Sir Kenneth Calman is the Chairman of the National Trust for Scotland. Here, he keeps supporters abreast of the latest developments in the charity as they take forward an ambitious agenda for change. In his weekly updates, he'll update on the properties and people he's met as the charity continues its vital work to protect and promote Scotland's heritage.
He's always keen to hear what you’ve got to say about his posts, so get in touch at email@example.com.
Board and blunderbuss
Thursday 5th December 2013
A wee change on the Board to let you know about – I’m pleased to sat that Ian Percy has kindly agreed to take on the role of Deputy Chairman. This was left vacant after Julian Birchall left the Board in September this year. Ian became a Trustee with us after serving on the Steering Committee which oversaw the independent review of the Trust conducted in 2009/10. We have all benefited greatly from his wise counsel, financial expertise and strategic thinking and I’m pleased he’s taking on this important role.
Another important order of business for the Trust to mention this week is fundraising – there is just so much activity underway right now. Our ‘I’m in for the Future’ campaign kicked off at the weekend. It’s looking to raise £110,00 for conservation projects that will ensure our places can cope with this dramatic winter weather.
But what’s really captured the imagination this week is our call to arms to keep a historic blunderbuss at Culloden. The item is being sold by its owners and we’ve got first refusal on the purchase. We need £65,000 to secure it – so we need your help. There are loads of ways to donate, so please help us to keep this important artefact on display for the benefit of the nation. Visit www.nts.org.uk/donate for the full story.
Thursday 28th November 2013
It was a pleasure to welcome so many folk to the David Livingstone Centre last weekend for our annual Members Centre Conference.
I’ve talked a good bit over the years about the fantastic work that Members Centres do for the Trust – their support is moral, practical and financial. Although they are their own individual charities, they are formed in support of our properties and places.
It was a great privilege to be able to present some long service awards to folk who have contributed for more than 30 years. It is fantastic that the Trust and our places inspire such commitment.
As a thank you for hosting our merry band, the David Livingstone Centre was presented with a rag rug woven by staff, volunteers and visitors at the Weaver’s Cottage. This is a lovely link between two properties with a link to weaving (albeit of very different scales).
In the St Kilda Club
Wednesday 20th November 2013
St Kilda is one of our most atmospheric and powerful places, so it’s not surprising that it holds a special place in the hearts of many folk. I was able to sample that elusive magic for myself earlier this year – it is a very affecting place to visit. Did you know that there is a club for folk who feel this affinity for the archipelago? The St Kilda Club’s been running for over 50 years and most people who join have spent time at work parties there, but you can join as a ‘friend’ too.
I popped along to their annual meeting a few weekends back and was inspired by the knowledge, enthusiasm and generosity that this crew devote to those islands and, by extension, the Trust.
Most folk in the club have joined up after being on work parties, and every year they launch a traditional mailboat. This summer’s washed up on Lewis earlier in November. Although it didn’t manage to get very far, it seemed to have an eventful journey as it was somewhat smashed up and had lost all its contents. A tiny glimpse perhaps, of some of the more challenging aspects of life in a location of such extremes.
It’s that Dr Livingstone again
Thursday 14th November 2013
I had the privilege of attending the David Livingstone Service in Glasgow Cathedral on 13th November.
What an occasion: the cathedral was full and there was lovely singing from the children of the David Livingstone Primary School. The addresses were given by the Right Rev Lorna Hood, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and Mr Clapperton Mayuni General Secretary of the Bible Society in Malawi. It was a fitting occasion in which to remember a remarkable person.
After the service there was a debate on "what Livingstone would be doing now?" I covered HIV infection, palliative care, spiritual aspects and I spoke on modern day slavery and medical advances. Again, a wonderful, memorable and thought-provoking occasion.
Heritage at home in Glasgow
Thursday 7th November 2013
I spent last Saturday morning on one of my other stomping grounds, the University of Glasgow.
On this occasion, however, I was not on the business of academia but welcoming Trust members and non-members alike to the first Local Assembly we have held in my home city. It was good to see almost ninety people come along to hear more about the Trust’s present and future and to offer their views. In my brief talk, though, I reflected on the Trust’s past.
The Trust was actually ‘born’ in Glasgow, in what was literally a smoke-filled room. The location in question was Pollok House’s Cedar Room, used at the time as a smoking room, which happened to belong to Sir John Stirling Maxwell, Bart., K.T. Sir John had invited a number of like-minded guests to join him at Pollok and all were in equal parts inspired by the vision of Octavia Hill and the 1895 foundation of the National Trust and frustrated by the latter’s lack of involvement with Scotland. They decided there and then there should be a separate National Trust for Scotland.
The Trust was duly incorporated on 1st May 1931 and was eventually enshrined in legislation through an Act of Parliament in 1935. Sir John donated the Trust’s very first property, Crookston Castle in Glasgow, which dates from around 1350 – ironically, this is now managed by Glasgow City Council, whereas Sir John’s Pollok House is owned by the Council and managed by the National Trust for Scotland.
Between 1931 and 1945, the Trust had already acquired an exceptionally diverse range of properties, perhaps unconsciously setting a template for a holistic portfolio that today can be used to tell a rounded story of Scotland in geographic, natural, cultural and historic terms. These included Burg on Mull, the Royal Burgh of Culross, a section of the Antonine Wall, Balmerino Abbey in Fife, Glencoe and Bannockburn. From the start the Trust was never just about ‘big hooses and castles.’
This was well reflected in the presentations delivered at the assembly – Nat Edwards spoke eloquently about the David Livingstone Bicentenary events and the great man’s legacy, which may include exciting possibilities for his Blantyre birthplace. Staff from Brodick and Goatfell on Arran joined with theatre students to put on a performance which encapsulated the property’s long history and will be used as part of outreach with schools and local communities.
It was a diverse and entertaining morning and it was good to be back home.
Tarvit’s hickory heritage
Wednesday 30th October 2013
Scotland’s unique golfing heritage is acknowledged around the world and the Trust is fortunate to have a small part of that in its care at Hill of Tarvit – just a short distance from St Andrews. The Sharp family who passed the property to the Trust were absolutely passionate about golf.
I visited this week and met with David Anderson and Michelle Thissen who in 2006 re-established the Sharp’s 9-hole hickory golf course - Kingarrock - in front of the mansion-house. Their hard work and enthusiasm in this venture was very impressive and I thank them for it.
Now we are making exciting plans to integrate the hickory golf course as part of a new approach at the property where we’ll be focusing on its golfing heritage and how an Edwardian family and their friends enjoyed their leisure time.
So in the year the Ryder Cup returns to Scotland, the Trust will be encouraging visitors to tee off at the Kingarrock and experience the game as it was originally played.
London’s loyal supporters
Tuesday 22nd October 2013
Scotland’s heritage was the focus of a fantastic event in London last week. Organised by the London Committee, devoted supporters of the National Trust for Scotland and our vital work to conserve and promote our heritage, the dinner raised vital funds for our charity.
It was fitting that it took place in one of London’s finest examples of built heritage – the Mansion House. The imposing building is the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London and we were lucky to be joined by him for the evening.
These exquisite surroundings impressed upon our guests the importance of protecting our heritage and encouraged some very generous contributions to our cause.
Thank you to everyone who organised, attended and contributed to this wonderful event.
Hellos and thank yous
Thursday 10th October 2013
Today’s an exciting day for us at the Trust, as we meet our new Trustees for the first time. As we announced at our AGM a few weeks back, our members have elected Iain Doig and Veronica Morriss as new additions to the board, and have voted to keep Sir Peter Erskine on as a trustee.
Today is the start of the induction process for our new additions and I look forward to working with them over the coming years to provide the clear strategic direction that is so essential at this stage in the Trust’s development.
Another big event gets underway later on today, our annual Volunteer of the Year Awards. We’ve got people coming in from all over the country and who carry out all sorts of different roles for our charity. This is a great opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to those folk who go above and beyond for the Trust and for Scotland’s heritage.
Wednesday 25th September 2013
I hope you’ve all had a wonderful summer and enjoying this mild and pretty autumn that’s upon us.
It seems impossible that I’ve now been blogging (and chairing the Trust) for three whole years. We have moved on a good deal in that time and we’re grateful for our members’ support in helping us with that. At our AGM on Saturday, we’ll be looking back at what we’ve achieved over the past year and I look forward to seeing you there.
And looking ahead, 2014 is a big year for us as you know - we’ll be opening our new Battle of Bannockburn visitor centre. At an event at the Scottish Parliament this week, the excitement and interest in this fantastic project was palpable.
It’s fantastic to be involved in a project that’s generating so much buzz and we can’t wait to open the doors.
Wednesday 24th July 2013
I’ve taken a brief break from my summer holiday to bring you a tiny blog instalment, as it just can’t wait.
I popped into fabulous Falkland Palace last weekend. Met by a wonderful volunteer who was chock full of knowledge, I toured the outdoors treasures - gardens, real tennis; and the indoors ones too - tapestries, chapel and library.
Needless to say, the team of staff and volunteers are just fabulous.
This gloriously sunny day was rounded off with a stroll around pretty Falkland, a visit to the shops and a refreshing ice cream. Fantastic fun.
Galloway’s heritage graduates
Thursday 4th July 2013
It’s brilliant when my roles collide – that happened just this week when I was at the University of Glasgow’s Dumfries Campus for their graduation ceremony.
Students at this unique campus make great use of south west Scotland as an ‘outdoor classroom’. The Trust is lucky enough to care for quite a stretch of its stunning landscape and rich cultural heritage at Rockcliffe, Threave Garden and Estate and Broughton House in Kirkcudbright and others besides.
Amongst the graduates were those who are now Masters in Tourism, Heritage & Development – quite impressive! The course attracts students from all over the world to Dumfries and Galloway and who knows how many of them will go on to share their new found skills for the benefit of the Trust, Scotland and India, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan to name a few.
I’m going to be taking a break from blogging over the next few weeks so have a great summer and make sure you get out exploring all our wonderful places.
Conservation class of 2013
Friday 28th June 2013
At this time of year when graduations are taking place all over the country (including my own), it seems like a good time to mention another innovation from the Trust, with a student focus.
Come the new term, there will be a brand new Student Group set up in support of the Trust at Edinburgh University.
Here, students will be able to get involved with Scotland’s heritage, learn about conservation and conservation issues, as well as experiencing the places in our care.
It’s all part of our drive to reach out to a wider range of people and shows our commitment to learning too.
This brilliant idea was the brainchild of our ever creative Volunteering Team who do such sterling work to recruit and retain our vital volunteers.
Hopefully, we’ll inspire the next generation of conservators, curators, ecologists, archaeologists, surveyors, property managers, caterers, retail experts – the list is almost endless…
Remembering our Members ‘ Centres
Wednesday 19th June 2013
A few weeks back, on a glorious Glasgow afternoon, Pollok House hosted a fantastic event where we got to thank the many folk involved with our Members’ Centres.
Over the months and weeks, I’ve mentioned a fair few of these groups who are scattered across Scotland and who support the Trust and specific properties.
They devote time and expertise and contribute a lot as donors to the Trust too, supporting key projects and conservation works.
Their support is much appreciated by me and my fellow Trustees (we’re volunteers like these groups too remember), our properties and everyone who is interested in our heritage.
Looking glorious at Geilston
Thursday 13th June 2013
This fine weather over the past few weeks has transformed our gardens and I was lucky enough to visit Geilston Garden in Cardross just a few weeks back.
This pretty place is packed with colour at the moment and will be throughout the summer thanks to its bright and cheerful herbaceous borders.
The fruit and veg is looking great too, so here’s hoping for a bountiful harvest later in the year.
The garden also has an ambitious project to underway to propagate and sell plants to raise funds in support if its work. This has been a huge undertaking for the team and their commitment is impressive, as are the plants they are producing. It’s great because visitors can take a little bit of Geilston back to their own gardens, and support the property at the same time.
Thursday 6th June 2013
I popped in to the small, but truly fascinating Weaver’s Cottage in Kilbarchan a few weeks back, where weaver Christine Macleod in creating a commemorative tartan for the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.
Hand woven on a 200 year old loom, this is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. The design was inspired by different elements of the battle and the place where it took place, incorporating the red and gold of the heraldry, the blue of the burn and the mossy green of the landscape.
Christine is a wonderful example of how the Trust is not just preserving places for the future, but skills too. She cares for the Weaver’s Cottage, welcoming visitors to this special wee place and through her work as a weaver maintains the tradition of Kilbarchan, ensuring that current generations can still experience the sound of the shuttle and learn about the warp and the weft.
You can learn more about Weaver’s Cottage by checking out this soundslide - http://www.nts.org.uk/ScotlandsStories/WeaversTale/
Back from the edge
Wednesday 29th May 2013
Firstly, thanks to Julian for standing in last week while I was off on the fantastic Trust cruise. It was a great treat to spend time with so many Trust enthusiasts in such beautiful locations.
During the voyage, I was lucky enough to make my first trip to St Kilda. You will not be surprised to hear me say that this must be the highlight of my week.
The wild beauty of these remote islands is almost impossible to describe, and like many who make the journey, I found the whole experience very affecting.
That a community clung on to life there for thousands of years is amazing – St Kilda really feels like it is on the edge of the world. It is a privilege for the Trust to be charged with the care of what is, undoubtedly, a unique part of our nation’s heritage.
If you have not visited already, I urge you to make this unforgettable trip.
Peace of Iona
Thursday 23rd May 2013
Guest Blogger: Julian Birchall, Deputy Chairman
With Chris Cassels, Group Manager South, and my wife, I had the privilege of attending a memorable service in Iona Abbey last Sunday. It was to celebrate the 1450th year of the arrival of St Columba and the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Iona Community by the Reverend George Macleod. (I sat next to his daughter which made it all the more personal).
The weather was fair and there was a large gathering. The Mull Gaelic Choir sang unaccompanied at the start of the service. The Minister for Education, Mike Russell, who is also the local MSP gave an excellent address and former Moderator Very Rev Finlay Macdonald a very good sermon. Children from Iona School sang and the congregation were well entertained after the service by Argyll and Bute Council.
I am told that corncrakes could be heard only a few hundred yards from the abbey but was sadly too busy talking to the other guests that I did not have time to go in search.
I hope all will still be well on Iona in 1450 years time. That is what the NTS is all about!
Sir Kenneth Calman is away.
Great news for garden gem
Thursday 16th May 2013
Just this week, we were able to confirm that the Trust is no longer having to fell more than 1000 trees at Arduaine Garden. Forestry Commission Scotland told us that the measures, intended to prevent the spread of plant pathogen Phytophthora ramorum, can be suspended.
This is good news for the garden as the affected trees provide it with vital shelter from the wild Westerlies and allow an extensive and exotic array of plants to flourish there.
However, the Trust’s expert garden staff will carry out daily monitoring, just to be sure that the situation does not change.
