The Last on Bell Rock

By: Nick Drainey

This month marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Stevenson’s birth on June 8th.  Stevenson was famous for designing and building many of Scotland’s lighthouses for the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) between 1794 and 1833. The last principal lighthouse keeper shares some of his unique memories of being on Robert Stevenson’s most famous lighthouse, as Nick Drainey explains.

“I liked the Bell but looking back I often think I must have been a bit of a nutcase,” says John Boath, the last Principal Lighthouse Keeper of the Bell Rock and the last person to turn off the light before it was automated. This year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of its designer Robert Stevenson. Many say it is his finest work and it has been called one of the seven wonders of the industrial world. John Boath has another name for the 35 metre (115ft) tower 11 miles off the coast of Angus; he calls it a “vertical submarine”.

It was tough on the Bell Rock, even for someone who had nearly two decades of experience as a lighthouse keeper. John, who first arrived at the Bell Rock in 1983, said not many fellow keepers would relish a posting to the Bell Rock. “The Bell Rock was a totally different environment. If anybody got the Bell Rock it was usually followed by an expression of ‘oh no!’ because it had such a reputation.”

Rules lighthouse keepers had to follow

Bell Rock Lighthouse. John Boath (left) and another Keeper at the Bell Rock. Photo:  NLB.

They worked four weeks on four weeks off. No running water meant no baths, and washing was kept to a minimum to save water. John adds: “You had a sponge down – water had to come in by ship in barrels so you had to be cautious with it. We didn’t have hot water – you had to boil a kettle and wash yourself down with a cloth.” John adds: “These lighthouses are pillars on rocks where you were basically inside for your four weeks, you didn’t get out. You can only get on it at an ebb tide. The rest of the time it is completely surrounded by water.”

And if the weather was bad when it was time to get off, you could be stuck on it for longer. “If we couldn’t get off the ship would go and anchor in St Andrews Bay to try on the next tide. They would probably try for about three or four tides and then the relief would be cancelled. Hopefully they would comeback in another two weeks. All lighthouses would carry an emergency food kit; corned beef and stuff like that.” Usual provisions which were sent on the same boat as the keepers included fresh vegetables and fruit but could best be described as basic. John says: “I used to take a bar of Cadbury’s and have one square a night.” There were some upsides: “At the top it is all glass and I used to go up there and sit and read. I used to have a deckchair and I could look out at the sea, it was all peaceful.”

Stevenson didn’t like ill-discipline and that was where the rules lighthouse keepers had to follow from then until John’s time came from. John says: “When Stevenson had built the Bell, some of the people who first manned it where people who had worked on the building of it – they were rough diamonds. Stevenson seemingly didn’t like this and brought in regulations with uniform and discipline. You needed regulations. When Commissioners came round they used to wear white gloves and when they walked around they would wipe their fingers (over surfaces) to find dirt. I was a bit of a rebel but you accepted it.”

Amazing feat of engineering

Bell Rock Lighthouse and helicopter. Photo:  NLB.

Away from the regulations, the longevity of the Bell Rock Lighthouse is all the proof John Boath needs that Robert Stevenson should be recognised for an amazing feat of engineering. “It speaks for itself, the fact it has been standing all these years.” It is the world’s oldest working sea-washed lighthouse. The long and treacherous reef on which it stands is close to shipping lanes for vessels plying the east coast and using the Firths of Tay and Forth.

But Stevenson himself talked of a navigation history going much further back than the 19th century, and perhaps one that gave the rock its name. While an engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board, he wrote: “There is a tradition that an Abbot of Aberbrothock directed a bell to be erected on the Rock, so connected with a floating apparatus, that the winds and sea acted upon it, and tolled the bell, thus giving warning to the mariner of his approaching danger. Upon similar authority, the bell, it is said, was afterwards carried off by pirates, and the humane intentions of the Abbot thus frustrated.”

John Boath in front of the former lighthouse keepers’ cottages in Edinburgh, where he and his family once lived.

Mike Bullock, chief executive of the Northern Lighthouse Board, believes Robert Stevenson would have embraced automation, but he also praised the work of keepers like John. He said: “The departure of keepers was a poignant milestone and the end of an era. This unique profession wasn’t just a job, it was a way of life and for John Boath and for many others, automation marked the end of a long career. But as reliable technology became available to protect those at sea, automation was inevitable and if the great innovator Robert Stevenson could have automated lights from the outset, I am pretty sure he would have done so.”

And the legacy from Stevenson’s day lives on, according to Mr Bullock, who said the “role of the Light Keeper is never far from our minds”. He added: “For over 200 years they kept the lights shining and saved countless lives at sea. Their legacy lives on and I’d like to think we are seen as the modern-day custodians, looking after these wonderful structures for the next generation, keeping mariners safe and helping protect our precious marine environment from environmental damage.”

John Boath was the last man to turn off the light on Bell Rock before it was automated in 1988. “I just happened to be on watch that morning and switched it off. It was quite emotional. I had enjoyed my time at the Bell and I was very sad to leave.”

Main photo: Bell Rock Lighthouse. Photo: Ian Cowe.

2022 Robert Burns Scottish Festival returns with a full program of events

The 2022 Robert Burns Scottish Festival (RBSF) is set to return to Camperdown, Victoria in July. The Festival’s Chairperson, Dr John Menzies OAM is pleased to announce that festival is going ahead and promises to be a great festival.  After two years of covid restrictions and limited festival events last year due to the covid restrictions the committee are working hard to ensure that patrons and the local community can enjoy a full festival in 2022.

The committee members are working hard to secure and have invited back the musicians who were to perform at last years cancelled festival, these include The Melbourne Scottish Fiddle Club, Fiona Ross and Shane O’Mara, Claire Patti,  Austral, and Corner house bands are coming to Camperdown this year with a line-up of talented local bands and musicians including Pete Daffy and his band, Tuniversal Music Group, the Twa Bards, Camperdown’s Lakes and Craters Band and the Warrnambool Pipes and Drums, and further confirmation from bands to confirm they are coming to Camperdown in July.

A celebration of Burns

Scottish and Irish fiddler Laura Flanagan.

The international act, coming from the USA, is Scottish and Irish fiddler Laura Flanagan who will be performing at this year’s festival and conducting a series of Fiddle Workshops at the festival. Laura is based in Texas and arrives in Australia in early June, the committee is looking forward to hosting Laura and having her perform at this year’s festival. Early Bird tickets for the weekend will be available, with a festival weekend ticket for $50.00 per person, this ticket will allow patrons to go to all concerts at various venues from Friday until Sunday. 

“The festival committee wants to acknowledge that the past two years have been difficult due to the Covid pandemic and want to encourage patrons to come along to the festival this year”, Dr Menzies said.  Normal ticket entry is $20.00 per event so this is a great discount for festival patrons and a way of offering savings. The RBSF will see the return of the School Children’s Program with primary and secondary aged events including art works, poetry, story writing and the popular shortbread baking competition these activities will happen before the festival and delivered in the schools. Dr Menzies also said that schools can access programs from the Robert Burns World Federation at no cost and connecting to Scotland, the birthplace of Burns is a wonderful opportunity for students, to learn more about Burns. The festival committee is continuing with the Satellite Concerts and two events one at Darlington on June 25th with live music and a movie night. The second event will be at the Commercial Hotel in Terang on the Thursday 30th of June featuring Laura Flanagan and Tuniversal Music Group in concert at Terang.

The Gala Dinner will be held at the Theatre Royal on Friday the 1st of July and promises to be a sumptuous and authentic Scottish meal including an Address to the Haggis, headline performers and more, booking will be essential, and numbers will be capped at 100. 

The popular Music Workshops will be held on the Wednesday, 29th June, Thursday 30th June and Friday 1st of July at the Commercial Hotel in Terang with festival musicians running instrumental workshops and on Saturday 2nd June Claire Patti will be conducting two choir workshops in Camperdown. There will be virtual master classes connecting our festival to the world.

Much on offer

The Melbourne Scottish Fiddle Club.

The very popular Cookery Class will be happening with Liz Patterson and Ruth Gstrein which gave participants the opportunity to cook authentic Scottish food and eat a meal at the end of the session.  Booking will be essential due to limited class sizes.  Lecture co-ordinator Bob Lambell has organised four wonderful guest speakers for Saturday the July 2nd to be held at the Killara Centre.  Wee Stories at the library for the children, activities in the avenue with music, Highland dancers and pipes will activate the Clock Tower precinct with market stalls and plenty of things to see and do.  Several concerts at various venues over the weekend will be hosted so there is plenty of variety on offer.

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

For more information on the festival and tickets see: and

Or contact Catherine O’Flynn RBSF Co-ordinator on: 0407 056 126.

Main photo: Fiona Ross and Shane O’Mara.

New Scottish Golf Trail launched in honour of golfing legend

Golfers from home and abroad will be able to retrace the steps of the world-renowned Grand Old Man of Golf with the launch of The Old Tom Morris Trail, across some of Scotland’s most spectacular and challenging courses, to commemorate the great man’s unrivalled influence on the game. VisitScotland is supporting the attraction and welcomed the launch of the new 18-course golfing trail saying it would play a role in supporting the recovery of Scotland’s international golf tourism in a hugely significant year for the sport in Scotland.

Old Tom Morris was a huge figure in golf

St Andrews-born Old Tom is globally recognised as the most important person in the history of golf. During the 19th century, he did more than any other to spread the appeal of golf, travelling the length and breadth of Britain and Ireland designing course after course. The Old Tom Morris Trail has been created by Aberdeen-based luxury golf vacation operator Bonnie Wee Golf. Managing Director Dave Harris said: “Old Tom Morris was such a huge figure in golf. What better way to pay tribute to the legend than to create a unique trail in his honour? “It was something we felt inspired to do during the pandemic to mark the 200th anniversary of Old Tom’s birth. We carefully selected some of the finest courses – some iconic and others hidden gems – that have all been designed or enhanced by Old Tom.”

Dave set up Bonnie Wee Golf 20 years ago after working as a caddy for American tourists who couldn’t get enough of Scotland’s golf, in particular the challenge of links courses. Bonnie Wee Golf’s range of luxury golf tours now attract more than 300 repeat clients, mainly from the US.  Dave said: “The nature of our repeat business shows the allure Scotland continues to have for golfers who want to play some of the world’s best courses. Everyone’s travel plans were sadly put on hold for the last two years. Through the worst of the pandemic, we were repeatedly forced to postpone our clients’ trips, but now Scotland is well and truly open for business, we know that the appetite for golf here is greater than ever.  We are delighted and very excited to launch the Old Tom Morris Trail, allowing golfers to follow in his footsteps, and to demonstrate that Scotland really is worth waiting for.”

Golf is an integral part of Scotland


This year, Scotland plays host to the 150th Open Championships in St Andrews; the Scottish Open at Renaissance, East Lothian; the Women’s Open at Muirfield; the Women’s Scottish Open at Dundonald Links, Ayrshire; and the Men’s Senior Open at Gleneagles. Alan Grant, VisitScotland’s Senior Golf Manager, said: “Golf is such an integral part of Scotland, and this is a significant year for the sport as we look forward to achieving full capacity at these major events. The Old Tom Morris Trail provides an excellent focus for golf visitors – from home and overseas – to sample some of our most iconic golf courses, as well as those more off the beaten track. By featuring some hidden gems as well as traditionally well-known courses, the trail supports our responsible and sustainable tourism strategy, to spread the benefits of golf tourism across our regions. US golf tourists are hugely important to Scotland, and we would encourage tourism operators across the country to make a connection with golf to allow them to share in the benefits that this year will inevitably bring.”

While some golfers may be tempted to complete the Old Tom Morris Trail in one visit to Scotland, it has been designed to encourage golfers to visit on more than one occasion to complete the tour, again supporting VisitScotland’s strategic aims. Mr Grant added: “Visiting Scotland to play golf is a force for good. Playing sport in the great outdoors, relaxing and unwinding with friends, and enjoying the magnificent scenery and hospitality that our country offers, is an unbeatable proposition for tourists the world over.”

A colossus of golf

US-based golf historian Stephen Proctor, author of Monarch of the Green: Young Tom Morris – Pioneer of Modern Golf, said: “The trail is a brilliant idea and I’m sure it will be a smash hit for Scotland. Old Tom Morris was a font of wisdom; he truly was a colossus of golf. Back when golf was coming of age, he was the one you contacted if you wanted to build a new golf course or discuss a design. He was an honourable man and would charge £1 per day, plus expenses, to design a course.  He was instrumental in spreading the Scottish game around the world, and it was his character that helped shape the reputation of golf as a game of honour. It is so wonderfully fitting that golfers from all over the world will now be able to retrace his steps. I can’t wait to visit.”

The official start of the trail is Askernish in South Uist, in the Outer Hebrides, and the official finish is Machrihanish on the Mull of Kintyre. The Tom Morris Bar & Grill in St Andrews will be the trail’s halfway house. The Old Clubhouse Pub at Machrihanish will be the official 19th Hole. Each golfer will be gifted a unique Old Tom Morris Trail collector’s edition commemorative coin for each of the 18 golf courses that they play, and those who complete the trail will be awarded a commemorative wall display for all 18 coins.

For more information see:

Main photo: Dave Harris (left), with Bonnie Wee Golf tour specialist team Cam Howe (centre) and director Stew Morrison, display the Old Tom Morris Trail commemorative coins.

Remembering a Scottish First World War naval disaster

This month marks the 106th anniversary of one of the First World War’s worse naval disasters which took place just off the coast of Orkney and where more than 700 men died in the tragedy.

On 5 June 1916 Earl Kitchener, Britain’s Secretary of State for War, was heading to Russia as part of a diplomatic and military mission to take part in talks aimed at boosting Russia’s efforts on the Eastern Front. He set sail from the Royal Navy’s base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands on board HMS Hampshire. However, at about 7:45pm, in a heavy storm, the warship hit a mine laid by a German U-boat just off Orkney’s Atlantic coast. There were only 12 survivors with hundreds of lives lost. For many years it was thought that about 640 men died when HMS Hampshire sank. But research by Kitchener & HMS Hampshire Memorial Project volunteers has identified the names of 737 men who were lost.

War grave

HMS Hampshire, a Devonshire-class armoured cruiser, built by Armstrong Whitworth, Elswick, was launched in 1903 and went into service with the Royal Navy in 1905.  She took part in the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916. Kitchener was a hero of the British Empire and in 1926 the Kitchener Memorial, a 48-feet high stone tower, was unveiled at Marwick Head, Orkney, overlooking the site of the sinking. The plaque on the Kitchener Memorial reads: “This tower was raised by the people of Orkney in memory of Field Marshal Earl Kitchener of Khartoum on that corner of his country which he had served so faithfully nearest to the place where he died on duty. He and his staff perished along with the officers and nearly all the men of HMS Hampshire on 5th June 1916.”

The memorial recently was upgraded by the Orkney Heritage Society’s Kitchener & HMS Hampshire Memorial Project to ensure the memory of the lives lost would continue for future generation and includes a commemorative wall, made with Orkney stone, which is engraved with the names of all 737 men lost, including Kitchener, listed alphabetically.

The HMS Hampshire today remains on the seabed less than 2 miles from the Orkney coast. The ship in 2002 was placed under official government protection as a war grave.

Photo: HMS Hampshire. Photo: Orkney Library and Archive.

National Trust for Scotland woodlands to be part of Ancient Canopy to celebrate The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee

The National Trust for Scotland is delighted that four of its woodlands have been chosen as part of a nationwide network of 70 Ancient Woodlands to be dedicated to The Queen in celebration of the Platinum Jubilee. The Queen’s Green Canopy recently announced the network of 70 Ancient Woodlands and 70 Ancient Trees across the United Kingdom which will form part of the Ancient Canopy to celebrate Her Majesty’s 70 years of service. The initiative was launched by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, who is Patron of The Queen’s Green Canopy, under one of the Ancient Tree dedications – the old Sycamore located at Dumfries House in Scotland. His Royal Highness is also the Patron of the National Trust for Scotland.

Four of the conservation charity’s woodlands have been selected

Corrieshalloch Gorge, Wester Ross.

Four of the conservation charity’s woodlands have been selected to be part of the network:

Coille Mhòr at Balmacara in Wester Ross, an excellent example of Scotland’s Rainforest, a type of temperate rainforest that is severely threatened globally (sometimes known as Atlantic or Celtic rainforest). Its ancient oak trees and many other tree species combine to support scarce and important lower plants like lichens, bryophytes, ferns and mosses. The site also plays host to a nationally significant assemblage of dragonflies and damselflies.

