It was hard to believe that we had been traveling around for 5 weeks already. Where did the time go? We only had 6 remaining days before the girls would board a flight in Aberdeen to head back home to Oregon. I still had several places I wanted to share with them before they left. Luckily, they were all located nearby in Aberdeenshire, so we had just the right amount of time to fit them all in comfortably.
On Saturday, August 24th, we rose early, enjoyed a good hearty breakfast that would sustain us for a while, and then piled into the car and drove out to Strathdon to attend The Lonach Gathering. Out of all the Highland Games, this is my favorite. I was so glad I had the opportunity to take the girls and show them what authentic Highland Games are all about.
Early in the morning, the Clansmen gather together in full highland dress and assemble to begin “The Lonach March.” With banners flying the Clansmen march down the road behind their police escort (a Bobby on a bicycle) carrying their pikes, playing their bagpipes and beating their drums through the village, past the arena where the games take place, culminating their march at the Lonach Hall where they enjoy a private lunch before the games begin.
This tradition has been passed on from generation to generation. Unfortunately, we didn’t leave early enough to arrive in time to see the men actually marching down the road. Still, we were able to see them gathered together afterward, hear the speeches, and watch them toast their society with a dram of whisky.
The Chieftain of the clan is Sir James Forbes of Newe, Bart (pictured at right), and serves as Patron of the Lonach Highland & Friendly Society. He wrote the Patron’s Welcome Message of days’ event,
“Welcome to the home of the Lonach Highland & Friendly Society. Lonach was founded in 1823 by my Gt-Gt-Gt-Grandfather, Sir Charles Forbes, 1st Baronet of Newe & Edinglassie. The Society was born in the afterglow of his son’s 21st birthday celebrations to keep the good fellowship of that night going. Little surprise then that almost 200 years later, the Lonach Gathering is recognized as Scotland’s friendliest games.
In 1823 Scotland 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. 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, but this is no historical re-enactment.
That spirit of continuity drives our commitment to our founders’ goals throughout the year. On Lonach Day all roads lead to Strathdon, but once the crowds have departed and the Lonach field has returned to its primary role as pasture, the Society continues in its year-round commitment to the “preservation of Highland garb and the promotion of social and friendly feelings among the inhabitants of the district” as well as “supporting loyal, peaceable and manly conduct.” Ho Ho Lonach!.”
After the speeches, the men fell into line again and marched the rest of the way up the hill to the Hall to enjoy their lunch. The girls got their first chance to hear pipes and drums and marching boots passing by just inches away!
Grace also enjoyed meeting the horse firsthand…
We then made our way down to the pasture, where the games were taking place. We walked around the stalls where they sold all sorts of Scottish ware and eventually found a spot to watch the games.
They featured the usual running races for all ages, including the significant Hill Run that takes them around the arena and then out into the woods to the top of a nearby hill and back again.
Grace found a perfect spot with an excellent view of the Heavy-weight competitions such as the hammer throw and caber toss. She stayed in that spot all day, taking it all in and never tired of the spectacle before her.
Errin and I walked around a bit more, taking in the sights, and we also managed to see a nice variety of examples of both historical and contemporary highland dress scattered amongst the attendees.
Near the end of the day, Grace even got in the action! She joined the ‘women from around the world’ team for the tug-of-war! She had great fun and gave it her all as their kilted coach spiritedly encouraged them on!
It was an absolutely fantastic day at the Highland Games, but we were slightly tired the following day. We decided to recharge our batteries and relaxed at home. Grace made gluten-free lemon curd tarts with raspberries, a Scottish favorite that she had noticed in shops, and wanted to try to make herself. She was quite pleased with the results and rightly so! They were gorgeous to look at and tasted even better than they looked!
On Monday, August 26th, we headed back out into the countryside to visit another Stone Circle. Grace wasn’t with us when we visited Midmar, SunHoney, and Cullerlie Stone circles the week before, so she got her first experience while visiting East Aquhorthies near Inverurie.
The path to the circle is well-marked and is an easy walk. There it was, just as I had remembered – very well kept and protected and looking very distinct and important.
