With a sense of anticipation, tinged with a few nerves due to ‘the unknown’, we three Carters (MacAulays really, I suppose !) drove up to the wonderful Perthshire venue of Crieff Hydro to meet Clan MacAulay relatives from all over the world at their August 2013 Gathering.
Any concerns we had, were dispelled within minutes of arrival as we were immediately greeted by several of the MacAulay clan at their own dedicated check-in desk. They were all looking very impressive indeed, in their MacAulay tartan kilts and Clan MacAulay shirts.
My wife Linda and I chose as our first optional clan group-activity to make the superb country walk to a local distillery for the MacAulay dedicated whisky tour. My mum Nan, as an 86 year-old, took the optional bus which was organised and joined us at the distillery. We got chatting to many clansfolk on our first day with the group, and without exception we found them to be charming and very interesting. We soon found that we were not the only three ‘new’ MacAulays attending the event, indeed we were almost ‘locals’ having travelled a mere 60 miles from Paisley. Many others had travelled thousands of miles from literally all over the world. The variety of home countries of the clansfolk we met was just one aspect of our weekend which impressed us at our first gathering and the fact that so many MacAulays had made the a very considerable effort to attend the bi-annual Clan Gathering. There were about 60-70 people there, from as far afield as New Zealand, USA, Canada, South Africa, Holland and, of course, the UK and Ireland.
As the weekend progressed we were made to feel very welcome indeed and were included in everything from start to finish and we felt that our own attendance was appreciated and valued by the clan. The whole “feel” to the event was truly like a large family gathering, which on reflection is exactly as it should be with lots of unexpected highlights added. The Banquet on the first night with ‘wall to wall’ tartan and all the trappings you might expect, ie piper; ceremonial aspects; superb (but not lengthy!) speeches; but most importantly a warmth and feeling of camaraderie in the room. One detail we liked was that the MacAulays had one function room reserved for them twenty-four hours a day across the full weekend like their own private club-room in the hotel for all get-togethers whether formal or informal, and, most impressively, the national flags were displayed on the walls of our private room from every country which had MacAulays attending (not to mention the additional MacAulay flags and heraldry and memorabilia).
The Friday evening banquet was a fabulous occasion with the full group clan photographs being taken outside on a beautiful sunny evening , most guests were resplendent in the MacAulay and other tartans. An excellent banquet dinner was preceded by the ceremonial arrival of the Chief (Hector) and his top table guests-of-honour, led in by the MacAulay broadsword ( an impressive seven feet long), carried as is traditional by the youngest (a 10 year old) MacAulay attending the Gathering. We enjoyed the chat and socialising that evening which went on till the small hours for the many who were willing and able for that . We took the opportunity also to get to know a little better , our recently found New Zealand relatives Ruth and Bruce (Cooper) who had introduced us via internet and email contact from 12,000 miles away, to the idea of attending the 2013 Gathering.
Saturday’s activities included the Clan AGM with the business aspects being rigorously but amiably discussed . That was followed by a luxury coach to Stirling Castle where Scottish cultural history was enjoyed by some, whereas others chose to stroll around and enjoy other aspects of the city of Stirling. In the evening we enjoyed a traditional Scottish ceilidh and another superb meal. The ceilidh was very interactive for those who enjoyed participation, with not only traditional Scottish music and dancing but also some hands-on experience of Scottish weaving skills, including related songs and stories. The finale’ on the dance floor was an extremely vigorous Orcadian strip-the-willow which lasted a full 20 minutes. This worked off the excesses of the evening ! (exhausting for the participants with plenty to look at for the observers, and great fun for all !) As some of the senior MacAulays drifted off to bed, many of the others drifted on to our own wee MacAulay corner of the hotel to congratulate ourselves on our dancing skills and for an ‘unofficial’, nocturnal ‘whisky-tasting session’. Much hilarity ensued as we exchanged our internationally flavoured stories, entertaining a wider audience in the hotel bar, than just the MacAulay clansfolk!
Sunday morning brought a fine full Scottish breakfast and some more MacAulay bonding and interactions before most (not all) departed homewards or to some other destination. As we Carters drove home on the Sunday afternoon, reflecting on our very full and eventful weekend we resolved to return for the next Gathering in 2015. We heartily recommend that you do the same!
Kenny, Linda and Nan Carter