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BETSY WHYTE (1919 – 1988)

BETSY WHYTE (1919 – 1988)

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1919 Betsy Whyte


The Berry Toon

Folk Singers and Storytellers

The Travelling Community

The Scottish Folk Revival

BETSY WHYTE (1919 – 1988)


'I'm weary for the springtime

Tae tak' the road yince mair

For the plantin' and the pearlin'

And the berry fields of Blair.'

These lyrics from "Yellow on the Broom" by Adam McNaughtan were inspired by Betsy Whyte's book "The Yellow on the Broom: the Early Days of a Traveller Woman" published in 1979.  Betsy's second novel "Red Rowans and Wild Honey" was published in 1990.

Betsy was born Betsy Townsley on 7 November 1919 at Ashgrove Road, Rattray.  She was one of four children born to a traveller family whose parents were Alexander (Sandy) Townsley and Margaret Johnston.

During her early life, along with her family, Betsy would spend most of the year travelling around the country and only spending the Winter months 'housed up'.

Within the travelling community, stories and songs about families, heritage, the land and its people were shared around camp fires, in tents, out in the fields and on the road.  With its central location and rich berry fields, Blairgowrie was a regular stopping place for travellers, resulting in a wealth of stories and songs.

It is this way of life, the life of the Scottish Traveller Community, that Betsy wrote about in her autobiographical novels.

In 1939, at the age of 19 Betsy married Bryce Whyte in Brechin and gave up the traveller life.

In August 1988 Betsy Whyte attended the Auchtermuchty Folk Festival. Betsy sang Adam’s song ‘The Yellow on the Broom,’ but afterwards she felt unwell.  Sadly, within an hour of returnng to her home in Montrose, Betsy passed away.

A play "The Yellow on the Broom" based on Betsy's novel was written by Anne Downie.  It was first staged in 1989 and toured theatres throughout Scotland.

YouTube – Yellow on the Broom by cheerydavie

To listen to a recording of Betsy telling a story go to

In 2019 David G. Pullar, Betsy's Great Grandson, published 'Wee Bessie" the story of his Great Grandmother's life as a young girl.

YouTube Video - Wee Bessie - Heart of the Travellers

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