Auchterarder: a G8 summit visitor's guide

About the author
Carolyn Tan interned with openDemocracy in the summer of 2005. She is currently a third year History and International Studies major at Yale University.

The Group of Eight (G8) summit of world leaders will be hosted from 6-8 July at the Gleneagles hotel estate in Perthshire, Scotland. The exclusive nature of the 850-acre retreat and the intense security surrounding the event mean that the nearest gathering-point for journalists, protestors, tourists, and the plain curious is the small town of Auchterarder, a mile to the north - an eight-kilometre long, two-metre high steel fence has been built to divide the masters of the universe and their retinues from the rest.

What has this proud, 4,000-strong “royal burgh”, relatively unknown outside its environs, to offer the G8 circus that is preparing to descend on it? openDemocracy, armed with inside information from a variety of sources, some of them Scottish, most of whom prefer to remain anonymous (there go my chances of a job on Newsweek) presents an essential guide to Auchterarder.

Orientation

Auchterarder is in the Strathearn district of the county of Perthshire, surrounded by the modestly beautiful Ochil Hills. Its name derives from Gaelic, the ancient language of these parts – although the last speakers of “Perthshire Gaelic” died over the last few decades. Uachdar ard dodhar means “upland of the high stream” (an alternative rendering is “the summit of the wild”).

Much of Auchterarder’s economy was in the past sustained by weaving, distilling and malting, and is now supported by golfing visitors. The unusually long, one-and-a-half mile High Street lends Auchterarder the nickname of the Lang Toon (“long town”). The thoroughfare is a shopper’s paradise that cannot be missed.

Auchterarder people have long memories of earlier flirtations with the powerful and the zealous. The English king, Edward I (“Hammer of the Scots”), spent a night at Auchterarder castle during his 1296 invasion of Scotland. In 1843, members of the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland here sparked a lengthy, bitter ideological split in the church – which went down in history as The Disruption.

Getting there & away

G8 summits would be boring affairs without the accompanying carnival of protest. No efforts have been spared to make Auchterarder a convenient destination for the international array of groups, bands and individuals expected. Special trains from London to Scotland’s capital city Edinburgh – whence Auchterarder is a further 40 miles (65 kilometres) north – are being added to the normal “east coast route” schedule; there are frequent buses from the south to Edinburgh and Glasgow, from where Auchterarder is also quite accessible on a good day.

The journey from Edinburgh might be a 45-minute cruise by road, if traffic were smooth (as rare an event as a G8 summit). In any case, Auchterarder has only one public car park with forty spaces in it. Get the train or bus, bike – or walk!

Information

The way to enjoy Auchterarder is not to have it presented on a plate. Discover it unaided. But if you are there on business – rustling papers, recruiting members to your political sect, planning world revolution – and you want instant information or just some friendly advice, you can always head over to the Auchterarder Tourist Information Centre, located on the Lang Toon.

The Gleneagles complex itself, whose centre is the majestic hotel built for the Caledonian Railway company during 1913-24, is likely to remain out of bounds except to vetted, credential-wielding journalists. It is now owned by the alcohol corporation Diageo and therefore presents a doubly suitable target for anti-globalisers’ zeal.

Essentials

Most of the hotels and B&Bs in the vicinity of Auchterarder are already fully booked, so trying to secure a bed is going to be tough. However, there are camping grounds available at the Auchterarder caravan park. Dissent! has organised areas in Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as an enticingly unspecified “rural outdoor place” near Gleneagles. Indymedia UK advises visitors to the G8 to be as self-sufficient as possible: it suggests people bring a tent, sleeping bag, waterproofs, warm clothes, comfortable shoes and eating utensils. Come prepared, and finding a place to sleep for the night should not be a problem.

If holing up in a tent for the night cramps your style, another option would be to catch a bus (or hitchhike) to the Auchterarder area, spend the day there, and return the same way.

Sights

For those who might come to feel a little constrained by Auchterarder’s frenetic concentration of urban activity, an absolute must is the Ochil walk organised by the Radical Ramblers on 6 July. Not only will you able to enjoy the beautiful, rustic scenery of the Scottish countryside, but you will be able to participate in a rousing, thoroughly modern, 21st-century G8 protest.

