Behind The Pages Of The Aboyne Programme

Staging a Highland Games involves a lot of hard work from a dedicated band of people. A huge amount of effort takes place behind the scenes, long before games day itself arrives.

From answering visitor and competitor queries, liaising with the council and emergency services, and dealing with financial affairs; to coordinating all the trade stands and catering providers, ensuring all materials are in good order for the games field and marking it out, there is a long list of jobs that need dealt with before the gates of the games field open and events commence.

One popular element of the day that doesn’t receive raucous cheers of encouragement or loud rounds of applause from the crowd, but is nonetheless pored over by them with great interest, is the annual programme.

What was once a pamphlet of just a few sheets to detail the day’s running order, is today a glossy magazine-style publication packed with interesting articles and photographs from the previous year’s games, and which also helps to promote local businesses to visitors.

Putting together up to 80 pages of content each year is no mean feat, but one that publisher Craig Nisbet relishes. No sooner is the Highland Games season over in the autumn, than Craig sets to work on planning the Aboyne programme for the following year. It is a routine he is well versed in now, having carefully pieced together the programme for 10 years.

Aboyne highland games full cover

Once a pamphlet, the programme has developed into a glossy magazine-style publication

A former journalist, Craig runs publishing and design company Dee Publishing, which he established in 2006. Craig spent three decades working in local newspapers, covering the latest developments across Fife and latterly Angus, where he was editor of The Arbroath Herald. It was while at the Angus paper that he first became involved in producing publications for Highland Games.

In 2000, upon taking the editor’s chair, Craig was informed that along with producing the weekly newspaper he also had to publish The Scottish Annual for the Braemar Royal Highland Society, something the paper had been producing since around 1920.

The substantial book was still being printed in black and white, except for its colour cover, when Craig took on its management. Under his stewardship it has been developed into a full-colour publication that is much sought after by visitors to the Braemar Gathering.

When Craig left the world of journalism and set up Dee Publishing, he took on full responsibility for designing, collating and printing the Braemar annual. It was his work on the annual that led to him being asked to publish the programme for Aboyne Highland Games.

To ensure the Aboyne programme is ready for visitors on the first Saturday in August, work to assemble it begins in earnest at the start of each year, long before it reaches the printing press in June.

Craig explains: “There are a few bits and pieces and content ideas pulled together in the months following the games, and all the results are typed up, but the real work starts every January. I have a discussion with members of the committee, particularly Morag McBeath and Neil Meldrum, about any special events happening at the games that need to be included in the programme and identifying images from the previous year’s event for the photo gallery.

Aboyne Highland Games Strachan Feature

Strachan’s of Royal Deeside have placed an advert each year since 1966.

“I also speak to the advertisers about their requirements and then can start to plan the page layouts. Some of the advertisers have been featuring in the programme for many years. Grocer and delicatessen Strachan’s of Royal Deeside has been a stalwart of the programme, placing an advert each year since 1966, when adverts were first permitted in the publication.

“There is also a great a team of freelance writers working away on a range of fascinating articles that offer an insight into the history, tales and well kent faces of Royal Deeside. Over the years, Joan Anderson has brought colourfully to life some of the personalities of the local area, while other writers have told of the rich heritage and traditions of Aberdeenshire and Scotland.”

Craig admits to being a relative newcomer to Highland Games. Although, whilst working as a journalist in the early 1980s he did become a little more involved in one St Andrews Highland Games than he had planned. That is a story for another day, however!

Through his involvement in the games over the past two decades he says the events have given him a great opportunity to mix business and pleasure. He has met many people from all walks of life who have a love of the games and their traditions.

“For anyone who has not visited any Highland Games before, I would say don’t leave it too late,” says Craig. “From the smallest to the largest gatherings, you are guaranteed a warm welcome, keen sport and something different at each. For that reason, your first visit is sure to lead to many more across Scotland.”

Away from the two Highland Games titles, Craig also publishes a popular holiday guide that covers Royal Deeside and the surrounding area, along with designing and producing leaflets, brochures and other marketing material for businesses and organisations.

The Holiday Deeside, Donside and Kincardine publication is a staple of the Aberdeenshire valley, with 25,000 copies continuing to be printed each year. The free guide – which features adverts from local businesses – hits the shelves around Easter time, in readiness for the tourist season swinging into action. In light of the global events of 2020 and travel restrictions, plans for the 2021 edition of the holiday guide are still under consideration.

Available from caravan parks, larger hotels, some shops and service stations, the glossy publication offers visitors an overview of the area’s attractions, eateries, places to visits, sights to see and activities to try.

“Even in this digital age, visitors continue to like the printed guide,” says Craig. “We continue to receive a good response from visitors about the content and often get returning visitors phoning up asking for a copy of the guide ahead of their next trip to Deeside. Similarly, some of the outlets that stock the guide are often shouting for the latest edition as they are getting requests from their customers.”

Craig nisbet

Craig Nisbet, Dee Publishing.

Born and raised in St Andrews, Craig still calls the Fife coastal town home, where his wife runs a busy coffee shop. With two businesses to manage there isn’t too much time for holidays. Breaks in Royal Deeside – either staying in Aboyne, Ballater or Braemar – are always enjoyed, while Craig also says visitors to Scotland should try and include places such as Plockton, Mallaig and Strathearn on their itineraries.

Reflecting on some of the Aboyne programmes he has produced, Craig says it is difficult to single out a favourite edition or article, but there are some photographs that certainly do stand out.

He said: “Browsing through the old photographs of the games down the years always fascinates and leaves me wanting to know more and research often brings other interesting bits of information to light. Among my favourite recent photos are those from the 150th anniversary in 2017 showing James Dawkins holding the caber as Her Majesty The Queen ‘christened’ it. She is very relaxed in them, but seemed to use more whisky than necessary. Something I’m sure members of the committee who were looking on would agree with.”

With 2020 joining the years of the two world wars when no programme for Aboyne Highland Games was produced, Craig and the committee will be working harder than ever on the next edition to ensure it is a bumper one. As you sit ringside at the next games, flicking through the pages of the programme and shouting encouragement to the competitors, remember to give a cheer too to the programme and those behind.

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