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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May 152020
 

With thanks to Alec Westwood.

A new series exploring true stories from Aberdeen’s mysterious and murky past has been launched.
Delivered as a podcast, ‘Darkside Of The Deen’ is presented by Aberdonian actor Alec Westwood.

Following on from playing Sgt Howie in the audio drama sequel to The Wickerman, Alec set up a home studio and began working remotely with writers and producers Richard Skinner (Turriff) and Cliff Hughes (Peterhead).

Known for his role Folly the Jester in cult childrens’ TV show Knightmare, Davy Reins in the BBC’s Roughnecks and portraying Robert Louis Stevenson on Radio 4’s Great Lives,  Alec also enlisted help from a number of fellow local actors and musician/Inverurie Postmaster, Rory Will to bring dark stories from Aberdeen’s past to life.

In the show Alec presents a different true story from the shadier parts of Aberdeen’s history in each new episode, from bubonic plague, to bodysnatching, all the way to more recent, intriguing, true crimes.

The first episode (available now) recounts the time in 1964 when the city was hit by the biggest typhoid outbreak in modern day history.

He investigates the causes of the outbreak, the effect it had on local individuals and the lessons learned that are relevant more than ever during the current Covid-19 crisis.

There will also be special episodes that will bring strange stories from further afield in Scotland, such as the mysterious disappearance of three lighthouse keepers from the remote island of Eilean Mor in the Outer Hebrides during the festive period of 1900 – an event which inspired the 2019 Gerard Butler film The Vanishing.

Alec is enthusiastic to bring interesting stories from Aberdeen’s past to a global audience via Darkside Of The Deen.

Episode one ‘The Summer of 64’ is available now on Acast, Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Youtube.

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Listen on Youtube

Apr 112019
 

Mike Shepherd reviews Duncan Harley’s ‘The Little History of Aberdeenshire’.

Duncan Harley’s fascinating new book is described as a little history of Aberdeenshire, yet covers a 4,000 year time span from the Neolithic when peasant farmers built the stone circles that dot the countryside through to North Sea oil.

Along the way we read about battles, plagues and the arrival of the modern era when Aberdeenshire finally became accessible to the outside world: turnpikes, canals and railways were built.

This is anything but a dry and dusty history tome.

As with his previous book, The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire, Duncan throws in lots of quirky and curious facts to liven up the tale.

Did you know that the bulldozers building the Aberdeen bypass uncovered a whole load of new archaeological finds including ninety Roman bread ovens at Milltimber? That it took years to complete the monument to the battle of Harlaw near Inverurie, because of a reluctance to add the armorial shields representing the highland clans?

The expense involved was considered as ‘paying for the arms of the enemy’ (and this 500 years after the battle took place). The shields were finally added in 2011 for the 600th anniversary.

Or how about this? Stonehaven’s oldest building, the Tollbooth at the harbour, was severely damaged during the Second World War when an anti-shipping mine beached next to it.

These and many more nuggets make Duncan’s book an engrossing read. If you enjoyed Duncan’s first book or you are curious about the history of Aberdeenshire, then this is the book for you.

Highly recommended. 

Published by The History Press. £12.00 in hardback.

 

Nov 272018
 

Duncan Harley reviews ‘When Brave Men Shudder – The Scottish Origins of Dracula’ by Mike Shepherd.

The Whitby Dracula connection is well established and has been extensively written about. Bram Stoker’s life and times have also been well documented. But until now, the story of how Stoker came to pen possibly the most talked about gothic novel in history whilst on vacation in and around Cruden Bay has been largely unknown.

Outwardly of course, Cruden Bay is just one of many coastal villages which dot the Aberdeenshire coastline. Claims to fame include a connection with Norwegian aviator Tryggve Gran, who took off from the local sands on an epic flight over the North Sea to Stavanger in the July of 1914.

Then there is the story of the Cruden Bay golf hotel where, for a few years at least, the rich and the famous came to relax and take in the sea air along the links.

Think Jeremiah Coleman of mustard fame and the families associated with Swan Vestas, Horlicks and Bovril.

There were vague tales about how Bram Stoker and his family had spent a few holidays in the area and the local hotel could point to an entry in the guest book written by Stoker and promising to come again.