Located on the shores of Loch Melfort, Arduaine Garden is a treasure with its beautiful views, wonderful ferns and outstanding rhododendrons. We call it our ‘secret garden’, but it’s one we’re proud to shout about.
Shaping Scotland’s heritage
Wednesday 8th May 2013
The Scottish Government has today launched a consultation which on the face of it, might seem a tad administrative. However, the truth is the draft historic environment strategy and consultation represents the biggest shake up in the heritage sector in decades.
It sets out the first strategy for Scotland’s historic environment, which is a positive step. As the Trust has only recently been through a similar process, we can attest to the power of setting strategy. It undoubtedly provides a focus, destination and determination for all of us as we work to promote and conserve our heritage.
The consultation also plans the creation of a new body to oversee our nation’s heritage - one which will carry out the functions of Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. They foresee that this is a body which would have charitable status. An interesting idea, but what are the implications?
The Trust has already contributed a great deal to the debate on this important subject, but we will now take our time to carefully consider, collect our thoughts and respond fully to the consultation. We urge you to do likewise.
Take the first step
Thursday 2nd May 2013
In this, the Year of Natural Scotland, the Trust is trying to encourage as many folk as possible to get out and explore the outstanding heritage that’s on our doorsteps.
That’s fine for those who are keen outdoorsmen and women, they’ll think nothing about picking their destination, packing a rucksack and heading for the hills. But for families and first-timers, we know this can seem a wee bit daunting.
So to help make that easier, we’ve created a brilliant new section on the website – www.nts.org.uk/natural. Here, you can find out about all our many nature-themed family events, download walking maps and find out about our wildlife too – all to make it easier for people to take the first step towards exploring our amazing countryside.
Plus, we’ve just launched our new Trust Trails App. Costing just £1.49, it’s easy to use and download and is packed with info about properties that are linked with a story or theme. There’s just no excuse for staying in this Spring.
Pod life on Arran
Thursday 25th April 2013
There are even more opportunities to spend time in the shadow of stunning Goatfell this summer, as the Trust has just installed 3 camping pods.
Next to Shore Lodge, the wooden ‘huts’ very much resemble hobbit houses and are brilliant places to base yourself for exploring the whole of Arran.
After a few very difficult weeks of weather at the tail end of winter, spring is arriving on the island. Things are looking green and the garden at Brodick Castle is bursting into life. It won’t be long until its rhododendrons and then the roses are out in the blazing sunshine. And Goatfell and Glen Rosa are lovely in any weather. Why not get your next trip to Arran booked now?
Inspiring St Kilda
Thursday 18th April 2013
Last week, the Trust announced that it was looking for two visual artists to take up residencies on St Kilda this summer.
Working with Taigh Chearsabhagh on North Uist, we’re looking for one artist local to the Western Isles and one from elsewhere in the world to come and take inspiration from these remote and wild islands.
This is a fabulous opportunity to sample the unique scenery, setting and story of this amazing place. I am looking forward to sampling all of this for myself when I visit on 20 May.
While I might not be picking up a paintbrush, I will definitely share my thoughts and perhaps a picture or two with you all here.
Wednesday 10th April 2013
While it’s hard to believe given the snow and continued cold conditions across much of Scotland, in the North West, wildfires have been a real problem over the past few weeks.
Last week, a huge blaze was extinguished, just as it reached Trust land at the Balmacara Estate. This one fire damaged an area of about 8km from north to south. We are very thankful that no people or property was damaged.
I would like to thank our staff there for their dedication and vigilance in keeping the situation under close watch and working with the relevant authorities as the situation developed.
The good news is that the landscape can recover quite quickly from these dramatic events. Just two years after raging fires tore through Kintail and Torridon, the countryside is as green and gorgeous as ever.
Exploring the roots of Bannockburn
Wednesday 3rd April 2013
Last week, I visited Guisborough in North Yorkshire, pleased to be invited by the fabulous Guisborough Cenotaph project. You may not be aware of the area’s links with Robert the Bruce and Bannockburn.
In short, the de Brus family from Normandy were given lands in Cleveland and promptly established the Guisborough Priory. Robert the Bruce, who fought at Bannockburn and later became King of Scotland was descended from this family.
Symbols of the Bruces can be seen on the cenotaph, which local people and academics have worked hard to have restored. The carvings feature both a lion rampant and a Saltire.
It’s an important reminder that Bruce’s roots extended far beyond Scotland and that a significant number of those fighting for his cause – at Bannockburn and elsewhere – originated from outwith Scotland too.
Wednesday 27th March 2013
One of the things that I love about the Trust is the never-ending discoveries that I make every time I scratch below the surface of our properties.
This week’s wonderful find is the fact that our President Lord Lindsay has a direct family connection to the Beatons – the family who were the physicians to Scottish kings centuries ago. Lord Lindsay’s family, originally from France with the family name Bethune – the French version of the Beaton.
The Trust connection comes in as we look after Beaton’s Croft at the North End of Skye. This humble, traditional thatched house is A listed and available to rent out as holiday accommodation. A stay there is not just a great opportunity to relax, but to stand where a family with a fascinating role in Scottish history once stood. Amazing stuff.
With the Easter holidays upon us, many of you may well be thinking about short breaks and Easter egg hunts – hopefully the weather will be a little kinder as British Summer Time approaches, but do remember that if it stays chilly, we’ve got a warm welcome for you and plenty of indoor options!
Birthday celebrations for Dr Livingstone
Wednesday 20th March 2013
We were very honoured to welcome Dr Banda, the President of Malawi to the David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre on Sunday, as part of the celebrations to mark the bicentenary of the birth of the great man.
Accompanied by the First Minister, Dr Banda enjoyed her second visit to the place where Livingstone was born. She spoke with great passion about his relevance with her home nation and links with Scotland generally. It was inspiring to hear how one Scot’s influence has had such global reach and retains such relevance even today.
That point was reinforced even further at a wreath-laying ceremony at Westminster Abbey, where he Livingstone is buried, held last night. So many eminent thinkers, influencers and people of power were in attendance – Livingstone’s legacy really lives on.
We hope these birthday celebrations will help strengthen relationships between Scotland and Africa; to renew interest in David Livingstone among all our nations and to make sure that the David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre can be sustained to inspire future generations for years to come.
The David Livingstone 200 programme of international events includes exhibitions, events and activities run by various bodies across Scotland and Africa, aiming to tell audiences about his astonishing life. March is set to be a highlight. Opening today is the David Livingstone Centre’s own exhibition “The Nyangwe Diary: Shining New Light on Livingstone” which illustrates how cutting edge technology revealed a previously inaccessible Livingstone diary.
All around the table
Wednesday 13th March 2013
I’ve just emerged from a meeting where the Trust gathered the key players in Scottish heritage for a fascinating and fruitful discussion.
It was especially pleasing to see both government-sponsored and NGOs together talking about the many common issues that are taking up our time as well all contribute in our way to caring for Scotland’s heritage.
You won’t be surprised to hear that health cropped up, but we were also thinking about education and skills for our sector and in a wider sense too. There are definitely areas where we can be co-ordinating our efforts for the greater good, so watch this space for future plans.
Drop of Spring
Wednesday 27th February 2013
Although chilly, this lovely bright weather reminds us all that Spring is on its way. Snowdrops can now be seen at many of our properties – some who are taking part in VisitScotland’s annual Snowdrop Festival and some who aren’t.
Over the last few days, visitors have been sending some lovely shots of the carpet of white to us via Twitter - @N_T_S if you aren’t already following. There’s still time to see come wonderful displays at Brodie Castle, Balmerino Abbey and House of the Binns, just to name a few.
Spring also means that we are gearing up for another busy and productive year at the Trust. Watch this space for more news soon.
Wednesday 20th February 2013
Did you know that the Trust has five regional groups of outdoors conservation volunteers who carry out amazing feats of hard graft and conservation work, all over Scotland?
They work at weekends, for free, all year round. Hardy and hard-working, they are an inspiration. But, I am pleased to report that it’s not just the Trust and its properties that benefit from the arrangement, the volunteers themselves have a ball.
I had a lovely email from a colleague of mine reporting back on her first ever volunteering experience. She was at Ben Lomond helping with the construction of a cruck frame building. Her verdict: “I had a fantastic time, I felt like part of the NTS family and left with a real sense that I had achieved something useful.”What high praise!
If you fancy getting involved, in this, our Year of Natural Scotland, visit www.nts.org.uk/volunteering.
Buds of change Brodick Castle
Wednesday 13th February 2013
It was a wonderful weekend on Arran, last weekend and I’m pleased to say that our local pheasant popped into the garden again. Brodick Castle and its grounds are looking beautiful, as is the ever impressive Goatfell.
As you may know, these stunning places are the focus of the Trust’s first ever Signature Project. With a project like this, we want to look at properties closely and see what needs to be done better.
This work started on Arran last year and we already have an exciting development to report – we’ve just received planning permission for three camping ‘pods’ to be placed at Shore Lodge. The pods are wooden domed huts that provide those who enjoy the outdoors with just a tad more comfort than a tent might. The pods tend to be popular with hillwalkers and cyclists and other outdoor enthusiasts, so we are hoping even more will venture to Brodick to explore as a result.
We have also appointed our masterplanners – the experts who are going to help us develop our long term plan from Brodick Castle, the gardens and estate in our care. Watch this space for more.
And if you haven’t been over to Arran in a while, there’s no better excuse than this, the Year of Natural Scotland to re-acquaint yourself with this wonderful place.
Dr Livingstone, but don’t presume
Wednesday 6th February 2013
2013 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of the great David Livingstone.
As a fellow medic and graduate of Glasgow University, I need no convincing of the many achievements of David Livingstone. Coming from such humble roots, demonstrating such a commitment to his education, he was a driven soul with real determination.
However, over the years, we’ve perhaps become a bit blasé about this man’s contribution to the globe, summing him up with the catchphrase, ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume’.
It’s all too easy in these days of air travel, when we can find our way with mobile phones and GPS systems to overlook the bravery, vision and sheer force of will that could take a young man from North Lanarkshire to East Africa.
As we celebrate Livingstone’s life with a series of events across Scotland, the UK and Africa too, it’s a good time to pop in to the David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre, see the single room where he started his life and remind ourselves of the contribution he has made to the world.
For more on the events planned, visit www.davidlivingstone200.org.uk.
Celebrate the real Burns
Thursday 24th January 2013
As Burns’ birthday approaches, many of us will be planning our celebrations. Burns Nights are so popular and I am speaking at several over the next few nights. It’s always a pleasure to share the words and spirit of our national poet with friends.
But as we address the haggis and toast our lads and lassies on Friday evening, we can picture Burns even better in our minds eye thanks to an amazing project by STV and Dundee University.
Using a cast of his skull, Professor Caroline Wilkinson and her team used the latest forensic techniques to recreate the bard’s face. Fittingly, they chose the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum to unveil their work.
What a wonderful moment when the latest medical technology and expertise allowed us to look on his face. Fascinating stuff. If you haven’t caught it yet, it’s still on STV Player for a few days.
And, if you’ve never had a Burns Night and need some tips, the museum team have made this braw video to keep you right - http://www.videojug.com/film/how-to-organise-a-burns-supper.
Thursday 17th January 2013
Yesterday, I met with our Patron, HRH Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay in a stunning and snowy Aberdeenshire. This was one of our regular meetings where we share all the wonderful work the Trust has carried out over the past year.
I was able to give a very positive account of what we’ve achieved over the past year or so, our progress in implementing the strategy, how we have developed and are taking forward our Signature Projects at Brodick Castle and Country Park on Arran and at Inverewe Garden in Wester Ross.
I was especially pleased to be able to report on how our staff and volunteers have risen to the challenge to innovate. As a result of a call for new ideas and projects, we now have special speaking pens at the Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre, you can buy prints of your favourite Trust paintings online (www.ntsprints.com) and we hope that soon, you’ll be able to but charcoal made from invasive species to fire up your barbeque and help fund our heritage at the same time. Brilliant ideas – I’m sure you’ll agree and I’m sure this year will bring even more.
Wednesday 12th December 2012
I had a wonderful email from a former colleague this week – they had been to Holmwood House on Sunday with their granddaughter and raved about meeting Santa and his reindeer. It is great to know that we are offering such fabulous festive experiences for families.
If you haven’t managed along to one of our Christmassy events yet, don’t worry - Mrs Claus is installed at Pollok House until 24 December, and if you fancy putting the children’s festive spirit to good use, they could be enrolled at the Elf Training School at the David Livingstone Centre this coming weekend!
It’s creative, fun-packed events like this that show our commitment to giving visitors the ‘wow’ factor, providing the best visitor experience we can. Feedback like that described above, shows we are heading in the right direction.
Wishing you all a fun festive season – see you in the New Year.
Canna collections online
Wednesday 5th December 2012
You will have heard me mention Canna before, and the wonderful work of John Lorne Campbell and his wife Margaret Fay Shaw to collect the folklore and songs of the Western Isles. Many of these recordings were put onto wax cylinder and kept at Canna House and some sent to the British Library for preservation and digitisation.
Imagine my surprise as I heard a Gaelic work song floating my way at a recent meeting at the British Library. What a coincidence to find the song was direct from the Canna archives, thanks to the wonders of modern technology.
The Canna collection makes up an important part of the collection Tobar an Dualchais which is a partnership project that collects together recordings of this type from all over Scotland and places them online. It is a true treasure trove and I urge you to explore - http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/
Poetic approaches on Bannockburn
Wednesday 28th November 2012
I hope that you will have spent some time perusing the ten wonderful new poems inspired by the Battle of Bannockburn.
Created by acclaimed Scottish poets, the ten pieces all present a different and thought-provoking take on the battle. Some of the works consider the events from the context of that time and how it may have been to be present in 1314, others take a long view, looking back at events and consider its ripples through history.
One of the poems will be inscribed into the ringbeam at the rotunda monument onsite at Bannockburn. This new addition to the rotunda actually completes the original 1960s design.
We are asking for the public to help us with that decision, so please vote and let us know. We’re also asking the Makar for her expert opinion and a few others too.
Voting closes on 30 November, so please get reading and clicking - www.battleofbannockburn.com.
Grounds for inclusion
Wednesday 21st November 2012
I had a chat with John Swinney, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Development last night and he told me a very personal story which he has allowed me to share with you.
John’s wife Elizabeth suffers from MS and, along with their little son, they were all paying a visit to The Hermitage near Dunkeld. This is a Trust property that is well worth seeing: a gorgeous walk through autumn-dappled woodland to the folly of Ossian’s Hall perched over the Black Linn Falls and Ossian’s Cave.
Given her condition, Elizabeth feared that she and her son would not be able to enjoy these sights – until she spotted a sign announcing that anyone with mobility difficulties was welcome to take their car along the path and on up to Ossian’s Hall. Elizabeth was delighted and, as a result, received great pleasure from what she described as “wonderful” views of the waters in full spate.
