The Nigel Tranter Centre


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on the 24th April 2003


Our Host and Hostess, The Duke and Duchess of Hamilton and Brandon

The text used to build this web page consists of four e-mails to the Tranter mailing list after the official opening of the Nigel Tranter Centre.


Cameron's view


Well, here I am - returned safe and sound from the opening of the Nigel Tranter Centre at Lennoxlove yesterday evening. It was a big occasion for me as it was the first major social event that I have attended since Helen's death and I wasn't really looking forward to going on my own. As my son Niall volunteered to do the driving and to accompany me it was much less stressful than it might have been.

The formal event was due to start at 7.00 pm but we got off to a bad start as Niall was held up at work and we were not able to leave Stirling until

Niall and Cameron

5.45 pm and, knowing the Edinburgh bypass could be blocked at the rush hour, we expected to be late. In the event there was no hold-up and we arrived with time to spare. Just enough time to have a quick look round the actual Tranter exhibition materials as most people had made their way directly to the Great Hall.

The room, the old school room, has been most tastefully and professionally set up and, everything about it, does great credit to the organisers. The breadth and scope of Nigel's work over 65 years of writing is detailed and his great love and assistance in restoration of castles is highlighted.

There are many examples of his books, a couple of complete manuscripts and two excellent, loose-leaf books of assorted, laminated, book covers. The story boards are also professionally prepared and the text both meaningful and sensitively presented. All in all I felt that the Nigel that I knew was very carefully and tastefully presented. The whole ambiance of the room gave him the great credit that he deserves.

On a call from one of the staff we all mounted the stairs to the Great Hall where, as a result of the unexpected numbers, it was standing room only. A very impressive room is the Great Hall with its stone walls and its high stone-arched ceiling and huge fireplace.

The more formal proceedings started with a rendition from Duncan Brown, piper, artist and friend of Nigel. This was followed by a brief welcome and introduction by the Duke of Hamilton who then passed over the proceedings to Ray Bradfield, Nigel's biographer. Ray then gave a most erudite, sensitive and well thought out outline of both Nigel the man and his work emphasising his wider role and effect on Scotland.

Niall, made a video of her speech and you can read this, in its entirity, from the following link.


Ray concluded her presentation by reading three extracts from Nigel's work, St. Columba arriving in Iona, The meeting of Bruce and Wallace and the execution of Montrose. These are the same three passages that she read at Nigel's memorial service and held the audience with rapt attention so that you could have heard the proverbial pin drop.

All in all she gave a very polished and interesting presentation that was much appreciated by the audience.

The proceedings finished with a few words from Ian Arnott, the chairman of the Saltire Society, an organisation that has played a part in the setting up of the Tranter Centre and a final bagpipe rendition from Duncan.

After that it was time to circulate and I then met up with Colin and his wife Eileen and Vivienne and her husband Eric. It was great to put faces to people with whom I had e-mailed and telephoned but never met.

After a few delicious canapés and champagne plus a chat to Joan, the Duchess and others, Niall and I made our way home with the overall feeling that it had been a wonderful evening that has provided a permanent feature about 'Scotland's Storryteller' that visitors to Lennoxlove can enjoy for many a year to come.

To identify the people in the Tranter group picture click on the following link;


Duncans piping

The tunes that Duncan played last night at the Lennoxlove opening were ones that were close to Nigel's heart. Namely ; 'The Voice of Scotland', which is a tune that was written as a fiddle piece for him, for his 80th Birthday in Ferniehirst Castle, thirteen years ago by Bob Hobkirk. Duncan arranged it for the pipes.

One of the other tunes was Nigel's personal favourite, which is a tune written around the story of The Great Montrose called, 'The Bonnie Lass 'O Fyvie'. The last tune he played, as he marched out, of the Great Hall was called 'The Thistle of Scotland' .

Things didn't go according to plan as Duncan says;

" The funny thing was that the Duke had asked me to play the company out of the Great Hall and down the stairs to the Museum Room, hoping that all would follow on like sheep. As it turned out, only two people followed me down, so I was left standing down there playing my heart out for nothing. 'Ce la Vie' It was a privilege just to be there amongst you all, and for the memory of a dear friend. I miss him dreadfully, but I know he would have loved it."

You can go to his web page and see examples of Duncan's art as mentioned by Vivienne. Just before Helen died he sent me copies of his paintings of Nigel to add to the web pages but they are in my old computer. Niall hasn't had time yet to network the two.

For more about Duncan. Go to;



Vivienne's view


Cameron's account of last night is really excellent but there are some things that, as a Scot, he has taken for granted that we lesser mortals would be interested in!!! I have only just got back because we stayed overnight at the Hilton near the airport and flew back this morning.

Vivienne and Eric

As we approached the castle there is a very long drive with trees on either side and many bulbs. The castle is really magnificent - torches were burning on either side of the entrance and the piper was playing. Sir David Steele was also present - he is the presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament. My husband has met him many years ago when he himself stood for the Liberal party in the two elections in 1974, before David Steele became leader.

As Cameron has told you, the announcements were given in the Great Hall - this is a stone walled and stone vaulted room with a magnificently huge fireplace, which was burning with logs throughout. Above is a ledge with many large candles burning and above that a massive coat of arms of the family.

