Not your Typical “Touristy” Activity – Volunteering!

This past weekend I had the grand opportunity of partaking in an activity which I particularly enjoy while travelling in Scotland. It does not fall into the category of a typical type of activity that a tourist generally engages in, but that’s one of the reasons I like it so much; it’s different!

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you have probably noticed how much I enjoy combining my personal ancestry with the places I visit. I like finding places that my ancestors were connected to, finding headstones and final resting places of ancestors, and volunteering to help record and maintain records of all kinds of headstones for future generations.

A couple of years ago, while visiting Scotland, I started volunteering with the Moray Burial Ground Research Group (MBGRG) This group is an incredible bunch of volunteers who go into all of the old and new cemeteries in Morayshire in northern Scotland, to record, index and publish each and every tombstone within each one, including headstones that have become buried under the surface of grass and debris over the years. It is a monumental task and they’ve been working on it for almost 20 years!

How did I get involved in something like this?  My cousin Lindsay, whom I come to visit on a regular basis, is part of the group and serves as their webmaster, amongst other duties. Since he knew of my interest in ancestral headstones, he suggested I meet the rest of the group and see how its operations work and meet some of the groups’ members by meeting up with them at a graveyard they were currently working on a couple of years ago. I was intrigued and before I knew it, I was working right alongside them and enjoying every minute of it.

This past weekend was no exception. Lindsay and I travelled up to Cullen on Friday,

where we met up with Keith & Helen Mitchell, Lindsay’s cousin and his wife at their caravan park located in Cullen Bay just below the picturesque Logie Head on the coastline.IMG_1286

IMG_1296Keith serves as the Chairman of the group and Helen serves as the Field Work Coordinator.


To start our adventures with Keith and Helen, they took us to Old Cullen Kirk to have a look around.


IMG_1302MBGRG had started recording this churchyard in 2011 and they are just about ready to publish the book for it. It was a fascinating church and the churchyard was full of some very interesting and unusual headstones.IMG_1303IMG_1304

Keith took us around the kirkyard explaining many of its fascinating features, such as this cross on the wall for James, Earl of Seafield, who was killed in action 1915. The wooden cross is the actual cross from the battlefield. His body and the original cross was later removed from the battlefield and brought back home to the family plot.




Here are some of the interesting headstones –


After walking around the kirkyard, we headed inside. What an amazing little church.  It dates back to the middle ages and has quite an interesting history.









There was the organ hidden within a cabinet (above) and a very interesting tombstone of a Knight which had been brought inside out of the elements (left).

Before we leave the interior thought I’d take you upstairs so you can see what it looks like from the balcony or gallery.

IMG_1388It started to rain once we got back outside so we headed back to Keith & Helen’s caravan park just in time to see a beautiful ‘cloudbow’ off the tip of Logie Head.  Never seen a ‘cloudbow’ before! That’s pretty cool!

Then we finished the day off by heading out for dinner at a local restaurant to have a nice meal at the Cullen Bay Hotel. I ordered the soup, Cullen Skink, and Scampi.  Delicious!

The following day we packed up our supplies and picnic lunch and headed to the old Keith Kirkyard in the nearby town of Keith. We had worked here last year, but there were still four remaining buried stones we had located with our probing. Since we ran out of time last year to uncover them, we were planning to finish the job on Saturday.

Keith got us started by probing the ground where he believed one of the first buried stones was and marked it off with sticks. After determining the perimeters of where the stone lies hidden we started cutting small strips of turf and removing them to see what was below. A buried stone was definitely there so we cut a strip down the middle to see if there was any writing. There did not appear to be any.  When we got to the other end, it became apparent that what we were looking at was the underneath side of a table stone that was lying on its face. They made notes regarding its location and we covered it over again, replacing the turf in the exact same order that we had removed it.

Now to the next buried stone just a few feet away.  We cut the first strip of turf away and immediately there was evidence of writing. Then another strip; more writing – revealing probably the name Gordon and carving too!  We cut strip after strip until we had revealed the entire stone. Keith got his photographic shots; Helen transcribed and described it in her notes after we meticulously cleaned it up.


IMG_1445After the photography, a bit of flour is dusted across the areas of writing that have been eroded or worn away to see if any letters or numbers can pop into view.

IMG_1449We had worked up quite the appetite so we stopped and ate our picnic lunch.

Then we got started on the last buried stone and discovered under the turf a stone with a whole bunch of writing!  Took quite awhile to get it cleaned off and ready for photos and transcribing. Then some flour dusting to make out the hard to read portions.

I really like the technique of dusting it with flour to make the lettering pop out.

As usual, once we revealed, cleaned, dusted, transcribed and photographed it, back went the sod we had removed and tamped it back down so there wouldn’t be a big gaping hole in the grass 4 inches down or so for the groundskeepers to trip on.  Covering it over actually preserves the stone from further erosion from the elements as well. Now, someone, sometime, can get a picture and transcription of their ancestors’ tombstone even though it’s buried under the grass and not visual to the naked eye!  Isn’t that great? That was the last known buried stone in Keith Kirkyard and MBGRG can begin the final process of publishing their recordings.

