May 2024
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From Scotland to Aubigny-sur-Nère: A Postal Connection

Scottish Contribution

Recently, we at Scotiana had the pleasure of assisting Robert Hunt, a dedicated member of the Letter Box Study Group, who reached out to us with a request as he shared his working on an article that explores British post boxes in twin towns across France and Germany, focusing on how these iconic symbols of communication have been gifted to foster international friendship and cooperation.

He requested the permission to use the picture of the postal box in Aubigny-sur-Nere that was featured inside Mairiuna’s article: The Scottish-French Auld Alliance Revives in the ‘Stuart City’ of Aubigny-sur-Nère.

Letter box Scotland Gift

Aubigny-sur-Nère © 2010 Scotiana

This interaction becomes particularly fascinating due to his interest in a photograph of a post box. This box as a testament to British postal history also illuminates a rare instance of Scottish participation. Typically, England is known for donating such post boxes internationally, but as Mr. Robert Hunt explains, this specific box, situated in the charming French village of Aubigny-sur-Nère, was gifted by Scotland.

(…)  Incidentally, yours is the only example of which I am aware where a box has been presented from Scotland rather than England.

There is a strong – and very long – Scottish connection with the manufacture of letter boxes, but I will no bore you with all that. That said, you may wish to do a Google search for Machan Engineering and look for the Scottish Record article of 4 October 2015.

Kind regards

This distinction highlights Scotland’s unique role in this charming tradition and prompts a deeper exploration of its contributions to postal services worldwide.

We are delighted to contribute to this project by providing the image for publication in the members journal of the Letter Box Study Group and happy to delve into a little-known chapter of Scotland’s industrial and cultural heritage, which we are excited to share with you.

Machan Engineering

You can understand my immediate search on Google, fueled by the curiosity that Mr. Robert Hunt stirred up when he suggested looking up Machan Engineering and finding the Scottish Record article dated October 4, 2015.

I found out that this Scottish company known for its craftsmanship has played a significant role in the production of letter boxes used across the UK and abroad.  A deep dive into the archives reveals the extensive reach and significance of Machan Engineering’s output, marking Scotland not just as a consumer of postal services, but a key player in their physical and functional development.

The letter box, a now ubiquitous fixture at the edges of our homes or on our streets, began as a simple yet revolutionary idea—to facilitate the secure and efficient transfer of written communication.

As Scotland embraced industrial advancements, companies like Machan Engineering were at the forefront of designing and producing these vital tools of communication.

scottish manufacture postal box


These boxes serve a practical purpose and also act as cultural ambassadors, carrying a piece of Scottish heritage overseas.

The letter box in Aubigny-sur-Nere, as discussed by Robert Hunt, is a perfect example of this dynamic, highlighting the intersection of functionality and cultural exchange.

Today, the relevance of these historical artifacts continues as organizations like the Letter Box Study Group dedicate efforts to study these items bearers of stories waiting to be told.

We encourage our readers to look around and consider the historical significance of common objects in their communities. Whether it’s a letter box, a bridge, or a building!

Until next, all the very best.


“Star of Caledonia” ! A most emblematic name for Scotland!

A new star in the Scottish sky?  Not exactly but the name of a monumental sculpture which might well shine like a star, in a near future, on the heights of Gretna Green, one of the most mythical places situated in the south of Scotland, near the border between England and Scotland.


Star of Caledonia artwork project Gretna ©Landmark Trust


“Susan Houston, chair of the Star of Caledonia Trust, told Good Morning Scotland the structure of the artwork remained unchanged and they now hoped to get it “over the line” to build it.

“It is the most beautiful half circles of steel and archways that go up into the sky but it is also sitting on the most beautiful land formation as well,” she said.

“It will be higher than the Angel of the North.”

Ms Houston – whose late father Alasdair initiated the competition for the design -said it should have a “dramatic wow factor” both at day and at night.”

(BBC Scotland)


Star of Caledonia artwork new proposal © Balmond Studio

“Star of Caledonia”: what an emblematic name and an extraordinary monument to welcome visitors into Scotland!

