The Silver City has the silverware after 18 years!

DandyEddieBeautiful day in Aberdeen and the granite is sparkling. Aberdonians have a quiet way about them with a substance that reflects the stone their city is built in.

Nice to see their wry sense of fun surface in anticipation of the first football silverware they have had a look at in a while. A number of the city’s statues revealed themselves as Dandy Dons over the weekend as the excitement grew. William Wallace was able to ‘stand free’ once more. WWStandFreeCOYR

Sunday morning there were surprisingly high numbers of people walking on Union Street given a 40,000 strong red army were in Glasgow for the match. As the morning turned to afternoon, friends were seen gathering and, as is the form in Scotland, lining up pints to watch together a long awaited event.

Torture when in the first few minutes young Hayes left the field having injured his shoulder in an enthusiastic challenge. It is a sign of strength that such an early set back did not result in the team crumbling. It was a closely fought competition neither team scoring after 120 minutes of play. Penalties are never the best way of deciding the outcome of a competition but Aberdeen emerged the winners.

GordonSternAberdeen, the sunniest city in Scotland is used to drought but after 18 years this particular drought is over and the trophy cabinet at Pittodrie has a little less space – still room for just one more in 2014 [fingers crossed]. Today and for a while the city will be the in the red and white of the patron St Nicholas and it feels like Christmas!

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Vikings, Braveheart or Parliament?

Scotland is poised today for the announcement of the date of the referendum on the nation’s independence in 2014. Currently, it is widely thought that a date in October will be announced by First Minister Alex Salmond at 2pm this afternoon. So at the 11th hour, what key anniversaries in Scots history occur in October?

October 1-5 1263
Battle of Largs – Scots defeat the Vikings who were attempting to invade.

October 3 1706
Last Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh before the Union with Westminster.

October 11 1297
Letter from William Wallace and Andrew Moray to the mayors of Lübeck and Hamburg saying that “The Kingdom of Scotland has, by God’s Grace, recovered by battle from the power of the English”. Wallace and Moray were entreating Lübeck and Hamburg, powerful Hanseatic ports, to trade with Scottish merchants despite the possibility of conflict with England.

October 23 1295
Treaty between King John Balliol of Scotland and King Philippe IV of France which promised mutual help against the English – the start of the “Auld Alliance”.

October 23 1707
First meeting of the Parliament of Great Britain. Slide1

History, of course, is only one part of the detail since, because of practicality, elections in the UK generally occur on Thursday. The widely tipped 18th October is a Saturday but the 23rd October is a Thursday and is a ‘double date’ for Scots history!

At 2pm today we will all know the date, but will we be wiser?

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`Weel done, cutty-sark!’

Aberdeen International is becoming a habit this year. This time, I set forth taking advantage of the relatively new Aberdeen to London City Airport route. What a bonus to have Aberdeen connected by a BA Embraer jet to the Thames! London City Airport has a lot in common with Aberdeen. Perhaps a little smaller and quieter, its compact offering is friendly and well thought out. It is just great that we have this link!

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Arriving at Cutty Sark by the Thames

The mission to London was to take a close-up view of the Clyde-built Cutty Sark, which was recently imaginatively restored as part of Royal Museums Greenwich. The ship was designed by a native of northeast Scotland, Hercules Linton, who was born in Inverbervie. Cutty Sark is the last surviving tea clipper and is billed as the fastest and greatest of her time – though as everybody in the Northeast knows, the Aberdeen-built Thermopylae beat her fair and square on a return voyage from Shanghai in 1872.

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Cutty Sark’s figurehead Nannie, Burns’ witch from Tam O’ Shanter
She is holding the tail of Tam’s Horse!

It is thought the ship’s name was suggested by Linton and comes from Robert Burns’ poem Tam o’ Shanter. In the poem, Tam is chased by a witch, Nannie, and as he flees, rides his horse over a bridge. As a witch, Nannie cannot cross flowing water, but she gets close enough to grab and pull off the tail of Tam’s horse. The boat’s figurehead is modelled on a sketch of Nannie by Linton.

If the name Cutty Sark sounds familiar, perhaps you recognise it from the Scotch whisky named after the ship. In 1923, London wine merchants Berry Bros. & Rudd were lunching with Aberdonian artist James McBey when their conversation turned to the former’s plans to create a new light blended whisky for America. Cutty Sark was proposed as a memorable name as the ship had been much in news since her return to Britain in 1922. McBey immediately sketched the ship in full sail as the basis for the whisky label and an iconic brand was born!

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Imaginative Restoration has left the ship ‘floating’ in dry dock

Since the ship’s return to Britain in 1922, she has undergone several restorations. Since 1952 she has been in the care of the Cutty Sark Preservation Society, formed to bring the ship to Greenwich and preserve Cutty Sark as a memorial to the Merchant Navy.