Sunday morning we headed to another cemetery nearby called Broomhill. There were several other volunteers that day besides ourselves and our task was to record what was written on every single stone in the graveyard, either by writing it down and/or photographs.

IMG_1624A little bit after noon and a very busy working weekend, Lindsay and I said our ‘fare-thee-well’s” to our delightful hosts and fellow volunteers to start making our way back to Aberdeen. It was a grand weekend, full of all kinds of discoveries, both for ourselves as well as others worldwide looking for their ancestors. Volunteering as you travel is a wonderful way to give back to the country you love visiting. I highly recommend it. You get to know locals, make new friends, as well as making a difference and contributing to the world we all live in.


Gordon Highlander’s Museum

Today was a bit rainy so we decided to choose an indoor venue for our explorations and the Gordon Highlander’s Museum fit the bill perfectly. According to their website: “Situated in the fashionable west end of Aberdeen, Scotland, in the former home of leading Scottish artist Sir George Reid, The Gordon Highlanders Museum offers a warm, friendly welcome to all visitors.”  They did not disappoint!


IMG_0273For starters, the grounds and Sir George Reid’s former home were very nice and a pleasure to be in.  It was immaculately kept inside and out and serves as a venue for a wide variety of purposes.


The Gordon Highlander’s crest is proudly displayed prominently near the entrance. Their motto, “Bydand,” means “abiding & steadfast.” IMG_0281We paid our admission, walked through the gift shop full of all things “Gordon.”

We were soon greeted by a very friendly volunteer guide IMG_0287by the name of Jim. He showed us around the ‘educational room where students who are studying World Wars I & II, and who come to learn about how the regiments fought, what kind of uniforms they wore, what tools and weapons they used, etc.

They even have a very well designed and handmade model of what the trenches looked like during the war and how they operated.  I was amazed at how detailed and intricate it was!

After viewing an extremely informative and well-produced 15-minute film introductory overview of the history of the Gordon Highlanders we were set to begin walking through the artifacts on display within the two-floor museum. At the entrance, we were first introduced to a well-dressed and quite realistic mannequin donned in the Gordon Highlander dress!

IMG_0320Another handsome volunteer guide named David, proceeded to take us through the museum’s numerous display cases, thoroughly explaining each, telling us stories and pointing out particularly unique, interesting or historical items to pay special attention to. The individualized personal tour he gave us was very nice, relaxed, unhurried and extremely informative.  David obviously was not regurgitating a memorized script and was very knowledgeable about every minute detail within the well laid out and artistically arranged chronological displays.

Let’s stroll through the displays and I’ll try to point out many of the interesting things David shared with us as we go… but first a brief history lesson on how the regiment was first formed:

The Gordon Highlanders was raised in 1794 by the 4th Duke of Gordon as a regiment of Highland Foot (infantry) officially named “The Gordon Highlanders” in 1881. Many of the original recruits were drawn from the Gordon estates assisted by the 4th Duke’s wife, the Duchess of Gordon (Duchess Jean).

The Duchess is said to have offered ‘a shilling and a kiss’ as an incentive to join her husband’s Regiment.




The Gordons were formed during the French Revolutionary Wars and played a prominent role in the final defeat of Napoleon at Quatre Bras and Waterloo in 1815.


A little side note about the horses’ hoof above:  Horses were at a premium and quite valuable at that time. Because of this when an officer’s horse was shot and killed, he was required to cut off a hoof for “proof” that his horse died and wasn’t sold for profit!  This particular hoof was made into a snuff box.

Below is an example of the uniforms they wore.  Notice the lapels and cuffs; on the left is the fancier version with lace the officers wore and the right lapel is what the infantry wore.IMG_0365

This guy above, George Findlater, was quite the piper! Here’s a picture taken of a huge painting in the dining room depicting the scene of the battle; notice him sitting on the ground propped up against the big rock.


Actual letters written by soldiers sent home to their loved ones, below.  One of the really fascinating things about this museum is that the displays hold authentic artifacts – not replicas.  For instance, the medals you see are the actual medals, not facsimiles.  Because they are so valuable and therefore worth a lot of money, many museums lock away the real ones and have facsimiles made for display.  Not this place; they are so proud of their medals, they put the actual ones in the secure display cases.  What you see is the real deal, like these letters donated by family members to the museum!


The Gordon Highlanders have served over 200 years (1794-1994).  According to their website: “In the 19th century, the expanding British Empire saw The Gordons serve on the frontiers of India, Egypt, Sudan and South Africa.

In World War One, some 50,000 Gordons served in the regular, territorial and service battalions. Of these, approximately 27,000 were killed or wounded. Among other major battles, every Gordon Battalion saw action in the Somme in 1916.