At our Local Assemblies and this year’s AGM we had many pleas about using more creativity and imagination to ensure that people with a disability or other mobility problems are not excluded from our countryside properties. On some sites this may be difficult – but at The Hermitage we can see that solutions can be found and we can truly say that our nation’s treasures belong to us all, irrespective of age and health.
Not an impartial review
Friday 16th November 2012
I am a regular book reviewer, but today I will freely admit to being thoroughly biased in providing the following review.
If you have not see it yet, ‘The Scottish Country House’ published by Thames & Hudson is a thoroughly good read and a feast for the eye.
I am biased for two good reasons. Firstly, the book features one of the Trust’s most important properties, The House of the Binns, and presents it beautifully. The images are sumptuous and arresting, not least a photograph of a bust of the venerable and irascible Tam Dalyell with something unspeakable done to it.
Secondly, the author happens to be well-known to me. He is one of our Trustees, James Knox, who is also the publisher of ‘The Art Newspaper.’ He has done a wonderful job of research and his intimate knowledge of architecture and fine art is an eloquent demonstration of why he was asked to join the Board.
Even if I were not biased, I would recommend this book to you. I would also recommend that you purchase it from all good bookshops – many of which, strangely enough, happen to be located within National Trust for Scotland properties...
Threats to our trees
Tuesday 6th November 2012
Like lots of you, we are very worried about the news of Ash Dieback and are participating fully with the survey that the Forestry Commission have just instigated.
But this isn’t the only disease threatening our flora at present – we are already coping with the challenges of Phytophthora ramorum and Dothistroma. If we’re to avoid a national crisis, landowners and the government need to work better together to manage these threats. The Trust has been asking for co-ordinated action for the best part of a decade.
For a charity, this is a big concern and cost and we have now made that clear to everyone involved in responding to the current crisis.
It’s issues like this and other landscape issues that are being addressed at a conference in November - Managing Change in Scotland’s Landscapes involves many of Scotland’s landscape experts and takes place in Perth on 27 and 28 November – www.landscapescotland2012.com
Thanks to Threave
Wednesday 31st October 2012
Our last Local Assembly of the year took place at Threave Garden this week. It was a glorious autumn day which showed the garden off at its seasonal best
We had a fantastic turn-out on the day, with around 100 members, friends and local people coming along to hear more about what the Trust has been up to, locally and nationally.
Despite a deficient sound system there was a great exchange between Trustees, managers and the delegates on all manner of subjects - ranging from our website, David Livingstone special issue stamps for 2013, new build visitor centres to a grandparents' membership card, commercial partnerships and the presentation of the library at Broughton House.
Threave being one of Scotland’s most wonderful gardens, is was appropriate that we were also treated to fascinating garden-themed talks from David Knott of the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh and Colin Crobie of RHS Wisley. Both nationally renowned horticulturalists with local connections to Threave.
We also heard from our very own Trust experts – Karl Munday who talked enthusiastically and knowledgably about the nature to be found on Threave estate, from bats to ospreys, Robert Ferguson's erudite and knowledgeable tour of Threave House and its art, plus a tour led by Sinclair Williamson and Brain Corr around the Threave School of Heritage Gardening.
Thanks to everyone who joined us for our Local Assemblies this year – we’re planning 2013 events now so watch this space for more news.
Wildlife abounds at Brodick
Wednesday 24th October 2012
I’ve been enjoying Arran’s abundant wildlife this week. Standing on Brodick beach, looking at the castle, a seal popped up to say hello. What a delight.
Then back at my Brodick house, I filled the birdfeeder in the back garden with RSPB approved seed mix and was treated to visits from dozens of beautiful birds - and two red squirrels who chased each other all around the garden.
As I boarded the ferry, a heron (my favourite bird) was there to bid me adieu. Scotland has so much wonderful wildlife.
Back on the mainland, I dropped into the Hill House where I was presenting them a plaque which was celebrating Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his old school in Glasgow – Allan Glen’s School. I also attended this school. It was here that Mackintosh started his journey to blossom in to the world-renowned architect and designer that he later became.
Fittingly, my visit coincided with the inaugural Charles Rennie Mackintosh festival which runs until 28 October – find out more here: http://www.crmsociety.com/creativemackintoshfestival.aspx.
Wednesday 17th October 2012
I was in Paris last week enjoying the many heritage treasures of the fabulous city. My visits to the Louvre and the Musée de l'Orangerie were fascinating – not just because of the fantastic collections of artworks in their care, but also as a place to look at the different approaches to the visitor experience.
Visitor enjoyment is one of the key strategic objectives for the Trust, so it’s always interesting to see how it’s handled elsewhere.
The good news is that I think that our Trust properties hold up admirably against comparisons with these hugely impressive international destinations. Our staff and volunteers are knowledgeable, friendly, enthusiastic and our own art collections are pretty impressive too. And as for the scenery, well…
If you are a big art fan, watch this space, as we’ll be introducing a new initiative soon which will mean you can buy prints of your favourite Trust art works. We might not have any Da Vincis but there are Raeburns and Cadells and Batonis and all sorts to enjoy.
Awards and apples
Thursday 4th October 2012
Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with dozens and dozens of our trusty volunteers at a special awards ceremony last week.
Inspired by the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, we handed out 86 certificates as a thank you to our volunteers. They came from properties all over Scotland to celebrate. You would not believe the diverse range of roles they do – it’s astounding. I enjoyed having the chance to thank them all for their contribution to our charity and to Scotland’s heritage.
And more exciting news, yesterday, the Trust launched a new apple juice product. Working with artisan juice makers Cuddybridge form the Borders, unusual and heritage apples from our gardens will be squashed, by hand, to make lovely juices. This is a great partnership that showcases our gardens and gardeners’ expertise, gives people the chance to sample some unusual apples and raises funds to support our conservation work too.
Look out for the bottles at delis and Trust shops soon.
Changing of the seasons
Wednesday 26th September 2012
As autumn weather seems to have arrived and the leaves are changing, we’ve had some big changes at the Trust in the past week. At our Annual General meeting on Saturday in Edinburgh our President of 10 years, the Duke of Buccleuch stepped down.
Some of you asked to see the gift he was presented with, so here's a picture.
I hope that the tributes paid on Saturday went at least some way to expressing our gratitude for his contribution to this charity. As his successor Lord Lindsay noted in his video address, he will be a hard act to to follow. The members overwhelmingly voted in support of the appointment of Lord Lindsay and so he now takes on the mantle of President.
I’ll be undertaking my first Trust business with him in a few weeks at the London lecture, where Tam Dalyell will share some fascinating anecdotes about his long career in politics. It will be an interesting evening – if you’d like to join us, tickets are still available – contact Olivia Smart (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Almost ready for Annual General Meeting
Friday 21st September 2012
We’re putting the final preparations to the Annual General Meeting for Saturday. It’s at Assembly Hall in Edinburgh and starts at 11am.
I know that more than 250 of you are planning to be there to hear about the progress the Trust has made in the last 12 months. There’s a lot of good news to report. We’ll also be discussing some important issues like landscape and considering some legislative change needed to support new governance arrangements.
Then in the afternoon, we’re having another Local Assembly – this time Edinburgh and East. The guest speaker is Professor Tom Devine who will be sharing his thoughts on Scotland: small country; big global impact.
I look forward to seeing you there.
Thursday 13th September 2012
Well, autumn is upon us and summer holidays are but a dim and distant memory. September is a very busy time at the National Trust for Scotland – we have our Annual General Meeting on 22 September – but more about that in later editions.
This week, we held our third Local Assembly at Haddo House. It was a big success - 69 people came along and heard about the latest progress, as we implement our strategy. We had a lot of useful feedback and constructive ideas for the future. It is genuinely pleasingly to see how passionate people are about our charity and the places that we are privileged to care for. And it was fascinating to hear from Cameron Taylor, who had some fascinating insights on the heritage and history of the North East. Thanks to the staff, volunteers and Board Member Margaret Alexander for organising the event and ensuring it went so well.
Haddo House, if you haven’t been recently, is a wonderful spot for a visit. Its interiors are very impressive and the gardens and grounds are looking lovely as the leaves start to turn.
Have a great holiday!
Wednesday 4th July 2012
Despite the temperamental weather through June (now officially the wettest on record, I understand), the summer holidays have arrived.
The changeable meteorological conditions might mean it’s a bit of a challenge keeping the family amused over the next six weeks or so.
Worry not, as the Trust has the answer – with plenty of outdoor options when it’s set fair and dozens of dreich day ideas too. For help in planning your summer days out, visit www.nts.org.uk/family.
So make the most of your membership over the next few months and take in some jousting at Castle Fraser, outdoor theatre at Culzean or solve the latest riddler at Pollok House.
I’ll be taking a break from blogging over the next few weeks, so have a great summer and I’ll see you in September at the Haddo Local Assembly or AGM.
Thursday 28th June 2012
The peak season is upon us already. All over the country our properties are gearing up for their busiest time and getting ready to welcome visitors from near and far. You’ll see that there’s lots planned to keep our visitors busy and encourage them to come back again and again.
All these visitors are vital to keep the Trust going and help us fund our crucial work to conserve and promote our heritage. It also makes a huge impact on the Scottish economy. According to research from a few years back, tourism contributes about £11 billion to Scotland annually. With over 100 properties across Scotland, the Trust makes an important contribution here – bringing visitors in to an area, employing local people, using local suppliers and tradesmen.
This summer, VisitScotland are seizing the opportunity presented by the release of Disney•Pixar’s BRAVE which premieres in Scotland on Saturday at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. They think that once people throughout the world see the movie, they’ll be inspired to come to the land which provided the inspiration. If the visitors come, it could bring in an extra £140 million to Scotland – a welcome boost in these difficult times.
Celebrating decades and centuries
Thursday 21st June 2012
I was very honoured to be invited to attend the Trooping of the Colour last weekend in London.
It was a wonderful for the Trust to be represented and a privilege to be involved in this huge event and the wider celebrations of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
As you’ll probably know, we had loads of Jubilee-themed events on at properties all over the country and they seem to have been really popular.
While in London, I passed the astounding Westminster Abbey, where David Livingstone is buried and just a few weeks earlier, we had been at the Royal Geographical Society where there is a fine statue of the man - this reminded me of another important anniversary celebration that’s fast approaching.
In 2013, it’s the bicentenary of the birth of the doctor and medical man. The Trust has joined forces with a range of bodies to help ensure that important event is properly marked.
Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop was at the David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre yesterday announcing some very generous funding to help with that program which looks very exciting. Keep an eye on the website for details.
Love our landscape?
Thursday 14th June 2012
In this edition of Scotland in Trust, we’re looking at the complex issue of landscape. We really want to hear from you, our members, about how you feel about the changes facing the countryside today and in the future.
To get the debate going, we’ve asked folk with opposite views to set out how they feel about some of the most pressing issues facing landscape in Scotland today – windfarms, hilltracks, the development of national parks.
We’re very aware that as a membership organisation, we need your views, to influence the stance that the Trust takes on preserving the stunning land that’s in our care for future generations. This is a fascinating discussion so please get involved.
The Trust pledged in our strategy to advocate for the conservation of our heritage and this discussion shows we’re delivering on that.
If you want to make your views heard, visit www.nts.org.uk/landscape.
Thursday 7th June 2012
Connecting with the Scottish Diaspora is both an obvious and important objective for the Trust. As is so often the case, distance from your homeland can make you appreciate all the more what is so special about Scotland’s heritage.
We are conditioned to think of the Diaspora as being far-flung, thriving in places like the US, Canada and Hong Kong. Indeed, Scots and people of Scots descent around the world are of great significance to the Trust – but we should not forget that Scots have effectively ‘colonised’ places that are much closer to home.
That is why last night’s first local assembly held in London was so important. Well over 30,000 NTS members live in London and the south east and it is right we do much more to engage with them.
The Trust’s London Committee undertakes a hugely valuable role in raising funds to help support Scotland’s heritage. The separate and independent London Members Centre, along with its counterpart in Cambridge, provides a focus for NTS members in the south-east of England as well as raising funds in its own right.
It was good to hear from representatives from both organisations and take part in very frank discussions as to how we can be more inclusive of the many people in the region who have an affinity for Scotland.
One particular conclusion was inescapable: the unique landscapes, buildings and artefacts we care for are a matter of passionate concern to people the world over. Scotland’s heritage is the world’s heritage and we need to do more to make that clear at home and abroad.
Together with our friends in London and elsewhere, we can achieve this.
Tuesday 29th May 2012
My visits to some of the Trust’s more far flung locations continued this weekend with a trip to the glorious Inverewe Garden in Wester Ross. The view of the loch on the drive in was outstanding.
Basking in the glorious sunshine, the garden was looking extraordinary with plenty of meconopsis, rhododendron and azalea in flower.
Like so many of the Trust’s properties, there is so much more to this beautiful place than meets the eye. The garden is outstanding, the house handsome with stunning views. It was excellent to hear about the recent developments in the garden and the wealth of wildlife and archaeology of the wider estate.
These many facets are one of the reasons that Inverewe Garden has been selected as one of the first ‘Signature Projects’ for the Trust. We want to make the most of the many treasures that can be found here on the banks of Loch Ewe.
I was also pleased to spend time with the Friends of Inverewe and thank them personally for their support of the garden. It is easy to see why it is so close to their hearts.
Do not presume anything about Dr Livingstone
Thursday 24th May 2012
Yesterday, in a gloriously sunny Blantyre, we were privileged to receive a visit by the Rt Hon Lord Selkirk of Douglas, Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to Her Majesty the Queen and Lady Selkirk.
Their Graces were at the David Livingstone Centre to see the birthplace of one of Scotland’s greatest sons.
As Karen Carruthers, the Property Manager guided the visitors around the displays, enthusiastically and passionately describing the upbringing and achievements of Livingstone, it struck me how little most of us really understand about this most familiar of figures.
The spiritual dimension to Livingstone’s story has been unfashionable in recent years and there has been the taint of cynicism due to the imperial land grabs that followed his time in Africa.
Yet, it was clear that Livingstone’s spirituality was the driving force that took him from a seven-in-a-room existence in Blantyre, long hours as a child labourer in a Cotton Mill and through medical school to Africa.
Present-day Africans have no doubt that he was a good man, who lived by his Christian faith, and who tried to use his medical skills to alleviate suffering. Whatever myths and rebuttals may have circulated around his individual actions in resisting the vile tide of slavery blighting Africa in the 1860s and 1870s, it was his efforts to raise awareness of it that eventually prompted the British Government to force the end the East African slave trade for once and for all.
He died six months before his greatest achievement. It seems incredible that one man really could make such a difference to world affairs, and that this man should come from this small country, from the humblest of circumstances.
As we turn our attentions to the bicentenary of Livingstone’s birth next year, it was fitting that the Lord High Commissioner was present to underscore the fact that the faith and values that were exhibited in that dwelling in rural Blantyre still exist today.
Having a Ball!
