Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Scone, Perthshire


“So thanks to all at once and to each one,
Whom we invite to see us crown'd at Scone.”
William Shakespeare - Macbeth

I hate Macbeth! I hate teaching it, I hated learning about it, I didn’t get it, I still don’t.  It’s got certain charm as a piece of propaganda though. Way to make the boss look good!  The reason I mention Macbeth at all, is because I've never been quite sure how to pronounce Scone.  I should know, they are the final words of the terrible thing!  Turns out the place is pronounced quite differently to the thing you serve with jam and clotted cream - Skoon. 
Moot Hill
Scone is the ancient crowning place of Scottish Kings, including the much maligned Macbeth.  Legend has it the men coming to pay homage to their liege would shake the soil from their boots.  Over millennia this dirt became Moot Hill, on which a replica of the Stone of Scone now sits.  This place, which should evoke something of this long history, is rather incongruously placed within the gently manicured lawns of the Earls of Mansfield.
The Stone of Scone has been a pawn at the centre of Scottish/English history for more than 800 years no longer rests under King Edward’s Chair in Westminster Abbey.  It now sits safely in Edinburgh Castle.  It's almost home.  


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Pitlochry Highland Games

I like Pitlochry.  It’s a small Victorian town in the middle of Scotland with not much more than its charm and its location to work with.  It seems to be punching above its weight.  There’s a festival theatre, a salmon ladder, mountain walks, the smallest distillery in Scotland, highland nights, the odd ceilidh, numerous cafes – one of which serves pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, and a whopping number of events. 

I’d been jumping around all week talking about the highland games.  I’d indulged in some puerile sniggering about caber tossing – is one called a caber tosser? But really, I was looking forward to something familiar, but in a more traditional setting.  In Paeroa, New Zealand there are highland games once a year.  It’s a huge event with pipe bands coming from around the country.  People I’ve known my whole life organise it.  It’s lovely; though I can’t remember the last time I went.
This one was at once similar, and remarkably different.  It had the same events; the same banter over the tannoy, even the burger stall seemed to be selling the same things...though I’d imagine these days Paeroa would be selling something more exotic.
What was different was, of course, that this is Scotland.  It’s not the offspring of the diaspora re-enacting the games.  It has been going on since 1852.  I don’t care what you Europeans think; that’s an awfully long time. 

Small towns being what they are, virtually the first people I saw were ones I already knew.  They, I’m quite sure, thought I was crazy to be quite so enthusiastic about the day.  They’ve not known me long enough to know that I love a tradition, that I love to find out the history of events like this, that the idea of a community creating an event that has lasted for more than a century is astonishing.  There were people from far away, that’s true, and probably none so from so far away as me, but it did feel like a local event.