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News and views from the North West
Highlands

Updated on the first Thursday of the month

September 2018

Gaelic nursery plan ‘still in its infancy’, says council
The Highland Council is fitting out a classroom at Farr Primary which it says may be used in future as a Gaelic nursery. However, no recent work has been done to assess the level of support from parents whose children might attend it. With the exception of Thurso, there is currently no Gaelic-medium provision at either nursery or primary school level north of a line stretching from Ullapool to Tain. More

Graeme at large
by Graeme Mackay
August has been another busy month exploring new places and visiting friends. I started the month on the Moray coast in Buckie, a place I’ve always wanted to visit for some unknown reason. I had a picture in my head of what I thought the town would look like, and I can safely say that they were nothing alike! I was expecting a small village nestled around a quaint fishing harbour, but instead I was surprised at how big the town is and how affluent it must have been during the nineteenth century at the height of the fishing. Large and ornate sandstone buildings line the main thoroughfare and although you can see that the main street is in decline (like so many around the country), it remains a busy wee place. More

Postie’s post
by Mark Gilbert
I remember my first realisation that there was a Beatles connection with the northern Highlands was when I was driving the road from Kinloch Lodge back to the causeway over the Kyle of Tongue via Achuvoldrach. We stopped to look at an information board facing Ben Loyal and I read about John Lennon’s car accident at Golspie on July 1 1969 when he crashed his car while on his way to visit his Aunt Mater in Durness, where he spent his childhood holidays. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Tongue, Melness and Skerray to benefit from extra helping hands
‘There has been informal befriending here for years, but society’s changing’
A year-long pilot project testing demand for a formal befriending service in Tongue, Melness and Skerray has been launched by North Coast Connection, in partnership with the Highland Hospice.

Assynt Foundation denies reports of Vestey clawback
The Assynt Foundation has been forced to issue a public denial that former landlord Robin Vestey is about to bail the cash-strapped organisation out in a deal for shooting rights. Articles printed in The Mail on Sunday (August 19) and The Times (August 20) suggested that the point of buying out the land would be reversed if the foundation began “making money through country sports and the private wealth of the Vesteys”.

Scotland’s answer to Route 66?
Franny Schlicke assesses the impact of the North Coast 500 on crofting
The North Coast 500 (NC500) has been hailed as Scotland’s answer to Route 66 — a 500-mile route around the North Highlands launched in 2015, bringing the area’s spectacular environment to the public’s attention. NC500’s prominent social media profile rapidly gained it an audience reportedly exceeding 1.5 billion, boosted by international publicity, and has seen Scotland placed as second top destination worldwide (Rough Guides, 2017). The resultant soar in tourism has, however, disrupted many locals’ way of life, and put under stress the very environment NC500 promotes.


August 2018

Burnt fields and empty rivers after driest summer in over forty years
The dry summer has been biting hard at two important sectors of the Highland economy, with woefully low catch figures on lochs and rivers across the north, while crofters and farmers have struggled to get enough bulk into their silage crop. More

‘Whaur extremes meet’: a tribute to Allan MacRae
by Ray Mackay
Debating ideas was one of Allan’s passions. When you argued with him — and it wasn’t all that difficult to get into an argument with him because he had very firm opinions on a wide range of subjects — you had to be sure of your ground because you would discover that he had read something or listened to something or had somehow got to know something about the topic. For a crofter who did not have a television and who spent most of his life out of doors, he was remarkably well-informed. He would say, of course, that it was because he didn’t have a television and spent most of his life out of doors that he was so well-informed. More

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
In March 1866 John Mackay, tenant or occupant in Torrisdale, submitted a petition to the Duke of Sutherland. About twenty-three years ago he “lived in the family with his Father & Mother in law (the former of whom died about 8 years ago): that the Petitioner was always paying the rent of the Lot.” More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Tourism needs satellite launch-pad
Local hotels now struggle to recruit young staff as population ages, say supporters
North West Sutherland may be set for a much-needed economic boost following the UK Space Agency’s announcement that a site on the Moine, between Durness and Melness, may become Britain’s first launch pad for vertical satellites.

Book Review
Judith Ross Napier, “The Assynt Crofter: Allan MacRae, A Life”. Acair, 2018, £15.
Judith Ross Napier’s biography of Allan MacRae puts a personal face to a movement which began in Assynt twenty-five years ago and shook up the face of landownership in Scotland, writes Anne Macdonald.

