May 112022
 

Duncan Harley reviews ‘The Spirit of Banffshire’.

I think it was filmmaker Tom Weir who said that in order to have a future, we also need to have a past. He went on to say that the task of recording the best of Scottish history shouldn’t be made too easy.

After all there were lots of false prophets and folk with political agendas.
But Tom, bless his soul, was only partially correct. The preservation of the best of Scotland can be made really easy.

You just need to throw open the barn doors and invite people to contribute their memories for all to see. And that is exactly what the Banffshire Memories Project has done.

A year or so ago, Andrew Simpson – Lord Lieutenant of Banffshire – sent out a call for stories about historic Banffshire and a shedload of tales flooded his inbox.

Compiled from these stories, in essence this is a book with around one hundred and fifty authors which is a dangerous game if ever there was one. But, unusually for such an ask, the finished product delivers pretty much what it says on the tin.

Compiled especially for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee the book celebrates the history and records the memories of ordinary folk who live and work in what is nowadays termed ‘Historic Banffshire’.

Nowadays in the hands of Moray and Aberdeenshire councils the old county boundaries may have gone, but the memories persist and the spirit of the old county lives on in the hearts of many residents to this day.

Spurred on by editors Andrew Simpson and Eleanor Gillespie, the project has enabled more than a hundred local authors to make it into print; many for the first time ever.

Now at this point I have to declare an interest since the volume includes a couple of my stories. But, in essence, my contribution is just a few paragraphs amongst a mass of tales penned by folk who maybe never imagined such celebrity.

First up is Nan Morrison who recalls watching the 1953 Coronation on a 12-inch black and white television.

“It had a lasting impression on all of us” she writes.

Helen Lyon recalls how Coronation Day in Aberchirder was a public holiday and how folk wrapped up in bonnets and scarves to watch the parade of floats which went around the town.

It was a wet and windy day and she writes that “some of the outdoor events were moved into the Memorial Hall”  and that the schoolchildren got souvenir pencils and mugs.

But its not all about the Coronation. There are memories from wartime and schooldays.

Tarlair art deco swimming pool gets a mention, courtesy of Nan Morrison, and Ann Dean writes about Scalan.

Now, I knew, or thought I knew the history of Scalan. But Ann’s tale is not about the training of priests. It centres around the tale of Sandy Matheson. He worked the place until 1981 and is remembered as perhaps the last Tomintoul link with hand sowing, reaping and stooking.

I could go on. But in the big scheme of things, this is a must have book for anyone even remotely interested in the local history of North East Scotland.

Co-edited with Eleanor Gillespie, Andrew’s book marks the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen with profits being donated to charities associated with those members of the Royal Family who have visited Banffshire over the past seventy years.

Highly recommended. Five stars. Eminently readable.

Fully illustrated (197pp) , The Spirit of Banffshire is available by emailing: Banffshirememories@gmail.com (£12 plus £2.50 p&p)

And from the Banffshire Field Club website @ https://banffshirefieldclub.org.uk/

ISBN: 9781800686670

Apr 142022
 

Mike Shepherd reviews “The Poetry Mannie: The Doric Poetry of Bob Smith, Edited by Duncan Harley.”

The Doric dialect is getting a lot of welcome publicity at the moment, not the least because of the efforts of the Doric Board who have supported the publication of this wonderful book of poems (which is yours for £6.45).

There is something particular to the Doric dialect that lends itself to poetry, even if the roll call for Doric poets is not that long.

Yes, I believe I know what that something could be. Having once been told that English is dismally short of words to express the subtleties of human feeling, and that other languages cope much better by comparison, I reckon this is why we Scots have filled in the gaps with highly-expressive dialect words.

Try, for example, translating the word ‘couthy’ into conventional English using a single sentence. That’s not easy.

And because poetry can be considered a vehicle for expressing the nuances of shared experience, Bob Smith’s Doric poetry certainly does that. To live in North East Scotland is to fully connect with the experience described in the following excerpts:

Saturday Afternoons at Pittodrie watching the League Cup.

A hunner and twenty meenits we did get
Yet naebody cwid fin the bliddy net
A penalty shoot oot wi did hae
Nae goals were scored fae open play

Saturday Nights.

