiled the manuscript between 1554 and 1579 at Fortingall in Highland Perthshire, which contains contemporary annals, poetry and other short texts in Latin, Scots and Gaelic. The scribes belonged to the MacGregor family who also compiled the slightly earlier Book of the Dean of Lismore, the earliest surviving collection of Gaelic poetry compiled in Scotland. Scholarly research and evidence shows the two manuscripts were almost certainly compiled by members of the same family.

The Library’s single most important Gaelic manuscript

Manuscripts Curator Dr Ulrike Hogg said: “We consider the Chronicle of Fortingall a partner volume to the Book of the Dean of Lismore, the Library’s single most important Gaelic manuscript and one of our greatest treasures. The two manuscripts are so closely connected that it’s difficult to describe one without reference to the other. It’s a great privilege for us to be able to bring the manuscripts together again after their compilation some 450 years ago. The Gaelic contents of the Chronicle of Fortingall make a significant addition to our Scottish Gaelic manuscripts collection, which is the largest in the world. And securing the manuscript for the national collections means we can make the contents publicly accessible and ensure its professional preservation.”

Senior Lecturer in Scottish History at the University of Glasgow, Dr Martin MacGregor, welcomed the acquisition and said: “It is a relief that the National Library was successful in securing the Chronicle of Fortingall, especially as they hold the companion volume, the Book of the Dean of Lismore. The Chronicle of Fortingall is a highly significant manuscript which provides insight into public life in the Highlands in the later Middle Ages. It is an important source for the history of the Highlands – social, political, cultural, economic and religious. It also has great linguistic importance as it embodies the interplay of Latin, Scots and Gaelic as written languages in then Gaelic-speaking Scotland.”

Breadalbane Muniments

The manuscript was compiled at Fortingall, at the mouth of Glen Lyon in Highland Perthshire, near the eastern end of Loch Tay. It is written in several hands. Compilation took place between 1554 and 1579, although it may have begun earlier. One of the compilers records that he said his first mass in 1531, began to serve the cure at the church of Fortingall in 1532, and acknowledged the chief of the MacGregors. He may be the principal compiler, and further identified with Dubhghall (Dougall) MacGregor, on record as vicar of Fortingall in 1544. The authorial perspective reveals continuing Catholic allegiance, and hostility to the Scottish Reformation brought into law in 1560.

The item is the manuscript named The Chronicle of Fortirgall by Cosmo Innes, and published by him under that name in The Black Book of Taymouth: with other papers from the Breadalbane Charter Room (T. Constable: Edinburgh 1855). At that time, it belonged with the private family papers of the Earls of Breadalbane, held at Taymouth Castle by Kenmore, at the east end of Loch Tay in Highland Perthshire. When at various points during the 20th century these papers were transferred to what is now the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh, where they are catalogued as the Breadalbane Muniments, this manuscript was not among them. It is supposed it remained with the family until now.

Did you know?

The contents of the manuscript include:

-Lists of kings of Scots and notes on their reigns in Latin.

-A list of battles from Bannockburn (1314) to Flodden (1513), also in Latin.

-A chronicle recording the deaths of prominent men and women within the Highlands from 1390–1579, written in Latin and Scots.

-A Gaelic poem written in a writing system based on Middle Scots.

-Poetry in Middle Scots by Robert Henryson and William Dunbar.

-Verses, proverbs and aphorisms in Latin.

-Miscellaneous short prose texts in Latin and Scots covering everything from the size and divisions of Ireland to medicine and cures, religion and belief, and commentary against women and inebriation.

Townsville Tartan Day 2021

Chief of Clan Henderson and his wife Audrey. I just loved the beaming smiles. Both of pride and happiness to be a part of the day said photographer: Laurell Bourne.

Townsville Tartan Day (TTD) was held on Sunday 13th June after a break last year due to Covid 19 restrictions, attracting an estimated crowd of 7,000 people between 8.00am and 1.00pm. 