Litir bhon a’Cheathramh
le Alasdair MacMhaoirn
Tha mi dìreach air ais à turas dha Sìona agus bha e mìorbhaileach. Bha mi ann air son trèanadh a dhèanamh ann an seòrsa acupuncture ùr, agus rinn mi tòrr eadar Nanjng and Beijing cuide ri na daoine a tha an-sàs ann. Chan eil dòigh ann nach biodh an dùthaich a’ bualadh ort, airson cho ùr, agus aosta a tha a h-uile càil, cho goireasach ’s a tha na bailtean, cho àrd ’s a tha an àireamh sluaigh, agus cho fìor laghach ’s a tha muinntir na dùthcha.
I am just back from a marvellous trip to China. I was there for training in a new form of acupuncture, and I got lots of clinical experience between Nanjing and Beijing. The country is impressive, between old and new, excellent facilities, the number of people, and how great the people are there.


 July 2018

Strathnaver Gael named as Sabhal Mòr vice-principal
Marsaili MacLeod, originally from Strathnaver, has been named as the next vice-principal and director of studies at Skye’s Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands. More

Gove disclaims responsibility for Scottish rural policy after Brexit
Michael Gove, UK Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has acknowledged that future agricultural support must be tailored to the nature of Scotland’s landscape, recognising the high percentage of lessfavoured areas and the needs of upland farmers. More

Nature’s call
by Andy Summers
It is getting dark. The summer sun seems reluctant to leave but eventually disappears over the Minch. The area is desolate and a silence hangs over the woodland. The tourists who thronged the place in the afternoon have left for their caravan or B&B. The only sound is the quiet clucking of a blackbird settling down for the night. The full moon is rising and trying to weave a veil of hazy bluish light around the forest, with parts of sky visible through the inconsistent canopy of trees. More

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Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Council mislead public over toilets
Stalemate as local groups and businesses insist they will not take on facilities
The Highland Council has been accused of spreading misleading information and painting a “rosy picture” of reality in its bid to persuade businesses and local groups to take on the management of public toilets in north-west Sutherland.

Land buyout back on agenda as Skerray steering group re-forms
Moves to explore the possibility of a local buyout of croft land from the Countess of Sutherland have taken tentative steps forward in the townships of Tongue and Skerray.

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
In his book, The World of Rob Donn, Ian Grimble described how in 1727 William Mackay of Melness married one of the heiresses of the Bighouse estate and tried unsuccessfully to claim her inheritance. Instead, Lord Reay’s son Hugh, who had married the eldest heiress, became Laird of Bighouse.


 June 2018

Scourie geocentre proposal revived
Almost ten years after the idea was first mooted, plans for a geological exhibition centre in Scourie have been given a new lease of life by the Scourie Community Development Company. A site in the village has been purchased, while a private backer has secured the geological collection of the late Don Shelley. More

The postie’s post
by Peter Malone
A few months ago a friend, knowing my odd predilection for reading matter that most people might consider dull and dreary, gave me a book about the post bus service in Scotland. More

Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
“Understanding Scotland Musically: Folk, Tradition and Policy”, edited by Simon McKerrell and Gary West, Routledge, 2018. £35.99 (ebook), £115 (hardback).
On a recent trip to Edinburgh, enjoying the sunshine in Princes Street Gardens, we heard loud, energetic, bagpipe-led dance music emanating from the Mound. We soon found ourselves tapping our feet to international three-piece band The Spinning Blowfish, consisting of a Scottish piper and two Italians, one on drums and percussion, the other on electric guitar. Playing a combination of souped-up traditional tunes and their own compositions, their mix of Scottish folk with rock, jazz and funk was an excellent example of what has been called Celtic Fusion. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Impact of HIDB scheme up for debate after 30 years
On Friday, June 1, as the sun shone over the north-west Highlands, an anniversary of public investment in the crofting economy came and went without much fanfare. Many of its tangible products still remain, but, thirty years after the launch of the HIDB’s North West Development Programme (NWDP), the longer term impact of this and similar schemes is open to debate.

Seeds of change at Borgie Lodge
New owners to prioritise developing the grounds and kitchen garden this season When Nigel Carter and his wife, Adriana, contemplated packing up their Aberdeenshire catering business for something different, a hotel on the north coast of Scotland was the last thing on their minds.