But, until now, no one had really taken time to research the story and until now, no one had drawn together the multitude of recollections and solid clues which make up the story of how Dracula came to be written in a largely unknown coastal village on the North Sea coastline.

With an introduction by Dacre Stoker, Mike’s new book is brim full of bite-size facts and with a cover based on an original circa 1897 Dracula edition this is clearly a book to get your teeth into. Well, that’s the vampire puns dealt with so onto the content.

Penned in plain language and meticulously researched, When Brave Men Shudder makes for a fascinating read.

Not only has Mike tracked down the various visits, there were thirteen at least, which Stoker made to the area; but he has traced the links between the man’s writings and the local community at Cruden Bay.

Local lore and superstition backed by an interest in the writings of Emily Gerard – who explored long-held Pagan beliefs flimsily shrouded by a ‘surface varnish of Christianity’ in Transylvania – must, says Mike, have excited Bram enormously.

Mike continues:

“In contrast to the peasants of Transylvania, the residents of Port Errol didn’t believe in vampires and had probably never seen a bulb of cultivated garlic. Nevertheless, the similarities between the two widely separated cultures were evident.”

Stoker of course stumbled upon Cruden Bay, then known as Port Errol, completely by chance. Seemingly he had heard that the Aberdeenshire air was “very bracing” and in a quote from the man’s diaries Mike relates that when he first saw the place, he had fallen in love with it.

“Astonishing as it might seem” writes Mike,

“this little-known Aberdeenshire fishing village with a population of 500 was about to change his life forever.”

Many of the landscape features which to this day inhabit the area would have been completely familiar to the Dracula author and Mike’s local knowledge, he lives in Cruden Bay, and careful research has identified landmarks which appear in Bram Stoker’s writings.

Sand Craig, an offshore rock, features in an early short story and the Scaurs – a jagged outcrop – seems to have fascinated the Gothic author.

Stoker apparently stared at the Scaurs for hours on end and may have explicitly referred to them in the Dracula tale:

“it needed but little effort of imagination to think that the spirits of those lost at sea were touching their living brethren with the clammy hands of death … “

When Brave Men Shudder is full of such references neatly linking Stoker’s Cruden Bay experience to passages in his writing.

Of course, it wasn’t all about the writing. Bram and his wife Florence formed sound links within the local community. Indeed, it seems that the locals took to him.

Long after his death one resident was recorded as saying that:

“Bram had a fine sense of humour always joking about something.”

While another recalled that:

“he became a familiar figure with his stout walking stick as he strolled along the sands and the cliffs.”

In essence, this new take on Bram Stoker is both surprising and occasionally scary. Scary because the portrait painted of the man who penned Dracula is that of a family man on a mission to explore that dark side of humanity which most only dream about.

Although the villagers portray him as a genial gent with a sturdy walking stick, his wife and child often became fearful of his moods and occasional outbursts. Perhaps a lifetime spent amongst actors had enabled him to immerse himself in his stories to the detriment of those closest to him.

As for surprises, it seems that Bram wrote extensively in the Doric, was married to a lady who had previously had a fairly serious relationship with Oscar Wilde and never really made much money from that book which, to this day, remains both a Hollywood staple and an international best seller. Who would have thought!

Stars: 5/5

When Brave Men Shudder – The Scottish Origins of Dracula is By Mike Shepherd and is published in paperback (244pp) by Wild Wolf Publishing @ £12.99

Oct 122018
 

It’s Dracula season in North-east Scotland as Duncan Harley reviews Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker.

Local writer Mike Shepherd is about to release a new book about Bram Stoker’s Cruden Bay connection and Dacre Stoker – in conjunction with Illinois born writer J.D. Barker – is about to unleash a prequel to Stoker’s Dracula classic.

Dacre Stoker gave a talk at Cruden Bay in early 2017 and both Janice and I were privileged to attend.

Alongside setting forth some solid ideas about the history and the mythology of vampirism, Dacre let slip the fact that his forbear, Bram Stoker, let loose upon the world that classic of the bloodsucking genre ‘Dracula’.

Indeed, the very venue of Dacre’s mid-winter talk – The Kilmarnock Arms at Cruden Bay – boasts a guest book entry which reads something like:

“Delighted with everything and everybody and hope to come again.”

The signature alongside the entry reads:

“Mr and Mrs Bram Stoker.”

