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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Aug 112017
 

A royal visitor helped to crown celebrations marking the 150-year history of Aboyne Highland Games on Saturday (Aug 5). With thanks to Ian McLaren, PR account manager, Innes Associates.

Her Majesty The Queen at Aboyne Highland Games

In bright sunshine and warm temperatures, with occasional showers, an estimated crowd of over 9,500 visitors from around the world descended on Aboyne Green to enjoy the town’s annual celebration of Scottish heritage.

Among the crowd was Her Majesty The Queen, who was making a private visit to the games.

Founded in 1867, Aboyne Highland Games has grown to become one of the highlights of the Royal Deeside summer events calendar, taking place annually on the first Saturday in August. 

A packed programme of 98 events, featuring solo and massed piping, highland dancing, light and heavy athletics and fiddle competitions, kept the gathered crowds entertained throughout the afternoon.

Her Majesty was welcomed to Aboyne Highland Games by its chieftain, Granville Gordon, the 13th Marquis of Huntly, Scotland’s premier Marquis, and chairman Alistair Grant. Mr Grant’s granddaughter, 11-year-old Carlie Esslemont presented The Queen with a posy of flowers.

During her visit, The Queen dedicated the new Aboyne Caber which was specially commissioned to mark the 150th anniversary and featured in the afternoon’s events. Local heavy athletes, Jamie Dawkins and John Fyvie had the honour of presenting the caber to Her Majesty, who also met its creator, Murray Brown, and other members of the games’ committee.

The Queen, who was making her first visit to Aboyne Games, followed in the footsteps of her forebears. In 1876, her grandfather, George V, and great-grandfather, Edward VII, attended the games along with Prince Leopold, the youngest son of Queen Victoria. While in 1922, Princess Andrew of Greece – the mother of The Duke of Edinburgh – attended the games with her daughters Princesses Margarita and Theodora of Greece.

The visit also came just two months after long-serving committee member Peter Nicol was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to highland games, the economy and voluntary service in the north of Scotland. 

In further recognition of his contribution to highland games, which has included nearly 50 years on the Aboyne Highland Games committee, Mr Nicol was presented with a Certificate of Appreciation from the sports governing body, the Scottish Highland Games Association (SHGA). Honorary president of the SHGA, Jim Brown, presented the award which has been introduced to commemorate the association’s 70th anniversary and acknowledges the outstanding service given by individuals in support of highland games across the country.

Organisers of Aboyne Highland Games have worked hard to mark the event’s milestone 150th anniversary in a number of ways, which in turn has helped shape the future story of the event. This included a memory book containing photographs and written reminiscences contributed by members of the public and charting a century and a half of the games.

Ten pipe bands also performed throughout the day, providing a stunning spectacle

Four events that have been a fixture of Aboyne Highland Games since its inception in 1867 were classed as Gold Events this year. With newly commissioned trophies – designed by local teenager Angus Fraser – and increased prize funds, competition in the four events was hotly contested.

Kelty piper Alan Russell claimed the first trophy when he won the Piobaireachd open piping event. Clocking a time of 10.48 seconds, Sam Lyon of London beat a strong field of 12 runners to lift the Gold Event trophy in the 100 Yards Race. In the Heavy Hammer, Vladislav Tulacek from the Czech Republic threw a winning distance of 109ft 6ins to collect the third trophy. On the highland dancing boards, the final trophy went to Rachel Walker from Fettercairn, who was placed first in the Highland Reels aged 16 and over category.

In the late afternoon, spectators were treated to display of pole vaulting. The event, which featured in the inaugural games, returned to Aboyne Green after a near 40-year absence. Nine competitors took part in the event, which was once a staple of highland games across Scotland and is now only staged at a handful of games.

Drawing enthusiastic cheers from the watching crowd, competitors planted the rigid aluminium pole into the grass and with apparent ease – defying the great dexterity required – twisted and turned their bodies to vault increasing heights. Clearing the bar at a height of 8ft (2.43m) and jointly winning the competition were Callum Robertson from Aberdeen and Evyn Read from Canada.

Four heavy athletes jointly won the open caber toss competition, giving them honour of attempting to toss the new 23ft 6in (7.15m) long Aboyne Caber to land in the perfect 12 o’clock position. However, neither Craig Sinclair, Lorne Colthart, Lucas Wenta nor Scott Rider could achieve the feat with the 130lbs (59kg) log.