Graeme at large
by Graeme Mackay
There are few things more appealing than sitting in an Irish bar in Ireland sipping on a fresh pint of Guinness. This is not just any Irish bar, this is “The Crown Bar”, one of the oldest surviving Victorian gin bars in the UK.


May 2018

NHS stalling over ‘north coast hub’
Confidence in NHS Highland’s ability to deliver its promised new health and social care facility in Tongue by the target date has been described as “pretty low” among the communities concerned. More

Cabinet Secretary expected to open restored Castle Varrich
An official opening ceremony marking the completion of restoration work at Castle Varrich, which overlooks the Kyle of Tongue, will be held on May 11. More

First John o’ Groats book festival draws the crowds
Review by Kevin Crowe
Caithness was the birthplace of one of Scotland’s greatest novelists, Neil M Gunn, and is the home of dramatist, poet, historian and novelist George Gunn, historian and festival organiser Ian Leith, novelist and biographer Catherine Byrne and poet and novelist Sharon Gunason Pottinger, all of whom have had their work reviewed in Am Bratach. Caithness is also home to many other writers, both new and experienced. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Positive” discussion of Moine spaceport proposal
An announcment as to the possibility of developing a UK spaceport in the Highlands and Islands is expected some time in May. Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) are currently exploring the potential of several locations for establishing a satellite launch pad in the north of Scotland, including a site on the Moine between Tongue and Durness.

Community. What community?
by Martin Morrison
A now perennial talking point for the swarm of committees currently vying to micromanage an essentially imaginary community in the People’s Republic of Assynt is the ingress of deer to what is supposed to be, according to an omnipotent nexus of environmental groups and government agencies, a “built environment”, so designated because, lo, people live and work there.

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
John Sutherland first appears as an emigration agent based in Wick in 1839. He was a native of Caithness who had emigrated to Nova Scotia over twenty years previously, when a child, and presumably with his parents. He had grown up in the county of Antigonish but for the last ten years had been living in the “thriving town of Antigonish”. He had been “pretty actively engaged in commercial and agricultural pursuits”.


April 2018

SNH must heed the lessons of Assynt
by Ray Mackay and Victor Clements
On June 29 last year, the board of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) agreed to use their regulatory powers to force the Assynt Crofters Trust and other landowners on the Assynt Peninsula to cull large numbers of deer. More

Church merge for Farr and Tongue parishes now likely
Changes are afoot within the Church of Scotland parish of Tongue and Melness, which looks set to lose its resident minister, Rev Stewart Goudie, at some point this summer. On his departure, the parish will be linked with Altnaharra and Farr, a change which has been in the pipeline since the appointment of Rev Beverly Cushman to the latter charge last year. More

Litir bhon a’ Cheathramh
le Alasdair MacMhaoirn
Fhuair mi preusant fìor inntinneach bho charaid ann an Canada sa mhìos seo. ’S e clàraidhean de “Red River Bungi” a bh’ ann. Nuair a bha mi aig co-labhairt ann an Toronto an-uiridh, thachair mi ri buidheann de Metis, agus thòisich sinn bruidhinn air cànan. Tha cànan Michif, aig na Metis agus bhruidhinn sinn cuideachd air cànan eile a bha cumanta aig àm malairt nam bian, Bungi.
I recently received an very interesting present from a friend in Canada. It was a copy of recordings made of Red River Bungi. When I attended a conference in Toronto last year I met with a group of Mètis, and we discussed language. The Mètis have their own language, Michif, and they said there was another language commonly used during the Fur Trade, Bungi. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Businesses speak out to oppose toilet closures
Businesses in North West Sutherland are indignant at the suggestion that they may be asked to provide alternative public toilet facilities if nearby council-run units close.

“Elitist” discussion of the Clearances
A BBC Radio 4 discussion programme about the Highland Clearances has been roundly criticised for its blatant exclusion of the voice of the Gael.

Tongue blacksmith recalled in rare 1970s photographs
Photographs of the Tongue blacksmith Johnny Campbell, popularly known as “Johnny the Smith”, were recently unearthed and digitised by Steve Moorhouse, who took the pictures in the late 1970s.


