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.


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.

Apr 202017

With thanks to Aberdeen/Shire Greens.

After famously standing a mannequin in the 2012 Aberdeen local elections, Renée Slater is back as a candidate in her own right, standing in the Torry & Ferryhill ward for the Scottish Green Party.

The mannequin, Helena Torry, emerged as an activist figurehead in 2010 in campaigns against the destruction of Union Terrace Gardens, and soon became popular in anti-austerity protests.

As Renée witnessed the effects of cuts to services for disabled people and young people, she wanted to bring these issues into the spotlight and challenge the antagonistic political climate with humour.

In the 2012 council elections, she registered Helena as a candidate to represent ‘the voice of the silent majority.’

When authorities realised that Helena was not a real person, Renée was arrested. She was held until a prisoner exchange took place, and Helena was locked up for a year. The story was covered across the UK, and further afield [links below]. After Renée’s acquittal, Helena continued to support local causes, including the campaign for Scottish Independence.

Renée has been involved in local politics and activism for more than 40 years, and she joined the Scottish Greens in 2014. In standing for Aberdeen City Council in 2017, she hopes to help address issues across the city, from housing and jobs to local pollution and public health.

After years of bitter conflict between Labour and the SNP, Renée and other Green candidates want to bridge the divide and work constructively across parties.

Renée said,

“I’m concerned about inter-party bickering. It’s time we pulled together for all the people of Aberdeen. It’s time to make a change.”


BBC Report: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WRFl9jvOCw
Daily Politics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJEL56CMOzc
ITV: http://www.itv.com/news/2012-04-20/mannequin-removed-from-scottish-elections/
BBC News: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-20970395
Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/04/20/shop-dummy-for-councillor-aberdeenshire_n_1440348.html
The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/woman-arrested-after-entering-mannequin-into-council-elections-7665476.html
Other: https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/tag/helena-torry/

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Jul 292016

Aberdeen in 100 Dates Elma McMenemy book launch2By Duncan Harley.

Aberdeen’s Gordon Highlander Museum was the setting for the launch of Mearns author Elma McMenemy’s new book ‘Aberdeen in 100 Dates’.

A professional Blue Badge Tourist Guide, Elma has more than 30 years experience of working with Scotland’s visitors and has built up a vast repertoire of tales showcasing the rich and varied history of both Aberdeen City and the hinterland of the North east.

Her previous book focussed on the often macabre and bloody history of Aberdeen and in this new collection of local tales Elma leads the reader on a journey through 100 of the key dates which have shaped the development of the city.

Aimed, as Elma explains, at “people who would not normally open a history book” the publication has already proved popular especially with fellow tour guides who plan to use it as a research tool when preparing guided tours around Aberdeen and the North east.

“Its easy to talk to a coach full of tourists” she says,

“but putting words down on paper is quite another thing. Aberdeen is such a brilliant and helpful place. No-one I have asked has so far refused to help me in my research!”

The book presents as a sound-bite tour-de-force of popular folk and historical tales. With one story per page and illustrated throughout with line drawings, there’s plenty to interest even the most informed reader and visitors unfamiliar with the North east will undoubtedly be tempted to delve deeper into many of the stories highlighted within the 124pp.

Dedicated to a godson “who loved all sort of trivia”, the 100 dates kick off with an examination of the arrival in Aberdeen of Christianity courtesy of St Machar, a 6th century disciple of St Columba. Given that each tale is restricted in length to approximately 230 words, the author manages to pack in a good amount of information and leads the reader quickly from St Machar’s arrival on Iona on to the miraculous tale of St Machar’s Well and the eventual founding of Aberdeen’s St Machar’s Cathedral.

On June 5th 1815 we learn that a large mob “not falling short of half a thousand, attacked the White Ship, a house of ill repute run by Meggie Dickie”. The military were seemingly summoned to arrest the ringleaders one of whom was transported for seven years. Resurrectionists feature in the story of another Aberdeen riot, this time dated 19th December 1831.

Seemingly a mob burned down the local anatomy theatre after discarded human remains were found nearby. Who said Aberdeen was a boring city?

Bloody Harlaw, the founding of Aberdeen Golf Club, the epic tale of the Scottish Samurai and the Royal connections of William McCombie and his prize Aberdeen Angus Bull, Jeremy Eric, feature alongside the “crushing defeat of Rangers in the 1982 Scottish Cup” and the tragic gas explosion which, in 1983, destroyed the Royal Darroch Hotel in Cults.

Aberdeen_in_100_Dates_coverThe two concluding stories are bang up to date and describe the charity auction of Aberdeen’s Dolphin Sculptures and the 2016 discovery of 92 bodies buried beneath Aberdeen Art Gallery. Art critics perhaps?

In short, from quirky to gruesome, there’s plenty here to interest everyone.

Inevitably in a work of this complexity there are debatable issues. Fitting 100 tales onto 124 pages is no mean feat. The Aberdeen typhoid description is a case in point and includes the oft repeated line that there were no deaths.

However given that most local histories mirror this notion, the contention is perhaps forgivable and the three folk who died as a result the epidemic will no doubt forgive the repetition.

