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The Carnyx, the Games—Aberdeenshire’s Royal Farewell to Summer

THE CARNYX, THE GAMES—ABERDEENSHIRE’S ROYAL FAREWELL TO SUMMER
or The Royals know where to Party for End of Summer Fun

First Wednesday IWSG Party Time for Insecure Writers and other Scribes

March of the Lonach Men recalls the 1745 Rebellion, when wearing of the kilt was outlawed for 100 years

This Saturday, September 6th, 2019 finds the human Scots-Collective rallying at Braemar in extreme-inland-and-upland Aberdeenshire for the ‘Games’—the Braemar Gathering and Highland Games—in the 12-acre Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park in the town, attended by HM the Queen and her immediate family. It is her last (holiday) appearance in Deeside—and Scotland—before her return at the end of the month to business-as-usual in London.

Aberdeenshire’s Other Summereve’s Celebration

Braemar, on the river Dee, follows a rival tradition—over the mountain and through the pass to Donside—where the (178th) Lonach Gathering and Games was held last Saturday, August 24th in Bellabeg, on the banks of the Don.

Beloved of Lonach fans, Robin Williams at the 2001 Gathering at Bellabeg, Strathdon Aberdeenshire

Known as the Alternative Gathering because of its attraction for Hollywood stars and in-the-know Royals, the Lonach is more of a society promenade than a competitive event. Yes, caber toss, hundredweight lugging and tug-o’war with dainty Highland dancing are all going on within the stadium enclosure, but the action is where international alliances are being forged on the ‘champagne picnic circuit’ ringing the field. Scots actor Billy Connolly is not alone in having a gracious country house within spitting distance of the grandiose Beer Tent; and his international guests are legend—Steve Martin and Robin Williams among them.

It’s an excuse for the remote glen to entertain as many famous international guests as they can squeeze into the valley for their last summer party—and the noble families of Donside hinterland open their houses in force. Sir James Forbes, Bart, cousin to Lord Forbes, head of clan Forbes, leads his green-kilted warriors to pipe and march from 8a.m. until they reach the field at 11a.m. Other pipers and pike-carrying members of the Wallaces and former rival-clan Gordon—join them, swinging in down the winding track.

No Historial Reenactment—Lonach Men March Three Hours through the Glen

Sir James Forbes of Newe, Bart, Patron of the Lonach Highland & Friendly Society, Bellabeg Strathdon

“Scotland in 1823 was on the cusp of monumental change, finally emerging from the bleak post-Culloden years to resume her rightful place in the World. With so much change in the air our ancestors saw the need to preserve their heritage, whilst still embracing the new.

“This is no historical re-enactment. The Lonach March represents an unbroken link from our forefathers to the 21st Century. Encountering the Lonach Highlanders for the first time takes you back to pre-1745 Scotland.”
Sir James Forbes of Newe and Edinglassie, Bart.

The Forbeses were once premier barons of Donside and Mar. Today, despite dwindling fortunes and a rich, punishing history—but unlike rival Gordons—a Forbes remains in possession of the clan’s oldest stronghold, Druminnor—the original 1429 Castle Forbes, seat of Chiefs of Forbes for 500 years. The Gordons rose to become Marquesses and Dukes, lording it over Strathbogie and the North, but Huntly Castle is a ruin and the feud has gone into the history books. Nowadays Lonach Men march together as one.

Flying threadbare standards gifted by Queen Victoria (tattered replaced by new, 2011), the Lonach Men stop at several remote dwellings on their way through the pass, each marcher toasted in whisky, given a dram and ‘haste ye back’, before the next halt. By the time they reach the playing field three hours later, they are in fine fettle.

Drunk or sober, it is the pipers’ duty to play after the day is done, too. They beat the retreat at 5:30p.m. when everybody—upwards of 8,000 souls—starts packing up champagne bucket, shooting stick and cucumber sandwich leftovers, to drive home. There have been years when it took four hours to reach Aberdeen and the coast—42miles away—in single-track traffic from Newe. [For perfectionists, it’s pronounced N-y-ow, like Meow with an N].

Rallying Call to Battle Gathering—Pipes or Carnyx

Celtic continental influence in Roman Scotland, Deskford’s Carnyx battle horn rallied Caledonian troops to march—as haunting a sound as Lonach bagpipes

On a magnificent cloudless late August day, it is tempting to compare the faint haunting call of the pipes as the Lonach Men march into the valley with the battle cry of Pictish hoardes described by Tacitus in A.D.79 at Mons Graupius.

A recent collaboration by Aberdeen and Euro continental archaeologists, comparing the few examples of bronze-cast sacred battle horns—Roman carnyx—allowed a replica to be made which sounds authentic—John Kenny plays, photo left.

Its weird high-pitched call (to battle) is hauntingly similar to the sound of the pibroch from a single piper’s drone on a high mountain pass. The Deskford carnyx , found in 1816 Banffshire (now Aberdeenshire) was ritually buried (on a battlefield?) with gold, silver, bronze bell, the battle horn itself a stylized boar’s head with upturned snout, signifying bravery of an indomitable superior race.