Thursday 17th May 2012
Preparations for the President’s Ball which takes place on Friday 18 May are now well underway. Hosted by our committed President, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, the event has been organised by an outstandingly creative and dedicated gang of volunteers.
Set in the grounds of His Grace’s Dalkeith Palace, I know it is going to be a memorable evening.
The Ball is a fundraiser for the Trust and the last one, which took place in 2009, raised almost half a million pounds for our charity. Every penny of those funds have now been spent on vital conservation work all over the country.
We are fortunate to have such an army of supporters out there mobilising on our behalf. It is inspiring to realise just how many people feel so strongly about our work. Thank you to everyone who plays their part in enabling the Trust to conserve and promote our heritage.
Celebrating Scotland’s Stories
Thursday 3rd May 2012
I hope you’ve had a chance to log on to www.scotlandsstories.com – a fascinating new resource we launched earlier this week. If you look back over this blog, you’ll see that I am always praising the dedicated and talented people who contribute to the Trust and its vital conservation work. Well, Scotland’s Stories gives you an even better insight into these special folk and their skills.
We’ve got a stonemason, a weaver, a miller, printers, a fungi expert, crofters, housekeepers and other experts galore talking about their work. In every tale, the true passion of our people shines through and it is impossible not to smile as they describe their work with such enthusiasm. It is an honour to be call these people my colleagues.
But more than that, I hope it is reassuring and inspiring for the nation to know that its treasures are in the hands of these experts who are working tirelessly to conserve and promote our heritage day in, day out.
Thursday 26th April 2012
I had a great meeting with our friends at the Perth and Kinross Members’ Centre last week. It was lovely to hear about their work to support our places and, as ever, I’m very grateful.
I also got the chance to visit the delightful Branklyn Garden. Hewn into the hillside on the banks of the River Tay, it is a rather magical spot. Established in the 30s by the Rentons who were keen plant collectors, some of its botany would be more at home in Eastern Asia than in the fine city of Perth. Visit in May to see its famous Himalayan Blue Poppies at their best.
Branklyn Garden is one of many small but beautiful gardens in our care and they are really worth searching out. Malleny Garden in Balerno is a real treat and just a short bus ride from Edinburgh city centre, the gardens at Hugh Miller’s Birthplace Cottage and Museum in Cromarty are small but perfectly formed and have even won design awards. Broughton House Garden is also a real treat, again packed with influence from the Far East.
These little pockets of peace and plants are a great place to while away a few hours while we wait for the spring weather to arrive.
Communities of interest at Culloden
Wednesday 18th April 2012
This Saturday past I visited the wild and atmospheric Culloden Battlefield where I attended a service in memorial of those who fell at the battle all those years ago. It was an honour to represent the Trust and reminded us all that the events of 16 April 1746 continue to resonate today.
Afterwards, we held our first ever Local Assembly event in the excellent visitor centre. I am pleased to report that this was a big success. About 50 people came along to hear more about the Trust’s heritage work in communities across the Highlands. We talked about the future of Inverewe Garden and crofting on the Balmacara Estate and Culloden too.
Ronnie Cramond MBE also shared the findings of his study into the educational effectiveness of our exhibition at Culloden. He concluded it was a great success in educating visitors about the complex realities of that fateful battle. His entertaining talk was well-received by everyone.
I’m looking forward to the other Local Assemblies which take place later in the year.
We’ve tried to programme them in varied locations across the country so look out for one near you soon. If we’re not coming to your part of the world with the first few, please be reassured that we will be announcing more venues and dates for next year.
Brodick Estate breaking new ground
Thursday 29th March 2012
We’ve made a good bit of progress in delivering an important part of the strategy this week – we’ve formally announced our first ever ‘Signature Project’. The property selected to be at the vanguard of this exciting new way of working for the Trust is Brodick Estate on Arran.
Signature projects are designed to be exemplars for the entire organisation, showing how to look at the potential of properties and plan for their successful future in a whole new way.
Brodick Estate is often described as Scotland in miniature, and in fact it can be viewed as the Trust in miniature too. It was the obvious choice as our first ‘Signature Project’ as it encompasses everything that the Trust cares for on a national scale from fine art collections to mountains, all on one island.
The project team will be lead by heritage specialist Jonathan Bryant who will work creatively with people from inside the Trust, the community and experts from a wide range of backgrounds to help us find the best way forward for Brodick. Exciting times, indeed!
And the next place in the pipeline as a Signature Project will be Inverewe Garden, so that will all kick off towards the end of 2012.
Brodick Castle is (like lots of our places) getting ready to welcome visitors this weekend, so pop in if you can and see what makes this place so special to the Trust and to Scotland.
Like lots of you, I’m taking a wee break over Easter, so won’t be blogging much for the next few weeks. We can catch up with all the news later on in April.
Thursday 22nd March 2012
With the recent sunshine, we’re starting to feel like spring is finally here. At many of our properties, the daffodils are out. Some of the best displays can be found at Threave Garden and Estate and also Greenbank Garden near Clarkston. For the full show though, it has to be Brodie Castle near Forres. They are even hosting a Daffodil Festival in mid-April, with teas and guided walks and loads and loads of daffs!
And beyond the gardens, there’s lots of activity in the houses and castles too as many of our places get ready to throw open the doors to visitors again on 1 April. You would not believe how much copper-cleaning and silver polishing, flagstone sweeping and curtain hovering (with museum vacuum cleaners of course), is going on in Scotland right now.
Planning too – there’s lots of events and activities being planned for visitors of all ages this summer. It all starts with a flourish at Easter with the Cadbury Easter Egg Trails - more than ever this year. If looking for real Easter eggs isn’t enough for you, this year, you can even look for virtual eggs on our website. Happy hunting!
Moray Firth friends
Thursday 15th March 2012
Following on my trip to Mar Lodge, I was on the Moray Firth coast last week, meeting the Highland Members’ Centre. As I’ve mentioned before, members’ centres are separate charities which have been set up in support of the National Trust for Scotland’s properties and conservation work. They are good people to know and to get involved with.
The Highland group have worked hard for decades in support of our properties across the Highlands and beyond. It was a great honour to thank them personally for their dedication and I hope they enjoyed hearing more about the strides the Trust is making as we implement the strategy.
The group are also helping us with the organisation of our first ever local assembly which takes place at Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre on 14 April.
If you are in the area, why not pop along? You can register for your place by emailing email@example.com.
Quiet flows the Dee
Thursday 8th March 2012
It was a busy time at Mar Lodge Estate last week.
The first meeting with Braemar Community Council since the publication of the independent review of the estate was positive and encouraging. I was able to report that progress was being made on a new estate management plan, which should be rolled out by April. It will take full account of the review findings and the feedback received from different stakeholders.
Mar Lodge Estate attracts over 100,000 visitors each year and I reflected on the fact that the anything we can do to bring more people to this wonderful landscape, the more benefit there would be for local businesses. In return, the Trust was invited to play a part in supporting the community as it works towards a ‘masterplan’ for tourism and development. This is something we will be very glad to do.
The reasons why Mar Lodge is so important became all the more clear as I took the opportunity to go further into the estate than I have previously been able to do.
The enchanting place where the water from Glen Quoich runs down under the Allanaquoich Bridge to the River Dee was bathed in unseasonal sunshine. The heather, usually dull at this time of year, was speckled with sun-drawn colour, perfectly complementing the sparkling waters and the verdant green of successfully regenerating pine forest.
I saw Golden Eagles for the first time – virtually motionless as they patrolled high up in the sky – a sight I have waited a long time to see.
I was also able to go the far end of the estate, perhaps less familiar because it is only accessible by a single track along the Dalvorar Beat. On the summit of Cairn Liath, which is just 400 m short being a Munro, the silence and solitude were almost overwhelming – punctuated only by the calls of grouse and the fluttering of a startled pair of Golden Plovers. The views across to Ben Macdui and a backdrop of glowering clouds and down towards Inverey were magnificent.
The Trust’s objectives of creating a harmonious balance between the ‘three pillars’ of conservation, field sports and public access at Mar Lodge are not a glib slogan – we mean what we say, and if you could have seen what I saw from my vantage point you would understand why the prize of achieving this balance is so important to Scotland.
I was glad to have a chance to express my feelings to some special visitors to Mar Lodge. A team from BBC One’s Countryfile, fronted by John Craven, was on site to film a report about the estate and what we are trying to achieve.
The report will go out on 18th March and I hope it will convey a realistic impression of the difficulties and challenges we have with a 200 year conservation and regeneration project. We have been criticised and we have made mistakes - but, with an energised young team now managing the estate, we can look forward to real progress and the prize coming ever closer to our grasp.
Sowing the Seeds
Thursday 1st March 2012
We’ve passed another major milestone this week, with the publication of Sowing the Seeds, our Corporate Plan which sets out what we’ll be doing in year of our new strategy.
As the title suggests, this is all about starting things off. In five years time our aim is that the Trust will be at the forefront of good conservation practice, with its finances secure and its membership confident of its role as an advocate for the conservation of Scotland’s heritage. It will have a clear sense of priorities based upon deeper understanding of the significance of its properties. It will be in a position to pursue longer-term objectives. This doesn’t happen by magic.
We are planning it all out step by step.
So in our first year, it is preparation and making sure we will have the skills, resource and ability to reach this hallowed ground.
Necessarily, much of our first year’s activity is about putting processes and systems in place and making plans. I won’t revisit the detail now – you can read the full document here
Or if you want to hear about it in person – you can come along to one of our Local Assembly events. The first takes place at Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre on Saturday 14 April.
This is real progress for the Trust, and I want to thank everyone who contributed to our Tak Tent process last year who have helped us in shaping these important plans for the future of the organisation.
Aconites at beautiful Balmerino
Thursday 23rd February 2012
I had the most tremendous visit to Fife this week where I stopped in to the gentile Hill of Tarvit, the rambling Kellie Castle and the secluded Balmerino Abbey. How lucky Fifers are to have all these places on their doorstep!
Each place, like every Trust property really, was special and enchanting in its own way. At Hill of Tarvit, the elegant house captured the Edwardian period so well and there is such an interesting family history connected to the house.
At Kellie Castle, the organic gardens are simply stunning. Did you know that they sell their veggies? You can get all your stew ingredients there, or salad ingredients in the appropriate season.
Then at Balmerino Abbey I met with the experts of the Balmerino History Group who filled me with fascinating facts about this peaceful place. We saw the lovely aconites, the second oldest Spanish chestnut tree in Scotland. Did you know that weddings and christenings still take place at the abbey? It’s a fantastic place with great views over the Tay too.
Why not find out for yourself at their Aconite Day which takes place this Sunday, 26 February?
Gallivanting in Glasgow
Thursday 16th February 2012
I was out and about in Glasgow last week on various bits of Trust business. First, I met with the Glasgow Member’s Centre who are a fine bunch of folk. I was able to update them on the fascinating Charles Rennie Mackintosh conference that was mentioned here last week and hear about their plans for the spring and summer. It was also an opportunity to thank them for their stalwart support.
If you are interested in joining one of the many Member’s Centres that are affiliated with the Trust, they are spread all over the country. You can find out more about your local group here - http://www.ntscentres.org.uk/.
I was also at the very impressive Centre for Digital Design and Visualisation on the southside of the River Clyde. The Battle of Bannockburn team were providing the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs with an update on the progress of the project to transform the visitor experience in time for the 700th anniversary of the battle. We caught a glimpse of some early development of the cutting-edge visuals that will be used in the new visitor centre. It’s all very exciting.
And looking ahead, I will be in Fife on Monday visiting a few properties and catching up with more of our donors and fans. I’ll let you know how that went in next week’s post.
Learning more about Mackintosh
Thursday 9th February 2012
On to another brilliant Scot this week - Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I was at the Mackintosh Society Conference on Friday at the Lighthouse in Glasgow – a great venue that’s always good for a visit.
The conference was called Mackintosh: building the future and I was really inspired by the expert speakers who set out the legacy of this man and his vision. But they also talked about the buildings as they are today, as important cultural assets, and there was an interesting debate on the link between commerce and culture, one which often crops up in the heritage sector.
There was a review of buildings at risk and a very good presentation by our own Lead Surveyor, William Napier, who higlighted very clearly the problems at Hill House in Helensburgh. The building has been dealing with damp since it was built in the early 20th century because of its bold design and pioneering use of materials. This is a problem that will need attacking, though once again (as is so often the case in conservation work) there are likely to be several possible solutions. No-one said it would be easy! Of course, our priority is to conserve this stunning piece of Scotland’s built heritage in the best way possible.
Wednesday 1st February 2012
As I mentioned last week, I had the great honour to attend the Burns Humanitarian Awards at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway on Saturday. What a great night.
Inspired by Burns’s words, "Man to Man the world o'er, Shall brothers be for a' that", the awards recognise a group or individual who has saved, improved or enriched the lives of others or society as a whole, through personal self-sacrifice, selfless service or 'hands on' charitable work.
This year’s winner, Karen Graham, was an inspiration – we heard the story of he she put the welfare of others ahead of her own to treat people injured in the recent Libyan conflict. The shortlist was packed with dedicated and fearless folk making a difference in the world. Burns would have been proud to have these awards in his name, I’m sure of it.
The evening was a wonderful celebration, added to by Eddi Reader’s fabulous performance. Absolutely fantastic. And I got to meet Liberty Regain’d, the new fox sculpture eye to eye, just as artist Kenny Miller planned it. Again, Burns would have approved.
A Braw Birthday
Thursday 26th January 2012
Well, continuing with the Burns theme this week, I hope you had a Braw Burns Birthday! Did you manage to join in with one of the 27.5 events we’d put on in celebration of the Bard?
We know that the Ceilidh Flash Mob at Parliament Square in Edinburgh went down well, as videos of the jigging were all over the internet. Were you one of the dancers? Let us know.
The new Kenny Hunter piece was unveiled yesterday and I am looking forward to seeing it for myself on Saturday when I am at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum for the Burns Humanitarian Awards. It is going to be a great and humbling night in the company of some of Scotland’s finest.
And the celebrations continue all weekend with lots going on in Alloway to commemorate Robert Burns and all he has contributed to Scottish culture.
Thursday 19th January 2012
We all sing these well-known words by Burns at the start of the New Year, and it seems appropriate to mention them again as I have been spending time recently with people who are dedicated supporters of the Trust.
I was at a meeting of the Brodick Members’ Centre last week and was, as I always am, overwhelmed by the affection in which our properties are held. There are so many people out there passionate about Scotland’s heritage and helping us to care for it on their behalf.
Tomorrow, I am off to the East Fife Member’s Centre to hear more about their plans for the coming year. They are fans of all our Fife places (and many beyond), so there should be fascinating stories of Culross, Hill of Tarvit, Kellie Castle and Falkland Palace.
And of course, next week we celebrate not only the birthday of our national bard, but the 1st anniversary of the official opening of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. What a year it has been – with almost half a million visitors and accolades aplenty.