A slight criticism is however due, regarding the lack of chapter headings or even an index. Apart from the chronology of year, month and date there is little to inform the reader regarding the content of each section and although Elma’s general introduction clearly sets out the parameters of the book’s historical context, the lack of a formal navigation structure restricts the reader to a dipping in and out approach.

Aberdeen in 100 Dates is published in paperback by The History Press at £7.99
ISBN 978-0750-960311

First published in the Summer 2016 edition of Leopard Magazine.

Sep 252015

YouthCouncilacycThmWith thanks to Martin Carle, Public Relations Officer, Aberdeen City Youth Council.

Aberdeen’s City Youth Council is to hold a hustings event on Monday 28th September for the upcoming local council by-elections.
The by-elections (in Midstocket/Rosemount and George Street/Harbour) are fast approaching, and the hustings event is a fantastic chance to see all the different parties involved having their say.

The event is open to the public and the information for the evening is as follows:

Location- Aberdeen City Town House
Time- 6.30-8.45pm

Light Refreshment Available.

The Youth Council has previously held a hustings for the by-elections within the Hilton and Kincorth areas in July.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Apr 232015

By Julia Ghisoni.RowiesRollsPancakes

Fa is it maks the best rowies?
Is it Murdoch Allan or Thains?
Or the Aberdeen Buttery Co.?
Or Aitken’s, I jist dinna ken
Far div ye ging for proper pies,
In proper pastry casings?
Ye dinna get them in Gregg’s
It’s Chalmer’s, Thain’s or Aitken’s ?
Pies wi’ chicken curry
Scotch pies, mince an’ tattie
There’s naethin’ sae fine for yer denner
Than a steak pie in a saftie.
The finest wee baker in Cults
Is soon tae be no more
Will Sainsbury’s sell decent pies
Fan Kelly shuts his door?
Div ye min The Baker’s Oven?
Mitchell Muil, Strathdee?
Low’s the baker in Torry?
Granite City Bakery?
Pies wi’ beans an’ tatties
Pies wi’ macaroni
Bridies, stovies, sassidge rolls
Pies wi’ mince an’ skirlie
The Gordon Baker, The Bedford
The Greenfern an’ The Byron
The Newton Dee an’ JG Ross
Oh fit rare, fit fine min.
There’s naewye like the ‘deen
If ye wint fine pies, it’s a caiker
Bide awa’ fae Gregg’s
An’ support yer local baker
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Oct 202014

614717_147651478707521_945393330_oWith thanks to Mike Tyers.

Interesting Music Promotions are delighted to announce a special tribute night in honour of John
Ten years on from his untimely death, we will honour his memory and legacy by having a whole evening of eclectic music, lots of fun & a dance floor rammed full.

This Saturday 25th October #KeepingItPeel, no less than 7 local acts present great value for a reasonable ticket price, and represent the variety and that enthusiasm for the unique and unusual which John Peel will always be remembered.


Longstanding friends of IMP, “the best band you have never heard of” are utterly sublime, producing a unique post rock/electronica/dancey vibe.

Min Diesel:

Local indie band who are definitely moving out of the lofi into even more interesting music territory.

“An impatient Dinosaur jr (or) Shellac with more soul” – The Fly

Debut album out very soon.

Autumn Hang (Dub Set):

Another local who is prolific at turning out cd’s and is starting (quite rightly) to get more live shows. His set tonight will be electronic based but we will “expect the unexpected” as we always do and we will delight in what he offers up.

Kitchen Cynics (special Peel tribute):

Local music genius. There, I’ve said it. Expect something poignant and great for this special event.

Sonically Depicting:

A new experimental band featuring Haylan Jay & John Cavanagh ( he of the walking music encyclopaedia & Scottish BBC). They are so new we don’t have a link to this project…yet.

Best Girl Athlete (Minty Fresh Records / Fitlike Records):

Without doubt one of NE Scotland’s best comedy acts, they are also very fine in the music they produce. Best new duo in Aberdeen in our opinion …Simply do not miss. They have  just signed to the really cool American label Minty Fresh Records as recently highlighted in a superb review of them in the Evening Express.

Strawberry Wine DJ’s:

Spinning some Peel faves and beyond. Amazing music knowledge and depth, and always hearing great new (old) music from their nights at Cellar 35.

All proceeds after artist expenses to appropriate local or Scottish music charities to enhance musical inspiration.

Saturday 25th Oct 2014
Tunnels 1
8 till late

Early bird tickets £7.50 available from – https://www.wegottickets.com/event/277357



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Jun 272014

David Innes reviews Hidden Aberdeenshire: The Coast by Dr Fiona-Jane Brown.

Hidden AberdeenshireHard on the heels of her well-received 2013 volume Hidden Aberdeen, Dr Brown shifts her authorial focus beyond the city boundaries to the traditional county of Aberdeenshire.

More precisely, she visits its coasts abutting the North Sea and Moray Firth, along the way unearthing tales and anecdotes from the area’s fascinating history.