Binge drinking quines – there’s nithing worse
They faa aboot an sweir an curse
Wi hurdies keekin oot their draars
They stumble oot o clubs and bars…

And that peculiar Aberdeen obsession with long-gone shops.

Did ye myn o’ Aberdeen Motors
Faar ye bocht an Austin “Devon”
Div ye myn o’ Isaac Benzie
Faar yer mither wis in heaven…

Or litter.

We hiv a problem in Aiberdeen
Keepin the bliddy pavements clean
Litter strewn fae pillar tae post
Plastic cups an half aeten toast…

To read Bob’s poetry is to laugh out loud, although his more serious poems do tackle subjects such as the bizarre doings of politicians and their chums in this part of the world, or the sublime aspects of nature, place, and landscape as per classical poetry.

Now you will enjoy this book so do buy it. And thanks to Duncan Harley, author of The Little History of Aberdeenshire and other books, for compiling Bob Smith’s engaging poetry.

Enjoy!

Apr 012022
 

By Duncan Harley.

A First World War veteran, Laurence Taylor (1899-1949) arrived back in his native North East in the September of 1918 just a few weeks before the armistice between Germany and the Allies which effectively ended the horrific fighting and the loss of millions of lives across the battlefields of Europe.

After four years of trench warfare, the guns on the Western Front had finally fallen silent.

Wounded by shellfire during an abortive attack on a German redoubt near Ypres, Laurence was hospitalised for several weeks in France before being sent home to his native Fraserburgh where he gradually regained his strength and took stock of his new situation.

Battlefield surgeons had amputated a leg below the knee and shrapnel had severed several fingers on his right hand but, despite these injuries, Laurence was determined to resume his career as an accordionist in a Bothy Band.

Now, folk will usually assert that there is no such thing as a left-handed accordion player. But that is not strictly the case.

Given the right circumstances and a bit of determination, it is perfectly possible to play the accordion upside down. And that is exactly what Laurence trained himself to do.

Over the course of several months, he not only regained his mobility but re-learned his accordion skills using an inverted keyboard specially designed for him by a local blacksmith.

Over the course of several decades Laurence and The Big Accordion Band toured the UK and even made it as far as New York on one occasion becoming what was probably the very first transatlantic bothy ballad band.

Towards the end of his life, the lad from Fraserburgh was interviewed for the local paper and asked about the reason for his success.

“It was all down to grit and determination” he said.

“And I would do it all again if I had to. Mind you the left-handed keyboard has taken its toll on my remaining fingers and you can’t really toe tap effectively with just the one leg in case you fall over.”

Asked about the future he stated that he was still good enough to play the bass side but not the treble side but he was still working on a solution.

The years took their toll however and the man who took the bothy ballads of the North East to America eventually ended up on the streets.

Fame and hangers on had taken their toll and drink had gotten a hold of him. The Big Accordion Band had long since broken up and by September 1947, the Fraserburgh accordionist was reduced to playing for drams in the bars and the strip clubs of rural Aberdeenshire.

Laurence Taylor became ill on stage half way through an open-mike performance at McGinty’s Bar near Cullen in 1949 and died aged fifty in a Fraserburgh nursing home after a short illness. His ashes were scattered at sea.

His legacy lives on however. Not least as the first left-handed accordionist to introduce down-town New York to the bothy ballads of the North East.

(Additional reporting by April McGinty)

Dec 192021
 

Duncan Harley Reviews ‘North East Scotland At War’ 2 by Alan Stewart.

There are plenty of books out there which record the difficult years between the 1938 Chamberlain peace accord and the Soviet conquest of Berlin. Osborne’s ‘Defending Britain’ and Gordon Barclay’s ‘If Hitler Comes’ are the classics.
But this book is slightly different and there is certainly room for further historical accounts of the dark days when Hitler threatened our shores.

A year or so ago I reviewed Alan Stewart’s first book. Titled ‘North East Scotland at War’.

Five years in the making, the publication took a decidedly local slant and launched the reader into the minutiae of the defence of the North East against what was, for a brief few years, perceived as the Nazi threat.

