Remembering the Bard’s Hillside visit

Dave Ramsay at the interpretive plaque where the Rev John Anderson provide a dedication.
Dave Ramsay at the interpretive plaque where the Rev John Anderson provide a dedication.

An annual memorial service is to take place next weekend to commemorate the date Robert Burns stopped off in Hillside as he visited the North-east.

On Sunday, September 11 at 2pm, the eighth memorial service will take place at the Burns plaque in Rosemount Road, Hillside.

The event is held to commemorate the date on which Robert Burns stopped to water his horse at Hillside on his Highland Tour of 1787, along with his travelling companion Willie Nicol, when Burns was visiting the ancestral graves of his forebears at Glenbervie, and the various farms and relatives connected to his family.

His father, William Burnes, was born at Clochnahill in the parish of Dunnottar, just a few miles from Stonehaven, and a stone cairn was built at the side of the road to Stonehaven to commemorate this connection with the Bard.

The simple plaque in the wall at Hillside was placed there in 1930, and it was only through the Father of the Bard Project (2008 to 2010) that the full story emerged, thanks to Harry Harris, of Yorkshire and formerly of Montrose.

In 1930, the Sunnyside Hospital Superintendent, C. J. Shaw, along with Willie Herd, and Joseph Harris (Harry’s father), two ward orderlies, placed the memorial plaque in the wall.

The plaque was sculpted by Adam Christie, who was a patient at Sunnyside for 50 years.

Last year, Christie was acknowledged and celebrated by a Historic Scotland plaque for his artistic achievements and distinctive carvings of faces in stone.

The memorial event will focus on the four men of Hillside who installed the plaque in 1930 and Scotland’s National Bard, Robert Burns.

It will commemorate the fact that Burns passed through Hillside, and this year will feature a strong emphasis on the Angus and Mearns aspects of the story, along with three new and different strands.

A short dedication will be given by Councillor Paul Valentine, depute leader of Angus Council, to the memory of the Rev. John Anderson, who sadly passed away this year.

John provided the dedication at the installation of the Historic Scotland plaque to Adam Christie in Sleepyhillock cemetery in 2014, and also provided the dedication for the new plaque at the Burns Hillside site.

John was involved in many local heritage projects, as well as these events at Hillside, and some of John’s family will attend this year’s event.

Accomplished local piper Lucy Sanger, who is a member of the Lathallan School pipe band, will welcome the guests with a musical selection on the Highland pipes as a dedication to the four men of Hillside.

Also this year, an extended reading from the diary of Robert Burns will be given by Aberdeenshire Councillor Bill Howatson, who will provide the record of the Bard’s journey in 1787 from Aberdeen to Laurencekirk where he stopped to check his pocket watch with the grandfather clock in the P + J offices in Broad Street, Aberdeen.

Duncan Salmon, president of Montrose Burns Club, will pick up the reading of Burns’ journey from Laurencekirk to Montrose.

Alan Mowatt, president-elect of Arbroath Burns Club, will follow this reading with Burns’ journey to Arbroath, and will close the ceremony with a rendition of the Star o’ Rabbie Burns.

Mairi Evans, MSP for North Angus and Mearns, will lay five red roses at the commemorative plaque.

Dave Ramsay, director of Mearns Heritage Services and organiser of the event, said: “This year has seen a coming together of a variety of the Angus and Mearns strands to celebrate the connections between Robert Burns and Adam Christie in this remarkable heritage story.

“It is always a pleasure to see the wide range of people who attend from local Burns clubs, councillors from Angus and Aberdeenshire, the general public, and enthusiasts from heritage societies.

“It is important that we all ensure that we continue to promote this important piece of local heritage and legacy of which we are the proud guardians for future generations.

“It is a real pleasure to have Marie Evans MSP playing an important part in this year’s event.”

The opening ceremony will be followed by a local reception for invited guests.