There are lots of events planned to promote this special day, and the museum, going on across Scotland. And on the day itself, we’ll be unveiling a brand new statue onsite. Commissioned by STV and created by Glasgow-based artist Kenny Hunter, the piece is inspired by the poem A Fragment (On Glenriddel’s Fox Breaking his Chain).
We hope you’ll pop along at some point during the celebrations to mark this important date in the cultural calendar.
Thursday 12th January 2012
A Happy New Year to you all! I hope that you have fun over the festive period. The wild weather which ushered in 2012 has caused lots of problems, not just for householders across the country who are still clearing up sheds, garden fences and chimney pots, but also for some of our properties.
Fortunately, there doesn’t seem to have been any major damage to our buildings, but some of our gardens and woodlands have taken a pounding. In November’s ‘hurricane’, the Hermitage in Perthshire lost a lot of very big trees.
Then over the Christmas period, lots of our West Coast places had damage to sort out. Brodick and Culzean were closed for a few days, but Crarae Garden near Inveraray seems to have borne the brunt, losing about 200 trees. Sadly, it means that this lovely place will be closed for a wee while, but the clean up progresses in earnest.
The surprisingly mild spell we’re enjoying now gives us all a great excuse to get out to some of our countryside places and walk off the excesses of the festive season, so I hope to see you out there.
Start as you mean to go on
Monday 9th January 2012
Happy New Year to you all. I hope 2013 is starting off to be a very good year for you. For the Trust, 2013 will be a busy and important one.
As you know, 2012 was all about sowing the seeds of change. In 2013, we are looking for those changes to take root. But first, we need to make sure that we have our house in order. That is why we are taking forward a Bill to make the final changes recommended by the Independent Review of the Trust undertaken in 2009/10, to modernise our Governance structures. You might remember that we consulted on this last year.
The main changes that the Bill will make are:
• the President and Vice-Presidents of the Trust are no longer deemed to be ex officio members of the Board of Trustees;
• to increase the maximum term of co-option to the Board of Trustees from one year to a period of up to four years;
• to remove statutory references to ‘representative members’ being part of the Board of Trustees; and
• to permit the Trust to be known formally as ‘The National Trust for Scotland’ as well as ‘The National Trust for Scotland for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty’.
For more information about the background and the process, visit http://www.nts.org.uk/legislation/.
Thursday 8th December 2011
A busy season of festive events is now upon us. Already, we’ve welcomed thousands of people to our Enchanted Castle events at Crathes Castle in Aberdeenshire and Culzean Castle in Ayrshire.
One of the best bits of visitor feedback came via Twitter, where a six-year old visitor declared Culzean ‘triple awesome’ - high praise indeed. There are many more events all over Scotland this coming weekend too.
These events are an excellent opportunity for the Trust to deliver key strategic objectives of visitor enjoyment, promoting Scotland’s heritage and importantly, financial sustainability.
And on top of that, they are also excellent fun for everyone involved and generate the kind of family friendly buzz we want to see across all our properties.
The creativity and hard work of staff and volunteers to come up with new ideas and pour their energy and efforts into making them such a success is commendable.
I hope that those of you who visit are as enchanted as your young visitor above.
Season’s greetings to you all and see you in 2012.
Moving on at Mar Lodge
Thursday 1st December 2011
Many of you will know that the independent panel looking at Mar Lodge have now published the report. It makes for very interesting reading and you can see the full detail and all the appendices at www.marlodgereview.co.uk.
We asked the panel to look at our approach to woodland, moorland and deer management at Mar Lodge Estate – with specific reference to deer culling and fencing. The report says that the Trust is getting a lot right at Mar Lodge, it acknowledges that we have a difficult job to do in balancing sporting, conservation and access objectives. Importantly though, it reminds us all that this balance is possible.
Over the past few years, the debate about Mar Lodge has tended to focus on just one or two of these elements. I hope that we are all now reminded of the scale of the Trust’s responsibilities in our care of this majestic place.
We are committed to making changes where we need to and are looking forward to working with others for the benefit of the Trust’s single largest property. Please keep an eye on the Mar Lodge page of this website for regular updates on our progress.
21 years young
Wednesday 23rd November 2011
It’s a big year for big birthdays in the Trust. Not only are we 80 years young, but many of our supporting organisations have been around for a while too.
This weekend, I was helping the Argyll Members’ Centre celebrate 21 years of support for the Trust and our vital work to conserve and promote our heritage.
It was a glorious drive to Connel, past Loch Lomond (waving hello to the Ben) and Loch Awe in this wonderful autumnal sunshine.
We enjoyed a lively 21st birthday party, complete with some of the original members of the centre from 1990. Some of these fine folk were over 90 years old, but still came out to celebrate their achievements over the past few decades.
The members have an active programme and do a great deal in support of their lovely local properties – Arduaine and Crarae Garden.
We thank them for their generosity over the past 21 years and wish them all the best for the next 21.
Cruising in the name of conservation
Thursday 17th November 2011
Dreading the thought of the long winter ahead? Well, we at the Trust have the perfect answer – sort out your 2012 holiday now and give yourself something to look forward to!
Coming along on one of our cruises is a great way to explore the best of Scotland and beyond, in the company of some bona fide experts. We’re running two voyages next year, both with a strong cultural theme as it will be the Scottish Government’s Year of Culture.
The first takes in some of the Trust’s top island properties, plus there’s a stop in Orkney and Skye and we even take a trip to Northern Ireland.
Then in July, the two-week cruise takes passengers even farther north, all the way to Svalbard in the Arctic Circle. As well as experiencing the views and wildlife in this unspoilt part of the world, expert conservationists and talented performers will provide the unique Trust experience that has our cruise customers coming back again and again.
And of course, every penny raised goes to our work to conserve and promote our heritage.
Find out more at culturalcruising.com.
Thursday 10th November 2011
Last weekend I had the honour of enjoying Mar Lodge Estate in the company of some of the Trust’s greatest supporters – our Patron’s Club.
Blessed with stunning weather, everyone was awestruck by the beauty of the wilderness that we are privileged to care for on the estate. The majestic peaks looked wonderful in the autumnal sunshine and once again I was very proud to be part of the Trust.
Over those few days, our guests enjoyed everything that Mar Lodge has to offer, including a few grouse – Mar is a working sporting estate after all. Our generous benefactors were fascinated to hear about the challenges of balancing this with our vital conservation work and our recent success with the regeneration of Caledonian Pine too.
We also enjoyed visits to Craigievar Castle and both Crathes and Drum Castle in an area rich with Robert the Bruce links. Did you know he hunted around there?
But as ever, it was the warmth of the Highland hospitality which made the whole experience unforgettable. The Trust is fortunate to have staff and supporters of such enthusiasm devoted to our purpose to conserve and promote our heritage.
Wednesday 2nd November 2011
Halloween marks the end of the Trust’s ‘high season’ – although, of course, many of our properties remain open all year round. Traditionally, this is when Property Managers and support teams gather together to review the foregoing year and start to plan for the year to come, and so it was that I was in Pitlochry on Tuesday 1st November to join in with the discussions.
It was a gorgeous day, with the mist wisping away from the Tay Valley to reveal the stunning sight of the hills around Pitlochry shrouded in the reds, golds and ochres of autumnal trees basking in welcome sunshine. As you can imagine, I could not help reflecting that I would rather be spending my time taking in the seasonal views than sitting in a darkened conference venue. But it is to the credit of Trust staff that I was quickly engaged by their enthusiasm and creativity as we started to talk about turning our new strategy into practical reality.
Our strategy is ambitious and, as you would expect for a heritage charity, our properties and their conservation lie at its heart. We talked about the need to ‘empower’ our properties and what this would mean by the time of the strategy’s full implementation by 2016. In simple terms this comes down to team work – ensuring the expertise and systems are in place and geared up to help Property Managers do their job.
What is the Property Manager’s job though? That was the crux of a fascinating discussion. If we are to encourage new generations to value our heritage and to understand the significance of the properties in our care, the Property Manager and the teams of staff and volunteers they rely on have to find new ways to present the individual stories around each property and draw out its ‘character’.
The ideas I heard being proposed and the level of insight on display was heartening and compelling. It is precisely this kind of ‘front line’ involvement that will shape the Trust’s forthcoming action plans and realise our ambitions alongside the changes in organisational culture we need to make. It was also great to see several of our Trustees attending the sessions – and very useful for our mutual scaling of learning curves as we move forward.
History that haunts
Wednesday 26th October 2011
Looking after so many properties with such a long history means the Trust also cares for its fair share of ghosts, ghouls and spectres. Over the years we’ve collected some really spooky stories from our properties and places like Fyvie Castle and Castle Fraser in Aberdeenshire have been the setting for many a ghost hunt. Some of our best tales are shared on the website - www.nts.org.uk/Autumn/Ghosts/
Scotland has a fine tradition in ghostly literature. Just look at Robert Burns – Tam o’Shanter must be one of the best known tales of witchery. Now the poem is brought to life in a massive mural that’s adorning the exhibition room at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. Museum Director Nat Edwards has his own story of a strange experience in Alloway Kirkyard on a ghost hunt with the Scottish Society for Psychical Research (he was highly sceptical)… He claims to have heard heavy footsteps beside him and became aware of another person’s breathing at his shoulder. Assuming it was one of the researchers, he turned to say what a waste of time this all was – only to find that there was nobody there.
There are loads of family friendly Hallowe’en events lined up for this weekend so you can get out and explore for yourself. Remember to report back on anything otherworldly you encounter on your travels - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday 19th October 2011
On the high tops of Goatfell and the Mar Lodge Estate the first flakes of snow have settled, reminding us all of the need to get the house in order before winter sets in. Apparently, it’s to be another harsh one, so we need to make sure we’re prepared.
Last year, the winter weather did a lot of damage at Trust properties, due to the sheer volume of snow and severity of the cold temperatures. We are hoping for a milder time over the next few months. But just in case, we are getting prepared.
Our buildings team always say prevention is better than cure so we’re making sure our gutters and drains are clear, checking our lagging and pinning the plumber’s number up by the phone. Good tips for you all too!
Thursday 13th October 2011
The October break is here already and many of you will be looking for activities to help keep young ones amused over the next few weeks. Fortunately, the Trust has plenty of places, people and pastimes to provide the answer.
There are lots of options for getting kids outdoors – enjoy the autumn colours at Culzean Country Park or Killiecrankie, or how about trying out some archaeology at Culloden, just like Indiana Jones?
If the weather simply refuses to co-operate, we have plenty of indoors options too. At Crathes Castle, we’re looking for folk to help paint a new ‘ceiling’ to go on display in the café. The ceilings at Crathes are astounding and sure to provide plenty inspiration, or see what life was like as a servant at Haddo House.
The website is packed with ideas, so make sure you pop by to plan your half-term fun with us at www.nts.org.uk/events.
Fans for the Hill House
Thursday 6th October 2011
I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Hill House in Helensburgh recently and was charmed by the Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed house and its impressive setting. It must be one of Mackintosh’s best pieces. The interiors are simply stunning, with their minimal and airy aesthetic. It’s definitely a place I could move into…
The building is a really interesting one, with lots of unusual design features and of course, its famous harling. Because of the cutting edge nature of the design (as it was in the early-20th century), the Hill House is a challenging place to care for. It has never really been water tight which causes problems for both the building and its collections. Conserving these places is so complex and we are looking hard at this puzzle at the moment. More to follow.
Lorna Hepburn, the property manager there was explaining these complexities to some high profile guests recently, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. They popped in while in Glasgow recently for some filming. It turns out Mr Pitt is a big Mackintosh fan.
Annual Genial Meeting
Wednesday 28th September 2011
Our Annual General Meeting took place last Saturday in the fine surroundings of Dundee’s Caird Hall. It was a great venue and we experienced some fine Dundonian hospitality – much appreciated.
Joined by some two-hundred plus members, we shared the good news and positive results of the last year. Our finances are looking stronger and membership continued to rise last year. The strategy was unveiled by the team of Trustees and the response from the floor was positive.
We were treated to some astounding images from wildlife film-maker Mike Birkhead who has worked in some stunning locations around the world, especially Scotland. The Basking Shark is just as impressive as the Great White.
During the day, I challenged the audience to name the 20 Scottish country dances named for our properties. While there were some very creative answers, I’ve yet to meet anyone (except our in-house expert Amy Drysdale) who know them all. Do you? Email me at: email@example.com, and you might even win a prize.
Thursday 22nd September 2011
It seems impossible that I am already approaching my first anniversary as Chairman of the Trust. My first official engagement in the role was at last year’s Annual General Meeting. Now, as we are in the final throes of preparations for this year’s event, it seems appropriate to take a look back over the last 12 months.
Hopefully, this blog has kept you up to date with the highlights, but this past year has been a busy one. Just some the things achieved are moving to modern new canalside offices, opening an award-winning museum in Alloway, installing a brand new Board of Trustees, starting an excellent new project to revamp our site at Bannockburn, setting up an independent review of our work at the Mar Lodge Estate in Aberdeenshire, engaging with MSPs, eating some curry, conducting the biggest consultation exercise in the Trust’s history and launching our new strategy too. What a list!
Over the last year too, I have met thousands of people – experts, volunteers, supporters, donors, partners – people who help make the Trust the unique place it is. I want to thank them for their support and for welcoming me warmly.
And let us not forget the properties – the reason the Trust is here. Over the last year, I have been as far north as Unst in Shetland and as far south as Threave in Dumfries and Galloway, experiencing the best of Scotland’s heritage, which is in the Trust’s care, for the benefit of the nation. Our nation is fortunate to have such rich pickings.
The value of volunteers
Thursday 15th September 2011
Regular readers will know how that the Trust’s volunteers are greatly appreciated. Many put in hundreds of hours every year doing every conceivable job. According to Trust estimates, that annually the value of these volunteering hours far exceed £1 million. The truth is they are priceless.
Yesterday, it was my honour to thanks some of them at our annual Volunteer of the Year award ceremony. Twelve volunteers were selected for special commendations and awards at the event, and they are all listed below. They were nominated by their colleagues for their service and dedication. Congratulations to all.
It was an honour to meet these individuals who contribute so much to our charity and to Scotland’s heritage. They are a diverse group, with lots of different interests, but they have one thing in common – they love what they do. Thanks to them, and everyone else who gives up their time for our worthy cause.