Corrieshalloch Gorge, Wester Ross is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and National Nature Reserve designated for its Upland Birch Wood as well as its incredible geomorphological features. The hanging wood that clings to the gorge side has a wide range of tree species including birch, hazel, aspen, sessile oak, rowan, which elm and guelder rose.  It is rich in woodland plants including wood anemone, wood sorrel, sanicle, blue bell, primrose, wood mellick, water avens, golden saxifrage, and mosses, liverworts and ferns.

Coille Mhor, Balmacara, Wester Ross.

Mar Lodge Estate, Aberdeenshire includes Caledonian pinewoods and birchwoods and native woodland plantations, the Mar Lodge Estate woodlands sprawl across several glens, forming part of the 30,000 ha Mar Lodge Estate, the largest National Nature Reserve in the UK. Its oldest tree dates back to 1477. The estate’s woods accounts for around 5% of Scotland’s remaining Caledonian Pinewood.

Merkland Wood at Brodick Country Park on Arran is part of a nationally significant wider historic designed landscape surrounding Brodick Castle, which dates back to at least 1703. The mature woodlands were established in two phases between 140 and 240 years ago. It is made up of sessile oak, European larch, ash, Scots pine, beech and silver fir.  The woodland supports the endangered red squirrel, as well as otters and badgers. Dead wood is retained to help support a myriad of insect life and to provide bat roosting and bird nesting habitats.

Ancient natural spaces

Merkland Wood, Brodick Country Park on Arran.

Stuart Brooks, Head of Conservation and Policy at the National Trust for Scotland said: “We are very honoured that four of our most important woodlands have been selected to be part of this celebration. They are a wonderful demonstration of the diversity of woodland habitats that the Trust has in its care, from the rare Atlantic rainforest of Wester Ross, the dramatic Corrieshalloch Gorge and the ancient pines at Mar Lodge to the species rich Merkland Wood on the isle of Arran. Unique in their make-up and character, these woodlands have stood for centuries, contributing to Scotland’s biodiversity, absorbing carbon and benefitting us all with their nature, beauty and heritage. Our charity is proud to play its part in protecting them now and for the future, and through our regeneration and management work, will ensure that they continue to thrive for many more centuries to come.”

Established over hundreds of years, the chosen woodlands and trees represent the diverse canopy of the four nations, it is a celebration of our living heritage. All the woodlands and trees have a story to tell. Some are famous specimens and others have a local significance. These ancient natural spaces hold significance and meaning for so many people in many different ways. They are symbols of community pride, places to connect socially and vital spaces for health and wellbeing activities.

By sharing the stories behind the ancient woodlands and trees, as well as the incredible efforts that are made to protect them, The Queen’s Green Canopy aims to raise awareness of these treasured habitats and the importance of conserving them for future generations.

Main photo: Mar Lodge Estate, Aberdeenshire.

Inspection programme underway to assess Scotland’s national heritage assets

An inspection programme designed to assess the condition and the impact of climate change on some of Scotland’s most significant heritage sites is getting under way.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES), the public body responsible for 336 historic buildings and sites, is rolling-out the new programme of tactile condition surveys in response to concerns over the deterioration of high-level masonry caused by several combined factors, including the materials used during construction, age, physical location and climate change. Inspections and sample surveys conducted by HES last year uncovered a range of decay on high-level building fabric, creating a risk of falling masonry and potential injury. To protect staff and visitors, access has been restricted at many of the affected sites, though every effort has been made to enable visitor access where this can be done safely.

HES has created an indicative prioritisation which will inform the inspection schedule, with considerable preparatory work already underway. Priority will be given to surveying sites where it is difficult to fully mitigate all risks to public safety such as where the nature or location of a site presents a particular challenge or where adjacent land owned by a third party may be affected. Sites where access restrictions are having a significant adverse community and economic impact will also be prioritised this year.

Caring for these historic assets

The surveys will provide a detailed and accurate picture of properties’ condition and will inform a subsequent programme of repairs, conservation work, adaptation measures, interventions and new ways of caring for these historic assets. The surveys are being undertaken by specialist HES technical staff and will be literally “hands on”.

Dr David Mitchell, director of conservation at HES, said: “This is a major programme of activity taking place across Scotland, involving a new approach to inspections and new skills requirements for our teams. Our changing climate since the 1960s has accelerated the natural process of decay and the nature and location of some properties makes them particularly susceptible. Our response to this situation requires us to evolve our approach and what we are finding will increasingly become an issue for many building owners across Scotland. We have developed an approach to allow us to prioritise sites based on health and safety first and foremost, as well as the benefits that properties generate for local communities. It is important to note that conclusion of a survey does not necessarily mean a property will re-open in full or in part right away, it is entirely dependent on what we find. Once a site is assessed and we have an indication of what the issues are, we will then make decisions on what happens next.”

While surveys and subsequent remedial work is taking place, HES is exploring alternative visitor experiences. This includes partial access at some of the sites, where it is safe to do so, and opening up interior spaces with safety corridors and viewing platforms. HES is also creating more interpretative signage and performances, exploring the use of innovative technology and new audio tours, videos and trails to augment the visitor experience for 2022.

Main photo: Craigmillar Castle. Photo: Historic Environment Scotland.

Major new study shows role beavers could play in restoring Scotland’s rivers

Beavers could make an important contribution to improving the condition of Scotland’s rivers, including helping to improve water quality and limiting the effects of drought. The positive role they can play in water resource management, as well as in creating habitat, carbon sequestration and river restoration, is highlighted in a report produced by scientists at the University of Aberdeen and the James Hutton Institute. 

They have collated evidence from 120 studies of beaver populations worldwide, as part of a large-scale review of their effects on streams and rivers. In Scotland, beavers have already taken up residence in a few areas, including Tayside and Knapdale. While sometimes their presence has been welcomed, in other situations there has been conflict, for example where their activity affected intensively managed landscapes.

Beavers engineer ecosystems

Until now, evidence of the role of beavers in helping to manage river ecosystems in Scotland has been minimal. Angus Tree from NatureScot said: “This is a significant study that clearly demonstrates the unique ways in which beavers engineer ecosystems. It backs up evidence we’ve gathered over the years and will help our work with stakeholders as we develop the best ways to live with, and benefit from, beavers. We are committed to continuing work to restore and manage beavers, as one important way to protect Scotland’s environment and respond to the climate emergency.”

RSPB Scotland launches UK’s first eagle nest camera feed at Loch Garten Nature Centre

New camera provides visitors to The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Scotland Loch Garten Nature Centre with live views of a white-tailed eagle nest. In what has been hailed as a first for the UK, a new live camera feed at RSPB Scotland’s Loch Garten Nature Centre is giving visitors an up-close look at Scotland’s largest bird of prey.

A pair of white-tailed eagles, Shona and Finn, have established a nest in the vast landscape of the Cairngorms Connect partnership, of which RSPB Scotland is part, with their activities beamed live to the Loch Garten Nature Centre at the charity’s Abernethy nature reserve. Using methods successfully trialled in other countries including Estonia and Latvia and under special license from NatureScot, experts from Wildlife Windows have installed a camera approximately 3 metres from the nest. As eagles will often become nervous about new items or changes around their nest, all work was undertaken in autumn when it was safe to do so and the camera has been hidden in a stick to avoid unsettling them.

Jason Fathers of Wildlife Windows said: “Wildlife Windows consider it a privilege to have installed this white-tailed eagle nest camera. As far as we are aware, this is the first camera of this quality on a white-tailed eagle nest in the UK. This has been one of the most challenging camera installations we have completed, due to the sensitivity of the species and remote location. We are very keen to see the story unfold while getting a close-up insight into white-tailed eagle life.”

Jess Tomes, Abernethy Site Manager for People at RSPB Scotland, said, “This is an enormously exciting addition to the visitor offer at the Loch Garten Nature Centre. The images we’re getting live from the nest are phenomenal and our visitors will get a very rare and extremely privileged peek at the domestic life of a breeding white-tailed eagle pair. Already we’re noticing little personality traits in them – the male is very attentive to his mate and to tidying the nest – it’s fascinating to watch.”

Also known as sea eagles, white-tailed eagles have a wingspan of 2.5 metres and are often referred to as ‘flying barn doors’. They were driven to extinction in Scotland in 1918 before birds from Scandinavia were re-introduced to the Isle of Rum in 1975. Subsequent re-introductions in other parts of the country, as well as the birds’ natural dispersal means there are now populations spread as far as Fife, Orkney and the northwest Highlands.  To avoid disturbance of the birds, the exact location of the nest is not being disclosed to the public. Visitors to RSPB Scotland’s Loch Garten Nature Centre can view the live feed daily throughout the spring and summer. 

Main photo: Photo: Ian McNab @RSPBScotland.

Stunning bear sculpture lit up in solidarity with Ukraine

The stunning sculpture of a brown bear, The DunBear, has been lit up in the Ukrainian flag colours of blue and yellow in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Located beside the A1 at Dunbar, The DunBear is a tribute to the pioneering Dunbar-born naturalist and conservationist, John Muir, who played a key role in the establishment of National Parks in the USA. The five-metre-high steel sculpture is much-loved by the local community and has attracted increased footfall to the town, benefitting it immensely.

Designed by renowned Scottish sculptor, Andy Scott, also responsible for The Kelpies, The DunBear was erected in 2019 by Hallhill Developments. It forms the centrepiece of DunBear Park, a proposed 54.3-acre low carbon community that aims to include a range of commercial, community and residential uses.

Show of solidarity

Ken Ross from Hallhill Developments, which is responsible for The DunBear and is undertaking the DunBear Park development, said: “As part of the global show of solidarity for the people of Ukraine, we have lit up the stunning DunBear sculpture in blue and yellow, the colours of the Ukrainian flag. We wanted the people of Ukraine to know the considerable support they have, given the horrific impact of the Russian invasion, which has torn so many lives apart. Our thoughts are with them.”

The DunBear illumination joins a variety of historic and cultural sites across Scotland which have been lit in blue and yellow in support of the people of Ukraine.

PPBSO Judges all set for The Worlds

The World Pipe Band Championships are set to return August 12-13, 2022.

As with The Pipers’ & Pipe Band Society of Ontario’s (PPBSO) Diamond Anniversary, this year also marks the 75th anniversary of the “modern era” World Pipe Band Championship. Since 1947, the annual pipe band championship has been organized by The Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association (RSPBA) and for the last 30 years or so has been staged on the grounds of Glasgow Green, Scotland. As most know, the Covid-19 pandemic has halted the running of the annual contest over the last two years.

This year the championship is back in full force and this coming August 12-13 will see a few of the PPBSO’s well-kent judging faces put to work: Greg Dinsdale, Ken Eller and Bob Worrall are all scheduled to judge various grades of competition.

In addition to judging on Friday of the event, Bob Worrall is back, again, to provide colour commentary to the live-streamed Saturday main presentation. For many years he has, alongside Jackie Bird, co-hosted The Worlds show. The tradition continues with BBC Scotland once again packaging a prime-time television programme for airing shortly after the big day.

More information on The Worlds can be found at:, or by visiting the RSPBA’s website:

Passing time at Huly Hill Cairn

Text and images: David C. Weinczok

In the west of Edinburgh sits the almost forgotten prehistoric monument, Huly Hill Cairn. Today this historic site sits amongst a modern capital city.  How should historic sites dating back thousands of years be viewed in our modern world?  David C. Weinczok poses the question, did ancient people really intend for their monuments to last forever?

The historic centre of gravity in the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh pulls so strongly that many extraordinary places on the city’s fringes are effectively invisible to all but the most dedicated seekers. There are standing stones in suburban hedges, Roman forts alongside crowded beaches, and medieval towers absorbed within college campuses. Of all the wonders of Edinburgh’s fringes, none are as strikingly strange as Huly Hill. Wedged between a massive roundabout, a McDonald’s, and a go-cart track while also directly under the flight path of departures from Edinburgh Airport, there is no guidebook for Huly Hill.

If it were located anywhere else, it would be a tourist draw on par with the ancient monuments of Kilmartin Glen or Orkney.

The historic landscape of Huly Hill

Huly Hill consists of a large 3,500-year-old burial cairn, now sealed shut, thirty metres in diameter rising to three metres high. It is triangulated within a trio of tall standing stones which were once possibly part of two separate concentric stone circles. A large motorway separates these stones and the cairn from an outlying standing stone, all of which were part of a large, continuous megalithic site.  A major discovery was made just south of Huly Hill in March 2001 during the building of an industrial estate. The remains of a chariot built between 475-380BC were unearthed, the only known chariot burial in Scotland and the oldest example in all of Britain. Known as the Newbridge Chariot, it testifies to the use of the area for burials and associated rituals over a period of several thousand years.

Beyond its archaeological significance, Huly Hill and the thoroughly modernised landscape of Newbridge raise essential questions about permanence and continuity. Sitting at the foot of one of the standing stones as planes fly overhead, freight trucks refuel, and Big Macs are doled out of drive-through windows, you can’t help but reflect on change.  

Building impermanence

When we build things, it is taboo to think about their inevitable destruction. Construction is a possessive process, reflected in the language we use around historic sites. Castles, stone circles, soaring tenements and other monumental undertakings are described as ‘imposing’ and ‘dominating’ themselves over their surrounds. The language of buildings’ life cycles insinuates this, too – a structure is said to be ‘in decline’ or ‘ruinous’, suggesting a move away from its original intent, function, and worth.

The idea that the endurance of the things we build, and therefore our tangible legacies, will be subsumed by circumstances beyond our control strikes us on an existential level. Was it always so?

Permanent sedentarism is a relatively new feature of human life, so there is good reason to believe that our monuments were not always built as everlasting testaments to our place in the landscape. The people who made Huly Hill Cairn and the megaliths that surround it were permanently settled agriculturalists, yet their relationship to an ever-changing landscape and climate was arguably quite different – and certainly newer in collective memory – than our own. How shocked would they be by Huly Hill’s modern environs? Perhaps less than we assume.

Example of creation through destruction

Across Scotland, there is ample evidence of ancient monuments of the kind that we imagine were meant to last forever being fundamentally altered. Tealing Earth House is an Iron Age subterranean passage known as a ‘souterrain’ located between Dundee and Forfar. Around 2,000 years ago, someone saw fit to place a stone bearing cup and ring-style rock art at its entrance. The rock art was carved between 4,000 and 2,500 BC, meaning it was older to the builders of the souterrain than they are to us. The deliberate removal and repurposing of it tells us that the leavings of the past were regularly being adapted into the present.

Duddingston Loch, also in Edinburgh, was the scene of a tremendous Bronze Age offering. In its waters were deposited the deliberately broken fragments of swords, spears, and other metal objects between 1,000-800BC. Research into Bronze Age hoards by Dr Matt Knight, Senior Curator of Prehistory at National Museums Scotland, indicates that the breaking of these objects would have required considerable time, effort, and resources, suggesting a sacrificial and highly symbolic motive.  In a time when bronze objects were the ultimate status symbol, their breaking and offering to the loch’s waters can be interpreted as a creative act. Far from being ‘destroyed’, they attained a new significance and function after being broken. We may see such an act as a disposal, after which the objects became passive rather than active parts of the society that created them, but there is no reason to believe that Duddingston’s Bronze Age residents saw it that way.

In the Orcadian isle of Wyre, a 12th century Norseman named Kolbein Hruga built his stone castle within the ruins of a broch which predated him by a millennium. Not far away in the chambered cairns of Rousay, which are not entirely unlike Huly Hill, the interring of bodies within them was a cyclical affair. The dead were regularly moved around, replaced, and removed altogether, suggesting that remembrance of individuals lasted only as long as the survival of those directly connected to them.  Speaking of the famous Ring of Brodgar, another Orkney monument that changed substantively over many centuries, Mark Edmonds suggests in his book Orcadia that, “…duration may not have always been that important to Neolithic people. Some things were built for the time, not for all time.”

Change as a feature, not a flaw

A common assumption of both residents of and visitors to Scotland is that many features of our natural and built landscapes ‘always’ looked as they do now. At site after site, however, we see that change rather than perfect continuity is the defining feature of the passage of time. When in such places, I often wonder what the people who created them would think of what has become of them. Would they be comforted by the knowledge that their homes and tombs are still subjects of awe thousands of years later? Or would they be aghast that the place where their ancestors were interred are now, as Huly Hill is, surrounded by noise, fumes, busy thoroughfares and uncaring passers-by?

Putting aside the obvious shock at the technological differences between the ages, the more I learn about places like Huly Hill and prehistoric peoples the more I suspect their reaction would be somewhat different. “Are those things still around?” they might ask. “Don’t you think it’s time to find somewhere new? Have you really just let it sit there for all those years, frozen in preservation? That’s perfectly good stone you could be using!”

