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NOW AVAILABLE Gàidhlig Dùthaich MhicAoidh (The Gaelic of Mackay Country) by Seumas Grannd. Groundbreaking work on the dialect spoken by the great bard of Dùthaich MhicAoidh, Rob Donn. £15.75, including post and packing, to any address in the UK. Click here to place an order.

 

Updated on the first Thursday of the month

December 2014

Broadband with a difference
Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, is considering an idea that could bring high speed broadband to out-of-the-way communities using existing wind farm facilities. The idea was put to him by John Thurso, MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, who last week tabled an early-day motion in Parliament expressing concern at the reluctance of BT Openreach and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to inform people if their houses would be connected to the new, fibre-optic broadband, cables which are presently being laid across the North West.
More

The Inner Man
by Chris Duckham
As I write, the major change due in just the next few days, and affecting the whole of the licensing trade and its customers, is that of the reduction in the drink drive limit for blood alcohol levels in Scotland. From December 5 the legal limit will be lowered from 80mg/100ml to 50mg/100ml.
More

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
On December 4, 5 and 10 1744 special sittings of the sheriff court were held at Kintraid and Milnchlaran to deal with tenants in the parishes of Rogart and Lairg. Hugh Macdonald, the town clerk of Dornoch, acted as sheriff substitute and Robert Gray, factor to the Earl of Sutherland, appeared on behalf of the landlord.
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Fuel costs far less on Lewis
So why do we pay so much?
The surprising difference in petrol and diesel prices between less well populated parts of the Highland mainland (very high) and at a rural filling station on Isle of Lewis (lower than the UK average) is highlighted in our photograph sent from Back on Lewis by Lochinver resident, Martin Morrison.

Killed in action: Piper Donald M Mackay
by Donald MacLeod
Strathnaver had been resettled with crofters not much longer than a decade when the First World War began, on July 28 1914. The first crofter settled — first in the sense that his croft or smallholding was designated No 1 and 2 Syre — was Evander MacIver Mackay from the parish of Durness.

Nature’s call
by Donald Mitchell
In this season of good cheer I find that I am challenged to remain so as I come across so much dead wild life. Most of the deaths I have the misfortune to chance upon have been caused by mankind, accidentally killed I’m sure, but it is unfortunate and probably in most cases avoidable. A gloomy beginning to the article but I will end on a happier note.


November 2014

EU finds on-shore wind costs are lower than coal
MSP Rob Gibson welcomes findings
Rob Gibson, MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, has welcomed the findings of a report from the European Union which states that the cost of producing electricity from on-shore wind farms is actually less than of gas, coal or nuclear when environmental costs are factored into the equation.
More

View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
As I have no doubt mentioned in many previous articles, weather is a topic best avoided when writing a column such as this, what seems relevant on the day of writing is well past its sell-by-date by the time that it is being read. Yet to sit and cast a thought to report as to what is going on day to day on the croft, weather invariably springs to mind. I think probably more so as we age.
More

Nature’s call
by Paul Castle
I’m writing this latest article safely locked in the office, drinking coffee and listening to the wind howling outside as the remnants of Hurricane Gonzalo blow past. Even through the rain-spattered window this morning I managed to spot my first glaucous gull (white winged gull) of the season.
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

UnDividing Lines
A free, digital magazine aimed at the LBGT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community in the Highlands has made its debut, writes Donald MacLeod. UnDividing Lines will be emailed to readers from its Inverness headquarters twice a year. It is colourful, advertising-lite and runs to sixty-one pages.

CD review
‘Stòras’: a second album from Gaelic band, Cruinn. Twelve tracks, performed by James Graham, Fiona Mackenzie, Rachel Walker and Brian Ó hEadhra and with guest musicians Patsy Reid, Matheu Watson and Ross Wilson. Recorded, mixed and mastered at Castlesound Studios, Pencaitland. Available at www.cruinn.net. Price: £13.00.
Sold as a new album featuring “brand new, contemporary and traditional songs”, this offering from a leading Gaelic band with strong Assynt connections, is nicely timed for the Christmas market and would certainly make a first class present for anyone with an appreciation of Gaelic songs spanning the last 400 years.

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
The second duke of Sutherland succeeded to his mother’s northern estates in 1839. The following year the duke and duchess, and their 12-year old son and heir, the Marquis of Stafford, made a tour of Assynt and the Reay Country. At Ledmore in Assynt the party were “met by a large assemblage of the tenantry, with their respected clergyman, Mr Gordon, at their head.” The minister addressed the duke conveying the tenantry’s “sentiments of affection for his Grace’s person and family”. He congratulated her Grace on her first appearance amongst them.


October 2014

Appeal
Memories of Allan MacRae
Allan MacRae’s name will resonate with much of your readership for his role in the Assynt Crofters Buyout. I’m working on a writing project about Allan and his life, and hope to make contact with anyone who might have memories which shed light on this remarkable — but remarkably private — man.
More

Electricity and its storage
Alternative energy, the kind that does not deplete the earth’s natural resources or pollute the atmosphere, has been given a boost by advances in battery technology which could be of particular benefit to providers of wind, solar and other intermittent sources of electricity. Donald Sadoway, a Canadian electrochemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been working on a battery made of molten metals with the capacity to provide utility-scale storage.
More

Rob Donn: a poet in the community
by Donald William Stewart
In Gaelic tradition, again and again we read that it was the sign of the bard — especially of the lower-status, non-professional poets who hadn’t undergone long years of gruelling education in the art — that he or she was blessed with an ability, or a gift, that couldn’t just be learnt. That gift would be revealed in early childhood, when the bard-to-be spontaneously uttered a poetic couplet or quatrain disclosing wisdom and wit well beyond their years.
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

The dirty secret behind the Highland Clearances
There was much more to the Clearances than a desire to modernise the Highland economy, according to an historian from the Isle of Skye. Of the distinguished historians who gave papers at the academic conference, held over three days in Bettyhill last month, it was Iain MacKinnon who tackled the difficult, related issues of colonialism and racism, and the part they played in driving the Strathnaver Clearances agenda of 200 years ago.

Celebrated athlete Akabusi honoured
A world class athlete in the 1980s and 90s who received his early training from a man now resident on the Stoer Peninsula has been honoured at a special ceremony in Inverness.

View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
The first week of September gone as I write this and one week to go before Scotland votes. By the time that this is printed and the magazine out you will be know full well if it is all change or not. I write this with opinion on the matter which keeps changing. As I heard on the radio one chap say when asked his opinion on Yes or No: “I feel Scottish and I feel British and I do resent being asked to choose between the two.”


September 2014

Kinlochbervie ambulance latest
The longstanding wait for improvements in the Scottish Ambulance Service’s Kinlochbervie operation, the need of which was highlighted recently by the alarming experience of a Durness boy, and first raised in Am Bratach in February, could soon be over, according to the official in charge.
More

Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
“Gaidhlig Dhuthaich MhicAoidh (The Gaelic Of The Mackay Country Dialect And Vocabulary” by Seumas Grannd, 2013, Taigh na Gaidhlig Mhealanais. £11.99.
Most languages began as means of oral communication, only later being written down. Over millenia humans developed written forms of language thus increasing the potential for communication, and once the printing press was invented mass communication became a possibility. Today, thanks to modern technology, we can communicate with millions of people almost instantaneously. Written language has made major contributions to scientific and medical progress, dissemination of culture and the arts and in general has had a positive influence.
More

Better together
by Willie D Mackay
“It will soon be time to set off for the croft,” she said. “Oh thanks for bringing me in on the subject,” I replied. “I wondered when you would say something because, if not for your mother’s birthday and the barbecue you arranged with your cousin in Kent and the tennis at Wimbledon, I could have been there a month ago.” “Never mind,” she said in her usual good natured way, “I’m looking forward to hearing the cuckoo again.” “Look,” I replied, “that predatory squatter has little conscience about anything, let alone your mother’s birthday or Wimbledon, and will already be sun bathing in Africa. She does not have to wait like me for clearance to be told which couple of weeks we can spend in Scotland.” I am used to it now and, as Robbie said, “The best laid schemes” go wrong; so I waited until she pointed out that there was half a page of the calendar in July clear of unnecessary commitment and we agreed a date to set off for home. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

History in the making
As one of the most important conferences in a long while gets underway in Bettyhill, Donald MacLeod speaks to Elizabeth Ritchie, the young historian organising it.

Nature’s call
by Donald Mitchell
August gave us Big Bertha! What a wallop she had, even if it was the tailend of the swipe. Was it deliberate or a coincidence that she was named after the Nazis’ Big Bertha — a type of super-heavy mortar of the First World War, perhaps in the hundred years remembrance of the havoc and damage caused?

The art of satire
This is the first in a series of short articles about the poet and composer Rob Donn Mackay (c. 1714-1778). It’s based on a talk Donald William Stewart gave at the successful Rob Donn Weekend held in Melness and Skerray in June. In the first piece, Donald William writes about the art that lies at the heart of so many of Rob Donn’s songs: the art of satire.


August 2014

Pier Café shortlisted for ‘best eatery’ award again
by Liz Quinn
The popular Pier Café in Lairg has recently been shortlisted for an award in the Best Eatery category throughout the Highlands and Islands for the second time. The café in its idyllic location beside the waters of Loch Shin in the Lochside area of Lairg opened in August 2010 and was first up for an award in 2012. This time the competition results will be announced on October 24 at the Kingsmill Hotel, Inverness. They are up against four other eating establishments in Nairn, Fortrose, Shetland and Burghead and will not know until the day if they have achieved a top place in the prestigious competition.
More

Book review
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
Reay DG Clarke: “Two Hundred Years of Farming in Sutherland: The Story of my Family”, The Islands Book Trust, 2014. 978-1 907443-60-2. £9.99.
It is wonderful to see the publication of Reay Clarke’s book about the family farm at Eriboll from the 1820s to the 1920s. Reay is not a young man which makes the book all the more welcome. The great significance of the story derives from the fact that the Clarkes are one of a very small number of tacksman families in the north who moved into sheep farming and survived.
More

The democratic surplus
by Martin Morrison
On September 19, it’ll all be over bar the shouting, though I suspect there’ll be a lot of that. I’ve purposely not engaged in much face to face debate on the matter other than with fellow Yes supporters — I know, pointless indulgence, but some become too animated for me. For those prepared to accept that neutrality is now suspended as an option, the information necessary to reach an informed decision has been freely available for a long time and many, if not most, are tiring from the custard pie approach to fact trading. There are less than six weeks to go and I am saving my energy for the last fortnight.
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Young farmers use old tractors to raise over £4,000 for sick children
A group of five young farmers, all members of the Forss Young Farmers Cub, recently drove their vintage tractors 155 miles to Nairn in support of a sick children’s charity. They expect to raise more than £4,000 for the Archie Foundation Raigmore Children’s Ward Appeal which will be used to create a new children’s unit at Raigmore Hospital, in Inverness.

View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
High summer and hay time, or as Dr Fraser Darling wrote in 1944, heartbreak time. But then he was writing this in 1944 and an awful lot of changes have taken place over seventy years, or to put it another way, an average lifetime. Looking at family photos from that time and, indeed, for years afterwards work on our five acres arable was all scythe work when it came to haymaking time or harvest. The scythe would be rasped until it was razor sharp and action would begin. Only part of it would be cut at one time, enough to turn with the fork or rake and then put into small coils. It was the first step to security of the crop. A further swathe would be cut and the process repeated while the small coils would be shaken out to further cure and recoiled into bigger ones. One eye was kept on the sky as a shower coming onto the exposed hay would mean shaking it out all over again. The prospect of an imminent shower could lead to frantic activity as it could take some time to recoil and so only enough crop that could be dealt with was cut at one time.

Sharon Fearn writes
Put Your Best Foot Forward

Let’s not forget our feet and the hard work they do for us. Why not give them a well deserved treat? As the warmer weather hits us and we strip off those socks and boots most of us would admit we have neglected our sandal feet! Nothing is nicer than feeling the sun on your skin and the sand between your toes.


July 2014

Highland Stoneware celebrates forty years
When David Grant decided to set up Lochinver’s internationally known pottery, Highland Stoneware, all of forty years ago, he was sitting on the pillion of a motor bike in the middle of London, wearing a helmet that a cat had recently peed in, writes Donald MacLeod. The helmet belonged to the driver, David, a noted pottery designer and the 12th Marquess of Queensberry, as did the motor cycle.
More

Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
Mike Tomkies “Running Wild”, Whittles, 2014. £18.99.
There can’t be many people who have gone from interviewing Hollywood celebrities to become one of our leading and most respected naturalists and wildlife photographers and film makers, and who continue to observe some of our rarest birds well into old age. Not only is Mike Tomkies’ energy amazing; not only has he spent most of his life living and working in wild places from Canada to Spain to the Scottish Highlands; he is also a wonderful writer.
More

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
Chisholm described the actions of Patrick Sellar’s party in June 1814 when they destroyed the roof and set fire to his house at Badinloskin in Strathnaver in which his aged mother-in-law, Margaret Mackay, lay.
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Jim makes it!
Jim Johnston, whose ambition to climb Mount Kilimanjaro less than two years after undergoing major heart surgery we reported in April, has done just that. “It was a really, really uplifting and exciting experience — not just being on the hill — but actually being in Africa,” said Jim, head teacher of Farr High School until he retired in 2013.

Farr High awarded Young Enterprise Scotland title
The eight teenage pupils of Farr High School who had previously won the Highland and Moray council area round of the Young Enterprise Scotland awards came away from the Scottish finals of Young Enterprise Scotland on June 18 as Scottish Company of the Year 2014, after competing against some of the largest schools in Scotland.

View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
Our local heritage society rents a former school building and uses it to good effect for meetings and the occasional exhibition. It has the old blackboards on the walls and the feel of still being a school; you almost expect the teacher to reappear. Our first attempts to get the fire going smoked us out but, since we evicted the jackdaws and fitted a new chimney can, a good old fashioned fire has become the focal point of the room and adds effect to our gatherings.


June 2014

Inside Young Enterprise at Farr High
The inside story of last month’s Farr High School’s triumph on winning the Highland and Moray final of the Young Enterprise Scotland Company Programme
Young Enterprise is an organisation that allows senior pupils to start up and run their own business for one school session,” writes a correspondent. This year, a group of dedicated pupils from Farr High School have put their heads together to make “My Wee Highland Hame”.
More

Letter from Catalonia
by Graeme Mackay
As we literally bounced down the runway into Barcelona’s El Prat airport I couldn’t help but think that this Ryanair flight from Prestwick was possibly one of the worst journeys I’ve ever experienced. Cheap air travel has a lot to answer for and being crammed into a Boeing 737 with three stag parties and one hen party was not my idea of fun. Drinks were flowing, language was colourful and the noise level was raucous. Of course, the two hour delay in the shed that is Prestwick Airport didn’t help the situation either but I arrived safely and was thankfully spared the “another Ryanair flight on time” fanfare! So here I am writing to you from the capital of Catalonia, Spain’s second largest city and a gem of a place to visit in Europe — Barcelona.
More

Viking placenames in NW Sutherland
by Margaret Macdonald
In the eighth century when Viking raiders left the western shores of Norway and headed south-west they must have had a fair idea where they were heading and why. Optimal climatic conditions, expert marine technology and hunger for rich goods were the impetus behind the movement towards “Pettaland” — Pictland. At first, they contented themselves with rich pickings from the coastal settlements and monasteries: precious metals and slaves, but settlement became attractive and that is why we have so many placenames of Norse origin here now.
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Home help service fails MS sufferer after hospital stay
In a week when government inspectors announced that the quality of care provided for people in their own homes had improved, we paint a less optimistic picture of what is going on in the part of the country of particular interest to our readers, writes Donald MacLeod. On March 12, Dorothy Mackay, 89 Invernaver, Bettyhill, was admitted to Caithness General Hospital in Wick, suffering from a readily treatable ailment. The 75-year-old widow, these days confined to a wheelchair, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a quarter of a century ago, but had been coping admirably and continued to live alone in her own home after her husband, Willie, passed away ten years ago. Her daughter, Lorna, who runs two croft-based businesses in the township, and lives close by, had augmented the three half-hour daily visits from “home helps” provided by a partnership of the local authority and NHS Highland.

