Glencoe. Culloden. St Kilda. Bannockburn.
These are names that most visitors to Scotland will recognise – and if you’ve been been to any of these Scottish sights, then you’ve been to a National Trust for Scotland property.
From ancient houses to historic battlefields, castle to coastlines, and mills to mountain ranges, the National Trust for Scotland cares for 88 properties, 76,000 hectares of land, and more than 300,000 artefacts across the country.
As an independent charity, the National Trust for Scotland has a crucial role to play in protecting some of Scotland’s most important historic places for the benefit of future generations. (You only have to think of the recent Notre Dame fire to see how important this kind of cultural heritage conservation really is.)
To fund these efforts, the National Trust relies on membership fees (they’re the largest membership organisation in Scotland) as well as private donations. But wherever the funds originate – whether they’re from tickets to parks bought on the weekend, or donations from well-known philanthropists – they are essential in the charity’s efforts to protect and conserve Scotland’s historical and cultural heritage.
And this doesn’t just happen in Scotland, either: part of these fundraising efforts happen right in the heart of New York City.
The National Trust for Scotland USA Foundation’s annual gala, “A Celebration of Scotland’s Treasures,” takes place each spring to fundraise for a specific project in Scotland, and this year, Mr. Stories My Suitcase Could Tell and I were delighted to be invited to the occasion.
Glammed up in a floor-length sparkly dress (me) and a suit and a very appropriate MacLeod of Harris tartan bow tie (him), we arrived outside the Metropolitan Club on Fifth Avenue on April 11th to be greeted by the sight and sound of bagpipes being played.
After a lovely champagne welcome in lobby (a lobby complete with marble floor and sweeping staircase), we decided to check out the silent pre-dinner auction. We put a bid on a Macallan Whisky Tasting experience and a picnic basket full of Scottish food (it was the oatcakes and Irn Bru that caught my eye!), knowing full-well we wouldn’t win, but wanting to get in on the action all the same. It was there we managed a quick catch up with my friend Sandra Murray, too, a designer and fellow Leodhasach who was in town for the Gala.
The sit-down dinner that followed was delicious, accompanied by an address to the Haggis and a live auction on items like a week-long stay at Brodie Castle in the Highlands and the naming of goats on Culloden Battlefield. And along with dessert came the big award of the night: the Great Scot Award.
The Great Scot Award is given to individuals who have contributed to both Scottish and American society, and this year, the Great Scot was the sculptor Andy Scott. He’s the brainchild behind The Kelpies in Falkirk, and now lives in Philadelphia. I’m a huge fan of the Kelpies – I was mesmerised when I saw them for the first time – and so to hear Andy talk of his work over the years was truly inspirational (especially as a fellow Scot who’s recently moved to the USA).
And then, when the food was finished, it was the moment I’d been waiting for: the ceilidh dance!
While it didn’t quite have the raucous atmosphere of a ceilidh dance in Scotland, I did get to drag Mr Stories My Suitcase Could tell onto the marble dance floor for a rendition of the Gay Gordon’s. Let’s just say I was in my element, the instructions from primary school PE classes twirling in my head (“Forward two three, back two three…”) but maybe not making that much sense to my perplexed American husband!
For me, a wee ceilidh was the perfect way to end the night (and the goodie bag stuffed with oatcakes, whisky, and shortbread wasn’t too bad, either!). But what really stayed with me that night was the hard work of the Trust – it’s employees, volunteers, and supporters – and the importance of protecting our cultural heritage.
If you’re like me, when you visit a stunning island like St Kilda, or a historic battlefield like Culloden, you don’t always necessarily think about what it takes to keep that place alive.
The National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA Gala reminded me of that; it reminded me of the importance of preserving our living history for future generations. In the end, $310,000 was raised at the gala for the restoration of the fountain at Culzean Castle in Ayrshire, just one of many restoration projects currently being overseen by the National Trust.
So the next time you visit somewhere like St Kilda or Glencoe, think of the National Trust. Think of their hard work, done “for the love of Scotland.” After all, it’s the reason so many of these sites are still around for us to experience and enjoy in Scotland today.
Have you ever visited a National Trust for Scotland property, or would you like to? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!
Thanks to David Ross Photography for the headline image of Culzean Castle, Matt Gillis Photography for the photos from the gala, and the National Trust for the final photo of St Kilda.