Errin entered the circle, found its center, and once again, sensed the powerful energy within its circumference. She heard the horn again, and it actually sounded louder, clearer, and closer than the other sites she had visited before. She sensed that this circle was more powerful or significant somehow than the others.
We noticed the neighboring herd of cattle had become quite curious and had come over to look at the tourists. They were such a friendly lot allowing us to pet them. One of the cows particularly enjoyed licking the palms of Errin’s hands, making her giggle!
As we strolled back to the car, I pointed out the nearby mountain top called Bennachie (pronounced – Ben/a/hee), where at least one of the unique large flanking stones of the circle had originally come from. If I remember correctly, the rock is red Jasper.
In the vicinity, there are also several other circles, stones, and archeological sites to visit.
We didn’t visit those other sites but instead drove back to Aberdeen and spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around and exploring the David Welch Winter Gardens at Duthie Park. We started in the section that is arid and desert-like filled with all manner of cacti…
…worked our way through the tropical section, the flowers, the fern house, the Japanese garden, and enjoyed the little turtles under the bridge.
It had been a fun day exploring, but I could tell Grace was a bit spent afterward as she relaxed on a lovely round stone sphere outside in the courtyard.
She was still feeling a bit tired the following day and decided to stay home again while Errin and I went to explore another ancestral castle, Huntly, and some beautiful gardens at Leith Hall.
As I mentioned previously, this magnificent ruinous castle is also another ancestral site for us. My 12th great grandparents, George Marquess Huntly Gordon and his wife, Lady Henrietta Stewart, even have their names plastered across the front of the upper stories, and there is other evidence of their presence inside on the fireplaces and mantles!
Errin and I had a lot of fun wandering around this old and significant ruin together, and she learned a lot about our ancestors through the excellent signage and interpretive panels scattered throughout.
We walked around the grounds first until we arrived at the site of the first wooden castle on this site around 1190, which was located on the grassy motte (hill) with the bailey below. From the grassy mound that the original castle sat on, we had an excellent view of the newer castle built by my ancestors.
Next, we walked back over to the new castle, approached the front door and all of its elaborate heraldry, and begin exploring the many rooms on many levels in this magnificent building.
Once we made it to the top, we had excellent views of the surrounding area. Look, you can easily see the top of the motte where the original wooden castle once stood in the 2nd century.
In the uppermost rooms, we found more evidence of our ancestors in the suites where they would have spent most of their time entertaining guests and where they had their sleeping quarters. They definitely left their mark and made it so it would last for a long, long time!
We finished our tour and started back toward the car.
“Well, that was fun and extremely interesting! What’s next on our itinerary today?” Errin inquired.
We drove out into the countryside about 7 miles or so to visit Leith Hall Gardens. The house is only open for tours one day a week, and today was not that day, but we enjoyed walking around it and admiring it from the outside just the same.
We walked over to the gardens and wandered amongst the flowers and herbaceous beds full of color, over to the Moongate, and through the vegetable beds until we found a perfect spot to enjoy our picnic lunch.
Our last stop for the day was about 10 miles away on the way back to Aberdeen. Sitting right next to the road, literally, is a very ancient Pictish stone called the Maiden Stone. It’s definitely worth veering off the main highway for a mile or so to see it. This stone was carved by the Picts 1,200 years ago!
The next day, in preparation for their flight home, the girls managed to repack all of their belongings back into their suitcases once again. Lindsay’s kids and grandkids stopped by for one last visit before the girls left and at the close of the day we finished off their vacation in the same way we had started it -enjoying a ‘proper’ fish supper at another of our favorite chip shops, The Ashvale!
We enjoyed such a terrific time during our 6-week European Holiday. I am so grateful the girls could accompany me on an adventure this year and that we were able to create so many fantastic memories together that we will long cherish.
Early on Friday, I drove them to the airport, and I am happy to report that they had a very uneventful flight back home to Oregon, and, that their luggage also made it all the way with them, unlike at the beginning of the journey!
I stayed in Scotland with Lindsay for another couple of months. Initially, I was only going to stay about 1 month longer, but I was having so much fun that I extended it for another month! Subsequent blog posts will feature all of the adventures that Lindsay and I experienced during September and October. Stay tuned – there’s more fun and wondrous sights yet to see!