The archaeology of those distant times was laid bare for perhaps the first time in a single local volume and various documents which record those difficult days inhabited the pages. At the time of publication, Alan was already working on Volume Two and that has now been published.
Relentless detail and an eye for wartime links to the North East of Scotland characterise this new book.

Subtitled ‘Events and Facts 1939-1945’, that is exactly what is contained in the text.

When reviewing book one, I glossed over the typos and the difficult grammar in favour of the content. In the big scheme of things, it contained shedloads of information gleaned from years of research and plus many previously unknown or forgotten stories.

Book two, I am happy to say, contains many fewer issues and is certainly worth a read.

Spanning years of research and containing many local wartime stories, Alan Stewart’s new book ‘North East Scotland at War 2’ will appeal to anyone even remotely interested in the history of the North East of Scotland.

Profusely illustrated and replete with a plethora of new information gleaned from both local and national records, this is a local history book which I am pleased to include on my bookshelves.

North East Scotland at War 2 – by Alan Stewart is available from the Gordon Highlanders Museum in Aberdeen @ £21.99.

Cover image © Alan Stewart

Sep 282021
 

Duncan Harley reviews Slains Castle’s Secret History, a new publication by Mike Shepherd and Dacre Stoker.

Slains Castle on the very edge of the Buchan coastline is a widely misunderstood edifice and a confusion of associations with Dracula do little to explain the history of the place.
This new book by Mike Shepherd and Dacre Stoker is a gamechanger.

Readers of Mike’s previous books and followers of Dacre Stoker’s work – which includes Dracul, a Dracula prequel written in collaboration with J.D. Barker of Fourth Monkey fame – will already be aware of the Cruden Bay Dracula links.

But few however, will be aware of the true history of that Slains Castle we all love to associate with the Gothic Horror genre.

An extraordinary set of stories lie within these pages. Churchill visited as did Johnson and Boswell. The cutting off of the heads of dead Danes, an epic story of religious strife and a shambolic plan to surrender Scotland to the Spanish Crown inhabit this book. And the ‘tussle’ for the souls of the living takes centre stage.

There are tales of a French conspiracy to Anglicise Scotland and the role of the Earl of Errol in shaping Scotland’s future is explored in major detail. But no spoilers here.

This is in essence a history of Scotland as told through the lens of Slains. The castle itself dips in and out of the tale, and it’s only on page 197 that we get to the essence of the Dracula connection.

I would have preferred an earlier link if truth be told. And this perhaps suggests that the authors were conflicted in purpose. In part diary, there is however much to recommend in this book.

Spanning from 1164 to the present day, this take on the untold history of Slains is an important addition to the history, and the mythology, of North East Scotland.

With a foreword by Alan Hay – archivist of Clan Hay – Slains Castle’s Secret History, is published in paperback by Wild Wolf Publishing on 20th September and, if you’ll excuse the pun, is a book to get your teeth into.

Highly recommended. Five Stars.

Slains Castle’s Secret History by Mike Shepherd and Dacre Stoker.
ISBN: 979-8469387046

Jul 192021
 

Mike Shepherd reviews Duncan Harley’s latest publication, Long Shadows – Tales of Scotland’s North East.

Authors are told that when they write the blurb for the back jacket of their book they should focus on explaining what the reader will get out of it when they buy it.

So let’s apply this recommendation to Duncan Harley’s new book, Long Shadows. What will you get out of it?
You will be entertained for sure.

Duncan is a walking encyclopaedia of curious and interesting facts about everything that’s been written about Northeast Scotland.

If something extraordinary happened in your town or village, it’s probably in this book.

I can assure you that after reading it you will never dare repeat that ‘nothing interesting ever happens…’ in Buckie, Kintore, Ellon or the likes.

Now I do like quirky stories, and there is plenty in here to tickle the fancy – unexpected tales; little known tales. Take the story on page 54 about the artist Joseph Farquharson from Finzean.

In 1883, Farquharson painted The Joyless Winter Day which hangs in the Tate Gallery. It depicts a shepherd tending his flock in a raging Deeside blizzard. The execution of the painting was tricky because as Duncan explains:

“sheep cannot easily be persuaded to stand still.”

