As Scottish National Party delegates gather in Aberdeen this weekend for
the Party's Special Conference (23 and 24 April 2004), this column looks
back to the sayings of an Aberdeen visitor some 750 years ago.
There have been many in Scotland who have claimed to be blessed (or
cursed, depending on your viewpoint) with Second Sight and the ability to
foretell the future. One of the most famous was Thomas of Erchildoun,
Thomas the Rhymer, who foretold the death of Alexander III, King of Scots,
in 1286. Around 1258 Thomas travelled north and visited Aberdeen and the
surrounding area. Many of his prophesies are recorded from this visit but
space allows us to look at only two.
In St Fergus Thomas the Rhymer based a prophesy on a prominent granite
boulder which took his fancy. Standing on farm land belonging to the
Keiths, Earl Marischals of Scotland, the boulder was for generations known
as 'Tammas's Stane' and Erchildoun foretold -
As lang's this stane stands on this craft,
The name o' Keith sall be alaft;
But fan this stane begins t' fa',
The name o' Keith sall weer awa'.
The removal of 'Tammas's Stane' for building purposes in the 18th century
is said to have coincided with the death in 1778 of George Keith, 10th
Earl Marischal - the last of his line.
In Aberdeen SNP delegates can visit the site of one of Thomas the Ryhmer's
prophesies, the Brig o Balgownie -
Brig o' Balgownie, wicht is thy wa',
Wi' a wife's ae son an' a mare's ae foal
Doun shalt thou fa'.
The prophesy is still to come to fruition, indeed the bridge didn't exist
in Erchildoun's day as it was not completed until 1329 on the order of
Robert I, King of Scots. The Bruce was a great patron of Aberdeen and the
money to build the bridge came from Bishop Cheyne, whose see was at the
nearby St Machar's Cathedral. The prophesy so affected the poet Lord
George Byron, who was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and was 'a
wife's ae son', that he was terrified as he rode over the bridge in case
his horse was 'a mare's ae foal', an incident he would recall until the
end of his life. No such feelings would have affected Thomas as he,
presumably, crossed the River Don at the ford below Poll Gonaidh (Pool of
Bewitchment) at Balgownie. Seven hundred years on the bridge stll stands,
although now closed to traffic, it can be crossed on foot.
This week's recipe is one that Thomas of Erchildoun might have enjoyed in
his north-east visit - Sauty Bannocks (Oatmeal Bannocks). Sauty is from
the French 'sauter' and this is a sweet crumpet-style bannock, best
enjoyed warm from the girdle.
Sauty Bannocks (Oatmeal Bannocks)
Ingredients : 12 oz (350 g) fine oatmeal; 1 teaspoon salt; 1 teaspoon
bicarbonate of soda; 1 tablespoon sugar; 1 tablespoon syrup; 1 pint (600
ml) milk; 2 eggs
Pre-heat the girdle till fairly hot and grease lightly.
Dissolve the syrup in the milk and add to the oatmeal, salt and sugar.
Soak overnight. When ready to cook add the eggs and soda. Mix in more milk
if necessary to make a thickish creamy mixture. Drop in spoonfuls onto a
hot girdle - they should spread to 5-6 inches (12-15 cm). Fire on both
sides, pile on top of one another and wrap in a cloth to keep them soft.
Serve hot, with butter and jam. We don't need Thomas the Rhymer
to foretell that they are delicious.