The hill race was closely fought, with a field of 92 runners taking on the 6.8-mile route that follows part of the Fungle Road and circles the base of Craigendinnie. The first male home was Kyle Greig who finished ahead of second placed James Espie. In the ladies event was won by Stephanie Provan, with Sally Wallis finishing second.

Ten pipe bands also performed throughout the day, providing a stunning spectacle and sound when they played en masse. Those participating were Ballater and District, Banchory and District, Clan Hay, Ellon Royal British Legion, the Gordon Highlanders Association, Grampian and District, Huntly and District, Lonach, Newtonhill, and Towie and District.

Alistair Grant, chairman of Aboyne Highland Games, said:

“It was an honour and a privilege to welcome Her Majesty to Aboyne Highland Games to mark our 150th anniversary. She took a real interest in how our new Aboyne Caber was crafted and seemed particularly taken to learn about the visits her ancestors had made to the games. Our first royal visit was in 1873, when the then Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, attended and it is wonderful to continue that long association with the royal family today.

“We have had a superb crowd on the green who have been kept thoroughly entertained by our packed programme of 98 events. The atmosphere has been excellent. Visitors have travelled from near and far, which goes to show the huge appeal that highland games still have. That is really positive for the future.

“The standard of competition was excellent, with some really strong fields. Tossing the caber, tug o’ war, the hill race and children’s race all drew passionate support from the crowd. While the skill of the pole vaulters held everyone’s attention. Our thanks go to all those who have participated, visited, supported or helped organise today, making it a truly outstanding day and ensuring the 150th anniversary of Aboyne Highland Games will be long remembered.”

Founded in 1867, Aboyne Highland Games is a traditional Scottish highland games held annually on the first Saturday in August. The Aberdeenshire event, held under the patronage of Granville Gordon, the 13th Marquis of Huntly, attracts crowds of up to 10,000 people each year.

Featuring a programme of traditional highland games events, including highland dancing, tossing the caber, piping and fiddle competitions, the event on the town’s green attracts visitors from around the world and makes an important contribution to the local Deeside economy. Further information on Aboyne Highland Games can be found at www.aboynegames.com.

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Aug 042017
 

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

Massed pipe bands at the 2016 Aboyne Highland Games

Thousands of visitors are expected to descend on Aboyne Green this Saturday as the town holds its annual highland games. Founded in 1867, this year’s Aboyne Highland Games will mark the 150th anniversary of the popular Royal Deeside event. 

Up to 10,000 people from around the world are expected to attend the event, which is held under the patronage of Granville Gordon, the 13th Marquis of Huntly.

A packed programme of 98 traditional highland events will be held throughout the day, including solo and massed piping, highland dancing, light and heavy athletics and fiddle competitions.  Over 80 trade stands, children’s races and a funfair also feature.

To commemorate the games’ milestone anniversary, organisers have created a memory book containing old photographs from bygone years. The book also includes written contributions from members of the public who have spectated or competed at the games, or been involved in its organisation. It will form part of a display of games memorabilia which is expected to prove popular with visitors.

Among those visiting will be hundreds of representatives from the 10 Scottish clans featured in the event’s Clan Village. This year the clans that will be represented are Burnett, Cochran, Findlay, Forbes, Fraser, Gordon, Hay, Leask, Leslie and Strachan. The Burnett clan is expected to have the largest presence, as around 200 clan members are travelling to the north-east from around the world as part of a week-long gathering.

Events on Saturday get underway at 10am, when the massed pipe bands march through the town and onto Aboyne Green, heralding the start of the day’s competitions. The games will be officially opened at 11:15am by the Marquis of Huntly, at which time the chieftain’s banner will be raised.

Aboyne Highland Games 1871: One of the earliest pictures of the event.

A number of competitions will be watched with keen interest throughout the day by the assembled crowd.

Four events that have been a fixture of every games have this year been classed as Gold Events.

Boasting increased prize money and newly commissioned trophies that have been designed by local teenager Angus Fraser, each event is expected to be fiercely contested.

The open caber toss will see the usual feats of strength and balance from the heavy athletes.

However, with the winner gaining the opportunity to toss the new 23ft 6in (7.15m) long anniversary caber, a close competition is predicted. A field of up to 150 runners are expected to take on the challenging 6.8-mile hill race, which last year was won by Kyle Greig in 42 minutes 58 seconds.