Volunteer of the Year awards 2011
Outdoor Conservation Category:
Volunteer of the Year – Peter Coutts, a conservation volunteer with the Lothian Conservation Volunteer Group/Thistle Camp Leader and Guide at Gladstone’s Land
Special Commendation – Esther Taylor, volunteer with the Tayside Conservation Volunteer Group
Special Commendation – Kenny Leiper, volunteer with the Lothian Conservation Volunteer Group
Volunteer of the Year – Mike Powley, volunteer at Inverewe Gardens
Special Commendation – Barbara Koch, volunteer at Castle Fraser Garden
Volunteer of the Year – Alan Dunlop, volunteer at Hill of Tarvit
Special Commendation – Iain McGillivray volunteer at Holmwood House
Special Commendation – David Barrie, museum guide volunteer at David Livingstone Centre
Volunteer of the Year – Marion Dickie, volunteer at Kittochside and for her contribution as chair and office bearer with the Lanarkshire Members Centre
Special Commendation – Eddie Abrahams volunteer with the Collections Conservation Workshop
Volunteer of the Year – Alison Wilson, volunteer co-ordinator at RBBM, volunteer guide and event organiser and participant.
Special Commendation – Audrey Slee, Flower organiser, Flower festival organiser and guide at Threave House
Thursday 8th September 2011
Normal blogging service is resuming after the summer, and it’s been a busy one for us. As you might know, we’ve published our new five year strategy – you can download it here: http://www.nts.org.uk/about/downloads/nts_five_year_strategy_final.pdf
This is a major milestone for the organisation, one which tells everyone exactly where we are going. But be assured, we are being bold, awakening the ‘the sleeping warrior’ that is the Trust. We are ready for a new era of innovation, engagement and advocacy for the natural, built and cultural heritage that makes Scotland so special and unique.
We will be sharing more about our plans at our Annual General Meeting on 24 September at the Caird Hall in Dundee, which also marks my first anniversary as Chairman of the Trust. I hope you can join us there.
You may remember that I mentioned my admiration of Jean-Luc Picard in my inaugural speech. One year on, I am pleased to be able to report that in the Trust, we are very much ‘making it so’.
Success and summer holidays
Thursday 21st July 2011
We got some good news recently – the Trust has just attained Museum Accreditation for eight of our places. This means that we are meeting industry standards in the care and presentation of our collections.
What makes this so significant is that most of our properties are not traditional museums with glass cases, but are grand family homes with the collections presented in context. It’s a testament to the high standards and skill of our staff and volunteers that we have met these standards, so well done all. Also rather interesting is the diversity of properties involved, ranging from the brand new and state of the art Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway to the 800 year old Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire, its quite a mix!
And more good news, this time for fans of The Beano (which as a student of Scottish literature, I most certainly am), as Dennis and Gnasher are back at our properties this summer. This year, you can download your ‘Gnashport’ from the website before you visit. Have fun collecting your pawprints on your summer holidays!
Talking of holidays, after almost a year as Chairman, I’m taking a break over the next few weeks, so this will be my last blog for wee while. I’ll be back refreshed and revived at the end of August and ready to finalise the preparations for this year’s Annual General Meeting. It’s in the home of Dennis and Gnasher this year – Dundee on 24 September and we’ll be unveiling the Trust strategy to all. I hope to see many of you there.
Strategy shaping up
Thursday 14th July 2011
After another excellent event with volunteers this time at the glorious Pollok House in lovely July sunshine, it was time for our monthly Board meeting. There is a lot on the agenda, but the priority is finalising the five year strategy which we are presenting to members at the September AGM. We are getting there, and I want to thank everyone across the organisation who has helped drive that process forward.
The strategy is really taking shape, and we are already thinking about how it will be presented and the design of the document. We are on track with it all, and I think it is shaping up as a very strong plan – just what we need to take the Trust forward. I look forward to sharing more details soon.
In other Board news, I am delighted to confirm the Julian Birchall is confirmed as the Deputy Chairman. The Board agreed that he would carry out this role with aplomb.
Now, it’s time to get out and enjoy this beautiful weather, preferably at one of our properties.
Volunteer thanks at Threave
Thursday 7th July 2011
This week, I was at Threave garden and estate hosting the first in a series of Thank You events for our amazing volunteers. Forty-five folk came to join me in this haven in the heart of Dumfries and Galloway.
For anyone who doesn’t know it, Threave has it all – a stunning garden, which takes days to explore and appreciate fully, lovely woodland walks on the wider estate, one of the few spots in Scotland from which you can view a real live Osprey nest, with your own eyes, and it is also the site of Scotland’s only Bat Reserve.
Of course, Threave, as do our properties all over Scotland, depends on the goodwill, talent and dedication of volunteers to deliver this long list of treasures.
It was excellent to meet so many of these people, find out why they give their time to the Trust and thank them profusely for their efforts. We were joined by volunteers from all over the south of Scotland and every one of them plays a vital part in our work to conserve and promote Scotland’s heritage.
As ever, the enthusiasm and passion for the places that they help care for is so inspiring.
I am off to meet another group at Pollok House in Glasgow next week and will also make it to Crathes Castle and Newhailes before the summer is over.
The next time you visit a property, I hope you will join me in expressing thanks to those heroes of heritage, the volunteer.
Thursday 30th June 2011
Last week, I met with representatives of the many organisations who are charged with the care of Scotland’s heritage. It was a diverse group that got together, with charities, non-government organisations and government agencies too.
At the meeting, we took the opportunity to consider the idea of how we could work together for the overall benefit of Scotland’s heritage, whether built, natural or cultural. There were some excellent ideas for some very practical approaches for the future. Watch this space for updates.
And talking of the future, have you seen our new ‘tak tent’ consultation? I hope so! To help us inform our strategy for the future, we are looking for views from everyone on what the future should hold for the Trust. ‘Tak tent’ is an old Scots phrase – it means take care and especially applies to making decisions. It’s an approach that I used a lot in my medical career and is a sound strategy for the Trust. After all, the items in our care are Scotland’s heritage.
We really want your views – whether a Trust member or not - so make your voice heard. As Dr Frasier Crane might have said: “I’m listening”.
Wednesday 22nd June 2011
This weekend, I enjoyed a trip to Scone Palace in the heart of majestic Perthshire and a site of some significance for Scotland’s culture, both cultural and natural.
I was pleased to attend the launch of an interesting new partnership venture the launch of the National Tree Collections of Scotland.
Environment and Climate Change Minister Stuart Stevenson explained that the project, which is led by Forestry Commission Scotland and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, will spread the word about Scotland’s important place in global tree conservation, and highlight the fascinating and often intrepid tales of Scottish plant collectors who brought some stunning species to these shores.
Clearly, as the owners of some fairly important woodlands ourselves, and some just a stone’s throw from Scone, this was of great interest to the Trust. Many of our gardens contain excellent examples of species sourced by intrepid plant hunters from a bygone era. A very interesting example is Inverewe’s Wollemi Pine – an Australian species with its roots in the Jurassic era – which thrives in the north of Scotland.
Since it’s the International Year of Forests, it’s appropriate timing for an initiative of this type.
And it’s also a great reminder to get out and enjoy the Trust’s many acres of woodland. It could be a good option for the family next weekend, when the weather is looking less than promising - after all trees are nature’s own umbrella!
Friday 17th June 2011
Last week, I enjoyed a lovely trip to London where our hard-working London Committee had organised a reception in Dover House. This was an excellent opportunity to thank our supporters from south of the border. I also had the opportunity to meet Michael Moore MP, the Secretary of State for Scotland and champion our vital conservation work to an important member of the UK cabinet.
And staying in London, last night was the announcement of the prestigious Art Fund Prize. Regular readers will know that the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum made it to the short-list – a huge honour and amazing recognition for the quality of this project.
The museum had topped the online poll for the award, but the team knew they were up against stiff competition in the form of the British Museum, Bath’s Roman Bath’s Museum and the Polar Museum in Cambridge.
The judges said that RBBM brings an intensely atmospheric experience together with sensitive and engaging handling of a literary archive. On the night, the judges went with the British Museum for their very impressive project.
But I must record just how significant it was for the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum to make it this far in the competition. A truly impressive achievement - and one which shows the talent, dedication and creativity that we are lucky to have in such abundance in the Trust. Well done all.
Finally, a few words about the progress of the strategy. You may have seen the stories in the Scotsman outlining our ambitious plans for the future of this organisation. The strategy is shaping up well, and there is genuine dynamism within the organisation to tackle the tough issues positively. As I made very clear, this is not about asset stripping. It’s about making the most of what we have, so that it is financially sustainable and can endure for another 80 years. I look forward to unveiling the detail at the September Annual General Meeting.
Wednesday 8th June 2011
Last week, it was a pleasure to host an evening reception welcoming an exquisite art collection to its new home at the House of Dun.
We were welcomed to Angus by glorious evening sunshine. The House of Dun is a very handsome house and we were even able to spend time out in the enchanting walled garden.
But of course, the star of the show was the new collection – the pieces which were collected by Douglas Hutchison after World War II are some of the finest examples of Scottish contemporary art. Its highlights include pieces by Peploe, Caddell, Hunter, Redpath and Eardley.
Donated to the Trust in 1999, the artworks were previously on show in the Trust’s offices in Charlotte Square in Edinburgh.
Now, proudly adorning the walls of this fine Angus house, they seemed at home in this stately setting. And they are contributing to the flourishing art scene in the area, which will soon be further buoyed by the exciting arrival of the V&A Dundee. A fitting home for such fine works.
Wednesday 1st June 2011
Today (1 June) marks the start of Volunteers’ Week 2011, so it only seems fitting that I devote this week’s report to the more than 3000 volunteers who devote their time and talents to the National Trust for Scotland.
It is hard to overstate the contribution that every single one of these individuals makes. Put simply, the Trust would not be what it is without these people.
Volunteers carry out a huge range of roles in the Trust. At properties all over the country, they provide visitors with a warm welcome, information and services. In our gardens and countryside, they carry out physically challenging, but utterly vital conservation work and in our offices, they put their skills and talents to excellent use.
Last night, I met with the now disbanded Council all of whom were volunteers – to pay tribute for their contribution tour charity.
Today I am meeting with another impressive bunch – thirty volunteers who have been volunteering with us for thirty years. An extraordinary achievement.
I’m sure you will join me in saying ‘thank you’, to all of our volunteers, for the crucial role they play in caring for Scotland’s heritage.
Thursday 26th May 2011
Lots to celebrate in Alloway over the last few weeks, as the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum has been winning awards all over the place.
First up, the Best Permanent Exhibition gong at the Museums Heritage Awards in London. A very prestigious industry prize, the innovation that went into creating Scotland’s newest museum really grabbed the judges attention.
Then, last Thursday, two amazing successes.
Firstly, we took two awards at the Scottish Digital Design awards in Glasgow. A fabulous achievement, and richly deserved award for everyone who worked so hard to create this world class facility for Burns fans.
Then, we received word that the museum has made it onto the shortlist for the Arts Fund Prize. Getting to the shortlist is a massive honour, but the Trust faces some very stiff competition. We’re up against the British Museum’s A History of the World exhibit amongst others.
So, the public’s voice is even more important to this stage of the competition. I know I asked you to vote before, and you did. Please vote again and help us bring the stunning museum to the attention of folk all over the UK - http://www.artfundprize.org.uk/2011/vote/index.php
The £100,000 award is announced in June. Burns himself would have hated the wait, as he famously said: “Suspense is worse than disappointment”.
Thanks for the thatch
Thursday 19th May 2011
Sincere thanks go to our London Members Centre this week, who have generously donated £6000 to help out with works on one of our most picturesque and popular holiday cottages – Beaton’s Croft on the Isle of Skye.
The London group are so enthusiastic about the Trust and the work it does to care for Scotland’s heritage. We are very fortunate to have such excellent advocates.
Now Beaton’s Croft is a delightful wee place, where you can while away many an hour in the stunning Skye countryside. It’s A listed, set in croft land close to the township of Bornesketaig, and is a traditional thatched cottage.
If you fancy a week there, visit http://www.nts.org.uk/Holidays/Accommodation/Beatons-Croft-Isle-of-Skye/.
The thatch is now in need of some TLC, so with thanks to the generosity of our London supporters, we’ll be able to take that forward.
Thatching is obviously a skill that’s not in as much demand as it once was, so as well as contributing to the conservation of this traditional vernacular building, this project plays an important part in keeping these traditional building skills alive. We are probably one of the biggest commissioners of thatching work in Scotland and just last year, Hugh Miller’s Birthplace Cottage in Cromarty was re-done with a team of skilled craftsmen.
It’s vital that there are folk around who have these skills, so that we can look after our historic places appropriately and keep them going for future generations to enjoy.
The power of nature
Thursday 12th May 2011
My recent travels to the islands got me thinking about renewables and the possibilities that we have in Scotland.
With the technologies ever-evolving and moving on at a frightening pace, the potential presented by wave and wind power are quite mind-boggling. The plans for Shetland’s wave power project would establish Scotland as a world-leader in technology of this type.
And over on Arran, biomass fuels are taking off, of the type that we use at a few of our Trust properties, like the Glencoe Visitor Centre which is well-known for its green credentials. We’ve also recently installed similar systems in some properties in Balmacara too.
At the multi award-nominated Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, we’re using the latest in ground source heat pumps to regulate provide heating, and the system coped well with the challenges of the coldest winter in decades.
We’re exploring the potential for other suitable renewable developments at other Trust properties just now. The hope is that this will not only help us meet our ambitions to cut back wherever possible on the use of fossil fuels, but also to help us save on energy costs – an exercise in conservation, in all senses! Of course, the key must be to put the right structures in the right places, so that Scotland’s beautiful landscape stays that way.
Wednesday 4th May 2011
Apologies for the radio silence last week, I have just returned from a very restful and rewarding break in the Northern Isles where I had the chance to explore a great deal of the heritage of the stunning islands.
Firstly, in Orkney, a highlight was exploring Skara Brae in the glorious sunshine, and seeing some wonderful curlews.
And I also had the pleasure of popping in to the beautiful Belmont House on Unst, Shetland’s most northerly inhabited isle. I was pleased to play a part in the official opening of the beautifully restored Georgian house. More than 80 guests came to join us, which must be about the busiest the island has been for a while.
The Trust has been working with the Belmont House Trust, supporting their recent and excellent restoration of the house. This is a really interesting conservation project which not only conserves the house, but brings in much needed revenue to the local economy. Now it’s a beautiful holiday home, which can be booked via the Trust website. You can really get away from it all!
Meanwhile back on the mainland, we’re meeting today with the chairs of all our Members Centres. These dedicated volunteers play an important part in caring and helping to conserve properties big and small all over the country, as do many of you. Thanks for your support!
Thursday 21st April 2011
As you might expect at this time of year, it’s been quite horticultural for me over the last week. With the daffodils now beginning to fade, and thanks to the recent sunshine, gardens everywhere are springing into life.
I visited the Glasgow Orchid Fair in the Glasgow Botanic Gardens and took inspiration for my own plot. I’ve been digging in my garden ever since! This brings health as well as horticultural benefits.
Of course, the Trust’s gardens offer plenty of inspiration as the guide we did with The Herald last week showed.
Broughton House garden has some very beautiful Helleborus orientalis hybrids flowering at the moment, and its Magnolias will soon be out. And at Crarae Garden near Inveraray, we are expecting an excellent display of its Rhododendrons this year. And those are just a few samples of the beautiful blooms that can be enjoyed right now.
