Home Heritage

By David Black

In 2009 UNESCO, the Paris-based organisation which designates world heritage sites, tore a strip off the burgermeisters of Dresden for their proposal to build a bridge across the River Elbe. This would ruin one of the classic views of the ‘Florence on the Elbe’, it was claimed, albeit a largely reconstructed faux Florence, the authentic Dresden having been smashed to smithereens by British and American carpet bombing in the closing months of the second world war. The bridge-building burgermeisters were unapologetic, and they had more than two thirds of the citizens on their side. They also had the backing of the German courts. None of this impressed UNESCO. Dresden was stripped of its World Heritage Site status. Nothing daunted, the Dresdeners built their bridge. It opened to traffic this weekend.
UNESCO perhaps had a point, and a protest movement which included the author Gunter Grass had very sensibly suggested a tunnel might be a bit less obvious. Moreover, this is a bridge which will never win a beauty contest. That said, the pontificating heritage boffins in Paris have not exactly covered themselves in glory. For one thing, it’s really most amusing that UNESCO itself is housed in a rather tired-looking 1950s accordian-shaped megablock in the otherwise fashionable 7th Arrondissement. It was co-designed by a bunch of once trendy post-war ‘name’ architects chosen by a committee of worthies, and is not without merit, but no-one with a functioning brain could possibly suggest that it was sympathetic to its wider urban environment. Moreover, try looking towards the Seine from the Eiffel Tower and you’ll see a bridge remarkably similar to the one across the Elbe which has caused such offence. Shouldn’t Paris, too, be stripped of its World Heritage Site status? Seems only fair, if you ask me.
Then there’s the tricky issue of the cherry-picking. Take the case of the Scottish Parliament Building, which was purportedly built at Holyrood – the more accurate geographical designation of its site would be ‘The Watergate’, which lies immediately outside the Holyrood precinct, but for some reason they just won’t use the correct name. Wimpish ICOMOS, which has been advising UNESCO since 1972, refused to be drawn into the controversy on the grounds that it was too ‘politically sensitive’. Telling the residents and politicians of Saxony that their bridge is a ‘national disgrace’, on the other hand, would appear to be not in the least politically sensitive.
The Scottish parliament is a building which, as initially conceived, had elements of imagination, and insofar as there was a stupid and inflexible political determination to build something on the Watergate site rather than occupy an exisiting parliament building on Calton Hill, the other-worldly lyricism of Enric Miralles’ competition submission clearly had an aesthetic which other entrants to the somewhat restiricted competition lacked. Unfortunately the Miralles scheme was handed over to the civil servants’ favourite architects, RMJM. The aesthetic was debased, and all hell broke loose. The Watergate building was more or less doubled in size as lyricism gave way to concrete corporatism – albeit a state corporatism disguised by such cosmetic flourishes as bamboo window bars which gave the place the air of a Texan correctional facility, and ‘hair dryer’ Zimbabwean black granite panels. The costs went berserk, notching up world-record budget over-runs which made Utzon’s Sydney Opera House look like a bargain basement deal.
The most galling thing about the Scottish Parliament Building is that it isn’t even Scottish. It was entirely Downing Street’s baby, fronted by Tony’s man in Scotland, the late Donald Dewar. The underlying dynamic, you’ll be pleased to hear, was rumbling discontent amongst certain non-London-metropolitan Labour heavyweights over the cost of that most banal of iconic indulgences, the Millennium Dome. This was something of a headache for the chablis and seared polenta set, and doubtless ruined many a New Labour lunch at The Ivy. Peter Mandelson got a lot of gripe from the gritty northern comrades, so some wonk came up with a cunning ruse. Why not build similar modernist icons in Cardiff and Edinburgh? We could throw in a couple of baubles for Liverpool and Newcastle while we were at it – that should shut them up.
Holyrood was planned as New Labour’s ‘Cool Britannia’ gift to Scotland. We were all meant to be eternally grateful for such largesse (notwithstanding that it would be paid for out of the Scottish assigned budget!) but it backfired disastrously. As the farce became ever more baroque, London sought to maintain a distance from it, and it became a ‘Scottish problem’ – Edwina Currie even started prattling on about how the Holyrood debacle was proof positive that the Scots were congenitally incapable of looking after anything, never mind themselves. The Fraser enquiry carefully avoided any references to Westminster’s role, and fatuously concluded that ‘no single person’ was to blame. Even the pro-Labour Herald dismissed Fraser’s jesuitical report as ‘a whitewash’.
If Holyrood wasn’t Scottish politically, no more was it Scottish materially. The cement was shipped in from Wales – but at least that was in the UK. The steel was Japanese, the glass was Italian, and the famous ‘pod’ window frames were made from American oak which had been shipped out to cheap-labour Thailand for fabricating and laminating. The granite was meant to be Scottish – or at least a token amount was said to come from the Kemnay Quarry – but it was alleged that most of it had been imported from the South African town of Boschpoort. Desperate measures had to be taken to validate the bogus Scottish building – an award set up by the late Andy Doolan to encourage good Scottish architecture was diverted to this particular damage limitation exercise, and other awards would follow. Even the Cockburn Association, which was founded to protect Edinburgh’s heritage, spinelessly declared itself an admirer of the building.