One of the events that made up the programme of the inaugural games is also making a spectacular return after a near 40-year absence. Pole vaulting, once a staple of highland games across Scotland and now only staged at a handful of games, will grace Aboyne Green for the first time since 1978.

Alistair Grant, chairman of Aboyne Highland Games, said:

“Aboyne Highland Games has been an important part of the local community for 150 years, attracting visitors from around the world and occasionally, British and European royalty. Saturday is an opportunity for us to pay homage to our history, celebrate the achievements of today’s competitors and look ahead to the future. It is set to be a special day, which we are marking in a number of ways.

“Seeing Aboyne Green come to life on games day is a fantastic sight. It is the beating heart of the town with plenty going on to entertain all the family. Alongside the usual mix of events, there will be 10 pipe bands performing, a new caber event, the presentation of four stunning new trophies and pole vaulting. The crowd is certainly going to be very well entertained as Aboyne Highland Games celebrates its 150th birthday, and we’d encourage them to be here in time for the opening ceremony at 11:15am.

“Highland games such as ours would not be possible without the hard work that so many volunteers put in throughout the year and the support that we receive from numerous local businesses. We are indebted to them for that continued assistance.”

Aboyne Highland Games takes place on Saturday, 05 August on Aboyne Green, with events getting underway just after 10am. The official opening ceremony commences at 11:15am and events run throughout the afternoon. Those planning to attend Saturday’s event are encouraged to be there in time for the opening ceremony.

Founded in 1867, Aboyne Highland Games is a traditional Scottish highland games held annually on the first Saturday in August. The Aberdeenshire event, held under the patronage of Granville Gordon, the 13th Marquis of Huntly, attracts crowds of up to 10,000 people each year.

Featuring a programme of traditional highland games events, including highland dancing, tossing the caber, piping and fiddle competitions, the event on the town’s green attracts visitors from around the world and makes an important contribution to the local Deeside economy. Further information on Aboyne Highland Games can be found at www.aboynegames.com.

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Jul 282017
 

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

Massed pipe bands at Aboyne Highland Games

For decades, a mysterious figure from the past has looked out from the minutes of the inaugural meeting of Aboyne Highland Games. Now, a century and a half on from that meeting, today’s committee has finally been able to put a name to the person who in 1867 held the title of Lord Provost of Aboyne.

As part of celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of Aboyne Highland Games, the committee embarked on a project to identify the event’s founding fathers.

In July 1867, 20 men met in Aboyne’s Huntly Arms Hotel to discuss the possibility of staging the Royal Deeside town’s first highland games. Within weeks their vision was a reality as several thousand spectators gathered to watch proceedings on Aboyne Green.

Next month, on Saturday, 05 August, a century and a half on, those scenes will be recreated on the town’s green as crowds watch today’s competitors vie for honours in light and heavy athletics, highland dancing, piping and fiddling. The event’s success and appeal ensures it continues to be a highlight of the Royal Deeside summer events calendar.

Thanks to the work of Aberdeen and North-East Scotland Family History Society, a picture of each of these pioneering men has now been created. The professions of the men forming that first committee included a doctor, an innkeeper, a leather merchant, a flesher (butcher), a carpenter, a blacksmith, a wood merchant, a shoemaker, a gamekeeper, a railway porter, two masons and at least five farmers.

The most intriguing entry in the list of attendees was simply given as the Lord Provost of Aboyne, who was noted to have chaired the meeting. The title was most likely ceremonial as Aboyne was not a royal burgh, only a burgh of barony. For this reason, no official council records of Aboyne Town Council are held as part of Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archives.

A newspaper article was to prove crucial in unmasking this eminent figure. The Aberdeen Journal of May, 22 1867 carried a story in which the identity of the Lord Provost of Aboyne was confirmed as a Mr William Mackintosh. This matched the name that was signed at the end of the minute of the first meeting and not listed elsewhere in those minutes.

Kyle Randalls competing at the 2016 Aboyne Highland Games.

Born in early 1830 in the Inverness-shire parish of Daviot and Dunlichity, William Mackintosh was working as an officer of the Inland Revenue in Aboyne at the time of the 1861 census. Following the death of his first wife in 1862, he married Mary Symon in 1864 with whom he had six children. He worked as a general merchant in Aboyne for a number of years before moving to Aberdeen to work as an insurance agent, dying in the city in May 1898.

Amongst the other founding committee members were local GP Dr Alexander Keith, world-renowned highland games competitor Donald Dinnie and his younger brother Lubin.

