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Pillarguri Days in Otta 20th-22nd August 1999
We arrived in Otta Railway Station on the train from Oslo's Gardermoen
Airport at 1506hrs on Friday 20th August. We were met by Rakel Dyrhaug from
the Norlandia Otta Hotel which is some 100 metres from the Station. On the
way to the hotel we passed the striking statue of Pillarguri, the local girl
who sounded the warning blast on her "lur" to warn the local militia of the
approach of the Scots soldiers on the way to Sweden in 1612, the event that
was central to the celebrations over the next few days.
At the hotel we met the Rt Hon Malcolm Sinclair, the Earl of Caithness, and
Major Niven Sinclair, the guests of honour at this year's events, Inge Leif
Larsen, the owner of the Hotel and life member of the Pillarguri Committee
and his wife Eldbjørg and Chris Maile, a member of the Oslo Caledonian Pipe
Band who were to play over the next two days. Chris had been involved in
setting up the links between Otta and Caithness through Wick Council and
later with Clan Sinclair through Niven. Malcolm and Niven had arrived on
Wednesday 18th August and had been given an extensive tour of the local area
by Pillarguri Committee Member Hans Kristian Børud and with fellow committee
member Rolf Uvolden and his ever present video camera. We were then
introduced to Åse Kleveland who was to receive this year's prize.
The first event was a cultural evening at the Town Hall. Ola Svaet, the
Mayor of Sel Kommune in which Otta lies opened the event and Hans Kristian of
the Pillarguri Committee was the Master of Ceremonies. He as the other
Committee Members present, was dressed in the Gudbrandsdalen "Bunad"
(national costume) with red tartan waistcoats, the tartan they claim was
taken from the Scots in 1612. We were entertained to local music by the
Town's Brass Band, who were joined by the Oslo Caledonian Pipe Band, 6 pipers
and two drummers who played "Amazing Grace" most movingly. The music
continued with the local fiddlers and a local young woman, Stina Hedlund,
sang the "Song til Sel" with its reference to Pillarguri and Storm's "Childe
Sinclair", a warning of the consequence of the Scots' coming to Norway.
Syver Bakken launched his new book "Ringen i Kringen", the definitive version
of the 1612 Battle. The presentation of the Pillarguri Prize, a statuette of
Pillarguri was then made to Åase Kleveland, former Minister of Culture and
singer, now candidate for Mayor of Oslo, who made a passionate speech and
entertained us with a lively song.
The Sinclair Party was, of course, kilted, The Earl and Niven in their red
kilts and Prince Charlie's and Iain in the green with an Argyll. Annabel
wore a long tartan skirt and sash, and our Highland Dress turned many heads
in the town.
The Cultural evening was followed by a formal dinner at the Norlandia Otta
Hotel hosted by the Committee for Åse Kleveland and the Sinclair party and
Rolf and Annebritt Losnegård. The Losnegård live in Sognefjord, where Losna
Island is their traditional seat, and they are also descended from the house
of Møre. Their family crest is the engrailed cross. Rolf is a writer and
has written a pageant that is performed each July on Losne island. Hans
Kristian was the toastmaster. We were served Rakefisk (half fermented trout)
Mousse and Levse, a kind of savoury pancake, accompanied by Viking Mead
followed by reindeer accompanied by red wine, and concluded with a cloudberry
pudding in whisky with Acquavit for toasting throughout. The speeches
included an acceptance speech by Åse Kleveland, the Norwegians recalling
their visit to Scotland in April 1999, Ola Svaet's response, and Maj-Britt
Svastuen, Deputy Mayor of Sel presented each of the Sinclair party with lapel
pins of Sel Kommune: a profile of Pillarguri in Gold on sky blue background.
Rolf presented his family crest banners to the Committee and to Malcolm.
Chris Maile translated throughout and made the traditional "Takk for matten"
(thank you for the meal) speech on behalf of the guests.
The programme on Saturday began with the opening of the new path to the
"Pillarguri Top", the hilltop from whence Pillarguri is said to have sounded
her deadly blast in 1612. The path was presented by Maj-Britt Svastuen, in
English, and Iain Laird replied in Norwegian, formally opening the path. The
programme continued with a run to the town's park by local children, and 4
year old Sarah took part, helped by her mother. As she crossed the finish
line, Hans Kristian, once more the organiser, told the spectators, "Here
comes our first international competitor, Sarah Laird from Scotland."
The Sinclair party set off to George Sinclair's Grave just outside Kvam and
the Earl of Caithness placed a vase of yellow roses by the marker stone and
he and Niven stood to each side, as Chris Maile, now dressed in Doublet,
Plaid and Feather Bonnet played "Flowers of the Forest", the Flodden Lament.
