Time to Get Stuck In

  • 19 February 2014, 07:30

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. Certainly not the unrealistic kind that appear as promises after too many drinks the night before, and everything is still painfully fuzzy and out of focus. You know the type:

“I will never drink like that again/I’m joining the gym tomorrow/this is my last cigarette… ever!”

To me, these seem about as unreasonable as Lent (like I’m really going to give up chocolate for 40 days just to support a religious hypothesis!) and are mere reactions to a state of self-induced suffering; lacking in thought and devoid of long term execution. It’s not going to happen. Real life will resume, the holidays will end, and people will slip back into their habitual comfort zones of wishful thinking. Another year rolls by.

What I will do, however, is make a decision to change one thing about my life. Be healthier. Travel more. Write more. I am normally on my own for the passing of the year, drinking single malt and reflecting on the previous twelve months, so I like to think that I have given it serious thought before sealing the deal with my inner self.

This year I told myself that I would get involved more, rather than just be the guy who observes. No longer would I retire (escape) from the world and retreat to my fortress of solitude to ponder and write. I would actively start seeking out the people, places, things, and activities that interested me most. As the bells ushered in 2014 and “Auld Lang Syne” resounded, I poured another whisky and wondered where, and how, to begin.

Now, opportunity will always present itself to those who are paying attention. Shortly after I got back from the Christmas break, I read an article in the online local newspaper about the Howff cemetery in Dundee, and one woman’s wonderful determination to restore the grounds from its present state of neglect. This was something that got my attention immediately. Not only was this an important piece of history, it was local (5 minutes from my place) and was also the type of project that interested me in regards to the practicalities of how such an undertaking is achieved. It was also something that would educate me in the operations of a heritage group such as the one involved, Scotia Heritage.

Karen Nichols is the proprietor and sole employee of Scotia Heritage and currently gives historical tours around Dundee and its environs (The Howff is just one of those tours). She is also a graduate from the University of Dundee, with a degree in Scottish Historical Studies – the same path that I am currently studying. Her knowledge of local history feeds her determination to succeed, and fuels her vision of the end result for the Howff.


Of the Howff, Karen tells us this:

The Howff cemetery, Dundee, is the former gardens of the Franciscan monastery. Situated outside the walls of the royal burgh Dundee grew around the site. Like so many monastic foundations, the Franciscans attracted the attention of unruly mobs, particularly when the Order supported Robert the Bruce, then at the Reformation. Once abandoned the site was granted by Mary, Queen of Scots as a place of sepulchre in 1564. The first internment took place the following year. Although the site was closed in 1867, a local MP, George Duncan, was granted special permission to be laid beside his wife in 1878.

The site is Listed A as of national importance and is said to be second in importance to Greyfrairs, Edinburgh. The incumbents are mostly associated with the Nine Incorporated Trades who used to meet in the site. Their stones include carved symbols of these trades. Alongside the fleshers and shoemakers are ministers, whalers and a Professor of Dancing.  Famous local names include James Chalmers, inventor of the adhesive postage stamp, the engineering Carmichaels, the Keillors, and the family of social reformer Mary Lily Walker. An impressive memorial to the Wedderburns and Scrymgeour family talks of the families that still have links with the town.  Many stones are now unidentifiable or require the use of historical records. Missing stones include Bailie George Brown, who died defending the royal burgh during the 1651 siege, and John and Elizabeth Gardyne, whose medieval house is now a backpacker’s hostel.”- Karen Nichols

brick infill chest I pulled myself away from the pc and attended the first meeting in the Discovery Point last Wednesday. There was no progress in agreeing to be more involved this year and then talking myself out of it. I signed up as a volunteer in any capacity that I could offer, and welcomed the chance to be part of something that, I believed, was truly worthwhile. It was heartening to be surrounded by people who were as interested in Karen’s project as I am. I also began to understand how much work would have to be done.

threatened hidden

While this project is far from nascent in Karen’s mind, it is still early stages in the machinations of “getting it done”. It is surely going to be a bit of a long haul, and could be two years before her vision is realised. In order for the Howff to be restored, the enthusiasm that Karen maintains needs to grow with more volunteers. There is research be done, photos to be taken, stones to be cleaned and repositioned, and hands to get dirty.

I’m all in. This year, I am definitely going to be involved.


Written by:

Mature undergrad studying History with Geography. Originally from Dundee, but have spent most of my life living in other countries. Love reading and writing, am a total sci-fi geek and comic book fan, and an amateur film buff that loves all genres of cinema. Trying to adopt a healthy lifestyle, but it's a work in progress...old habits die hard!

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    2 Responses to “Time to Get Stuck In”

    1. to be fair Karen does not just work for scotia heritage she is the proprietor, she does all the research, all the tours, meeting people, working out tour times.the list of things she does is endless for her tours and scotia heritage, she is a very knowledgeable person with more than just a degree in Scottish historical studies,, with all this going on she also finds time to be a family woman and chair the HRG I take my hat off to her.
      I myself am a volounteer in the group I wasa there when you were voted in as deputy chsir, and as much as I enjoyed reading your blog I just felt I had to say my little bit and I look forward to working with you and the others on the project.

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