All sectors of the Townsville Scottish Community came together with great enthusiasm including Townsville and Mackay pipe bands, visiting musicians and vocalist from Brisbane, displays of Highland and Scottish Country Dancing, the TTD Stones (heavy event), family history searches, the Dogs of Scottish Breeds and many clan representatives. 

Celtic Cousins. Photo: Amanda Stephenson.
TTD 2021 Strongest Woman; and Brad, TTD 2021 Strongest Man. Photo: Jess Bowie.

The Honoured Clan was Henderson, and the special guest was Alistair Henderson of Fordell, Chief of the Name and Arms of Henderson and his wife Madame Audrey Henderson. A main feature of Townsville Tartan Day is the clan parade which was lead by the Townsville City Council representative, Councillor Kurt Rehbein and the Chief of Clan Henderson and the Clan Henderson contingent which looked resplendent with the Chief’s Standard flying in the morning breeze

Two Macs & two collies. Photo: Lisa McDougall.
I loved the joy in their faces. They were having a great time with the dance and enjoying a laugh said photographer Laurell Bourne.

A further 56 clans were represented in the parade, some with more than one clan banner which made a spectacular sight.  Each Dog of Scottish Breed also has its own banner to help the public become aware of the Scottish origin of very familiar dogs such as the Border Collie and Golden Retriever and to recognise some lesser known dogs such as the Cairn Terrier. 

The reflection of the drum was perfect to capture the piper next to him said photographer Laurell Bourne.
Just a wee Gordon lassie listening to the pipes of home…  Ellie the Westie at Townsville Tartan Day. Photo: Keta Roseby.

Townsville Tartan Day is now the feature event in what has become the Townsville Tartan Weekend, starting with a Meet & Greet on Friday evening, the Tartan Social (Scottish Country Dancing) and Clansmen’s Ceilidh on Saturday and Scottish Music Workshops on Sunday afternoon and evening.  This variety of events spread across three days makes it appealing to those who like to travel to attend a Scottish gathering and we hope to entice others to mark it on their calendar for June 2022.

Scottish heavy events-A show of strength

By: Nick Drainey

In a summer which has seen many of the Highland Games across Scotland ruled out because of Covid restrictions, Tom Stoltman has kept the profile of traditional “heavy” events high. With iconic meetings such as the Braemar Gathering cancelled, Tom took the top honour in the World’s Strongest Man competition in Sacramento, California. The 6ft 8in, 397lb athlete from Invergordon went one better than his runner-up spot last year. He told the Scottish Banner: “I put the second-place trophy straight into my dad’s house – I didn’t want to be happy with it. If you go into a sport saying you don’t want to be the best, you are lying.”

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Queensland Pops Orchestra present Celtic Spectacular

The Celtic vibe comes alive in 2021. Think River Dance, Scottish kilts and pipes, Irish whistles and fiddles, tender love lilts … not to  mention all those moving reminiscences on windswept moors and craggy hills across the great Celtic musical landscape. Watch Musical Director Patrick Pickett (a true ‘Lord of The Dance’!) swirl his baton as he works the rich seam of Celtic classics in one of the Queensland Pops’ most requested series concerts. Hear the legends, the fables, the humour, the melancholy and the euphoria all come to life with some of Australia’s best-loved singers and traditional instrumentalists and dancers. A warm welcome back to special guest stars Gregory Moore and Sarah Calderwood, who will combine the very best elements of Celtic music into one unforgettable package.

Top Celtic performers

Gregory Moore has donned many a kilt since his first Scotland The Brave in 1998. His stage credits are numerous and colourful: an original member of the Ten Tenors, world tours of the acclaimed Australian production Scotland The Brave, a Musical Events Producer for the Brisbane City Council, and a regular star on international cruise ships. Sarah is an ARIA-nominated performer, uniting classic and contemporary folk music as a singer, storyteller, composer, and flute and tin whistle player. Her silvery voice is organically pure yet laced with steel – and she has been described as passionate, enigmatic, lyrically brilliant and richly musical. Returning to showcase his traditional Irish music talents is Kevin Higgins, who plays the concert wooden flute and is a master of the Uilleann Pipes, both of which he plays extensively as soloist and in bands throughout Australia and overseas. Savour the spectacular precision of the all-star line-up of dancers, who will be the crowning glory of this Celtic spectacular: the Watkins Academy of Irish Dance, the OzScot Highland Dancers and the glorious strains of the BBC Pipes & Drums, all of which promise to awaken the ancient spirits and leave you spellbound.