It was a simple but deeply moving ceremony.
We returned to the Hotel for lunch and the Lairds went to the prize giving
for the race by Hans Kristian. Each child was presented with a slate
medallion on a ribbon in the Norwegian national colours and sports bags from
the race sponsor, NOR Sparebanken were raffled. Sarah was again introduced as
the international competitor from Scotland.
Next was the opening of the towns "Millennium Park" by the Railway Station,
donated by NSB, Norwegian Railways and opened by their Director, Osmund
Ueland and Stina Hedlund sang her "Song til Sel" again. The Oslo Caledonian
Pipe Band marched in with a selection to open the ceremony and closed it as
they marched off to the march "Scottish Soldier".
We then proceeded to the battle site at Kringen (Kringom is the old spelling
of the place, and nobody locally knows where Kringellen came from, but it may
be a romantic exagerration). The Pillarguri Committee had prepared a
memorial to the fallen Scots of 1612. When we arrived, it was thoughtfully
veiled in a Scots Saltire Flag, for unveiling and inauguration by the Earl of
Caithness and Major Niven Sinclair. Chris Maile, again in full piper's
regalia played the "Flowers of the Forest". Malcolm said a few words giving
the background to the battle and expressing the Clan's gratitude to the
Pillarguri Committee for their friendship and generosity and for the touching
gesture of the memorial. Chris then played the stirring "Flower of Scotland"
and we then walked the path the Scots had taken to the battle marker
memorial. It is still deadly as some of us had to take of our leather shoes
as it is steep and slippery.
In a departure from the events of 1612, we went to the unveiling of a new
memorial to a local farmer, brutally killed by the German invaders of the
valley in 1940 as he tried to save his father's livestock from being burned
alive in their barn. The memorial was by the same sculptor who had prepared
the Sinclair Memorial at Kringen.
That evening we were all hosted by the owners of the Norlandia Otta Hotel in
their apartment. We were served the traditional sour cream porridge
"rømmegrøt" with cured meats and "flatbrød" thin crispbread. Chris Maile
played the pipes as Niven and Iain lowered the Saltire and then the Norwegian
Flag was lowered to the National Anthem. Malcolm then made a formal speech
of thanks to our hosts and presented each of them with a piece of Caithness
Glass. Niven then gave the most moving address on the background to the
battle and how the Scots had not sought a conflict with their distant
Norwegian relatives, but that the massacre of Gudbrandsdal conscripts by the
Swedes at Nya Lødsøe had provoked this tragic reprisal. He said that if
George Sinclair had been asked to "parley" he would have surrendered has
sword rather than fight his relatives. Niven said how much it was
appreciated that Norwegians today were peacemakers and that he would now
present them with a sword as a gesture of peace for the new millennium. He
then unwrapped and presented to Syver Bakken a specially engraved Wilkinson
Millennium Sword with the Sinclair Coat of Arms, the dated 1398 for Prince
Henry Sinclair's voyage to the New World and the word "peace" in 240
languages. The golden hilt bears the three Graces, Asia, Africa and Europe
and the Sun, badge of English Sinclairs and the continents of the world. The
committee were deeply moved and some in tears. The sword represents a bond
of friendship between the Sinclairs and Gudbrandsdalers, whose valley, Niven
assured us, is protected by the spirit of George Sinclair. To ensure the
bond was not cut by the gift of a blade, our friends presented Malcolm and
Niven with locally cast "Sinclair" medals, and each of us were given
Norwegian Pullovers in the Sel design, incorporating the profile of
Pillarguri. Rolf presented lapel pins of his family crest to us and T-shirts
bearing the crest. The evening continued to the small hours with accordion
music from local musician, Arne Berget and piping by Chris and some dancing
The next day the Sinclair party began to depart. The Lairds were taken on a
tour of the Rondane park by Eldbjørg and Inger Leif and to visit the site of
a grave of a fallen Green Howard of 1940, only recently discovered and
reburied in the local Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery. We stood for a
moment in silent remembrance. The Norwegian's greatly valued the help they
received from the United Kingdom in the last war and will ever remember the
We left late in the afternoon, but the bonds of friendship forged in
Caithness and Edinburgh in April 1999 have been significantly reinforced by
the overwhelming generosity of our Norwegian friends during these Pillarguri
Days of August 1999. We left only so we can return, and will do so as soon
as we can.
Iain, Annabel & Sarah Laird, followers and supporters of the Earl of
Caithness and Clan Sinclair
22nd August 1999
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