Bram Stoker, author of the Gothic Vampire Horror tale ‘Dracula’, and many other literary sensations, stayed with his wife and son at the hotel for most of that 1884 August. He returned frequently over the subsequent 20 years and wrote at least part of his Dracula tale at Crooked Lum Cottage, one of his holiday homes at Cruden Bay.

There is a strong local belief that his tale of Transylvanian terror was heavily influenced by nearby Slains Castle although Ecclesgreig Castle at St Cyrus and the town of Whitby in Yorkshire also claim to be Stoker’s inspiration. But the jury is still out.

Jointly written by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker, the new Gothic novel, ‘Dracul’ makes no pretence at solving the riddle and, in a volume dedicated to ‘finding the roots’ of the Dracula truth, both Dacre and Barker have penned a bold prequel to the Stoker tale.

Bram’s tales probably reflected his early sufferings

Dracul is described in the PR fluff as ‘Scary as hell. Gothic as decay’. And for once, the cover fluff is pretty much near the truth.

Based on notes left behind by Bram Stoker, Dracul is really a fly-on-the wall insider-vision to what really happened.

Stoker is in a room, in a tower armed with various items. A gun, some mirrors and holy water litter the table alongside some plum brandy and a crucifix for fortification. His fevered mind imagines a night to remember and he awaits with some trepidation the inevitable battle with the undead.

Inevitably, the reader is drawn to the suspicion that this early tale reflects at best a dream sequence brought on by some dreadful childhood fever or, at worst, an over-use of some prescription medication.

Imbued with a sickly childhood, Bram’s tales probably reflected his early sufferings and his later associations with theatrical empressario, Sir Henry Irvine could only have augmented the childhood recollections but in a mainly theatrical way.

But, back to the chase … imagine if you will a pre-adolescent Dracula author – in fact Stoker himself – sitting behind a firmly locked door awaiting the arrival of some dreadful apparition.

‘The Journal of Bram Stoker: From my earliest memories, I was a sickly child, ill and bedridden from birth until my seventh year, when a cure befell me. I will speak of that cure in great length to come …’

The indescribable tension will have you hiding your face in your hands at times and the complexity of the tale might draw you to the very edge of your seat. Blood and guts in nature, Dracul is one of those gripping reads which – by its very provenance – is difficult to put down.

All in all, this is a splendidly orchestrated piece of pure Gothic horror told in the style of the master of the art and by writers who have been privileged to access the family archives.

It’s not often that I pen a spoiler. But suffice it to say that Dracul ends with the immortal words:

“I will stay with you always.”

Stars: 4.5/5

Dracul is available in the UK in hardback from 18th October 2018 from Bantam Press @ £12.99
ISBN: 9780593080108

Jan 282018
 

Mike Shepherd reviews Duncan Harley’s ‘The A-Z Of Curious Aberdeenshire: Strange Stories of Mysteries, Crimes and Eccentrics’

Tucked out of the way in the far reaches of the land, behold Aberdeenshire, a place that can boast the forlorn reputation of being largely unknown to the population at large. Edinburgh yes; Glasgow yes; and lots of tourists nip up the west coast of Scotland, but Aberdeenshire?

If the area registers at all in the national consciousness, it’s a vague awareness of something to do with North Sea oil, whisky, farming and a bit of fishing.

Otherwise nothing much ever seems to have happened there.

Then along comes Duncan Harley’s new book to challenge these perceptions. Much in the way of odd and curious things did indeed take place in that north-eastern corner and the world hadn’t known about it until now.

The book follows an alphabetic format starting with A for Aberdeenshire Art and ending up with Z for Zeppelins. Now that last section I found the most curious. During the First World War a German bombing raid went astray as the Zeppelin got lost somewhere over Aberdeenshire.

As Duncan notes:

‘Wildly off course and completely disoriented, the L20’s  sixteen-strong crew flew inland, bombing Craig Castle at Lumsden before overflying Kintore, Old Rayne and Insch, where they dropped bombs and a flare on a field at Hill of Flinder Farm, Mill of Knockenbaird and nearby Freefield House were also targeted. Amazingly though, there were no casualties and next day, curious locals went in search of souvenirs in the form of bomb fragments.’

Crazy or what? – yet fairly typical of Duncan’s fascinating book. Here’s how it came about. Duncan was asked by the History Press to write the book.

They had been aware of his articles in Leopard magazine, now subsumed into the Scottish Field. Duncan is a known wordsmith having worked for a time on a newspaper before turning to freelance writing. He has also contributed to the Aberdeen Voice which as he writes in the introduction deserves special recognition for their support.

To whet your appetite here’s some more curiosities that you might want to read more about in Duncan’s book:

– Buffalo Bill’s trip to Peterhead and Fraserburgh with his Wild West Show.

– How the Beatles, then the Silver Beetles, were nearly wiped out in a car crash on the road to Fraserburgh.

– The German spies who landed at Crovie during the Second World War.

– The royal wee… Queen Victoria’s toilet at Ballater. And on a similar theme – how a German U-Boat was sunk by its toilet near Cruden Bay.

– The Stonehaven Railway Riot in 1848 during the construction of the line to Aberdeen when over 200 navvies rampaged around the town.

This and so much more – an alphabet soup for the curious. Highly recommended – The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire is on sale in bookshops around Aberdeen and the Whisky Shop in Inverurie – where signed copies are to be had. Do have a look.

Mike Shepherd.

Sep 022017
 

With thanks to Ian McLaren, PR account manager, Innes Associates.

Visitors from around the world flocked to the small Aberdeenshire village of Bellabeg last Saturday (26 August) to witness one of Scotland’s most iconic spectacles.
For the 176th time, the Lonach Highland Gathering and Games took place in the picturesque Strathdon valley and with it a tradition that stretches back nearly 200 years. 

Dressed in full highland regalia, 170 kilted Lonach Highlanders followed in the footsteps of their forefathers to celebrate the history and heritage of the local area.

Armed with eight-foot long pikes and Lochaber axes, and carrying the colourful standards of the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, the men, led by the pipes and drums of the Lonach Pipe Band, set off at 8am to embark on a six-mile march en route to the Highland Games. Along the way, the parade halted at six properties. At each, with a dram of whisky and to the cry of ‘Ho Ho Lonach’, the men toasted the health of the property’s owners, the society and the local area.

At one o’clock the Highlanders marched into Bellabeg Park to officially open the 176th Lonach Gathering. They were greeted with enthusiastic cheers and applause from a crowd estimated at 7,500 which packed the grandstands and stood five to six deep in places around the arena. The day was blessed with bright sunshine and warm temperatures, only interrupted by occasional light showers in the morning.

Following the Lonach Highlanders every step of their march, pulling the traditional ‘cairt’ was Socks, the Lonach horse. Owned by Derek Gray of Kildrummy, the eight-year-old Irish Heavy Cob was making his third appearance at the gathering and received a hearty reception from the spectators.

Organised by the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, the Lonach Highland Gathering and Games has been held annually since 1832, except during the years of the first and second world wars. Staged on the fourth Saturday of every August, the event gives a huge boost to the local area.

Visitors travelled from throughout the UK and overseas to experience the unique and emotive march of the Lonach Highlanders and soak up the friendly atmosphere at one of Scotland’s leading Highland Games.

A packed programme of over 70 events featured throughout the day. There were displays of strength and stamina in the light and heavy athletics, and intricate footwork on the highland dancing boards. Solo pipers and four local pipe bands provided a musical soundtrack for proceedings.

The ladies tug o’ war competition was again fiercely contested

The popular four-mile hill race attracted a field of 70 runners. Henry Gordon-Hart from London won the men’s race, while the first female home was Stephanie Provan of Aboyne.

Also taking part in the hill race was Lonach Highlander George Reid. The 63-year-old from Tomatin went on to compete in the inaugural Great Aberdeen Run 10k race the following day wearing his Highlanders’ uniform.

A strong field of entrants featured in the heavy events, which saw a new shield being competed for in the open caber event. The shield was presented to the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society by the family of Society stalwart Rob Walker who died earlier this year. Mr Walker who farmed in Strathdon his entire working life, was a member of the society for 70 years, having first joined in 1947.  Lukasz Wenta from East Kilbride received the shield from the family after winning the open caber event.

The ladies tug o’ war competition was again fiercely contested, with the Glenbuchat Ladies proving victorious over Lonach Ladies and the Rest of the World team made up of ladies from throughout the UK and overseas.

