Judy Mackie goes to a banquet to sing and watch plays about 17th-century Royalists and Covenanters.
Haddo House hall's grand, vaulted interior echoes with the clamour of excited voices as dozens of primary schoolchildren, many dressed in early 17th-century clothing, await the arrival of the Laird and his Lady.
Surrounding the rows of trestle tables, in a colourful contrast to the wood-panelled walls, are the youngster's impressive displays of hand-crafted coats of arms, portraits of long-gone north-east gentry and drawings and models of castles in Aberdeenshire. A magnificent stag's head watches over the proceedings. A rousing recording of a folk song adds to the festive atmosphere.
"My lords and ladies, I give you the Laird and his Lady!" Trish Norman, the banqueting co-ordinator in a flowing green gown, leads the clapping as the couple enters the hall. Nodding and smiling graciously, Ms Norman's National Trust for Scotland (NTS) colleagues play their noble part to the hilt, circling the room before settling at the top table.
The characters in all their finery are in place. The scene is set for the dramatic climax to an innovative term-long project involving four Aberdeenshire schools, the education authority and the NTS. Now in its second pilot year and about to be extended to other schools in the area, "King and Covenanters" has brought history to glorious life through art, drama, music and research.
Today, the children of Aboyne, Rathen, Oyne and Meldrum primary schools are meeting for the first time to share their dramatic interpretations of the divisive times, when the lives of ordinary folk throughout Scotland were disrupted. Visiting drama specialist Primmie MacGillivray has helped each school select and rehearse a 10-minute play. Each one is about a particular local castle and the lives of the nobility, the servants, and the villagers living in its shadow.
"It's a difficult period to cover," Ms MacGillivray says. "The religious side is pretty complex and the children found it hard at first to understand why the introduction of a new prayer book would arouse such strong feelings. But by putting themselves in the places of the people affected, they began to get a flavour of what it was like to live in those times."
But first, a song. Led by Ms Norman on guitar, the company breaks into a rendition of "Soldier, Soldier". This sets the tone for the first play, a slick and entertaining modern slant on the bloody history of the Royalists and Covenanters, by Oyne P4-P7. The audience learns how the first shots of the conflict were fired not far from here in 1639, killing servant boy Davey Pratt. That led to an assault on Castle Fraser and 13 years of warfare. Then follows a chorus of "The Bonnets o' Bonnie Dundee" while the next group prepares its stage props.
Aboyne P5's colourful re-enactment of a 1645 court session at Crathes highlights the whole community's involvement in a neighbours' dispute over land and horses. Their authentic costumes - breeches, long skirts, crisp linen collars and bonnets - are on loan from the NTS staff at Crathes Castle.
"The children have thoroughly enjoyed researching and taking part in the project, which fits in well with environmental studies," says class teacher Rebecca Struth. "We discussed the reasons behind the Royalists-Covenanters conflict and this led to discussions about different types of prejudice."
Meldrum P6's stirring re-enactment of the Battle of Fyvie portrays the confusion and distress of two cousins fighting on opposite sides, led by the Earls of Montrose and Argyll. "An' it's a' o'er the heids o' religion," one says in bewilderment.
The lighter side of castle life is portrayed by the Rathen P6 and P7 pupils' hilarious upstairs, downstairs drama. Here servants gossip about the Irvine family of Drum Castle, 50 years on from the troubled times. Their use of Doric language, songs and Highland dancing captures the rich cultural life of the community.
"As we were already studying King and Covenanters, this project has come at just the right time," says headteacher Dorothy Duncan.
"We've received a lot of support from Iain Mitchell, Aberdeenshire's visiting art teacher, from Primmie MacGillivray, from the children's parents, and the National Trust for Scotland has pulled out all the stops."
Sandra Morrison, the NTS education officer for the north-east region, is delighted by the enthusiastic response of all the schools that have taken part in the two-year pilot: "Many people know little about this particular period, and it's a complex subject to teach young children. We saw this as a challenge and offered our resources - castles, guides and rangers - to the local education authority. They made it possible for the visiting art, music and drama teachers to take part in the project.
"It's been so successful that next year we expect to involve many more schools in the area."
The Haddo Hall festivities round off with a feast of brose, syllabub and fruit. The home-made soup is supped traditionally, with chunks of bread instead of spoons. This greatly pleases the young lords and ladies. The Laird then leads them in a deafening chorus of "The Keeper", and the room resounds with cheering.
ContactNational Trust for Scotland north-east region. Tel 01330 830204. Education officer Sandra Morrison. Tel: 01330 833225. Web: www.ntseducation.org.ukHaddo House. Tel: 01651 851440
Similar attractions 'Laird to Orra Loon' caters for thousands of schoolchildren twice a year, at Leith Hall, Kennethmont, Huntly AB54 4NQ. Contact Sandra Morrison. Tel: 01330 833225