In World War Two, Gordon Battalions served with the British Expeditionary Force in France in 1940, and in the Far East in 1942, where many became prisoners of war. Great success was achieved in the North African Campaign, in Sicily and Italy, in the invasion of north-west Europe, followed by the long advance into Germany, and the liberation of Burma.

In the years after 1945, the Regiment took part in peace-keeping and anti-terrorist operations in Malaya, Borneo, Cyprus, Germany and Northern Ireland, with detachments serving in the Gulf War and Bosnia.”

They earned a lot of medals and commendations along the course of history.

There are also a lot of pieces of memorabilia brought home from the war by the soldiers or returned to the regiment years later.



This next guy is another fine and outstanding example of the regiments’ bravery and individual commitment to abide and remain steadfast, according to their motto. Be sure to read the plaque detail below the picture to get the full details of what this one guy did!

Talk about bravery – utterly amazing!




The following is another great story.  What the plaque below the photo doesn’t tell you is that the book was handmade by the people of the village of Chievres.  Each page is hand lettered with fine detail.  All of the paintings on the pages are hand painted watercolors! It is a priceless treasure!




This next piece I found rather interesting and poignant.  These medallions, called the “Dead Man Pennies” were made from melted down shell casings which were left over after the cease fire and sent to all next of kin of those who died during the Great War, or later as a result of wounds received during the war.  A whole lot better than a telegram wouldn’t you say?




They also served in Burma and were prisoners of war who were forced to work at hard laborers to build the railroad.  I think there was a movie made about that recently!


Finally, before we headed downstairs there was this really cool, and extremely detailed model of the soldiers in western Europe fighting the Germans who they had cornered upstairs in buildings.

Downstairs we were taken into the dining room with the table set suitable for the Officers.

Next we visited the current exhibition “Citizen Soldiers.”

Followed by the Maersk Mc-Kinney Room where they keep the Regimental Silver.  Absolutely gorgeous examples of fine treasures.  Here are a few examples.


And last, but not least, the Armory…



“In 1994, after exactly 200 years of service, The Gordon Highlanders was amalgamated with the Queen’s Own Highlanders to form a new Regiment named The Highlanders (Seaforth, Gordons and Camerons).

In 2006, The Highlanders was merged with Scotland’s five other infantry regiments to form The Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Renowned as a courageous fighting force with an exceptional reputation for good conduct, professionalism and steadfastness, the legacy of The Gordons lives on through The Highlanders, 4th Battalion, and The Royal Regiment of Scotland.

The Gordon Highlanders is one of the great names in Scottish history and one of the most celebrated regiments of the British Army.”

After that wonderful tour of such a fine example of what a museum should be like, we wandered through the Tea Room and out the back door to visit the beautiful Memory Gardens outside to finish our tour by silently remembering those valiant soldiers…








I’ve Been Everywhere, Man

img_2377Alistair, at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, commented the other day when I returned my third rental, “Wow!  You put over 1,200 miles on this last car, and at least 1,000 or more on the other two you rented before!  You get around!  You’ve been to more places in Scotland in the last 2 months than I’ve been to since I arrived 6 years ago from Lithuania!”

Out of curiosity, I decided to highlight the roads on my atlas which I’ve traveled on to visit various locales on this trip alone.  Alistair is right, I have managed to get around to a lot of wonderfully beautiful places!

Then another thought crossed my mind which might be fun; “I’ll try writing my own version of the lyrics to a familiar song, made popular by Johnny Cash…”

I’ve Been Everywhere

I was toting my pack along the narrow, winding, country way,

When along came Lindsay, Pat and Deirdre with a plan for the day,

If you’re going to adventures, Claud, with me you can ride,

And so I climbed into the car and then I settled down inside,

They asked me if I’d seen a road with so many Coos and Lambs,

And I said, “Listen! I’ve travelled every road in this here land!”


I’ve been everywhere, man,

I’ve been everywhere,

Crossed the Munros high, man,

I’ve breathed the mountain air, man,

Travel, I’ve had my share, man,

I’ve been everywhere.


I’ve been to:

Dingwall, Ahoghill, Elgin, Drum Castle,

Kildrummy, Grandtully, Huntly, Threave Castle,

Cawdor, Fearnmore, Aviemore, Dornoch,

Loch Broom, Tomintoul, Gracehill, Gairloch,

Montrose, Fortrose, Inverness, Easter Frew,

Burghead, Peterhead, Shieldaig, Inverewe,

I’m a Frew!

I’ve been everywhere, man,

I’ve been everywhere,

Crossed the Munros high, man,

I’ve breathed the mountain air, man,

Travel, I’ve had my share, man,

I’ve been everywhere.