Most scandalous of all, in 2005 the Royal Institute of British Architects was recruited to provide a stamp of approval in the form of the swanky Stirling Prize. One of the judging panel, Joan Bakewell, would later inform me she’d had reservations, but had been brought into line after she was persuaded that the building was at the cutting edge of sustainability. If so, she was well and truly duped. The list of foreign components above, and a thermal read-out by Scottish gas which showed leaking hot-spots all over the place, more than off-set all the guff and humbug about its energy use being from 80% renewable sources – presumably this energy use included the electric fans wilting MSPs had to use when it became overheated in the sunshine. Then came a final reckoning. One of the debating chamber roof beams crashed down, narrowly missing what was left of Scotland’s Conservative interest.
The curse of Holyrood was soon spreading like a bacillus. The BBC became infected when it commissioned a documentary, The Gathering Place, from the programme-packaging company co-owned by Kirsty Wark, one of the members of the design selection panel responsible for the appointment of poor Enric Miralles, whose reputation would be well and truly truncheoned by the Holyrood disaster. One piece of essential information missing from Ms Wark’s programme was a rather crucial point of law – the European Commission had declared the decision of the panel of which she had been a cheerleading member to have been an unlawful infraction of EU regulations. The day the Commission issued its ruling was a thin news day in Scotland, but for some reason the BBC failed to mention that the Scottish Parliament was conducting its business in an illegal building on its 6pm bulletin, leading instead with a highly important story about a pantomime horse race somewhere in the West of Scotland.
There is even reason to believe the Holyrood bug might have crossed the Atlantic. In March 2006 Bovis Lend Lease, the company which had been responsible for the construction of the Scottish Parliament building – and which had waxed fat as the cost of the project had risen from an orginal £10m-£40m to upwards of £400m – was appointed construction manager for the $360m World Trade Center Memorial at Ground Zero, in New York City. One of the conditions imposed upon those bidding for this emotionally-charged contract was a requirement for full disclosure of ‘contract performance history’ – basically, a run-down of other major projects the party submitting the tender had been previously involved in. Checking the Bovis Lend Lease website at that time revealed nothing whatsoever about its involvement in a project in Scotland which had allowed that same company to trouser millions of pounds at the Scottish taxpayers’ expense.
Shouldn’t the citizens of New York have been told about this? Don’t expect an answer anytime soon. Too many of the great and the good – Bill Clinton, Barbara Walters, Al Pacino, etc etc – were involved as trustees and board members of this project to allow the least squeak of a scandal to emerge in such sensitive circumstances. If Bovis Lend Lease did, indeed, launder its list of past contracts to play down its Holyrood dripping roast it certainly wasn’t going to be made public, and will no doubt remain as one of America’s best kept secrets. I would quote PR Newswire’s press release about how ‘honored and humbled’ Lend Lease was to have overseen the project, but it would only make you queasy. Within three months Bovis Lend Lease had reconfigured the budget at somewhere between $672m and £973m – as Yogi Berra might have wise-cracked it was just ‘that old feeling of deja vu all over again’ – at least to those of us who had watched the Holyrood budget ballooning out of control.
For the moment, back to Europe, and the slow, excruciating implosion of the Scottish Labour Party which began with public disenchantment over its crass mishandling of the Holyrood project, and ended with an outright electoral triumph for the SNP, notwithstanding the fact that the electoral system had been carefully devised to prevent any single party from sweeping to power. Lord George Robertson’s notion that devolution would ‘kill nationalism stone dead’ didn’t seem to be working too well. As an American politician once said when confronted with an unexpected defeat. ‘Ah well, the people have spoken – the bastards!’
In Paris, meanwhile, the Scottish Parliament Building would be forever the dog that had no bark as far as UNESCO and ICOMOS were concerned. In 2008, when there was some anxiety about the poor architectural quality of proposed major developments in Edinburgh, particularly at the site of the South Bridge fire and the so-called ‘Caltongate’, where a company headed by an English Heritage commissioner wanted to demolish listed buildings on the Royal Mile, a crack team was sent in from Paris to look into the dreadful philistine things that were being done to the city in the name of architectural mediocrity. A solemn report was duly written and published, but since this was the weak-kneed bunch which had kept its lip buttoned when the Edinburgh World Heritage Site was being desecrated within sight of the oldest inhabited royal palace in Europe (from which New Labour had cynically purloined the name ‘Holyrood’ for a parliament building on the Watgate chosen by an illegal selection process) who was going to pay them the least bit of attention?
Meanwhile, as such World Heritage Sites as the ancient Mosque and Souk of Aleppo and the citadel and Roman city of Palmyra are being shelled and pounded from the air, the Paris-based guardians of the built patrimony of the world are getting all tetchy with the Germans for building a rather boring bridge. Zut alors!