He adds:

“To solve this difficult problem, Farquharson commissioned a flock of life size plaster sheep from Monymusk born craftsman William Wilson of Kelly’s Cats fame, and used these to mark out the positions of the original live subjects in order to preserve the scene as the work progressed.”

The downside of all this ingenuity was that Joseph Farquharson ended up getting the nickname from his fellow artists of ‘Frozen Mutton Farquharson’.

Or the connection between the horror writer Stephen King and Buckie.

Did you know (a phrase you will find yourself repeating after reading Duncan’s book) that in the course of investigating a terrorist act in If It Bleeds, fictional private investigator Holly Gibney discovers that Buckie Academy is twinned with a bombed US High School.

The two schools take a mutual interest in each other’s local sports teams – Buckie Thistle thus picking up a small fanbase in a fictional part of the US.

Long Shadows comprises thirty-three chapters starting with Aberdeen and ending up with Turriff.

In between are tales from local towns and villages, or in one case, the forest at Lenabo where there was once an airship base during World War I. The airships would fly silently out over the North Sea scouting for German submarines to shoot up with machine guns. The story is laid out in chapter 22.

Now I do know about this. My paternal grandfather, who was too old to fight in the trenches, helped to build the Lenabo base. If that makes me sound ancient – be aware that both my grandfather and father became parents in their forties.

Having written this I now take a peek at Duncan’s back-cover blurb.

“In his two previous two books, Duncan exposed readers to an exciting mix of history and mythology. The intention of this new book is to expand greatly on these themes in an entertaining and informative way.

“Please enjoy these wee snippets of Scottish history and smile gently at the past. Long Shadows – Tales of Scotland’s North East is guaranteed to enthral both residents and visitors alike!”

I must agree.

I enjoyed reading this book and recommend it. It’s available on Amazon at a price of £17.95 and looks to be selling fast. Do buy it.

Mar 022021
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

Marc Ellington, musician, philanthropist, climate change activist, author has passed away. He leaves behind his family and many friends.

Dr Ellington, or Marc to his many friends, was a singer, songwriter and guitarist.  He occasionally performed with his lifelong friend Richard Thompson, and with Fairport Convention. 

Marc had not often performed in recent years, but joined Richard on stage at the Royal Albert hall in September 2019 for Richard’s 70th birthday party show along with many members of the Thompson family, and artists including Dave Gilmour, and Harry Shearer.

Marc and his wife Karen lovingly restored Aberdeenshire’s Towie Barclay Castle and gardens.  From its great hall he worked on his many projects. 

He founded and ran the charity The Scottish Traditional Skills Centre.  The Centre ran some of the first-ever courses on how climate change threatens our cultural and built heritage. 

Presentations were made by experts from various disciplines including the Met Office, focusing on historic properties and sites such as Skara Brae. 

The Centre ran courses for professional and amateur alike including topics such as gardening, dry stone walling, and property repair.  Perhaps its greatest success was running courses for young people with a variety of needs. 

Young people learned from different specialists about the environment, wildlife, botany, and enjoyed hands-on activities from dry stone walling to building lean-tos at locations such as Fyvie Castle grounds. 

Passionate about Aberdeen city’s and shire’s architectural gems, Marc edited The Lost City: Old Aberdeen by Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson. 

Marc knew any number of little-known historic jewels, and greatly enjoyed showing these off to his guests.  He was a keen student of the area’s history, not least its importance to folk music from the past through artists such as Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan.

Along with Charles MacLean and Daniel MacCannell Marc Ellington was an editor on the book, Scotland’s Secret History: The Illicit Distilling and Smuggling of Whisky.  The book paints a vivid picture of whisky’s history and the Cabrach. 

He was instrumental in the creation of a memorial cairn in the Cabrach dedicated to those from the area who lost their lives in WWI and subsequent conflicts.  Whisky giants The Gordon family were the main funders. 

Marc said:

“Each and every aspect of the construction of the cairn has involved members, both young and old, of the Cabrach Community working closely with master craftsman Euan Thompson.