KLB pupils head for Canada
Twelve pupils from Kinlochbervie High School are travelling to Vancouver, Canada, on June 10 to further their knowledge of Robert McBeath, a Kinlochbervie man who won the Victoria Cross on November 20 1917.

Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
“Reading the Gaelic Landscape (Leughadh Aghaidh Na Tire)”, John Murray, Whittles Publishing, 2014. £16.99.
The twentieth century philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, once wrote: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” From the seventeenth century onwards (and partly due to government prohibitions) the use of Gaelic has declined, and only a minority of people in the Highlands now speak what eighth century Northumberland monk, The Venerable Bede, described as the language of Scotland. This has contributed to limiting our understanding of the world around us, whether it be the natural world, social history or culture.


May 2014

Martin Morrison questions whether local democracy, as conceived, and a much vaunted conception of common ownership of land and business, are all they are cracked up to be.
Save us from local democracy
Eighteen months ago, I joined Assynt Community Council. I’d never joined a committee before, but as everyone who is anyone here is wildly enthusiastic about them, I just had to see what the attraction was. I’d heard the community council was always a good place to learn the basics. I felt a certain obligation, too, it must be said; after many years complaining impotently from the sidelines, it probably was high time I put money where my mouth was — though, as is customary in voluntary politics, not my own money.
More

John MacDonald’s
View from the croft gate
Lambing time again and the annual saga of the unexpected, when all can be quiet and peaceful for one minute and the next a lambing problem arises and has to be dealt with. I have more or less retired from the lambing round, except for perhaps keeping an eye on things. I find the physical task of struggling with a yowe a bit too much to cope with. This morning was an exception as the shepherdess had to do her day job and I had to hold the fort.
More

Litir bhon a’Cheathramh
le Alasdair MacMhaoirn
Dh’fhalbh Comunn na Gàidhlig (CnaG) anns a h-uile seagh achainm. Chaidh a ghabhail thairis le Bòrd na Gàidhlig, a dh’aindeoin na chaidh a ràdh mun ghnothach. Ann an dòigh nach dèan a’ chùise mòran diofar on a tha CnaG air a bhith air fhàgail air an dàrna taobh bho chionn greis, ach air sin a chantainn b’ e Comunn na Gàidhlig fear de na buidhnean a bha ag obair aig ìre na coimhearsnach agus a bha a’ dèiligeadh ri Sradagan, agus clasaichean ’s spòrs tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig. Tha Comunn na Gàidhlig fhathast ann mar bhuidheann corporra le stiùiriche (Saoil dè an obair a th’ aige?), ach tha an luchd-obrach agus na pròiseactan fo Bhòrd na Gàidhlig.
Comunn na Gàidhlig has disappeared in all but name, despite the spin that has been put about it was taken over by Bòrd na Gàidhlig. Perhaps there won’t be much of a change because CnaG has been sidelined for quite a while, but it was none-the-less a group which did work with communities through Sradagan, classes and sports groups. It still exists as a corporate entity with a director (I wonder what his job is), but the staff and projects have come under Bòrd na Gàidhlig.
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

New licensed restaurant opens in Lochinver shortly
When we spoke, Angie Kinnaird was having finishing touches applied to premises where she will soon run a brand new restaurant, writes Donald MacLeod.

Farr High School business top of class in Inverness
A business run by senior pupils of Farr High School in Bettyhill, who manufacture and sell “historically correct” doll’s houses, landed first prize in a competition held in Inverness late last week.

Tongue hostel’s a family affair!
Two generations of a Tongue family have clubbed together to buy the village youth hostel. Stephen and Carol Mackay and their son and daughter-in-law, Richard and Suzanne Mackay, successfully negotiated the purchase from the Scottish Youth Hostels Association (SYHA), although the building had not been on the market. To complete the family involvement, Richard’s sister, Michelle, and her partner, Mark Keith, are helping out in running the new enterprise.


April 2014

New group steps in to run Mission
A new company has received the backing of the owners of Lochinver Mission to become tenants of a building once run by the Fishermen’s Mission and, more recently, by Lochinver Mission Ltd. The latter ceased trading in November of last year.
More

Letter from Aberdeen
by Graeme Mackay
As I go to write this article I am looking outside my window at the most beautiful of spring days: in the garden the tulips are open, buds are appearing on the bushes I cut back last autumn (thank goodness because I got a little carried away with the trimmers!) and the grass has never looked so green.
More

Nature’s call
by Andy Summers
I think if you had not been there, you would not have believed the noise. I mean they are only small animals! One would have thought the noise belonged to an escaped grizzly bear, or at least a wild boar.
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Months of waiting but still no deal on KLB ambulance
When we interviewed a manager of the Scottish Ambulance Service about the progress of negotiations between the service and representatives of their Kinlochbervie staff in January of this year, little did we think that near enough four months later no visible progress would have been made.

Pelamis consults
After public consultation meetings held last week in Thurso, Bettyhill, Strathy and Durness, Pelamis Wave Power Ltd, the pioneering Edinburgh wave power generating company granted a Crown Estate lease in March 16 2010 to develop a wave farm off Bettyhill, found audiences for the “most part very positive”.

Surgeon expects postcard from mountain top!
With the encouragement of the surgeon who performed a major heart operation on him at the end of October 2012, former Farr High headmaster, Jim Johnston, is preparing to climb the highest mountain in Africa.


March 2014

Tough talk from crofting federation as SRDP consultation draws to a close
An unusually hard-hitting press release emanated from the Scottish Crofting Federation in the last month, spelling out that organisation’s opposition to the Scottish Government’s proposed opening up of the longstanding Crofting Counties Agricultural Grant Scheme to all smallholders in Scotland in what is seen by the federation as Scottish ministers’ acquiescence to the interests of large farmers via their powerful union.
More

History File
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
In the wake of pressure from various quarters that crofting should be more agriculturally efficient, the Highland Panel recommended a Commission of Enquiry. The commission was established in 1951 and was chaired by Thomas Taylor, Principal of Aberdeen University (and became known as the Taylor Commission).
More

Rob Donn and the Battle of Brucker Mühle
by Axel Koehler
The elegy composed by Duncan Ban MacIntyre (Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir) to Archibald Campbell of Achallader was not the only one composed to a Highland officer fallen in Germany during the Seven Years War.
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Scottish Fire Service won’t hear of lowering standards
Interview was blocked by fire service
You would think we were about to betray vital state secrets to judge by the reaction to our modest ambition of interviewing a Bettyhill volunteer of Scotland’s national fire and rescue service on-the-record, mainly about the difficulty of recruiting personnel, a subject upon which we reported for the first time in October 2013.

Scourie feis success
Last weekend Fèis an Iar Thuath hosted an amazing event. Children, parents and tutors came from Wick, Helmsdale, Tongue, Durness, Scourie, Stoer, Lochinver, Ullapool, Achiltibuie, Inverness and Oban for our fourth Fèis. Participant numbers are growing — well over forty children attended this year.

The Inner Man
by Chris Duckham
People often ask what I do on the long dark nights when the restaurant is closed for winter.


February 2014

Staff recruitment: Kinlochbervie ambulance
A public meeting organised by the local community council was held in Kinlochbervie recently at which concerns were raised about the cover provided by the Scottish Ambulance Service locally. Assurances were sought that parity with other similar areas would be achieved. Representing the ambulance service, part of NHS Scotland, was Graham Macleod, head of the service in the Highlands.
More

Alexander the Grateful
by Martin Morrison
Perhaps one of the most unedifying aspects of NoScotland is the sulphurous contempt for Alex Salmond oozing out of every widening crack in the artifice of union. Far too many seem utterly incapable of moving beyond this. The pitch has risen in tandem with Salmond’s ascendency, oblivious to events, all too clearly betraying the raw party tribalism behind it.
More

View from the croft gate
by John Macdonald
Another New Year under the belt. I did my bit to keep the tradition alive. No rip-roaring occasions; I was never a great fan of such gatherings, much preferring to drop in on a neighbour, have a dram and a bit craic and then move on, the walk between houses being part of the enjoyment. It can get a bit tricky when you discover there is no moonlight and no streetlamps. The last thing that you thought of while setting out in the morning was to take a torch. A bottle that fits into the pocket, yes, but a torch, no.
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Crofting body challenges SNH’s definition of ‘wild’
MSP Rob Gibson backs commission stance
The Crofting Commission has called into question assumptions made by Scottish Natural Heritage in defining the meaning of the term “wild land”.

Well known bookshop to close
After starting their business from scratch on arriving in Durness from Leicester in July 1999, Kevin Crowe and Simon Long of the Loch Croispol Bookshop and Restaurant are calling it a day.

Drìne motion goes before parliament
Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, MSP Rob Gibson, has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament congratulating Sutherland musicians on their Celtic Connections concert which celebrated the work of the Dùthaich MhicAoidh bard, Rob Donn Mackay.


January 2014

Strathnaver Conference will explore history and culture
A 3-day conference marking the 200th anniverary of the Clearances in Strathnaver (which led to the trial of Patrick Sellar) and the 300th anniversary of the birth of the renowned Gaelic bard Rob Donn of neighbouring Strathmore, will be held in Bettyhill in September of this year.
More

Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
Orain Ceilidh Teaghlaich (The Family Ceilidh Gaelic Song Collection) compiled by Brian Ó hEadhra. Anam. 2013. £10.00.
This wonderful little book should appeal to all who like traditional Gaelic song as well as providing an excellent introduction to those less familiar with the music. The editor has made the music as accessible as possible so that those without knowledge of the language and the music can gain the confidence to attempt to sing and play some of these songs. The bilingual introduction begins by outlining what a traditional ceilidh is, briefly describing the process whereby everyone is encouraged to sing a song, play music, tell a story, and so forth.
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The Inner Man
by Chris Duckham
Well, that’s Christmas over for another year already! As probably in many other households up and down the land the children received very technological presents from Santa: Esme a Kindle and Robert a very smart looking tablet. Once they were finally fully charged up and ready to go we hardly heard another word from either of the children all day. And what of the chef in the family, what did Santa bring me? No, not an induction cooker, a rotary evaporator or even an anti-griddle; when I unwrapped the impressively large box under the tree it transpired that what was contained within was nothing other than a good old-fashioned pressure cooker!
More

 

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Schoolboy to join professionals on city stage
A schoolboy from Bonar Bridge is soon to join a group of established Gaelic singers and musicians on stage in a major production.

Interview: Mike Daniels, head of land management, John Muir Trust
by Donald MacLeod
Mike Daniels was put forward by the John Muir Trust when we requested someone to interview, in particular to explore the difficulties the trust is facing with their neighbours in managing a small hill estate in Assynt which they bought in 2005. Mr Daniels was pleasant throughout and appeared open and enthusiastic. Why would anyone object to what this evidently reasonable man and his colleagues were trying to do? We wanted to hear their side of the story before opening the debate to other parties.

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
Peace in 1945 put the Highland problem back on the political agenda. The fact of depopulation was central and, of the Highland counties, Sutherland had been ravaged by emigration since the Great War.


December 2013

Appreciation
Annie Mackay, Bayview, 215 Talmine
May 19 1924 - November 11 2013

Annie Mackay was born in Skinnet on the 19th of May in 1924 to John and Margaret MacDonald. She was the fifth of six children, Hughie, Isabel, Willie Angus, Anson, Annie and Johan.
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Late on the hill
The darkest night ever on the hill? No, the blackest night — black-lead black — quite simply a total blackout. The absolute antithesis of a whiteout. Never before or since have I (nor my companion) experienced such total blackness on the hill or off it. And where exactly were we when we experienced that chilling, indeed frightening, phenomenon? Yes, halfway along a well-known north-west Sutherland mountain. And to compound the mystery of the blackness, there was no question, so far as we know, of a solar eclipse. And as we descended the steep “nose” on the north-west end of the mountain, on our way back to the single track road where his vehicle was parked, my colleague commented to me (I was following four yards behind him): “The late John George of Rhean always said however dark it was, one could always see a huge ‘erratic’ lump of rock on the skyline to the right.” But not so on this occasion!
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Barn Hogmanay
The 31st December 1929 was a day of cloud-shrouded skies and intense calm. The loch lay glassily still in its cradle of low, encircling hills, which showed little colour save for the dark bottle green of the firs, the dull maroon of the birch scrub and the chastened colours of withered bracken and heather. The silence of the valley was only broken at intervals by the laboured puffing of a steam engine as it hauled a train up the three-mile distant summit away to the east.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Centre registration ‘a big step forward’ — chairman
The Assynt Centre in Lochinver, operated by Highland Council social work department until a new voluntary group, Assynt Community Care, took over three years ago, is on the verge of providing personal care for the vulnerable elderly. “It’s a big step forward,” said chairman, David Slator, who has led the group since its inception.

Poor season may have forced Mission closure
“We covered the wages for the staff for the last week that they worked” — Sandy Johnston, Assynt Community Association
Using the former Royal National Lifeboat Institution building in Lochinver, newly upgraded courtesy of the public purse at a cost of at least £600,000, and run by a newly established social enterprise, the Mission café (including a 15-bed bunkhouse) in Lochinver seemed to have a lot going for it. But, after three years, it closed its doors to the public, without ceremony.

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
The 1904 report for the Congested Districts Board on the resettlement of Syre in Strathnaver considered that, despite the challenges the settlers faced, the majority would succeed. Some, however, seemed unlikely to prosper.


November 2013

Rob Donn songs and poetry to feature at Celtic Connections
The Gaelic promotion group, Taigh na Gàidhlig Mhealanais, centred on Melness, is marking the 300th anniversary of the birth of the great bard of Durness, Rob Donn Mackay, by putting on a special show of his songs and associated music at the 2014 Celtic Connections winter festival in Glasgow.
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Backcoaster’s diary
BLOW FOR LAW-BREAKING IN THE NORTH
News that Scotland’s new single police force is dispensing with counter services in some rural stations has brought mixed reactions from the underworld and service industries dependent on it, we can randomly recycle for you.
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Alasdair MacMhaoirn
Litir bhon a’ Cheathramh
Mar a bhiodh fios aig cuid agaibh, thàinig toraidhean a’ chunntas-sluaigh a-mach agus cha robh iad idir cho dona sa bha cuid againn an dùil; mise nam measg. ’S e rud dha-rìribh math a th’ ann ach mar a chaidh a sgrìobhadh le duine no dhà eile bu chòir dhuinn fhathast a bhith faiceallach.
As some of you will know the results for Gaelic in the census have been published, and they are not nearly so bad as many of us expected. This is good news, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Skerray couple asked to pay £15,000 for phone line
BT charge ‘outrageous’ says MP John Thurso
A Skerray couple can hardly believe the charges they face for linking some public utilities to their new house in Torrisdale, especially the charge levied by BT to install a straightforward phone line.

Obituary
Joan Macdonald (née Moffat), Gruids, Lairg
Joan was born in Scourie on May 29 1936 and moved to Lairg when she was nine years old to live at Shin Cottage and then 3 Main Street. She attended Lairg Junior Secondary School until she was 16 and then on to the Sutherland Technical School in Golspie. She went to work in the Sutherland Transport and after a year or so, then left to work as a telephonist in the Lairg telephone exchange. This was where Joan worked when she asked Donnie to accompany her to the Post Office dinner dance in the Sutherland Arms Hotel. A year later they got engaged.

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
The 1904 report for the Congested Districts Board on the resettlement of Syre in Strathnaver considered that, despite the challenges the settlers faced, the majority would succeed. Ten were doing very well and eight more were “doing fairly well and likely to survive if they persevere and do not lose heart.” However, six settlers were “unlikely to succeed and an understanding should be come to with them without delay.


