2022 Oot an Aboot

The Balmoral Cairns 11 June

Despite a few late call-offs, a total of 7 members set off to walk around a number of the cairns on Balmoral Estate. Most of these were erected to commemorate the marriages of the Children of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. We visited the cairns to Princess Helena, Princess Louise, Prince Leopold, Prince Arthur, and Princess Alice. Also along the way we visited the Purchase Cairn, raised to commemorate the purchase of Balmoral Estate by the royal family in 1852. All of these are located along the high points of Craig Gowan or, in Gaelic, Creag a’ Ghobhainn, (the rocky hill of the smith).

At present Craig Gowan is covered in pine trees and views out from most of the cairns are a little restricted. However early landscape paintings from the 1850s show only a sparse cover of birch trees on the lower slopes with the hill tops covered only in heather so the cairns would have been very prominent in the landscape when they were first built.

On nearby Creag an Lurachain we visited Prince Albert’s cairn, erected by Queen Victoria after Albert’s death. Finally, on the lower slopes of the hill, we visited the cairn to the marriage of Princess Beatrice, the youngest of all Victoria’s children. A great day out which we all thoroughly enjoyed.

The Tarland Nuclear Observation Post    7 July 2022

On a fine, but cool summer evening, eighteen members gathered at the Nuclear Bunker at Tomnaverie. It is more properly called a nuclear observation post, and is one of a network of some 1,500 that were built in Britain in the late 1950s. The post was commissioned in April 1960 and was staffed by the volunteer members of the Royal Observer Corps. The purpose of the posts was to observe and report on any nuclear explosions that might happen in the event of war. The intention was to cross reference the reports from several observation posts in a general area and so work out exactly where the bomb burst would have occurred. This would then enable the command centres to warn the rest of the country about the spread of nuclear radiation.

The post is in an underground chamber intended to protect the observers from the initial blast wave and from any heat created by the explosion. The chamber is small as there would only be a crew of 3 observers in the post at any one time. The post was fitted with three instruments: A Bomb Power Indicator, which was really an air pressure gauge that would record the blast wave, A Ground Zero Indicator, which was a simple pinhole camera that would detect the direction of the flash of an explosion, and a  radiation detector that would record the intensity of any nuclear fall out. All this information would be sent by telephone to the Group headquarters in Aberdeen.

The post was decommissioned in September 1991 after 31 years of service. The Berlin wall had fallen in 1989 and the Soviet Union was no longer considered  to be a threat. With very little ceremony the Royal Observer Corps was disbanded and the voluntary service provided by the citizens of Cromar since 1939 came  to an end.

The Mills of Cromar  11 August 2022

On a blazing hot August day 10 intrepid members set out on a short tour of some of the water powered mills in the Howe of Cromar. The trip was led by David Currie and he took us first to the Tarland Mill on Duncan Road. This was a meal mill for grinding oats and barley and had an attached corn drying kiln. It originaly belonged to the Cromar Estate. At one time in the past all the estate farm tenants were obliged to have their meal ground at this mill as a condition of their lease, It went out of use in the 1960s and the mill dam and lades are now full of rubble.

The next stop was at Barglass, a small farm, now abandoned with a roofless barn. This also had a water powered mill wheel but here the water was used to drive a small treshing mill. These small barn mills were used to seperate the ears of grain from the stalks and were intended for the farm’s own use. They were commonly used in the winterseason when water was plentiful and it gave the farm servants useful work to do indoors in the morning until there was enough daylight to work outside. They were common all over Scotland until the coming of the combine harvester.

Finally on to Licht Cottage, the home of one of our members. This was previously a smallholding and has a small barn built in 1890. The building is now a listed property. Inside the barn is a water powered threshing mill, also a listed structure. Although the mill wheel is long gone the mill machinery is still in good working condition and, protected from the weather, it should remain so for many years to come.

Out thanks go to David for organising such a fascinating tour.

Braemar  7 September 2022

We were fortunate to find a brief gap in the heavy rain showers when 15 members made the trip to Braemar. We were met by Fiona Hunter from the Braemar Local History Group who was our guide for the afternoon. Fiona explained that Braemar was originally two villages, Castletown on Invercauld Estate and Auchendryne on Mar Estate, the two divided by the Clunie Burn. As a result Braemar has two castles, two village halls and a plethora of Church  buildings.

We started with Braemar Castle, currently shrouded  in scaffolding as the lime harling on the building and surrounding wall is being repaired. After a chequered history and partial destruction, this became the local base for Hanovarian troops sent to subdue the Highlands after the 1745 Jacobite uprising. The site of the present Invercauld Arms Hotel is where the Earl of Mar raised the Jacobite flag at the beginning of the 1715 uprising.

We moved on past the oldest weather recording station in Scotland, now a lovely summer house to St Margaret’s Church, designed by John Ninian  Comper and Dedicated in 1901. This is now an arts venue run by a trust but the building is in need of renovation. Nearby is the ruins of Kindrochit Castle dating to the 1300s but in ruins by 1610. It is now in the care of Historic Environment Sctoland.

Across the Clunie burn we stopped to admire the war memorial and Then the Fife Arms Hotel. The hotel was built in the 19th century with the addition of a 2-storey, 2-bay entrance porch by Alexander Marshall MacKenzie, 1905. The building has been recently renovated to become a 5 star luxury hotel. On past the second Village Hall to the Queen Victoria Jubilee Fountain erected in 1897 to celebrate 60 years on the throne. Its gold crown has recently been repainted. Finally we stopped at the Braemar Games Park to admire the new entrance archway completed this year. Our thanks go to Fiona and the Braemar Local History Group  for a fascinating, informative and enjoyable visit.