Still, on some fundamental level there is continuity here. Huly Hill remains a place to dwell on the passing of time and our fleeting place in it. It is still a monumental work, even if our relationship to such monuments would be unrecognisable or baffling to their creators. Amid a maelstrom of motor vehicles, air traffic and commercial transactions, there is still a reflective calm to the place.  Some things change, some things stay the same – I like to think that the people who broke the first earth and placed the first stone at Huly Hill would have it no other way.

From Largs to Brisbane

Text and images by: David McVey

Brisbane, Queensland, is now a great world city. Most people in Australia and elsewhere will have a vague notion that it’s named after a figure from colonial times; they might perhaps even suspect that he was a Scotsman. And it’s true that the city seems to have been named after the Brisbane River, while the river originally took its name from Sir Thomas Brisbane, the Governor of New South Wales from 1821-1826.

Sir Thomas Brisbane was born in 1773 in the family home, Brisbane House, high in the glen of the Noddsdale Water (a much smaller river than the one that would eventually bear his name) near Largs in North Ayrshire. The little peak of The Knock dominates the scene. Brisbane studied mathematics and astronomy at the University of Edinburgh. While he is most remembered as a soldier and administrator, Brisbane would also make his mark as an astronomer.

After Edinburgh, Brisbane joined the army at the age of 16 (people in Scotland went to university very young back then) and quickly rose in the ranks, becoming a Major General by 1813. He served in numerous actions over the decades including the War of 1812 in the United States and the Peninsular Campaign against Napoleon. The Duke of Wellington was apparently a friend and admirer of Brisbane. Brisbane married Anna Maria Hay Makdougall [sic] of Makerstoun in the Borders in 1819. When his wife’s father died, in a modern-sounding move, he adopted their surname, becoming Thomas Makdougall Brisbane.


Brisbane Glen in Scotland.

Brisbane may have become Governor General of New South Wales on the recommendation of Wellington. By most accounts, he was a decent Governor according to his lights and introduced or promoted a number of reforms in currency, trade and agriculture, but tired of much of the political infighting within the colony. However, during his time in New South Wales he continued his interest in astronomy. In 1822 he set up an observatory at Paramatta, which became the first, perhaps, at which the southern skies were studied in detail; it’s said that Brisbane observed and catalogued 7385 stars during his time in Australia. After his governorship, the observatory continued to function until 1847 and a memorial in the form of an obelisk now marks the place where it stood. In 1978, the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium was established in Brisbane.

When his Governorship ceased, Brisbane returned to Scotland, to Brisbane House, and he lived there for the rest of his life. Attempts were made to coax him back into the army, but he refused. His life back home was not a quiet one, however, and he certainly left his mark – and his name – in history and geography. In 1808 he had built and equipped an observatory at Brisbane House; the Paramatta one is said to have been modelled on it. He made sure there was no need for him to cease from his astronomy studies when he was visiting his wife’s family estate at Makerstoun, by building an observatory there. This building survives today.

In 1833 Sir Thomas succeeded no less a figure than Sir Walter Scott as President of the prestigious Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), on the strength of his astronomical studies. Sir Thomas founded the Makdougall Brisbane Medal for scientific achievement awarded most years by the RSE. Confusingly, he founded another Makdougall Brisbane Medal, presented by the Royal Scottish Society of Arts. Talking of medals, in 1961 it was revealed that Brisbane’s military medals had been stolen from the place where they were in storage in London. This would have been an impressive and valuable collection given the length and variety of his military career. They have never been recovered and have possibly been melted down.


Brisbane died in 1860. The Brisbane House he lived in is no more; it was unoccupied by 1939 and demolished some years after. The remains of his observatory, however, can still be seen near Brisbane Mains farm and a trust has been formed with ambitious plans to restore it. Various drawings and architectural plans survive as a basis for this. If he has left his mark on Australia, Brisbane’s name is also clearly etched in and around his hometown. He is buried in Old Largs Kirkyard, in the Brisbane Aisle. The glen of the Noddsdale Water is now usually known as Brisbane Glen. The road that runs through it from Largs towards Greenock is unambiguously named Brisbane Glen Road. By the side of the southern end of the road, near Brisbane Lodge and opposite Brisbane Glen Cemetery, there is an easily overlooked cairn that stands as a memorial to Sir Thomas Brisbane. The inscription, enclosed by a map outline of Australia and accompanied by Scottish and Australian flags, runs:

This cairn commemorates Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane who was born in this glen in 1773 and died in Largs in 1860. He was Governor General of New South Wales from 1821 to 1826 and gave his name to the Brisbane River. This cairn was donated by the people of Brisbane, Australia and was erected in 1989.

Of course, Largs is another name that is familiar in Australia. The North Ayrshire town remain a popular seaside resort, famous as the site of the 1263 Battle of Largs, as the ferry terminal for Great Cumbrae, and for the legendary Nardini’s ice cream parlour. It might surprise some that Brisbane, who might easily have remained in Australia, opted to return to Scotland. Certainly, he had obligations as a laird and landowner. And if Largs is a little cooler than Brisbane’s Australian haunts, it’s not that cool. The Gulf Stream warms the Firth of Clyde and there are many palm trees in private gardens and public spaces around the town. Perhaps there were some in the early 19th century too. If so, I wonder if Sir Thomas Brisbane, laird/soldier/astronomer, saw them when visiting his nearest town and was reminded of his time in the warmer parts of the world?

Main photo: Brisbane Glen, Brisbane Mains Farm, Scotland.

Olivia and Jack are Scotland’s top baby names

Olivia has overtaken Isla to become Scotland’s most popular name for baby girls for the second time, according to figures on baby names registered in 2021 published recently by National Records of Scotland (NRS). Jack is the most popular name for baby boys for the 14th year in succession, followed by Noah and Leo. Lyla shot up 56 places in the top 100 girls’ names to 74th overall, while Blake rose 46 places and Rowan 41. Carson has seen the largest increase in the top 100 boys’ names in 2021, rising 42 places to 83rd, while Struan has jumped 37 places and Myles is up by 35.

Director of Statistical Services, Pete Whitehouse said: “Beneath the headline figures the long-term trend is for more names to be used each year, including some names only given to one baby in 2021. Almost 12% of baby girls were given a name that no other girl was registered with in 2021. Almost 9% of boys had unique names for births last year. Together with the growing range of names being used this means it’s far less common for children to share their name with their classmates than it was for their parents or grandparents.”

The popularity of first names in Scotland over the years

With NRS running this year’s census Pete Whitehouse took the opportunity to appeal to parents to take part and said: “I know the parents of young children, particularly those with babies, have busy lives but I ask them to make time to fill in the census form and record their growing families in the census. Like registering a birth, filling in the census form is a legal responsibility for every household and provides the Scottish Government, councils, the NHS and many others with data they need to provide services for the whole country from the very youngest to the oldest.”

You can explore the popularity of first names in Scotland over the years with NRS’s interactive app. NRS also published a list of the most common surnames in the Birth, Marriage and Death registers for 2021.  Smith, Brown, and Wilson have been the three most popular surnames since the first list, which is for 1975, and remained the top three in 2021.

Babies’ First Names, 2021 and the Most Common Surnames in Birth, Marriage and Death registers are available on the NRS website:

The Slate Islands-The islands that roofed the world

By: Judy Vickers

The Slate Island are a group of islands, consisting of Luing, Seil, Easdale and Balnahua, and located in the Inner Hebrides, just north of Jura. They are known as the islands that roofed the world because, as the name suggests, they were once famous for their slate quarries. Now more than half a century later the island community is looking to start slate quarrying again as there is a growing market for the product, as Judy Vickers explains.

For a couple of centuries, they were the islands which roofed the world, their rich mineral deposits which had been used since time immemorial for simple homes, suddenly in demand around the globe. Hundreds flocked to the tiny Slate Islands off the west coast of Argyll, swelling the population into thousands, to work the seams of rock which would cover mighty buildings as far afield as Canada, Calcutta and New Zealand. But two world wars and the influx of modern materials, as well as slate from the likes of Spain and China, which lacked the iron pyrite (or fool’s gold) that gave the islands’ slate a distinctive glitter but also meant it wasn’t suitable to be cut by machinery, saw the industry collapse in the 20th century.

The last quarry closed in 1961 but now, more than a half century later, there are plans to restart the slate industry, albeit on a much smaller scale. The community trust on one of the islands, Luing (pronounced Ling), has commissioned a geotechnical survey to be carried out by rock experts to see if the plan is viable. A renewed interest in historical buildings means that if there are sufficient and accessible deposits, slate quarrying will return to its ancient home. Because from the days of earliest man, the slate from these islands – Seil, Luing, Belnahua and Easdale – was used by its inhabitants to make homes, animal shelters, gravestones and anything else they needed. “Slate was used for everything,” says Mike Shaw, chairman of the Scottish Slate Islands Heritage Trust. “Back then it wasn’t just a material for putting on roofs. You name it, everything was made of slate.”

Easdale slate

The outer rim of the slate quarry at Ellenabeich. Photo: W. L. Tarbert, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Islanders with little technology at their disposal came up with an ingenious way of splitting the rock into thinner sheets to make it more useable. Mike explains: “The slate is exposed on the beach, there are long outcrops of slate running in seams down the beach and into the sea so it’s staring you in the face. Early people drove wooden wedges into the cracks at low tide, when the tide rose and the water got into the wood, the wood swelled and cracked the slate. It was a low-tech solution.”

Until the 18th century, there was no large-scale commercial quarrying although slate from the islands – known as Easdale slate whichever of the Slate Islands it comes from – was used for many prominent buildings including nearby Castle Stalker, Cawdor Castle near Inverness and Glasgow Cathedral. People quarried in their spare time to supplement their income from farming or fishing. But in 1745, the landowner, the Earl of Breadalbane, part of the Argyll Campbell family, set up the Marble and Slate Company to make more of the islands’ natural resources. The marble side never really took off, but the slate did – within 50 years production rose fivefold to five million slates a year. With a Highland population suffering in the aftermath of the ’45 Rising and the Clearances, there was a ready labour force and the population of the islands rose from 1492 in 1755 to 2833 in 1831.

Men worked in dug-out pits lined with slate for shelter. They were paid per thousand slates sold – in arrears.  “They lived on the company shop on credit and when they did get paid most of it went back to the company shop to pay their debts,” says Mike. “It is filthy dirty work, slate creates a dust a bit like coal dust and everyone’s faces were black when they came out of the quarries.”

The sea was vital

Luing.  Photo: Remi Mathis, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The sea was both a help and a hindrance – quarries were placed close to where the slates could be loaded as even with skilled nappers (rock splitters) they were still a hefty two to two and a half inches thick. In the days before decent roads, the islands were surprisingly well connected – the inner channel running from Seil down Loch Linnhe out past Jura and Islay to Ireland providing a protected sea road from earliest times. Even when Seil was attached to the mainland in 1792 by the Bridge Across the Atlantic, the structure was built with a big arch. “The reason for that amazing arch was that even by then they really didn’t want to close it as a sailing route,” says Mike. “When you look around at this part of the world, these sea lochs and little islands, they are all defined by little forts and later castles from the Iron Age onwards. There was always a lot going on here. The bridge was a froth really because things continued to be moved by sea by the beginning of the 20th century. The sea was vital.”

But with the plethora of small quarries having seen the easy pickings dug out in the early days, deeper, below sea level minings struggled to keep the ocean out. “Water was always a problem,” says Mike. Nevertheless the quarries became deeper – and with an enormous proportion of waste, as much as 60 per cent, the industry changed the face of the islands. In fact, originally there was another island – Ellenabeich, or Island of the Birches – which lay between Easdale and Seil. “There was an enormous quarry there, it became like an orange, cut in half and with all the orange taken out and only the peel left, in places only a metre and a half thick, so really very thin and quarried to a depth of 300 feet,” says Mike. “The waste was enormous and the spoil was dumped in the channel between Ellenabeich and Seil to the point that the channel was completely blocked.” The island of the birches ceased to exist as an island but on that hard, packed-down spoil in the former channel, a village was built – called Ellenabeich. It’s just one of the quirks about these islands; others include the fact that the primary school on Seil is called Easdale Primary School and there are buses which run from Oban, the nearest main town, to Easdale “even though a bus can’t go to Easdale island”.

Easdale slate was exported around the world – including eastern Canada where there were Breadalbane land interests, but also to India and New Zealand, where there is an Easdale Street in Wellington. Breadalbane’s company was dissolved in 1866 and the quarries came under the control of separate commercial interests but in 1881 disaster struck. A wild storm saw a tsunami hit the islands and various quarries, including the one at Ellenabeich were flooded. There was no loss of life – the inhabitants headed for the hills in time – but even the huge suction pump that kept the daily ocean influx out couldn’t cope with this deluge and the quarry was abandoned, as were others that were close to the end of their lives anyway.

A tiny part of the islands’ rich history

Quarry on Seil. Photo: Remi Mathis, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The 20th century brought more challenges. ”Men here joined up in droves for the First World War and the Second World war. A lot of lives were lost but those young men who survived were exposed to the world and a lot turned around and said: ‘Do we really need to be digging slate?’” Production was also halted during the Second World War as it was not seen as necessary for the war effort. And as machinery was brought in to do skilled jobs, it was found the iron pyrite in Easdale slate – which sparkles when first exposed to the air, dulling as time goes on – made it unsuitable for the new technology. “Easdale slate had no chance,” says Mike.

The last quarry closed in 1961 by which time the population had collapsed, dwindling to just three on Easdale at one point. Model estate worker cottages, built in the 19th century to house immigrant labour at the height of the industry, were sold off to sitting tenants for a few shillings but many couldn’t find work and moved any way, leaving the houses to sit empty. “But then 25 years later, people come and said: ‘That’s my grandpa’s house, I’m going to have it as a holiday home’,” says Mike. The beauty and tranquillity of the islands means many have chosen to move here and the population has risen again – with around 150 on Seil and 200 on Luing – albeit many are retired. Belnahua, which was once home to almost 200 people, is now uninhabited. Easdale, however, which struggled to sustain a population without the slate industry as it has no natural water supply, now has a population of around 60 thanks to modern technology.

The heritage centre sees many visitors coming to find out more about their quarry worker ancestors. For Mike, though, the slate industry boom was just a tiny part of the islands’ rich history. “The slate industry lasted around 200 years – the Vikings were here for 400!  If you have any eye for history you realise you are stubbing your toe against a far older time here.”

To find out more go to:

Main photo: Easdale, Slate Islands. Photo: Michael Walsh, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Platinum Jubilee celebrations come to Ottawa

The Sons of Scotland Pipe Band and Pipe Major Bethany Bisaillion have put together a spectacular weekend of programming to mark many special occasions, and they want you to take part, even if you don’t live in Ottawa.

The weekend of May 21 and 22 will see historic downtown Sparks Street come alive with the pipes and drums of the Sons of Scotland, and many guest players for the National Tartan Day festivities and will be joined by many Highland dancers from schools in Ottawa and Hamilton, Ontario. 

Platinum Jubilee celebrations

They will have Scottish country dancing, a grand Corgi Walk, and music by many fantastic singers too.  You can join them at the CBC Studios on Sparks Street and complete a card of congratulations for Her Majesty The Queen to mark her Platinum Jubilee, and the band will deliver them to Her Majesty. 

If you can’t be there in person, you can arrange to send the band a card of your own that they will take to Scotland.  All details will be on the Pipe Major’s website at and the band look forward to a wonderful weekend of celebrations and so much more.

Scottish Medical Pioneer Dr Flora Murray featured in Bank of Scotland £100 note

“Deeds, not words.” This, the motto of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), founded by activist Emmeline Pankhurst, perhaps best captures the spirit of the suffragette movement and the sacrifices its members made for equality. As with all necessary struggles it’s often the actions of brilliant and tenacious individuals that create lasting change. One such individual was Dr Flora Murray. And to acknowledge her services during the First World War, plus her unwavering commitment to women’s rights, she will feature on Bank of Scotland’s new £100 polymer note, the first to celebrate the contribution of a significant Scottish person. Born in Dalton, Scotland, in May 1869, Dr Flora Murray was one of Britain’s early woman doctors and a prominent suffragette.  She began her career as a probationer nurse at the London Hospital, Whitechapel, aged 21. And from there studied at the London School of Medicine for Women, the University of Durham and, eventually, the University of Cambridge.