October 2013

State of the Union address
Martin Morrison considers The Referendum
Whether we like it or not, there is a referendum in a year’s time when we will get the opportunity to be part of history like no generation of Scots before us. This is not just another abstract argument in a detached political realm. Indifference to politics in these islands is entirely understandable, if not essential to sanity. Our sensibilities have taken a hammering in the last few years and our political classes seem to work tirelessly to ensure we have as little reason to be interested as possible. But this is the exception that proves the rule. Indifference is probably the wrong call. One is likely to either miss out or be caught unawares.
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Nature’s call
by Andy Summers
This is a tale of the amanita, a mole and a wild mushroom pie. Last week, we went on an expedition to find fungi in the Culag Woods, by Lochinver. The weather was suitably autumnal and the first gales of the season were brewing. Strengthening winds were trying frantically to knock tenacious leaves off swaying branches. Strong branches rocked wildly with each sudden gust and the clouds rushed across the darkening sky as if late for a meeting. Fortunately they were in too much of a hurry to drop any rain (yet!). But despite all this rushing I was relaxed. Armed with a thick mushroom book (cataloguing 2,400 species to be found in the UK) a child’s ruler, a hand lens and a pink Stanley knife we set off to identify a few of the magnificent crop of fungi out this year.
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History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
In 2001 an article was published in Am Bratach celebrating the centenary of the resettlement of Syre in Strathnaver undertaken by the Congested Districts Board. Twenty-nine holdings were laid out and by 1902 twenty-seven of the holdings had been occupied. The settlers were faced with a hard task, not only having to build houses and farm buildings, but also break in the land which had not been under crops for many years. In 1903, many had suffered from the failure of their hay crop, could not winter their stock and had been forced to sell when prices were low.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Bettyhill Fire Brigade in dire straits as numbers fall
writes Donald MacLeod
You may have to depend on them to save you and your family’s life when your house goes on fire, when your car crashes or in all manner of other emergencies, but Bettyhill Fire Brigade is only hanging on by the skin of its teeth as distant managers lay down rules which may be perfectly reasonable in towns and cities but seem to be completely at odds with what is practical in depopulated rural districts.

Sheep and hares are among Angela’s favourite ‘sitters’
Angela J Simpson admits to being slightly obsessed by sheep and has produced a sketchbook full of delightful ink drawings, as you can see from the selection reproduced on this page. “The Cheviot sheep outside the door were simply begging to have their portraits painted, so I had to oblige !” says Angela, who moved to Tubeg, Skerray, from North Wales in January.

Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
Iain MacWhirter: “Road to Referendum”, Cargo Publishing, 2013. £13.99.
MacWhirter will be known to many for his concise, intelligent, irreverent and highly readable columns in the Herald, as well as his TV and radio appearances. He is one of the best political commentators in Scotland. Therefore it is no surprise to find this book both enlightening and fascinating. Although published to accompany the recent TV series of the same name, there is far more information within these 333 pages than could possibly have been given on TV.


September 2013

The health of nations
by Martin Morrison
I'm delighted to report that I've just been the sole beneficiary of a state bail-out worth well north of 50K. Swinging this took time and persistence, though nothing compared to what went down at my benefactors' end.
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Assynt Games: spirits not dampened!
The 109th Assynt Games took place on a day when most people would probably have preferred to be inside. But despite the rain, a good crowd turned out to watch the proceedings. The chieftain this year, Aileen Hall, was conveyed to the games field aboard “The Statesman”, the loyal old vessel which for years sailed sightseers up Glen Coul to the Eas a Chual Aluinn waterfall.
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Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
“Strong Highland Women: Stories from Durness and Balnakeil” by Courtney McKay Stevens and Ronald Lansley. 2013. £5.99.
Books such as “The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women” (2007), “The Lives of Scottish Women 1800 – 1980” (2006), “Women of the Highlands” (2011), “Damn’ Rebel Bitches: Women of the ‘45” (2000) and “The Scottish Suffragettes” (2000), mean that we now know a lot more about the historical, cultural and social role of women than we did in the past. This well researched book is a valuable addition to this literature.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Obituary
Kenneth Mackay, Naver
My husband, Kenneth, died on July 26 2013. He was 66 years of age. He had just over five weeks from his diagnosis with no time to say and do all that he wanted to sort out. Although he and I spoke about the possibility that something was wrong you never give up hope that maybe a miracle will happen.

View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
There is the saying that “There`s nowt queerer than folk.” Well, I think that we can also apply it to our weather. Who would have forecast back in the dubs of spring and the long cold spell which followed that we would have such a prolonged spell of grade one hay-making weather? I thought that I was doing well when I made the first cut in late June and promptly had it baled and wrapped.

Nature's call
by Donald Mitchell
Warning! For those who like puffins or are of a delicate nature this article may be unsuitable as it contains some scenes of violence.


August 2013

Cash for North West Highland Geopark
During his visit to Shetland last week, First Minister, Alex Salmond, announced funding of £280,000 to support geoparks in Shetland and the North West Highlands. The latter designated park runs from Coigach to Loch Eriboll, a region marked by notable geologicial features, features promoted by designations of this kind for tourism and educational purposes.
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Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
"Scotland's Choices: The Referendum and What Happens Afterwards" by Iain McLean, Jim Gallagher & Guy Lodge. Edinburgh University Press, 2013.Prices (in pounds sterling) 12.99.

In September 2014, all those on the electoral register plus 16-18 year olds resident in Scotland will be eligible to vote in the referendum on Scottish independence.
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View from the croft gate
by John Macdonald
In the croft calendar of events every month has its importance but probably July more than most and as usual, the weather plays a big part in the successful fulfilment of what needs to be done. For a start, sheep shearing. I hear that the return from wool has gone down again so that is not very encouraging.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Neglected road should see repairs done later this year
Long overdue repairs and maintenance of a neglected and badly kept section of the B871 single track road, from Bettyhill to Syre, in Strathnaver, depend on the say-so of councillors George Farlow, Hugh Morrison and Linda Munro before going ahead.

Handa: love and loss
by Martin Morrison
I wrote here earlier of my childhood holidays on Handa Island, but my anecdotes told much less than half the story. Indeed, they distracted from it. The happiest of times were set against events that both defined and eclipsed them, a Sutherland story, one that needs told.

Nature’s call
by Paul Castle
Kak, kak, Kak” call from a bird suddenly rising above the cliff edge, a quick look and confirmation of a female peregrine falcon alarm calling as our group of walkers trooped along in her territory. On two separate coastal guided walks within a week we have been lucky enough to witness this behaviour from this most majestic of raptor species. One peregrine spent the next ten minutes following us around and calling as we made our way along a cliff top walk at Dunnet Head. All along the headland were the remains of fulmars and rock doves, further evidence of these powerful, lightning-quick winged predators.


July 2013

Caberfeidh ranks among top UK outdoor eateries
It is rare these days for business owners to open a trade magazine and not read something that makes them wonder why they bother, writes Martin Morrison. The catering trade has been particularly hard hit in the last few years, the UK having lost an average of two players a day since 2008.
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Edinburgh Sutherland news
The Edinburgh Sutherland Association held its AGM on June 26 where it was agreed that œ1,600 should be donated to good causes in Sutherland. This means that the association has donated œ3,200 over the last two years. Details of the latest recipients will be announced soon. Fundraising events included the annual ceilidh in Edinburgh and a number of quiz nights. Money was also made from fees from new members and the sale of the new association badge.
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View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
Now that the weather has finally warmed up I have more of an the urge to do things. There are a few fences needing some attention and the sheds are badly in need of a belated spring clear- out. There seems to be a “shed law”. You clear out a shed and for a while, enjoy the order therein but slowly things go downhill and chaos returns. You do not deliberately set this into motion but it somehow happens and a month or two down the line you get the sense that things are getting a bit out of control once again and time has to be set aside to deal with the situation.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

An appreciation
Allan MacRae, 1939-2013
Allan MacRae, chairman of the Assynt Crofters Trust, died in the hill not more than an hour’s walk from his house at Torbreck, near Lochinver, on Monday of last week. A life-long bachelor, he was in his seventy-fourth year. “Now that the numbness is wearing off,” a friend said, “the enormity is sinking in. I can think of nothing comparable. We’ve had tragedy aplenty here, but nothing that touches so many people so profoundly."

Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
“Where’s Home? Glimpses of a Boy I Used to Know” by WAM MacKenzie, Bright Spark, 2013. £5.99.
In this memoir, the author provides fascinating insights into life growing up in Sutherland in the 1940s and 1950s. The account begins with him, his siblings and his mother living with his grandfather near Dornoch, while the father he had never met was in the army. This was the only home the 6-year-old boy had known, so when the family discovered the war was ending and they learned they would soon be going home, the young boy asked: “Where’s home?” Hence the interesting title.

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
PC Donald Sutherland was aged 29 and based at Melvich. His daily incident book or diary which begins in 1869 tells us things about the local scene which do not feature extensively either in estate records or in the northern newspapers. On June 23 he travelled through Strath Halladale, examined the weights used by several grocers, and called on Alexander Murray, the teacher at Dalhalvaig. In the evening he inspected Achentoul Inn where he remained overnight.


June 2013

Latest on Altnaharra wind farm
The month after we published the story, “Altnaharra to benefit from ‘free’ electricity for twenty-five years’ (Am Bratach, March 2013), Scottish Natural Heritage published a map (see above) outlining “core areas of wild land character” which need to be given “significant protection” from wind farm development under Scottish planning policy.
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Nature’s call
by Donald Mitchell
Trees do not often get much of a mention in my articles. This is certainly not because I am uninterested in them or don’t value them as a wildlife resource — the opposite is the case in fact. It is just that there are actually not very many of them here in the north-west; if you want to go for a woodland walk it has to be a deliberate choice and a special trip. It is a bit sad and it was not this way in the past as many tree roots can be found in the peat hags and peat cuttings all over the area, probably from thousands of years ago, but even in more recent times there is evidence of extensive tree cutting.
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History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
Assynt man blown up in rock blast”, or so the headline might have read in June 1860 when John Mackenzie of Clashnessie was seriously injured while working at one of the falls on the Duartmore river.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

‘Free’ wind turbines on offer throughout the North West
Small wind turbines rather than the giant structures which increasingly dominate the Highland landscape are slowly but surely joining their big brothers in the panoply of machines providing low carbon electricity across the country.

Kyle Centre flourishing after a year in local hands
In the first year of operation by local group, North Coast Connection, the number of lunches provided for the elderly at Tongue’s Kyle Centre has doubled. Previously Highland Council social work department had run the facility which is housed in a building designed for industrial use.

Headmaster to retire after 40-year stint at Farr
by Donald MacLeod
When I first mentioned his impending retirement to Jim Johnston, he said, “By the time I finish on August 18 I will have been in Farr High School for forty years and one week — and I’ve enjoyed 99% of it”. He became deputy head teacher in August 1977 and head teacher on December 6 1991. Not bad for a man whose first choice was to return from college to his native Shetland.


May 2013

MSP proposes crofts for Ledbeg
Rob Gibson, SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, has called for the Assynt Foundation to bring forward proposals for new crofts on its land at Ledbeg.
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The Inner Man
by Chris Duckham
As I write the great and good of the restaurant world are assembling in London for the 2013 “World’s top 100 restaurant awards”, run by Restaurant magazine and widely acknowledged by the trade as a barometer of international culinary trends and happenings.
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Postbox
Great War losses referred to in letter
My cousin, Jennifer Calder, recently showed me a letter written by her grandfather, my great uncle, Turnbull Anderson, in March 1917. Turnbull was at that time a shepherd at Mudale [near Altnaharra]. We found his comments about the Great War very moving and I thought they might be of interest to others.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

‘Free’ wind turbines on offer throughout the North West
Small wind turbines rather than the giant structures which increasingly dominate the Highland landscape are slowly but surely joining their big brothers in the panoply of machines providing low carbon electricity across the country.

‘Deputation’ was of Clan Mackay Society members
The photograph in our April issue, entitled “Deputation at Tongue Point”, reproduced in a smaller size above, was of some members of the Clan Mackay Society who made periodic tours of Tongue and Durness, usually arranging Gaelic competitions for local school children, Clan Mackay Society historian, William Alex Mackay, tells us. “This particular visit took place in September 1901 and the photograph was taken while they were waiting at Tongue Point for the ferry over to Melness.”

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
In February 1869 the first turf for the 17-mile section of the Sutherland Railway from the then terminus at Golspie to Helmsdale was cut at Clynemilton by Mrs Houston of Kintradwell Farm. She was assisted by Kenneth Murray of Geanies, the supervisor of the railway in Sutherland.


April 2013

The Assynt Crofters Trust est. 1993
Twenty years on and chairman MacRae is still ‘buzzing’
by Donald MacLeod
Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed in our archive columns of recent months references to the beginning of the Assynt Crofters Trust. Almost twenty-one years ago, a group of croft tenants living on a 21,132-acre estate once owned by the wealthy Vestey family were faced with the prospect of the land they occupied being sold off in small parcels to the highest bidders by the receiver of a bankrupt foreign company.
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The old Coldbackie Post Office safe and a cheap frying pan
by Willie D Mackay
A strange combination I agree but on this occasion they are closely related.
When my mother, Jessie, gave up the old Coldbackie Post Office in 1986 and moved to Surrey to be closer to my sister and I, we packed, along with her other possessions, the old Post Office safe and took it to London where I built its two and a half hundredweight bulk into one of my bedside cabinets disguised as another piece of furniture where it stood undisturbed for the past twenty-five years faithfully guarding my few humble belongings just as it did the pensions and allowances of the aged, the disability payments to some I am sure did not deserve them and the postal orders to be redeemed for purchases from JD Williams and the stakes of hopeful millionaires on Littlewoods football pools and all the other items the Postmaster General decreed be kept under lock and key and to which mother adhered to the letter.
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Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
Anne Cleves, a crime novelist with Shetland connections

Anne Cleeves was already a highly successful crime novelist when she created her Shetland detective Jimmy Perez. Prior to this she had written a series of books set in Northumberland and featuring an eccentric detective called Vera Stanhope, which was turned into a successful TV series.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Lochinver Mission failed in ‘elementary’ responsibilities
A judge’s decision in favour of a sacked manager, arrived at following a hearing at an employment tribunal convened in Inverness earlier this year (see Am Bratach, February), was justified by the employer’s lack of observance of principles that “should generally be accepted by employers”.

Tragic Scourie man was immortalised by JM Barrie
by Willie Morrison
The cheery-looking young chap in this photo, whose life sadly ended soon after it was taken, is immortalised forever as a “baddie” in one of the world’s most celebrated children’s fantasy books.

Nature’s call
by Andy Summers
Last week I set off into the hills armed with a flask, a banana and some very smelly blue cheese. Now at this stage I must say that I personally hate blue cheese, but someone had told me that cats love it. You see, I was on a quest to see if I could find any signs of a Scottish wildcat.


March 2013

Scaling the heights
Armadale teenager to climb Kilimanjaro for charity
Etienne Murphy from Armadale has to raise £2,890 by June of this year before setting out to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in August. He is taking part in the climb with twenty-nine other Highlanders in their teens and early twenties in order to raise money for MFR Cash for Kids.
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Officials to blame for Raasay blunder
Caithness, Sutherland and Ross MSP Rob Gibson lays the blame squarely on the shoulders of department of agriculture officials in Portree and Edinburgh for a recent decison — since overturned after protests — to award a sporting rights lease on government owned croft land on Raasay to South Ayrshire Stalking ahead of a local crofters’ group, The Raasay Crofters Association, that had turned its fortunes round.
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Litir bhon a’Cheathramh
le Alasdair MacMhaoirn
Sa mhìos seo chaidh sgrìobh mi mun iomairt Idle no More, agus an stailc-trasgaidh le Chief Theresa Spence. Bha an dà rud diofraichte ach san fharsaingeachd ’s ann mu chòraichean nan Tùsanach a bha iad. Bha Idle no More ag amas air còraichean nan tùsanach uile gu lèir, ach bha Spence a’ feuchainn ri fuasgladh a lorg air na trioblaidean sa bhaile aice fhèin. Eadar an dà iomairt thàinig tòrr mòr fiosrachadh a-mach a bu chòir a bhith inntinneach dhan dà chuid tùsanaich agus daoine eile.(Bilingual)
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Altnaharra to benefit from free electricity for twenty-five years
Should a wind farm on Altnaharra Estate be given the green light by planners, residents of the small hamlet of Altnaharra are promised free power for quarter of a century. In addition, isolated homesteads at Grumbeg, Mudale, Vagastie and The Crask will also enjoy the same benefits, if the occupiers so wish.

