It was an absolute honour to be invited to perform at the 'Festival of Ancient Cities' in the city of Ryazan, central Russia, during the last weekend in August.
Other artists and bands appearing included performers from South America, France, Turkey, African, China, the Middle East, Caucasus nations, Russia and more. Great to be there and grand to meet up with so many good people and friends.
It was a real privilege to be introduced as 'Jimi McRae, piper from the ancient Celtic citadel of Dunedin' (Dunedin is, of course, the old Gaelic name for Edinburgh)
In surviving historical accounts, the first written mention of Edinburgh is actually in Welsh, not Gaelic, as Din Eidyn, meaning the hillfort of Eidyn. The city features prominently in the epic Welsh poem 'Y Gododdin' written sometime between the 5th and 7th Century AD.
The Gaelicization of the name into Dunedin came a bit later. However, I was (and still am) extremely happy and proud to be associated with it.
Perhaps the singular personal highlight of the trip was a visit to the remains of 'Old Ryazan', some 50km east of modern Ryazan.
Old Ryazan was besieged and completely razed to the ground during the first Mongol invasion in 1237. The entire population was slaughtered after resisting and refusing to submit to Mongol rule. The city was subsequently moved to its present location and officially named as Ryazan by order of Catherine the Great in 1778. Currently less than 10 per cent of Old Ryazan has been properly excavated.
It was great to meet the chief archeologist responsible for studying Old Ryazan and later also admire first hand some of the incredible artifacts unearthed by his team which were on show at an excellent museum in modern Ryazan.
As stated before, In the current international situation I do understand that my visits to Russia may be seen as controversial. However I firmly believe that music, personal contact and reminders of our shared humanity can be a force for good in troubled times. I am no politician. I am a piper and musician. In my younger years I studied the Eastern Front campaign of WW2. (The Great Patriotic War as it is called in Russia) Throughout my entire adult life I have been aware of the enormous sacrifice made by ordinary Russian people in the struggle to defeat Nazism in Europe. I regard it as an honour and privilege to be able to visit Russia in my 'late middle age' and to say 'thank you' in person.
The citizens of Ryazan region turned out in great numbers to support our shows. I had an absolutely brilliant time making many new friends. Once again the Russian people were just lovely. We were all made to feel so welcome and I shook hands everywhere, wore my kilt proudly, wandered the streets freely and never once felt threatened or intimidated.
Have to say that, yet again, I never saw anyone resembling an 'Orc' either. (sic) Everyone looked fit and healthy, the younger generation especially so.. The shops were full and everywhere you looked construction projects were forging ahead, often seven day a week.
Another immensely enjoyable visit to Russia. Hopefully I will be back for many more.