Together with her partner, fellow medical practitioner and daughter of the first English women to qualify as a doctor, Louisa Garrett Anderson, she set up the Women’s Hospital for Children which provided health care for working class children. But despite her extensive skills and savvy leadership style, Flora struggled to progress in her career. Until the start of the First World War women doctors were only permitted to treat women and children and could not study general medicine and surgery either. This is one of the reasons why Flora – already a staunch women’s rights advocate – believed so passionately in women’s suffrage. Alongside delivering medical support to suffragettes recovering from hunger strike and other injuries sustained through their activism, Flora spoke regularly at public gatherings and became one of the key figures for the movement in Scotland. She also joined the 1911 census protest – whereby Emmeline Pankhurst rallied women suffragettes to refuse the 1911 census in protest of the government’s unwillingness to give women the vote.

How did Flora help during the First World War?

Image credit: Wellcome Collection C C BY 4.0.

Thousands of soldiers needed urgent medical assistance during the First World War. This is where Flora and Louisa spotted an opportunity to do their bit, plus try and change damaging societal norms for the better.  So, knowing their offers to help would likely be rejected by the British War Office, together they set up the Women’s Hospital Corps (WHC) – a group of women doctors and nurses who ran two military hospitals in Paris and Wimereux, France, between September 1914 to January 1915. Following the success of those hospitals, Flora and Louisa were then invited by the UK Government to run Endell Street Military Hospital – a large institution in London staffed predominately by suffragette women.  More than 24,000 seriously ill soldiers were treated and countless lives saved while the hospital was open. Even more impressive; both Flora and Louisa had little knowledge of trauma or orthopaedics, yet rose to the challenge nonetheless. Unsurprisingly, Flora’s heroism didn’t go unnoticed. In 1917 she and Louisa were awarded the CBE for their efforts during the war. And in 1923, they retired to their cottage in Buckinghamshire with their two terrier dogs. Although little is known about Flora and Louisa’s personal lives they remained in a committed relationship, and even wore matching diamond rings. In 1923, Flora sadly died of cancer at the age of 54, leaving behind an inspiring legacy that promoted gender integration within the medical profession. She was buried in Buckinghamshire. Her memorial stone also pays tribute to Louisa, and concludes with the line ‘We have been gloriously happy.”

Bank of Scotland’s bank notes

In 1696 Bank of Scotland became the first commercial bank in Europe to successfully issue paper currency. And the bank has issued notes showcasing Scotland’s incredible history for more than 320 years. Currently, it issues £1, £5, £10, £20, £50 and £100 note denominations. The new £100 polymer note will feature a portrait of Dr Murray at The Royal Free Hospital in London, painted by Francis Dodd in 1921 on its reverse side, plus an image of female stretcher bearers outside Endell Street Hospital. It also boasts significant security features too, such as an anti-counterfeit ‘window effect on its front side that displays an image of Dr Murray, the bank’s logo and ‘£100’ within a vertical strip.  The new £100 polymer note entered circulation on 9th May 2022, a day after Flora’s birthday.

Caroline Clarke, Chief Executive of the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, said: “As the first institution in Britain to train women in medicine, the Royal Free Hospital drew aspiring female doctors from across the globe; we’re immensely proud that the Bank of Scotland and the Royal Free Charity have worked together to give Flora her rightful place in the pantheon of British medical history. Almost a century since her death, Flora’s story is a reminder of the huge debt of gratitude we owe to those early agitators who refused to accept the limitations imposed by a society that didn’t believe women could or should be doctors, physicians and surgeons. Then and now, we embrace the pioneers, the innovators, and the game-changers.”

Main photo: Bank of Scotland’s new £100 polymer note.

Text and images courtesy of the Bank of Scotland.

Scotland strengthening bonds with US and Canada

The enduring cultural, historical, educational and economic links between Scotland, Canada and the United States was underlined by External Affairs Secretary Angus Robertson when he visited North America to mark Tartan Day. The Cabinet Secretary engaged with business leaders, political representatives, diaspora groups and cultural organisations in Ontario, New York and Washington DC. Mr Robertson also met with the US Government’s State Department to discuss the continuing warm relations between the US and Scotland, as well as a series of businesses who are investing in Scotland. Celebrating the historic connections between Scotland and the United States, Mr Robertson met with the Friends of Scotland Congressional Caucus in Washington DC, and members of Scottish Diaspora groups in New York City.

The Cabinet Secretary attended a VisitScotland event to discuss modern and sustainable tourism at the University of Guelph in Ontario. In addition to taking part in the annual Tartan Day parade in New York City on 9 April, the Cabinet Secretary went to Niagara Falls. Ontario and witnessed the iconic falls illuminated in blue and white, in a special celebration of the links between Scotland and Canada.

Time-tested relationship between North America and Scotland

MSP Angus Robertson, Ontario’s Tourism and Culture Minister Lisa MacLeod and Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati at the majestic Niagara Falls.

Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs Angus Robertson said: “International trade and investment is key to growing our economy, and this week in Canada and the US I will emphasise the Scottish Government’s role in working with partners to support Scottish companies, and the benefits to investors of working with the Scottish Government and Scottish Development International. These thriving modern links can only add to the strong and time-tested relationship between North America and Scotland, which is forged in history and renewed each year in the warm and colourful celebration of Tartan Day. This year in particular, Tartan Day, on 6 April, is a timely reminder of the importance of friendship and community between nations, of celebrating shared histories, nurturing relationships, and upholding the values that we share and hold dear.”

Tartan Day started in Nova Scotia, Canada and has grown to be a continent-wide celebration of Scottish culture and community. Tartan Day is celebrated each year on 6 April, having been created by a Senate Resolution in 1998, which led to Presidential passing of recognition of the observance, and a Presidential Proclamation by President George W. Bush in 2008. Events span across Tartan Week, culminating in Tartan Day parade in New York on 9 April. There are almost 1,000 Scottish associations and clubs in America and, in the most recent US Census, more than five million Americans claimed Scottish ancestry.

Gaelic on the rise

VisitScotland has revealed how visitor interest in Scottish Gaelic has risen over the last four years. The research was released during the first ever World Gaelic Week/Seachdain na Gàidhlig, which took place in March, and celebrated and promoted the importance of Gaelic, and highlighting the significant role the language plays within tourism and events. From 2018 to 2021 there was a 72 per cent increase in the number of users visiting Gaelic related content with a peak in pageviews during the 2020 lockdown.

With 2022 marking Scotland’s Year of Stories, a key aim is to share how Gaelic is woven into the fabric of the country and has influenced the way we speak and tell stories now.

Celebrating Gaelic

A nationwide programme of more than 100 events presented by a range of partners from national organisations to community groups are taking place this year, in recognition of the wealth of stories inspired by, written, or created in Scotland. And over 20 of these events are celebrating Gaelic. Gaelic’s popularity has also grown on the language app, Duolingo. The learning tool launched the free course on St Andrew’s Day 2019 and there are now 430,000 active learners studying Scots Gaelic on Duolingo. The course has been a success in Scotland, the UK, and the world over with the largest number of learners in the USA (35 per cent) – which speaks to the connection the Scottish diaspora has with the language. The app also has Gaelic learners from locations as far afield as Chad, Equatorial Guinea, San Marino, the Falkland Islands, and Tajikistan.

VisitScotland launched its first Gaelic toolkit last year to help the tourism industry to build upon the lure of the language with visitors. VisitScotland launched its first Gaelic toolkit last year to help the tourism industry to build upon the lure of the language with visitors. It highlights ways to use Gaelic and its culture to create a more immersive visitor experience such as teaching staff some basic phrases and translating place names to reveal their Gaelic origins and meanings A diverse range of events that celebrate the Gaelic language are being supported through the Year of Stories Community Stories Fund. These events will be hosted by museums, festivals, arts centres and community groups right across Scotland, including on the islands of Tiree, Mull and Lewis.

Scotland’s identity

Malcolm Roughead, VisitScotland Chief Executive, said: “The importance of Gaelic to the Scottish tourism and events industry cannot be underestimated. As the sector starts to recover from the devastation of COVID-19, finding ways to position Scotland as a unique and stand-out holiday choice is vital. Gaelic and its rich culture are an important part of Scotland’s tourism offer and provides an extra layer of authenticity for visitors with a unique culture you can only truly experience in Scotland. This only strengthens the experience we know means so much to visitors. World Gaelic Week and the Year of Stories 2022 give an opportunity to highlight why we believe the language will continue to prove an asset to Scotland’s identity and our tourism industry.”

Joy Dunlop, Director of Seachdain na Gàidhlig, said: “I’m absolutely thrilled by the response to Seachdain na Gàidhlig, people have been so busy creating their own ideas to feature within the extensive programme; we currently have over 90 events taking place throughout the globe, with more being added to our online events diary daily. This proves that Gaelic is thriving, not just here in Scotland but across the world and I can’t wait to celebrate our language and culture this week on a global scale. If anyone wants to take part, free online resources, learning materials and advice can be found on our official website, where visitors can also find further information about the events.”

Main photo: An Lanntair in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, is holding Year of Stories events celebrating Gaelic.

Greater Moncton Highland Games & Scottish Festival hosts 2022 SMAI Masters World Championships

This year’s Greater Moncton Highland Games & Scottish Festival is an international affair, with the New Brunswick event acting as Host Games for the 2022 Scottish Masters Athletics International (SMAI) Masters World Championships (MWC). The Games are being held June 17-19; a pay-per-view online stream of the MWC and Games’ highlights will be available. The SMAI MWC events will take place Saturday and Sunday; amateur and other heavy event classes will compete on Friday. Piping, drumming, pipe band, Highland dance, and single stick sword competitions will happen Saturday; Sunday will include demonstrations and performances in these disciplines. Throughout the weekend the grounds will have sheep herding and shearing, weaving, axe throwing, archery, blacksmithing, fly casting, military vehicles, children’s activities, a local craft beer & spirits market, workshops, and more. Two musical stages, with concerts Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, will keep everyone entertained.

Massed bands.

Highlights include:

  • Honourary Chieftain Michael Yellowlees, the Scot who walked across Canada.
  • Headline musical acts The Barra MacNeils, the RCMP Pipes & Drums, American Rogues, & more.
  • Largest gathering of redheads east of Montreal, with a live taping of Authentic Ginger podcast.
  • Author Riel Nason reading her children’s book, Disaster at the Highland Games.

A few MWC events to watch

RF Forbes competing.

Dirk Bishop, perhaps New Brunswick’s most decorated heavy athlete (having won at least eight provincial titles and four consecutive MWC titles), is coming out of retirement for the event. He’s also a Guinness World Record holder, shared with Danny Frame, for most cabers tossed by a team of two in three minutes. Frame, from Nova Scotia, will also be competing.

Sue Hallen of Illinois took part in the first Women 50+ MWC competition in 2008; she placed second overall, with her arm in a sling. She’s competed consistently ever since. She’s facing tough competition in her Women 65-69 class, with Ruth Welding and Susan Zemke also coming to Moncton. Larry Sisseck, competing in the Men 70+ class, is the oldest registered competitor and on his 10th trip to the Masters. The California athlete and SMAI Hall of Famer was an MWC Champion in 2012, 2017, and 2018. Teresa Nystrom has five previous MWC titles to her credit, taking the top spot in her class consecutively from 2015 to 2019. Al Stagner, a SMAI Hall of Famer from Colorado, is competing in his 12th MWC, in the Men 65-69 class. He won his class in Scotland in 2009, USA in 2010, and in Canada in 2011. Denise Houseman is competing in her 16th MWC. This is her first time in the Women 60-64 class. The SMAI Hall of Famer from New Hampshire won six consecutive titles 2006 – 2011; she also took top spots in 2015 and 2017.

Cleveland, Ohio’s Janine Tessarzik is bringing along a huge online cheering section; @JanineThrows has more than 140,000 TikTok followers and is helping bring heavy events to a whole new audience. She’s demystifying the sport for thousands of online viewers and representing like no one’s business.

A Snapshot of Moncton

Moncton is Canada’s only official bilingual city, giving equal focus to both English and French, and has been voted as Canada’s ‘most polite city’ by Reader’s Digest. Rapid growth, combined with its small-town charms, have consistently seen Moncton named one of the best places in the country to live and to work. It’s also a fantastic place to visit, the perfect homebase for an exploration of Canada’s East Coast. The Greater Moncton Romeo LeBlanc International Airport is a 10-minute drive from the downtown core, with direct flights to various major centres. (The city itself is only a nine-hour drive from Boston.) From Moncton, you’re just a 20-minute drive to the warmest saltwater beaches north of the Carolinas, 30 minutes to walking on the ocean floor at the iconic Hopewell Rocks, and just over an hour from North America’s first UNESCO Global Geopark, Stonehammer. Downtown Moncton is also encompassed by the UNESCO Fundy Biosphere Reserve; the Bay of Fundy is home to the world’s highest tides, with the Petitcodiac River rising up to 25 feet twice a day. That epic wave flows 29 kilometres through the city centre, often attracting surfers to what’s known affectionately as the Chocolate River, given the colour brought on by its muddy banks.

Next year, the SMAI Master World Championships will be hosted in Friesland, Netherlands, home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for mudflats, outdoor adventures, and sparse population. We can’t help but be amused at the similarities to Southeastern New Brunswick!

How to join the fun-Individual weekend passes to the 2022 MWC & Greater Moncton Highland Games are $40. The MWC competition will be available as a pay-per-view event, streamed live online via AOTV. Full details, schedules, and more available online at:

Images courtesy of Jenna Morton.

Marvel actress, Karen Gillan, leads the 24th annual New York City Tartan Day Parade

Scottish actress Karen Gillan arrived at New York’s  Algonquin Hotel carrying only a change of shoes and a small bag. With barely 24 hours leave from filming the next Guardians of the Galaxy film in Atlanta, Georgia she packed only what she could carry. Once at the hotel she slipped effortlessly into the familiar routine of hair and makeup which, for her role as Grand Marshal of the NYC Tartan Day Parade, would take considerably less time than the daily transformation into her iconic character Nebula from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“The fact that I get to lead the [parade] is completely insane,” Gillan said. “I’m so excited to be in one of my favorite cities in the world celebrating my country.”

Born in Inverness, Karen Gillan studied acting at the Performing Arts Studio Scotland and later at the Italia Conti Academy in London, which opened the doors for her to land some of her most recognizable roles including Amy Pond in Doctor Who (2010-13), Ruby Roundhouse in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017), and of course the humanoid assassin Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019). Her most recent film, The Bubble, which was recently released on Netflix.

Guardians of the Gillan

Donning a custom Clan McQueen tartan kilt paired with a Motley Crew tee shirt, Gillan was accompanied by an entourage of seven girlfriends (each sporting their own custom kilts) as the second ever female Grand Marshal of the NYC Tartan Day Parade. Gillan said she loved the feeling of leading an “army of women in kilts,” prompting the kilt designer, Howie Nicholsby of 21st Century Kilts, to dub the companions the “Guardians of the Gillan.”

Inside the hotel Gillan paused the music on her phone – I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers – as she joined her army of women for a dram of whisky from a specially gifted bottle courtesy of NYC Tartan Week sponsor, Braeburn Whisky. The Guardians of the Gillan rallied together for a giggling Braveheart war cry of “freedom!” as they rushed out to represent Scotland on the streets of New York City.

Shot of Scotch Highland Dancers.
2022 National Tartan Day Award recipient Robert Currie, Commander of the Name and Arms of Currie and Madam Pauline Hunter of Hunterston and that Ilk, 30th Chief of Clan Hunter. Photo: James Higgins.

Shouts of “Inverness!” followed Gillan from the city spectators as she waved from atop the double-decker bus parked at the end of the parade route. Back in person for the first time since 2019 because of COVID-19, the 24th annual NYC Tartan Day Parade returned with over two thousand participants registered to march in the pinnacle event. With participants reconnecting from all across Scotland, the United States, and Canada, NYC Tartan Week President Kyle Dawson likens the event to a “family reunion,” adding that Karen Gillan was the ideal figure to represent Scotland and Scottish culture in America.

The Theatre School of Scotland.
Highland dance at Bryant Park.

Other events celebrating Tartan Week included the American Scottish Foundation’s Tartan Day Observance held at Bryant Park to honor the day in readings of Declaration of Arbroath and Senate Resolutions. The day included music from the Highland Divas, Noisemaker, NYU Pipes and Drums, the Theatre School of Scotland and MSP Angus Robertson bringing remarks from Scotland.

Tartan Day is a celebration across both the US and Canada with events from South Carolina with Tartan Day South, to San Antonio to Los Angeles where St Andrews LA held the Tartan Film Festival. In Washington DC the National Tartan Day Award was presented by the Scottish Coalition USA to Bob Currie as part of the National Capital Tartan Day celebration.

The 25th annual New York City Tartan Day Parade will take place on Saturday, 15th April, 2023. For details see:

The Scottish Banner appreciates the contribution and support with this article from Leah Rankin, Communications Director, National Tartan Day NY Committee, The Scottish Coalition USA and the American Scottish Foundation.