‘Piper is my grandfather’ says Portskerra woman
The piper at front, on the left of the photo above, which we published in a larger size last month, is Hugh MacDonald of Portskerra. His granddaughter, Elizabeth Mackay, Mo Dhachaidh, told us. “He’s on the left of the photo, next to the two whose images are blurred. He lived in the house that we’re in now.

View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
Mid-February, as I started to write this piece, and Spring still seemed as far away as ever; the sting in the tail came when we had to endure the remnant of the blizzard that swept New England. The forecast said that all is set to change as the mild air finally wins through and disperses the very cold air that has been with us far too long for my mature bones. But thankfully, the weather prediction has proved correct and I close the piece having enjoyed a nice Spring like day, the first this year.


February 2013

Innovative Gaelic project could benefit learners too
Lynsey Munro, a university student from Newslands, Bettyhill, presently in her second year studying for a BA degree in Gaelic and Scottish traditional music, has welcomed the "pupil exchange" project devised by Bettyhill parent, Mary Cook, on which we reported last month.
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Fowl talk
by John MacDonald
One creature common to nearly every croft used to be the “chook”, especially around the dunghill and often on the house doorstep where they left evidence of their visit.
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History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
James Anderson, tenant of Rispond, is well known for clearing several neighbouring townships and sparking off the Durness riots in 1841. However, the origins of his association with the Reay estate lay considerably earlier.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Tribunal finds that Mission wrongly dismissed manager
Jess Thomas, who was dismissed from the position of manager at the Lochinver Mission on July 16 2012, has won her case at an employment tribunal, held in Inverness on January 10, but waived her right to the compensation to which she was entitled.

Parents furious at school dance snaps
Photographs of pupils said to have been taken at a school dance in the run up to Christmas have come to parents’ notice for the first time — on Facebook — about month after the event.

Graeme Mackay
Letter from South Korea
I met up with my good friend Moon (Bok-yeong Choi) recently for some delicious Japanese food in the popular Myeongdong district of Seoul. Myeongdong is the main “Western style” shopping area with neon lights flashing so bright you could see them from space; people crammed into a maze of streets and alleyways; smells from street food vendors linger in the air; and crowds of young professionals wander from store to store seeking the latest trends and fashions. After our Japanese style “donkas” (a fried, breaded pork cutlet served with traditional miso soup) we headed off to the nearest coffee house to catch up on the last few weeks’ events. Like myself, Moon was born in 1983, but as Korean culture dictates she is 31 while I am a mere 29 years old! She is my “noo-na”, my older sister in Korea and honestly without her I’d be lost.


January 2013

Erin, 12, attends school in Harris to improve her Gaelic
A Bettyhill girl who attended Tongue Primary’s Gaelic-medium classes for her early education is now pursuing her secondary education through two schools to help improve her fluency in Gaelic.
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Development and a’ that
by George Farlow
A Happy and Prosperous New Year to all. That’s well meant but I am reminded frequently that happiness and wealth often do not “gang thegither”, especially in the teeth of double dip recessions.
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Natures call
by Andy Summers
It was a day I shall always remember. The Scandinavians had arrived during the night. First a few, then small groups of twenty or thirty, then larger groups of 100 or more and now at midday there seemed liked thousands.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Flurry of awards for Tongue groups
bt Fiona Burnett
Two North West Sutherland organisations ended 2012 on a high note after Age Scotland honoured them with a Patrick Brooks Award for partnership working. North Coast Connection and Transport For Tongue (T4T) were represented by proposer Mary Martin, and Sarah Beveridge, Tongue and North Coast Connection manager Melness, at the Age Scotland Annual Awards ceremony held in Edinburgh’s City Chambers in November, where the city’s depute lord provost, Elaine Aitken, presented the awards.

Golspie-born nurse receives top award
Yorkhill children’s hospital nurse, Dawn Fraser from Golspie, has received a coveted award from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde for her outstanding professional and personal skills. The award was presented by health minister, Alex Neil MSP.

View from the croft gate
by John Macdonald
Short days and long night season once again; everything comes round so it is just a case of adapting. On the croft a feeding routine has settled in. The hogg lambs have overcome their suspicion of people and enclosed places and now come running to you at the shake of a bucket.


December 2012

Even their long-serving commissioner is on hit list!
An elected official of the Crofting Commission, the body directed by the Scottish Government to rid the country of absentee crofters — that is crofters who happen to live more than 32km from their crofts — is himself a victim of the commission's policy on absenteeism, though with a 5-year fuse built in.
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Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
Ian Rankin: “Standing in Another Man’s Grave”, Orion, 2012. £18.99.
It is five years since Rankin retired his maverick heavy drinking, heavy smoking Edinburgh detective John Rebus. Since then he has written three new novels, the stand-alone “Doors Open” and two featuring a new Edinburgh detective creation — Malcolm Fox, who heads the unit that looks into complaints against police officers.
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View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
The croft is settling into winter mode and we await whatever weather the next few months throws at us. We can do little but accept what comes but at least we can be sort-of prepared. As I write, we have a southerly wind and that is a bonus at this time of year.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Caladh Sona safe until 2017, says councillor Kate Stephen
Speaking at the AGM of the Caladh Sona Action Group, Councillor Kate Stephen, who represents the people of Culloden, Ardersier, Croy and Cawder districts of Inverness on Highland Council, said: “The council has published a programme of priorities for delivery over the next five years. In the section Caring Communities it says ‘We will complete the refurbishment of existing local authority care homes and retain them in public or community ownership’. “My interpretation of this statement,” said Councillor Stephen, “is that the future of Caladh Sona is assured, at least till May 2017."

Obituary
Emily Bannerman
There was much sadness in the North of Scotland community and much further afield with the death of Skelpick-born Emily Bannerman, at the age of 69, in the Town and County Hospital, Wick, after a long and courageous fight with cancer.

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
In March 1813 Mary Mackay from Rogart was imprisoned to the jail of Dornoch. She had been “Committing for some time back several acts of theft, in the Parishes of Dornoch, Rogart, and Golspy” and on January 25 had “under silence of night, (and while the family were in bed) entered the house of Lieutenant John Mackay in Craigtown, and stole a variety of articles, such as a tea chest [or caddy], stair carpet, pairs of shirts and money in bank notes to the amount at least of £8”.


November 2012

Own goals count
writes George Farlow
Sutherland population expected to fall in next 20 years
When I returned to Scotland in 1993, I joined a voluntary group. At the University of Aberdeen, I became a member of a democratic organisation which sought self-government for Scotland and to further all Scottish interests. Life was quite simple then: the occasional meeting for the keen to agree more meetings, followed by a ceilidh and a hangover. Huge changes then have taken place as in the wake of the Edinburgh Agreement and a conference of a thousand delegates, where I managed to disagree with half of them.
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Patrick and Joseph appreciated
After Rob Donn, it could be argued that two Durness brothers, the sons of the bard’s minister, may lay fair claim to be the preeminent men of Dùthaich MhicAoidh (or Strathnaver, as Patrick describes it), at least in terms of their contributions to the arts, in history. Rob Donn’s influence on nineteenth century Gaeldom, for example, was rather less than that of some of his more fashionable contemporaries, but his poetry is now very highly valued by scholars such as Donald John MacLeod.
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View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
We often seem to get a nice spell of weather in October and this has been the case once again with a touch of frost and a nice day to follow. Good tattie picking weather. I understand that the schools are now closed for a couple of weeks for what used to be called the “tattie holidays.” I wonder just how many of today’s youngsters ever put a tattie in a pail. Empty a crisp packet maybe but that`s the closest most of them will get to handling a tattie. Dipping into the memory box once again, “when we were young”, the term tattie holiday usually meant just that. There would be the home croft tattie lifting but then neighbours would be looking for a hand with theirs and usually a few shillings would be earned.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Tenant angry at loss of croft
Commission and crofters’ estate in firing line
An absentee crofter of twenty-five years, who has never resided full-time on his croft, is furious at the Crofting Commission for depriving him of the tenancy which has been in his family for sixty years. And, in a letter passed by him to Am Bratach, purporting to be for the commission, Jeremy Gow alleges that the estate of which he was a shareholder until June 19 encouraged the commission to act against him.

Bard’s monument refurbished
On October 1, David Morrison, the youngest fluent native Gaelic speaker of the parish of Durness and a notable singer of the bard’s songs, who now lives near Dundee, laid a wreath on the grave of Rob Donn Mackay, one of the giants of Gaelic poetry who was born 298 years ago at Allt na Cailleach, in Strathmore.

Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
Salman RusHdie: “Joseph Anton: A Memoir”. Jonathan Cape, 2012. £25.
The bulk of this memoir is about the fatwa and Rushdie’s life during his years in hiding. He details his many moves, the stresses on his relationships, family, the problems encountered with the security services, the campaigns to get the fatwa removed, his relations with various governments — in fact a detailed account of his day-to-day life during those years.


October 2012

Letter to the editor
Barrows of concrete were left to harden as men headed for ‘the meeting’ in Elphin
De idir tha dol an adhart anns a bhaile bheag, bochd ris an can iad Ailfionn? Colin Macdonald visited the crofters here in the early years of the last century. He was most impressed with our predecessors when he addressed them in the library. Their grasp of procedure, practice and etiquette at public meetings was beyond anything he had experienced across the Highlands and Islands. Other sources tell us there was a vibrant literary society with monthly meetings, debates and talks, not to mention their well run church.
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The Inner Man
by Chris Duckham
And so it’s that time of the year again already, the 2012 season has ended and the restaurant is now closed for winter. As I write the nights are already closing in, nearly everything is stopping growing and it seems natural to call a halt as the seasons suddenly change.
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Nature’s call
by Andy Summers
I knew I was in for trouble as soon as I set down the phone. A friend had called apologetically for help. “Er, Andy, I think we have a problem”, she said, including me in the sentence already, I noticed. “I think there is something stuck down my chimney”.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

‘Why shouldn’t a community run a business?’
Martin Morrison takes a look at the state of state intervention in Assynt
I had lunch at your expense last summer with an MSP and a councillor. This public largesse was in return for my views on the relative merits of community ownership, a trend eagerly embraced in Assynt in recent years. I was one of a number of local people whose home-spun wisdom they sought. I assume they only had one lunch that day — though one never knows with politicians — so I’m possibly the only one whose integrity was compromised by any unseemly gratuity but, lunch is lunch; in Lochinver I usually find it an agreeable one.

Alec George Mackay
A tribute from Domhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart
On his entertainingly splenetic tour of the horrors of early 1980s Britain, The Kingdom by the Sea, the travel writer Paul Theroux had few kind words for those he met. The people of Mackay Country were the one exception. “They were the toughest Highlanders and they did not match any Scottish stereotype I knew. They did not even have a recognisably Scottish accent. They were like white crows. They were courteous, hospitable, hard-working, and funny. They epitomised what was best in Scotland, the strong cultural pride that was separate from political nationalism. That took confidence. They were independent, too — “thrawn” was the Lowlands word for their stubborn character. I admired their sense of equality, their disregard for class, and the gentle way they treated their children and animals. They were tolerant and reliable, and none of this was related to the flummery of bagpipes and sporrans and tribalistic blood-and-thunder that Sir Walter Scott had turned into the Highland cult. What I liked most about them was that they were self-sufficient. They were the only people I had seen on the whole coast [of Britain] who were looking after themselves.” With the recent passing of Alec George Mackay, we have lost one of the most distinguished members of that generation.

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
The Sutherland Reclamations were undertaken between 1869 and 1886. Heroic in scale and heroic in expense, they are well described in Annie Tindley’s book, The Sutherland Estate 1850-1920. However, as George Loch, the Duke’s commissioner admitted, he had begun to think about reclaiming the wastes and bogs for arable land a while back.


September 2012

Around the Lairg Crofters’ Show
by Donald MacLeod
Come rain or come shine, the crofters of Lairg will not be deterred. The rain, a deluge early on, forced the livestock judge to abandon the field for the tea tent for the duration of an uncommonly heavy shower. Happily, the sun was never far away after that and all went according to plan.
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Obituary
Mr Alec G Mackay, 1922-2012
by Seumas Grant

With the death of Alec George Mackay, of Skinnet, Melness (pictured), on the 22nd of June 2012, Sutherland lost one of the most important custodians of its history and culture. His knowledge of the history, the traditions and the Gaelic dialect of Sutherland, and of the Mackay Country in particular, was encyclopaedic: from the actions of the Clan Mackay at the Battle of Drumnacoub in 1431 to the actions of the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815; from the clearance of the people off the land for sheep, to the efforts made by the Land Leaguers to win the land back.
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Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
George Mackay Brown: “The Wound and the Gift” by Ron Ferguson, Saint Andrew Press, 2012. £19.99.
Orcadian George Mackay Brown is one of the giants of twentieth century Scottish literature, equally at home with poetry, fiction and essays. He was also a convert to Roman Catholicism and in one his poems described Scotland as “the Knox-ruined nation”. The author of this biography, Ron Ferguson, is himself a writer of some note and a Church of Scotland minister who for eleven years was in charge of St Magnus Cathedral on Orkney.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Scandinavian farmers manage to live with bears
reports Mandy Haggith
On a trip to Norway, I discovered how farmers manage to live with large predators, including bears. Norway is similar in size to Scotland, with a similar number of people. It’s more rural and it has twice as much forest and gets much more snow in winter, but there are lots of landscape similarities — a long coastline, lots of islands, not much good arable land and plenty of mountains. Brown bears were extinct there until fairly recently too. So I was interested to find out how Norwegian rural dwellers are managing to live with bears.

Bettyhill Gala 2012
by Murdo Gordon
The Bettyhill Gala was blessed once again with four days of beautiful sunshine, which resulted in large crowds for our fun filled events. The planning of the gala though however took place in the long winter months of darkness. We started our meetings in January and every fortnight since then we were up in the Bettyhill Hotel planning wild and wonderful events for the gala.

View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
Mid-August as I write and with it a spell of decent warm weather and sunshine: at last we feel that we are having a spell of summer, allbeit, a rather belated one. Driving down into Ross-shire and the fields of gold are awaiting the combines, some have made a start. There is what I have come to regard as “an air of harvest”. There is a special feel to this time of year when there is the awareness that the nights are starting to draw in, but we can still appreciate the tail end of summer. It usually lasts for about four weeks after the schools go back then it gives way to a true autumn feel.


August 2012

Land reform panel must be rigorous and impartial
writes Elphin crofter Iain Mackenzie
Earlier this year I had a bit of a ding dong with our multimillionaire landlord's absentee factor. To be on the safe side I consulted a lawyer. Young,enthusiastic and, no doubt, idealistic, I was advised to consider the merits of the Land Reform Act 2003, and the possibility of organising a hostile buyout!
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Litir bhon a’Cheathramh
le Alasdair MacMhaoirn
Beag air bheag tha pròiseact air a bhith a’ dol ann an Sean Eaglais na Paraiste, ann an Eadar Dùn, ann an Siorrachd Rois. ’S ann fo stiùireadh Reay Clark agus Urras Eaglais Eadar Dùn a tha e. Fhuair mi fhìn brath mun phròiseact bho charaid agam, Primrose Richards. Tha mi fhìn is Primrose a’ dol air ais fada, agus abair gur e boireannach a th’ innte a tha air leth fiosrachail mu eachdraidh Cloinn ’Ic Aoidh. Co-dhiù, ’s ann aig Mgr Clarke a bha a’ bheachd sa chiad dol-a-mach. ’S ann a Earabol a bha sinnsearachd Mgr Clarke, agus tha deagh chuimhn’ agam air Ailig Seòras MacAoidh, nach mairinn, gam moladh. Mus téid sinn dhan phròiseact ge-tà, tha beagan fiosrachadh a dhith.
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A night in Lochinver
by Madeleine Ferrar
It was freezing cold, pouring with rain and the wind was so strong I could hardly stand up. Just a normal spring day in Ullapool, it seems, and especially disappointing because it was the weekend of their annual book festival. I had driven cross-country from Helmsdale, and was already soaked to the skin, having tramped the streets trying to find the festival’s venue.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

One-time joiner is now an artist
by Hamish Mackay
A man raised in the small crofting township of Armadale, who began his working life as a joiner, is now, in the twilight of his life, enjoying considerable success as a painter and art gallery owner in the Scottish capital. Lindsay McCrea, who is in his early 70s and lives in Stockbridge in Edinburgh’s West End, now runs the McCrea Gallery in Portobello High Street and has emerged as an accomplished water colour and oils painter.

