By Robert Wallace, Editor, Piping Press
The Lochnell Estate lies low on a wooded spit of land jutting out into the Firth of Lorne. Sheltered on its eastern lee sits a castle, home of the Cochrane clan for 100 years and the Campbells for centuries before. For most of last Saturday its ancient walls resounded to the call of the bagpipe. Our host on this occasion, Lord Archie, could not have been more generous, more welcoming or more accommodating. What’s more he’s a piper. He learned at school. He’s promised me he’ll take up piobaireachd.
This was not the first time his home had been home to the pipes. I remember playing there, as will others, around 20 years ago when the Highland and Islands Festival were invited to hold their Friday night piobaireachd contest in the castle chapel, courtesy Lord Archie’s father, the Earl of Dundonald. Moving on a couple of decades it was now the 150th Anniversary of the Argyllshire Gathering. Much had been done to mark this historic occasion, but a plan for a new Intermediate Youth Championship would put the feather in the bonnet, the castle, with all its romance, sealing the deal.
And it happened. Most successfully. There we were, my fellow judges Archie Maclean and Ian Duncan, and Fear an Tighe John Wilson safely corralled in the Lochnell chapel as Torquil and Alastair and Jamie and Hattie and Alasdair and Glynis and Rosemary busied about us and the ten invited pipers. Lord Archie and his brother smoothed out the rough edges and made sure the log fire stoves were at full, warming pelt throughout the day. A brief tour of the historic rooms and it was on with the piping.
The Piobaireachd. Ten played. The winner of the ceòl mòr was 19-year-old Andrew Ferguson from Dollar. He played the Earl of Ross’s March. This tune would have taken a prize against the big guns, make no mistake. Apart from a rushed crunluath doubling, it had everything: expression, technique, and all delivered on a true, unmoving bagpipe.
1 Andrew Ferguson, Earl of Ross’s March
2 Ruairidh Brown, Kintarbert’s Fancy
3 Hamish Drennan, Battle of the Pass of Crieff
4 Finlay Cameron, Lament for the Iolaire
A short interval now during which mine host delivered a delicious buffet, then, suitably refreshed, we took our seats once more for the March, Strathspey and Reel.
1 Andrew Ferguson, Stirlingshire Militia, Cameronian Rant, Rejected Suitor
2 Ross Conner, Inveran, Highland Harry, Little Cascade
3 Finlay Cameron, Bonny Anne, Bob o’ Fettercairn, John MacDonald’s Reel
4 Brodie Watson-Massey, Abercairney Highlanders, Caledonian Society of London, Sheepwife
Time to make the prizes public; over to the Fear an Tighe. John expressed his gratitude to all involved. He praised the camaraderie among the pipers. He said those invited had told him they were delighted just to have been asked to take part no matter the outcome. He rightly pointed out how important it was to give the young professional a platform such as that at Lochnell. He hoped the sponsors would stay on side. The host family had done a noble thing in opening the doors of their home for the best in Scottish music.
Photographs and handshakes now, then homeward with a last word from Mrs Ferguson, Andrew’s mum. She’d driven him up from the shade of the Ochils. ‘He’s floating on air.’