Steaming @ Castle Fraser

Got a lovely surprise today when in amongst my snail-mail a beautifully handwritten envelope revealed a couple of press passes for the annual Bon Accord Steam Fair at Castle Fraser. Its an event which I have long loved and often written about and I am looking forward immensely to attending what must surely be Scotland’s largest steam fair. Now well into its 48th year, the 45th anniversary was celebrated in 2015, the event simply goes from strength to strength. 

A wee weather blip in 2016 saw the cancellation of the event – a decision taken by the organisers with safety in mind. Hauling a few tons of steam-engine out of the mud is not an experience for the faint hearted after all. In 2017 all was fine and a good few thousand folk from all around Aberdeenshire and beyond bathed in bright sunshine as the steam engines strutted their stuff.

Hosted by the Scottish National Trust’s flagship Castle Fraser, the Bon Accord Steam Fair is truly a flagship event. With over 50 thousand gallons of water and a good few tons of coal on tap, the magnificent engines which drove the industry of both Victoria’s last decades and the early years of the 20th century fairly wow the crowds. Steam power is of course nothing new. The ancient Greeks used it to advantage and James Watt certainly knew how to harness its power.

At some risk of personal injury, try placing some tinfoil over the spout of your kettle at full boil and you’ll see what I mean. Steam is indeed powerful stuff.
Steam engines powered Scottish industry for well over eighty years. Mills, ships and transport benefited from the power of steam. In fact, some would argue that the empire was built on the back of it. The Clyde built steam ship Waverley and her sister ship Jeanie Deans epitomised the breed.

However, for most folk the humble steam traction engine was the first point of contact. Road rollers, steam powered threshing machines and steam driven fairground carrousels were commonplace until a good few decades ago and for those in the know, the place to see them in action is at the Castle Fraser Steam Fair.
The Bon Accord Steam Engine Club (AKA BASEC) was founded by Bill Barrack, an enthusiast concerned that many magnificent self-propelled steam engines were ending up as scrap. He, and a few like-minded folk set about preserving them for the enjoyment of future generations. I am pleased to say that Bill’s efforts, plus those of all of his fellow enthusiasts, have not been in vain.

At the 2017 event, some 40 steam-powered road vehicles took to the show ring, piped in by the Kintore Pipe Band. Quite a spectacle indeed!

One in particular caught the attention of both the public and a certain lady often known as Her Majesty.
While the Kintore Pipe Band piped “Happy Birthday” amidst the grey coal smoke and white steam of yesteryear, a veteran one hundred year old steam traction engine by the name of Finella, owned by the Barrack family since 1947, stood proudly to attention while her birthday wishes from the Queen were read out to the assembled crowd:

“Her Majesty has taken time to send her good wishes to a centenarian who even in retirement continues working to bring pleasure to all who see her.”
This year of course Finella will be another year older. At the ripe old age of 101, she is a grand old dame indeed.

On long the drive home last year we followed a line of admiring petrol heads and found ourselves amongst a long and smoky queue behind Grampian Transport Museum’s Sentinel Steam Wagon as it slowly drove along the highways and byways on the long and winding road to Alford. The convoy’s average speed was a sultry 19 mph or less but no one overtook the fire-breathing monster and no one really minded the long holdup. Such is the beauty of steam powered heritage.
The Bon Accord Steam Engine Club website is at:
The 2018 event takes place at Castle Fraser on the weekend of June 16th/17th
Duncan Harley is the author of The A-Z of CuriousAberdeenshire


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