“As well as being one of the finest memorial cairns to be built in Scotland in recent years, this is an outstanding example of what a local community, working together with energy and determination, can achieve.”

Marc spoke at an exhibition of international artists in 2018 held at the Glenfiddich Distillery. 

He talked about the role art plays – or should play – in education and in our culture.  As part of the speech he applauded the creators,  rebels, movers, and individuals who stand up for what is right, who follow their passions and dreams.  Indeed, this was how many saw him.

As the historic landlord in Gardenstown and Crovie, he was shocked when in 2015 salmon farmers were illegally shooting seals from the land in order to stop them eating salmon. 

He was actively involved with stopping the destruction of wildlife, and cared deeply for the sea and marine life.

He acted as announcer and master of ceremonies for the annual Portsoy Boat Festival, often sailing his craft to the harbour. 

Marc never missed a chance to help people when it arose; he always had a hilarious, apt anecdote for whatever social situation he found himself in. 

He sought to impart his passions for the environment, culture, history, music and arts, and succeeded in influencing many.  He is greatly missed, but his music and his many accomplishments will continue to influence.

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Mar 022021
 

Suzanne Kelly updates her piece Trump Menie:  Wildlife Shot, Carcasses Dumped in Hole with quotes from experts, and shows how this destruction of wildlife fits the pattern of business at the club. 

Trump International Golf Links Scotland at Menie is killing wildlife, and may be ignoring good practice with its horrific open stink pits filled with decaying deer and birds.

NatureScot told Aberdeen Voice it has concerns at Trump’s decision to kill wildlife and leave it rotting in open holes, saying: 

“the disposal of carcasses in a water-logged, open burial pit is not in line with good practice.”

In early February 2021 a concerned member of the public who discovered a stink pit on the Trump Menie Estate alerted Aberdeen Voice.  They sent us photographs of the ‘worrying’ pit filled with deer and birds decaying in oily, stagnant water.

For a resort given a ‘Six Star Diamond award’ for its excellence (Donald J Trump was on the award body’s executive board coincidentally), and given Trump’s infamous ‘sh*thole countries’ remark when he was president, this disgusting, wildlife destruction is beyond the pale.

The practice of having stink pits is, shockingly, not illegal. 

The pit is used to destroy wildlife.  Animals are killed, then the rotting carcasses are left exposed to attract animals that feed on carrion.  Those animals are then destroyed too. 

There are reports of area pet cats that went missing and never returned.  We await comments from Trump on this point.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: 

“We have been made aware of the matter and no criminality has been established.”

The spokesperson from NatureScot also said:  

“We cannot tell from the photographs provided whether an offence has been committed. However, the disposal of carcasses in a water-logged, open burial pit is not in line with good practice… we would urge anyone who suspects that a wildlife offence has taken place to report their concerns to the police.”

John Robins of Animal Concern commented:

“From the photographs I have seen it is obvious that deer and several species of bird have been deliberately dumped in this pit. I have dealt with cases before where animals have been killed for scraping at the grass on golf courses in order to find worms to eat.

“There is absolutely no good reason to kill animals on a golf course.

“Indeed I’m sure most golfers would appreciate catching a glimpse of a deer or seeing some birds while they are out on the course.

“I hope the Trump organisation give a full explanation for the presence of this mass grave on their land and then make a commitment not to allow any further persecution of wildlife on all their landholdings in Scotland.”

A spokeswoman for the RSPB found nothing amiss; they said: 

“.. what is shown in the photographs does not appear to be illegal, despite how unpleasant it is, so we cannot comment on this.”

Trump’s long-running contempt for nature:

From the outset the Trump organisation did what it wanted to at Menie.  Anyone wishing to ask the Trump organisation why it feels the need to destroy wildlife can contact the club by phone here 01358 743300, or by email here  admin@trumpgolfscotland.com

Should any reader get a response from the Trump organisation, we would like to hear it.

The environmental monitoring was a sham.  When the Scottish Reporters weighed up evidence on Trump’s proposed course, Aberdeen-based Professor Bill Ritchie said the course would not impact the environment if there was monitoring. 