“Perhaps next year, at Gretna Green, the Star of Caledonia will shine !” wrote Iain a few days  ago. Many thanks to our dear friend for this news. We hope it will soon shine and we look forward to visiting the site when it is open! 😉

Let’s try to summarise the various stages and main features of this great ongoing project :

  • 2001 : the first idea of the “Star of Caledonia” project emerges. The idea is to emulate the success enjoyed by the Angel of the North and a competition is launched for the design of the artwork.
  • 2011 : the architect Cecil Balmond * wins the competition.  Planning permission is secured but the project cannot be carried out for lack of funding.
  • 2024 : thirteen years later, funding for the project is granted by Community Windpower, South of Scotland Enterprise and the Borderlands Growth Deal though costs have risen (£11m).
  • The size of the sculpture will be reduced from 40 m to 35 m. But it will be still higher than the Angel of the North 😉
  • The Star of Caledonia, which will be situated less than a mile further up the M74 than previous proposals, will include a visitor centre designed to promote Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders.
  • Situated right on the border, the impressive Scottish landmark will be seen by 85% of the road visitors to Scotland every year – about 10 million people.
    It is expected to attract 100,000 visitors a year, boosting the economy by £4m annually.

* As Iain told us, Cecil Balmond was one of the principal architects of “The Centre Pompidou-Metz“, a museum of modern and contemporary art located in Metz, capital of Lorraine, France. It is a branch of Pompidou arts centre of Paris, and features semi-permanent and temporary exhibitions from the large collection of the French National Museum of Modern Art, the largest European collection of 20th and 21st century arts. The museum is the largest temporary exhibition space outside Paris in France with 5,000 m2 (54,000 sq ft) divided between 3 galleries, a theatre, and an auditorium.


The Centre Pompidou-Metz – Lorraine – France


Names tell stories.

Often they are the oldest words we use and inside them sound the faint echoes of a long and distant past.

The names of places sometimes remember who we were and how we used to see the world.

They can also chart changes and come to represent the cultural deposit of forgotten victories, political decisions based on the exercise of an ancient powar by groups which were dominant at various periods in our history. Scotland, England and Wales all came about in that way.

(Before Scotland – Alistair Moffat- Thames & Hudson 2005)

 ‘Caledonian Forest’, ‘Caledonian Hotel’, ‘Caledonian MacBrayne’, ‘Glasgow Caledonian University’, ‘Caledonian Railway’, “The Caledonian Sleeper’, Inverness Caledonian Thistle F.CBella Caledonia… the popularity of the name “Caledonia” is reflected in the great number of Scottish institutions, cultural centres, sports clubs, pubs, companies which use this very evocative word to name themselves,  not to mention the parents who give it to their babies!


Caledonian MacBrayne ferry Isle of Mull © 2006 Scotiana

Caledonian MacBrayne ferry Isle of Mull © 2006 Scotiana


The above photo, featuring a big Caledonian MacBrayne ferry is the very symbol of our trips in la Belle Alba. We could not do without these ferries. Visiting the  islands is one our greatest pleasures in Scotland. The ferry wears the name of “Isle of Mull” and the mere sight of this impressive boat already transports us to the islands we love so much: Mull, Iona and Staffa… we’ve chosen this picture for one of our Scotiana cartes de visite 😉

Staffa island © 2003 Scotiana

Staffa island © 2003 Scotiana




Bella Caledonia” : a  beautiful name for a great cause!

North Berwick Scottish flags © 2007 Scotiana

North Berwick Scottish flags © 2007 Scotiana

“Bella started as a hobby, quickly became an obsession and got swept up and along by the events of 2014 and beyond. Between its launch in 2007 and 2021 it can be seen going through phases of idealism, utopianism (even), frequent rage, and dipping in and out of more serious interaction with policy rather than politics and with culture rather than ‘the national question’. These phases were influenced by who was interacting with Bella, who pitched ideas and who came on board at different times, plus the editor’s mood, energy levels and living conditions. This collection reflects some of those phases and brings together some of the best writing we’ve published since 2007.