All images, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of Benjamin Chateauvert/GreenCastle Photography.

Soldiers of The Queen coming to Armstrong, BC

As Canada celebrates the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II,  the Armstrong Regional Co-op and the Okanagan Military Tattoo Society are pleased to present “Soldiers of The Queen”  featuring the Strathcona Ceremonial Mounted Troop at the Armstrong Fairgrounds on May 26, 2022. The Strathcona Ceremonial Mounted Troop is a ceremonial mounted cavalry unit of the Canadian Army attached to the Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians), an armoured regiment based in Edmonton, Alberta.  It is the last surviving military mounted troop in the country. The troop is designed to be a link to the regiment’s time as a cavalry unit in the early 20th century.   The first members of the regiment were trained horsemen who were recruited to serve as match for the Boers in South Africa.  The regiment also served with distinction in the First World War as part of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade.

Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations

The Ceremonial Troop performed actively in North America from 1923 until it was dissolved in 1939 following the start of the Second World War in Europe.  The mounted troop was re-formed in 1974 in time for the regiment’s 75th anniversary and Calgary’s centennial.

In September 2000, the troop mounted the Queen’s Life Guard at Buckingham Palace; the first time a unit other than the Household Cavalry or the Royal Horse Artillery provided a mounted guard in London. It is therefore fitting that the Strathcona Ceremonial Troop be a part of our local Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. The Troop consists of 20 soldiers and its show combines traditional cavalry drills with the tent pegging that is often seen in equestrian sports. The May 26, 2022 performance at the Armstrong Fairgrounds will include local pipe bands and other surprise performers. A second performance may be scheduled on May 27 if ticket sales exceed expectations.

Info: 250 549 7469 or

The Berry Celtic Festival is back

There are always plenty of reasons to visit Berry, and on Saturday 28th May you can experience the unique atmosphere of the 2022 Berry Celtic Festival. Come and see what medieval life was like in Celtic times. Whether it is the heavily armoured noble knights on horseback or just seeing what village life was like, there is plenty to see. You will hear the thunder of the hooves as horses charge at one another and the jousting knights aim their lances at their opponent. It is full of excitement.

In the background, other knights from the Scottish Soldiers and the Company of the Cross re-live battles in hand-to-hand combat demonstrating their skillful swordplay. Pipe bands performing throughout the day include pipe bands from Illawarra, Canberra, Smithfield, Sydney Thistle, Ingleburn, Goulburn, St. George and Shoalhaven.

The Berry Celtic Festival kicks off at 9.30am with a grand street parade through Berry. The bands will be marching in their distinctive kilts, together with representatives of all of the Clans, medieval knights, and the Scottish Terrier dogs.  At the Showground there is the marching of the massed bands, musical items, Celtic fiddlers, Highland dancing, enchanted singing, and of course, the battles of the medieval knights, plus Celtic merchandise stalls to peruse.

Entry is $10 for adults, with children under 15 years free. Saturday 28 May Berry Showground. The Berry Celtic Festival is a fundraising project of the Rotary Club of Berry.

Visit for full details and ticketing arrangements.

HRH The Princess Royal officially opens The British Horse Society’s Scottish

The British Horse Society (BHS) officially opened their new Operational Hub in Scotland with their Vice-Patron, Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, who unveiled a plaque to mark the opening. The Scottish Hub, based at the Stirling Agricultural Centre, is also home to many rural organisations and activities including the famous Stirling bi-annual bull sales. The BHS is the largest equestrian charity in Scotland and the opening of the Hub will provide a prestigious base for its members, volunteers, stakeholders, and supporters in Scotland and the north of England to experience and champion best practice equestrianism. 

To highlight the variety of stakeholders that the BHS works with in Scotland, HRH The Princess Royal saw a demonstration from Police Scotland Mounted Branch who work with the Society on Operation ‘Lose the Blinkers.’ The collaborative campaign is directed at all road users with the aim of reducing injuries and deaths because of vehicles passing too close or too fast to ridden or driven horses.   


HRH The Princess Royal attends the official opening of The British Horse Society’s first Operational Hub in Scotland, as Vice-Patron of the Society’. Her Royal Highness meets Ceremonial greys ridden by the Scots Dragoon Guards.

The event also included a display by the Pipe Band, and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards who work closely with the Society. The partnership has been instrumental in developing equitation within the regiment. Others in attendance to celebrate the grand opening were members of the Moredun Foundation which the BHS funds to support research into equine grass sickness. 

Helene Mauchlen, National Manager in Scotland for The British Horse Society said, “This is a huge step forward for the BHS with most legislation pertaining to the horse and equestrianism being devolved to The Scottish Government. By opening a new Operational Hub in Scotland, the BHS is accommodating a four-nation approach. It is a privilege and honour to have our Vice-Patron HRH here in Scotland to see the work of the BHS and to meet our members, volunteers, supporters, and stakeholders.”

The Princess Royal presented five BHS Awards to BHS volunteers and stakeholders on their contributions to the Society, as well as unveiling a plaque.

To find out more about the BHS and their work in Scotland visit:

Serving up a taste of Scotland in the Big Apple

Hundreds of New Yorkers enjoyed a taste of Scotland in April courtesy of a special Tartan Day Takeaway event hosted by VisitScotland. As part of its ongoing work to bring back international visitors following the COVID-19 pandemic, the national tourism organisation treated locals to some tasty Scottish street food served by Scottish TV Chef and restaurateur Tony Singh. Hosted next to Madison Square Park in Manhattan, the pop-up food truck’s menu, inspired by Tony Singh’s Scottish Sikh heritage, featured Punjabi Salmon Tacos, Kheer with Islay Whisky Sweet Mango, washed down with Scotland’s ‘other national drink’ Irn Bru.

The Tartan Day festivities were led by Finlay Wilson, the Kilted Yogi who conducted some fun-filled kilted yoga with passers-by and fuelled by Scottish music. The event formed part of wider Tartan Week celebrations in Canada and the USA recognising the strong historical and cultural ties with Scotland.  Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the USA was the largest international market for visitors to Scotland with the highest number of visits (636,000) and expenditure (£717 million) in 2019. Meanwhile Canada was the top international market for visitors visiting multiple regions within Scotland between 2017 and 2019.  This year marked the return of the first VisitScotland in-person events at Tartan Week since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, culminating in the annual Tartan Day parade in New York on Saturday 9 April which will be led by Scottish actress, Karen Gillan as Grand Marshall.

North America has enjoyed a flavour of the best Scotland

Vicki Miller, VisitScotland Director of Marketing & Digital, said: “After a two-year break, VisitScotland is thrilled to be back in North America and part of Tartan Week.  North America is Scotland’s largest international market, and the return of these visitors is vital for the long-term recovery of our valuable tourism and events industry. Tartan Week, and creative events such as the Tartan Day Takeaway, are a key part of our work to keep Scotland top of mind and rebuild international demand. It complements our global marketing ‘Scotland is Calling’ campaign – which aims to make Scotland the destination of choice for all visitors in 2022 and beyond – as well as our work with inbound travel trade and airline partners to secure the return of direct routes. We know there is pent-up demand for travel and hope North America has enjoyed a flavour of the best Scotland has to offer this week. Scotland is open and our tourism and events industry looks forward to welcoming back visitors.”

Scotland’s rich history and diverse culture are a strong motivator for both USA and Canadian visitors. An increase in film and TV shows set in Scotland in recent years such as Outlander and the country’s reputation as the ‘Home of Golf’ have also helped attract visitors. Recent research by VisitBritain into consumer sentiment towards international travel during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, has found 80% of USA and 77% of Canadian respondents intend to travel abroad for leisure purposes within the next 12 months with consideration for Scotland increasing among all age groups.  Rebuilding international visitor demand and re-engaging with the North American market will help support the recovery of Scotland’s valuable tourism industry from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Main photo: Clann An Drumma, Scottish chef Tony Singh and Finlay Wilson, the Kilted Yogi.

The face of a medieval wanderer

Isotope analysis of ‘bodies in the bog’ found at Cramond reveals several crossed a politically divided Scotland, meeting their end hundreds of miles from their place of birth. For decades, the skeletal remains of nine adults and five infants found in the latrine of what was once a Roman bath house close to Edinburgh have fascinated archaeologists and the public alike. Discovered in Cramond in 1975 they were originally thought to be victims of the plague or a shipwreck from the 14th century. Then radiocarbon dating showed them to be some 800 years older, dating to the 6th century, or early medieval period.

New bioarchaeological work led by the University of Aberdeen has brought to light more details of their lives and has revealed that several of the group travelled across Scotland to make Cramond their home. Their investigations change our understanding not only of this important site but of the mobility and connections of people across Scotland in the early medieval period, when the country was broadly divided between the Scotti in Dál Riata to the west, the Picts in most of northern Scotland and the Britons in the south.

The bodies in the bog

The researchers examined the bones and teeth of the group unearthed from what was once the latrine of a bathhouse in a Roman fort, leading to them being coined ‘the bodies in the bog’. Using isotope analyses they were able to look at the diet and origins of each of the adults in the group. Professor Kate Britton, senior author of the study, said they were surprised to discover that despite being buried in close proximity to each other – leading to assumptions that they were one family – some were brought up hundreds of miles apart.

Professor Britton said; “Food and water consumed during life leave a specific signature in the body which can be traced back to their input source, evidencing diet and mobility patterns. Tooth enamel, particularly from teeth which form between around three and six years of age, act like little time capsules containing chemical information about where a person grew up. When we examined the remains, we found six of them to bear chemical signatures consistent with what we would expect from individuals growing up in the area local to Cramond but two – those of a man and a woman – were very different. his suggests that they spent their childhoods somewhere else, with the analysis of the female placing her origins on the West coast. The male instead had an isotopic signature more typical of the Southern Uplands, Southern Highlands or Loch Lomond area so it is likely he came to Cramond from an inland area.”

Historically elusive time period

Dr Orsolya Czére with extracted bone collagen.

The findings, published in the Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences journal, provide one of the first insights into early medieval population mobility in Scotland. Dr Orsolya Czére, post-doctoral researcher and lead author of the study, added: “This is a historically elusive time period, where little may be gleaned about the lives of individuals from primary literary sources. What we do know is that it was a politically and socially tumultuous time. In Scotland particularly, evidence is scarce and little is known about individual movement patterns and life histories. Bioarchaeological studies like this are key to providing information about personal movement in early medieval Scotland and beyond. It is often assumed that travel in this period would have been limited without roads like we have today and given the political divides of the time. The analysis of the burials from Cramond, along with other early medieval burial sites in Scotland, are revealing that it was not unusual to be buried far from where you had originally grown up. Previous studies have suggested that those buried here were of high social status, even nobility. What we can say from our new analyses was that these were well-connected individuals, with lives that brought them across the country. This is an important step in unravelling how these different populations of early medieval Scotland and Britain interacted.”

Despite evidence for geographical mobility, social tensions may still have been high. Several of the skeletons at Cramond indicate that some of the individuals may have met with violent ends. Osteoarchaeologist and co-author Dr Ange Boyle from the University of Edinburgh said: “Detailed osteological analysis of the human remains has determined that a woman and young child deposited in the Roman latrine suffered violent deaths. Blows to the skulls inflicted by a blunt object, possibly the butt end of a spear would have been rapidly fatal. This evidence provides important confirmation that the period in question was characterised by a high level of violence.”

John Lawson, the City of Edinburgh Council archaeologist, co-author and lead archaeologist on the investigations at Cramond, says the new findings further underline the importance of the Cramond site. Her said: “This paper has been the result of fantastic collaboration between ourselves and our co-authors from Aberdeen and Edinburgh Universities. The final results from the isotopic research have confirmed the initial 2015 results giving us archaeological evidence and a window into the movement of elite society in the 6th century. In particular it is helping us to support our belief that Cramond during this time was one of Scotland’s key political centres during this important period of turmoil and origins for the state of Scotland. Whilst it has helped us answer some questions about the individuals buried in the former Roman Fort’s Bathhouse, it has also raised more. We hope to continue to work together to bring more findings to publication as these have a significant impact on what is known about the history of Scotland and Northern Britain during the Dark Ages.”

Trust pieces together Lady Grange’s secrets

Conservation charity the National Trust for Scotland is piecing together the story of one of St Kilda’s most notable residents after winter storms caused the collapse of the stone ‘cleit’ believed to be built on the site of Lady Grange’s House. This particular cleit – a circular stone structure with a unique St Kildan turf roof – is thought to date from the mid-19th century, but may incorporate elements of the building where Rachel Chiesley was held from 1734 – 41. Lady Grange was sent to St Kilda by her husband James Erskine, a Jacobite supporter who feared his wife would expose his sympathies to the UK Government.

St Kilda’s main island Hirta has more than 1200 similar cleits which undergo an ongoing programme of monitoring and maintenance to keep them standing against the elements in this remote and exposed location, 40 miles west from the Isle of Lewis. The highest wind speed recorded in the archipelago was 144 miles per hour. Repairing the damage to Lady Grange’s House will be one of the most challenging tasks faced by the Trust in over half a century of conservation work on St Kilda, according to archaeologists.

A fascinating structure

Lady Grange’s House.

The National Trust for Scotland’s Western Isles Manager Susan Bain said: “This is a fascinating structure, with a really interesting history and we now have an unparalleled opportunity to discover so much more about it. Over the coming months, we’ll not only be investigating the cause of the collapse, but we’ll also be able to analyse the building techniques and materials. We’ll also be able to get a really good look at the roof and take soil samples that will help us understand so much more about how the St Kildans created these unique buildings. We hope too to discover whether there are any elements of the earlier structure, where Lady Grange spent her time on Hirta incorporated into this cleit. Our records suggest that it has never previously been repaired but we’d love to hear from anyone who may have images of the structure that could shed light on its more recent history.  It’s never good when a structure sustains damage, but the Trust and our talented contractors are very experienced in dealing with these issues on St Kilda and making repairs on an ongoing basis. Without our work to protect and restore the buildings here, very few would still be standing. We are very grateful to everyone who supports our charity for helping make our work to conserve the UK’s only dual World Heritage Site possible.” 

As well as seeking information from the public, the conservation charity is accepting donations to help with the cost of this investigation, analysis and subsequent repairs. Contributions can be made at

St Kilda is the UK’s only dual UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to nearly 1 million seabirds, including the UK’s largest colony of Atlantic puffins. After 4,000 years of human presence on the island, St Kilda was evacuated on 29 August 1930 after the remaining 36 islanders voted to leave as their way of life was no longer sustainable. As well as more than 1200 stone cleits, there are also blackhouses and cottages, drystone enclosures, a church, schoolroom and manse, which are all designated as Scheduled Monuments.

Bronze Age women altered genetic landscape of Orkney

An international team, led by researchers at the University of Huddersfield, has used ancient DNA to rewrite the history of the Orkney islands. They have discovered that Orkney was much less insular than has long been assumed and actually experienced large-scale female immigration during the Early Bronze Age, which replaced much of the local population. The project was a close collaboration between genetic researchers in Huddersfield and Edinburgh, led by Professor Martin Richards and Dr Ceiridwen Edwards, and archaeologists living and working on Orkney.

Orkney Britain’s Ancient Capital

Orkney is world-famous for its archaeological heritage. Around 5000 years ago, during the Neolithic period when farming first took hold, it was a hugely influential cultural centre. With many superbly preserved stone dwellings, temples and megalithic monuments, and a style of ceramics that appears to have spread out across Britain and Ireland, it has even been described as “Britain’s ancient capital”.

Over the thousand years that followed, however, as Europe moved into the Bronze Age, it has been widely viewed that somehow Orkney became left behind. Its influence dwindled and the islands became more insular. But with fewer archaeological remains to study, much less was known about this time. By combining archaeology with the study of ancient DNA from Bronze Age human remains from the Links of Noltland site, on the remote northern island of Westray, researchers now know much more about this time than ever before, and the results have come as a great surprise to geneticists and archaeologists alike. Professor Martin Richards, University of Huddersfield said: “This research shows how much we still have to learn about one of the most momentous events in European prehistory – how the Neolithic came to an end.”

Firstly, despite the supposed insularity, the team has shown that Orkney experienced large-scale immigration during the Early Bronze Age, which replaced much of the local population. The new arrivals were probably the first to speak Indo-European languages and carried genetic ancestry derived in part from pastoralists living on the steppe lands north of the Black Sea. This mirrored what was happening in the rest of Britain and Europe in the third millennium BC. But the researchers found a fascinating difference that makes Orkney highly distinctive. Across most of Europe, the expansion of pastoralists on the eve of the Bronze Age was typically led by men, with women being sucked into the expanding populations from local farming groups. But in Orkney, the researchers found exactly the opposite. The Bronze Age newcomers were mainly women, while male lineages from the original Neolithic population survived for at least another thousand years – something not seen anywhere else. These Neolithic lineages, however, were replaced from the Iron Age and are vanishingly rare today.