The inner man
by Chris Duckham
One of the things that I am always reminded of every year about this time is how compact the growing season is here in the far north. For months and months nothing seems to grow at all and the landscape barely changes. The mountains in the distance have a brownish hue, the heather is dark and stretches monotously as far as the eye can see and the only splash of colour is when the gorse itself flowers to brighten up the landscape. Then in a few short weeks everything changes and green is everywhere. The bracken which has lain in autumnal tinges for so long suddenly sprouts up and seemingly overnight is waist high. The mountains themselves look green in the distance and the local scenery is transformed into the famous picture postcard and calendar views sold to the passing tourists.

Mary Frances Carmichael
Artist and designer, 1837–1928
by Domhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart
For several years now I have been researching the life, work, and papers of the Highland folklorist, Alexander Carmichael (1832–1912), compiler of the six volumes of Carmina Gadelica (1900–71), a great compendium of Gaelic tradition, charms, blessings, prayers, songs, historical lore, and much more.


July 2012

New minibus due in September
by Fiona Burnett
Tongue transport group has ambitious plans to expand services
Grant funding of over £50,000 has come from two sources — Village SOS Big Lottery Fund, which donated £30,000, and £20,000-plus from Caithness and North Sutherland Fund — to make it possible for Transport for Tongue (T4T) to purchase a brand new 15-seater minibus with wheelchair access, costing in the region of £41,000, with delivery expected in September.
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Postbox
Photo brought back memories of keepers
Following your excellent photograph of Alec MacDonald and Jimmy Sutherland in your May issue I would like to take up your invitation to tell you what I know about the gentlemen.
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Nature’s call
by Paul Castle
No matter how advanced as a species we become some basic experiences can put a smile on our face just as I suspect it did long ago.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Kirtomy family star in new film about salmon fishing
by Hamish Mackay
The village of Armadale, seven miles east of Bettyhill, and its centuries-old contribution to the  traditional bag-net salmon fishing industry is highlighted in a fascinating new film which could be set to attract a global audience.

Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
Should teaching Scottish literature be compulsory in schools?
In January, Michael Russell, the Scottish Government’s Education Secretary, announced that from 2014 it will be compulsory for students taking English at Highers to answer at least one question on Scottish literature. The compulsory question could be on poetry, fiction or drama. In his announcement, Michael Russell said: “We want our children and young people to have the chance to learn about our literary tradition and to inspire the future generations of Scottish writers.”

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
The women of Achriesgill had played a central role in the “riots” which took place in 1851 when the estate management decided the crofters should surrender part of their common grazings. However, the estate lawyer advised that it might not be desirable to report the case to the procurator fiscal given the prominent part played by the women.


June 2012

Hughina celebrates her 100th birthday
by Donald MacLeod
Last Friday, Hughina Mackellar of Uddingston, Glasgow, celebrated her 100th birthday. I am not privy to whether she solved a crossword puzzle on that day or not, but she may well have done for this remains one of the favourite pastimes. This remarkable lady was born on a Strathnaver croft on May 31 1912, six weeks after the Titanic sank.
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French cattle thrive well on Assynt hills
by Mandy Haggith
Many people driving past Loch Borralan, east of Ledmore Junction in Assynt, will have noticed the unusual grey cattle in the fields there. They belong to Roddy Watt, and are Gascon cattle, a breed originally from the mountainous region of the Pyrenees in southern France. More

Nature’s call
by Andy Summers
My story this month starts with a big hairy caterpillar. To be precise it was a two-year-old caterpillar of a drinker moth. It was as long and as thick as my little finger, covered in long fine hairs. It was doing what caterpillars do best — munching their way through the mollinia grass and delicious sedges that cover most of the hills around here.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Kyle Centre opens under new ownership this week
Centre and Caladh Sona separation ‘an advantage’
The Kyle Centre, built as an industrial unit, but used successfully by the local authority as a lunch club and meeting place for the elderly of Tongue and surrounding districts since 1996, formally changes hands tomorrow (Friday, June 8) when Highland Councillor Linda Munro officiates at a ceremony handing over responsibility to North Coast Connection, a local charity established for the purpose.

Martin Morrison pleases...all of the people none of the time
Well, that’s this year’s election season over and what a thriller it’s been, with surprises all round. At Highland Council, bitter party hostility evaporated overnight as Labour, LibDem and SNP solemnised a ménage à trois long considered anatomically impossible in order to protect local democracy from the threat posed by thirty-five independents, who themselves seem to be missing a fundamental point in opposing them as a group.

Litir bhon a’Cheathramh
le Alasdair MacMhaoirn
Fhuair mi togail an là roimhe. Leugh mi litir ann am pàipear naidheachd bhon Learagaidh Ghallta, anns an robh cuideigin a’ cur sìos air a’ Ghàidhlig. Na seann duain mar as àbhaist mu chosgaisean, soighnichean is eile.


May 2012

Postbox
Forebearers search
I wondered if, through the pages of your news magazine, I might appeal for information about some of my ancestors. My grandfather, Hugh Mackay of Melvich (son of John Mackay) came south to England in 1900.
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Cuimhneachadh
Gaelic songs sung by David Morrison, accompanied on the piano by Marlene Rapson.
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View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
By the time that this article is presented we hope to be well through the lambing, but as I write, it has just started. The yowes are very heavy and no doubt there will be a few that will jump the gun and arrive early.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Commission does not have tools to enforce legislation
The new Crofting Commission, equipped with powers to enforce the occupation and good management of crofts, may not have the ability to bring grazing committees to heel should they ignore commission demands to report fellow crofters in breach of their statutory duties.

Marty Mackay Memorial Sponsored Cycle and Walk
All in all fifty-five cyclists and around sixty-five walkers braved the wet and windy morning of Saturday April 21 to take part in what is rapidly becoming an important annual fund-raising charity event. It is in memory of Marty Mackay of Durness who lost his life to cancer on April 16 2010, at the age of forty-three. Among the cyclists taking part were Marty’s father, Martin, pictured.

Alasdair MacLeod talks to Agnes Mackay, Newlands, Bettyhill
Part 2
Agnes Mackay, sheltering from the seasonal winds buffeting Blàran Ridge, recalls springtime and summer in Bettyhill, with the family wash-house the centre of activity."Everybody would come to our wash-house with their blankets and we would tramp them in the big tubs; all our neighbours coming with their blankets."


April 2012

New era for commission as new board is partly elected
The Crofters Commission is no more, having re-branded to become the Crofting Commission from the beginning of this week, on April 1, with a partly-elected group of commissioners. Ian MacDonald, from Skye, was elected on March 16 as the commissioner for the West Highlands, a vast constituency stretching from Skye to North West Sutherland.
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Martin Morrison
bares gifts from the Greeks
The Ancient Greeks’ big idea has been much in the news lately. Whether it is genuinely under threat or merely seems so in this age of 24/7 rolling news, exactly what it is and what we can reasonably expect it to achieve are other matters entirely, but democracy itself is the talk of the steamie.
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History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
Events at Elphin in the spring of 1851 appeared to be replicated a few months later further north when the people of Achriesgill protested against the loss of part of their common grazings.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

The sad story of the Nostar boat
The year 1893 was a particularly bad year for losses at sea with ninety-seven boats wrecked around the Scottish coast resulting in the loss of eighty-two men, compared with the loss of ten boats and twelve men in 1892, writes Donald Campbell.

Whither Ùlpan?
by Mandy Haggith
A weekend for Gaelic students from Assynt and Kinlochbervie was held at Glencanisp Lodge in March, but the future of some Gaelic classes looks uncertain once again.

Postbox
Sellar was an odious individual, but trial was not a charade
Ian Leith’s claim that the Sellar trial in 1816 was a charade designed to pervert the course of justice is not believable to anyone with knowledge of the Scottish legal system. My last letter (Am Bratach, February 2012) concluded with a request that Mr Leith should produce the evidence to support his allegation. There is no trace of any such evidence in his latest contribution (Am Bratach, March 2012) so it must be assumed that he does not possess any. He re-states the obvious fact that various people had a vested interest in the trial, and he doubts the reliability of the trial report produced by Patrick Robertson, a member of Sellar’s defence team.


March 2012

High Life not so high
by Mandy Haggith
Sport centres and other public facilities, since October of last year in receipt of local authority grant-aid from a so-called independent charity, High Life Highland, instead of directly from Highland Council, are worried that the change may threaten their survival.
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Life in Korea
by Graeme Mackay
Sometimes I wonder if I have fallen into a deep sleep, the kind normally associated through the magic of Walt Disney. I don’t remember touching a spinning wheel or eating a poisonous apple but for some reason I feel like my experience of living in the land of the morning calm has been too good to be true. Can I really have lived in South East Asia for twelve months now? Did I really wander through the temples of the Taj Mahal, set foot in China, party through New Year in Bangkok, teach English as a foreign language and witness the death of Kim Jong Il while living in South Korea?
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Bookends
b
y Kevin Crowe
“Ever fallen in love”, Zoe Strachan, Sandstone Press, 2011. £8.99.
Despite its title, this is not a romantic novel. The main character, Richard, is a gay man born into a working class Scottish town, who at university falls in love with Luke — also from a working class background but, frustratingly for Richard, heterosexual. The two of them become the closest of friends for their duration at university. Luke is promiscuous and earns extra money by dealing drugs, often engaging in sex with his female clients. Alternate chapters chart the friendship of Richard and Luke, and their various escapades which lead inevitably and inexorably to tragedy. Written in the first person, it is all seen through the eyes of Richard.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Possible standing stone discovered
by Mandy Haggith
A huge stone, believed to be a possible toppled standing stone, is due to be excavated at Ledbeg, Assynt, on March 8-9. If archaeologists are convinced it is a standing stone it will be the first in North West Sutherland and a significant addition to the already impressive array of ancient archaeological remains in Assynt.

“The poems and times of David John Henderson, 1914-1978” by John MacDonald
by Donald MacLeod
The subject of a new biography, “The poems and times of David John Henderson, 1914-1978”, wrote the evergreen anthem of the North West, “The Waters of Kylesku” among many songs and poems. David Henderson ceilidhed with Bettyhill-born Jackie Craig, whose song, “Bonnie Naver Bay”, is in a similar league of popularity, and corresponded with Hendry Henderson, the Bard of Reay, a famous son of Caithness with Kinlochbervie connections who complained to him about the John o’ Groat Journal not publishing his poems. A poem by the Reay bard in favour of home rule which was adopted by The International Scots Home Rule League is one of many interesting nuggets of information you find in this book. Davie, as he was usually known, is believed to have been related to the Bard and also to the Bard’s close friend, storyteller and historian of the parish of Reay, Donald Mackay of Shebster.

Postbox
Published account of Patrick Sellar’s trial may not be reliable
Following recent discussions in Am Bratach, I feel it incumbent on me to make a few short comments. Firstly to exonerate Kevin Crowe who was good enough to take the time and trouble to read and review the book “The Man Who Went to Farr”. Secondly, to thank Kevin O’Reilly for also accessing and reading the said book and continuing a debate, which I believe, has yet to reveal some important information!


February 2012

No fuel rebate for North West in sight
by Mandy Haggith
As fuel stations around the Scottish islands prepare to cut their prices for customers, there is growing resentment that remote areas of the mainland are being unfairly excluded from a European tax rebate scheme.
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Postbox
On the trail of Patrick Sellar
Kevin Crowe complains that I attributed to him words which were in fact quotations from Leith’s book (Am Bratach, December 2011). This fact was made clear in my letter, but Kevin should not need to complain. His review makes it obvious that he fully agrees with everything Leith wrote — a view reinforced by his latest letter.
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Martin Morrison writes about
Facebook
As if the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics weren’t enough to lift the gloom, Goldman Sachs have shone yet more light on the path to the sunny uplands of market prosperity by provisionally valueing Facebook at $50 billion prior to it being floated on the stock exchange later this year.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Walking-to-school regime receives mixed reception
Strathy Point parents keep daughter off school
by Mandy Haggith
There has been a mixed reaction to the changes in Highland Council’s school bus runs around North West Sutherland, which mean that children previously getting the bus to school now have to make their own way there. This means either being driven by parents or walking long distances.

No respite for respite care
“Nobody’s done any joined-up thinking”
Mandy Haggith reports
Highland Council’s funding negotiations with North West Sutherland Care Alliance are missing the main point, according to the Alliance’s manager. Sylvia Mackay said: “The major issue we are facing is the 58% cut in funding to the respite service. Yet there has been no needs assessment or analysis of the impacts of this cut.” She cites job losses of staff as one impact, but her main concern is for the alliance’s vulnerable clients and their carers.

Bonnie Strathnaver
A year or two ago I happened to drive down “bonnie Strathnaver” in company with one of the crofters, and we discussed the question in which he and his fellows were so much interested. I asked him to point out how in old days the local population were better off than they are at the present. There was a long hesitation. That they were better off was an article of belief, undeniable as any or all the great thirty-nine, unquestionable as a postulate of Euclid. I endeavoured to clear the way by suggestions.


January 2012

North West missing out on Gaelic classes
by Mandy Haggith
According to the most recent Highland Council figures, the national scheme to give children access to Gaelic education is failing to reach children living in North West Sutherland.
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Council transport contracts revised
by George Farlow
During 2011 Highland Council has been going through the process of re-tendering public transport contracts. Any bus service which exists because of a taxpayers’ subsidy has been up for grabs — apparently for anyone across Europe who feels they could run the North West omnibus. The new contracts all start on January 1 2012 or at least it is hoped that they start then, but there are many issues left to resolve.
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Postbox
One of the most haunting laments ever composed
I was very pleased to note from Mandy Haggith’s feature last month that noted Assynt Gaelic singer James Graham had mentioned Drumbeg bard Donald Macleod’s poignant lament for his countryman Alec Munro, who died in the Great War.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Royal Mail ends bus service immortalised by famous poet
End of passenger bus service means isolation for some
by Mandy Haggith
The postbus service between Lairg and Assynt ceased operation at the end of December. For decades the morning postal delivery between Drumbeg, Lochinver and Lairg has taken passengers, dropping them off in Lairg in time for the morning train.

A 100 years ago this month my grandfather came home
by Sandra Train
Some time in the last decade of the nineeenth century, a young man of Halladale, Alexander MacDonald, faced a choice: to stay and work on the croft at Dalhalvaig where he had been brought up from early childhood by his grandparents and an uncle, Colin, or to seek his fortune firth of the Strath.

From our archives — January 1992
Music from Farr School
CEANN GEAL
A review by Joseph Mackay
When asked to do this review for Am Bratach I immediately had reservations for several reasons. The generation gap which separates my age group from the early teenager would seem insurmountable. It is said you can’t put an old head on young shoulders and it is equally difficult to do the reverse. If you listen to the teenagers’ latest favourites from Top of the Pops, which seem to have a hypnotic effect on the young, they leave the more mature listener cold.