Celtic Spectacular takes place on Saturday 9, October 2:30 & 7:30pm, Concert Hall QPAC. Tickets on sale now:  or phone 136 246.

The Middle Tennessee Highland Games & Celtic Festival

The Scottish Banner spoke to the Middle Tennessee Highland Games & Celtic Festival committee on this year’s event, taking place next month.

SB: Tell us about Middle Tennessee Highland Games and Celtic Festival, what are this year’s dates, where are you located, event times, etc?

MTHG: Date is Sept 11, 2021, at Percy Warner Park, in the Belle Meade neighborhood of Nashville, Tennessee.  Festival times are 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.

SB: What is the history behind your event, how long has it been going on?

MTHG: This will be our 6th year in Nashville Tennessee.  We had to cancel in 2020 because of Covid and so we are very hopeful for our return in 2021.  We have scaled down this year’s event to one day, but the enthusiasm shown by everyone to return to highland games leads us to believe that we will have a great crowd and a successful return.

SB: Who is performing at this year’s event? How many stages?

MTHG: We will have two stages of music and one stage for dancers and young people’s music. The music this year consists of three local Nashville Celtic bands: Doon the Brae, NoseyFlynn and The Secret Commonwealth. Two national touring bands: Seven Nations and Tuatha Dea, and the Scottish Bard from Glasgow Colin Grant Adams. An intimate acoustic stage and a rocking beer garden stage – chose your style or enjoy both. Irish step dancers and Highland dancers perform near the children’s zone and have many performances planned along with the Kid’s Ceilidh Band. Our three pipe and drum bands from Nashville and Knoxville will perform while roving through the festival grounds.

SB: What Games will be at this year’s event?

MTHG: We will have amateur heavy Scottish athletics for men and women in Classes, A, B, and masters.  Events will include weight throws, hammer throw, weight over bar, sheaf toss, and of course caber toss. We have 40 athletes registered to compete.

SB: What is different this year than from years past?

MTHG: We have had to closely watch the pandemic’s progress in our community and had to try to plan accordingly.  Fortunately, we have a great team that has been able to pull together all the pieces of a multi-faceted festival.  We are now looking forward to a Highland Games and Festival will all the ceremony and fun we all enjoy. Our tag line for 2021 is “The Year of Recovery”.

SB: What can one expect when attending your event?

MTHG: We think of it as a three-ring circus of Celtic Culture.  The anchor to the event is the Heavy Scottish Athletic competition.  It is supported by a Scottish Clan village of over 45 Scottish clans and societies. We have over 40 vendors of Celtic products, and yummy foods, plus 2 tents of soft and alcoholic beverages, We have a large Kids Zone, and demonstrations in Highland and Irish dance, tartan weaving, and Birds of Prey.  And of course, we will have numerous bagpipe and drum teams and a solo bagpipe competition.  At noon we will have a special Opening Ceremony and Tartan Parade to honor 911.  It should be a very full and fun day for the entire family.

SB: What is your favorite aspect of Scottish culture?

MTHG: The goosebumps we get when hearing the pipe and drums come across the field, the cheers when the caber fly’s through the air, the love, and pride we see when a grandfather in a kilt shares a story of the ‘old country’ with a child and the warmth of a dram of good whisky.

SB: What are you most looking forward to about this year’s Games and Festival?

MTHG:  Thousands of people having a great and safe time getting back together, celebrating a great culture.