Bella formed out of a novel-or rather out of a glimpse of an idea within a novel-Alasdair Gray’s Poor Things, his Glaswegian gothic masterpiece, and the idea of Bella as a sort of national figurehead. So it’s fitting that the cover of this book is a homage to Alasdair’s Poor Things by the artist and designer Stewart Bremner. Alasdair was a huge influencer and supporter of Bella from the start and his characteristic generosity carried Kevin Williamson and I as we tried to understand what we were trying to do. He’s one of several people we’ve lost on the journey and we miss his wild and wonderful self but mostly just appreciate his unquestioning positivity and humble support for people trying to do something, but not quite sure what they were embarking on.

Part of the evolution was my own personal and political journey. Some of this is reflected in the various slogans and taglines we’ve adopted since 2007. (..) At some point we went with “it’s time to get above ourselves” which came from a conference in Glasgow organised by Bronagh Gallagher when the question being asked was “What Time Is it? “I really liked it because it spoke to a key theme of Bella’s over the years, the yearning for Scotland to really throw off some of the self-inflicted shackles and restraints we’ve created for ourselves over history. It allowed us to step away from the victim and grievance narrative that was popular in some quarters which I always found strangely disempowering.”

(from Bella Caledonia – ‘An Introduction’ – Mike Small)



In the world of sports, the clubs often use national symbols to name them: the ‘Inverness Caledonian Thistle F.C’ includes no less than three Scottish symbols in its name: Caledonian + thistle + golden eagle…



A selection of four books by Alistair Moffat's four

A selection of four books by Alistair Moffat’s four


My favourite author about Scottish history, and my main source for this post, is Alistair Moffat. I have most of his books in my library and I’ve downloaded a number of them on my kindle.

Two books have been particularly useful to me, and the pages I’ve read and will re-read are absolutely fascinating.

  • Before Scotland: A Prehistory – Alistair Moffat – Thames & Hudson Ltd 2023 – (Chapter 7 “Caledonia”)
  • A History of Scotland – Alistair Moffat – Birlinn 2015 (Chapter 3 “Caledonia”)

Alistair Moffat was born in Kelso in 1950. He is an award winning Writer, Historian and former Director of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Director of Programmes at Scottish Television. He is the founder of Borders Book Festival

“Having become a romantic synonym for Scotland and the title of one of the more likely candidates for a national anthem, the name of Caledonia is interesting. It originally referred to a kindred whose territory probably lay in the Perthshire glens. Place names whisper an ancient presence at Dunkeld, the dun or fortress of the Caledonians, and the great peak of Schiehallion between Loch Rannoch and Loch Tay may have marked a boundary. A shape-shifter, seen from different vantage points, the name means the Magic Mountain of the Caledonians.

Schiehallion – The magic mountain of the Caledonians © 2006 Scotiana

The kindred itself was not named for an animal totem like the Epiddi or the Lugi but instead seems to derive from a characteristic of either the people or the wild landscape they inhabited. A Celtic root that means something like ‘hard’, caled is also found in the name of Kircaldy although the Fifetown lies some distance to the south. No doubt some would prefer Caledonians to mean something like the ‘Hard Men’. Perhaps it does.”

(Scotland: A History from Earliest Times – Alistair Moffat)



map of Northern Britian Peoples c. 150

map of Northern Britain Peoples c. 150

Ironically enough, the beautiful name of ‘Caledonia’ was given to the invaded by the invaders!

‘Caledonia’ was the Latin name used by the Roman Empire to refer to the part of Scotland that lies north of the River Forth, which includes a large part of Scotland.  During the Roman Empire’s occupation of Scotland, the area they called Caledonia was physically separated from the rest of the island by the Antonine Wall. The Romans several times invaded and occupied it but, unlike the rest of the island, it remained outside the administration of Roman Britain. Ireland too for that matter…

Statue of Julius Agricola – Bath – England

We’re lucky to have a written history of Caledonia. We owe it to Publius Cornelius Tacitus, one of the greatest Roman historians and Agricola’s son-in-law. This very interesting narrative begins with the military campaigns of Agricola in the years 77-85 AD (during the reign of the so-called ‘Flavian emperors’ Vespasian, Titus and Domitian). Julius Agricola was then governor of the roman province of Britannia.

Statue of Tacitus – Vienna – Austria

Contrary to what his name seems to suggest, Tacitus, was far from being ‘tacit’! His story of the events, if not always objective, is very lively and detailed.  The pages devoted to the famous Mons Graupius battle (84 AD) where Romans defeated Caledonians and to Calgacus, their chief, a Caledonian ‘Vercingetorix’, are among the most famous ones.

