Santa Claus Land
In Memory of "Santa" George Swinney 1924-2009
(click to see reverse of card)
Kindly sent by Raymie Mackay
Santa Claus Land (SCL as it was affectionately known to employees), was
"Santa George's" home from home, a place where the story of Santa became
reality in the minds and eyes of probably tens of thousands of children (and
probably adults too.)
"Santa" himself was George Swinney, who passed away in June 2009.
I'm sure that anyone who came to SCL and met "Santa", or anyone who knew
George personally would like to give thanks for the time, effort, love and
generosity of the man who gave tirelessly to the image, name and character of
Santa and most of all - of the love and affection of children everywhere who met
him and were in awe of meeting the "one and only Santa Claus" at his home in
the Aviemore Centre, 365 days a year - every year.
If you, or anyone you know met "Santa George", and you would like to add your
comments or memories of the man to this memorial page, you can email us at
We promise that the Santa Claus Land will be a permanent feature of
Auld Aviemore, and it's memory, and "Santa" will live on.......
David & Julie
Hello David & Julie
I’m sending this email today to say how very PROUD I am of my Mum (Sheila) & my brother (Raymie) who not only looked after George in his final months but who organised & made sure that his send off was a GOOD one.
Thank you for looking after SANTA J
I love them both VERY much.
So sad. We had so many great times. I put something on my facebook page.
That is extremely sad news. Bless him! I remember him having his drammies in
the early evening
I first met "Santa George" in 1976 but I didn't work with him till '85...I
always thought he was a grumpy old man, until I saw how good he was with
I went to work in SCL in 1985, and my two children spent a couple of happy summers in there. George is Santa to them, and many more Aviemore children of that era.
Amongst my many memories was the time we put a bolster in the bed on Christmas Day...and told the kiddies Santa was sleeping after his busy night, unfortunately for George, Santa was out on a charitable thing of some sort, and as far as I know he did this for 15 years , year in and out.
3 years in a row I travelled down to Perth and brought the kiddies up on the Santa train, dressed as a clown, marched them up the hill singing carols, took them into SCL, had supper with Santa, then saw them off on the train again.
It was a wonderful, magical place for our kids to grow up in.
I grew old at the same rate as Santa George, and when he became my neighbour he was STILL "Santa George" to me.
I'm happy he went peacefully.
Many thanks for your phone call and for imparting the reasons for your request in The Scots Mag. I will be delighted to help in any way I can and hope that the following will be of some use.
Santa Claus Land What was it, What happened to it?.
Santa Claus Land (SCL) was a brilliant conception, based on the premise that everyone loves Santa and allied with the sight of craftsmen actually making the gifts it would draw tourists to Aviemore and to SCL in particular. SCL consisted of two parts ,one was the collection of craft units, the other was the theme part ,entry to the latter was by paid admission.
Inside the theme part there was a resident “Santa” The other attractions were a duck pond a frozen vertical lump of ice known as the north pole, a mock wild west fort Santa’s house, a narrow gauge railway and various other visual attractions.
Having an established precious metal [Silver& Gold] jewellery manufacturing business in Glenrothes in Fife ,I was hesitant when I saw advertised Craft/Shop premises for rent in the newly created Santa Claus Land in the recently established Aviemore Centre.
However on visiting the complex I decided to take the plunge and move to Aviemore, leaving the Glenrothes operation in the capable hands of an assistant and arrived here in Feb1975 opening for business on the 26th March only after much hectic activity. Since I was to occupy one of the flats above the shops this meant frantically arranging removal vans telephone and electric connections, combined with the myriad of tasks related to such a move, let alone the fitting out of the shop.
Santa Claus land was barely open when I arrived there being only four units occupied .The basic units as offered were bare shells extending to some 240 sq ft. Electrics and water were there but nothing else and although the centre employed tradesmen in all disciplines no help or support was forthcoming .In general this position was accepted by the incoming Craftsmen but meant that converting the units to a trading standard was a costly business for self employed craftsmen and bearing in mind that absolutely no guide lines or standards were suggested nor enforced by the landlords conversions were, on the whole, of an extremely low visual standard and differed hugely from shop to shop
The occupied units comprised.