The Middle Tennessee Highland Games & Celtic Festival takes place on Saturday, September 11th, 2021 at Nashville’s Percy Warner Park. For further details see:

Castles of the Black Douglases

By: Dr Callum Watson

James Douglas – The Black Douglas – was Robert the Bruce’s right hand man. Follow the fates and fortunes of his family as we explore the castles of the Black Douglases with Dr Callum Watson.

The Black Douglases were one of the most powerful and dangerous noble families in Scotland. They rose to prominence through service to the Scottish crown during a series of conflicts with England in the fourteenth-century. Unfortunately for the Douglases, fundamental changes in the make-up of Scottish aristocratic society in the fifteenth-century led to their downfall. At the height of their power, the family controlled a string of castles all over the kingdom. This article will look at six sites now under the care of Historic Environment Scotland that help us chart the rise and fall of this tremendously important noble dynasty.

Rising Stars – Melrose Abbey

The ruins of Melrose Abbey.

The Black Douglases owed their rise to power to the activities of ‘the Good’ Sir James Douglas. He was a vigorous and successful war leader and a counsellor of Robert the Bruce. When Bruce died in 1329 Douglas was chosen to take the king’s heart on crusade to Spain. When Douglas was killed carrying it into battle the heart was brought back to Scotland for burial at Melrose Abbey. This began a long association between Melrose and the Douglases, who sought to present themselves as the ‘special protectors’ of the abbey. The Douglases even adopted the ‘bludy hart’ of Bruce on their coat of arms, which can be seen around many of the sites mentioned below.

Top of the Tree – Bothwell Castle

The Black Douglases may have risen to prominence with ‘the Good’ Sir James, but his son Archibald ‘the Grim’ cemented that power. Archibald was technically illegitimate and so was initially a minor figure in the Douglas family. However, in the 1360s King David II began to promote Archibald’s interests. In part, this was done to destabilise the influence of Archibald’s cousin William, 1st Earl of Douglas. In 1362 David arranged for Archibald to marry Joanna Murray. Murray was a wealthy heiress who owned a number of castles around Scotland. Of all of these, Bothwell Castle seems to have been Archibald’s favourite. It became his primary residence for the rest of his life. Archibald refortified Bothwell for use as a base from which to bring the fractious kindreds of Galloway under royal control. King David rewarded him for this service by making him Lord of Galloway in 1369.

It was at Bothwell in 1399 that Archibald’s daughter Mary married King Robert III’s son David, Duke of Rothesay. The marriage cemented Archibald’s position as one of the most important people in the kingdom and provoked his local rival the Earl of March to leave Scotland altogether! Archibald died, probably at Bothwell, around Christmas 1400 but the castle remained one of the most important Black Douglas residences. Archibald’s son – Archibald, 4th Earl of Douglas – was an influential figure both within Scotland and abroad, and he turned Bothwell into a palatial dwelling in keeping with his ambitions.

Trendsetters – Lincluden Collegiate Church

Archibald the Grim was quite a trendsetter. In 1389 he petitioned the pope to allow him to turn the nunnery at Lincluden into a collegiate church. He claimed that the nuns were living in sin with ‘very evil men’. The pope approved Archibald’s petition and Archibald removed the nuns by force.

Collegiate churches became very popular among the Scottish nobility in the years afterwards, with thirteen – including one beside Crichton Castle – being established in the fifteenth-century. Many of the early adopters of this trend – such as the Crichtons, the Hamiltons and the Douglases of Dalkeith – were kinsmen or allies of the Black Douglases. The rise in popularity of collegiate churches after 1400 may partly reflect a desire to emulate the family’s power and prestige.

Troublemakers – Lochleven Castle

The Black Douglases owed their prominence to the faithful service of ‘the Good’ Sir James and Archibald the Grim to King Robert I and King David II. However, at the beginning of the fifteenth-century Scottish society was changing. King James I of Scotland was distrustful of the ability of great magnates like the Black Douglases to maintain huge regional followings using the wealth generated by their enormous landholdings. Instead, James encouraged lesser noblemen to look directly to the crown for patronage and leadership. This gave him greater control in the localities.