Why was Orkney so different?

But why was Orkney so different? Dr Graeme Wilson and Hazel Moore of the Orkney-based EASE Archaeology, who excavated the Links of Noltland, argue that the answer may lie in the long-term stability and self-sufficiency of farmsteads on Orkney, which the genetic data suggests may have already been male-dominated by the peak of the Neolithic. When a Europe-wide recession hit towards the end of the Neolithic, they may have been uniquely placed to weather harsher times and maintain their grip on the population as newcomers arrived. This implies that Orkney was much less insular than has long been assumed and that there was a protracted period of negotiation between the indigenous males and the newcomers from the south, over many generations.

“This shows that the third-millennium BC expansion across Europe was not a monolithic process but was more complex and varied from place to place,” explained Dr George Foody, one of the lead researchers on the project from the University of Huddersfield. The results have been surprising for both the archaeologists and geneticists on the team, although for different reasons: the archaeologists did not expect such large-scale immigration, whereas the geneticists did not foresee survival of the Neolithic male lineages.

The University’s Director of the Evolutionary Genomics Research Centre Professor Martin Richards said: “This research shows how much we still have to learn about one of the most momentous events in European prehistory – how the Neolithic came to an end.”

Main photo: The settlement at Links of Noltland extends from the late 4th millennium BC to the mid-1st millennium BC. Over 35 buildings have so far been excavated. This house was constructed around 2900 BC. Photo courtesy EASE Archaeology (Graeme Wilson and Hazel Moore).

The Show Must Go On

By: David McVey

Think of an event that lasts for four days near the end of June and which attracted between 170,000 and 180,000 people pre-Covid. It sounds like I’m talking about the Glastonbury music festival but the event I have in mind is very different, has better toilets and catering and you won’t need wellies. This is the Royal Highland Show, Scotland’s largest outdoor event.

For such a major event, the show doesn’t have a massive profile for tourists. Rather, it tends to attract people from Scotland, the North of England and Northern Ireland who are interested in farming, food or rural life – or who just want a different day out. Of course, the Royal Highland Show has suffered during Covid. A curtailed event did go ahead in both 2020 and 2021, but with only online spectators. The 2022 version will admit visitors, though in reduced numbers. But, in some form, it will go ahead; because this is its 200th anniversary.

Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland

The show is run by the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS) which works to improve Scottish agriculture, rural life and industry. It was formed in 1784 and held its first show in 1822. The first show was held in the grounds of Queensberry House in Edinburgh’s Canongate. Queensberry House survives today, incorporated into the Scottish Parliament complex. MSPs now congregate where livestock once paraded. Make of that what you will.

The show has always had strong royal links. In 1859, the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, visited the show. In 1872 his mother, Queen Victoria, asked to be enrolled as an ordinary member of the society. The society and show both acquired ‘Royal’ status in 1948, granted by George VI. His daughter, the present Queen, became patron of the show in 1984 and visited as recently as 2009. The show tends to clash with Royal Ascot.

Each year the show used to be held in a different venue; for example, it travelled to Alloa in 1929, Dundee in 1933 and Inverness in 1948. The last host location of the itinerant years was Aberdeen in 1959. Since 1960, the Royal Highland Centre at Ingliston has been the show’s established home. The site is squeezed between Edinburgh Airport and the busy A8 road. The heart of the site is a large grandstand by the main showing rings where equine showing classes, showjumping and agricultural champions’ parades are held. A highlight is the parade of brewers’ drays from across the UK, the vehicles exquisitely decorated and hauled by magnificent Clydesdales and Shires that smell faintly of shampoo. Scott Brash from Peebles has often competed in the showjumping events; he has been top-rated showjumper in the world and is an Olympic gold medallist. His every clear round brings the house down.

200 years

Not far away from the main arena are the sheep and cattle showing rings, and there are other, more distant showjumping and showing arenas. Much of the vast site is given over to shopping villages and showrooms where you can buy a pair of stirrups or a tractor or a sack of horse feed or a punnet of strawberries or a sturdy tweed jacket. The food exhibition features demonstrations by celebrity chefs and stalls where you can sample the produce of quality food companies from throughout Scotland and beyond. The RHASS have, in recent years, tied to promote quality among the dozens of on-site catering outlets – local sourcing, sustainability and so on. The Royal Highland Show is all about Scottish food and farming; do your duty and eat as much as possible.

At the show, city folk (like me) get to see prize bulls and cows and goats, watch sheep being sheared, experience the sounds and smells of farriery, and visit food stands that explain how goodies get from farm to shop to kitchen. The Royal Highland Educational Trust (RHET) arranges visits for young people to farms and provides educational resources on food and farming. At the show, the RHET runs a special facility where young children can learn about farming and farm animals. The RHET, and the show itself, do their bit to ensure people know where their food comes from.

But there’s more for visitors than an insight into farming and rural life.  The Countryside Arena hosts falconry demonstrations, gundog displays, terrier racing and duck-herding. One year there was an exhibition of ferret-racing which was my highlight of the show. The Forestry Arena offers even more dramatic entertainment, with pole climbers spidering up 100ft tree trunks, axes being hurled at archery targets and mountain bikers performing jaw-dropping leaps and bounds.

A surprising feature of the show is its eclectic selection of musical entertainment, from traditional pipe bands to buskers. I once saw the legendary Alexander Brothers belying their years to wow the crowds. A different take on Scottish traditional music was provided by Clanedonia, an alarming-looking bunch with straggly hair and beards, like battle extras in Braveheart. They perform high-octane music with six drummers, a piper and the energy of a fight outside a pub. One year a schools’ pipe band from West Lothian bravely toured the site playing stirring stuff, defying the miserable conditions of a soggy summer. In another, drier, year the musical headliners were the Red Hot Chili Pipers. The confused announcer introduced them as The Red Hot Chili Peppers. The American rockers would have been a real coup for the show.

The site is served by vast car parks and during the four show days special double-decker buses roll in regularly from Edinburgh. In 2012, the attendance over the four days dropped to 161,000 owing to unremitting rain. Yet the Royal Highland Show can cope with wet, thanks to its permanent buildings and network of tarmac roads and paths. This year will be quieter than usual, but visitors will return. After 200 years, the show must go on.

The Royal Highland Show returns June 23-26th at Ingliston in Edinburgh. For more details see:

Outlander Effect to support tourism recovery

As hit TV series Outlander returns, national tourism body, VisitScotland, has published new research on the ‘Outlander Effect’ during the pandemic. ‘Droughtlander’, the nickname for the period between Outlander seasons, ended in March with the premiere of Season Six. The TV series, based on the books by Diana Gabaldon, is primarily filmed in Scotland (a filming locations map is available on and has been a boon to screen tourism in the country since its first broadcast in 2014, particularly from US and Canadian visitors.

VisitScotland hopes interest in the latest season, combined with the return of international travel, will help support Scotland’s tourism recovery. New figures published by the national tourism organisation, compiled by the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism Business Development, show that despite restrictions and temporary closures during 2020, Outlander-related attractions (historic, cultural, and filming locations) saw more than 1.7 million visitors.  Visitor numbers at Outlander-related attractions peaked at 3.2 million in 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A huge impact on Scottish tourism

There was a 64% drop in total visits to all attractions in Scotland between 2019 and 2020, as monitored by the Moffat Centre. Outlander-related attractions fared better, falling by 45% over the same period. Attraction figures for 2021 have yet to be released.

Jenni Steele, Film and Creative Industries Manager at VisitScotland, said: “Outlander has had a huge impact on Scottish tourism for many years, especially by visitors from the USA and Canada. Despite the devastation to the tourism industry caused by the pandemic, it’s been really encouraging that fans have continued to be drawn to Scotland and our many historic and cultural attractions. With season six on our screens and international travel routes returning, we hope this inspires UK, US and Canadian viewers to plan a trip to the home of Outlander.”  Outlander follows the adventures of World War II time-travelling nurse Claire Randall and her relationship with 18th century Highlander Jamie Fraser.

Main photo: The cast of Outlander Season 6. Photo: Foxtel/Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Shipbuilders of Port Glasgow sculpture assembly complete

Assembly of the giant Shipbuilders of Port Glasgow sculpture is complete in Inverclyde. The huge 10-metre (33 feet) tall stainless-steel figures by renowned artist John McKenna are now in place in the town’s Coronation Park. Lighting will soon be added to illuminate the figures, which pay tribute to the people who served in Port Glasgow and Inverclyde shipyards and made the area world famous for shipbuilding. Landscaping and paving works are also to be carried out and signage added between now and the summer to finish off the project.

Councillor Michael McCormick, Inverclyde Council’s convener of environment and regeneration, said: “The delivery of these sculptures has been a long time coming and much has been said about them but it’s now clear to see that they are quite spectacular, and the reaction thus far suggests they are well on their way to becoming an icon of Inverclyde and the west of Scotland. These sculptures not only pay homage to our rich shipbuilding heritage and the many local people who served in our yards but will also provide another reason for people to discover Inverclyde as we continue to promote the area as a good place to live, work and visit.”

The largest sculptural figure of a shipbuilder in the UK

Sculptor John McKenna was commissioned to create a striking piece of public art for Port Glasgow and the design was chosen following a public vote. The artist said: “When my design of the shipbuilder’s sculpture was overwhelmingly voted for by the people of Port Glasgow, I was absolutely thrilled that my vision for the artwork would be realised. It was no easy task to design and complete the sculpture, a complete unique one-off, a dynamic pose, the colossal pair swinging their riveting hammers, trying to evoke working together. To see the pair finished in metal at full-size was fantastic, for so long these complex figures were all ‘in my head’. That complexity and the size of the work were a huge challenge, not only in the structural design but the faceted plating that is the sculpture surface. These artworks, made in my studio in Ayrshire, are to celebrate the historical shipbuilding industry of Port Glasgow and the impact ‘Clydebuilt’ had on the whole world. They were made for the people of Port Glasgow, those who had faith in my design and voted for it. Hopefully, they will cherish and enjoy these colossal giants of industry for many generations to come.”

The figures measure 10 metres (33 feet) in height with a combined weight of 14 tonnes. It is thought to be the largest sculptural figure of a shipbuilder in the UK and one of the biggest of its kind in Western Europe.

Sustainable Scotland-The Scottish Banner speaks to Lord Thurso, the Chairman of VisitScotland

Lord Thurso was appointed as Chairman of VisitScotland in 2016 and has significant travel industry experience. Lord Thurso and the team at VisitScotland today are responsible for promoting Scotland as not only the incredibly beautiful destination so many know it is,  but also a sustainable destination for many to enjoy into the future. Lord Thurso took time to speak to the Scottish Banner from his home Caithness on how Scotland has managed the tourism downfall caused by the pandemic, what is happening in Scotland in 2022 and why Scotland really is calling so many to come back when they are ready to travel again.

Lord Thurso.

Lord Thurso, you have had a long and varied career in the hospitality and tourism industry. With all your many years of experience how do you feel tourism will begin to rebound, particularly in Scotland, after the last two years?

The first thing is, for me, the core elements of what makes Scotland great, have not changed. And it’s a combination of all the environments: the built heritage, the natural environment, you’ve got the heritage and the history, and you’ve got fantastic people who are dying to do great things and a huge centuries long tradition of hospitality. So those core elements of why people love to come to Scotland are unchanged. So, I have absolutely no doubt that at a moment, we will recover back to where we were in 2019. And actually, go beyond that.

One of the most interesting things for me to remember is that in 2019, we had approximately 3.5 million overseas visitors come into Scotland, and they represented about 43% of the spend that we had. They’re incredibly valuable. Whatever it is about Scotland, that combination of things, it touches heartstrings and pulls people back. And I think that’s coming back. When I look back to the first three or four months of the pandemic and lockdown, and the moment when the entire hospitality industry, every element of tourism, the whole visitor economy was basically closed, I think there was about 10% of the industry that was open looking after key workers, but 90% closed. And I must admit, there were times that I did wonder how we will get through it. But in fact, the interesting thing was that people at home rediscovered they were in Scotland, which was tremendous.

As an example, my own little business here, I had people coming back to stay in cottages and play golf and fish and all these kinds of things and they said, “We haven’t done this for 20 years, we normally go to Spain, or somewhere else. This is rather fun. I think we’ll do this again.” Rediscovering your own country for Scots was quite interesting. What I think will happen and I suspect it will take a year or two to build right back up, but I think there is an immense pent-up demand for people to come back.  I know so many other of the diaspora Scots, that I’ve been in touch with who say, “we just can’t wait to come back”, there is still that emotional pull to come back to Scotland. And it’s one of the huge advantages of brand Scotland is that people have an emotional attachment to Scotland, which is not something you say about every country. The enabler was always going to be the airlines coming back, and the ability to travel without doing umpteen million tests and all the other things and that is now beginning to happen. We’re seeing flights in and out of Glasgow and Edinburgh and connecting flights up from Heathrow. We are certainly expecting this summer to see something of a resurgence, but I suspect this year will be better than two years ago and last year, but not back to 2019 levels.  I think 2023 will be close to 2019 visitor levels and I think 2024 will be exceeding 2019. So, I am hugely optimistic as to the fact that it will happen. I simply don’t know quite the timing.

2022 is Scotland’s Year of Stories, can you tell us more about what the year will hold for visitors to the country?

I thought it was a stroke of genius to come up with the idea of the Year of Stories, because in every part of Scottish tradition, is the tradition of telling tales. Going right back to the wonderful Celtic myths, and right back to the sagas of the Vikings. But then you add into that all the great storytellers, some of the obvious ones like Robert Burns or Sir Walter Scott, but also the modern storytellers and you’ve got Outlander, you’ve got TV, you’ve got films. So, there’s a huge canvas which to take pictures of Scotland. For example, the National Trust for Scotland have put together a range of products based on their places where you tell tales. For example, there is the Sir Walter Scott Trail and there is an Outlander Trail. So, the Year of Stories just gives everybody an opportunity to tell a tale about Scotland, and the visitor will find that all over Scotland, people are telling tales in lots of different ways. From the wonderful peat fire with a lovely peaty whisky and a tall tale of the evening, right through to the history and to modern times, and TV and film trails, there is such a story to tell.

Scotland’s tourism industry is really getting behind responsible tourism. Can you tell us more about just what that means and how visitors to Scotland can also be participants of responsible tourism?

Funnily enough, the genesis of what is now responsible tourism came from a way we began to think at VisitScotland about four years ago, so that predates a lot of what has come since.  I remember saying to my colleagues I feel that the environment is something that we really ought to pay attention to, and I think it’s going to come up the political scale in every country in the world.

We began to look at how do we take carbon out of what we do, because tourism essentially is a good story as tourism brings wealth in. I’ve always defined economic activity of tourism as being to generate the maximum wealth for the minimum environmental and social disruption. But on top of that, being a tremendous wealth generator for the country. It also enhances our wellbeing, and we are all understanding of mental health following two years of isolation and lockdowns. Tourism also spreads understanding and friendship and I am a huge believer in the fact that tourism is a force for good.

So internally, we’ve decarbonized, hugely. Interestingly, one of the things is I don’t travel nearly as much as I used to, but I’ve learned to do things like video conferencing and much more online. We’re great believers in reusing if we possibly can, and recycling if we can’t reuse, and working towards a minimum waste.

We have got a couple of initiatives, one of my favorites was to encourage the use of electric cars on the touring routes, and to talk to some of our big electricity providers about putting in more electric charging points and encouraging more accommodation providers to have electric charging points. And that if you like is all about environmental sustainability, then there’s the community sustainability, which is the other half of it, which is about having a positive impact in the community by supporting jobs and wealth creation and not having a negative one by trashing the place and blocking the roads or whatever it may be. And the two actually go hand in hand.

So, it’s responsible tourism which is the beginning of a journey. It’s about encouraging people to be responsible when they’re here and encouraging businesses to offer a product that is naturally green.

Has the legacy of the recent COP26 (UN Climate Change Conference) event in Glasgow further driven how the Scottish travel industry can show the world just how tourism and sustainability can work together?

I think interestingly, the first thing I’d say is Glasgow appeared on the world stage day in day out for two weeks, and most of the coverage was fantastic. It demonstrated to the world that a major conference can be staged in Glasgow, and there’s no other city in the UK that’s done that. So, the knock-on effect of showing the world just how good we are at major events was a huge plus for the future and I think we will get a lot of business coming into Glasgow and Edinburgh on the back of COP26.

