Exactly 100 years after his death, the legacy of a Deeside strongman charged a foolproof Highland gathering of some 9,000 people at the weekend.
The roar of the Highland heavies, the rousing skirl of the bagpipes and the bang of the drum accompanied a mass of visitors to the 149th Aboyne Highland Games.
This year the gathering, held in Aboyne Green, paid testament to legendary strongman Donald Dinnie – born in Birse and a founder of the games itself.
Two film crews, one from the US and another from France, also turned their cameras on Saturday’s event.
Visitors came from as far afield as California, New Orleans, New York City, Cape Town, Malaysia, Hungary and New Zealand.
At the unique “clan village” the ancient north-east families including the Burnetts, Gordons, Frasers, Leasks, Hays, Leslies and Farquharsons assembled in tartans, mingling with visitors over drams.
Some 80 stalls were in place, whilst a fiddling competition led by Tarland musician Paul Anderson proved popular in the church hall, as pipers and Highland dancers battled it out for prizes.
Addressing the crowd at noon, the Aboyne Games chieftain, the Marquis of Huntly, said: “We are once again blessed with a lovely day. And this year is the 100th anniversary of Donald Dinnie’s death. He is very dear to all of us, we are very proud of the legacy that he has left behind.”
Afterwards the massed pipe bands – made up of the Ballater and District, Banchory, Lonach, Newtonhill, Towie and District and Gordon Highlanders Association groups – took to the arena playing Cock O the North.
Coming up behind them was Shetland pony Cruachan VI, the mascot of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
As well as the usual races, athletics, dancing and heavy competitions, visitors got the chance to see the famous Dinnie Steens – which the strongman carried 17ft across the Potarch Bridge.
Weighing roughly 770lbs together, strongmen from the US and England travelled for a “lift and hold” competition, filmed as part of a documentary on Scottish stone lifting being made by Texan weightlifting polymaths Jan and Terry Todd.
Wowing the crowd was James Gardner, a teacher and champion power-lifter who travelled from Barton-Under-Needwood, Staffordshire, just to lift the mighty stones, holding them for 12.8 seconds for a winning effort.
The 32-year-old, accompanied by coach father Steve Gardner, said: “I have been lifting for around 20 years and the Dinnie Stones have been like a life time goal to me. It is a nice way to sum up 20 years of lifting history after everything that goes with it.
“It is the first Highland games I have ever been to and the first stones I have ever attempted.”
He lifted the stones twice on the day and said the competition itself was just an “added extra” to the special trip.
Also taking on the stones on a whim, with no prior practice, was US holiday maker Jeremiah Turner of Creedmoor, North Carolina.
On a “family history roots” trip with his family, uncovering their heritage in the local Burnett clan, he said his wife Heather was his inspiration as he took on both stones one at a time to the amazement of onlookers.
He said: “I have always wanted to compete, I never really have. This is the closest thing I have got.”
Overseeing the event was David Webster, an authority on Dinnie and the man who brought the stones back into the limelight after finding them abandoned on the banks of the Dee.
“We are trying to keep his memory alive,” said the 88-year-old, “It is really something. Dinnie is still thought about today, and he is still a challenge to try and match. I think it is tremendous just for anybody that is interested in sport.”
Outgoing games chairman Ian Scott said it was important to mark the Dinnie “connection”, adding: “It is special to have him in our records and as part of our psyche here.
“I think we’re achieving that objective of having something for everyone here.”
Once again the heavy competition was a record-breaker at Aboyne Highland Games.
Scott Rider – hot off of being named world heavy Highland Games champion – came first overall in the open heavy events.
James Dawkins won the local competition, whilst Kyle Randalls took the under-25s title and also broke new games records in the 28lb weight for distance and the light weight over the bar at 18.4ft.
Drumoak strongman Craig Sinclair was delighted after dominating in the caber in front of his home crowd.
The 30-year-old said: “It has been not too bad, there has been great weather, good crowds. It is always a pleasure competing at Aboyne.”
Mr Rider added: “It went really well, I won several of the open events, it couldn’t get a lot better really. It has been a good year so far, there is still a few games left.”
Mr Randalls said he was delighted after clearing “a foot” on a weight over the bar record – broken for the first time at Aboyne last year.
He added his focus was now on what he could achieve at Aboyne in 2017.
Tributes as games stalwarts step down
Two local stalwarts have stepped down from their leading roles at Aboyne Highland Games.
Saturday’s gathering was officially the first without the narration of commentator, Doric legend Robbie Shepherd, who has formally stood down from the job.
It came as the chairman of the Aboyne Highland Games Committee, Ian Scott, announced he was moving on from the role after a decade, as he was hailed one of the event’s best ever figureheads.
Mr Shepherd’s fellow commentator, Robert Lovie, will now take the lead at the games. He was joined yesterday by counterpart Graham Thomson.
Speaking at the games, the north-east singer and entertainer paid tribute to “that famous voice”.
Mr Lovie said: “He has always been such a stalwart, always been such a performer. We are here to enthuse the crowd, never to take the limelight. He is a very modest gentleman and is worthy of all the praise he gets.”
Mr Shepherd – who attended as a guest – was made an honorary member of the games.
He said: “As I look right down the committee here it reminds me of all the highland games and all the volunteers that work to make the Highland games possible. It has been a great pleasure and I have enjoyed every minute.”
Meanwhile games chieftain, the Marquis of Huntly, hailed the “professionalism” which “hadn’t been seen before” brought about by Mr Scott.
Mr Scott said: “I have enjoyed it thoroughly. You always try and leave things that little bit better than when you inherited them and, you know, hopefully we’ve maybe done that at Aboyne.”
Alistair Grant will take over the role.
Visitors from across the globe descended on Aboyne Highland Games once again – with some flocking from down under to seek out their north-east roots.
Converging in the Overseas Tent, the Aberdeen and North East Family History Society asked those from abroad to pin their home on a map of the world and sign a register.
Among them was David and Rosemary Riddell from Nelson, on New Zealand’s South Island, visiting Scotland for the second time but Aboyne for the first.
Mr Riddell said: “We have been two weeks in Stonehaven with friends and we are now travelling back down through the country, we had a good look around through Inverness, the Black Isle, and was quite amazed really at the beauty of the place.
“We were going to spend more time in Edinburgh but this place sort of captured us. It was just luck we ended up here today.
“We have been able to see the family home and trace the family roots. The south island and here are very similar. I can see why a lot of Scots made their homes in the South Island. They are almost identical.”
Julia Perlat travelled to Scotland from her home in Paris with husband, Laurent, and two children, Alexander and Hadrian.
The engineer – originally from Melbourne – said she was tracing her family on the trip, who were Morrisons forced to flee Nairn, she believes during the Highland clearances.
The 35-year-old said: “We have really enjoyed it, we have never seen people tossing cabers. It is really, really nice. I have been to England several times, never been to Scotland before.”