An immediate tip of the hat to her for recognising that Aberdeenshire is a geographical and cultural entity, not a post-1974 local governmental fiefdom, a welcome approach for those of us who rant as Andrea or Norman refer crazily to ‘Banff, Aberdeenshire’ or ‘Gourdon, Aberdeenshire’ on STV News.

Publishing in the same pocket-friendly format as Hidden Aberdeen, and maintaining its economical but fact-packed 450-word/two-page feature format, it is, like its predecessor, extremely readable and informative. Organised in discrete geographical areas, it will be easy for readers to visit most of the places in each section in a long half day, or even less.

The excellent bibliography is a welcome additional resource for those who wish to dig a bit more deeply beyond the details in the book’s chapters.

It has been said of Hardy’s Return Of The Native that Egdon Heath, the windswept wilderness on which the action takes place, is the dominating and defining character. Whilst the sea, its shore and fertile hinterland provide the canvas, Hidden Aberdeenshire celebrates the people who have enriched history and folklore of these lands over the centuries.

Fascinating insights are given to the lives of flint miners, smugglers, heroes of shipwrecks, a war artist who chronicled the foreign exploits of TE Lawrence, Peterheid loon and unlikely Prussian hero Field Marshal James Keith and the proprietor of an ironically-named Blue Toon whorehouse.

You will warm to the outcry raised by St Fergus’s villagers when a well-meaning restorer removed the extra minute from the village clock, smile at the account of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle being given a keeker in a boxing bout aboard a Peterhead whaling boat and be reminded of how impressive a modern cultural icon is the Pennan phone box.

Just about all human life is within this extremely-readable compact volume’s pages, another triumph for the author. More please.

Hidden Aberdeenshire: The Coast
Dr Fiona-Jane Brown
Black & White Publishing
ISBN 978 1 84502 757 5
96 pp

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Mar 282014

Aberdeen and its hinterland in the 19th century, from the research published in Fishermen, Randies and Fraudsters, had its fair share of criminals hell-bent on pursuing their career of choice no matter the misery or inconvenience caused and generally undeterred by the sanctions likely to be applied if caught.  Review by David Innes

Fishermen Randies And FraudstersBurglars, pickpockets, drunkards, whores and murderers all feature as Archibald paints a picture of urban and rural lawlessness and the increasingly difficult task faced by the authorities in attempting to keep some sort of order with so few resources and tight budgets, 200 years before central police forces, remote control rooms and controversy over corroboration.

These were the days before highly-organised law enforcement, sophisticated communication technology, forensics and general respect for those attempting to keep order, yet some of the crime solutions Archibald features show ingenuity, bravery and doggedness.

There are also examples of enforcement officers’ stupidity and occasional willingness to partake of petty crime themselves.

Nothing changes, it seems.

Archibald even includes an interesting civil case concerning the whaling industry and ownership of a whale wounded by one ship but finally pursued to the kill by another, a tale that exposes the hardship and brutality of this profession as well as the colossal rewards at stake.

Fishermen, Randies and Fraudsters gives a well-researched  overview of those far-off times, the individuals concerned and the increasingly-difficult job of detection of miscreants which led, almost inevitably, to the establishment of modern, organised police forces. Whilst it is informative and insightful, the narrative might have been presented in a more lively way, but that is a minor criticism of a worthy addition to NE history.

Fishermen, Randies and Fraudsters

Malcolm Archibald (Black & White Publishing)
ISBN10: 1 84502 744 2 ISBN13: 978 1 84502 744 5
256 pp

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Mar 282014

Neil Stirton, sales manager at Deeside BreweryA popular north-east brewery has launched two of its beers in Sainsbury’s stores to meet increasing customer demand for its Scottish craft beers. With thanks to Rebecca Buchan.

Deeside Brewery, based in Banchory, will offer its Macbeth (Scottish pale ale) and LAF (California steam beer) from this month at twelve Sainsbury’s stores across North Scotland.

After a rebrand in 2012 and a move to larger purpose built facilities at the beginning of 2013; the business now employs three people and has experienced a period of rapid growth with production levels recently doubling from 1440HL per year to 2880HL per year (514,300 pints).

Earlier this month, the brewery’s newest product, Deeside craft lager was acknowledged as runner up in the Best New Retail Product category at the Grampian Food Forum Innovation Awards.

This recent success follows an ongoing relationship with Aldi which saw the brewery supply a number of its products to the chain as part of Aldi’s summer and winter beer festivals. Each festival took place in 49 stores and saw over 150,000 bottles of ale sold from a number of Scottish breweries.

Mike Bain, managing director of Deeside Brewery, said:

“Getting balance right between availability and exclusivity of our products is important. Our beers are currently available in various delis, specialist drinks shops and a number of high end venues across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire and this relationship with Sainsbury’s is a real opportunity for us to engage with a number of craft beer drinkers out with the local area.

“Entering into this agreement with a national supermarket is a real testament to the team at the brewery who work hard to produce new and exclusive products for the craft beer market and will ultimately aid future business growth. We are confident we will be looking at further expansion through exclusive relationships with distributors as the quality of our products is appreciated and reflected by consumer demand.”

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