“The recorded observations of outsiders should of course be treated with some caution but, for Scotland in the 1st century AD, they are all that is available. Tacitus’s Agricola offers the earliest description of geography, politics and people and is worth quoting at length.”


CHRONOLOGY: Scottish prehistory and the beginning of history… a long story!

Traces of Scottish prehistory and history are to be found everywhere in the country and the most interesting sites are particularly well maintained and showcased.

  • 10 000 BC : end of the last Ice Age
  •  7000 BC : Mesolithic Age; hunter-gatherers on the island of Rum
  • 3500 BC : Neolithic Age
  • 3100-2,600 BC : Neolithic village of Skara Brae (Orkney)
  • 3000 BC : Chambered tomb of Maes Howe (Orkney)
  • 3000-2000 BC : Megalithic standing stones at Calanais (Isle of Lewis)
  • 2500 BC : Great Pyramid built in Egypt
  • 2000 BC : Bronze Age starts; building of Stonehenge in Wiltshire
  • 600 BC : Iron Age starts
  • 500 BC ‘Oakbank Crannog’ built in Loch Tay
  • 200 BC – AD 200 : broch-building
  • 55-54 BC : Julius Caesar invades Britain


  •  43 AD : Invasion of Britain (emperor Claudius). With elephants ! This strange question is debated. Here I’ve found a quite interesting page about the subject.

“In AD 43, ELEPHANTS plodded through Colchester. Brought to awe and amaze all the natives who saw them, war elephants had been carefully ferried across the English Channel by a Roman expeditonary force. It was a moment of high drama, of powerful political symbolism. Led by Aulus Plautius, the legions had crossed what they called the Ocean, swept aside the armies of the kings of southern Britain and extended the Empire to the northern limits of the known world. And to hammer home the dominance, the reach of Rome, the Emperor had commanded war elephants to come north from Africa, from the southern limits of the known world.”

(Scotland A History from Earliest Times – Alistair Moffat  – beginning of chapter 3 ‘Caledonia’)

  • 77-85 : Julius Agricola governor, Scottish campaigns (Vespasian- Titus and Domitian)
    •  80 Agricola invades Lowlands of Scotland
    •  83 or 84   Battle of Mons Graupius. Romans defeat Caledonians. 10,000 casualties among the Caledonians/360 among the Romans. Calgacus manages to escape.
    •  85   Agricola builds a line of forts between the Forth and the Clyde.
  • 105 :  Romans forced out of southern Scotland.
  • 122 : Commencement of building of Hadrian’s Wall.
  • 126 :  Disappearance of the Ninth Legion.
  • 127 : Completion of Hadrian’s Wall.
  • 139 :  Lollius Urbicus moves north with three legions. Antonine Wall begun.

A section of the Antonine Wall at Rough Castle near Falkirk – Wikimedia

  • 143 : Completion of Antonine Wall.
  • 214 : The Romans abandon Scotland.
  • 297: First reference to ‘Picti’.
  • 367 : The ‘Barbarian Conspiracy’: Hadrian’s Wall overrun.
  • 410 : The Romans abandon Britain.
  • 500 : ‘Scoti’ colonise Dalriada (Argyll) ; Dunadd
  • c. 550 : St Ninian comes to Whithorn (Galloway)
  • 563 : St Columba comes to Scotland and the island of Iona.

The history of Scotland doesn’t end in 563, far from it 😉

Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh © 2015 Scotiana

“Caledonia” rhymes with nostalgia but it also points to new horizons… our Teddy Bear mascots seem to be very interested by the Scottish political debate.;-)

Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh © 2015 Scotiana

I’m becoming more and more passionate about Scottish history. This interest began with our first trip to Scotland in 2000 or shall I say with the book which was at the origin of this first trip: Consider the Lilies by Iain Crichton Smith. The story takes place in Rosal, a small village situated near Bettyhill, in Sutherland, a “clearance village”,  as it sometimes called. A ruined village, of course… only populated by sheep today.