Illustrating the international draw of the Lonach Gathering were two photographers from the National Geographic magazine. The duo, who photographed the event in 1991, returned to capture proceedings for an upcoming Dutch edition of the publication.

Three new Lonach Highlanders took part in the march for the first time. They are among six new members of Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, whose membership currently numbers 227. The oldest Lonach Highlander marching was 77-year-old marshalling sergeant George Thomson from Strathdon.

Jennifer Stewart, secretary and chief executive of the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, said:

“The spectacle of Lonach and the march of the Lonach Highlanders never disappoints. Bellabeg was abuzz all day and it is wonderful to see. Every year, I look round the arena as the Highlanders march past and without fail there are beaming smiles and emotional faces in equal measure amongst the crowd. Lonach tugs at the heartstrings.

“Although the Highlanders are the stars of the show, they are slowly being upstaged by Socks the horse, who is becoming quite the attraction. He got a rousing welcome from the crowd as he entered the arena and plenty of people were taking selfies with him later on.”

“We saw some very closely fought competitions on the field today, which is great for everyone to see. Tossing the caber, the hill race, the tug o’ war pulls and the children’s races all gained vocal support from spectators. The pipe bands also drew large crowds. Overall, it has been a brilliant day and we thank everyone who has been part of it.”

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Aug 252017
 

With thanks to Ian McLaren, PR account manager, Innes Associates.

The Bell Type 47G helicopter apparently being jump started by a car in Bellabeg, Strathdon, Aberdeenshire

The story behind a mysterious photograph unearthed last year has finally been uncovered as an Aberdeenshire community prepares to stage its annual Highland Games.
Amongst a bundle of old slides donated to the organisers of the Lonach Highland Gathering and Games was an intriguing picture of a helicopter apparently being jump started by a car on the A944, the main road through the village of Bellabeg where the gathering is held.

Now months after calling for the public’s help and having explored a number of leads, the tale of the baffling picture has been revealed. 

And a member of the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society was the person who held the answers to Strathdon’s curious chopper case.

In 1974, James McIntosh, who was brought up in Strathdon and runs The Lecht Ski Centre, was working for Sunningdale-based Yellow Bird Air Services which owned the Bell 47G-5 helicopter.

The firm was contracted to spread fertiliser on young trees on the Isle of Mull and as the helicopter was due a service, James and American pilot Don Ambabo decided to head to Strathdon for the weekend and carry out the service there, before they flew to Mull.

Assisted by the local policeman, who held up the traffic, the pair landed on the road on the Friday evening before wheeling the helicopter to the cover of the local garage.  Over the weekend, James and Don serviced and washed down the helicopter with the help of fellow Lonach Highlander Archibald Stuart.  When they manoeuvred it back out on Monday morning for take-off, things didn’t quite go to plan.

James said:

“We wheeled the chopper out onto the road and went to fire up the engine and there was nothing.  It was a piston driven engine which can sometimes be difficult to start, especially after being hosed down and cleaned.  Knowing that the local bus and other folks would be needing past soon we had to act quickly.

“As the battery on the helicopter is fairly small a car can jump start it, so I hijacked my father Gibbie’s Rover.  The road was at a standstill for about 10 minutes while we got the helicopter off the ground.  There were a few bemused drivers and some of the locals were peering out their doors to watch proceedings.  It’s not every day a helicopter uses the main road through Strathdon as a helipad.

“After a brief stop in the Lonach games field, Don and I headed for Mull where we spent about four months spreading fertiliser.  The helicopter was also used for crop spraying in other parts of the UK and we had many great flights.  I don’t think we ever caused the same commotion as when we landed in Bellabeg.”

This Saturday will see a different spectacle take-off along the A944 in Strathdon when around 170 Lonach Highlanders undertake their annual six-mile march to the Lonach Highland Gathering and Games. 

Setting off at 8am, the men will visit a number of local properties to toast the health of their owners and the local area, continuing a near 200-year-old tradition. The Highlanders’ arrival onto the games field at one o’clock heralds the official opening of the Highland Games.

It’s a route that James has trod many times, having taken part in the march for 51 years as a drummer in the Lonach Pipe Band.  He first marched aged nine, before joining the Lonach Society at 16, eventually hanging up his drumsticks in recent years.

