The picturesque gait o the Dee gangs wi ye as ye pooer yer wey alang Deeside, feastin yer een on the Silver Birks thrang at the roadside, the saumon loupin oot the saft watters o the river.

Braemar coories itsel intae a wee patch o wids, yaisin their canopy as defence agin the snell winds that skelp doon aff the great bleak saddle o Glenshee that lours awa tae the west.

The toun welcomes ye wi a Union Jack fleein, a cafe cried the Hungry Highlander an a hotel pub wi tartan carpet. Ye can get yer messages at shops sic as Lamont Sporrans, Wild Thistle an The Highlander. It is the epitome o a cliché Scottish tourism toun.

Tourism in Braemar an aa owre Scotland presents the country as jeelit in time. A place o ghaists an memories, nae a livin airt whaur humanity flourishes. In Braemar there’s a cairn tae deid Jacobites, a stane tae deid Colonel Anne, a plaque tae deid Rabbie Louis Stevenson an signage helps ye stravaig aboot the glen follaein the ghaists o Victoria an Albert. Tourists can tak photies bi the stillborn Braemar train station, whaur nae train ever arrived.


Tourist kitsch oan Embra's Ryal Mile

But there’s a thaw lourin. Tourism in Scotland leuks awa tae sinder itsel fae the auld-farrant image o deid laun, an insteid promote an image o oor gubbed auld castles, oor shootin estates an oor touns as bein infused wi a sense o the virrsome cultural life an intangible livin heritage that exists aroon them. Braemar is a guid exaimple.

A new hotel in the centre o the toun is tae tak tent o the Cairngorm’s fouthie cultural heritage tae ameliorate the visitor experience.

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The Fife Airms Hotel in Braemar has lang been a place o tartanry an Scottish kitsch. Noo the hotel is shut fir rejuvenation, it’s been bocht owre bi twa Swiss airt dealers. They are dichtin the place oot, bungin aa the twee framed prints ontae the coup, an pittin “the culture of Upper Deeside” intae the hotel experience. Tae achieve this, the business owners hae raxed oot tae airtists an practitioners, commissionin new, an at times unco wark. Ane sic body wis Alec Finlay.


Mair kitsch fae Embra

Embra-based Finlay, kenspeckle airtist an poet, wis tane on as pairt o a international panoply o airtists. His specific task wis tae gie expression tae an authentic, deep exploration o the Gaelic cultural heritage o the Cairngorms in sic a wey as tae mak it accessible tae a new generation.

His project wis centred roon place-names. The braes, burns, craigs an lochans o the laun roon aboot Braemar are happit-up in a thick jaicket o at times ancient nemmes, which due tae deith o Gaelic in the area hae cam tae be unkennt by maist.

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Finlay has gaed back tae the Gaelic originals an revsitied the Adam Watson English versions tae come up wi his ain set o modren ‘versions’ o the place-nemmes. These new versions will be pairt o a beuk that will guide fowk intae the laun aroon Braemar.


A heiland loch by Braemar

Finlay assertit that kennin the place nemmes “will mak fowk want tae walk mair. It’ll mak place-nemmes contemporary an accessible tae aabdy, an add a layer tae the laun. Ye’ll ken that the burn aside ye aince had a stag by it, or there wis an adder there, or whitever. Ilka feature ye pass had a nemme that gies sense tae it an indicates hou fowk stravaigin the same hills in the past reacted tae it. The nemmes are a guide tae the memory o the laun, a mindin on whit’s gaed afore. They add richness, density, poetry…”


Fog House, Braemar Castle, by Hannah Devereux, from gathering, published August 28 by Hauser & Wirth. Picture courtesy of Hauser & Wirth

Finlay’s forms are a pleisure fir baith lug an mou. For exaimple the Gaelic Bynack has been owreset as The Hill of the Notch bi Watson. Insteid, Finlay propones The Sneck, a mair true-tae-modren speech version that remains harmonious wi the function o the original Gaelic.

This new body o wark is aaready haein echoes aroon Scotland. Scriever Kathleen Jamie has tane a wheen o Finlay’s new owresettins fae the Gaelic an gied them life in virrsome Scots.

Here’s a puckle o them fae Glen Ey:

Sauch Sheil

Saugh Craig

Todd's Burn

Muckle Cairn

Screichin Burn

Yowdendrift Burn

The hotel will hae a restaurant that celebrates aahin tae dae wi Scots cuisine, an airt explorin local an national themes will hing upon the waas. Airtist Gideon Summerfield wis brocht in tae dae a series o portraits o Braemar residents.


River Dee Valley, by Hannah Devereux, from gathering, published August 28 by Hauser & Wirth. Picture  courtesy of Hauser & Wirth

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Fowk fae the toun’s auldest mannie tae Tarland fiddler Paul Anderson an the cheery smile o local Mary Morgan were peintit an will hae their fizzogs hingin alangside warks o airt fae aroon the warld. This is the international celebratin an gien mense tae the local, celebratin the life, insteid o the deith in the warld aroon the hotel.

This is tourism takkin an active role, inspirin, an peyin fir new airt an creatin a new forum fir cultural wark an identity exploration. Mair nor as important as thon is the esteem an self-confidence local culture receives at bein heized-up an gien place in a swanky new hotel.


Ryal faimilie tartanry at the Braemar Gatherin

The quiet wee toun o Braemar aye seems at peace. The reek rises gently fae its lums an us tossed like cotton through the lift as the wind souchs aff the glens like wind fae a dwamlin giants neb. It certainly doesnae leuk tae be at the vanguard o ony revolutions. Yet mony een aroon the warld o Scottish tourism - an thon’s a guid wheen een - will be keekin in at the experiment here. Success could gie succour tae evolutions aaready stertit in ither neuks, an mak the revolution o livin culture owre deid in the tourism industry a general ane. It wad promulgate the idea that Scotland is an destination wha’s present is mair nor an echo o the past. Failure, hoanever, could stap sic an evolution in its tracks.


This is the latest article by Alistair Heather published by The Herald in Scots. Click on his byline above to see more. 

Alec Finlay’s new beuk will hae its launch on the 28th August 2018. The Fife Airms Hotel will open later this year.