I’ve been to:

Whithorn, Findhorn, Deskford, Mid Frew,

Torridon, Strathdon, Culloden, South Frew,

Rannoch, Avoch, Aberfeldy, Blair Castle,

Ellon, Kippen, Cullen, Crathes Castle,

Stirling, Loch of Skene, Aberdeen, Wigtown,

Banchory, Crathie, Buckie, Randallstown,

I get around!

I’ve been everywhere, man,

I’ve been everywhere,

Crossed the Munros high, man,

I’ve breathed the mountain air, man,

Travel, I’ve had my share, man,

I’ve been everywhere.

 I’ve been to:

Edinkillie, Dalbeattie, Killiecrankie, Garlieston,

Kirkcudbright, Loch Maree, Inverurie, Collieston,

Fochabers, Ballater, Strathpeffer, Girvan,

Loch Carron, Portgordon, Pitmedden, Cairnryan,

Dumfries, Portknockie, New Abbey, Auchindrean,

Forres, Crathes, Letters, Achnasheen,

See what I mean?

I’ve been everywhere, man,

I’ve been everywhere,

Crossed the Munros high, man,

I’ve breathed the mountain air, man,

Travel, I’ve had my share, man,

I’ve been everywhere.

 I’ve been to:

Antrim, Drum, Glenbuchat, Castle Roy,

Loch Garve, Braemar, Nairn, Portsoy,

Lossiemouth, Pitlochry, Alford, Cairn ‘O Mount,

Bogendreip, lots of sheep, Dunkeld, Stormont,

Ballymena, Crossmichael, Blair Atholl, Connor,

Castle Douglas, Applecross, Belfast, Leadmore,

Is there more?

I’ve been everywhere, man,

I’ve been everywhere,

Crossed the Munros high, man,

I’ve breathed the mountain air, man,

Travel, I’ve had my share, man,

I’ve been everywhere.

Well….. almost!

After I highlighted the roads I’ve travelled on this trip, I also highlighted other routes I’ve also taken on previous trips.  Below is the revised map with all roads highlighted. img_2387As you can see, there are still a few  areas I haven’t explored very much!

And yes, I’m already thinking that will be my  trip next year – the places I might manage to visit might look something like this:


I can dream after all – and enjoy my dreams come true.

I have just a five days left before I head back home on Sunday.  Lindsay and I are ‘hanging out’ together, doing a bit of genealogy, (I’m writing blogs!), and generally enjoying each other’s company while we still can.  We might even manage to get in a visit to one more castle!




Moray Burial Ground Research Group Annual Dinner



Last night, Lindsay and I drove up to Elgin to attend the annual dinner the MBGRG hosts as a final event for the season to celebrate their hard work, dedication, and teamwork in recording churchyards and cemeteries in Morayshire at the Laichmoray Hotel.

For me it was especially nice to get to see several people I had the pleasure to work alongside of during my vacation in Scotland at Keith, Edinkillie and St. Lawrence kirkyards one more time before I head home in about a weeks time.  I also had the additional pleasure of meeting many more that perhaps I’ll have the opportunity to work with when I return once again in the future.

I really want to thank these three people below in particular: Helen & Keith Mitchell, and my cousin Lindsay Robertson.  They have taught me so much about gravestones and memorials: the symbolism represented on stones, the techniques and methodologies to employ, how to cut a “pensioners” size cut of turf,  how to flour a stone and take good photographs, and in addition to all of that have opened their home to me for a place to lay my weary head at the end of a day of digging in the ‘clarty dubs,’ made me sack lunches, and have welcomed me so heartwarmingly into their lives, their homes and their passions.

Helen is the Field Work Coordinator, Keith is the Chairman and Lindsay is the Webmaster. They each put an incredible amount of time, energy and dedication into the passion they share; preserving and recording historical ancestral records for future generations worldwide.  I feel so honored and proud to be a member of this group and be counted as one of their own.  Thank you!


I made new friends last night too – wonderful ladies like Karen and Margaret.


Then there was Rosie, Morag and the happy couple – Irene (Treasurer) and her husband Gordon.img_2348




Followed by Stephen, Gail and Ali having too much fun in the corner!




Ruth (Secretary & Fundraiser)

and Michael and Mary Evans (Genealogist)


We enjoyed great conversation, lots of laughs, a raffle drawing, a wonderful meal and scrumptious desserts together.

img_2355  img_2345








img_2357These folks completed and have been recording approximately 10 churchyards this season and will soon have their results and hard work published and available online and in printed form to people who are searching for their ancestors’ gravestones worldwide.

That’s a monumental accomplishment! They all do it out of the goodness of their hearts and because they are such dedicated volunteers.

The three hours we spent together just zoomed by and before I knew it, a grand evening with such interesting people came to a close and we were headed outside to the car park to depart.

Yet, I know I will return once again in the future and have the opportunity of working alongside them.  I look forward to that and am grateful to count them as friends in my ancestral home of Scotland.




