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As the morning of the 2021 Argyllshire Gathering dawned, all over Oban gazes turned to the skies. The past few days had been particularly wet, grey and dreary, and on Thursday, of all days, the sun needed to make an appearance.
For it was a very special day; the Argyllshire Gathering was returning to Oban and Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal was coming to the town – and Oban wanted to ensure she received a warm Highland welcome.
And that is exactly what she received. The sun shone as locals and visitors turned out for the 150th anniversary of the Argyllshire Gathering.
As well as visiting the Games, Princess Anne spent time at Oban High School and met with local voluntary groups at Atlantis Leisure.
The first stop for The Princess Royal was Mossfield Park for the Gathering’s morning activities. Escorted by the Lord-Lieutenant of Argyll and Bute, Mrs Jane MacLeod, the Princess was introduced to a number of Gathering members and supporters, including Mrs Dee Bradbury OBE, the first female President of Scottish Rugby Union. Mrs Bradbury has played a key part in developing youth rugby in the area, with girls’ and boys’ matches featuring on the Gathering programme. The captains of the winning youth teams were surprised and delighted to be presented with their trophies by Her Royal Highness.
Alongside the traditional cultural elements of piping and Highland dancing, celebrating Argyll’s heritage is a significant part of the Gathering each year. The annual Heritage Exhibition is always well attended and Her Royal Highness heard from a number of local organisations, including Dunollie Castle Museum, The Scottish Association for Marine Science, Kilmartin Museum and many others.
The Princess also presented medals to piper Stuart Liddell of Inveraray, who won the 150th Argyllshire Gathering invitational solo piping competition, and to Pipe Major Iain Lowther, the composer of Dr Whittow’s Salute to the 150th Argyllshire Gathering in memory of the spouse of one of the Gathering Stewards, Helen Malcolm, and which was the winning composition in the Bagpipe Tune Competition.
After opportunities to meet with the Gathering’s Senior Stewards and enjoy some of the traditional athletics, dancing and musical performances, Her Royal Highness travelled to Oban High School where she was met by head teacher Peter Bain, head boy Angus Files and head girl Hannah Crowe.
After outlining the school’s history, Angus and Hannah accompanied the Princess to the art gallery for a show of pupils’ works, with musicians from the School of Traditional Music playing in the background.
The party then toured a range of other departments including the hairdressing/beauty suite, horticulture and poly tunnels, school garage and dance marquee. Particular highlights were hearing from staff and pupils about Oban High School’s work with Riding for the Disabled, receiving a lesson on playing the chanter from world champion piping tutor Angus McColl, and receiving the first jar of honey from the school beehives.
Before leaving the school, Her Royal Highness was presented with gifts, including specially engraved crystal glasses, by Hannah and Angus on behalf of the school community. The Princess told them she had thoroughly enjoyed her visit to the school and wished them well for the year ahead.
Speaking after Her Royal Highness had departed, head girl Hannah said: ‘It was an amazing opportunity to meet her today. She asked us lots of questions and really helped us to stay relaxed. It’s been a really exciting day.’
Head boy Angus added: ‘It was a real privilege to be able to show the Princess around today. We have only been in our roles for two weeks, so it feels quite surreal! We really hope that she enjoyed her visit as much as we did.’
The next stop was Atlantis Leisure where a number of local voluntary groups were taking part in a community showcase.
Organisations in attendance included the Dove Centre, North Argyll Carers Centre, Hope Kitchen, Adventure Oban, and Lorn Healthy Options. The Princess spent time talking to organisers and volunteers with each of the groups present, hearing about the work they do to support people who are dealing with a wide range of issues, including mental health, recovery from addiction, young carers, mobility issues to improve overall wellbeing and live healthy, empowered lives.
Those Her Royal Highness spoke to paid tribute to her warmth and good sense of humour. One volunteer said: ‘She showed such an interest in us and what we do, she was so friendly’, while another added: ‘We were so grateful and amazed at how much time she spent with each of us, chatting and asking us lots of questions. We really enjoyed meeting her!’
The session at Atlantis Leisure brought The Princess Royal’s visit to Oban to a close.
After her departure, the Lord-Lieutenant of Argyll and Bute, Mrs Jane MacLeod, said: ‘Everyone involved with the visit has remarked on the genuine warmth shown by Her Royal Highness during her time in Oban.
‘Her presence at the 150th Argyllshire Gathering, especially after the event could not take place last year, has been a real boost and made the day even more special.
‘The school community are absolutely elated at her positive comments and interest in the pupils, their learning and their work.
‘And our local voluntary groups, who work so hard to support people in the community, are encouraged greatly by her taking the time to find out more about what they do, and by her kind words.
‘We are always very happy to give the warmest possible welcome to The Princess Royal when she visits Argyll and Bute, and we hope that she will be able to visit us again very soon.’