Wednesday, 02 September 2015

Lonach Highlanders On The March To Braemar For Bicentenary Celebrations

The Lonach Highlanders set to head for Braemar
Pike's eye view of the march to Braemar

More than 100 men will retrace the steps of their ancestors on Friday [04 September] as they march from Donside to Royal Deeside to help mark the bicentenary of the society that organises the annual Braemar Gathering.


Made up of members of the Lonach Highlanders and the Lonach Pipe Band, the group will march 14 miles from Gairnshiel Bridge, in Glen Gairn, via Balmoral Castle to Braemar Castle.  There they will camp overnight before attending the Braemar Gathering the following day.  This year’s march recreates a journey first undertaken over 160 years ago.


The Lonach Highlanders are believed to the largest body of non-military men to carry ceremonial weapons in Britain.  The men are all members of the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, which was established in 1823 to preserve highland culture and promote altruism within the local community in Strathdon, Aberdeenshire.


Membership of the Lonach Highlanders is drawn from residents of the local area who descend from the Forbes, Wallace and Gordon clans, and currently numbers 220 men.  Dressed in full highland regalia and armed with eight-foot long pikes and Lochaber axes, the men form an impressive sight when marching.


One of Scotland’s most iconic highland games, the Braemar Gathering was first held in 1832 and was first attended by members of the Royal family in 1848 when Queen Victoria visited.  The Royal family have been frequent visitors ever since, with it now being a highlight of Her Majesty the Queen’s summer holiday at Balmoral Castle. 


To commemorate its 200th anniversary at the gathering, the Braemar Royal Highland Charity invited both the Lonach Highlanders and the Atholl Highlanders, from Perthshire, to attend.


Led on horseback by their patron, Sir James Forbes of Newe, the Lonach Highlanders’ route will take them from Gairnshiel Lodge in Glen Gairn, along the B976 to Crathie, before marching through the Balmoral Estate to Invercauld Bridge, where they will join the A93 to Braemar Castle.   Each highlander is expected to take around 30,000 steps as they make the 14-mile journey which will see them ascend a total height of 413 m (1,354ft).


The Lonach Highlanders have made the journey from Strathdon to Braemar many times before, although the route would originally have involved arduous hill roads.  They last attended the Braemar Gathering in 2006, but last marched over to the Deeside event in 1991.


Joining the highlanders on their march will be a horse and cart.  Fulfilling the historic role will be Socks, a six-year-old Irish Heavy Cob owned by Kildrummy resident and Lonach Highlander Derek Gray.  Socks made his debut pulling the Lonach cart at the recent Lonach Highland Gathering and Games, which attracted around 8,500 visitors from around the world to the Aberdeenshire village of Bellabeg.


A horse and cart has traditionally followed the Lonach Highlanders on their marches in order to convey their weapons when they became too heavy for the men to carry on long marches, particularly over uneven hill roads.  Socks follows in the hoof prints of a long line of horses to provide this supporting role to the Lonach Highlanders.


Jennifer Stewart, secretary and chief executive of the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, said: “We are honoured to have once again been invited to parade at the Braemar Gathering and help the society to mark its bicentenary.  Both societies possess a lot of shared history and heritage and the Lonach Highlanders attendance will acknowledge this.


“The Lonach Highlanders first marched from Strathdon to Braemar in 1853 during the reign of Queen Victoria and we have drawings in our archives that commemorate the occasion.  It is 24 years since the men last marched to Braemar.  It will be a privilege for them to once again parade in front of Her Majesty the Queen, especially as a few days later she will become the longest reigning monarch in British history.


“When the men last marched from Strathdon to Braemar in 1991 there were a lot of sore feet, but also a lot of laughter and a great sense of camaraderie.  They also encountered a coach full of Australian tourists who were a little surprised to come across a group of kilted Scotsmen carrying pikes and Lochaber axes marching down the road towards them.  It certainly made their holiday.  Who knows what we will encounter this time.”

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