Edinkillie Kirkyard

This past Thursday, Lindsay and I headed out with Keith & Helen to yet another churchyard out in the country – Edinkillie.  Keith and Helen had previously probed the grounds for buried headstones and had located three that needed to be dug and revealed for transcribing and photographing.  I was more than happy to help with that effort and by now they had full confidence in my ability to wield the turf cutter.

We got to work straightway in the morning because the sun was out sporadically yet rain was imminent sometime around noon.  We began by digging the turf on the first stone and ended up revealing quite an old stone dating back to 1765 possibly!

The second buried stone also had some inscription and it dated from 1768!  The third stone we unburied however had no inscription whatsoever.  But all three were uncovered, transcribed, measured and photographed and the sun shone long enough for Keith to get the photographs he needed to complete yet another churchyard for publication.  Our job was successful.

I thought the lichen and moss growing on the stones was quite interesting and pretty and thought you might like to see it as well, so Lindsay and I took the photos below. They reminded me of a little miniature forest growing on the rock faces and he thought they looked rather alien from another planet out in the galaxy.

Lindsay and I parted ways with Keith and Helen.  They returned to Elgin to their home and we made our way back to Aberdeen through the countryside following “The Whisky Trail” through Dufftown, Aberlour, and Huntley.

It definitely started raining and raining hard as we made our way home.  It has been raining for the last 2-3 days, hence, I’ve been indoors writing all of these blogs catching up with myself.  As of this post,  I am now up-to-date.  Yeah!!!!

Today I drove back to Dingwall (in the rain), because Pat & I are headed out for yet another adventure!  Tomorrow we’re going south to the area around Perth to stay for a couple of days in a very ‘posh’ hotel called “The Fisher’s” in Pitlochry with her sister, Cecilia, her daughter, Lynn and her granddaughter, Amber.  It’s a girl’s only trip and it should prove to be quite a hoot!  Blog post to follow in a few days.  Until then…  happy trails!  ~ Claudia

A Sunny Sunday Drive…

Lindsay and I got an early start on Sunday to start making our way back to Aberdeen.  We had such a great weekend with Keith and Helen finding buried headstones.  First we headed a little further west to Forres where Lindsay was born.  We walked through town in the early morning hours sniffing out some good coffee before we started backtracking home.

We found a nice cafe serving just what we wanted and he informed me of the route he planned to take for the drive back.

“We need a large Latte to take away for where I plan to take you!”

“Oh my, this is going to be good!” I squealed. “We’ll get to skirt along the northern side of the beautiful Cairngorm mountains, go through Tomintoul and follow the old Military road, crossing the moors,  climbing up over the Lecht and work our way back down to Aberdeen!”


Just outside Forres we made a stop at Edinkillie kirkyard.  This is another site where the MBGRG will work to identify and record all of the headstones.  Quaint little church it was. We couldn’t stay long however and explore much because church services were being held.

img_9801As we left the car park, I noticed the four-wheel Forestry truck and thought how handy it might be for the route we were going to take!  Tempting!

Hey! Lookey there! A cloud that is shaped like Scotland!


Soon we were looking out over the Spey River valley with the Cairngorms in the distance in all their glory!  Won’t be long and they’ll be crowned with snow!


Next we passed under the arched entrance to the Grant Estate House….

and soon thereafter we were entering the town of Grantown-on-Spey.

Perfect day for these lads from Inverness to go for a ride!

We took a bit of a break ourselves and I wandered around town taking pictures.  As we drove out of town, Lindsay asked,”Would you mind if we took a little detour to Nethybridge? If you might remember, some great grandparents of mine on my dad’s side of the family are buried there in the kirkyard at Abernethy Kirk.  I’d like it if you could take some decent pictures of the headstones for me.”

“Sure Lindsay,” I replied, “Why not?  I’d be happy to!  I remember you took me there on my first visit to Scotland, that would be fun to see it again!”

So we took a right at the junction and drove a short distance to our detour destination. The sun shining through the birch trees lining the road along the way were so pretty…

and before I knew it, we arrived!


Such a picturesque spot, huh?  We wandered around the kirkyard snapping photos of the stones he wanted.  The lovely summer house was still there with its intricately cut tree limbs cut into pieces and placed with loving care on every square inch!  Beautiful!

When we had found all the stones he wanted pictures of, we noticed a sign on the door of the church stating that there was an Exhibition being held today by the Abernethey Old Kirk Association.

“Hmmm, that sounds quite interesting, doesn’t it?  And they have a tea room as well!  I could use a little snack and another cup of coffee!”

(It never ceases to amaze me; wherever I go in Scotland, even it is waaaayyy out in the woods, or at a garden centre, or anywhere, there is a little Tea Room to get tea, coffee, and delicious baked sweets of all kinds!”)

We went inside and were greeted by this lovely couple, Allan and Olwen Billington, who are the coordinators of the Abernethy Old Kirk Association.  Inside the church they had various displays set up and they had tables to sit at to enjoy our goodies set up right around the pulpit!  Perfect.  I ordered a couple of Lattes, a piece of Almond cake for myself and a piece of Lemon Drizzle cake for Lindsay.

