The Polish Map of Scotland at the Black Barony Hotel is proof that unusual things can exist in your backyard for a long time without you knowing about them.
The Black Barony Hotel stands on a hillside above the village of Eddleston, which is a few miles up the road from where my family live in the Scottish Borders, and for a time in the late 1970s and early 1980s it served as my parents’ local pub. Since 1968 it’d been owned by Jan Tomasik, one of many Polish people who’d arrived in Scotland and in the United Kingdom generally during World War II. He’d served as a sergeant in the 1st Polish Armoured Division, which in 1942 was stationed in the Borders town of Galashiels. There, he married a Scottish nurse and he remained in Scotland after the war, becoming a hotelier.
I remember being brought to the Black Barony one public-holiday afternoon in 1981 – for it’d been decreed that the Barony was where my family and their friends would sit in front of a big TV screen and watch live coverage of the wedding of that famous (and obviously deeply-in-love) couple, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. I felt bored rigid about five minutes after the coverage started, but at least the adults in our party were in a festive enough mood to keep me illegally supplied with pints of beer. (I was 15 at the time.) I remember how at one point the sixty-something Jan Tomasik walked past with a hooked pole over his shoulder – yes, he was a Pole with a pole – intending to open a high-up window for ventilation. He pointed at the Royal Wedding parade on the TV and exclaimed, “Me too! A guard of honour!”
It was only a couple of years ago that I discovered, thanks to the BBC news website, that the grounds of the Barony contain the ‘largest topographical relief model of its kind in the UK’ – a giant, contoured map of Scotland set in a pool, now drained, some fifty metres wide and one metre deep. The Scottish mainland and islands are depicted on a scale of 1:10,000 although, to make them more visually striking, the Scottish hills and mountains are five times higher than they should be at that scale. The Polish Map of Scotland, as it became known, was constructed by five geographers from a university in Krakow whom Tomasik brought over in the mid-1970s: he and his former wartime commanding officer, General Stanislaw Maczek, oversaw the project, wanting it to symbolise their gratefulness for “Scottish hospitality to Polish soldiers during World War II.” The Map’s terrain was completed and painted in 1976. By 1979 a basin-wall had been constructed around it and water was then pumped in to represent the seas surrounding Scotland and the firths indenting it.
Unfortunately, 1985 saw the closure of the hotel – Jan Tomasik would pass away six years later – and the Polish Map of Scotland was left to fall into disrepair, becoming overgrown with and almost hidden by vegetation. It wasn’t until 2010, when the Barony was back in business as a Mercure Hotel, one of a chain run by the French multinational Accor, that a voluntary group called Mapa Scotland was formed with the intention of restoring the Map. In 2012, it was given B-listed status and a year later the Mapa Scotland project received Heritage Lottery funding.
In July, while I was back in Scotland for a visit, I walked up to the Black Barony Hotel to take a look at the Polish Map of Scotland as it is today. The Map’s certainly on the map now, as a sign for it stands on the A703 road that runs through Eddleston on the way to Edinburgh. When you’ve reached the hotel, you follow some smaller signs – which identify it as ‘Maczek’s Map’ – along the left-hand side of the building and then across a wooden footbridge that spans a deep, wooded gorge. The Map is a few yards beyond the bridge’s far end.
The Map is no longer concealed by undergrowth and its circumference wall has been equipped with some useful information panels. However, some work still needs to be done on the restoration of the Map itself. In places, the surfaces of the terrain are scuffed and scarred, and it’ll clearly be some time before water can be pumped in so that this mini-Scotland is surrounded by sea again. For now, the ‘seabed’ around it is mostly covered by short grass and weeds. Barrels and buckets are positioned here and there and lengths of hosepipe are strewn about it too. Meanwhile, the island of Lewis and Harris acts as a side-wall for a shelter housing various sacks and containers.
While I was there I took some photographs of the Polish Map of Scotland, although to do full justice to Jan Tomasik and Stanislaw Maczek’s vision you need to view it in an aerial picture, like the one at the top of this entry (which I borrowed from the Black Barony’s website). Here are a few of my photographs, taken while I was looking in at the Map from various points around the circumference wall. Can you identify the sections of Scottish coastline each time?
And here’s a link to Mapa Scotland’s website: