I wis fair tricket to see oor Chazzer’s surprise appearance at the Lonach Gathering.
A’ the better to celebrate the 200th anniversary of one of the Neest’s top events. Less formal than Braemar, its couthy charm is a delight.
Oh, the memories of my first Lonach. Early 1970s, new EE recruit who’d never heard of it when the news ed sent me to fill a whole “live” page. “Phone over your first story before the start of the whisky march, others every hour or so, ending with the results.” Spik aboot panic. Fit wis the whisky march? Far would there be a phone?
The day before, it came into my napper to take mum and dad, who’d never been and I reckoned would enjoy the spectacle. At a drizzly 6am, mum loaded into my Mini two huge bags of sandwiches, ale, tea, sausage rolls, biscuits. Keeping good time, we stopped in a lay-by halfway to Strathdon for her rowies and tea. Never tasted better.
Bellabeg was hoochin’ wie the wonderful Lonach Highlanders when we got there – fit a thrill. Broom in their hats and a spring in their beets. Such a splendid age range – from teenagers to fairly ancient pensioners. I even found a phone booth in the middle of the village.
Bang on 8am, led by pipers, proudly bearing their spikes, they set off on their circuit march roon the various lairds and landowners, lining up ootside to get their dram of whisky at each of the six stops. Before filing back into line, they’d totter into the nearest bit of forest, there to hoik kilts and relieve their happy bladders.
Dad couldn’t resist a dram
It was the second stop that day which is frozen in my memory. Dad, who loved his drams, had drooled enviously at that first line-up. Come the second, I looked up from my notebook to discover him standing at the end of the line of kilted Highlanders, replete in sports jacket, troosers, shirt and tie, huddin’ oot one of mum’s cups for a drop o’ the hard stuff. Black-affronted, I went to hiss him back to us, when he got his dram and the crowd gave a wee cheer. He was ower the moon.
Another four scoops at the remaining stops, his face was flushed with triumph when the march ended. Later, the Highlanders stomped roon the show-ring before lunch; some o’ the teenagers obviously the worse for wear from their early-morning libations, nae even capable of cairryin’ their heavy spikes. The prood, older eens, still marchin’ on, with only the jaunty angle of the bent broom in their caps to show they’d already had a lang day.
Years later, when Billy Connolly was the Laird o’ Candacraig, Lonach regularly hit the headlines with sleb guests like Robin Williams (who loved the hill-run), Steve Martin, Judi Dench and Eric Idle – but the Highlanders were aye the real stars.
I’m sure you enjoyed it on Saturday, Chazzer m’loon. Millie, I dinna ken far you were, but you wid have loved it. Try jinin’ the marchers at 8am next year. There might even be a G&T in it for you.
Moreen Simpson is a former assistant editor of the Evening Express and The Press and Journal, and started her journalism career in 1970