While they prepared our treats, we wandered in amongst the displays.  Fascinating.

Lindsay was particularly interested in seeing if an old Hand Bell might be among the treasures.  He had met an old man named Alaster Grant at Ballinluig Farm several years back who was a third cousin of his and he struck up a friendship with him.  He has since passed, but Lindsay remembered Alaster and how he had told him about the hand bell that had been used to call people to worship in the kirk prior to the installation of the belfry and bell in 1874.

When the belfry and bell were installed, the hand bell had been purchased by Alaster’s father and remained at Ballanluig for 125 years. Although it was no longer in the kirk, it never left the Abernethy Parish.  Alaster gave the bell back to the church in 1999 and it was rung before the Communion service in June of that year. The bell was ‘rung with gusto’  one final time again on the 26th of September, 2010 at the final service, a thanksgiving service, before the sale of the kirk to the Association.

Having learned about the hand bell from Alaster, Lindsay had wondered whatever became of it.  When he saw it on display in the kirk, it moved him profusely.

Allan was so touched by Lindsay’s response that he took it out of its display case and brought it over to Lindsay, setting it on the table in front of Lindsay for him to admire.   Allan insisted he should feel free to ring it!  When Lindsay rang the bell it brought tears to his eyes.  So touching!

Allan sat and talked to us for quite awhile and we really enjoyed getting to know him and hearing about the work he and his wife, Olwen, and other members of the village do for the association.  They are very passionate about it.  By the time we left, both Lindsay and I had become members of the association in support of their efforts.  Who knows, maybe when I return another time, I’ll be volunteering for them!  That could be fun!

After filling our tummy’s with treats and our hearts with new friendships we said our farewells and headed back to the car park.  That’s when I noticed this sign.

“Hey Linds, before we get in the car, let’s go up and see Castle Roy, ok?”

“We can’t go up there, Claudia, it’s all fenced off.  Has been for years.”

“Well, then why is the gate open and there are cars parked up there then?”

“What?!  It’s never been accessible as long as I’ve been here.” he exclaimed.

So, we ventured up there.  Evidently Historic Scotland has sponsored its restoration and a village association has been formed to rebuild and fortify this ancient castle!  To gain grant funding, one can buy ‘one square yard’ of the castle!  Now that’s an interesting twist for fund raising!

A really nice man, Richard Cummings, met us and provided a tour of the castle, explaining its history, and all of the work that has been going on to restore it before it completely fell down.  Check it out on their Facebook page:  Castle Roy or their website:  Castle Roy website. You could help them with their efforts!

img_9987By the end of the interesting and personal tour I found my arm being twisted and the money being ployed out of my wallet!  (Just kidding!)  I was more than happy to “Buy a Square Yard” of Castle Roy in support of their efforts.

I bought my square yard in the Laird’s Lodge and hence, became “Lady Claudia Frew” as a result.  I know own land in Scotland! I got a certificate of Ownership listing which square yard I own (one with a window view, mind you) and I received some extra little thank you gifts including locally made shortbread, a wee dram of whisky, and my own personal hand-made and hand-painted model of the castle to take home with me.  Sweet!

That was certainly unexpected, but totally fun!  I’m really glad we took that wee detour to Abernethy kirkyard.

(I like to collect small rocks from places I visit and you can certainly bet I grabbed a small one from the rubble pile on my way out to add to my collection.)


We got back on the road and started trekking through the moors filled with heather.  So, so beautiful and wild!  We followed the Old Military Road that the British built to try to catch those wiley clans men during the Jacobite Risings.

Midway we came to the small village of Tomintoul…


We climbed up, up, up over the Lecht arriving at the Lecht Ski Center.

Then began the descent down the other side toward Strathdon, and the River Don.


Just before our final descent to the River Don, we came to a lookout with a monument overlooking Castle Corgarf.

It’s not really a castle.  It is a garrison built for the British soldiers trying to catch the clans men during the Risings.  (Can’t you just imagine the clans hiding in plain sight and watching the soldiers from the heather moors instead of the other way around?)


We descended down to the River Don and I assumed we’d be driving straight on home after this point, but Lindsay had one more stop in mind – a real castle – Glenbuchat Castle!


Before leaving we sat down on an old stump and Lindsay remarked how old this tree must have been. He counted the first 10 rings – it must’ve been at least 150-200 years old when it was cut!


What a perfectly wonderful day we had on a sunny, Sunday drive through the picturesque countryside, moors and river valleys.  We even made new friends, and he even has to curtsey and bow to me from now on.

I have just a couple more posts to catch up on for things we’ve done and seen this past week, but I won’t be posting them for awhile yet.  I have rented a car again and I am headed back to Dingwall tomorrow to visit Pat and Ian.  Pat and I have plans to visit some places near the Western Isles in the Highlands!