My sense was that for the first time probably ever in the history of COP conferences that there was a huge willingness to try and achieve something, and it was the first conference where coal was allowed to be discussed, and a kind of no coal future was part of the conference.  I think that reflects the fact that really, everybody now gets that the manmade heating of the planet is not going to be a terribly good thing. And if we want to preserve the planet, in the way we like it, then we’re going to have to do something about it. One of the things I learned about it was that a large chunk of it is going to be about changing behavior, but it’s also going to be about technology. I see the unbelievable advances that are taking place, literally in the space of two or three years, which is going to be a huge difference. Some of the technologies we think we’re going to be able to invent, but we haven’t invented yet. Scotland certainly took COP26 to its heart, and what a wonderful way to introduce people to Scotland, and Glasgow, but through one of the most important conferences for one of the most important topics that has ever taken place. So, I thought it was fabulous, and we’re doing everything we can to build on that.

Last year VisitScotland became the first National Tourist Board to declare a Climate Emergency. Can you tell us why that was so important for VisitScotland to do and how you aim to play a leading role in the development of Scotland as a globally recognised responsible destination?

I am absolutely convinced that the generations that are coming along, they want to enjoy a destination, they want experiences, but they want to do it responsibly. And if they have a choice between somewhere that takes account of that and was working hard on sustainability, and somewhere else that doesn’t, I think they will choose the sustainable product every time. I think it’s in part about doing the right thing, but I think it makes huge economic sense. And I think that’s what really will drive this. And I’m convinced if we can say, we’ve created a visitor experience that doesn’t use any carbon, I think that’s a choice that people will make. I see it as one of the things that within the next few years will become one of our great unique selling points. Scotland is not only a beautiful place, but it’s a sustainably beautiful place, and one the visitor can enjoy sustainably.

Scotland is such a varied destination with incredible natural assets, creative and vibrant cities and coastlines that transport you to another time. For a relatively small country it more than packs in much for the visitor, how easy, or hard, is it to showcase the huge variety Scotland has to offer to potential visitors?

Well, the wonderful starting point is that virtually everybody in the world is heard of Scotland. All across the world in Africa and Asia and beyond armies have regiments with pipes and drums. It’s one of those extraordinary exports that exists. There is a reach from Scotland, that goes right across the world that very few other countries have. Are problem to a certain extent is that reach is bagpipes, shortbread, and Edinburgh Castle.

The great thing is to look at that hook of the fact people know something about Scotland and give them the rest of Scotland. That plays into our current campaign, Scotland is Calling, which is all about understanding that there is emotion involved, and it is about appealing to people’s emotions and appealing to how people feel about Scotland.

What you appeal to is the sentiment, what you appeal to is the sense of experience. If we offer an experience that’s clearly got emotion behind it and feeling, we get far more hook into people.

You come from Caithness in the north of Scotland, an area often untouched by tourists. Can you tell us a bit more about this special region and perhaps why visitors should consider it on their next visit?

Duncansby Head is the most north-easterly part of the British mainland in Caithness.
Photo: VisitScotland/Kenny Lam.

The first thing I’d say is Caithness is an example of lots of bits of Scotland which are slightly off the beaten track. I have had the privilege as Chairman of VisitScotland to visit huge amounts of Scotland that I had never seen before and there really is just so many different places that offer something different. So, I would encourage people to come to Caithness but also to lots of different parts, for example if you go into Dumfries and Galloway and locations like that, as there’s huge, wonderful places off the beaten track.  I visited several spots in the country that are such a pleasure to see like across Aberdeenshire or visit the whisky trail. Scotland offers a rich smorgasbord of experiences for everybody to enjoy.

Caithness is a wonderful county; several writers have described it as being beyond the Highlands. The names up here are mostly Norse, and we have a huge amount in common with the Orkney Islands and people often describe Caithness as an island that didn’t manage to get through. I think we have spectacular coastal landscapes, stunning sea birds, and then right up butting up against these beautiful Heather headlands.

Then, in the middle of the county, you have the blanket bog, known as the flow country, which is taken from a Norse word meaning wet boggy place and the flow country of Caithness and Sutherland is the largest blanket bog in the world. There are more carbons sequestered in the peat of Caithness and Sutherland than in the entire Amazonian rainforest. It’s a stunning world class environment and we are very hopeful it will become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of course, I happen to think that the people of Caithness are among the most special of Scots and we have a reputation for very warm hospitality.

The international Scottish community has always been a strong driver of inbound tourism to Scotland. How important does this market continue to be for Scotland and what message do you have for the Scottish Diaspora now getting ready to make plans to come back ‘home’ for a visit?

My message is we’re here with open arms ready and willing to look after you. It’s Haste Ye Back, but when it’s safe, and you’re comfortable to do so. I think that level of comfort is coming this year and so what we always say to everybody is, is that “Scotland is Calling”, we’re calling out to you, we are here, we love you, we remember you, and we’re ready to look after you as and when you are ready. But do it when you’re comfortable. So hopefully across the globe, the Scottish diaspora is getting ready to come back and when people feel they’d like to, we’re ready to welcome them. It’s always good to see the diaspora coming back and we so appreciate how much they amplify the sound of Scotland in their communities and teach non-Scots what fun it is to come and be in Scotland. I’m hugely grateful for the fact that all the organisations across America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the rest of the world, do such a really great job in helping us promote Scotland.

Plan your next trip, or be inspired to VisitScotland at:

Commemorating The Battle of Littleferry

By: Alison Cameron

The Battle of Littleferry was fought, near Golspie, Sutherland on 15th April 1746. This month, on 15th April,  a memorial stone is to be unveiled and a “pilot” battlefield trail launched. A history of the battle is also being written.

Exciting plans to commemorate a previously unheralded Jacobean battle in Golspie in the Highlands – previously overshadowed by events at Culloden the following day – are accelerating.  The Battle of Littleferry on April 15, 1746, between government forces and supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie, resulted in as many as 100 being killed and twice that number injured.  Now, this little-known piece of Jacobean history is to be marked later this year with the erection of a large memorial stone and garden at the site, a mile or so south west of Golspie, in memory of those who fell on both sides.

Overshadowed so much by Culloden

The small village of Golspie is in Sutherland on the eastern seaboard of the county. Littleferry, a hamlet of just a few cottages at the time, is about three miles along the shoreline. Littleferry resident Major General Patrick Marriott initiated the idea of the memorial and has gathered a project team together to take the idea forward. He has written a full history of the skirmish, which resulted in the defeat of the rebel Jacobites, in spite of them outnumbering the government forces by perhaps as much as 2-1.

Major General Patrick Marriott.

He says: “This is the first time ever that a full history of the battle has been written and is being captured by the erection of a memorial stone. Very few have really been able to research the battle before and little interest has been shown in it. Increasing digitisation and access to hitherto largely unknown primary sources has made this much easier. The battle was overshadowed so much by Culloden that it disappeared; yet how many villages in the UK have a pristine battlefield around them?”

276th anniversary

The stone at its original site on the hills above Golspie.

The stone will be dedicated at a special ceremony to commemorate the 276th anniversary of the battle on April 15 this year. Plans for the event to take place in 2021 on the 275th anniversary had to be postponed because of Covid restrictions. The stone itself was identified on land above Golspie and has recently been transferred to the site itself. It is believed to date back more than 400 million years and stands around 6ft high with a width of 5ft. However, such an imposing stone also presented a logistical nightmare – how to transport it to the memorial site? Weighing about 10 tons and having to negotiate mainly single-track roads it was quite a challenge for the team!

Littleferry today.

The battle started at Dunrobin Castle on the outskirts of the village, seat of the House of Sutherland. As fighting became more fierce, the Jacobites realised that despite superior numbers, they were being outflanked. They made their escape along the Littleferry road, with various skirmishes along the way, until they were surrounded at Littleferry pier with only the sea as an escape route. A few managed to board small boats but many were captured and Prince Charlie’s men eventually surrendered. The fascinating Battle of Littleferry book, going into the background to the events as well as monitoring in fine detail the roll-out of the battle,  will be launched on the same day as the dedication ceremony.

A battlefield trail has also been created with six way-marker stones placed along the route from Dunrobin. These will eventually have QR facilities for those travelling the route to learn about its history. The trail is also incorporated within the book. Local schools are being involved and the Sutherland Schools Pipe Band have written a special tune to commemorate the battle. Talks are being held with the Culloden Visitor Centre to have a historic link between the two sites. The Royal British Legion Scotland have agreed to hold a ceremony annually from next year, at the memorial site, to commemorate the dead on both sides.

Keep up with developments or learn more at:

Can Robert Burns’ Soul of Freedom Save Us From Another Civil War?

By: Andrew McDiarmid

He survived the cancel culture of his day to become the favorite poet of presidents. His song Auld Lang Syne is among the most recognized choruses in history. He championed honesty and humility over wealth and rank. Son of a farmer and hailing from an obscure village in southwest Scotland, Robert Burns became a household name in the United States throughout the 19th century, inspiring many in the new republic with his catchy lyrics promoting equality, liberty, and democracy. And in 2022, he can inspire us again to be a humble, grateful people deserving of the American experiment.

Scotland’s Bard

Long before the Battle of Fort Sumter ignited the Civil War in 1861, a teenage Abraham Lincoln discovered Scotland’s Bard. Along with Holy Scripture and Shakespeare, Lincoln quickly committed to memory some of Burns’s most popular poems and songs, including Tam o’ Shanter, The Twa Dogs, and Scots Wha Hae. Here was a man from similar humble beginnings who not only shared a strong faith in God’s providence but also conviction in the intrinsic worth of the ordinary individual. As Ferenc Morton Szasz points out in his book Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns: Connected Lives and Legends, Lincoln found in Burns a kindred spirit he would carry with him throughout his whole life. And it would not be unreasonable to say that Burns’s lyrics about the equality of man reinforced the belief in Lincoln’s heart that all men are created equal. “The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,” Burns puts it. “The man’s the gowd (gold) for a’ that.”

Some say we’re on the verge of another civil war in America. And while that may sound extreme, it’s certainly true that we’re a divided people. Respectful interaction is getting harder to find. Tolerance is in short supply. Vitriol is plentiful. But Burns can help us move past this polarizing, combative moment to see each other once again as brothers and sisters. His advice is threefold: rise above cancel culture, remember who we really are underneath it all, and live with that “soul of Freedom.”

Burns offered bold ideas in his work, and for that, he had his haters. If he had kept his mouth shut like his superiors in the Board of Excise wanted him to, he would have gotten promoted. But he couldn’t, and we’re all better for it. Whether it was ratting on him to authorities as a sympathizer of the French Revolution or walking on the other side of the street to shun him, upset locals and leaders made efforts to de-platform him. But while he vented privately to friends about the miscreants who “deliberately plot the destruction of an honest man,” he kept writing, penning some of his bravest and best lines in what would be the last years of his life.

Burns lives on

Andrew McDiarmid.

Burns had a keen sense of human nature, knowing we all have the same worth irrespective of title, class, or background. For this, he is cherished by those of all stations in life. In his book, Szasz declares that “[f]reethinker and cleric, Democrat and Republican, socialist and entrepreneur—somehow everyone could find a way to celebrate the lyrics of Robert Burns.” And if you know your worth and the value of those around you, Burns holds, you’ll be more likely to “gently scan your brother man, Still gentler sister woman,” and let He who made the heart do the judging.

Burns was a great admirer of the American cause of independence. His Ode for General Washington’s Birthday may as well have been an ode to liberty itself: “But come, ye sons of Liberty, Columbia’s offspring, brave as free, in danger’s hour still flaming in the van, Ye know, and dare maintain the Royalty of Man!” He goes on to praise the arm that crushed Usurpation’s boldest daring and the Despot’s proudest bearing. Seeing America come into its own would have gladdened Burns’s heart immensely. Let’s live with what he described as the soul of Freedom. Let’s take none of our freedoms for granted. And let’s fulfill the responsibilities of freedom too, both to our nation and to our fellow citizens.

Robert Burns has been dead for over two centuries. The American republic has been alive about the same amount of time. Burns lives on through his words, and every year his birthday is celebrated across the globe, for good reason. America can live on too, if we can remember who we are and the value of what we hold in our hands.

Andrew McDiarmid is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. Born and raised in Scotland’s capital city, he hosts Simply Scottish, the long-running podcast of Scottish music and features. His writing has appeared in the New York Post, The Scots Magazine, History Scotland Magazine, and others. Learn more at

This piece first appeared on the American Greatness website:

Threat to the future of Geelong’s Highland Gathering

By: Daryl McLure

The future of one of Geelong’s longest running and most popular events, the Geelong Highland Gathering, first held in 1857, is in doubt because it is unable to attract younger people to join its committee. The Gathering, held on the third Sunday in March, has led a nomadic existence since being evicted from its modern home of 53 years – Queen’s Park, Newtown – in 2011. It has since been held at Fyansford, Geelong Showgrounds, Deakin University, Goldsworthy Reserve, Corio and, in 2019, at Osborne Park, North Geelong. It was not held in 2020 and 2021 because of the corona-virus pandemic and also was not held this year for the same reason.

Massed bands at Deakin University.

Gathering President and Chieftain, Dr Maurice Marshall, said most committee members were in their 60s and 70s and an injection of younger blood was needed to ensure the survival of the event. “The City of Greater Geelong and Geelong Major Events Committee have been wonderful supporters of the Gathering and we hope to find a new permanent home where we can rebuild it to once again be the second largest, perhaps even the largest, Highland Gathering in Australia. But we do need a younger generation to become involved and develop a vision for the future,” Dr Marshall said.

Meeting of the Clans

Highland dancing at a Gathering in Geelong more than 100 years ago.

The first Geelong Highland Gathering was held in South Geelong, in 1857, organised by the Comunn Na Feinne Society, itself formed only a year earlier. Comunn Na Feinne, in Scottish Gaelic, means “Meeting of the Clans”  which, in many respects, is what Highland gatherings are all about. The Comunn Na Feinne Hotel, on the corner of Kilgour and Bellarine Streets, South Geelong, is a reminder of the past. Geelong’s gathering was the first held in Victoria and was only the second in Australia. It came to an end in 1929, due to the Great Depression, but Newtown City Council resurrected it in 1957, when looking for a showpiece event for Queen’s Park.

In 1993 and 1994, with municipal amalgamation, the gathering was held under the auspices of the newly-formed City of Greater Geelong (CoGG). The Geelong Highland Gathering Committee was formed in 1995 and took over the organising of the event with financial support from the CoGG council.  The new committee, over the next 26 years, built the Gathering into one of the largest pipe band contests and Scottish events in Australia. Queen’s Park became permanent home to the Victorian Pipe Band Championships, and they were also held in new Geelong sites in in 2014 and 20125 (Deakin University) and 2017, 2018 and 2019.

“Geelong has a great Scottish history and is close to Melbourne with its population of more than three million people. There is still room for Geelong to expand its gathering if it can rebuild its committee with younger blood and find a permanent home once again which can win over Victorian and Australian pipe band championship organisers. It has been a wonderful major event for Geelong over so many years.” Dr Marshall said.  

For further information about joining the Geelong Highland Gathering committee, contact: Marene Turnley, Gathering secretary, 0407 512 672 or [email protected]

For more information on the Geelong Highland Gathering see:

Rare Pictish symbol stone found near potential site of famous battle

Archaeologists have uncovered a Pictish symbol stone close to the location of one of the most significant carved stone monuments ever uncovered in Scotland. The team from the University of Aberdeen hit upon the 1.7metre-long stone in a farmer’s field while conducting geophysical surveys to try and build a greater understanding of the important Pictish landscape of Aberlemno, near Forfar. Aberlemno is already well known for its Pictish heritage thanks to its collection of unique Pictish standing stones the most famous of which is a cross-slab thought to depict scenes from a battle of vital importance to the creation of what would become Scotland – the Battle of Nechtansmere.

Leading Pictish research

The University of Aberdeen archaeological dig site at Aberlemno.

The archaeologists were conducting geophysics surveys of the ground early in 2020 in an effort to better understand the history of the existing stones as part of the Leverhulme Trust funded Comparative Kingship project. Taking imaging equipment over the ground, they found anomalies which looked like evidence of a settlement. A small test pit was dug to try and establish whether the remains of any buildings might be present but to their surprise, the archaeologists came straight down onto a carved Pictish symbol stone, one of only around 200 known. Their efforts to establish the character of the stone and settlement were hindered by subsequent Covid lockdowns and it was several months before they were able to return to verify their find. The team think the stone dates to around the fifth or sixth century and they have painstakingly excavated part of the settlement and removed it from its resting place – finding out more about the stone and its setting.

