Characters of the Cairngorms


Our Arts & Culture Community: Characters of the Cairngorms

Ed Smith, an internationally published photographer based in Kingussie has been out capturing images of some of the inspiring “Characters of the Cairngorms” you might see out and about or engage with on your adventures here.
We tasked Ed with the challenge of capturing these folk’s spiritual connection to the Cairngorms and the amazing landscape we live in, how it gets into their hearts and makes them proud to call the Cairngorms National Park home.

We want to inspire you to explore on a granular level, look at nature through the eyes of the communities, develop a deeper connection with the land and its people, to respect and protect it and enjoy your time here.

The Cairngorms are unique in that different communities, cultures, characters and wildlife live within its boundaries in harmony, connected by the land. The landscape has influenced culture; the history, heritage, food & the importance of language and dialect.

These Cairngorms Characters bring our culture to life and here we take a look at some of the people who feature in our community with a link to past culture and arts.

Ann Vastano, Old Post Office Cafe & Gallery, Kincraig

Growing up locally to Aviemore, Ann’s work as a landscape artist is synonymous with the colours and tones of the Cairngorms. A deep connection to the area Ann’s paintings often include cultural elements including bothies, ruins and distinctive buildings.

The vibrancy of her paintings not only reflects her joy of the Cairngorms and the Scottish Highlands, but also a character and career which has shared the splendour of the region, and her vision, across the country via commissions for all manner of venues including the likes of the Scottish Parliament and the office of the First Minister.

Ann also manages to capture on camera the local and visiting characters to her Cafe & Gallery in Kincraig as they enjoy their time with family & friends over delicious food. She has the art of putting people at ease, making them laugh and catching the buzzing cafe culture feel in pictures which can be viewed on their instagram page.

Sheila Mackay, Badenoch Waulking Group

‘Waulking’ is the bygone art of beating tartan cloth by hand in order to shrink and soften it into what we know as ‘tweed’. Historically, it was woman’s work. And there’s one woman in particular who is keeping this highland tradition and unique part of Gaelic history alive: Sheila Mackay, leader of the Badenoch Waulking Group.

Just as, in the past, waulking was typically done by a group of women gathering around a table, singing in to pass the time more enjoyably, Sheila recreates these scenes in the Strath today. She does this in local schools, open mic evenings and demonstrations at the Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore. You might even spot her in an episode of Outlander!

Waulking songs are a genre in their own right, characterised by their uplifting, joyous beats woven with nostalgia, which helped the women get into a rhythm and lighten the load of the hard work. The songs also tell stories, giving us a rich insight into Gaelic history from the ordinary woman’s perspective, about everything from love to war to gossip! 

According to Sheila, each woman in the group has her own personal favorite, which she describes as “a song that feels like it’s about my life”.

Sheena Blackhall

Sheena Blackhall might just be Scotland’s most prolific poet, having published some 174 poetry pamphlets in Scots & English, 4 novellas, and 15 collections of short stories, both online & in book form. 

She’s most famous for her poetry, as well as her love of words which reflect the language and culture of the north east of Scotland, where she lives and loves.

With a Doric lilt she speaks about the bus service in Deeside which previous generations of her family used to run, and as sunlight breaks through the cloud which covers the Glen she starts to sing in harmony with the landscape. A true Makar of north east Scotland.

St Margaret’s, Braemar

Characters of the Cairngorms

Transforming St. Margaret’s from neglected church to thriving arts and community venue has been a ten year journey for a group of dedicated trustees and volunteers. A historical building at the centre of Braemar it regularly hosts leading musicians, poets, artists and performers across a diverse range of events.

Its volunteers bring their own expertise to the table; Brian Wood former head teacher and current director of the Cairngorms Trust, Lyndsey Boden a highly experienced events manager, woodwind musician and chorister, Fergus Mutch a piper and communications specialist, and Colin Wight a retired BBC reporter, skilled camera operator and video editor.  

Spud the Piper

Having joined a pipe band in his early teens, Spud (a.k.a. Callum) has travelled the world with his pipes from Canada to Russia. He’s gone on to become one of the wedding industry’s best know characters and has piped across Strathspey’s best known hotels since 1998. Today he still pipes seven nights a week and can regularly be spotted on the steps of Aviemore’s Cairngorm Hotel in the summer months. A likeable laddie, Spud also enjoys making the most of our amazing landscape and can be spotted out cycling, bagging munros and enjoying the best of a Scottish Ski Season.

Characters of the Cairngorms
Spud the piper

Ed is an internationally published photographer based in Kingussie where he is also the owner of Eleven41 Gallery. @edsmithphoto

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