Thursday 18th June
Leaving Aberdeen early Thursday morning heading towards Holland, it was a great feeling the thought of escaping work for a few days. Checking in our bags at the airport created an attraction in itself when our swords and guns went through the x-ray machine, but as usual no problems.
As the plane rose into the clear blue sky above Aberdeen heading towards the coast, with views of distant hills it sinks into your mind just what a beautiful country we have the privilege of living in.
The flight is quite short in comparison to some other world wide destinations from Scotland and as you fly over the North Sea you can see the cargo ships many thousand feet below going about their business, on a good day that is. The North Sea has for centuries been a channel for trade with Europe, but instead of today’s container ships and tankers it would have been sailing ships in days gone by taking almost a week to get to its destination compared to a day or two in modern times, we were even luckier only taking a couple of hours by plane. As the plane descended to the giant airport of Schiphol you could see all the various water ways and islands which surround the capital city on its flat landscape.
As we were headed on a fact finding mission in Medemblik in Northern Holland, we caught the train to Hoorn and bus to our destination. Reaching the bus terminus in the town of Medemblik directly across the road stands the church of Saint Boniface, where the grave of Lord George Murray is found. Arriving at a time when the church was open we had a wee look inside, lucky enough for us the caretaker of the church was there as well, who proceeded to show us everything related to Murray including there archive of letters and documents which he had.
The first recorded evidence of the church in Medemblik dates back to 1118 when the Bishop of Utrecht who bestowed the church property on the Canons of Saint Martin although the present day church was started in 1404. In 1517 Medemblik was attacked and burnt by a gang of thieves under the direction of a man called “Grote Pier”, the church was destroyed in the flames. Shortly after the reconstruction the west side of the town caught fire and once again the church suffered and apart from the tower was raised to the ground once again. Rebuilding started in 1555 and the church remained basically complete until 1866 when the church was shortened by 20 metres, with the shortening of the choir of the church where the grave of Lord George Murray was, the grave was now left on the out side of the church. From this original position the ornate stone was moved a few yards away to where it is now, the ornate stone was exchanged for a simple stone surrounded by a small iron paling, with the ornate stone relocated inside the church its self, it is not certain whether the body was also moved as well. The original gravestone was placed inside the church, initially in the north aisle. After restoration in 1991-93 it was moved yet again to its present location. Above the gravestone hangs a lozenge shaped escutcheon of Dukes of Athole, divided into sixteen quarters and with the aphorism “Tout prest”
After seeing all that we could and discussing our plans of a commemoration we headed for our hotel, or should I say the only hotel in the town. Releasing ourselves of the burden of our bags we headed for some well earned refreshment in a nearby hostelry over looking the canal.
Medemblik is a nice little town, very clean in appearance and in days gone by a port for import and export to the North Sea, the population over the centuries as been greatly reduced. Medemblik has a history dating back centuries, but there is not a great deal of evidence remaining although there are many houses in the town which date back centuries.
After doing some further research by our selves we retired to our hotel as it had been a long day’s travelling etc a soft comfy bed was irresistible.
Friday 19th June
9.00am We had a meeting with local historian Peter, being born and brought up in Medemblik he had a wealth of knowledge of the area. We walked up to the church being given a wee guided tour on the way. On reaching the church we were able to gain entry as Peter had obtained the keys from the caretaker. We discussed our brief proposals of our plans for a commemoration with him and he considered them a good idea. The more we spoke the more ideas sprung to mind, he told us that the house in the town named Murray’s House is not in fact the house where Murray had stayed. This house was in fact named so because the house over looked the grave of Murray and the owner thought it a good idea to name his house after it. Peter related to us that he had this information first had from documentation and speaking with the family who owned the house at the time. Peter went on to tell us that it was believed Murray may have stayed either with a family called Spander or next door to the family in an area of town called the Island. He went on to tell us that Murray died at 2.00pm and was then taken to the church, so it seemed the right conclusion that a parade should start at 2pm from where the Spander family house was approximately located in the Island area of the town. Ideally this is located at the other end of the town from were the church is, which would mean walking up the main street, past the town hall to the church. We walked with Peter from the church to the lsland to where he thought the location of the Spander family house was a walk of approx 20minutes, following the route of the intended parade.
After a few hours with Peter it was time for us to head to Hoorn to catch a train to Groningen, to meet friends Rene and Mattanja from the Dutch Scots Heritage group, who had invited us across for an event the group had organised called the “Northern Meeting”. The event being in the same structure as a highland games. This was the first year the group had organised it, so after meeting and collecting us from the train station we headed straight for the local television and radio station to record an interview for the local news for publicity for the event.
Saturday 20th June
Day of the games and we had to be up early, the day started with heavy showers. Arriving at the games field early we gave help to put up tents etc, but it was like having a shower with your clothes on. As the start time for games drew nearer it was if the powers that be from above had switched off a tap and pulled back the clouds and the sunshine came through.
The MacBeth Pipes and Drums signaled the beginning of the games and the field became a hive of activity. There was a well organised programme of events which went in rotation including various traditional groups playing music, highland dancing, falconry, dog trials and displays.
As we had some weapons and other bits and pieces with us we were invited to give a wee talk and display with what we had and Brian and myself did so to the delight of the crowd, we even had our own interpreter in our newly made friend Jouke MacAuckema from the Dutch folkgroup “Loarn’s Four”. The day went very well for us, making new friends and contacts including the Scots Ambassador from the British Embassy at the Hague, who came from Broughty Ferry near Dundee. As Robert couldn’t speak any Dutch he found a sort of refuge a home away from home with us guys from Crann Tara as we were the only Scots speakers at the games.
As this games had been organised for the first time, there is a lot of scope for development and with the amount of interest shown it looks promising. The plan at the moment is to hold the games every two years, but I suppose that could change in the future, we will have to wait and see.
Throughout the day we were asked numerous times how we came to be at the games considering it was the first time it had been organised as well as being a small event compared to some in Holland. After reiterating our research and proposals for the event in Medemblik, we were given several offers of services to be part of it.
As all good things come to an end, our trip to Holland was nearly over. After the games we had to catch a train back to Schiphol for an early flight back to Scotland in the morning, as we had to head straight from the airport to Aberdeen Highland Games where we were to participate again.
Special thanks must to go to:
Peter for giving up his time to meet with us and guide us around Medemblik.
Rene and Mattanja, for inviting, accommodating, feeding and looking after us throughout our stay in Groningen.
By Jim Singer