The proprietor of the town’s Huntly Arms Inn, Charles Cook, local farmers James Esson of Dess, William Grant of Mill of Coull and David Cooper from Glen Tanar, and blacksmith Alexander Gray were also among the group who helped to establish the games.

A fixture of Aboyne Highland Games, where the contribution different families have made to the local area is celebrated, is the clan village, which each year features 10 Scottish clans. This year the clans that will be represented are Burnett, Cochran, Findlay, Forbes, Fraser, Gordon, Hay, Leask, Leslie and Strachan. Aberdeen and North-East Scotland Family History Society will also be on hand to provide advice and assistance to those looking to research their own family history.

The Burnett clan will have one of the largest presences in the clan village at Aboyne Highland Games. Around 200 clan members are travelling to the north-east from around the world as part of a week-long programme of events that forms the clan’s regular gathering.

Those visitors will be among the 10,000 spectators who annually attend Aboyne Highland Games, making it one of north-east Scotland’s most popular traditional summer events. Locals and visitors will be able to toast the event’s success with a commemorative whisky – a 14-year-old Longmorn bourbon cask. Each of the 292 bottles has its own individually numbered certificate.

Alistair Grant, chairman of Aboyne Highland Games, said:

“The Lord Provost of Aboyne has intrigued us for many years and it is great to finally learn a little more about this mysterious figure, and also the other gents who helped establish the games. We are very grateful to Aberdeen and North-East Scotland Family History Society for their assistance.

“The group has done a fantastic job researching some of the family history of the founding committee, identifying where they lived, their occupations and naming their direct descendants. When you look at their professions, these men had important roles to play in the local community and would have been held in high regard.

“Our 150th anniversary is set to be a special day and is being marked in a number of ways. A book containing old pictures and the public’s memories of the games is being created, an anniversary whisky is being bottled and pole vaulting is making a return to programme. It will be great to once again see Aboyne Green come to life on games day and we look forward to welcoming visitors from far and wide to help us celebrate our anniversary.”

Bottles of the 150th Aboyne Highland Games anniversary whisky, which retail at £49.95, can be purchased from the Aboyne branch of Strachan’s of Royal Deeside.

Founded in 1867, Aboyne Highland Games is a traditional Scottish highland games held annually on the first Saturday in August.

The Aberdeenshire event, held under the patronage of Granville Gordon, the 13th Marquis of Huntly, attracts crowds of up to 10,000 people each year. Featuring a programme of traditional highland games events, including highland dancing, tossing the caber and piping, the event on the town’s green attracts visitors from around the world and makes an important contribution to the local Deeside economy.

Further information on Aboyne Highland Games can be found at www.aboynegames.com.

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Jul 212017
 

By Duncan Harley

The British Heart Foundation Scotland will be a major beneficiary from funds raised at ‘Blast from the Past’ – a Classic Car Show featuring rare and unique vehicles from across the North-east – on Saturday 22 July 2017.

“We are delighted that Margaret and Ian McWilliam along with their daughters Jade and Iona have accepted our invitation to join us at the event” says co-organiser Alan Leonard.

“The McWilliams, a local family from Kintore, give up a lot of their time in support of the BHF as their lives have been directly impacted by the effects of heart disease.”

Co-organiser Alan Leonard and main sponsor Alan Wallace of Aberdeen’s AW Autotech chose the Inverurie venue for this inaugural event due to the suitability of the site.

“The area we are using is all in tarmac” says Alan “and we also have the exclusive use of the entire in-door shopping mall and display area.”

“More importantly” he says “From our first contact with Thainstone management they have offered us all of the professional support we could possibly wish for in order to ensure that the event will be a success.”

Alongside the classic cars, the day features family fun complete with kids rides, bouncy castles, music and competitions.

For the young and not so young the show features live action including an Auto-Test competition, parade laps of exhibitors cars and a giant Scalextric Track guaranteed to take the breath away from both adults and kids.

Alongside the more than 200 Classic Car display entries, the show will feature motor-cycles, commercial vehicles plus many rare and unique vehicles. Stars of the show include a 1936 Auburn ‘Boattail’ Speedster and a rare 1961 Daimler Dart.

‘A Blast from the Past’ runs from 10am – 4pm this coming Saturday.
Admission £5 – children under 12 free.
Free parking on site.
More information at http://www.nes-blastfromthepast.co.uk/car-show/

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