December 2011

Non-profit group forges ahead
For the past two years, Transport for Tongue, Melness and Skerray (T4T) have successfully provided “wheels for the community”. A Highland Council grant enabled the purchase of the 5-seater Peugot disabled-access vehicle for most local runs complemented by volunteer drivers using their own vehicles and reimbursed at the government recommended mileage rate. T4T also utilises an aged 9-seater minibus “inherited” from a multiple sclerosis group when they upgraded their vehicle.
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Song guardian
Mandy Haggith talks to James Graham
It was standing room only in Drumbeg Village Hall on Saturday November 12, as people crushed in to hear James Graham performing the Gaelic songs of Assynt. An intimate session gave what he called “an airing” to a crucial aspect of the district’s heritage.
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View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
I seem to have been attracting attention over the ongoing land dispute that filled a couple of news columns in last month’s Bratach. It is an issue that has been rumbling on within part of our crofting parish this last few years ever since the estate changed hands and the new owners discovered that as although the estate was theirs, most of it was under crofting tenure and they could not do just what they liked with the land or the crofters on it. They are 125 years too late on the scene for that to happen. The only bit of land in the whole estate not under crofting tenure was the lodge policies and some eighty acres that was our summer pasture, shared with neighbouring crofters should they wish to put animals on it.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Highland Council agrees to local control of Kyle Centre
GP highlights need for patient services to continue
Care for senior citizens in Tongue and surrounding district has taken another move towards becoming a local community responsibility, writes Mandy Haggith. The threat of closure of the Kyle Centre has been averted, with an agreement from Highland Council that the local community can take over the running of the building. A local committee is working to bring this about.

Cinderella comes to town!
A new amateur dramatic group will be strutting their stuff on stage in Bettyhill after Christmas in “Cinderella”, the beloved folk tale first performed as a pantomime in London in 1904, writes Catriona MacLeod. Graham Best, the director, has been involved in many amateur dramatic productions in the South over the years and was pleasantly surprised at how keen people were to join the production, both on stage and behind the scenes.

Petition presented to MSP
A parents’ petition, said to contain over 140 names and addresses, was presented to Caithness, Sutherland and Ross MSP Rob Gibson on November 25. The petition, from Tongue Parent Council, calls on Highland Council to provide free transport for 6-year-old Molly, only child of John and Fiona Burnett, Kempy, Loch Eriboll, to attend the school nearest to her home, Tongue Primary. Instead, they are offered transport to Durness Primary, which is three miles further away, but, they find, takes twice as long to travel to.


November 2011

A history in stone
Historian may have found Strathmore 'lifting' stone
Before the Highland Clearances, when the glens and straths of the North West Highlands were vibrant with communities, the young men tested their mettle in many aspects of physical strength which formed the basis of the modern Highland games. One aspect of this culture, the stone of strength or "clach neart" (stone of force) became a focal point for competitions or just simply having fun. Lifting the heavy stone was popular all over the Highlands and Islands of Scotland with many different styles of lifting and different types of stone used depending on the local geology.
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Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
"The Man Who Went to Farr: Patrick Sellar and the Sutherland Experiment" by JG Leith, 2010, Baseline Research. £10.00.
Much has been written about the Strathnaver Clearances. From Macleod and Miller in the nineteenth century to Prebble, Grimble and Richards in the twentieth, as well as newspaper and magazine articles, official reports, songs and poems, fictional accounts, archived correspondence and biographies and autobiographies, there has been a wide variety of perspectives.
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Litir bhon a’Cheathramh
le Alasdair MacMhaoirn
Fad mìosan choimhead mi air ainm-eòlas agus mar a tòrr ri ionnsachadh ann. Thug sinn sùil air mar a tha curaicealam ri lorg anns a’ chànan fhèin tre, mar eisimpleir, ainmean-àite, cruth na tìre, ainmean lusan agus an-dràsta bu chaomh leam sùil a chur ainmean bheathaichean. Gu fortanach tha stiùireadh mionaidean air a chuspair anns an leabhar, Gaelic Names of Beasts…, leis an t-Urr. Foirbeis, 1905.
For a number of months I’ve looked at naming systems and what can be learned. We’ve looked at how the language itself contains a curriculum, for example in placenames, land shapes, plant names and now I would like to look at the names of animals. Fortunately there is excellent information on the subject in the Rev Forbes’s, Gaelic Names of Beasts, 1905.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Rogart estate may build houses in park used by crofters for 100-plus years
Crofters using the Rogart Park on Tressady Estate for cattle grazing coexisted with the wealthy landowners holding dominion over them without interruption until the present owner, Reneta Coleman, burst on to the scene in 2006.

Alasdair MacLeod talks to Agnes Mackay about her early life
There’s something compelling about the sight of a 93-year-old lady racing up a Bettyhill slope in a Landrover Defender. Yes, we all looked on with awe and admiration as we saw pictures recently of a 100-year-old completing the Toronto Marathon, but Mrs Agnes Mackay rallying up to her home at 134 Rhian Chatail, Blàran Ridge, manages to trump Mr Singh on style if nothing else.

History File
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
At the end of 1847 the Duke of Sutherland’s commissioner, Loch congratulated McIver, the factor for the Scourie district, “in relieving the people under the accumulated distress” brought about by the Potato Famine. The duke had turned his attention to the future situation of the small tenants. According to Loch, the people of Knockan and Elphin “formed the object of the most anxious solicitude, and whose case deserves more immediate attention.” McIver would be aware of “his Grace’s extreme, and constant anxiety”.


October 2011

Mission impossible?
Mandy Haggith looks at the pros and cons of a state-funded enterprise in Lochinver
The Lochinver Mission project has been at the heart of some heated debates in recent weeks, concerning how social and private enterprises can operate together in small communities. More

Around the shows
We begin with the photo on this page of a very special dog (and his pretty special owner, Catherine Macdonald). Five-year-old “Jimmy” is a bearded collie dog owned by Catherine of Cnocbreac, Torrible, Lairg, whom we caught up with at the Lairg Crofters Show.
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Every town should have a Willie Bain
writes Willie D Mackay
I enjoyed our correspondent Graeme Mackay’s article about his recent visit to India and derived a degree of comfort in knowing that we are not the only ones experiencing a wet summer and envy him the luxury of a warm soaking as opposed to the ice-cold drenching on my recent holiday to the appropriately named Coldbackie on the Kyle of Tongue.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Tongue faces new challenge as council drops Kyle Centre
by Mandy Haggith
‘A significant number of my patients would benefit from continuing to get day care at the Kyle Centre’ — local GP
Residents in the parish of Tongue are taking action to try and save their senior citizens’ day care centre. A working group is putting together a plan to bring the Kyle Centre under local ownership and management.

Fiona Burnett talks to Iain Anderson, broadcaster
“A safe haven of music” declares the female announcer followed by the distinguished sultry voice of Iain Anderson, “…As we sail into the high water blues”. A comforting introduction to Iain Anderson’s late night radio programme on BBC Radio Scotland, where an eclectic range of music meets my ears. All very relaxing, as was my recent catch up with Iain last month when he graciously gave up some of his free time to chat to me at his Durness residence.

Coast to coast walk, July 2011
by Fraser Mackay
With a good weather forecast I was bound for the West Coast of Scotland and the sea weedy shores of Loch Broom at Inverlael for the start of a Coast 2 Coast (“C2C”) walk to Ardgay and the Dornoch Firth on the east side of the country. Joyce was my back up, driving me to Inverlael for 9.30am and was to pick me up at Ardgay in the late evening. Armed with my OS sheet and compass I set forth at 10 o’clock.


September 2011

Council out on limb on wind says planning expert
by Mandy Haggith
Highland Council's planning service is being described as "out on a limb" by wind energy companies which claim that its approach to turbine noise is harsher than anywhere else in the country.
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Gruids crofter shows Beltex lamb in Lairg
People may say that crofters are a conservative bunch, not prone to experimentation, when the truth is that their small economic base often rules out expensive investments whose returns are often a step into the unknown.
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Life in Korea
by Graeme Mackay
“... the poor wee thing was doing cartwheels between the cars in an attempt to increase her selling power.”
Well here we are coming ever closer to the end of summer, and if it is any consolation at all, the weather in Korea this summer has been the wettest they have experienced for many years.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Obituary
Thomas Mackay, Melness
The far-flung north community was immensely saddened by the recent death of Tom Mackay, of 236 Achnahuaigh, Melness, who slipped peacefully away, aged 70, on August 2, with all his family at his bedside.

Greyhound rescue
by Mandy Haggith
“They make wonderful pets” — Irene Mackenzie
If you are considering a new pet, it is worth considering whether you can adopt a greyhound that has been abandoned by the racing industry.

Nature’s call
by Andy Summers
Some events both local and national can define the year; they are markers for my poor memory in the time line of life. Events such as a wedding, the foot and mouth disaster of 2001, the first golden eagle chick I ever saw or the muir burning that got out of control and burnt many square miles of heathland and bog at Clachtoll. The mass stranding of Pilot Whales in the Kyle of Durness will forever be a marker for me of 2011. And although I did not really take an active part in the subsequent liberation of some of these magnificent animals, to observe the life and death struggle and the heroic actions of the brave souls who tried to help was something I will never forget.


August 2011

Durness Highland Gathering 2011
Last week’s Durness Games may not have been blessed with the fairest weather — it was decidedly cool, though dry — but a fine crowd turned up and gave every appearance of enjoying themselves as athletes from far and near gave excellent displays of their prowess and a number of records fell. More

Group wins funds for Gaelic training
by Mandy Haggith
“I look forward to the day when you hear Gaelic spoken around the place.”
Adults in Assynt who are keen to learn Gaelic have received a big boost as a result of the local Gaelic organisation winning funds for training which they are distributing to local people, writes Mandy Haggith. Còmhlan Gàidhlig Asainte has received funding from Bòrd na Gàidhlig and Commun na Gàidhlig to support the revival of Gaelic in the community, where very few people still speak the language.
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Bridge closure means cash for local community
A £1.2 million Kyle of Tongue Bridge refurbishment, presently being undertaken by a structural repair and refurbishment contractor on behalf of Highland Council, could mean the closure of the bridge for a limited period and a payment made into a public fund to compensate for the inconvenience caused. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Digging up Assynt’s past
by Mandy Haggith
“Excavations on this scale are rare”
Historic Assynt is launching a new project which will explore how people lived and died in Assynt in the past, writes Mandy Haggith. A team of archaeologists will be excavating three sites (from 5000, 2000 and 200 years ago) and local people are invited to get involved in the digs. The project will kick off on Saturday (August 6) with a guided walk at Clachtoll followed by “Iron Age food and drink”.

It’s festival time at Skerray and Bettyhill!
by Mandy Haggith
It’s gala time. The community of Skerray are launching their first Harvest Home Festival on the weekend of September 2-3 and Bettyhill will be re-playing their successful Gala weekend from August 4-7. The Harvest Home Festival will begin on the evening of Friday, September 2, with a magical touch as a flotilla of hand-made small boats will be launched with tea-lights on board, followed by a lantern parade. This will lead into a ceilidh, with story-telling from Essie Stewart. Everyone is encouraged to bring a musical instrument along.

History File
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
Elphin and Knockan are among the very few inland crofting townships in the north-west Highlands. Lacking access to coastal resources, they partly resembled townships in the parishes of Lairg or Rogart. But, despite being on limestone, the climate, the size of the crofts, and the distance from markets all made for significant differences.


July 2011


Lairg Music Festival 2011
On this and on pages 4, 5 and 14 we bring you a selection of photos from the recent Lairg Music Festival. Above are two young fiddlers who made their mark. Kathleen Steventon from Ullapool is 17 and for the second year running she was placed first in the open slow air competition, this time with a fine rendering of Nathanial Gow's Coilsfield House.
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Crofting body calls for 10,000 new crofts
by Mandy Haggith
An organisation representing thousands of crofters has challenged the Scottish Government to join in an ambitious vision to expand crofting in Scotland. In a Crofting Policy Resolution, the Scottish Crofting Federation have called for the creation of 10,000 new crofts across Scotland by 2020.
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Bonar Bridge Mod goes down well
‘Don’t you think they should hold the Mod here every year?’
This was the encouraging remark made by a gentleman from Lairg to your correspondent, and, yes, the first Mod thought to have been staged in Bonar Bridge was widely held to be a very friendly affair with some very fine performances on show.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Broadband to get broader
Next Generation Broadband is coming...eventually
by Mandy Haggith
By 2020, everyone living in the Highlands and Islands should have a download speed of 30 Mbp per second, with a minimum of 2 Mbps for everyone by 2015, if Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) can find an industry partner to help them to achieve their ambition.

Support for Gaelic could ‘head south’
by Mandy Haggith
Lewis-based Pròiseact nan Ealan, Scotland’s main Gaelic arts development agency, has been told by Creative Scotland that from 2012 it will no longer have “foundation organisation” status. Although this is unlikely to be fatal to the Stornoway-based organisation, it has led to speculation that the development of Gaelic language support is “heading east and south”.

Under the skin
An incident at Droman shore
by Helen Rice
I’d just hung out my dripping washing on the short line hanging from the caravan to a post at Droman shore. There’s something about this place that pulls me back again. And it has to be this exact location at Droman, where I once lived. It’s under my skin.


June 2011

Assynt crofters to appeal against turbine decision
by Mandy Haggith
The Assynt Crofters Trust is appealing a planning decision by Highland Council in March 2011 which refused them permission for a 6kW turbine at Stoer.
John Robinson, crofting administrator for the trust, said: “We will be putting in an application by mid-June asking the council to put the decision to the planning review body”.
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Ticks can make you seriously ill
Fiona Burnett counts the cost of being struck down by Lyme Disease
With the recent spell of good weather many of us are grabbing the chance of enjoying the freedom that our great outdoors offers us. But before you set off on your great adventure, be aware of unwanted hitchhikers roaming our countryside that might just leave you seriously ill if you allow them to tag along for too long.
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View from the croft
by John MacDonald
May is a probably my favourite month of the year, before the bracken takes over and obscures much of our wood and hillside from everything trying to compete with it. So we enjoy the display of primroses and bluebells while they last. In former times the main activity of the croft at this time of year would be preparing the ground for a crop before starting the peats.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Church ministries could merge in Tongue and Farr
by Mandy Haggith
Plans are afoot to amalgamate the churches in Melness, Tongue, Bettyhill, Strathnaver and Althaharra under a single minister.
The change is on the cards because Rev Tony Thornthwaite, Church of Scotland minister of Altnaharra and Farr parish, is to move to Dundee. He has been based in Bettyhill with his wife and youngest son since 2008, but he is moving south to be closer to his grandchildren. “We will miss Sutherland very much”, he said.

Life in Korea
Graeme Mackay (Lairg) writes from East Asia
About six months ago, after receiving yet another job application rejection letter, I decided that it was time to think outside of the box and try something completely different. Recession, raising unemployment levels, excess graduates (with all sorts of weird and wonderful degrees), rising taxes, a Conservative government and very few possessions to show for ten years of hard work; well I am maybe pushing the idea of hard work, but at the fruitful age of twenty-seven I thought I would have been a lot more settled than I was. So in true Graeme Mackay style I opened my world atlas, about the only possession I have, closed my eyes and pointed toward my next adventure. So here I am in South Korea!

Memories of a retired railwayman
John MacDonald in conversation with Geordie Adams, Helmsdale
I joined the railway as what they called a cleaner, cleaning all the engines. £1/9/6d per week; that was in 1943. My home was in Brora and I used to cycle every day to work. Twelve miles there and twelve miles back. I was fit then. I got used to working with fires through my father. He was in charge of the boiler for the wool mill in Brora. He was the fireman there. I used to go over at nights with him and see to the boiler and learned how to keep it fired. I could have got a start in the mill but I felt like doing something different and seeing that I knew a bit about keeping a boiler stoked up I was a fairly obvious choice to try for a fireman’s job on the railway.