A pottery which made mainly models of the Loch Ness Monster, these were immensely popular with the tourists .Their main shop was adjacent to the Freedom Inn Hotel in the main centre
A stone shop selling semi-precious stones , mineral specimens and fossils from all over the world .They also had a shop in Golspie.
The third unit sold Knitwear and was a branch of a much larger company in Inverness which still has connections to this area .The manager owned a massive Great Dane which was a big favourite with tourists.
During the ensuing months a fly tying and fishing tuition unit was opened which remained for a few years .They taught fly fishing on a Lochan, situated on the perimeter of the original centre. Flies were tied on the premises and it was fascinating to watch the young lady tying the wisps of feathers and other pieces into the replica of a fly.
About this time the proprietor of the pottery came up with the idea of a new and definitive name , this was welcomed by the resident craftsmen and so the tenant portion of SCL became the Craft Village .This was a very good move and welcomed by all. The Managing Director promised to consider the matter ,but we never heard another cheep.
An interesting story can be told
about the time I was returning from Edinburgh late one night when I was stopped
on the A9 just south of Perth by the police doing a routine check .When asked my
name and address I gave my name and my address as SCL The
Constable immediately warned me that frivolity would not be tolerated and it was
only when I produced documentation from my brief case proving that I actually
did live in Santa Claus Land that he grudgingly waved me on my way.
My business did very well during the first few years and I met many interesting people both local and from much further afield. I had also found it a wonderful place to live.
We appeared on TV and Radio both at home and abroad showing our workshops to the world ,I did a lengthy interview On the Radio and as a result was asked to give lectures all over the country. Which I loved to do.
All this happened towards the end of the first three years of its operation and it was that year we were asked to make a brooch for presentation to H.M. The Queen It was in this same year that we received a visit from the then Prime Minister the Rt.Hon. James Callaghan , M. P.
The Craft Village trundled along for a few years after which the initial enthusiasm by the directors died away and it was left drifting without direction ,any efforts to rectify this by the tenants were effectively thwarted by the then managing director who was most autocratic and would only tolerate the propagation of his own ideas.
No meaningful marketing took place and visitor numbers started to dwindle making the units increasingly unviable Never at any one time were all of the units occupied.
After this point the units were filled for short periods by various people including ,a sign writer, an artist, a tea shirt printer, a baker, a resin caster, glass blower, candle maker ,toy shop, ,sheepskin retailer, leather worker ,knitter, highland outfitter, plant shop, photographic sales and museum ,and a sweet shop .None of them lasting very long.
As stated the original concept was that of a working craft shop where tourists could watch the craftsmen at work .This was never enforced by the management, consequently this allied with a large number of deficiencies in the day to day running of the complex ,meant that visitors ceased to come in any great numbers.
All these problems caused most of the craftsmen to move from the Craft Village to where they had access to greater numbers of customers. Four of them moved down into the Aviemore village itself I was one of those who moved and who negotiated the leases with the owner of a large empty store which he divided into four units Around this time many of the remaining traders either retuned to their home bases or dispersed.
Adjacent to SCL was the Pony Field and stables which were run by a young man who hailed from Bonar Bridge In their hey-day the pony trekking was immensely popular with visitors, also under the control of the same man was Pet’s Farm, This housed two non-riding Ponies ,Goats, Lambs , Hens ,Chickens. Rabbits, a Donkey, various birds and a Mouse house in which there were dozens of the creatures.
Initially visitors arrived from all over the world, indeed to this day I still keep in contact with them in three continents and before retiring my best customer was undoubtedly an American Company, who bought tens of thousands of pounds worth of goods which they sold mostly to Americans with Scottish connections ,of whom there are many
Living and working in the Craft Village was an experience I was pleased to have participated in. It can only be regretted that the management did was not appear to be up to the task.
Finally in 2004 it appears that someone entered one of the craft shops and it was found on fire with the roof collapsed. In 2005/6 SCL was bulldozed to make way for a road to serve the new Centre?!
Hoping you find these lines useful.