And as well as bursting with flowers, this weekend will see many of our gardens full to the brim with Easter eggs, as we host Cadbury Eater Egg Trails all over the country. The weather forecast is great, so we hope you get out to visit your favourite property.
Wednesday 13th April 2011
I have returned from the United States where I spent a fascinating week spreading the word about the Trust. The supporters I met there were amongst the most passionate I have found, so it’s worth reminding ourselves that the Trust’s fans are spread far and wide. If you are reading this from some far flung place – thank you for taking the time to follow what’s going on in our world.
And yet more international links to celebrate this week, as we launched our A Taste of India event at Pollok House. This excellent partnership which was made possible by the Scottish Government and Scotland’s Food and Drink is part of the year celebrating Scottish food and drink.
The venue was so fitting, since Glasgow lays claim to the invention of Chicken Tikka Masala.
Tony Singh, the talented chef from Oloroso in Edinburgh, created some bespoke dishes for us, fusing the best Scottish produce (some of it from Trust properties) with authentic Indian spices. He’s also trained up our staff at Pollok, the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum and Culloden, so they can cook up a monsoon in the kitchen. And you can try too – the recipes are free to download at www.nts.org.uk/india. I recommend the Haggis Paratha!
Tony gave us a demo of his Punjabi Salmon, a recipe he credits as his mum’s. Two talented dancers (one French and one Irish) from Dance Ihayami gave the most beautiful demonstration of classical Indian dancing, in beautiful costumes (pictured).
It was great to see Pollok transformed into a place for curry. Let us know if you enjoy it!
All Friends Together
Friday 1st April 2011
Regular readers will know that in February I attended a meeting at Mar Lodge Estate near Braemar to listen to concerns about the Trust's approach to deer management there.
I was back there again this week and returned invigorated as always by the majestic landscape of the area, and this time filled with optimism after two very positive meetings.
In the first meeting I talked with representatives of neighbouring estates and we agreed that a small panel of independent experts should be recruited in order to conduct a review. The group will assess the Trust's overall objectives for the estate, specifically fencing policy, deer culling, the regeneration of native Caledonian forest and maintaining a sporting estate, and will take written and oral evidence from interested parties over a period of around three months in so doing.
As a medical clinician and a scientist I am acutely aware of the need for factual evidence in making decisions and this is precisely what these entirely independent individuals will bring us. This will help my fellow Trustees to determine how appropriate and successful our management practices at Mar Lodge are and the conclusions will be shared openly.
The second meeting was with community representatives from Braemar.
It was very encouraging to see how well the mutual bonds that link Mar Lodge to the local economy were understood. We agreed that we all need to work together in order to tell the world how beautiful and inspirational the local area is.
As a first step we agreed that it was long overdue for a Friends' Group to be established that can help promote and support Mar Lodge, as well as working closely with other groups, such as the Friends of Braemar Castle.
This will be the last log entry for a short while - I am departing to visit the Trust's steadfast supporters in the United States and I will tell you all about it when I return.
Spring is springing
Wednesday 23rd March 2011
This week I have been inspired by our natural heritage. It all started with a meeting with the Trust’s countryside team. Every time I think I understand the breadth of what the Trust cares for, I learn about even more amazing places and the wildlife that lives there. Did you know we look after Ptarmigan? What about water voles? Corncrakes? Sea eagles? Bats – millions of them… It is truly fantastic.
You don’t even have to stray too far from the beaten track to enjoy it. Threave is an excellent example of this – Scotland’s first ever bat reserve, breeding ospreys onsite, otters. I must visit soon.
Over the weekend on Arran, I enjoyed some wildlife spotting of my own - a seal swimming along, a graceful heron on the beach and red deer on the golf course at Lochranza. The lambs are also making an appearance. Here are a few I spotted at Glencloy. I wonder what the earliest lambing was this year – does anyone out there know?
Back on the mainland on Monday, we had a very special visit to the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. It’s up for the highly prestigious Art Fund prize and the judging panel were making their first visit. Michael Portillo and his team were fascinated by their tour. Museum Director Nat Edwards certainly makes a compelling case! The public are being given their say in deciding who gets through to the next round for the prize. Obviously, we want you to vote for the museum in Alloway. Log on and make your voice heard at http://artfundprize.org.uk/2011/vote/index.php
Competing with Annie Lennox for an audience
Wednesday 16th March 2011
When I became Chairman of the Trust I had the sneaking suspicion that I was about to undergo a series of new experiences.
This most certainly came to pass last night when I found myself in competition with Annie Lennox for an audience.
I should explain: along with fellow Trustees, through the great kindness of Pauline McNeill MSP, I was invited to the Scottish Parliament to address MSPs of all parties. My aim in doing this was to show the degree to which the Trust contributes to the economy and wellbeing of communities all over Scotland – did you know that 75% of our MSPs have at least one Trust property in their constituency or region?
My secondary aim was to engage with our elected representatives, now on the cusp of preparing to go to the country for the Scottish elections, on a number of important issues on which the Trust can offer a useful policy perspective.
I think it was clear that there was surprise at the number of unspoilt landscapes, islands, coastlines the Trust looks after in addition to the more familiar great houses and castles. It was also clear that the subjects we touched on – climate change, crofting, renewable energy, historic environment , landscape and tourism – will remain significant through coming election campaigning and on into the next term of the Scottish Parliament. I am hopeful that we were able to make a good contribution to the thinking of the next generation of MSPs.
What’s all this got to do with Annie Lennox you may ask?
It so happened that she too was in the Parliament last night, speaking about her recent visit to Malawi in her role as a special parliamentary envoy. This was a very important and worthy event and it is to the credit of our elected representatives that they still made time to hear about the Trust and give serious consideration to our role and contribution.
Teaching and Learning
Wednesday 9th March 2011
The last week has been an instructive one with much food for thought as we consider the Trust’s future priorities.
Last Friday I delivered a talk about the Trust to representatives of some of Scotland’s biggest businesses, notably from the key sectors of whisky and energy. Their reaction suggested a great deal of interest in what the Trust does. What was interesting to me was that when I mentioned a number of facts - such as the Trust being custodian of 200,000 acres of countryside, including Glencoe, and 46 Munro mountains as well as the habitats of more seabirds than the RSPB - these were greeted with a great deal of surprise.
It was a salutary reminder to me that many people see the Trust as being synonymous with great houses and castles. These are very important, of course – but there is a lot more to the Trust than that. The Trust is there to conserve and present as many as possible of the different aspects that make Scotland and the Scots what we are. It was clear to me that we will have to do more to ensure people are fully aware of the breadth and scope of what we do without slotting us into one or other pigeonhole. This will be an important theme to pick up as we Trustees review the options for the Trust’s new corporate plan. What was encouraging was the sense of delight and appreciation among the audience as they learned more about our responsibilities.
Yesterday, I was the one on the receiving end as I joined Kate Mavor in visiting our counterparts at the National Trust of England and Wales. They too have been through a process of review and there is much that we can learn from their experience. In particular I was fascinated to hear how they have dealt with the practical issues of devolving more responsibility to managers of individual properties and engaging with surrounding communities.
All in all, it was a worthwhile visit, the lessons of which will repay close study.
Putting trust in the Trustees
Thursday 3rd March 2011
A busy but productive week.
Over 2 and 3 March, the newly elected Board Trustees came together for the first time. They have now taken over responsibility for governance of the Trust and replaced the previous arrangement based on a separate Council and Board.
So what, you may ask – what has a changeover in the boardroom got to do with your enjoyment of your favourite historic buildings, gardens and natural landscapes? The answer is: absolutely everything.
Not only were these ten people elected by almost 14% of our 310,000 members, they and their fellow Trustees will be charged with overseeing development of an absolutely vital five-year corporate strategy. This strategy will set the priorities and actions that will enable the Trust to achieve financial sustainability. It will also allow us to focus on the care, conservation and interpretation of a mix of properties, collections and landscapes that best exemplifies how Scots interacted with nature and lived and worked, as well as the cultural context of their thoughts and deeds.
The strategic process will be an inclusive one, requiring input from our staff, volunteers and members. But the success of the process will depend on good counsel, with wise words of guidance from people with skills and experience from across the heritage, charitable and commercial sectors. In the course of the induction days with my fellow Trustees there were tangible demonstrations that the necessary skills were there in abundance.
The Trustees asked smart and penetrating questions, despite being bombarded with a plethora of detail concerning their legal obligations. Two things came through the presentations and discussion: the sheer variety and importance of the Trust’s properties and responsibilities and the passion and enthusiasm displayed by the Trustees.
The Board of Trustees’ first formal meeting will be on 24 March. I am looking forward to it.
Deer green place
Thursday 24th February 2011
Did anyone catch Reporting Scotland last night? There was a piece on a meeting we’ve had to listen and respond to concerns in the area about how we manage deer populations on Mar Lodge Estate.
Mar Lodge, near Braemar, is the Trust’s biggest and most diverse property by a country mile. Some 28,000 hectares, it’s the site of four of the UK’s highest peaks, many thousands of diverse and delicate plants, a wide range of habitats from glaciated mountain faces to moorland, some of Scotland’s iconic bird and animal species and the remnants of Caledonian Pine forest. It’s also a working sporting estate, holiday destination, wedding and corporate function venue, and employer. That’s quite a list.
For years, the Trust has been trying to control the deer population to give the Caledonian Pines the chance to regenerate and halt the disappearance of this unique habitat from the Scottish Highlands. But, our neighbours and others have a different take on this.
Yesterday, I met with everyone locally for the first time to hear more about their concerns about the level of culling and the use of deer fences. A full and productive discussion concluded that it was time for the Trust to review its approach. We’ll be consulting fully soon, so watch this space.
I hope that this is the start of a productive and positive approach which will encourage everyone to recognise Mar Lodge’s many attributes as a true treasure amongst Scotland’s cultural and natural heritage.
Thursday 17th February 2011
As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, our new Board of Trustees have now been announced. I hope you’ve seen the news on the website already. We held a short meeting at our Hermiston Quay office on Friday where the election results were confirmed.
The new team is filled with expertise and experience and the balance of skills and wisdom represented by these people is enhanced by their genuine passion for Scotland’s natural and cultural heritage. You can find the full results here – http://www.nts.org.uk/Trustees/
It was excellent that so many were able to attend the meeting and we’ve already begun getting to know each other. Working together for the benefit of the Trust is a priority for all of them. The new Board of Trustees takes up its duties on 1 March and we are still to co-opt a few members too, so watch this space.
After all that excitement, I boarded the ferry to Arran and enjoyed a wonderful weekend in Brodick. I walked miles to spot elusive seals (without success), however, I was treated by the lovely sight of three goldfinches and three siskins in the garden which was just lovely, as Goatfell looked on.
Thursday 10th February 2011
I had the great fortune to share the opening of a fabulous new Department at the University of Glasgow, where I am Chancellor, with the Princess Royal this week.
The Centre for Textile Conservation, Textile History and Technical Art History was opened by Her Royal Highness yesterday. I was inspired by the expertise and commitment which will emanate from there. The Centre will play an important role in growing the skills needed to care for and preserve delicate and valuable textiles of all types.
Since the Trust’s castles and houses are packed full of colourful curtains, and bespoke bedspreads, we really need people in Scotland with this knowledge. It’s reassuring to know that there is a place where such skills can be passed on to the next generation of conservators. With such help, advice and expertise, we can make sure that the richly embroidered textiles like those in Crathes Castle’s bedrooms endure for centuries more. Of course, our experts from the Trust are already involved in the Centre, as you’d expect.
We’re now on the eve of announcing our new Board of Trustees. Thanks to the 41,651 Members who responded to our calls to vote. This is an exceptional response – the Electoral Reform Society tells us that usually in elections like this only three per cent of the franchise actually vote. We’ve far exceeded that, so sincere thanks are due for your continued interest in and support for our charity.
Thursday 3rd February 2011
We passed another milestone on the journey of modernisation on Friday 28 January, as we held the last ever meeting of our Council. The group is soon to be replaced with our new Board of Trustees. It was excellent to end affairs on such a positive and productive note.
I would like to sincerely thank everyone who has given their time and talent to contributing to our Council over the years. I know many will continue to take an active role in the Trust’s future in different ways and am grateful for that. Indeed, a good number of them are in the running for the new Board of Trustees.
Talking of which, I hope you got your vote in. The online election closed at 17.00 yesterday and the results are being announced next Friday (11 February).
Earlier this week, I had a fascinating meeting with the team at the John Murray Archive in Glasgow. I learned more about their David Livingstone Collection and was reminded that the 200th anniversary of this great man’s birth is fast approaching, in 2013. Plans for celebrations are in the offing and we can be sure that the David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre will be a focus for those.
Wednesday 26th January 2011
I must continue the Burns theme this week, for which I make little apology. The opening of the Burns Museum was fantastic and there was a real buzz about the Bard. The pride of people involved in the project was evident and
It was excellent to hear the First Minister commit to extra funding designed to give every Scottish child the chance to visit Alloway during their school career and explore the life and works of Robert Burns for themselves. Pupils from Alloway and Pollokshields Primary played an important part in the design of the museum and it shows. The Alloway kids also got their moment in the limelight on Friday night singing as guests arrived. It was such a tuneful beginning to the evening.
Ever the opportunist, I managed to persuade our new Makar and Alasdair Gray into assisting me with my Masters in Literature.
The buzz continued throughout Saturday and Sunday, with more than 2000 people visiting the museum over the weekend, and I hope you are all planning your trips as we speak.
After Friday my run of Burns-related engagements ends, and then focus very much returns to the recruitment of our new Board of Trustees. Voting closes on 2 February, so there is plenty of time to make your selection. Visit http://www.nts.org.uk/Trustees/ to vote online.
Wednesday 19th January 2011
A sense of anticipation is building this week, as the official opening of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway is almost upon us.
This Friday night, the fruits of years of hard work, creativity and dedication will be unveiled to an invited audience. The official opening honours are being carried out by one of Scotland’s most talented contemporary writers and newly appointed Makar Liz Lochhead. The First Minister will also be joining us to celebrate the conclusion of the Trust’s biggest and boldest project to date.
The museum has been open from 1 December and is going down a storm with Burns aficionados and new fans alike. The exhibition is truly inspiring, examining the complex character of the bard, warts and all.
Then on Saturday, we’re throwing open the doors to the people – entry to the museum is free all day and we’ll have poetry and music performances from some of the best of Scottish talent. King Creosote is performing, as is local songwriter and Burns Ambassador, Little Fire.
As a grand finale, on Saturday afternoon, there will be a torchlit procession from the cottage where Burns was born to the museum, followed by a light and sound extravaganza. Intrigued? Come along and join us for the cultural event of the decade!
Up and running
Thursday 13th January 2011
Happy New Year one and all. I hope that you all had a great time of it and are looking forward to 2011 as much as I am.