As readers of Aberdeen Voice may know, he led the environment monitoring group called MEMAG.  MEMAG fell apart on Ritchie’s watch and no agency did anything to save it.  Ritchie has never responded to any of Aberdeen Voice’s requests for comment.

Two SSSIs are gone forever.  Further examples of the Trump organisation acting as if laws didn’t apply to it are many. 

Menie’s two Sites of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSIs) had the highest level of legal protection an environment can get.  The sites, the only moving sand dune system in the UK, were destroyed, and virtually nothing was done to stop it.

Planning permission was frequently ignored. 

Trump has ignored/overstepped planning permission several times, and has at least ten retrospective planning approvals.  From our observations, this is not the same consideration Aberdeenshire shows to others who fall foul of planning.

Countryside access is ignored. 

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 gives everyone rights of access over land and inland water across Scotland. 
Over the years, Aberdeen Voice reported numerous ways this was ignored at Menie to Aberdeenshire Council’s relevant officers.  Nothing we reported was ever remedied. 

Gates are permanently locked shut, such as the one between Trump’s parking lot and Leyton Farm Road. 

Plants have been put in place which block peoples’ access around this gate and elsewhere.  Anyone with a bicycle, pram or disability is not getting through or around that gate.

Waste management has been irresponsible. 

Mountains of mixed waste existed on the estate.  I took these photos following information from an environmental campaigner in March 2013 . 

Chemical containers, plastics blowing across the land and the scale of the waste was staggering.

Animals are being destroyed; chemicals are used on the greens (per previous AV articles), the SSSIs are destroyed.  None of the promised benefits (thousands of permanent jobs, tourism money) appeared. 

How long can it be before the area is entirely destroyed and housing springs up?

Footnote:
I dedicate this piece to my sources to whom I am grateful.  In particular there are three wonderful dear friends who bravely fought to help the situation at Menie and made a difference, but who can no longer fight.

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Feb 232021
 

By Suzanne Kelly

Shocking scenes of decaying dead birds dumped in an open hole on the Trump International Golf Links Scotland course on the  Menie Estate, have been sent to Aberdeen Voice.  

Our source claims they also saw ‘at least two’ deer carcasses.

Plans for the course and related construction were in part predicated on respect for the environment and wildlife. 

The two SSSIs (Sites of Specific Scientific Interest), unique moving sand dunes found nowhere else in the UK were destroyed beyond hope of remediation. 

Professor Bill Ritchie was responsible for the environmental monitoring group, MEMAG, which was simply allowed to disintegrate, partially because the Trump organisation failed to attend meetings.  

Aberdeen Voice will investigate further and report back when the Trump organisation, wildlife protection groups, and relevant authorities take the opportunity to respond.

The course has permission for clay shooting.

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Apr 062020
 

Day 11 in the Old Susannah House. Old Susannah is feeding her cats, making pottery, and bothering her editor, asking him to print this pretty please: Three of the North East’s largest animal rescue charities, Halfpenny Farm, The New Arc and Willows Animal Sanctuary, are all in crisis and are seeking help from the Public.

For many years these charities, all members of R.E.A.C.H. (Reputable Animal Charities), have provided rescue, rehabilitation and specialised care for over 50,000 animals in the North East.

Together, they have cared for all types of animals from neglected, unwanted, abandoned, orphaned and injured animals ranging from domestic pets, exotics, farm and equines to our local wildlife. Between them their centres currently care for over a thousand creatures requiring their specialist help.

These charities are completely dependent on the good will of the public.

They receive no income from the Government and rely on their own fundraising activities and initiatives to continue their work.

Their only source of revenue has been through a variety of avenues.

  • Charity shops …. Closed.
  • Open Days….Postponed.
  • Fun events…Cancelled.
  • Fund raising such as pub quizzes, sponsored walks, charity tins and the like which have all been suspended.

In this current situation, everyone’s first concerns are understandably with family and friends.

However these charities continue to do what they can to rescue and care for animals in need. But if they fail then there is no replacement when things get better. They will be gone!

They are the animals ‘Front Line’. Please help them to continue their work!

Click on the following links.

Donate to Halfpenny Farm 
Donate to The New Arc 
Donate to Willows Animal Sanctuary