Later the Duke and Duchess circulated and were very friendly to and chatty to everyone. The Duchess was quite put out because we were not staying the night at the castle !!!! She said we must let her know when next we go up!!

To identify the people click on the following link;

Nigel's exhibition is only very small, I had expected it to be bigger, but it is so very tastefully presented and as the Scots say - "guid gear goes into wee bulk". On the wall is a specially prepared plaque giving the names of those who had contributed - I saw AnneMarie Wenz !!!

I am kicking myself because, on the flight, I was reading Issue No.8 of the 24 Nigel Tranter News from RoryMor - still available for those new to the group from Thistle and Shamrock Books. In that issue there is an article 'Meet Duncan Brown' and on the inside pages are full colour pictures by Duncan Brown, including a self portrait, but also pictures of Robert Burns, Robert Bruce and a scene of Ross and Cromarty. I just did not recognised him as the piper - but he is just the same as the portrait. It just goes to show that we, some of us at any rate, just don't look beyond the uniform. I even showed Colin the photo and he, presumably, didn't realise who the piper was - perhaps he did and just didn't think I could have missed the name!!

Colin gave the Duke a signed copy of his book before the format part of the evening and the Duke gave it a plug. I received my copy also and can assure you it is worth every penny. It is a mammoth undertaking and will be so very useful and informative.

We were allowed to walk freely through the many rooms that are open to the public. I especially liked the chapel with the well in the corner - look down and it is very very deep and look up and that is where the casket letters were hidden that brought down Queen Mary. We saw her death mask and the original painting which is often reproduced of her in books. There were many interesting photos and momentoes in every room and I could go back tomorrow and see it all again and find lots that I missed.

Before the event we had flewn to Edinburgh Airport before 9am so had the day to go to see the sights. We went to the Royal Yacht Britannia and enjoyed looking over that worthy ship. Eric remembers it going out on her maiden voyage when he worked in the shipyards as an apprentice.

Frances May had suggested that we visit Aberlady Bay and Athelstaneford. We walked on Nigel's 'footbridge to enchantment'. We loved the doocot at Athelstaneford - birthplace of the Saltire and the church where Nigel was married. We saw the ruins of Halies and Dirleton Castles and also Ballencrieff Castle that Nigel helped to restore. A real ambition this - we visited Tantallon and saw the Bass Rock. We spent ages clambering over the ruins of Tantallon with the biting wind blowing through us - it was wonderful. We visited Haddington and North Berwick and couldn't miss North Berwick Law - again often features in the stories.


Colin's view


Only just returned to the "Centre of the World" having had an exhausting w/e and over 1000 miles of motoring!

You have read both Cameron's and Vivienne's thoughts and descriptions of our evening at Lennoxlove last Thursday (how long ago that now seems) and which in terms of what happened I can add no more.


To me, both as a former architect and an amateur historian I was delighted to be in the oldest part of the castle - the original tower-house, with walls some six feet thick or more, with its hearth and chimney piece in the great hall where we assembled and over which is the giant armorial bearings of the Hamiltons;so familiar to both Eileen and I.

Brodick Castle, on Arran, was one of the former homes of the Hamiltons, they being the Earls of Arran and Feus Superior, and the armorials are in stone on the castle as well as on the great gates to the entrances of the two carriage drives. Between the supporters, deer rampant, is an oak tree under which is the family motto or war-cry THROUGH.

There, in Lennoxlove, is the private chapel, where in one corner there is an iron gate to a shaft and on looking down, many feet below is the water of the well which served the castle. Looking up the shaft it is seen to serve rooms at higher levels, and it was in the medieval stone lining that the casket was found which contained the infamous letters, supposedly forged, which helped incriminate Mary, Queen of Scots and led to her execution. And there indeed is the famous casket, of which Nigel wove into his novel of James VI and I - 'Mail Royal'.

In the same room are a number of items on display - the document which created the Earl of Arran as Regent of Scotland, with the seals of the great nobles of the realm attached to each edge. There is the famous portrait of Queen Mary in mourning clothes, it is so small - not much larger than A4 in size - and which is incorporated into the dust-wrapper of the first edition of Nigel's 'The Queen's Grace' and to me the most important item Mary's death mask.

Hailing from Northamptonshire I have many times visited Fotheringhay and have walked the castle mound where Mary was executed. Having also lived in Derby for many years I have also visited South Wingfield Manor where Mary was at one time imprisoned. So these were the important experiences for me last Thursday evening.

On our way south on Friday to collect copies of my book we visited Seutra Aisles - the site of and small remains of the first hospital in Scotland that was built in 1152, or thereabouts, on the orders of Malcolm IV, King of Scots (The Maiden). I had wanted to visit this site ever since I read Nigel's 'The Tapestry of the Boar'. What a site of such historic importance.

All together we enjoyed our trip, not forgetting our meeting with Cameron and Niall, Vivienne and Eric. On Saturday we will be meeting again Frances May and Robert, her husband, also Ian Arnott, the Chair of the Saltire Society at the launch of my book. I understand Ian will be talking about Nigel and Castles.


Detail from the Nigel Tranter Exhibition



Viviennes pictures of Lennoxlove