Forty years ago, after a spell in the Fleet Air Arm and flying helicopters privately, James set up The Lecht Ski Centre alongside Pieter du Pon, Ronnie Winram and Professor Jim Petrie.  Since its founding in 1977, the centre has grown to become one of Scotland’s main ski centres and a year-round activities destination.

Jennifer Stewart, secretary and chief executive of the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, said:

“It is brilliant to be able to discover the story behind the photograph, as it certainly had us scratching our heads when we found it.  Being confronted with around 200 men in kilts carrying pikes isn’t unusual on the road in Bellabeg, but a helicopter certainly would have been.

“Stories and unusual events such as this are part of the fabric of our communities and it is important that we record them where we can.”

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Aug 252017
 

With thanks to Ian McLaren, PR account manager, Innes Associates.

George Reid (foreground with green jacket) dressed in his Lonach Highlanders outfit.

One of the runners taking part in this Sunday’s inaugural Simplyhealth Great Aberdeen Run will have one of the most unusual warm-up routines of any participant.

George Reid of Tomatin will take part in a six-mile march and a four-mile hill race the day before he competes in the Simplyhealth Great Aberdeen Run 10k race.
The 63-year-old is a member of the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, which holds its annual Highland Gathering and Games on Saturday, 26 August in the Aberdeenshire village of Bellabeg.

The event features the unique march of the Lonach Highlanders, a six-mile march through picturesque Strathdon that continues a near 200-year tradition. 

Dressed in full Highland regalia and armed with an eight-foot long pike, George will join around 170 other men as they visit a number of local properties where they toast the health of the owners and the local area.

With a membership numbering 227 men, the Lonach Highlanders are believed to be the largest body of non-military men to carry ceremonial weapons in Britain.  Clad in tartan, with pikes aloft, banners flying and led by a pipe band, the Highlanders create one of the most iconic cultural spectacles in north-east Scotland.

Getting underway at 8am on Saturday morning, the march precedes the Lonach Highland Gathering, which commences at 12 noon and features piping, highland dancing, tug o’ war, children’s races and light and heavy athletics events.

Having marched six miles and enjoyed a hearty lunch, George will join a field of around 100 runners of all ages to compete in the event’s hill race.  Runners interested in participating in the race, which is free to enter and features a £75 first prize, can enter on the day.

The challenging four-mile off-road course features a steep ascent as it winds its way round the hillside forest.  It’s a course that George knows well, having competed in the race 17 times, winning the competition for Lonach Society members six times.

For a man who has completed a number of marathons, ultra-marathons and is a member of Triathlon Inverness, the Saturday march and hill race will be ideal preparation for the Great Aberdeen Run, which he will run in his Lonach Highlanders uniform.

George said:

“I started running about 19 year ago and haven’t really stopped.  I run about four times a week and love it.  I’ve covered all sorts of distances, including marathons in Edinburgh, London and Dublin, the 53-mile Highland Fling ultra and the 50-mile Highland Cross duathlon. 

“It’s brilliant to see the Great Aberdeen Run taking place and I’m looking forward to being part of it.  A 10k run round Aberdeen will be a superb way to end the weekend.  The Lonach Gathering is a fantastic day out and a stirring spectacle, one which I’ve been part of for the past 47 years.  Lonach is the ideal warm-up for the Great Aberdeen Run and an event that I’d encourage visitors to the north-east to attend.”

The Lonach Highland Gathering and Games takes place in the Aberdeenshire village of Bellabeg, which is around an hour’s drive from Aberdeen.  Events on the Highland Games field get underway at 12noon, with the Lonach Highlanders marching round the arena at 1pm and 3pm.  Tickets are priced from £10 for adults and £4 for children.

Established in 1823, by Sir Charles Forbes, 1st Baronet of Newe and Edinglassie, the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society is a charitable organisation based in Strathdon, Aberdeenshire. 

The society organises the annual Lonach Gathering at Bellabeg Park, Strathdon, which is held on the fourth Saturday of August.  The main attraction at the gathering is the march of the Lonach Highlanders, a unique body of non-military men.  Further information on the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, the Lonach Highlanders and the annual Lonach Highland Gathering can be found at www.lonach.org.

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