May 2011

Asainteach heads arbitration centre
Andrew Mackenzie, a native of Culkein Stoer, was recently appointed head of the new Scottish Arbitration Centre, based at Dolphin House in Edinburgh. He is on secondment from the Scottish Government Justice Directorate. The centre was opened by Fergus Ewing, minister for community safety, and Jim Mather, minister for enterprise, energy and tourism, in the outgoing government.
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Withdrawing the subsidy
by Willie D Mackay
You never know what to expect when you withdraw the subsidy. “You’re Alex’s boy, aren’t you?” said a voice from behind as I stood at the bar to buy a round of drinks for my Scullomie neighbours, Danny Mackay (Charlie’s father), Johnnie “Christopher” MacLeod and Howie Munro from Coldbackie. It was over thirty years since I last saw my father and, with no disrespect to his memory, he was the last person on my mind at that moment and it did not dawn that the remark was aimed at me.
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Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
Jackie Kay: “Red dust road” and “Fiere”. Both published by Picador, 2011, £8.99.
Jackie Kay is one of Scotland’s most accomplished writers, equally at home with drama, poetry, fiction, memoir and children’s writing. She is one of those people who can’t be pigeonholed. She is of mixed race (a Highland mother and Nigerian father) and was adopted by a Marxist Glaswegian couple. She is both a mother and a lesbian. Her writing features English, Scots and Igbo (a Nigerian language). She can see the profound in the simplest thing and find humour in the most tragic circumstances.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Melness wind farm plagued by delays
Funders insisted on crofters giving up ownership
by Mandy Haggith
From the day the Melness crofters became owners of their land, they planned to develop wind power to generate money for the local community. Fifteen years later, the Melness Wind Farm is still to be installed, but those involved say that they are “hanging in with it” and are determined to see it through.

Made in Assynt
Mandy Haggith writes about the ‘real buzz in the air’ around crafts in Assynt
A wealth of creative talent will be on display at craft fairs in Assynt throughout the tourist season, going some way to meet the long-discussed need for a brand for products from the area.

Fiona Burnett talks to
Bernard Hames
With recent closures of fourteen Highland police stations, I recently spoke to Durness-born Bernard Hames (pictured), a retired sergeant now living in Dornoch, who shares with me some of his experiences as a “bobby on the beat”, stationed at Lairg, Golspie, Dornoch, Melvich and Thurso, and how times have changed dramatically since he enrolled with Sutherland Constabulary in 1956, until his retirement in 1986. It was then one of the smallest forces in the country.


April 2011

Researchers in Stornoway and Oxford are fired up by hydrogen
by Mandy Haggith
“It should be possible to replace both petrol and diesel with a fuel containing a hydrogen additive within two to three years.” — Stephen Voller, Cella Energy
As fuel prices rocket and concerns grow about climate change emissions, scientists exploring alternatives to diesel and petrol predict that cheaper, greener fuels could be pumping into our car and boat engines in the not-too-distant future. More

Crofting and bumblebees — a new initiative in Tongue and Farr
by Bob Dawson
A new initiative will be launched this month in the parishes of Tongue and Farr. The North Sutherland Crofts and Bumblebees Project will work with crofters to support one of our rarest species — the great yellow bumblebee Bombus distinguendus — which in UK terms is now a Scottish speciality. The initiative will run for one year, and provide specialist support for applications to the competitive Rural Priorities scheme of the Scottish Rural Development Programme. More

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
Evander McIver had been only a matter of months as factor when he was faced with several challenges to his authority from the small tenants of Assynt. A major source of trouble was the salmon bothy at Clachtoll being built for the new tenant of the fishings.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Marine energy ‘slanted in favour’ of big boys
by Mandy Haggith
The energy of the sea is being harnessed in the Pentland Firth between Caithness and Orkney, but will there be any local community benefit, or will all the commercial gain be captured by multinational energy companies. In March, the Crown Estate Commission granted ten new permissions for renewable energy developments in the Pentland Firth. The permissions will allow a new generation of marine power devices to generate electricity, through projects belonging to three large energy companies: Scottish and Southern Energy, Scottish Power Renewables and E.ON.

We were treated like royalty!
by Willie D Mackay
Christeen and I had reason to go to Norwich last week and I phoned Kitty Ann to tell her we intended to pop in and see her. Being aware of her ninety-two years and hospitable nature I told her I would walk straight back out if she went to any bother of preparing anything other than a cup of tea. “Yes, that’ll be alright — I’ll just make a scone,” she said. So I reluctantly agreed to that compromise because I knew it was pointless to do otherwise.

View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
Equinox time again, the transition from winter to spring and summer activities. The end game is played out for the recreation activities associated with the winter months before time and energy is wholly focused on the serious business of working the land. This time of year brings a flurry of “Annual General Meetings” from various local organisations, wishing to keep the books on track. Sometimes such affairs can become a trifle tedious, especially to those of us who have endured and experienced many years of serving on this committee and that committee. I have lived through many bursts of enthusiasm that inevitably wane with the passing of time.


March 2011

LibDems at sixes and sevens over Gaelic-medium education
by Mandy Haggith
The effect of Highland Council’s cuts is starting to be felt, and classroom assistants in schools are coming off particularly badly. In Gaelic-medium units, classroom assistants play a key role in providing children with the experience of immersing in a completely Gaelic-speaking environment. There are therefore concerns that the cuts could have a particularly negative impact on the fragile efforts to revitalise the Gaelic language in schools.
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Backcoaster’s Diary
Headline of the month: “Gaddafi sets stage foer violent showdown” — Grauniad website, February 23.
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A tale of two bachelors
Exploring croft inheritance in Achmelvich — Part 2
by Roger Kershaw
Of course my genealogical narrative should not exclude reference to several persons who out of kindness or shared interest, or through official position, have contributed to this side in particular. As aspects of the investigation may make a stimulating story in their own right (though I risk discouraging others from family research by revealing the effort and many frustrations involved!), I will talk about that saga-within-a-saga first of all.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Mystery of the cross-marked stone
by Mandy Haggith
A mysterious cross-marked stone, found in Lochinver, may help to unlock the secrets of early Christianity in the North West Highlands. Gordon Sleight, chairman of Historic Assynt, said: “This is a very exciting find. It might be another enigmatic sign of early Christian presence in Assynt”

New fèis ‘buzzed’
by Lisa MacDonald
Exhausted maybe, but also buzzing with excitement, and that’s not just how the kids felt at the first Fèis an Iar Thuath. The tutors unanimously agreed that it was a very special weekend, and the organising committee are over the moon with the success of the first ever fèis in the tiny village of Scourie.

Fiona Burnett talks to Jim MacLeod
When is a MacLeod not a MacLeod? When he’s a Canister! Originally from Midtown, Melness, James MacLeod from Thurso, known as “Jim the Canister” inherited his nickname from his father Willie, who was often referred to as “The Canister” as a youngster, due to his knack of transforming empty syrup cans and boot polish tins into toys to amuse himself, mischievously tying them to horses tails or to the axles of tinker’s carts.


February 2011

Third time lucky for Assynt Foundation
Assynt Foundation will hold its annual general meeting at the third attempt on February 22, at 7.30pm in Lochinver Village Hall. The community land owner is calling upon members to turn out to show support for the organisation.
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A good turnout expected at Scourie’s first ever fèis
Mandy Haggith reports
Scourie will host Fèis an Iar Thuath, its first ever Fèis, on February 18 and 19 of this month when children from around the district will gather for a weekend of music and other Gaelic arts tuition.
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Nature’s call
by Paul Castle
The other morning I awoke to the sound of sleet hitting the bedroom window hurried along by a stiff north westerly wind. Even below the duvet I could tell it was cold outside and the only sensible course of action was to curl up and stay right were I was. A few moments later the alarm clock rang and the horrible truth that I would have to emerge ran through my entire body causing me to shiver.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

No tantrums as wedding party tuck in at banquet!
by Fiona Burnett
There were no colourful outbursts, no heated exchanges and no temper tantrums in the kitchen when chefs and staff came together to cater for a special wedding reception at Kinloch Lodge, near Tongue, for their friends who are also work colleagues, Australia-born David Malcolm, a former head chef of Tongue Hotel, and Tongue lass, Nadine Henderson, daughter of Barbara and Norman Henderson, proprietors of Tongue Stores and Post Office.

Fiona Burnett talks to Alasdair Corbett
Alasdair Corbett, or Tattie as he is better known, was goalie for Kinlochbervie football team in earlier days and a faithful follower of the Scotland team. His passion for football took him to twenty-six countries over twenty years, where he made many friends in the Tartan Army, got up to lots of mischief and brought home many an amusing and scary tale.

A tale of two bachelors
Exploring croft inheritance in Achmelvich
by Roger Kershaw
I do not know how to pronounce dùthchas, for although reputed to lie close to the hearts of native crofters, it is not a term that falls from their lips every day, at least when I am within earshot. Still, it features often enough in intellectual texts for me to have picked up a sense of its meaning.


January 2011

Shot in arm for Gaelic in North West
by Mandy Haggith
The revival of the Gaelic language in North West Sutherland has been given a big boost through a tutor training programme in Assynt. The six-day intensive course, which was run by Deiseal from December 13-18 in Stoer hall, trained five people to become Gaelic tutors using the Ùlpan system. Eleven local people attended the course as “guinea-pig” students, braving snowy weather to take advantage of the opportunity.
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Anyone remember the Highlands & Islands Film Guild (1946-1970)?
by Ian Goode
The recent exploits of Tilda Swinton, Mark Cousins and associated devotees in dragging the Screen Machine around the Highlands as part of a pilgramage during the summer of 2009, attracted a lot of media attention. The Screen Machine continues to perform a very important and beneficial role in providing cinema to the communities of the Highlands and Islands. But what preceded all of this? The history of cinema has been written, mainly as an urban phenomenon, but what does this exclude in a country like Scotland, where the geography extends a long way beyond the Central Belt?
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View from the croft gate
by John Macdonald
Well, we now have confirmation of our fears as to why the geese returned early: so has winter. It’s bearing on croft activities was immediate as we endeavoured to cope with very hungry stock. The sheep were on fields that had still some rough grazing and the expectation was to see out the start of the tupping season with just a few blocks of supplement.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

‘Big Society’ in action
Local charities could take charge of health care
by Mandy Haggith
Community Care Assynt and North West Sutherland Care Alliance have held preliminary talks about how they can work together to wrest control of home care services from distant bureaucrats and run them locally. This would build on Community Care Assynt’s takeover of the Assynt Centre, enabling it to become a hub for provision of care in the community, at home as well as at the centre itself.

Postman honoured
John Alexander Mackay, 63, Newlands, Bettyhill, postman for Strathnaver, Bettyhill and surrounding districts for almost forty-five years, has been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Years Honours List for “services to the Royal Mail and to the community”.

Nature’s call
by Andy Summers
Autumn has more or less given up the ghost and winter has arrived with a vengeance. And
here I am again writing about a frozen wasteland that was once the North West Highlands of Scotland.


December 2010

Farewell Cathie Barbara
Cathie Barbara Mackay, Whin Cottage, Tongue, died in Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, on Thursday, November 18. Aged 74 at the time of her death, she is survived by her husband, John, and two sons, Graeme and Iain.
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The Edinburgh-Sutherland’s 144 and still going strong!
The Edinburgh-Sutherland Association was instituted in 1866. It is a registered charity, and its objectives are to afford assistance to necessitous and deserving people, especially natives of Sutherland; stimulate and further the education of the rising generation of the county; and uphold and foster the art, literature, music, culture and language of the county.
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Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
Andrew Greig: “At the loch of the Green Corrie”. Quercus. £16.99.
I have long admired the work of Greig. He is among the best contemporary novelists, combining page-turning readability with profound insights into the human psyche. He is an award winning poet, and has written several works of non-fiction.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Norman MacCaig: a man in Assynt
by Mandy Haggith
The poet Norman MacCaig was born 100 years ago, on November 14 1910. He spent his summers in Assynt for forty years, from the late 1940s to the late 1980s. To honour his poetry, the community of Assynt ran a week-long celebration from November 5 to 13 involving readings of new poetry and old, walks, talks, ceilidhs and art exhibitions. Assynt’s children played a key role in the celebration. Poems by forty-six pupils from Stoer, Lochinver and Ullapool schools, many illustrated with lavish exuberance, have been displayed around the parish in shops, notice-boards and windows and gathered into a collection called “Assynt’s Casket”.

Will turkeys vote for Christmas?
George Farlow takes a look at the boundary question
It used to be just love that knew no bounds. But what about climate change, disease, hunger, incompetence, ospreys, internet crime, and the state, red tape that is? People prefer boundaries for that weel-kent stability and comfort zone protection. Civil servants favour working in silos, though they carry an endemic health and safety warning. Boundaries are for budgets, national and community, depending on your view of this Big New Society.

Backcoaster's Diary
A simpler explanation
In Balchrick, writes Andrew Marshall, we sometimes used the Gaelic word “buisteach” (we pronounced it booschach) meaning the power to put a spell on somebody. Thus we would say of people from Polin, “They have the buisteach.” Or the word might mean the spell itself, as in “He’ll put the buisteach on you.” Recently the buisteach was put on me.


November 2010

Super broadband but not in strath
by Mandy Maggith
Broadband users in Strathnaver have been suffering from poor service in recent weeks, with frustration building about slow, inadequate response from BT and AOL, the only broadband providers in the area. Ironically just as connections ground to a standstill, Highlands and Islands Enterprise announced that superfast broadband would begin rolling out soon across the region. More

Ben is top notch apprentice
Ben Stickland from Skerray was awarded a Certificate of Outstanding Achievement by UHI Inverness College at their award ceremony last month on completing his second year Modern Apprenticeship in plumbing.
More

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
Of the petitions presented to the heritors and kirk session of the parish of Farr, none was to prove more interesting than that of Ann Macdonald of Kirtomy. This was mainly because the case went to the Court of Session and generated some interesting evidence.
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Thumbs up for Caithness Mod
by Donald MacLeod
By all accounts, and backed by my own experience, Mòd Ghallaibh 2010 was a resounding success. The Royal National Mod, to give it its formal title, was mainly staged in Wick and Thurso, with accommodation in the two towns taken up so well that some Mod-goers stayed in Bettyhill, and perhaps further west.

Royal Mail: Universal Service Obligation at risk, say critics
by Mandy Haggith
The government’s plan to privatise Royal Mail may threaten the postal services in rural areas like North West Sutherland, according to politicians and Post Office representatives. The future of our postal deliveries hangs on whether new legislation can protect the Universal Service Obligation, which ensures six-days-a-week deliveries of letters to all addresses across the UK for a uniform price.

View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
As if there were not enough obstacles in place to deter those of us endeavouring to make a living out of agriculture and keep crofting going, there has recently crossed my ears news of another new piece of legislation. It has to do with the powers that be tinkering with our tractor fuel and altering its compound. Naturally, it is all to do with meeting national targets for reduced emission of carbon and keeping this global warming at bay, which is a pity as I was looking for a bit more global warming around the croft, especially at haymaking time.


September 2010

Aliens have landed in Kylesku!
by Mandy Haggith
Residents of North West Sutherland are being invited to help prevent the invasion of a dangerous predatory alien. It comes in the night and travels with stealth. Locals are being warned not to be taken in by its cute appearance: the American mink (Neovison vison) is a merciless killer. More

2010 Assynt Games report, results and photos
At mid-day on Friday the 13th August, Neil Gudgeon, Assynt Games Chieftain for 2010, sailed into Lochinver Harbout aboard the Chieftain’s barge, this year the Lochinver Lifeboat, RNLB Julian and Margaret Leonard.
More

The Inner Man
by Chris Duckham
Now that the children are back at school it seems that summer is probably over for another year, although of course it hasn’t been much of a summer when seen from most perspectives. After such a hard and prolonged winter it would have been nice to have had an old fashioned, warm summer, especially for the children who love swimming in the sea. Not much opportunity for that this year. From the perspective of the forager though it has actually been a good summer. The local wild mushrooms seem to have been even more plentiful than usual and at times the chanterelles at one of my favourite spots seemed nearly to carpet the ground.
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Alistair ‘The Milkman’ retires
Alistair Maclean retires after fifty years delivering milk (and much else besides)
In 1960 Donald (“the Shoemaker”) Mackay of Viewforth, Tongue, decided to buy a van to supply milk to local schools. This was when all primary school children were entitled to free milk as part of a government scheme to improve the health of the nation post-war. Whilst his wife Phoemie cleaned the inside of the van, Donald painted the outside, and thus began a unique service to Tongue, Farr and Reay that was to last fifty years.