Until the next time…

With Best Regards,

Lady Claudia




Volunteering at Keith Cemetery Again

Saturday morning was not so sunny as the day before, but we still had bright hopes that when we returned to the cemetery again we would be able to finish probing the last part of the upper section of the graveyard for buried stones, and possibly locate a couple of buried ones to add to the inventory of all headstones there.

Soon after arriving, Peter Wills, a local resident and volunteer, joined up with us.  He wanted to show Keith and Helen something he had discovered near his home nearby in the old historic original village surrounding the church and churchyard.  He led us across the railroad bridge describing what the old original village would have looked like and where its streets and buildings would have been according to old maps.

As we strolled up a narrow lane, he told us that the route we were following was actually the original road that lead into the village.  Fascinating.  He continued on, explaining as we went, that according to the Chronicles this was the route that Jacobites followed during a squirmish with British Soldiers.

Then we turned into what looked like a narrow alley and he told Keith that he had noticed some very old stones embedded into a neighbor’s house that appear to have been “re-purposed” from an older building somewhere else in the old village and incorporated into a new building at some point in time.

On the way back to the churchyard he also pointed out locations of where other buildings used to be.  For example, up on the hill overlooking the cemetery, there had been the village “Smiddy” (Blacksmith).  When we got back to the outside wall of the cemetery he also pointed out the feature in the wall called the “Kearms” as shown in the photo below.

Notice the Arches along the top of the wall, particularly, the stones that are placed vertically and in an arch.  These would have been 4 small openings with an arched doorway in the wall where merchants or peddlers would have had a permanent “stall” in which to sell their wares from in the market square (which was located where we stood).


The sun was beginning to peek through the clouds about then so we went back into the churchyard and began working on our first assignment, uncovering a buried stone they had partially unearthed on a previous occasion.

I was more than happy to get down in the dirt and start handing the turf that Peter cut to Lindsay to place on the tarp in the exact order that they had been removed.



Below is what we uncovered.  It appeared that the broken stone on the right had originally been a ‘table stone’ sitting upon two legs, but which had collapsed and the top of the stone was shattered when it fell on a large rock on the ground underneath it.  The square stone on the top right had carvings in the shape of ‘legs’ carved into it with a “frame” carved into the stone in the center.  The large stone lying to the left of the broken stone, is cut from “local” stone and could have been a flat (uncarved) headstone possibly as well.

We tried to piece together the puzzle of the shattered pieces, but to no avail.  It had broken into too many pieces to decipher.  All we could make out on the inscription was “Aged” and possibly the first name of “John” but that was all.

Although we tried our best, that’s all we could decipher and then put everything back and covered it over with the sod we had removed.



img_9670-editedHaving finished that task it was time for a break and we all enjoyed tea or coffee and some crisps (potato chips) before resuming our work elsewhere.

Afterward we continued probing and located another large “local” stone that also could possibly be an uncarved headstone or ‘cap’ over a grave.


On the third probing we uncovered this stone that did have carving including a ‘skull’ and lettering.  It took awhile to get it cleaned off with water, daubed dry and then ‘floured’ to reveal the inscription for recording.

It read something like the following below the skull:

“Here lyes en Honst Man Called Iams Vilson and his wife Ann _ _ _ and Margit Vilson His Davghtr She perted this life in _ AR_  _ _ 65”


After a long day in the churchyard, we headed out making one more stop in another nearby churchyard that the MBGRG group has already completed.  Keith needed a couple of photographs from a couple of headstones that had not photographed well the first attempt.  He floured the headstone to make the inscription stand out better.  What a great technique!

After he got the photos he needed he took Lindsay and I around the old church pointing out some interesting aspects as shown below and explained above in the signage.

Below is a very special item, one of the best examples in all of Great Britain, of its kind.  The hole in the center is where the priests would have kept the Sacraments and it is so well preserved.  It’s incredibly intricate and amazing.  The septre type thing that the two angels are holding is what “Holy Relics” would have been carried and transported in.




Behind the church was another tomb plot for a minister, but between it and the church numerous headstones, some of them quite large, had been stacked and piled in a “dump” of sorts.  They had probably fallen over or otherwise dislodged from their original positions in the kirkyard and therefore were dangerous, or inconvenient, so they were moved here by caretakers.  What a shame they weren’t just left in place where they fell.

It was an interesting day, I had fun getting my hands in the dirt and helping out.  Helen mentioned to me that it appeared that I didn’t mind getting in the “clarty dubs” (messy, soggy, mud) and laughed and commented I was lucky it wasn’t “sharney dubs!”  (mud mixed with cow manure (or other various farm yard animals).  I’m learning all kinds of Scottish terms on this trip, and what fun that is – Aye!

It had been a long day and my pants and shoes were soaked and mucky but I had a lot of fun in the clarty dubs finding buried stones. I did manage to find a little sunshine to dry off in when we got back to their caravan though before we enjoyed some yummy fish & chips for “tea” that evening.