Independence March – confusion over the numbers

I could not help being swept along by the roaring tide of blue which surged down the Royal Mile last Saturday. There were 10,000 people carrying Saltire flags, Yes banners, bagpipes, children on their shoulders. I even saw a couple of pandas. It was a huge turnout – by Scottish standards. The march ended with a rally on Calton Hill, addressed by the clan chiefs of the “Yes to Independence” campaign.

Independence Rally

Independence Rally

The police estimated the crowd at 8,000, the organisers said 30,000, which makes me suspect they were speaking about different things. But the thought that went through my mind as I stood by the Tron Church and watched the parade go by was that this was too big a crowd to ignore. Whatever the outcome of the referendum next year, something will have to be done to assuage this patriotic Scottish fervour.

No less a body than the Electoral Commission feels the same. It has appealed to both sides to spell out exactly what will happen after the referendum, whatever the result. It will be a sore and tender period. It may even be angry.

If they Yes side win, the SNP government says it will begin negotiations on separating from the UK and joining the EU. If the No side win, there have been promises of more powers for the devolved Scottish Parliament. Various conventions have been suggested. But the Electoral Commission says there needs to be greater “clarity” from both sides so that voters can make an informed choice.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

The SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon sought to sharpen the differences between the two sides this week by suggesting that in an independent Scotland, the retirement age may not go up as fast as in the rest of the UK. She said an SNP government would review the planned move to age 67 in 2025 because Scotland would be more prosperous and Scots, on average, do not live as long as the English or Welsh. Though, of course she was not against people living to a ripe old age !

The UK party conferences are all sending out frantic messages to Scotland to ignore the SNP and stick with Great Britain next year. The Liberal Democrats said they would be “heart-broken” if the Scots left the Union. Instead, they called for one of those “conventions” on more home rule for the Scots.

Ed Miliband used part of his without-notes speech to plead: “ I don’t want Cathy to become a foreigner.” Cathy Murphy from Glasgow, he told us, collapsed at Labour’s conference in Liverpool in 2011 and was rushed to the local hospital to be treated for a heart complaint. She still goes back to Liverpool for check-ups. “At the hospital, they don’t ask if she’s English or Scottish, they know she’s British.” No doubt we will get more heart-rending stories from the Conservatives in Manchester next week. It’s interesting, though, that the latest census figures for Scotland show that 62 per cent of the population describe themselves as “Scottish” and only 18 per cent as “Scottish and British.”

