Looking back on 2018: Organising Secretary's Report

These summaries are greatly indebted to the monthly reports by our Minutes Secretary, Liz Jones. As anyone can see, I habitually borrow her phrases.

February 10th Our speaker was the much-travelled Bob Davis on "Walking in the Dolomites". These Italian limestone mountains, named for the geologist (Dolomieu) who recognised their distinctiveness, pale with amazing morning and evening colours, which Bob's photographs showed. The cattle, with cow-bells produce excellent cheeses, and there are fungi and sweet chestnuts. The architecture, stone below, wood above (choose wood from north-facing slopes which last longer) is more like India than Europe, and there are wonderful wild flowers. We had some history about the "Via Ferrata"of iron ladders and ropes from the 1914-18 War, and pre-history about Otzi the Neolithic iceman. More recently there was the collapse of a dam destroying a village. If ever there was an enticing travelogue, it was this. We must remember to take our sunglasses.

March 10th Our speaker was our treasurer, Alison Smith. MacMillan Cancer Care had helped when her husband Brian, whom we all remembered, was terminally ill with cancer, so Alison raised the £3500+ for MacMillan to walk the Great Wall of China. She described how she raised the money, how she got in training, and then the actual journey. She met the 17 others in the group at Heathrow. Their first experience of the wall was on a part open to the general public, with lots of Chinese trippers, some not in sensible shoes. Other parts of the wall, where they went later, were restricted to organised groups, like the rather daunting Sky Ladder of Huanya. Alison was observant and asked questions and took wonderful photographs. The group walked 60 miles in total on the wall, and raised £73,000 for Macmillan. For the Field Club this was more than just an interesting talk well delivered.
April 14th The Annual General Meeting. There was a good attendance and after the conclusion of business we watched part of the Carney film Meet Yir Ancestors.

Saturday 12th May A group of us went on a walk in the grounds of Forglen House, organised by the Friends of Forglen Hall. There was a quiz with 28 questions to answer en route ("Is the double gate into Forglen House metal or wooden?" "How many benches are there within the walled garden?") and one of our group could identify birds and plants at sight - or hearing. It was great, and we felt we were in the old Field Club tradition.

Saturday 28th May On this educational field trip we drove in convoy following John Aitken on "lesser travelled Banffshire roads". There was so much to see, even for old Banffshire hands. Among other things we passed the Auchinhove Roman marching camp, Grange church and motte, the castle at Edengight, Knock, Whitehall, Sillyearn, Braco Brae, Ruthven with its 'Wow', and Auchanachie, the ancient parish of Botary, Davidston House, Drummuir and Botriphnie, several distilleries, Maggieknockater, Mortlach, the Giant's Chair, the new Macallan distillery, the 1820 iron bridge and so on. And we had two perfectly respectable meals at Fochabers and Dufftown. Well done, John!

Saturday 7th July Our next educational field trip was by coach to Burghead, the largest Iron Age fort in Scotland and the mighty capital of Pictish Moray. Burghead proved an utterly memorable place, and the guides at the heritage centre went out of their way to be helpful. We came away with lots of useful handouts. We then went to visit Suen's Stone at Forres, a huge and amazing piece of Pictish carving - perhaps a bloodthirsty lot the Picts! We had high tea at the Laighmoray Hotel in Elgin, with a very nice room to ourselves. As it happens it was a beautiful day.
September 8th Our speaker was Bob Aitken, Director of Scotways, the Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society, to which the Field Club is a longstanding subscriber. There are more than 3000 Scotways signs on pathways in Scotland, and the Society dates back to 1845, first founded to protect the rights of Edinburgh folk to walk in the Pentlands. In 1847 they took on the Duke of Atholl, who was trying to close the old drove road from Blair Atholl to Braemar, and won in court. There were more battles ahead, with the owners of deer forests. In the Glen Doll the land-owner spent millions, taking it to the Lords. But since the 1890s (cases over bicycles) the Society has not needed to go to court. The Society is still needed, with such matters as major roads and railways blocking routes on foot, and across a hospital campus. All thoroughly interesting.

October 13th Our speaker was Colin Shearer on "The History and Evolution of Cullen House", where in fact he lives, and understandably finds the house "a great puzzle box". Alexander III spent money on it, Queen Elizabeth de Burgh died there. In 1600 the Ogilvies moved from Findlater Castle to Cullen. The present Scottish Baronial exterior is largely the work of David Bryce in the 1850s, and in the 1980s it was subdivided into several houses. There are architectural mysteries: why does the kitchen have a vault designed for weight-bearing, with nothing above? And why the hidden crowstep gable and the dated (1760) roof beams. And all these filled-in windows, and tunnels but no cellar. Colin also took us through some of the plans before Dyce, by Playfair and Adam. There are puzzling ruins in the grounds too. This was an engrossing talk, and we want him to find out more.

November 10th Our speaker was Professor Peter Reid on "The Lairds of Enzie". Professor Reid came from Portgordon, and his theme was not the aristocracy but the Bonnet Lairds, who were amazingly diverse. Westward from Cullen, we first met the Gordons of Farskane (averted your eyes from their mis-painted heraldry on the Cullen Bay Hotel). They moved to Norway, to pioneer the salt fish industry. Then to the Hays of Rannes Andrew Hay (1713-89) the 7 ft tall Jacobite. His pardon from George III is still at Leith Hall, because his sister married a Leith, and he cleared the Leith debts on condition they changed their name to Leith Hay. Then there were the Gordons of Clunie (Lady Cathcart) who owned most of Buckie, as far as the Letterfourie Burn, which is why St Peter's RC Church is over the burn in the Gordons of Letterfourie's land. Peter had a good story over the disputed will of the reclusive last of these Gordons. Then there were the good Gordons of Cairnfield and the very devout Stuarts of Bog (all these abbots) - Miss Babie, the last, died in 1823. This was a wonderful talk.

December 8th Our speaker was Martin Cook, on "Moray Birds: a century of change". Some of the audience, impressively, could identify an (extinct) great auk. There were 11 visitors, and a very good question and answer session. It was extremely helpful to have a historical perspective on breeds of bird that came and went. Collared doves came in 1957, green woodpeckers in 1968, though these now seem to have gone again. Ravens and jays came back, as did blackcaps. Climate change, or peanut feeders, has brought north nuthatches. There have been spectacular spikes and falls in numbers of seabirds - shags first nested in Moray in 1986. The photographs were stunning, and he was so obviously a master of his subject. This was a very worthwhile talk.

Alistair Mason, Organising Secretary