The more timid, the less athletic or the hungover can instead join the anti-G8 protests in Auchterarder itself. An application by G8 Alternatives to march along the A9 motorway and through the High Street found little favour with the killjoys of Perth & Kinross Council, but a rally of 4,500 people culminating in Auchterarder Park has been permitted.

Perhaps this will be an opportunity for the last view of many of the Lang Toon’s local sights. Auchterarder was razed in 1715 during the Jacobite rebellion against King George I, and some locals profess to fear (and many more outsiders would like them to fear) that this may be repeated during the first week of July. There has been talk of boarding up shops and houses before violent protesters get a chance to lay waste to the tearooms and boutiques that lie on its idyllic, picture-postcard High Street.

All this protesting is bound to be thirsty work, even if the Scottish summer lives down to its reputation. The Highland Spring bottling factory in Auchterarder’s sister village of Blackford – which supplies Gleneagles – is expanding its capacity to meet demand. For those with more alcoholic tastes, Auchterarder’s four pubs and six hotel bars have plenty of choice. Sláinte!

A word of warning, though: Auchterarder only has one public toilet, so unless Perth & Kinross Council manages to counter the shortage of portaloos in Britain … my advice is: cut down your water intake or use your imagination when you are out.

Entertainment

Two performances not to miss if protesting duties allow are hosted by the People’s Golfing Association and the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Army. The PGA plans to hijack Gleneagles golf course to play a round of golf, and the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Army – or possibly one of its disruptive factions, the Insurgent Rebel Clown Army – will embark on Operation H.A.H.A.H.A.A. (Helping Authorities House Arrest Half-witted Authoritarian Androids). This strategy was developed after many hours in the army’s War and Strategic Planning Room.

Both events promise huge entertainment value. Take them in from a safe distance while you sip your Highland Spring, or – if you can’t bear to drink the same beverage as, say, Paul Martin – fruit punch.

Dangers & annoyances

It may seem hard to believe, but not everyone will be in and around Gleneagles for fun – and even fun things can turn ugly. Recent G8 summits have been targets for anti-globalisation protesters; a protester was killed in Genoa in 2001, and 50,000 protesters fought against riot police in Evian and Geneva in 2003.

In light of those events, police leave has been suspended, extra police are being drafted in, and riot police are expected to be present. Those unfamiliar with the distinctiveness of Scots law – where powers of arrest significantly vary from those in operation south of the border in England – are being trained in its particularities. Visitors need to be aware that local residents have been issued with ID cards; without an ID card, gaining access to certain parts of Auchterarder – especially areas close to Gleneagles – is going to prove tricky.

Meanwhile, for those seeking a McDonald’s or a Starbucks to trash – better head for Stirling. Auchterarder doesn’t have either.

Around Auchterarder

There is life beyond Auchterarder, and every visitor needs to be aware of rival attractions. So here are three suggested day trips to whet the appetite for the main event. On 2 July in Edinburgh, the LiveAid concert to raise awareness about Africa will blast across the city. Bands like Travis, Snow Patrol, and The Corrs will perform. Auchterarder sounds more attractive by the minute, right?

Edinburgh hosts another event on the same day, a huge march to “make poverty history” – by demanding trade justice, debt cancellation, and more and better aid for the world’s poorest countries – that will snake through the city and end with a rally in the city’s vast green park, the Meadows.

On 4 July, two days before the G8 summit starts, there will be a “peaceful” blockade of the nuclear submarine base at Faslane on the Firth of Clyde, northwest of Glasgow.

If that does not tickle your fancy, or if you have survived Faslane without being arrested, you could make a trip to Dungavel in south Lanarkshire on 5 July, where a protest rally organised by the group Make Borders History will call for the closure of the Immigration Removal Centre.

Auchterarder surprise

The poet Robin Bell cites a local tradition that Auchterarder retains the capacity to come alive and shake the world once every 100 years. Will the G8 summit be its Brigadoon-like moment? If it is, the first place to turn is the Strathearn Herald newspaper, founded in 1856 (“if it’s on, it’s in the Herald!”). But as Auchterarder looks the world in the eye, openDemocracy will be there too. Coimeád súil ar an spás seo … watch this space!