Kenny MacAskill Justice Secretary

Kenny MacAskill
Justice Secretary

Meanwhile the SNP keep on governing in Scotland. The justice secretary Kenny MacAskill told parliament he was pressing on with his plan to abolish the “corroboration” requirement before cases of rape or sexual assault are brought to court. He said the corroboration rule was unique to Scotland and was formulated in a different age. “It’s a barrier to obtaining justice for the victims of crime committed in private or where no on else was there,” he said.

A review by Lord Carloway found that of 141 sexual offences not taken to court in 2010 because of a lack of corroborating evidence, two thirds would probably have led to convictions. I must say, though, that I find it rather worrying that I could land up in court on a charge of rape, simply on the say-so of a women with a grudge against me. And I am not alone. The Law Society, the Faculty of Advocates and the Police Federation are equally worried about dropping the fairly obvious need for corroboration.

As with any legal matter of course, the debate is somewhat confusing. The requirement for corroboration does not apply in the case of scientific evidence. And on his side, Mr MacAskill is taking the precaution against miscarriages of justice by requiring juries to reach a verdict by a two-thirds majority.

Cyclists - concerned about the court ruling

Cyclists – concerned about the court ruling

Another worrying case – for me as a cyclist – is the appeal court ruling this week that a driver who killed two cyclists should only be banned from driving for five years. Gary McCourt served a two year jail sentence nearly 20 years ago when he killed his first cyclist but he was back at the wheel again two years ago and knocked an elderly woman off her bike. He was sentenced on that occasion to 300 hours of community service and a five year ban from driving. The prosecution service appealed, on the grounds that that was too lenient a sentence. But the appeal court judges didn’t agree.

The cyclists’ lobby are rightly outraged. They want McCourt banned from driving for life. They also want a presumption of fault for drivers in all accidents involving a cyclist. Car drivers, they say, are in charge of a large and powerful machine and it is up to them to avoid hitting cyclists. Too right.

I suppose it’s a case of sticking up for the underdog in the war of the highways. I’m also in favour of the underdog in football. I was glad to see little Greenock Morton beat Celtic 1-nil on Tuesday night and knock them out of the League Cup….even though it was with a penalty in extra time. Justice is sometimes a hard thing to pin down.

Puffins along with guillemots and razorbills are under threat

A report from RSPB Scotland suggests that a number of seabird colonies could face ‘extinction’ unless action is taken now to protect them. It’s concerned about the fall in bird numbers, with the latest end-of-season count showing a severe decline in guillemots, with other species such as puffins and razorbills struggling to cope. The charity suggests that the best solution would be for the Scottish Government to designate Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for seabird populations.

Common Guillemots Especially under threat in Caithness

Common Guillemots
Especially under threat in Caithness

In its latest count, RSPB Scotland found that the number of guillemots in its coastal reserve at Dunnet Head on the Caithness coast had dropped by around 45% since the last seabird census in 2000, falling from 8,980 to 4,880. There was a similar fall at Noup Cliffs on Orkney – down 41% – with the colony on Ailsa Craig in the Firth of Clyde reduced by more than 27%. It believes that the main causes of the decline are food shortages and the effects of climate change.

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on the location of possible MPAs – that’s due to end in November. However, the charity wants the proposals to cover more species and to help manage the problems already found on the cliffs. For instance, black guillemots have been marked for protection under the plans but colonies of this bird are said to be doing well.

According to RSPB Scotland marine policy officer, Allan Whyte, “Scotland is home to 24 species of breeding seabird and it is baffling that the Scottish government chooses to ignore all but one when designating MPAs. Puffins, kittiwakes, common guillemots and the rest are struggling to survive these tough times. The Scottish government can and must throw these birds a lifeline and designate MPAs to protect this amazing group of species in danger of disappearing from our coasts. It is time we take action to give all of our seabirds, like common guillemots, a fighting chance.”

In a statement, the Scottish Government said it had asked Scottish Natural Heritage and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee to provide formal advice on what additional marine Special Protection Areas were required for the conservation of seabirds. The advice is expected to be received at the end of 2013.

