The theme of the day turned out to be Scottish history – lots of it. Indoors from the alfresco craft stalls, Arran Johnston of the Prestonpans Trust delivered his well-rehearsed party-piece on the making of the eponymous tapestry, modelled on its Bayeux inspiration, and visually recording the gory progress of the Battle of Prestonpans – arguably Scotland’s last significant victory over the Auld enemy until Wembley 1967.
Arran gave us a slick and entertaining run-through of the tapestry’s conception and creation, involving stitchers – experienced and otherwise – from every staging-post in Scotland on Bonny Prince Charlie’s expedition from Arisaig to the muddy East Lothian field where he, and a few thousand Highlanders, routed a much more numerous English force, in the space of ten brutally triumphant minutes. The 105 metre tapestry, by contrast, took the international team of stitchers around a year to complete – a triumph in itself.
Meanwhile, outside, where the sun was still unaccountably refusing to give way to the usual autumn showers, crafters and visitors were being delightfully diverted by the Peebles musician, Jon Redpath’s Hurdy Gurdy - one of only eight in Scotland, France being, apparently, a much more welcoming environment for this exotically beautiful instrument. The overwhelming competition from the bagpipes would seem to be the cause of the former’s scarcity here.
From there, to the Open House Trail venue of Rosslin –based Irish artist, and winner of the previous year’s local Turner Prize, Aine Devine. Aine’s portraits of the famous, including a poignantly evocative study of the late Mo Mowlam, and the less famous – her own family - are boldly and beautifully realised works – a mixture of stark energy here, and a kind of otherworldly, contemplative quality there. Very well worth seeing. Check out the festival venue map and times. And go there!
The evening shift took us to Rosslyn Chapel for Henry Marsh’s reading of his latest collection of poems, “The Hammer and the Fire”, interluded exquisitely by the fiddle music of Ian Laing. The collection’s subject was John Knox and the Scottish Reformation, with a welcome co-starring role for Mary Queen of Scots.
The slightly eerie, candle-lighted allure of the now world-famous chapel, was a perfect backdrop to the poems’ melding of recorded history with Marsh’s moving and imaginative explorations of the inner turmoil of his subjects. History, leavened with poetry, and sweetened with music. The first half of the evening followed Knox’s ironic evolution, from priest to galley-slave, and on to the fiercely inspirational voice of the Reformation. One couldn’t help wondering however, what the Old Testament austerity of his beliefs would have made of the elaborately pagan imagery of much of this chapel’s mesmerising architecture.
And on then, to the main target of his best-selling “The First Trumpet Blast Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women” – beautiful and ill-starred Mary, Queen of Scots. Born into the long-running dynastic feud between the Tudors and the Stuarts, and dumped, by the death of her father, James V, on the throne of Scotland when she was barely a few days old.
Like many a female celebrity down the ages, her taste in men was truly shocking – from child bride to the sickly – and soon-to-be-dead – Dauphin of France, to the equally soon-to-be-murdered Lord Darnley, and finally on to mad, bad, and dangerous-to-know Bothwell. After all this, and eighteen years under house arrest by her dear cousin, Elizabeth the First, of that other place, her last breath on the executioner’s block was probably a sigh of relief.