Sacred to the Picts, carved Boar stone from Donside, Aberdeenshire approx. A.D.420-700—earliest clan animal of Forbes and Gordon, courtesy National Museums of Scotland

Pictish Symbols Distilled into Clan Heraldry
Roman legions called them the painted people. In A.D.4thC Ammianus Marcellinus’s historical accounts Dicalydones were northern tribes: one of two branches of Picti, Picts, Roman chronicler Tacitus’s Caledonians who inhabited modern-day Moray, Banff and Buchan. The second group were the Verturiones who occupied southern territories of modern Fife, Perthshire, Forfar (Fortriu) and Lothian. Carnyces have turned up in sacred settings along Roman routes through France to northern Baltic. There is a famous carnyx series embossed on the silver Gundestrup cauldron found in 1891 in a Baltic peat bog in Jutland, dating to around 2nd Century B.C. Its boar-headed shape has the same curvature, and was the work of Iron Age Celtic Franco-Germanic artists.

My fellow IWSG-ers and our Cap’n at the Helm, Alex will agree that we writers who have the advantage of Space-Time awareness, courtesy of our ancestral lineage, know how the power of sound/music—certain plaintive notes—can trigger a rush of joy, inspiration, fresh creativity.

Danzig Willie’s Craigievar William Forbes, creator of Craigievar Castle in Upper Donside brought the style of France to the Aberdeenshire hinterland, 1686

It may be my historical-fantasy-bias that drives me to compare the pale single note of an ancient Pictish battle horn against Roman battalions in rural Banff, with an even fainter soul-wrenching skirl of bagpipes played on a high mountain pass in Corgarff, but the heart beats faster when both are sounded.

Is my historical desire to link the fantastic Pictish family of animal symbols with the conquering (Scots) lineage A.D.845 so farfetched?

Forbes tradition has it that their ancestor, Pictish chief Ochonochar, trapped a boar which was terrorizing the neighborhood. Their emblem shows stylized muzzled boar. The House of Gordon has a similar legend for their boar crest worn by the Cock o’ the North. Pictish Class I Boar stone, as late as A.D.700, above, was a Donside symbol—just as the Pictish Bull is mainly associated with Burghead and Moray.

IWSGers with Scots-Irish ancestry, even when writing deadlines hover—today is Anthology Contest—know we all enjoy a dip in the gene pool.

Have fun. Take a last wild plunge before summer ends. Let me know how it feels.
Thanks for listening.
©2019 Marian Youngblood

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September 4, 2019 Posted by | ancient rites, authors, blogging, culture, festivals, history, popular, publishing, ritual, seasonal, traditions, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Muckle Spate and Sunflower Update

still standing tall; supported by invisible puppet strings from the heavens

November sunflower: supported by invisible puppet strings from the heavens

In case no-one’s noticed: it’s November. Snow has fallen in Colorado, the Rockies, Kamchatka and Iceland. Frost came to Northeast Scotland, but it was puny compared with what descended last week AND last month AND September: we’re talking floods here. What they used to call – when country people were country folk – a Muckle Spate.

Now there have been spates and floods before. Weather in Scotland, or Ultima Thule, is and always has been the topic which gets most discussion year-round. It’s because of its location:

Americans in particular are amazed to learn that the Moray Firth in Scotland lies at the same latitude as Juneau, Alaska.

For the latitude of Ultima Thule, the farthest and northernmost point of habitable land, read nine degrees below the Arctic Circle, or what is euphemistically named the Northern Temperate Zone. So it’s not unreasonable to experience weather conditions which are enormously influenced by the Atlantic Ocean on one coast and the North Sea on the other.

Gulf Stream warm current annually maintains North Britain frost-free

The powerful warm Gulf Stream current maintains waters mild in Ultima Thule

At the northern end of the Atlantic, the Atlantic Conveyor kicks in, swimming through the Bristol Channel, up the Irish Sea, through the Minch and cresting at the entrance to the Pentland Firth. A small portion of this powerful warm current (more affectionately known as the Gulf Stream or North Atlantic Drift) noses its way along the Pentland Firth between Orkney and Mainland Scotland and curls back south to run inland along the Moray Firth, so-called Aberdeenshire’s North Coast. In historical summers, it has been known to create balmy climes for residents of these northern shores.

For those not aware of these obscure locations in an otherwise frozen belt of Icelandic waters, GoogleEarth will happily provide up-to-the-minute and up-to-the last aerially-photographed section of the Moray Firth, Orkney and Shetland Isles and Mainland Scotland.

Mouth of the Deveron and Duff House at Banff

The River Deveron near Duff House at Banff

Aerial photographers, however, have had a difficult time of it these last three months. Unless, that is, you were racking up overhead shots of flooded football pitches and river basins fulfilling their description as ‘flood-plains’. Some photographers have documented Council employees who have had to stop road-laying and sweeping to race to the aid of a vast area of housing and newbuild schemes on the ‘rescue’ list in need of sandbags, rehousing the homeless, or pumping out flooded basements and High Street shopfronts.

The fact that these new houses were built on ‘flood-plain’ in the first place is something this blogger prefers not to discuss at this point.