Professor Gordon Noble who leads the project says stumbling upon a stone as part of an archaeological dig is very unusual. He said: “Here at the University of Aberdeen we’ve been leading Pictish research for the last decade but none of us have ever found a symbol stone before. There are only around 200 of these monuments known. They are occasionally dug up by farmers ploughing fields or during the course of road building but by the time we get to analyse them, much of what surrounds them has already been disturbed. To come across something like this while digging one small test pit is absolutely remarkable and none of us could quite believe our luck. The benefits of making a find in this way are that we can do much more detailed work in regard to the context. We can examine and date the layers underneath it and extract much more detailed information without losing vital evidence.”

Pictish symbols

Images such as a mirror can be found carved into the stone.

Research fellow Dr James O’Driscoll who initially discovered the stone describes the excitement: “We thought we’d just uncover a little bit more before we headed off for the day. We suddenly saw a symbol. There was lots of screaming. Then we found more symbols and there was more screaming and a little bit of crying! It’s a feeling that I’ll probably never have again on an archaeological site. It’s a find of that scale.” Like the other stones at Aberlemno, the new discovery appears to be intricately carved with evidence of classic abstract Pictish symbols including triple ovals, a comb and mirror, a crescent and V rod and double discs. Unusually the stone appears to show different periods of carving with symbols overlying one another. The stone has now been moved to Graciela Ainsworth conservation lab in Edinburgh where more detailed analysis will take place. Professor Noble hopes that it could make a significant contribution to understanding the significance of Aberlemno to the Picts.

Dr Noble added: “The stone was found built into the paving of a huge building from the 11th or 12th century. The paving included the Pictish stones and examples of Bronze Age rock art. Excitingly the 11th-12th century building appears to be built directly on top of settlement layers extending back to the Pictish period. The cross-slab that stands in the nearby church at Aberlemno has long been thought to depict King Bridei Mac Bili’s defeat of the Anglo Saxon King Ecgfrith in 685, which halted the expansion of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms to the north. The settlement of Dunnichen, from which the battle is thought to have taken its name, is just a few miles from Aberlemno. In recent years scholars have suggested another potential battle site in Strathspey, but the sheer number of Pictish stones from Aberlemno certainly suggests the Aberlemno environs was a hugely important landscape to the Picts. The discovery of this new Pictish symbol stone and evidence that this site was occupied over such a long period will offer new insights into this significant period in the history of Scotland as well as helping us to better understand how and why this part of Angus became a key Pictish landscape and latterly an integral part of the kingdoms of Alba and Scotland.”

Researchers will now be working with the Pictish Arts Society to develop a fundraising campaign for the conservation and display of the stone.

Broch-t back to life

A millennia-old, ‘new-build’: first look at archaeological group’s ‘grand design’ for ancient monument.

Archaeological charity Caithness Broch Project (CBP) has unveiled their impressive vision for the first broch to be built in Scotland in 2,000 years. Brochs – tall, double-walled, drystone towers found only in Scotland – were once common features in the Iron Age landscape across the Highlands and Islands, and Caithness can lay claim to have more brochs than anywhere else. CBP now want to recreate one as a thriving visitor attraction for the county. The visuals, created by digital reconstruction artist Bob Marshall, showcase the ambitious aims of the charity, who seek to construct the monument using tools and techniques only available to their Iron Age counterparts. The broch, designed by CBP co-founder Iain Maclean, reflects the wider architectural repertoire of brochs across Scotland, incorporates a number of flourishes such as triangular doorway lintels, cells built into the broch itself, and a series of outbuildings such as wags, wheelhouses and blockhouses.

Broch construction from all over Scotland

Digital reconstruction of an iron age broch.

“We wanted to capture a variety of features found in Broch construction from all over Scotland, so the design isn’t a carbon copy of any individual Broch but instead is a kind of chimaera of elements chosen for a number of reasons, ranging from structural robustness, health and safety, or purely because they were interesting. features.” said co-founder and director Iain Maclean.

Maclean also noted that there were “elements of the design such as the roof and the construction of the floors that had to be figured out with a degree of educated guesswork and speculation given that none of these survive in archaeological record”, remarking that their broch vision was “as honest an interpretation of what a Broch looked like as we may ever arrive at.”

It is hoped that the project will become an important visitor attraction for the region of Caithness, which has recently been projected to lose over 20% of its population over the next 20 years. “This project will be a hugely important one for the county,” remarked CBP director Kenneth McElroy, “not only do we want this to become a sustainable and successful contribution to the economy of Caithness, but it could become an icon for the county too.”

Caithness Broch Project hope to acquire land for the construction of the broch within the next year, with funding sources from a variety of sources. By 2023 it is hoped they can begin their project in earnest, involving a wide range of skilled heritage craftspeople.

For more on Caithness Broch Project, visit
To view more of Bob Marshall’s work, please visit

Images courtesy of the Caithness Broch Project.

Inaugural President’s Day ceremony held at newly restored Abraham Lincoln Statue in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Culture and Communities Vice Convener Cllr Amy McNeese-Mechan has joined representatives of White House Historical Association, U.S. Consulate and Scottish Government to lay wreaths at restored Abraham Lincoln Statue in new Presidents’ Day tradition. On Presidents’ Day 2022 (21 February), wreaths were laid at the foot of the Abraham Lincoln statue and war memorial at the Old Calton Cemetery in Edinburgh. The new annual tradition has been initiated by the White House Historical Association, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving, protecting, and providing access to White House history.

Association President, Stewart McLaurin, travelled to Edinburgh over the Christmas period and visited the monument, which was inaugurated in 1893 to commemorate Scottish soldiers who died in the Union Army during the American Civil War. The memorial includes a statue of the 16th President, the first statue of any American president in Europe and still the sole statue of a U.S. president in Scotland, and a freed slave and is also believed to be the only memorial to the Civil War outside the USA. Inspired by this and his own Scottish roots, McLaurin proposed a new annual tradition of marking on Presidents’ Day Lincoln’s life and the historic relationship between Scotland and the United States.

The United States and Scotland share many deep and profound connections

U.S. Consul General Jack Hillmeyer laid a wreath on behalf of the association and the U.S. Government alongside Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture, Angus Robertson MSP, and City of Edinburgh’s Culture and Communities Vice Convener Councillor, Amy McNeese-Mechan. The occasion also saw the unveiling of a minor restoration of the statue, which had been missing a spearhead on one of its regimental flags for over 40 years. The spearhead had been broken off and collected for repairs, sitting in various workshops for this time and had been thought lost. It was of great surprise when it was returned to the council in late 2021 by a now-retired employee now living in Spain who had kept it for safekeeping during various workshop moves.

Stewart McLaurin, President of the White House Historical Association said: “To see a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Edinburgh is a thrilling reminder of how he bent American history towards the arc of justice—and of our nation’s deep ties and everlasting friendship with Scotland.”

Jack Hillmeyer, U.S. Consul General said: “The United States and Scotland share many deep and profound connections. The Scottish American Soldiers Monument provides a constant reminder that our close relationship even extends to the field of battle. This ceremony is a fitting tribute to Lincoln, whose shining example of leadership during America’s darkest hour continues to inspire, and the Scots who were moved to fight for freedom and equality on American shores.”

Main photo: Angus Robertson MSP, U.S. Consul General Jack Hillmeyer and Amy McNeese-Mechan.

Lismore City Pipe Band marching on despite devastating flood damage

The submerged pipe band hall

Late on one steamy February afternoon, alerts started to reach the residents of northern New South Wales, sounding the alarm that the unusually heavy rain that had been hammering Southeast Queensland was now bearing down their way. Knowing that their gear could be in danger, members of the Lismore City Pipe Band sprung into action as soon as they heard the news. As one of those now-rare bands that own their own practice hall, they moved quickly to pack up and shift everything of value – uniforms, instruments, memorabilia, supplies and equipment – to higher ground in the hall’s upper level. They left that evening reassured that everything was carefully stored away as securely as possible, and well above the 1974 flood line – the highest levels that water had previously reached.

Interior hall damage.

Then just a few days later, they watched on in horror as their town was almost completely submerged by a staggering 14.4 metre floodwater peak – a new record, at more than two metres higher than any previous flood on record. The roaring floodwater caused devastating damage to a region that was already struggling after the consecutive blows of 2020’s catastrophic bushfires followed by the global pandemic. The band’s hall was entirely inundated, only the very top of the roof was visible when the floodwater peaked at an estimated 5.5 metres – and several band members’ houses and business were also severely impacted by the disaster.

The band remains stoically optimistic

“The local community have been coming together with flood rescues, accommodation, food, clothing and other assistance,” said Pipe Sergeant and Acting Secretary Scott Cameron, who’s been a member of Lismore City Pipe Band for more than 40 years. “We’ve also been so grateful for how so many people from the pipe band community have reached out to us and offered support.”

Since the floodwaters receded, band members have cleaned down the hall itself and salvaged any uniforms and instruments that they could, while also helping band members and other residents reclaim what they could of their homes and livelihoods. “We’ve been lucky to have saved most of our uniforms and drums, but we’ve lost a lot of other equipment, including tenor and bass drumsticks, a few sets of bagpipes, and our drum cases, plus some other stuff we’re not sure yet whether we can restore,” Scott said. “The worst was probably throwing out 75 years of ruined records and photos. You think this stuff is totally safe and secure in your hall, and then the unexpected happens. Totally heartbreaking, but had to be done.” 

The hall itself is still structurally sound but has suffered significant damage inside, and with limited opportunities for performance income and fundraising over the last few years, the band was already finding it difficult to sustain the cost of building maintenance and running the organisation. Now, even while working through the adversity of trying to replace expensive equipment, pay for repairs, and rebuild the organisation, the band remains stoically optimistic. “It will be a tough few weeks and months, but we’re hoping to have a band on the street for Anzac Day for our community,” Scott said. 

Pipe Bands Queensland is supporting Lismore City Pipe Band to get back on their feet and into the circle – they will be collecting gold-coin donations at all association-run competitions during the 2022 season, working with local businesses to secure equipment donations, offering tutoring and instructional support for the band and its players, and helping the band set up an online fundraising website to collect donations from well-wishes who live further afield. Please visit the Pipe Bands Queensland website for more information on how you can help:

World’s largest Jurassic pterosaur unearthed on Scottish island

A spectacular fossil of a huge flying reptile known as a pterosaur, that was found on the Isle of Skye, is the largest of its kind ever discovered from the Jurassic period. The giant winged creature, more popularly known as pterodactyls, lived around 170 million years ago and had an estimated wingspan of more than 2.5 metres. The fossil is the best-preserved skeleton of a pterosaur found in Scotland, experts say. The species has been given the Gaelic name Dearc sgiathanach (pronounced jark ski-an-ach), which translates as ‘winged reptile’ and also references the Isle of Skye, whose Gaelic name means ‘the winged isle.’

The unique specimen, discovered during a National Geographic Society-funded excavation in 2017, will now be added to National Museums Scotland’s collection and studied further. The find is described in a new paper published in Current Biology authored by scientists from the University of Edinburgh, National Museums Scotland, the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, the University of St Andrews and Staffin Museum on the Isle of Skye.

A superlative Scottish fossil

Lead author, University of Edinburgh PhD student Natalia Jagielska, said: “Dearc is a fantastic example of why palaeontology will never cease to be astounding. Pterosaurs preserved in such quality are exceedingly rare and are usually reserved to select rock formations in Brazil and China. And yet, an enormous superbly preserved pterosaur emerged from a tidal platform in Scotland.”

Professor Steve Brusatte, Personal Chair of Palaeontology and Evolution, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, said: “This is a superlative Scottish fossil. The preservation is amazing, far beyond any pterosaur ever found in Scotland and probably the best British skeleton found since the days of Mary Anning in the early 1800s. Dearc is the biggest pterosaur we know from the Jurassic period and that tells us that pterosaurs got larger much earlier than we thought, long before the Cretaceous period when they were competing with birds, and that’s hugely significant.”

Dr Nick Fraser, Keeper of Natural Sciences at National Museums Scotland, said: “Even in the context of the amazing palaeontological finds on Skye in recent years, this one really is remarkable. To find and describe a specimen which is both so well-preserved and so significant is really special and we’re delighted to add Dearc into our collection, a unique addition to the fossil record and a specimen which will be studied now and long into the future.”

Amelia Penny, a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, discovered the fossil during a field trip in 2017, led by Brusatte, after spotting its jaw protruding from the limestone layer on a tidal platform at Rubha nam Brathairean (known as Brothers’ Point). She alerted colleagues who inspected and identified the head of a pterosaur. A painstaking operation ensued to extract the fossil, led by Dugald Ross of Staffin Museum, involving the use of diamond-tipped saws to cut it from the rock, all while racing against time as the tide came in. After the fossil was salvaged, it was brought to the University of Edinburgh for analysis and description. CT scans of the skull have revealed large optic lobes, which indicate that Dearc would have had good eyesight.

The Mesozoic era

The specimen will be the subject of further study by PhD student Natalia Jagielska, which aims to reveal more about Dearc’s behaviour, particularly how it lived and flew. She adds: “To achieve flight, pterosaurs had hollow bones with thin bone walls, making their remains incredibly fragile and unfit to preserving for millions of years. And yet our skeleton, ~160 million years on since its death, remains in almost pristine condition, articulated and almost complete. Its sharp fish-snatching teeth still retaining a shiny enamel cover as if he were alive mere weeks ago.”

Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to evolve powered flight, some 50 million years before birds. They lived throughout the Mesozoic era – the so-called age of reptiles – as far back as the Triassic Period, about 230 million years ago. In the later Cretaceous Period – the time of Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops – and immediately before the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, pterosaurs grew to the size of fighter jets.

However, they were previously thought to have been much smaller during the Jurassic Period. Fragmentary specimens from England had hinted at the possibility that larger pterosaurs lived during the Jurassic Period and Dearc sgiathanach is the first complete specimen to confirm this.

Main photo: Natalia Jagielska, Lead author, University PhD student with the world’s largest Jurassic pterosaur. Photo: © Stewart Attwood.

Bay City Rollers tartan to march at New York’s Tartan Day Parade

Mrs Eileen Longmuir proudly wearing the Alan Longmuir Proud Son of Edinburgh tartan.

In the 1970’s the Bay City Rollers were one of Scotland’s hottest exports. Fans the world over were obsessed with Les, Alan, Derek, Eric and Woody and Rollermania was born. The founder members, Alan and Derek Longmuir created the band in the front room of 5 Caledonian Road,  Edinburgh, after which their lives were never the same again. With their half-mast trousers and scarves tied to wrists,  they made tartan trendy and for the next forty odd years the Rollers were synonymous with tartan.  

When Alan passed away 2nd July 2018 there was huge outpouring of grief from fans the world over, a true legend had gone. Lesley Stirrat, a lifelong fan and traditional kiltmaker, had the idea of honouring Alan with his own tartan. The idea was run past friend and fellow fan Gillian Watkins and Alan’s wife Eileen, who both loved the idea and so the seed was sown. Working with Marton Mills, designs and colours were discussed and chosen. The colours chosen were purple for the heather, green for the Ochil Hills, blue for the Bannock Burn and pink a favourite of Eileen and Lesley. Next was the name, although Alan lived for many years in Bannockburn near Stirling, he was always first and foremost a proud son of Edinburgh and so this beautiful tartan, the Official Alan Longmuir Proud Son of Edinburgh tartan was born.

Team Tartan in the Big Apple

On 9th April 2022 Bay City Roller fans from all around the world will be taking part in the world-famous New York City Tartan Week grand finale, the Tartan Day Parade.  Eileen was touched and honoured beyond words when she was told that the march, down iconic 6th Avenue into Central Park, was to be in honour and memory of Alan. Eileen, Lesley and Gillian were so thrilled that Alan’s Proud Son of Edinburgh tartan was to be the featured and showcased tartan on the day. Lesley and Gillian are beyond excited to now be able to complete the “Team Tartan” attendance Stateside and join with Eileen and 100 other fans from across the UK and around the world, at this unique and exciting fan event.

For Eileen it will be especially poignant as only a few years ago Alan was asked to be the honoured Grand Marshall of the Tartan Day parade that year, but alas was unable to do so. Perhaps with his own beautiful tartan being waved and displayed, it will almost be like him being there after all. If folks at home the world over, who cannot attend, display their tartan at home in Alan’s honour on the day, we can show the world that though he is no longer with us, Alan Longmuir, Proud Son of Edinburgh, the original Bay City Roller can still turn the world tartan.

You can follow the story, and journey to New York this month, of the Official Alan Longmuir Proud Son of Edinburgh tartan at:

The New York City Tartan Day Parade takes place on Saturday, 9th April, 2022. For details see:

Main photo: Bay City Rollers founding member Alan Longmuir.

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