November 11 this year will be a poignant date for many people here in Scotland.
For not only will it commemorate the centenary of the end of World War One, but it will also mark the centenary of the restoration of Poland’s sovereignty as the Second Polish Republic from the German, Austrian and Russian Empires.
The independence celebrations will be marked here in Scotland by Polish people across the country.
And taking centre stage will be the Great Polish Map of Scotland.
In the summers of 1974 to 1979, this lasting legacy was created in the Borders to celebrate the links between Scotland and Poland.
Although dating back to before 1576, it was in that year Royal Grants first recorded the relationship – with the King of Poland protecting the Scots “who supply us with all that is necessary”.
Our friendship has remained firm ever since.
The Great Polish Map of Scotland was mainly the work of a small group of Poles from the Jagiellonian University of Krakow, led by the map’s lead designer, Dr. Kazimierz Trafas.
But its creation was the brainchild of Krakow-born Jan Tomasik, a sergeant in the 1st (Polish) Armoured Division, who was stationed in Galashiels during the war and married a Scottish nurse in 1942 after being treated in the town’s Peel Hospital.
He became a successful hotelier in Edinburgh after the war and added Barony Castle in Eddleston to his properties in 1968, where the map was conceived and created.
He wanted to show hotel guests the landscape of Scotland and hoped the map would become a tourist magnet.
Jan also wanted to show the coastline of the country Polish forces had been responsible for defending.
He is remembered as saying to hotel patrons: “I shall die but I shall leave my map as a gift to the Scottish people to thank them for the hospitality they showed the Poles when it was needed”.
After the hotel closed in 1985 and ownership of Barony Castle passed from the Tomasik family, the map fell gradually into disrepair.
But in 2010, Mapa Scotland was formed – a group of volunteers who were dedicated to restoring the map to its former glory
Thanks to grants from the Heritage Lottery and European Leader Fund, along with fundraising, that goal has now been achieved.
And it is hoped it will become both a visitor attraction and an educational resource for many generations to come.
With that in mind, a digital documentation team from Historic Environment Scotland spent five days on site, laser scanning the map to create a 3D model.
The team then spent several months, working with Mapa Scotland and the Polish Cultural Festival Association, to create an interactive app highlighting Scotland’s Polish heritage.
For Marta Pilarska, digital documentation intern with HES, the project proved to be a learning curve.
She said: “I’m Polish and even I was discovering new connections between Poland and Scotland which I had never heard before.
“It was a really interesting project to be involved with.
“I knew the basics – the soldiers during the war years and that Bonnie Prince Charlie’s mother was Polish.
“But I never knew that 40,000 Scots emigrated to Poland in the 1600s and that many towns and areas are still named after Scotland.
“One of the quirkier facts we discovered was that a Polish folk dance, dating back to the 1600s, is actually based on a ceilidh dance.
“I had no idea about any of that until this project.”
Marta joined the HES team at an ideal time too – just one month before work started on the project.
She added: “I was in the perfect place at the perfect time – a nice coincidence.
“We hope people will enjoy finding out more about the two countries links and that teachers will also visit the map and use the digital app as a learning tool.”
The Great Polish Map of Scotland measures some 50 metres by 40 metres and lies in an oval pit surrounded by a 142 metres long perimeter wall. Covering an area of 1590 square metres, it is understood to be the largest three-dimensional physical representation of a country and the largest outdoor relief map in the world.
Visit https://sketchfab.com/HistoricEnvironment Scotland to explore the app.
A labour of love for MAPA Scotland volunteers who restored landmark
A business meeting at Barony Castle Hotel in 1996 led Keith Burns to stumble across the Great Polish Map of Scotland, literally – it was so overgrown.
But it wasn’t until 1999, when the engineer from East Linton retired, that the discovery started “nagging away” at him.
In 2000, Keith and several friends started discussing what they could do to transform the landmark’s fortunes.
And in 2010 they formed the charity MAPA Scotland, with the aim of raising enough funds to restore the map.
Initially, they thought it would take two years and around £45,000 to rectify – but it proved a much larger undertaking.
Keith, who was the project manager, explained: “We seriously understimated how long the work would take and how much it would all cost.
“There were two reasons for that: firstly, we didn’t realise how much repair work the foundations of the map would require. They had been built with old tin cans from the hotel and they were crumbling away.
“And secondly we had to get one or two specialist contractors to repair the pit wall and relay a lot of underground water supply pipes for the seabed.
“The water supply had never worked; it now does so we’ve actually upgraded the map.
“But all of that took money and, to date, it has cost in excess of £120,000 to restore.”
That funding was raised thanks to the Heritage Lottery and European Leader Funds, as well as major contributions from the Barony Castle Hotel, Borders Council, the Polish Consulate and the Scottish Polish Cultural Association, as well as generous public donations.
However, 12 MAPA volunteers bore the brunt of the labour.
Keith added: “We were all retired and could spend time on the project. It was hard work and involved a fair bit of travel but we’re delighted the map has now finally been restored.”
Collection boxes around the site will help MAPA maintain the map for future generations.