Consider the Lilies ICS 2018 50th edition Orion Publishing 2018

Rosal was only the beginning of our Scottish prehistorical and historical itinerary. We visited site after site if historic interest: Glencoe, Flodden (in England), Culloden, Bannockburn,  the Wallace Monument and, the Pictish stones, the neolithic village of Skara Brae, Maes Howe, the tomb of the Eagles, the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney. In the Outer Hebrides we visited Callanish. Not to mention the abbeys, the castles. The list is long. There is so much to discover in Scotland!  😉



A Gathering of Eagles Gordon Maxwell 1998

“A Gathering of Eagles describes the formative period in Scottish history when Caledonia was the northern frontier of the mighty Roman Empire. Again and again massive Roman armies struck north, and the tribesmen of the north endured, resisted and struck back, frustrating the Imperial forces as they struggled to cope with an awkward and hostile landscape.

This book is part of a new series produced by Historic Scotland and Canongate to provide lively, accessible and up-to-date introductions to key themes and periods in Scottish history and prehistory.”

Gordon Maxwell is Honorary Professor at the Department of History in St Andrews and is a former Head of Archaeology at the Royal Commision in Edinburgh.

(from The Making of Scotland backcover)

I really like this superbly illustrated series produced by Historic Scotland (now Historic and Environment Scotland) and Canongate. I have most of its titles in my library.

Magnus Magnusson The Story of a Nation – HarperCollins 2001

This book is one of the first books of Scottish history I’ve added to my library. The fact that Magnus Magnusson was a great fan of Sir Walter Scott did appeal to me very much, all the more since this book is based on one of Sir Walter’s very popular book Tales of  a Grandfather (1827-1829). I don’t forget the promise I made to Sir Walter Scott, a few years ago, to read all his books. I always have a book by Sir Walter on my bedside table and the progression of the page marker through the book is a sign that I’m getting on with my reading, but how I wish I could read faster.




Scotland Glorious Scotland Kenneth McKellar


Who better than Kenneth McKellar, the great and very popular Scottish tenor, who was born in Paisley and died in Lake Taho, California, could express the love of one’s native land.  Iain and Margaret, who are great fans of this very talented singer, will certainly agree with me. Indeed, Iain has an impressive and priceless collection of Kenneth McKellar’s recordings. I’m pretty sure he has all his records, even the oldest ones. ;-). Our dear friends introduced us to this wonderful singer, long ago.;-)

Let us listen to some of the most beautiful songs of Kenneth McKellar.


“This stirring song sung by Kenneth McKellar was written around 1912 by Hugh Ogilvie.

It could have been the National anthem of Scotland as “Scotland the Brave”.  

My own favourite tune – by far – for the days when Scotland gets
a National Anthem would be ‘Hame o’ Mine’ (as I’m sure I’ve 
often said !)
(This tune was composed by Harry Lauder’s one-time partner
on stage, the fiddler Mackenzie Murdoch, 1871-1923.  Sadly, 
Lauder felt compelled to pursue a solo career and left him behind.)
A new set of words would be needed !  Instead of ‘a wee hoose /
house among the heather,’ we need a lyric that praises Scotland’s
natural beauty and the grandeur of her landscapes.
I fear, however, that we shall have no pressing need of an Anthem
for some time yet, unfortunately !  One half of the Scottish people
still do not favour independence – although (as the late Ian
Hamilton wisely wrote) I’ve no reason to think that they love their
country any less than I do.                                                           Iain.



“Flower of Scotland” is the unofficial anthem.



“Names tell stories. Often they are the oldest words we use and inside them sound the faint echoes of a long and distant past…” .

Such names as ‘Caledonia’, ‘Alba’, Picts’ conjure up magic, make people dream… but behind them there is also history. Every day brings its share of archaeological and historical discoveries and new generations of historians arise to transmit them to us.

I hope this page will make you want to know more about Scotland and its history, on the forgotten paths of Alba and Caledonia…

Bonne lecture ! Á bientôt. Mairiuna.


Hugh MacDiarmid's quoteThe little white rose of Scotland Scottish Parliament © 2006 Scotiana

Hugh MacDiarmid’s quoteThe little white rose of Scotland Scottish Parliament © 2006 Scotiana

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