In 1430 James briefly had his nephew Archibald, 5th earl of Douglas, imprisoned at Lochleven Castle. This was in an effort to prevent the earl from interfering in the local politics of Carrick in south-west Scotland.

The Black Sheep – Balvenie Castle

Family drama also weakened the Black Douglases in the early fifteenth-century. Archibald the Grim had two legitimate sons, Archibald (who succeeded him as the fourth earl) and James ‘the Gross’ (so called because he was so overweight in later life). The fourth earl granted Balvenie Castle to his brother – James the Gross – in 1408. Balvenie was one of the castles that came to the family through Archibald the Grim’s marriage to Joanna Murray. He had hoped giving his son this northern castle would keep James out of the his business in the south. However, James continued to pursue a successful career as a royal courtier.

In 1440, James’s great-nephews William, 6th Earl of Douglas, and David Douglas were arrested at Edinburgh Castle, tried on flimsy treason charges, and executed. This gruesome event, known as the ‘Black Dinner’, was also certainly orchestrated with James’s knowledge, and perhaps even his assistance. As a result of the Black Dinner James became the seventh earl of Douglas. James’s sons used Balvenie Castle as a base from which to expand Black Douglas influence in north-east Scotland. To facilitate this, his son William, 8th earl of Douglas, made a deal of some kind with the other powerful magnates in that region – the earl of Ross and the earl of Crawford. This would ultimately sour relations between the Black Douglases and the Crown.

King James II was deeply suspicious of Ross and Crawford. When William refused to break the deal in 1452, King James personally stabbed the earl to death at Stirling Castle! This began three years of intermittent conflict that ended with the Black Douglases being driven from Scotland altogether.

The Harder They Fall – Threave Castle

Threave Castle had been built by Archibald the Grim to cement his position as Lord of Galloway after 1369.b The tower-house design was unusual in Scotland at the time but started a fashion among Scottish castle builders that continued well into the sixteen-century. Galloway was crucial to maintaining Black Douglas power. In the fifteenth-century it played a significant role in the efforts of the Scottish crown to limit the family’s influence.

In 1426 James I granted Galloway to his sister Margaret Stewart (Archibald the Grim’s daughter-in-law) for life. This was partly to undermine her son the fifth earl (King James’s nephew). From 1426 until around 1447 Margaret administered Galloway from Threave and did her best to do right by both her Douglas and Stewart relatives, despite the efforts of her Douglas kinsmen to wrestle the lordship back from her. When she died she was buried at her father-in-law’s foundation, Lincluden Collegiate Church.

William, 8th Earl of Douglas, eventually managed to recover Galloway and he or his brother the ninth earl undertook serious building work at Threave. Impressive and high-tech artillery fortifications were added at the base of their grandfather’s tower-house. This was likely intended to display Black Douglas power and prestige. However, it may also have been in anticipation of future conflict between the crown and the Black Douglases. When that final confrontation occurred in 1455, Threave held out longer than any other Black Douglas stronghold. However, the typically conservative Scottish political community had by now come to support the king over the Black Douglases. The garrison at Threave surrendered to save their own lives.

Digging into the Douglas story

Between 1974 and 1978, Historic Scotland conducted archaeological work at Threave. It identified a series of out-buildings that were once clustered around the tower-house. The dig also revealed some wooden platters and bowls, each marked with the ‘bludy hart’. The prominence of the heart on these objects is a reminder that during a period when Scottish noble families generally wanted to emphasise how ancient their lineage was, the Douglases were eager to emphasise the fact that they owed their prominence to vigorous and faithful service to the Scottish crown in war. Their links to Robert the Bruce could not protect them from the changes happening in Scottish society in the fifteenth-century. However, it did ensure the family left an indelible mark on our perception of aristocratic life in medieval Scotland.

The Black Douglas was a firm favourite among fans of the film Outlaw King. Check out the Historic Scotland Robert the Bruce Trail to go behind the scenes and visit the filming locations of Outlaw King and discover the real story of Robert the Bruce.

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