The waterfront at Seattle
Creative Commons

Andrew McDiarmid

Andrew McDiarmid

by Andrew McDiarmid
Owner of Simply Scottish in Seattle

Greetings! I’m Andrew McDiarmid. I was born and raised in Edinburgh in Scotland and emigrated to the States with my family in 1990. I now live and work in Seattle and produce a podcast of music and features called Simply Scottish.

Previously a weekly radio show on radio stations in the U.S. and Canada, it’s now a podcast on iTunes, the Celtic Radio Network, and at www.simplyscottish.com. I’m going to be writing for the Caledonian Mercury, and I thought a good way to introduce myself and get to know you would be to explore with you what the phrase “simply Scottish” means!

SS Podcast Hi-Res Logo 2208x2208Could there be anything more simply Scottish than a dry stane dyke? Found all over Scotland and elsewhere in the British Isles, these walls are made of large stones held together without the use of mortar by the compressional force of each interlocking stone. You’ll find them lining driveways, forming boundary walls between fields, and standing as retaining walls in towns and villages.

Actually, a number of things could visually symbolize the words “simply Scottish.” For me, it’s my mother, Samantha. Her personality and character embodied a number of qualities I deem to be simply Scottish: an unshakable belief in God, loyalty to family, an adventurous spirit, unselfish kindness, a no-nonsense attitude, thriftiness, and a healthy dose of humor. She traveled the world and had a 40-year career as a teacher. Her students and friends loved her for these virtues. And I am largely who I am because of her influence.

Some years ago, when Simply Scottish was a radio show airing on various public radio stations in the U.S. and Canada, we commissioned Vincent Rooney, an artist in Scotland, to create a painting called “Simply Scottish.” He painted a small cottage by a burn, nestled at the foot of rolling Scottish hills. The artwork still hangs in the bedroom of my father, my co-host on Simply Scottish during the initial years of its production.

Simply Scottish  Painting by Vincent Rooney

Simply Scottish
Painting by Vincent Rooney

When my father and I chose the name for our show, we did so not only because it employs the memory-enhancing technique of alliteration, but because we wanted to get to the heart of Scotland and being Scottish, past all the hype, stereotype, assumption, and misunderstanding. We want to present Scotland simply and earnestly. We want to let the country’s beauty speak for itself and allow the friendliness and authenticity of Scotland’s people send its own invitation. In true Scottish fashion, we don’t want to boast. We want to welcome people to our land, because we know they will grow to love it and appreciate it in their own fashion and in their own time. And those who are Scottish by birth or who live there will gain new appreciation and insight about this small but mighty nation.

So what do you think embodies the phrase “simply Scottish?” It could be an object, a place, a person, an event, a sound, a taste, or a smell. It won’t be the only thing, but to you, and perhaps to many others, it communicates “simply Scottish.” Beyond hype or stereotype, it is pure and powerful. It is Scotland, distilled.

I will highlight your responses in upcoming posts in the Caledonian Mercury and perhaps build an episode of the podcast around them. If there’s enough response, I’d like to attract the attention of a publisher with the idea of a beautiful coffee table book with pictures and descriptions of the various things that embody the essence of Scotland. Whatever happens, we’ll all have a better idea what Simply Scottish means to Scots and Scotland lovers around the world.

Send me your ideas today!

Join the “simply Scottish” conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #simplyscottish.

The River Esk today, looking up towards Roman Bridge

September was not a good month to be a Scottish soldier in the 16th century. The disaster that was the Battle of Flodden Field has entered the national psyche is one of the great failures of Scottish arms. That battle was fought on September 9th in 1513 – but on September 10th just 34 years later, another equally catastrophic battle, equally devastating in terms of the number of Scots killed, was fought in East Lothian. The Battle of Pinkie Cleugh was the last ever pitched battle to be fought between Scotland and England. However, for some reason, it seems almost to have been expunged from the national memory.

The Battle of Pinkie Cleugh Memorial

The Battle of Pinkie Cleugh Memorial

The battle took place in an era which has come to be known as “the rough wooing” of Scotland. It was war which lasted between 1543 and 1550. King Henry VIII of England was attempting to force the Scots to accept a marriage between his son Edward and the infant Mary, Queen of Scots.