Elgin, Cullen and Keith Cemetery


Saturday morning Lindsay and I loaded up the boot of the car with our overnight bags to head northeast to Elgin, where his cousin img_6103Keith and his wife, Helen, live.  They had invited us to attend a genealogical and family history group to discuss searching for one’s ancestors and particularly what to do when one runs into a “brick wall” and can’t seem to get any further with an ancestor.

We had a lovely drive and stopped along the way for a cup of coffee at a nice little shop called McVeigh’s.  Although the pastries and desserts were ever so tempting, we managed to get away without adding any more calories!  That was not an easy task!

We met Keith and Helen at the Elgin library after we enjoyed our picnic lunch near the pond in the park.




Afterwards, we all drove out to another scenic seaport village called Cullen, where Keith and Helen have just recently purchased a “caravan” to spend the summer months in when they move to Edinburgh.

What a view they have, ‘eh? It was a delightful little town at the seaside.  Let’s take a quick look around…img_6129-edited


I love the little pathways up the hill between the buildings; makes me want to explore!

Below is the “mercat cross” in the town square.  Each town usually has one to signify it is permissible to sell items such as produce or other goods in the “market square.”



Such a pretty door and steps with flowers!img_6142-edited

Wouldn’t you just love to be sitting on this bench taking in the view with an ice cream cone on a nice warm summer’s evening overlooking the beach and the harbor?



This is what the harbor would have looked like when the herring boats were very active.


A close-up view of the fisherman’s village…img_6151-edited When we returned to Keith and Helen’s beautiful home in Elgin, I was honored to have Keith show me his new Coat of Arms from the Lord Lyon, AND his new sword which was specially designed by Keith with his family ancestors carved on the blade and various symbols from his Coat of Arms, such as the crest, and motto on the hilt.  It was absolutely stunning.  He doesn’t look a bit proud, does he?



This morning we headed back to Keith cemetery to do some more probing and digging to search for buried headstones there.





We soon were given tools and set to work… first job to sweep off a stone and cut the edges to keep the grass from growing over it and burying it.



Next job – cut some turf away from something buried.  The thing that was buried only turned out to be some “kerbing” from a family plot.  That soon got re-buried and we moved on to the next spot…..img_6262-edited

I was given the turf cutter and got some serious action.  We all had fingers crossed that we would find a buried headstone.img_6172-edited

Aha!  We seem to maybe find something significant!  Look what else we found when we lifted the first square of turf – an old coin!img_6177-edited

After removing a few more feet of turf we could verify  we definitely had a buried stone! This is indeed getting VERY interesting and oh-so-much fun!



…..the more we dig and reveal what is under the grass; the more it gets intriguing!



img_6181-editedBelow is the fully revealed headstone. It turned out that this headstone was for a “John Murdoch – a minister for many years in the villages of Ruthven and Fochabers and he was buried in 1850 at the age of 83”


In the photo below you can see how the turf is laid out on a tarp in the EXACT order it is taken out. After the stone is cleaned, photographed and measured, the turf is then replaced in it’s original position and packed down into place the same day it is removed.img_6189




Before it is buried again, it is cleaned very well,  and then “floured” – to make the eroded lettering stand out better for transcribing purposes.  Then it is cleaned again and covered over once again.

The work the Moray Burial Ground Research Group (MBGRG) does to record and publish all of the old churchyards and cemeteries is totally amazing.  It’s a LOT of work and they are an extremely dedicated group of volunteers.

I joined their group as an international member just so I could make a donation and support them in some small way.  It was an honor to work with them on two separate weekends while on vacation to help them out any way I possibly could.

I encourage you to do the same.  They have people from all over the world who access their records through their website as they search for their own ancestors.  If you are also so inclined, I personally invite you to lend a bit of support to their efforts as well by visiting their website and making a “wee donation.”  Go to:  Moray Burial Grounds Research Group and tell them that “Claudia sent you!”


Above is a headstone near the surface that was cleaned, trimmed around the edges and transcribed just less than a month ago and look how quickly the grass and weeds are taking purchase in the cracks.  It probably won’t be long before this headstone begins to disappear from the surface.

Below is a close up of the old coin we found in with the buried stone.  Keith is going to take it home and clean it up a bit.  He thinks it could be an old “half-penny” from approximately the mid 1800s.img_6268-edited

img_6271-editedWe had a wonderful day full of intriguing discoveries.  I am certainly one happy camper, and look forward to returning once again to volunteering once again and helping out the MBGRG!  What an absolutely fantastic experience and one that I will never forget!

Tomorrow morning I will be renting another car because  I am headed south and west to the coastal town of Ayr on the southwestern coast of Scotland for one night before I get on the ferry to visit my Frew friends in Northern Ireland!  Many more adventures awaiting!  I am so excited!!!!