“For all the Tea”: The Story of the Scots in China

Our extended 2021/2022 Programme was brought to an exhilarating conclusion on 21 April, when John Henderson introduced us to a vividly presented cast of Scots whose lasting influence upon Scotland’s relationship with China over the last two hundred years encompassed activities as diverse as Commerce, Healthcare, Plant Hunting, Ship-building, Missionary Work, Diplomacy and Bi-Lateral Trade, not least in tea and opium, but extending in more modern times to include food products, engineering and of course Whisky! In addition, Scotland fosters contemporary educational and cultural links through tourism and the Confucius Institutes in three of our major universities.

In the midst of current uncertainties and anxieties, this was an evening to remind us of Winston Churchill’s famous quote that ‘of all the small nations of this earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind’.

They told no lie:artists of the Great War

Thursday 17 March saw the very welcome return of Colin Johnston, whose deep knowledge of the impact of the Great War on the lives of those who experienced it fuelled an absorbing talk on the artistic flowering precipitated by this horrific conflict. The talk was of course given added poignancy by the current events in Eastern Europe and our hearts go out to those enduring the warfare in Ukraine.

This ‘Sceptered Isle’: Tales of Iona, Mull and Staffa

Gordon Casely delivered this talk on 17 February with his customary panache, taking his audience on a trip through the marvels of Mull, then the geological wonders of Staffa’s basalt columns, ending with a pictorial journey to Iona. This was exploration through delightful pictures and tasteful commentary, highlighting the natural beauties of this remarkable part of the world. Iona rightly took pride of place for many in the audience, with its remarkable history as a key north European cultural centre, focussing on the early Christian settlements, the Viking attacks and the restoration of the Cathedral led by the redoubtable Revd. George Macleod and the unemployed craftsmen from Glasgow. Seventeen kings are buried here, including, some say, Macbeth. But it is not simply a place of the past: through the Iona Community the Island’s spirit and purpose endure. This beacon in the Hebrides.

‘A saxmonth for tae fee’ – The Bothy Ballads and their World.

As befits our Christmas meeting, our talk on 9 December was billed not so much as a presentation but, rather, as an entertainment. And entertaining it most certainly was, with our Committee member Brian Patterson regaling us with a fund of anecdotes of his early years: the family move from Cults to the Aboyne area, his schooling at Lumphanan and his years as a fee’d loon. (As part of the preparation, a two and a half-hour interview with Brian had been recorded and is now in the archives of the Elphinstone Institute at Aberdeen University.)

Inimitably, Hector Riddell – with his voice as strong and his mastery of the lyrics as impressive as ever, despite two years of lockdown – sang a number of bothy ballads illustrating key aspects of Brian’s stories. Yet all of this was also richly informed and instructional, providing vivid insights, delivered in fluent Doric into a key aspect of North-East heritage: the story of farm life in the bothies and chaumers – the humour and vitality, the joys as well as the deprivations, of a way of country life now gone, but here, richly remembered.

The Jacobites and Upper Deeside

Thursday 18 November – ‘It was a’ for our rightful King’ (Burns) – a Talk by Maureen Kelly.

There is a school of thought that the Jacobite cause and its rebellions (and even that word is hotly contested, being itself a hostage to history’s fortune) of 1689, 1715, 1719 and 1745/6, are best regarded as the long rumble of the earlier Bishops’ War in Scotland. Be that as it may, it is a fascinating and complex topic, one that Maureen’s lively lecture brought vividly to life, with the various political, social, economic, personal and dynastic entanglements enthusiastically explained. Of particular interest was her detailed research on the local dimension – how the struggles impacted the lives of local people. The King may have been ‘over the water’ and with him his cause, but local communities bore the brunt, and hold the memory.

The Scots in Canada

On 21 October, Mary Duncan, the Honorary Canadian Consul in Scotland, gave a stimulating and wide-ranging talk on the impact made by Scots on the development of Canada.

According to the Canadian census of 2016, nearly 5 million people, about 14% of the population, claimed to be of Scottish descent. The influence of Scots on Canadian development may well have been exaggerated by some, but there can be little doubt that, if only in terms of the relative size of the two countries, it was wholly disproportionate, particularly in politics, commerce, industry and education. In some aspects, it was huge, for example in the Hudson Bay Company, with its massive Orkadian numbers, who, as the American historian Bernard de Vito wrote, “pulled the wilderness around them like a cloak, and wore its beauty like a crest”. (The impact on local wildlife was of course an altogether different story!)

Mary’s talk highlighted many aspects of Scottish influence by reference to the contributions of major figures such as Alexander MacKenzie (explorer extraordinaire and buried back home at Avoch on the Black Isle), John MacDonald (Canada’s first Prime Minister), James McGil (founder of the great university), and also the extraordinary ‘ordinary’ men and women from Scotland who built a new life and helped to forge a new country.

The Past at Risk – The NE Scotland Preservation Trust

Our 2021-2022 session opened, we are delighted to say, on 16 September, with a face-to -face meeting back in the Church Hall after months of Zooms. Marcus Humphrey got us off to a great start with his talk on the outstanding work carried out by the NE Scotland Preservation Trust, of which he is Chairman. Restoring and recovering buildings at risk is obviously a topic close to the Village’s heart and Marcus demonstrated what is possible , given the right combination of perseverance and support, combined of course with a robust business and financial model. When and where the past is in peril, rescue options in the right hands are indeed available: a great message for the Heritage Society and our communities.

The Romans in the North East

On 15 April, Nancy Jardine spoke to us about the Ancient Roman invasions of Aberdeenshire by General Agricola in c.AD 84 and Emperor Severus in c. AD 210.

They say look at your surroundings and you’ll see your heritage. Well, yes and no. The Romans made sustained incursions into the north-east of Scotland – their marching camps are strung out like beads along the route of the A96. The one at Kintore is truly of European significance; the one at Stonehaven demonstrates their strategic use of naval power; the one at Logic Durno is the biggest one north of the Antonine Wall. Yet we mainly shoot past without knowing they are even there. And then there is evidence which we keep looking for but not even with aerial scrutiny can we find: primarily of course the site of the Mons Graupius battlefield. (If indeed it ever existed.). And did Calgacus ever live – he of the fabled line “they have created a desert and called it peace”.

Nancy brought expertise and an engaging enthusiasm to her talk, which provided a deeply-informed and extremely well-illustrated guide to this complicated but endlessly fascinating period of our history.

Putting Aboyne on the Map

Maps for many of us are seldom other than enthralling and our talk on 18 March by Laragh Quinney, Maps Reading Rooms Manager at the National Library of Scotland, was appropriately compelling. The NLS has a collection of over two million maps and atlases, over 200,000 of which have been digitised. Laragh’s presentation illustrated a wide range of historical maps of Aboyne and Deeside and she demonstrated on the website: how readily users can access the collection online to reveal in astonishing detail both the underlying continuities and also the radical transformations in our communities over the years. This was readily acknowledged to be a hugely valuable resource for everyone interested in our rich heritage.

The Fife Arms

Our talk on 19 February gave us a fascinating insight into the recent, award-winning refurbishment of the Fife Arms Hotel in Braemar.

The story of the Fife Arms Project is, by any measure, a remarkable one and, as told and illustrated by two virtuosos from our own community: Ben Addy, the architect and his brother Tom, in charge of demolition and construction, it made for compelling listening and viewing. Astonishingly fresh and novel in its approach to restoration and refurbishment, the hotel retains its historic character whilst highlighting local heritage and craft skills. A building to visit; a talk to savour.