The battle was fought near Musselburgh. The English army led by the Duke of Somerset, at the time the Lord Protector of England, had entered Scotland supported by a large fleet. The Scots, under the command of the Earl of Arran, had a much larger force – but the English were much better armed, including substantial cavalry, artillery and mercenaries from both Germany and Italy who are skilled in using the then new arquebus.

Lord Protector Somerset

Lord Protector Somerset

The Scots, having crossed the River Esk by way of the Roman Bridge, came under extensive fire to which they could not effectively reply. It turned into a full scale rout. Some historians say that the main reason for the defeat was that the Scottish mediaeval army had been overcome by a modern Renaissance one. The English armies and navy had been reformed under King Henry VIII. However, there is also a point of view which suggests that the Scots’ heart was not in this battle in particular, thanks to growing support for English policy.

Nothing however can detract from the fact that this was undoubtedly a military disaster for Scotland. There is some dispute over the figures – but at worst, Scotland lost anything up to 15,000 of its fighting men, with a further 2000 taken prisoner. By contrast, the English lost a mere 600. Small wonder then that the day of the battle became known as “Black Saturday”.

To mark the anniversary – and indeed the creation of a new battlefield trail – a series of events is being held in Musselburgh this month. The battle itself will be the subject of a talk by military historian Dr John Sadler this Thursday as part of Musselburgh Conservation Society’s autumn lecture series. The Pinkie Cleugh Battlefield Group will also unveil a series of information panels along a route from the Roman Bridge in Musselburgh to the Battlefield Memorial Stone in Wallyford.

The Japanese Garden at Cowden Castle

The Japanese-style Garden at Cowden in Clackmannanshire, created in the early twentieth century, is among the few surviving sites of its kind in the United Kingdom. Now, its national importance has been recognised through its addition to Historic Scotland’s Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes.

The Garden at Cowden in its heyday

The Garden at Cowden in its heyday

The garden was created for the explorer Ella Christie, one of a handful of female pioneers who broke with traditional ideas about the role of women in order to mount ambitious expeditions around the globe. She travelled widely in Asia and visited many countries including India, Ceylon, Malaya, China, Japan and Borneo. In the spring of 1907, inspired and enchanted by the gardens of Kyoto and Tokyo, Christie determined to create her own Japanese-style garden in the grounds of her home at Cowden Castle near Dollar in Clackmannanshire.

At the time, the British cultural love-affair with Japan was approaching its height. It was quite common for people to create gardens in the “Japanese style”, fuelled by the sudden availability of exotic plants, bulbs and ornaments. While many other such gardens across the UK were a mere pastiche, the one at Cowden had advice on design from Professor Jijo Suzuki and Taki Handa, experts in the history and complex nuances of Japanese garden design.

Centred on a long artificial lake, the garden incorporated elements of three traditional Japanese garden forms; a pond and island garden, a stroll garden and a tea-house garden. Ideas of balance, proportion and sensory experience were prioritised as Handa carefully designed the routes of paths and stepping stones and the location of highly charged symbolic stones. Cowden was celebrated in the 1930s as an especially authentic example of a Japanese-style garden in the West. The gardens were cared for by a faithful Japanese gardener, Shinzaburo Matsuo, who lived and worked on-site until his death in 1937.

Sadly, the garden was vandalised in the 1960s and none of the original built structures survived. However much of its essential form remains, including plantings, the plan and form and low-lying structures, including symbolic stones.

The Garden at Cowden today

The Garden at Cowden today

According to Elizabeth McCrone, Head of Listing and Designed Landscapes, “the story of Cowden is a fascinating one. It was once described as the best Japanese garden in the Western world and was visited by Queen Mary in the late 1930s. It is of outstanding importance for its value as a work of art and its historic value, and also of high importance for its horticultural, nature conservation and archaeological value. It came into being due to the determination of a remarkable woman, Ella Christie who named it Shāh-rak-uen, “a place of pleasure and delight.” I am delighted that her garden has recognition through its inclusion in the Inventory.”

For Sara Stewart, the current owner of Cowden, it was “wonderful to see that Cowden has been recognised in this way. While the gardens are not currently open to the public, we are considering a restoration programme and hope that we can welcome visitors back at some point in the future.”


Fort George in Ardersier near Inverness was built in the aftermath of the 1745 rebellion. It was the mightiest artillery fortification in the whole of Great Britain, if not of Europe. It was intended to be an impregnable base – a clear statement that such an uprising could never happen again. It cost, in today’s terms, almost £1 billion. But when it was completed in 1769, the Highlands of Scotland had been well and truly pacified.

Fort George - Built to keep the Highlands peaceful

Fort George – Built to keep the Highlands peaceful

Today, it’s the only ancient monument in Scotland which are still working as a functional army barracks. Despite this, it is a major tourist attraction and next month it will celebrate 2000 years of history when it welcomes Romans, Vikings and, from the modern era, land girls as part of Historic Scotland’s “Celebration of the Centuries” event.

From the 10th to 11 August, over two hundred and fifty performers will be at the Fort. They’ll enact scenes from Scotland’s history, from the Picts, the Romans and the Vikings, through the Medieval, Renaissance, Reformation and Jacobite eras right up to World War I and II. It will start with a grand parade led by the Romans and conclude with the two world wars, including an appearance by the Spitfire from the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The event will also feature re-enactors from all over the UK. Visitors can also enjoy colourful living history camps, watch dramatic presentations in the main arena and experience the music and dance of the 1940’s throughout both days.

A historic Spitfire will make an appearance

A historic Spitfire will make an appearance

Gillian Urquhart, Events Manager for Historic Scotland, said the organisation was “delighted to be bringing Celebration of the Centuries to Fort George again this year. It’s a truly fantastic experience to see 2,000 years of history unfold before your eyes. You can be enjoying the 1940’s big band sounds at one minute, then turn a corner and be facing the guard of the roman empire! It’s just like having your own tardis and being able to step into the past!”

Tickets are available with a 10% discount online at www.historic-scotland.gov.uk or alternatively can be purchased on the day.

Catherine Maxwell Stuart prepares for this year’s Traquair Fair

For those looking for an alternative way of spending this coming weekend, the South of Scotland could be the place to look. There are two contrasting events taking place (though both do have a musical theme).

In the tranquil setting of Traquair House near Innerleithen, this year’s Traquair Fair looks back to the 1960s for its theme.

Traquair - the oldest inhabited house in Scotland

Traquair – the oldest inhabited house in Scotland

On show will be an exhibition of 60s designer fashion – and an appearance by two of the era’s most iconic bands, The Troggs and The Animals, will help to reinforce the era of nostalgia. Around 30 garments, including some produced by Borders-based designers such as Pringle and Bernat Klein, will be on display – indeed, some will be worn by models to show off the classic lines.

The fair has a reputation for being a family-friendly event, with a mixture of street theatre, country crafts and music in the grounds. This year’s programme includes a lot for children with an appearance by the 60s comic book hero, Spiderman. In a special children’s area, storytellers will read from classic children’s books from the 1960s. And for the adults, the event will also feature a special screening of the 1969 movie “Tamlin” which were shot on location at Traquair.

The fair organiser, Catherine Maxwell Stuart, explained that the decision to use designer fashion, top bands, film and street entertainment has been designed to “create a fun-filled event that will appeal to the whole family. Traquair Fair is renowned for being one of Scotland’s most exciting family days out and this year, we will be bringing alive one of the most vibrant periods in our recent history. We look forward to welcoming visitors from the Borders and beyond to this fantastic event.”

By contrast, those who prefer camping in a field when attending a music festival will be able to enjoy the delights of this year’s Wickerman Festival, held at Dundrennan near Kirkcudbright.

The Wickerman Festival - Music in Kirkcudbright

The Wickerman Festival – Music in Kirkcudbright

The organisers insist that it’s more than just a music festival – “it’s an adventure to the south of Scotland where you’re likely to meet new friends and find your new favourite act in the same weekend. Set in the glorious Kirkcudbrightshire countryside with views across the county and out of the sea to the Isle of Man, it’s breathtaking. Back to the music, there are 10 stages on the site with music playing from midday until 5 AM should you have the stamina.”

Amongst the acts performing include Primal Scream, Amy Macdonald, Public Service Broadcasting and KT Tunstall. Because the festival takes its name from the iconic film – The Wickerman – the organisers say that it would not be a true Wickerman Festival “if we didn’t set something on fire – if you want to see what, either at midnight on Saturday and you won’t be disappointed.”

This year, the festival has done a promotional deal with the Scottish website, Kiltr, in which members have the chance to win tickets to the event. All you need to do is give the best reason for why you want to go – but you need to hurry as the draw will take place tonight.

The Rich Landscape of the Finzean Estate

The sun may be shining. The fields are gradually turning from green to gold. The soft fruits are ripening on the cane. The long summer nights are still with us. The air is yet warm and balmy. And yet, there are people who are already turning their attention to the autumn and the harvest season, none more so than Frieda Morrison, the Artist In Residence at Edinburgh University’s School of Celtic and Scottish Studies and a passionate exponent of the songs and traditional music of the North East of Scotland.

Frieda Morrison Host of the  Deeside Harvest Folk Festival

Frieda Morrison
Host of the
Deeside Harvest Folk Festival

Through her music and video production company, Birseland Media, she’s well on her way to producing the final line-up for this year’s Deeside Harvest Folk Festival at the end of September. It’s an event which has developed a reputation for bringing new and exciting sounds to Deeside. And she says that, once again, the team has come up with something really special, providing “a platform for some of Scotland’s finest folk musicians. The North East of Scotland,” she adds, “has a unique cultural heritage and this, combined with the finest of food from the region creates an opportunity to build a ‘folk n’ food’ event that will give people a ‘real sense of place’.”

A number of talented acts have already confirmed their place in Finzean Hall, an award-winning building rebuilt in 2003. Finzean itself is a small but thriving community with a determination to breathe life into this part of rural Aberdeenshire.

Fraser Fifield Multi-instrumentalist

Fraser Fifield

The performers include the recently re-formed Malinky and Fraser Fifield, a local hero with an international reputation. Fifield is a multi-instrumentalist. The performance in the video below gives an impression of his range. He can play a wide range of wind instruments, as well as being a composer. One of the leading jazz magazines (Jazzwise) described his as “someone who can blow a low whistle like Charlie Parker…and knock out an air on a sax like a Highland traditionalist.”

Other include Aileen Carr, one of the finest ballad singers in Scotland, Alison McMorland and Geordie McIntyre, singer-songwriters and instrumentalists and the Shetland duo Blyde Lasses who perform on fiddle, concertina and vocals who’ve just launched their debut album.

For more information:
W: www.harvestfolkfestival.com
E: [email protected]

The Collection has its own YouTube Channel

Some of the most acclaimed singers in Scotland have come together to perform songs from The Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection – a treasure trove of songs associated with the North East of Scotland. Their performances were videoed allowing the most extensive historical collection of Scots ballads and songs to be made available online from today for the first time.

Frieda Morrison Artist in Residenceat the School of Scottish Studies

Frieda Morrison
Artist in Residenceat the School of Scottish Studies

In total, sixteen singers were recorded performing 35 songs which were collected in the early 20th century by schoolmaster Gavin Greig and minister James Bruce Duncan. The singers taking part are Aileen Carr, Jo Miller, Alison McMorland, Geordie McIntyre, The Spiers Family, Lucy Pringle, Steve Byrne, Siobhan Miller, Brian Miller, David Francis, Mairi Campbell, Scott Gardiner, Kath Campbell and Frieda Morrison.

The collection as a whole was edited by Dr Emily Lyle of the Department of Celtic and Scottish Studies, at the University of Edinburgh, and her associates, in a series of eight volumes and published between 1981-2002. Today’s development — the online songs project — has been developed by broadcaster and traditional singer Frieda Morrison who is Artist in Residence at the School.

Her role is to promote Scots language and song, and her latest project seeks to make some of the Greig-Duncan songs available to fans of the Scots singing tradition around the world. She has also been involved in introducing songs to schools and other groups via workshops and performances. She described the project as “”a huge step. It will help widen access to this important collection by enabling students from all over the world to see live performances of these precious songs. It is a great opportunity for Scotland to shine brightly.”