The last major restoration commenced in 2006 but was hampered just a year later by a fire that horrified marine devotees. The story of the restoration from that point is as fascinating as the history of the ship itself. Thankfully, all ended happily, and Cutty Sark reopened as a major visitor attraction again in April 2012 . The love, imagination and dedication which has been expended restoring access to this gem is only a small part of Greenwich’s attractions; the old borough is reachable in just 20 minutes from London City Airport.

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Up Helly Aa 2013

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Torches being thrown into the Galley

Up Helly Aa, Europe’s largest fire festival, is surely a top 5 experience for Scotland. 2013 saw yet another fantastic spectacle orchestrated by the able Lerwick Up Helly Aa Committee despite poor weather for the procession and burning. It is an experience that grabs all senses and the sights and smells maintain the memory for lasting enjoyment.

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Light up and start to march!

There are 10 fire festivals in Shetland starting in January and continuing to March with Lerwick being the best known and most visited. Over 900 men bear torches, akin to giant match sticks, for the torchlight parade which culminates with the burning of the beautifully crafted galley or dragon ship. These epic celebrations herald the end of winter. The communities involved applaud and laugh at themselves, and look forward to a new year on Shetland.

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Yell’s Freda Leask with Brian Nicolson

In celebrating, Shetland culture, is showcased alongside the festival, so local music, story telling, fine food and ale abound as do the various dialects of the islands. The dialect is like music itself and the Fiery Sessions performers treated us to its unique rhythm in song and chat between sets. Mareel, the islands’ new auditorium, cinema, recording studio was the venue for this year’s concert.

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Jarl Squad morning photo call

Dress plays a large part in the day and the Jarl suits gleamed this year in a regal blue. It is a huge commitment to become Guizer Jarl, and here, this year’s Guizer Jarl, Stevie Grant, speaks candidly in interview shedding light on the long though assured route to take the lead role in Europe’s biggest Fire Festival! More UpHellyAa photos here.

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Aberdeen International……..it’s so easy!

A dedicated Scotophile I rarely head airside in any Scottish airport. I spend time at airports but meeting people that have hired me as their ‘blue badge’ tourist guide to lead them around Scotland.

On Thursday though, I waited, airside, to depart for the 60th parallel, as I was flying to Shetland for the Scalloway Fire Festival, about which more later. As I sat waiting for my flight to be called in the newly branded Aberdeen International, I reflected that it is one of the easiest airports to travel through in Scotland, especially given it is connected to the country’s 3rd largest city.

It is not exactly quiet but the feeling of being buffeted and assaulted with noise is absent. Staff are engaging. Distances to gates are short.

They say the secret to success is location, location, location and whilst not widely understood, Aberdeen is an ideal gateway to Scotland. All the icons of Scotland are on the doorstep. Castles, whisky, salmon rivers, spectacular links golf, mountains and celebrated bird and animal species.

Year of Natural Scotland was picked up by CNN travel, prompting them to name Scotland as their 2013 no1 destination. Aberdeen has proximity to the full variety of Scotland’s diverse land and sea scapes. Some of those are described elsewhere on this website.

Aberdeen city surprises most visitors and even those who have settled to work in the best place in Scotland come to appreciate the Silver City’s unique assets. Simon Calder the BBC travel writer has named the city as his Scotland city break destination for 2013.

As I sat, taking in the spectacular photographic presentations of northeast locations that decorate the departure lounge, I was reminded of what a special corner of Scotland this is.

All the best to Derek Provan and his team at Aberdeen International with the next phase of their growth!

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The Last Day of Christmas: December 2012 Highlight – Wilderness Guide Training

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Cairngorm Range from Tullochgrue

So my final highlight for 2012, starting the Wilderness Guide Training programme developed by Wilderness Scotland and soon to fall into Wild Scotland’s domain. This starter of 6 days was a very thought provoking and wide ranging examination of self, sharing of practice outdoors with the objective to create great customer experiences.

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Icicles on the River Spey

All good things need a place to happen and so the venue of Glenmore Lodge in Cairngorm National Park could not have been better. Great facilities, friendly staff, timely, tasty lunches, biscuits and cake of course but more than that it wins on location, location and location. Crisp winter days for early December with a fair covering of snow made the surrounding landscape temptingly elusive as we reviewed the course material indoors. Outside tasks, very much a part of the course, punctuated longing sufficiently to keep us on track with the planned material.

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Slainte! 12.12.12 at 12.12 with 12yo single malt
Happiness

As luck would have it the mid point in the training was 12th December 2012 and we just happened to be by Loch an Eilean in Rothiemurcus, at 12 noon when 2 bottles of 12yo Single Malt Whisky appeared. We toasted, good place, good people and good time! together!

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Day 11 of 12: November 2012 Highlight – Bond chasing in Lochaber! and CNN agree ;o)

BondCorriganScotlandA plan was hatched to explore the hidden corners of Lochaber an exceptionally beautiful area of Scotland, home to Ben Nevis, Glencoe, UNESCO Geopark,  haven to history, intrigue and the West Highland Railway line! The expedition planning, well underway, was enhanced after watching Skyfall, with the idea of finding that spot where Daniel Craig and M looked through a misty valley.  Though not my idea, I was hooked. The Black Mount Estate in Lochaber was purchased by Ian Fleming’s grandfather, Robert Fleming of Dundee. He became a very successful private financier in the last quarter of the 19th century. It took 50 years of 007 in film to bring Bond back to his homeland – best line from the script, ‘Welcome to Scotland!’