Abnormally high rainfall in September washed out roads in the Highlands and Scotland’s West Coast at Oban and Skye. Over a four-day period in October, rivers Don and Dee in Aberdeenshire overflowed and took out roads and bridges in Banchory, Kintore and Inverurie and claimed the life of a farmer. The Rivers Spey and the Lossie at Elgin on the Moray coast reached record high levels. The Deveron at Banff flooded golf courses, links, part of the Old Town and made the A98 coast road impassible.

one of Genl. Wade's bridges a little worse for wear

One of Gen. Wade's bridges a little worse for wear

Overnight on Hallowe’en and into the early hours of November 1st, the total expected rainfall for the month of November fell in six hours, and put Aberdeenshire Council into the red in its attempts to rescue and rehouse residents made homeless by rivers Carron and Cowie bursting their banks at Stonehaven and the rivers Bogie and Deveron flooding new houses at Huntly.

Aberdeenshire’s North Coast shares something in common with those river valleys in the glacial excavation grinding through the Mounth, the Cairngorms, and the Grampian and Ladder Hills. They have always had extremes of weather. Prophets of global warming suggested cooling temperatures for North Britain in 2005. Yet in the interim, except for the Wet Summer of 2009, Scotland has experienced record high temperatures. House building in floodplains has progressed apace. No wonder Mother Nature decided this year to rebel and balance the books.

She did something similar in the summer of 1829. It was the year of the Great Flood, or in the Northeast vernacular, The Muckle Spate o’ ’29.

If records are to be believed, three months’ worth of rain fell in one week in August of that year, inundating crops and farmland, transporting cattle, sheep, dogs and men from their homes downstream for miles. Bridges were heavy casualties. Even those robust granite bridges built by General George Wade (1673-1748) in 1724 to withstand the weight of his marching troops and to guide his mapmakers through the wilds of Scotland on their first attempt to document the country for King George I. But two centuries have elapsed since then and road- and bridge-building has advanced a pace. Or have they?

Turriff United football ground, Aberdeenshire

Turra United: the fitba' pitch at Turriff, Aberdeenshire

In November, 2009, the Dee washed out the road and bridge at Banchory. Banff causeway was underwater and the Don bridge at Inverurie had water level with the arches. The Old Dee Bridge at Aberdeen was closed, as were roads involving bridges supplying Oldmeldrum, Kintore, Dyce, Turriff, Huntly, Stonehaven, Glass, Keith, Aberchirder, Ellon, Deskford, Banff, MacDuff, Elgin, Findhorn, Forres and Alford.

For all our computer-generated map-making and architect-free design models of flood plains, physical geography and world climate patterns, one would think we had learned something. Last week’s freak storm suggests we haven’t.

I thought you’d like to read a brief excerpt from the vernacular poem ‘The Muckle Spate o’ ‘Twenty-nine’ by David Grant, published in 1915 by the Bon-Accord Press, Aberdeen. Its subject matter was focused on the River Dee at Strachan (pronounced Stra’an) – a mile of so from the base of the Mounth. If you need a translation, I might suggest you ask someone from the ‘old school’ and keep handy a copy of Aberdeen University Press‘s Concise Scots Dictionary. Enjoy.

sunflower and stone circle after the storm

Giant sunflower and stone circle after three storms

Oh, yes. My giant sunflower: she weathered all three storms. She flowered during October, turning daily towards the light until it no longer rose above the shelterbelt of trees. Then, holding her south-facing stance, she pulled her yellow petals inwards as if to cloak her next (a sunflower’s most important) operation: to set seed. She showed a little yellow up until yesterday, but her colour is now mostly gone. Unlike her two less-lofty companions, she has not gone mouldy; but I hesitate to describe the activity presently occurring in her centre as ‘seed-setting’.

It rained again today after three days of watery sun. I think she may still have time to stretch herself into the record books: as the latest-bloomer of all time to brave insane weather and still reach her goal: the Giant Sunflower of Ultima Thule. Spates be damned.

The Muckle Spate o’ ‘Twenty-Nine by David Grant

‘At Ennochie a cluckin’ hen wis sittin’ in a kist,
Baith it an’ her were sweelt awa’ afore the creatur’ wist;
We saw her passin’ near Heugh-head as canty as ye like,
Afore her ark a droonit stirk, ahint a droonit tyke,
An’ ran anent her doon the banks for half-a-mile or mair,
Observin’ that, at ilka jolt, she lookit unca scare,
As gin she said within hersel’ – ‘Faur ever am I gyaun?
I nivver saw the like o’ this in Birse nor yet in Stra’an.
Faur ever am I gyaun, bairns? Nae canny gait, I doot;
Gin I cud but get near the side, I think I wad flee oot.’
We left her near the Burn o’ Frusk, an’ speculatit lang
Gin she were carri’t to the sea afore her ark gaed wrang,
An’ may be spairt by Davie Jones to bring her cleckin’ oot,
Gin she wad rear them like a hen or like a water coot.’

November 10, 2009 Posted by | gardening, Muse, nature, stone circles, weather, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments