Auchindrain – the field of the blackthorn tree. Who could imagine that a group of 10 – 15-year-olds would be demanding that the Auchindrain camp stays firmly fixed on the 14th Midlothian (Bonnyrigg) Scouts calendar?
After eight years this is still one of the most popular camps – it has to happen in May on the Victoria holiday weekend because it is such a long way from home, and the only way to get there is by mini bus, there are no local trains and the bus journey to Oban and on to Inveraray would take the whole day.
Auchindrain is the most complete Highland farm township in Scotland. It survived the Highland Clearances and has now become a category A listed building. Although building is the wrong term as there are a number of buildings and more being discovered each year. Bonnyrigg Scouts have been privileged to be a part of this. The Township lies approximately six miles south of Inveraray in Argyll It is typical of settlements of its kind 200 years ago.
Eight years ago following a random conversation between the Scout Leader and the handyman at the site Bonnyrigg Scouts were invited to camp and experience life in the Township as part of what was then the local history badge, they duly turned up and pitched camp, met the curator and learned the Gaelic equivalent of their names and what they meant, they worked all day Saturday on the site helping to remove old fencing and make the site secure for the heritage sheep that were to be moving in, they planted 1000 tiny tree seedlings on the edge of the forestry commission plantation and tried keeping the peat fire going in one of the old dwellings. On the Saturday night they met a local Free Church minister who led a traditional Highland service of sung psalms and read from a Gaelic bible – a new experience for everyone! Scouts explored the local hills and woods on a hike on the Sunday and finished their visit with a trip to Inveraray jail, luckily no one got locked up.
This started a tradition of visits with Scouts learning skills such as waulking the cloth with the weaving group, making butter in traditional churns, cooking on the peat fires, whitewashing walls, stone harvesting the tattie field, joining in games of shinty, looking after the rare-breed hens, exposing former access tracks and paths within the site, forming drainage ditches and helping Cathy build a traditional travellers’ “tent” from willow and canvas. This year the Scouts were able to take part in the digit2017 project managed by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. This involved the continued excavation of work begun in 2017 to excavate and unravel the story of Building T – until last summer a completely unknown building. The Scouts explored the infill of the building scraping back the weeds and soil to expose the original floor, retrieved small finds which included boots, teapots, broken china and a various glass bottles. The Scouts also helped to rebuild the original walls using the stone pushed or fallen into the building, learning how to drystone and, in the process, why not to climb on drystone dykes! The finds were washed and catalogued ready to be included in the inventory of Auchindrain.
The weekend is not all work however and between times the Scouts were taught how traditional dyes were made for woollen clothing, how to card tease and spin wool, they learnt a number of weaving techniques and how to make felt. Cooking and eating of traditional foods was a firm favourite – what a difference having to cook on an open peat fire on a griddle! They weren’t keen on a totally traditional menu though the idea of sliced cold porridge for breakfast and lunch wasn’t well received so instead we cooked Orkney bannocks, fish cakes, drop scones and flatbreads, topped with butter churned in large kilner jars YUM! Meals were based on the food that would have been available to the residents at Auchindrain although we ate more protein in one weekend than they would have shared in a month between all the families!
On Saturday night a traditional Ceilidh was held in the Barn with a little bit of dancing and plenty of singing with guitar and piano accordion, historically this would have been when the local news was shared by travellers moving from one place to another selling, fixing and exchanging tools, special foods or other items. At night groups of Scouts took it in turn sleeping on the old cot beds in Martin’s house – although they used sleeping mats and sleeping bags rather than the straw paillasses and scratchy woollen blankets, and torches rather than candles and oil lamps.
During our time at Auchindrain this year the Scouts also contributed to a series of blogs following their experiences at the site and detailing the things they found in their archaeological dig contributing to the year of Young People Visit Scotland initiative and their public relations badge work.
Traditionally at Auchindrain the group calls in to another visitor attraction in the local town and delights in the offerings of the wee sweetie shop where cremola foam, candy stick ”cigarettes”, gold bullion gum and giant gobstoppers can still be found, fortunately for the leaders Inveraray also hosts a very nice tearoom with homemade cakes! On the return journey we have made a further tradition of calling into a visitor attraction that shows a totally different lifestyle to the township, in the past we have visited the jail and Inveraray Castle (where a great number of the people from the township went to work as servants and agricultural labourers), Stirling Castle and Doune Castle where the recent television series of Outlander has been filmed, and made famous by the Monty Python film “Holy Grail”.
By the end of the Auchindrain weekend the Scouts are able to gain their local knowledge badge (history) and have carried out site service as part of the outdoors challenge but they have learnt far more about the hardships and the lives of Scots ancestors, changes to lifestyles that have occurred in the relatively recent past, they have cooked traditional meals and learnt traditional skills. Over the years that we have been going to this camp, the Scout Group have made a tremendous contribution to the museum, carrying out work which there would not be time for in the general running of the site. Visitors to the site have been impressed by the attitude and work of the Scouts and many have commented on the help the Scouts have given them in understanding the history of the site.
We look forward to the new things we will be learning next May!
Erika Pryde, Group Scout Leader, 14th Midlothian (Bonnyrigg)