A book at bedtime
by John MacDonald
My bedtime read at the moment is a book lent to me by a crofter friend who was a bit surprised that I had not already read it. The book in question is Crofting Agriculture by Fraser Darling. I had read his book on living on Tanera, but not this book, which my friend regards as the crofter’s Bible.

Fiona Burnett talks to Bob Jaffrey
After writing about Hamish Campbell, shepherd from Balnakeil, Durness, I was contacted recently by Robert Jaffray from Forfar, who, along with his late father, had also worked for the Elliot family, sheep farmers from the Borders. Robert was born in 1932 to Robert and Agnes (nee Welsh) at his maternal granny’s house at Northfield Farm, St Abbs. “Just north of Berwick on Tweed, in fact just north of the Border, a near thing no less!” says Robert.


August 2010

North West is only area in UK free of bee parasite
by Mandy Haggith
Local beekeepers are urging vigilance to protect bees from their most serious pest, varroa mite. So far, local colonies are free of the mites, but North West Sutherland is now the last place on the UK mainland to be completely avoiding infestation.
More

Images from Durness Highland Gathering Friday, July 30 2010
A selection of our photos from the day
The games results will be posted here when we get them.
More

Nature’s call
by Andy Summers
August can be a difficult month for wildlife watchers. The vegetation has grown very dense. The foliage in the trees is thick and almost impenetrable. In the bird world there are lots of grey and brown youngsters about that are hard to identify and many of the adults are moulting, losing their distinctive colour patterns. However, on the plus side, there is more wildlife now than any other month of the year. It is all a question of knowing where to go and look for it.
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Green lig for new tree planting
by Mandy Haggith
Substantial new woodland projects on community-owned land in Assynt were discussed by community landowners and other interested groups at a Forest Forum early this week.

The Inner Man
by Chris Duckham
I read with interest recently that bottled seawater is to be offered commercially to restaurant kitchens to cook with. Collected and filtered off the shores of Berneray it is apparently then sent by tanker to a bottling facility near Edinburgh, there to be packaged into wine-box type containers and sold at a price of no less than £4.95 per 3-litre carton. The entrepreneur behind this venture believes that there is definitely a market for it, as a “must have” ingredient for high-end dining at the nation’s finest tables.

Portskerra couple’s early days fondly remembered
by Catriona MacLeod
Donnie and Elizabeth Mackay, Mo Dhachaidh, have been married for fifty-four years and lived in Portskerra all their lives. They first got to know each other attending Portskerra primary school, which once stood where the present school’s football pitch is today. “When I was going to school in Portskerra,there were three teachers and ninety children were going to it."


July 2010

Lairg’s cultural events a success
by Donald MacLeod
Lairg, once the transport hub of Sutherland county, can lay fair claim to be considered the cultural hub of the district after hosting both the Sutherland & Caithness Provincial Mod and the Lairg Music Festival last month. More

A brief history of time (in the Mackay household)
by Willie D Mackay
My mother, Jessie, never used Greenwich Mean Time, yet I never knew a more punctual person. Being the postmistress in Coldbackie for over thirty years, it was essential for her to keep an eye on the clock. She had a phobia about good timekeeping, and to achieve this, and unknown to us, she had the infuriating habit of always having the clock set half an hour fast.
More

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
Ardvar was one of a handful of moderately sized sheep farms which had emerged in Assynt after 1812. Following the death of the tenant, Captain William Scobie, by drowning in 1831, a lease had eventually been granted to his widow at a rent of £220. At her death in 1842 the sheep stock, along with the household cows and horses, was valued at £1,475 and the farm came under the management of trustees acting for the benefit of her four daughters. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Tenant at odds with trust over house sites purchase
A director of the Assynt Crofters Trust, who is also a serving area commissioner of the Crofters Commission, has resigned from the trust board, accusing the trust of being a “fickle and vindictive landlord”.

Fiona Burnett talks to John Campbell, Durness
John Campbell, “Brivard”, Durness, recently shared some of his memories with me, reminiscing about his working life from the time he left school until his retirement. He started out as a farm labourer at Balnakeil Estate, Durness, then spent thirty-seven years working for Richard Mackay & Son of Durness where he drove lorries, transporting all kinds of goods from livestock, hay, corn and fish to general supplies, up and down the country, while also working his croft.

Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
“The Grey Wolves of Eriboll” by David M. Hird. Whittles Publishing, 2010. £16.99.
This is the second work of history David Hird has written about NW Sutherland, the first being his excellent account of Cape Wrath – “A Light in the Wilderness”. Once again he has demonstrated both his abilities as a researcher and his fine eye for detail, whilst at the same time presenting a highly readable narrative.


June 2010

Porridge breads on the menu at Melness bakery
by Fiona Burnett
German born, Gert Steinbrueck, a resident of Talmine, Melness, is no stranger to rising early. Since he recently created "Cornhill Artisan Bakery" most days he is in his kitchen — from five in the morning — making bread and rolls which he currently supplies to the local post office and shop.
More

Former seaman’s mission to retain nautical influences
A sea-life centre with lobster nursery and related seafaring archive are some of the attractions likely to be on offer when the refurbished Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen building in Lochinver opens its doors under new ownership, probably in May of next year.
More

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
The combination of the potato disease, the low price of cattle and stagnation in the her ring trade brought considerable hardship. By the early 1850s, the Duke of Sutherland considered that the situation on the west coast appeared to be very similar to parts of Skye and the Western Isles.
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Nursing the north
by Iona MacLean
I started writing an article about my Mum, Jean Maclean, Borgie, and her retirement from district nursing on the north-west coast. It contained lots of good facts and statistics, like the fact she started thirty-one years ago, she manages a team of nine nurses and over the years has worked in Melness, Tongue, Bettyhill and Melvich. But when I spoke to some of her work colleagues I realised that a few facts and figures just wouldn’t do her work justice or convey how much she will be missed in the local community. So I’m going to start again, here goes.

Pam Mackay
An appreciation
A very sad but beautiful funeral took place in Melness on May 11. Pam Mackay passed away peacefully on Saturday, the 8th of May, at home and surrounded by her loving family as she had wanted. All her many friends and large family gathered at “Cias”, Talmine to say goodbye to Pam and to celebrate a life lived to the full.

View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
The lambing is finally over for another year and the dire prediction of a bad lambing did not materialise, not in our area anyway. The weather was pretty cold but mainly dry and there was only one nasty cold wet night when we had to set to and get the recent-born into some sort of shelter. We seem to have been left with two pets, which is a bit of a nuisance.


May 2010

Local fishermen all take over Tongue’s Ben Loyal Hotel
As we went to press, two local businessmen, Charlie Mackay, Scullomie, and Graeme Gunn from Melness, were finalising contracts to become the new proprietors of the Ben Loyal Hotel in Tongue. Offers of 500,000 pounds sterling had been invited for the business. More

JD Williams’ catalogue
by Willie D Mackay
I remember it well — how could anyone forget — the night Peter the post delivered the new edition of THE CATALOGUE. Its arrival had been anticipated for weeks and each night went by with only the delivery of a few papers from the Board of Agriculture or a demand for a payment to “His Majesty”.
More

Nature’s call
by Andy Summers
It was raining at the time. There was a cold breeze blowing through the bare birch twigs. There was a faint green wash on the winter worn grass showing that winter was almost over. A brave solitary primrose had popped its head out to see if there were any pollinators around. A dunnock sang valiantly from the middle of a gorse bush. An empty Easter egg box lay in the garden.
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Harnessing the surge of the sea
‘Comments wholly unhelpful’ — Pelamis Wave Power
Criticism of the company behind the recently announced development of the Armadale Wave Farm off Bettyhill has been rebuffed by the man in charge of the project.

From Bolton to bumblebees
by Fiona Burnett
Recently I got a real buzz when I met up with countryside ranger Paul Castle from Scarfskerry, Caithness. Paul writes a regular column for Am Bratach, sharing his outdoor experiences. This month he shares with me the trials and tribulations of living down south, how he and his family escaped the rat race for a slower pace of life in the Highlands and how he owes his wife Carolyn “a debt of gratitude” for allowing him the opportunity of achieving his dream, finally securing a job he loves and is passionate about and a tranquil place to live, which he loves and appreciates too.

View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
The spell of dry and settled weather that came in for early April was most welcome. It was a treat to walk up to the cattle ring feeder and not sink into a wellie sucking glaur. The geese moving north was another welcome sign. It has been a strange year, a prolonged winter and suddenly it’s summer. We seem to have missed out on the spring bit, but perhaps I better be quiet in case winter comes back.


April 2010

Pared down Assynt Centre likely after council leaves
If you listen to leading politicians, hungry for re-election, government assaults on front-line services are a no-go area, but in Lochinver people learned differently at a packed public meeting held on March 18 to discuss the future of the village's Highland Council community care unit, The Assynt Centre.
More

Historic photograph turns up
This hitherto unpublished photograph, recently discovered in our archives, was taken minutes after Allan MacRae, chairman of the Assynt Crofters Trust, announced at a special meeting held in Stoer Primary School on December 8 1992 that the trust had had their bid to buy the North Assynt Estate accepted.
More

Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
“In Praise of the Garrulous” by Allan Cameron. Vagabond Press, 2009. £8.00.
For many years, languages have been disappearing at an alarming rate and increasingly more and more discourse — whether written or oral — is being conducted in a small number of mainly European languages.
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Tenacious Talmine teen takes to sea!
What do our wellies say about us? asks Fiona Burnett. Most of us own a pair. Years ago I owned a red pair which were as comfortable as slippers.

Recession doesn’t daunt Barbara
Contemporary jewellery designer and maker Barbara MacLeod from Strathan, near Lochinver, who is taking her collection to the British Craft Trade Fair at Harrogate this month, is not in the least daunted by having set up her first business in a recession. “No, no, not at all. I mean, if cash does get a bit tight, it’s just a case of picking up a part-time job for a wee while, and I don’t have a problem with that.

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
As Ian Grimble describes in his book, Chief of Mackay, Lord Reay returned north in 1632 in difficult financial circumstances. Granting wadsets or mortgages to raise funds or satisfy debts was inevitable. However, he also looked to borrow on the strength of the produce of the estate.


March 2010

Assynt Centre: care or don’t care?
In Sutherland the number of pensioners is increasing and at the same time the total population is decreasing, writes a correspondent. The falling numbers of young people and families mean that the normal demographic pyramid of an economically viable population has been turned on its head. This problem is particularly acute in remote and rural areas as younger people drift away. So, who will care for older adults?
More

Progress on Gaelic
Lisa MacDonald (pictured) has written an article (below) about Gaelic, the advantages it brings and what’s going on around Sutherland in Gaelic. Mrs MacDonald, who regards her home country to be Southend in Argyll, is married with a young family (aged 3 years and 1 year), and has lived in Scourie for nearly five years. She studied Gaelic at university level. “I got the chance to take Gaelic as an arts subject while studying divinity, and loved it so much I changed to Single Honours Celtic Studies, and it has all snowballed from there. More

View from the croft
by John Macdonald
As I write, it is still early February and still the snow is not too far away. We have had two falls and two thaws and now seem to be enjoying a bit respite while the snow continues to cause its usual chaos around the southern extremity of the country.
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Obituary
David Bowes, Skerray
The tragic death of David Bowes at the age 46, which occurred on the morning of February 2, when his pick-up left the road and broke through a barrier into the sea at the Kyle of Tongue, left people stunned. Death had dealt a cruel blow to the family and friends of a man in the prime of life, admired and respected for his many fine qualities.

21st century head believes church guilty over Wm Ross
by Fiona Burnett
Since we spoke to Durness headteacher Graham Bruce in September 2009 about his sabbatical year, which involves digging out the history of the old parish school at Loch Croispol, which first opened in 1765, he has been to the National Archives in Edinburgh and even been interviewed about his investigations into the remarkable career of his predecessor, William Ross, on a Canadian radio station. The interviewer suggested that the present-day Durness headmaster should ask for the same contract as Ross!

Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
Roger McGough “That Awkward Age”, Viking, 2009, £12.99.
In 1967, one of the best selling poetry collections of all time was published. Called “The Mersey Sound”, it featured the work of three Liverpool poets: Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten. Believing that poetry should be entertaining and fun, they helped sweep away the constraining cobwebs of the academic approach to poetry.


February 2010

Stoer in line for two 5kW wind turbines
The Assynt Crofters Trust and Stoer Hall Committee are planning to build two small-scale wind turbines in Stoer. And, fortunately, the trust’s crofter-only membershop is unlikely to be an obstacle to gaining grants for their turbine, as it has been sometimes in the past.
More

A response to the recently published Crofting Reform (Scotland) Bill and associated commentaries
by Iain and Netta MacKenzie
The crofting system we now have emerged from a serious of legislative impositions. Some, like the Act of 1886, were intended to stabilise a very fraught law and order situation which had occurred as a result of economic pressures and landlordism run riot. Gladstone`s great contribution in 1886 was the curbing of untrammelled plutocratic power.
More

Hello sailor!
Fiona Burnett hears about 19-year-old Donald Morrison’s adventures in the Merchant Navy
Choosing a career in life is never plain sailing. Much depends on exam results, although nowadays even if you qualify for the job of your dreams the job you want isn’t always out there and students have to alter their career paths. It’s a stressful time in a youngster’s life. How do you really know what you want when you leave school?
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Did this road really need to be in this state a month after the snow arrived?
Although Highland Council was hardly slow to congratulate itself for clearing snow and treating ice on Highland roads this winter — a press statement entitled “Praise for Council staff in combating winter weather” was released on January 5 — a different version of events was being played out if you were struggling to go about your daily business eighty-odd miles north of Inverness — in Strathnaver.

Retired doctor and busy activist dies
The death occured at her home at Fuines, Torrisdale, Skerray, on Wednesday, January 27, of Elizabeth Taylor Mackenzie after a short illness.

History File
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
Shepherds were critical to the Australian wool industry. Most had been convicts but after the end of transportation in the late 1840s quite a few shepherds from the Highlands decided to emigrate. For a while, shepherding tended to be the first employment for many new arrivals who had neither capital nor a trade.


January 2010

Forest group irons out voting troubles after Strathnaver and Altnaharra boob
The long-standing voting district of Strathnaver and Altnaharra was overlooked by promoters of a land buyout attempting to test public opinion in the run-up to a programme of land purchase in the upper reaches of Halladale and Strathnaver. More

Results of the New Year races
by Donald S Murray
Of all the sporting activities in our district when I was growing up, there was no doubt that the ones held on New Year’s Day drew the greatest number of spectators. In terms of its appeal, it attracted greater numbers within the locality than a Scotland-England football match, Celtic v Inter Milan in the European Cup Final and the Olympics combined. It seemed to spark the interest of everyone in the entire community. Even the most unathletic and rheumatic spinsters in the village were not immune to its charms.
More

View from the croft gate
by John Macdonald
I notice a fair degree of comment in the press at the moment as the Crofting Reform Bill goes through another stage of its torturous journey — well, not the press in general, for who wins a talent contest, or who can make the bigger spectacle of themselves, is much more newsworthy than anything to do with the mundane life of the crofter, unless of course, Prince Charles drops by to give a hand with the tatties.
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

Fiona Burnett talks to George Fulton, Droman
Snow to a child is magical. From building a snowman to snow ball fights and sledging, most children love playing in the snow. And, of course, when conditions get too bad they rub their hands in glee because sometimes a heavy snowfall means a day off school!

Hugh Mackay
July 1936 — December 2009
Born in Newlands, Bettyhill, on July 4, 1936, Hugh Mackay was the third eldest of a family of seven of James Mackay, Bettyhill, and his wife, Elizabeth (née Macdonald), a native of Scourie. From an early age he acquired the nickname Teed. His formative years were spent in Bettyhill, where his father, James (“The Old Crow”), an expert ghillie on the Naver, encouraged in him a lifelong interest in the art of fishing.

History File
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
Unmarried women falling pregnant two hundred years ago faced an awful predicament: many tried hard to conceal their condition. Their babies were sometimes found dead. This led to women regularly appearing in court charged with concealment of pregnancy and child murder.


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