The spirit of Scots author Robert Louis Stevenson, runs through Lochaber as much of the area is mentioned in the celebrated work Kidnapped with heroes David Balfour and Alan Breck Stewart. Stevenson said ‘To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arriveand so the finding of THE spot was postponed to travel on the West Highland Line and overnight in Fort William the area’s main settlement.

As the picture above indicates, THE spot was found and the photograph taken. The National Trust for Scotland should be credited with assisting further history being made in this wonderful area of Scotland.

Little did I know when I wrote this blog on Hogmanay [New Year’s Eve] that CNN would agree with me about the Bond chasing and propose Scotland as their No1 destination for 2013!  On announcing Scotland as their no1, they explained, ‘Anyone who saw the 2012 James Bond thriller “Skyfall” walked away wishing they too could race through Scotland’s dramatic countryside and hide out in its misty highlands.’

Go CNN – have a great 2013 yersel.

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Day 10 of 12: October 2012 Highlight – Gold on that there landscape!

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Waterfall at Dunvegan Castle Garden

October can barely be matched for colour in Scotland. Scotland is a colourful place even in the depths of winter – unless there has been a major snowfall. Greens and golds continue to cloak the landscape from autumn onwards. Mature gardens can been enjoyed in a different light – literally – as autumn days shorten so the light quality alters in a magical way.

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Dunvegan Castle Gardens with Castle Tower peeping through







Dunvegan Castle on Skye has such an accompanying garden which netted the long term gardener, David MacLean, recognition in 2012 through Winner ‘Beyond the Call of Duty’ at Hudson’s Heritage Awards 2012.

Just one of the many attractions on Skye but this October the visit in the sunshine and the gold of autumn emerging whilst many flowers still blooming was a surprising and memorable day for my American guests.

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Day 9 of 12: September 2012 Highlight – What makes a trip to Scotland?

Group Elation Captured at Glenfiddich - before the free drams!

Group Elation Captured at Glenfiddich
– before the free drams!

Many magical moments make up a Scottish tour. For the group individuals, the highlight is different and may arise from a specific reason for being here in Scotland. Some may have a general desire to visit a cultural destination known for its castles, clans, history, whisky or to escape oppressively hot weather at home.

The group captured here had all sorts of stories for there visit to Scotland. A family travelling mum, dad and son who were Gordon descendants had managed to incorporate a side trip to Huntly Castle for a rake up of the roots! They had done the research though at the very last minute received excellent feedback from the Aberdeen & North East Scotland Family History Society.  ANESFHS is just one of the excellent resources that Scotland has which will help you trace your routes and these days they are on facebook and twitter so getting help could not be easier.

Dunrobin Castle Falconry

Dunrobin Castle Falconry

Though not on the list of things to achieve in Scotland another guest was blessed with the dubious accolade of being sat on by an owl at Dunrobin Castle’s Falconry display. This made the holiday for that guest who is a long time fan of all birds of prey. The owl is a stealth hunter and so it was a real surprise to our fan who did not hear the approach!

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Mustang and Spitfire together above Fort George

A retired pilot is pictured above too. His cup overflowed when we visited Fort George on an extravaganza day that featured a Spitfire and Mustang flying together. Fort George is situated on the Moray Firth coast and so views to the planes as they roared overhead were spectacular. Some times things that are meant to be just happen and this certainly was such an occasion.

Spotted in Loch Ness!

Spotted in Loch Ness!

Finally the group were fully blessed when we all caught sight of that most elusive of Scottish icons. For many this would be an ambition but realisation of that ambition could barely be hope for but when cruising on Loch Ness with skipper Marcus Atkinson of Cruise Loch Ness we could barely believe our luck. Marcus won the first prize in the Best Nessie Sighting of The Year Award 2011.

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Day 8 of 12: August 2012 Highlight – Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo!

If you have witnessed the tattoo, the phrase takes on its own ‘X-factor’ intro voice, ‘Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo!’ Always with an exclamation mark. The voice is that of Alasdair Hutton, the show’s narrator since 1992. If microphones had not been invented they would have been on the first hearing of his voice.

I have been fortunate to enjoy the experience every year since 2006 – sometimes more than once in the same 3 weeks ! It is truly an international event and performance to be involved in. The 2012 event had the usual massed pipe and drums extravaganza. Dancing and Scottish historical themes set to music including music from Disney Pixar’s Brave. The sound of the music on the pipes, with Edinburgh Castle as an enviable backdrop, brings emotions to the surface.

Performing bands come from many other parts of the world and in 2012 my personal favourite were billed once again. If you have six minutes take a look at them in action. I can’t tell you who they are since it is Top Secret, ssshhhhhh….

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