Back in August, the Clan Hay Society foregathered in the heart of our historic clan heartland to welcome Hays from all over the world. It was a real pleasure to welcome kinsmen from Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, as well as closer to home in continental Europe and other parts of the United Kingdom, at the end of nearly three years of enforced inactivity due to the Covid restrictions.
Most visitors arrived on Thursday 4 August, although the formal events didn’t start until Friday 5th. Thursday saw clansmen meet informally to enjoy each other’s company over drinks or dinner, and to play a croquet match with other clan groups in the magnificent gardens of the historic Clan Burnett seat of Crathes Castle, near Banchory.
The main base for this year’s gathering was Clan Hay’s historic seat of Slains Castle, close by the village of Cruden Bay in Aberdeenshire, for centuries the seat of the Earls of Erroll, Chiefs of Clan Hay. The present earl was on hand to welcome members and played a large part in guiding people around the historic ruin.
There was an exhibition mounted in Cruden Bay Community Hall, focusing on the history of the local area as well as the Hay family. The Community Hall was itself gifted to the village by Charles Hay, 20th Earl of Erroll, in 1896. There was a guided tour of the Castles of the Coast: Aberdeenshire is well named ‘the Castle Country’ and there are about a dozen to be visited in the close vicinity. The tour took in the castles of Boddam (Clan Keith), Kinnaird (Fraser), Pitsligo (Forbes), Putullie (also Fraser) and Inverugie (also Keith.)
Local historian Mike Shepherd gave an enlightening tour of the ruins of New Slains Castle, explaining many of the stories of the Hays of Erroll who lived there, including thrilling tales of the Jacobite era and its rumoured connection with the Dracula story. A magnificent picnic of tea, coffee, scones and pancakes generously provided by Nikki Elrick, whose family are the current owners of the castle. A boat tour, setting out from the nearby port of Macduff, took the more adventurous spirits on a tour of Aberdeenshire’s magnificent coastline, although our weather is notoriously unpredictable and the sea was a little lively. Later on the Friday evening, a ceilidh took place in the hall in Cruden Bay, with dance music provided by Gordon Hay of Longside and his excellent ceilidh band.
Saturday 6 August saw Hays gather in our traditional clan tent in the Clan Village at the Aboyne Highland Games on Royal Deeside, taking our place with other local clans including the Gordons, Burnetts, Irvines, Farquharsons, Leslies, Leasks, Frasers and Strachans. Aboyne is one of the biggest and best of the Highland Games events and Hays were able to view the full panoply of Games events including piping, dancing, pipe bands, light athletic events, as well as the more traditional caber tossing, hammer throwing, and the other ‘heavy’ athletic activities. The afternoon concluded with the piping ceremony of Beating Retreat, before the group returned to Cruden Bay to hear a lecture on the history of the Hays of Erroll from Clan Hay Archivist, Alan Hay.
Sunday 7 August began with a private visit to the Turriff and District Heritage Musem, also the repository for many artefacts relating to Hay history. Our annual clan lunch then took place at Delgatie Castle, the Clan Hay Centre near
Turriff, a property that has been a principal castle of the Hays for 600 years. Guided tours of the Old and New Castles of Slains followed, with the Chief, the Earl of Erroll, telling stories of his upbringing at Old Slains, including the hair raising tale of when, as a nine year old, he attempted to ride his bike round the outside of the garden fence. Both bicycle and child ended up at the bottom of the cliff, thankfully none the worse for wear. The evening ended with a guided walk along the magnificent Cruden cliffs, from Slains to the old fishing community of Bullers o’ Buchan, with its magnificent collapsed cave, home to one of the biggest sea bird colonies in Scotland.
A very memorable weekend came to a close on Monday 8 August with a further bus tour of the Jacobite sites of the area. A number of planned activities had to be cancelled or rescheduled, either due to lack of uptake or because we simply tried to fit too much into the available time. However we will hope to offer some of these more informally during the next Clan Hay Gathering, which takes place, as usual, over the Aboyne Games weekend of 5 and 6 August 2023.