I am ready for business once again, having removed my woolly hat and YakTrax (other ice grips are available).
This week I am off to a reception with the Saltire Society at Edinburgh Castle. It will be an excellent opportunity to spread the word about the Trust and the big changes we’ve got planned for 2011.
Then it’s off to Eastwood Members’ Centre to thank the dedicated volunteers who so generously support the Trust with time, effort and donations. There are more than 40 groups of this type across the UK and their support for the charity is hugely appreciated.
Of course, preparations for the Grand Opening of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum are progressing apace. It is going to be a big night for everyone involved in the project and we are honoured to have some of Scotland’s finest literary talents joining us, of which more next week.
Finally, as I’ve said, 2011 is a big year for the Trust, a year of change and renewal. The election for our new Board of Trustees is underway. If you are a member, I urge you to make your voice heard. The candidates are varied and impressive with a range of skills and talents that can make a difference to the Trust. Please play your part in choosing the people to drive the Trust forward for the future.
Wednesday 15th December 2010
Work never stops at the Trust, so no sooner have we finished work in Alloway, but we are moving on to our next major project – revamping the visitor centre at Bannockburn in time for the 700th anniversary of the battle in 2014. The £5 million project is in conjunction with Historic Scotland and is being generously funded by the Scottish Government. At our Board meeting last week, we got our first flavour of the possibilities for this exciting new project. The aim is to create something truly immersive and visceral, so watch this space.
There’s been some interesting media coverage on the plight of Fair Isle knitters, and their concern about High Street shops ‘borrowing’ their reputation and brand identity. Fair Isle is one of the Trust’s most northerly properties and its knitting is world famous and an important part of the islanders’ cultural heritage. We support the knitters bid to protect their good name. If you’re still looking for Christmas gifts, it’s worth mentioning that a Fair Isle makes a stylish alternative to the traditional festive jumper – just don’t expect delivery by Christmas, as they take up to 150 hours to produce!
Have a wonderful festive season and if you are after a spot of topical culture over the holidays, why not pop in to the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum to see the original manuscript of Auld Lang Syne ahead of Hogmanay. You’ll remember the words even more clearly, once you have seen them in the bard’s own hand.
Wednesday 8th December 2010
With the unprecedented snowfall, everyone across the country has been struggling to cope with the wintry conditions.
Because of the extreme weather, we’ve been forced to cancel many of our Christmas events. This is disappointing not just for our visitors, but also because it means we are losing vital revenue for our conservation work.
However, in times of adversity, heroes emerge! I’ve been so impressed with the efforts of our staff and volunteers to get to work and look after our precious places.
Take intrepid Neal Gregory who has been taking on the dramatic drifts at Mar Lodge Estate. Neal’s determination and dedication in clearing the feet of snow experienced at the Braemar estate meant that a birthday party function proceeded as planned, and everyone had a ball.
At the Hill House, staff and volunteers have scaled the precipitous hill in knee high snow on Sunday, to make sure that our Christmas event took place. Such is the strength of their mettle that they even helped Santa himself arrive. He had to abandon his sleigh due to too much snow. The North Pole has nothing on Helensburgh!
And at the House of Dun, our Dutch volunteer’s Stefan Dille’s 4x4 came to the rescue of contractors carrying out vital conservation work at the Montrose estate.
Well done one and all. Efforts like these mean that once the thaw comes, we’ll be up and running and ready to welcome you once again.
Weel done Cutty-sark
Wednesday 1st December 2010
This week marked and important milestone for the Trust, with the opening to the public of the triumphant new Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway.
The first opportunity I had to see the new museum for myself, along with many local people, donors and others involved in its construction, was a dark evening 'when chill November's surly blast make fields and forest bare'. Nevertheless, no ice or snow could stop people from across the country coming to see the museum and I can say in all truth it was worth the effort.
From the first, breathtaking view of the illuminated main entrance, to the welcoming reception area and stylish cafe, I was immediately impressed. But it was the quality of the collections and the fresh, utterly engaging approach to their interpretation which took the museum to a different level. It will not surprise regular readers to learn that I was especially taken with an enchanting sundial in the museum grounds, which uses Burns-related figurines to tell the time.
Some people have said the Trust should not build museums or use 'gimmicks' to interpret our heritage and engage visitors, especially young people. Perhaps they should have seen a four-year boy interrupt a Channel 4 News interview to complain that one of the displays had been switched off to keep the noise down and that he really, really wanted to see it again!
Burns famously said 'Oh wad some power the giftie gie us To see oursel's as others see us!'. Now we all have a chance to see Burns as a man and a poet and understand a little more about him.
Wednesday 24th November 2010
This week, the Trust held its end of season conference. It's a great opportunity to get managers from all over the organisation together to review what went well this year and to plan for the future. The five year strategy was the main agenda item and some good first steps were taken.
It was my first real opportunity to meet such a diverse range of staff from across the charity all at once, so I took the opportunity to let them know a bit more about me and how I see the Trust shaping up.
I have a long 'to do' list, but one of my priorities is putting the properties at the top of our organisation - that's why we exist and what we are here to do. Everything else needs to be based around that.
Also, as health professional, I firmly believe that the Trust has a crucial role to play in improving the health, well-being and quality of life of the Scottish people. Our beautiful places have restorative properties - whether you're using the Green Gym of Glencoe, with a challenging climb, or admiring a beautiful Batoni at Fyvie Castle.
Then, back in Edinburgh, I heard from Sir Simon Jenkins, Chair of the National Trust. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn how our sister organisation has faced its challenges and come away stronger, just as our own Trust can.
Wednesday 17th November 2010
This week, it's all about the Board of Trustees. We held our final two information events for people interested in signing up to take up a seat on our new Board from March onwards.
The closing date for applications is today (Weds) and I'm pleased to say we've had a great response from folk from all over the country. With a good number of high-quality candidates, it's very exciting.
Throughout this whole process, I have been hugely heartened to see the level of support there is out there for the National Trust for Scotland and the work we do to care for Scotland's cultural and natural heritage. To have people of this calibre come forward to donate their time and expertise to our organisation is inspiring.
Tomorrow, there will be a meeting of the Transition Committee and Nominations Committee to go through the applications. It's an exciting time, and a significant milestone in our modernisation.
Also this week, I met with Andrew Thin, the Chair at Scottish Natural Heritage. We had a good chat about our organisations many shared interests and the challenges we face. Looking after landscape in Scotland might not be easy, but you can't beat the view.
It's all Greek
Wednesday 10th November 2010
In the middle of last week I attended a conference at which a staff member of the Glasgow Art School demonstrated a remarkable digital scanning technique which can be used to scan and accurately record buildings. The images were amazing and are already being used by Historic Scotland. Tremendous detail can be seen and a real record which can be used to see changes in structure and wear and tear. 3-D images are also available.
Later in the week, I visited the Members Centres Conference at Holmwood House in Glasgow. The conference was, as always, an important event in the calendar and it was great to meet so many people who support the National Trust for Scotland.
I had at home a couple at books on Alexander "Greek" Thomson who was the architect of Holmwood House. I noticed on one of the pages that that there was only one place you could see a Mackintosh building (the Glasgow Art School) and a Thomson building next to each other and that is in Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow (pictured).
Another important event of the week included the first meeting of the Wemyss Heritage Circle. The lively discussion, chaired by Magnus Linklater of the Times, was very interesting and I look forward to taking part in future events.
Next week, the final information meetings for possible new Board members take place in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Hope you are completing your application forms!
Guising and gallivanting
Wednesday 3rd November 2010
I hope that you managed to have some Hallowe'en fun over the weekend at one our properties. If you did, you played a part in making it the Trust's most successful Hallowe'en ever. We certainly got in the spirit, with hundreds of events and ghostly tales going on all over the country. The revenue raised supports our vital conservation work, so thank you for going guising with us.
This week there's been a heavy programme of meetings, with our Council convening on Friday. Birnam was ablaze in autumn colours, as we updated on the latest Trust developments.
Steps to seek out our new Board of Trustees are progressing. We've had a heartening initial response and a series of information events in Edinburgh, Inverness and Aberdeen have given me the opportunity to meet potential applicants first hand. It's also given me the chance to drop in at a few more of the Trust's places. It was great to spend some time with the team at Balnain House, our lovely office on the banks of the Ness in the Highland's capital city.
Back in Edinburgh, we're preparing to host a debate with our recently established Wemyss Heritage Circle. Named for Lord Wemyss, who was so important to our organisation, the Circle will consider the question 'how heritage can help win business for Scotland'. In this context of cuts, the heritage sector must respond to the challenges and show that it is equipped to play a part in economic growth. It'll be interesting to hear what our esteemed panel members have to say on the subject.
And so to bed
Wednesday 27th October 2010
My tour of Trust properties continued this week with a trip to Newhailes near Musselburgh. At this stunning house, a short bus or train ride from Edinburgh city centre, the Trust takes an interesting 'light touch' approach to conservation.
I was lucky enough to learn about this firsthand from some of the Trust's bona fide conservation experts, our Head of Collections, Archives and Library Services, Ian Gow and Clare Meredith who heads up Collections Conservation Services.
They explained that the idea is to 'do merely as much as necessary and as little as possible' in an attempt to retain as much of the original finishes, textures and details as we can. This approach is taken across the whole estate from the glorious interiors, out to the fabulous gardens and grounds.
Thanks so much to Rhiannon Naismith, the property manager there, who hosted my visit. As ever, I was impressed by her dedication and knowledge which seems to be a common trait amongst all our property managers.
While visiting, I was fascinated to see the process of a property being 'put to bed'. Once the house has closed for the season to the public, the collections are protected by being covered with individual case covers. The covers were made by Newhailes volunteers and specifically tailored to each artefact - almost works of art in themselves... And of course, the whole process is overseen by yet another expert - Paula McEwan, Newhailes' Collections Care Assistant who is ably assisted by volunteers.
It was also an opportunity to learn more about the pesky pests our properties have to contend with. I found many traps in strategic places next to skirting boards and fireplaces and learned more about the 'visitors' that are sometimes found therein, and how we deal with them. Since Newhailes is a passionate advocate for our Integrated Pest Management programme, we can all be reassured that the team there are well on top of the clothes moths, carpet beetles and woodworm which could be so damaging.
And, properties all across the country are following suit, so it's good to know that when you pop in to visit next Spring, our places will be looking as good as ever.
Wednesday 20th October 2010
I passed a most enjoyable weekend in the Borders this week, in the company of some of the Trust's strongest supporters.
I was very warmly welcomed to Bowhill House, home of our President the Duke of Buccleuch. Sincere thanks to the Duke, Duchess and their family for receiving me with such generous hospitality.
Also visiting was a group from our Patron's Club, a very charitable group of donors who support the Trust and its conservation work. Most recently, they have fully funded the refurbishment of a cottage on the Isle of Canna. The community are now searching for a new family to move in and make their home on this beautiful island.
In this fine company, I had a wonderful visit to many of the Borders' historic treasures. Our own Harmony and Priorwood Gardens in Melrose were aglow in autumnal hues, and a trip to Priorwood is simply not complete with stocking up on their beautiful dried flowers. Melrose Abbey, Selkirk Sheriff Court and Eildon Hall were also on our hitlist and gave a fabulous taste of the Borders rich heritage. And after this hectic tour, we had a further taste of the Borders with a splendid meal back at Bowhill.
It was a pleasure and privilege to spend time with these enthusiastic supporters of the Trust. They make much of our work possible and I look forward to keeping in touch over the coming months and years.
Meetings and greetings
Thursday 14th October 2010
This week I have been meeting lots of our staff and volunteers, whish is so much easier in our new, open plan office. I have been very impressed with the talent, enthusiasm and dedication.
A good example of this is John Rosser - our policy officer - who met my challenge to source the origin of the name Cultins. He said that the name, recorded as Cultins, Culton(s) or Cultevs, is Celtic: perhaps coilltean, (place of) woods or groves, but more likely cuiltean, (place of) nooks or corners, referring to the abrupt turns in the course of the Gogar nearby.
As well as saying hello, we have been saying goodbye. Lesley Watt, our finance director of some five years left the organisation last week. We are all immensely grateful for her contribution to the charity during her time here.
This week there are two big meetings. The Trust's Transition Committee gets together for the first time since the Annual General Meeting approved our modernisation plans. Progress continues this week, as we advertise for new Board members. More info will be available on this website from Friday for anyone out there who feels they have a contribution to make to this wonderful organisation.
And today, the Board meets. It's my first time in the chair and I am looking forward to a positive and productive meeting, as we plan for the future.
Movers and shakers
Wednesday 6th October 2010
A busy week this week, as I get stuck in to my new role.
I had a really productive meeting with Minister for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop. After an excellent discussion about the Trust and Scotland's heritage sector, I walked up the Royal Mile.
Here I came across the statue of Robert Fergusson one of my favourite poets, and one of my favourite poems of his is "Caller Oysters" (fresh oysters). He lists all the things they are good for including "Ye wha are faushed with plouky noses". If only I had used them as a teenager. It reminded me of the excellent work we're doing to incorporate Scots into the soon-to-open Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway.
And speaking of new buildings, the big news this week is our new office. The move to Hermiston Quay went well and I arrived on Tuesday morning to a bright, welcoming space with staff buzzing about. With panoramic views in every direction, speedier IT and the modern office facilities that staff and volunteers need to do their vital work, people seem to be enjoying the new spot.
In fact, the location is interesting - right on the banks of the Union Canal, the area has a fascinating history. A survey by the Royal Society for Ancient and Historic Monuments Scotland said the area had prehistoric remains. Lots of the developments are named for local landmarks - Hermiston is comes from the nearby Hermiston House. But I'm interested in the street name Cultins. I've set staff a challenge to discover the significance of the name, and you are welcome to join in. If you've got any bright ideas, get in touch.
Thursday 30th September 2010
I officially took up my role as Chairman of this remarkable organisation on Saturday 25 September, in the city where I was born and educated - Glasgow.
As the Annual General Meeting was coming to a close, I took to the podium and addressed our members for the first time. It was a big moment for me.
For someone who believes strongly in the sentiment Alba gu brÃ th (Scotland forever) this really is an exciting role, and begins at an exciting time.
You see, the National Trust for Scotland is fundamental to conserving this nation's heritage. From the beautiful Brodick Castle of which I enjoy the most fantastic view from my window at home on Arran, to the acres of wildland in the stunning North West or the fascinating samples of past industries like Robert Smail's Printing Works in Innerleithen, the Trust cares for it all on behalf of the nation.
And at the AGM on Saturday, our members backed an ambitious plan of modernisation for this charity, one which will help ensure that we carry on this vital role for generations to come.
Now, it's my job to drive that change forward, working with Kate Mavor, our dedicated staff and volunteers.
But as I said at the AGM, I take my management cues from a great fictional leader, Jean-Luc Picard and my mission will be to 'make it so'.
I hope that this blog will help us to 'engage' as we take the Trust forward.