March 2018

Long wait for surgery phone repair
“BT isn’t really interested any more; they’ve gone slack on us” — Dr Herfurt
Armadale medical practice was left four days waiting for a BT engineer to attend the premises following a breakdown of the telephone system on Tuesday, February 20. More

Challenge to “wild land” map under new planning bill
Community Land Scotland (CLS) has called for Scottish planning reform to balance the so-called “wild” land map of Scotland with a parallel map of formerly inhabited places. More

The postie’s post
by Mark Gilbert
The Crask Inn is firmly in the fabric of the folklore of the Highlands. A meeting place for friends; a halfway stopover for a drink on what are always long journeys up here; a place to start or finish long walks or bike rides in the breathtaking openness of its surroundings; a place to steam your wet clothes over the peat-burning stove after getting caught in a passing shower; a place that always gets you a blether with other visitors of seemingly endless nationalities or with the welcoming hosts. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Assynt Foundation still drawing on the public purse after twelve years
Struggling to turn a healthy balance sheet out of the barren acres of Glencanisp and Drumrunie has become a familiar issue for the Assynt Foundation since the consortium purchased the land for £2.9 million in 2005. More than a decade later, the question of whether these 44,000 acres are viable as a business concern has become ever more pressing. Shored up by public funding, the foundation’s growing deficit casts doubt on the company’s ability to continue as a going concern.

Syre croft in transit
A Syre croft tenancy which was mysteriously withdrawn from sale barely a month after being advertised by agents Bell Ingram with a price tag of £145,000 appears to be making its way through the system privately.

Donald Sutherland (1930-2018)
Donald Sutherland was born in Greenock on October 14, 1930. He was an only child. His father was James Sinclair Sutherland of East Murkle, of farming stock, who had moved south due to the Great Depression of the late 1920s. James was employed as a chauffeur. Donald’s mother was Johan Clark of Unapool, one of fifteen children. She had worked in service in some of the big houses in Wester Ross.


February 2018

Wolves not the answer in Alladale
Highland landscapes more natural without trees, says leading ecologist
A new conservation organisation set up by Alladale Estate owner Paul Lister is pushing once again for the reintroduction of wild predators to his Highland estate, writes Anne Macdonald. More

NHS gives way on out-of-hours
Following a well-attended public meeting at Strathy on January 12, NHS Highland have conceded that out-of-hours care will be provided to patients of Tongue and Armadale practices by a locally-based clinician, rather than from Caithness as was originally proposed. More

View from the croft gate
by John Macdonald
The long walk to school is a rare experience for most children of today, escorted as they are by school or family transport. It was a daily routine, undertaken with a degree of resignation towards the learning task ahead and, more often than not, with a degree of urgency to get there before the bell, our teacher being not too forgiving of late arrivals. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Council gritters fall short in Assynt
‘I took to social media in the vain hope that somebody would notice’ — Cllr Currie
People in Assynt have spoken out strongly once again amid fears they are getting a poor bargain from the Highland Council’s winter maintenance service. Spells of wintry weather during December and January left treacherous conditions on poorly-treated roads, causing difficulties for school and commercial transport and local traffic

Milestone for Assynt crofters
2018 is an important milestone in the history of community land ownership, as it was twenty-five years ago that the Assynt Crofters’ Trust formally took possession of the North Lochinver Estate on the February1, 1993.

Scant support for educational reforms in Highland schools
The Highland Council is urging teachers and parents to participate in the Scottish Government’s current education review, which proposes sweeping new changes to the governance of schools.


 January 2018

Council fails to publicise delayed works on B871
Motorists attempting to travel on the B871 between Syre and Kinbrace during the first week of December would have met with an unpleasant surprise. More

Impact of lynx ‘catastrophic’
An NFU Scotland study trip to Norway has learned that 45% of almost 20,000 sheep losses compensated by the Norwegian government in 2016 were attributable to predation by lynx, bears or wolves. More

Nature’s call
by Andy Summers
A sudden fall in the temperature can transform a grey, washed out January into a scene of stark, crystalline beauty perfect for a winter walk. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Geopark means business this year
Securing long-term government support is a priority, says new chairman
After a troubled year which saw the North West Highlands Geopark resort to crowd funding to ride out a financial crisis, followed by the resignation of three of its directors, the organisation is looking to the future in time for the next annual general meeting, writes Anne Macdonald.

Novel success for Kevin
This month, Am Bratach columnist Kevin Crowe will see his first published novel serialised online. It will appear on the literary website www.mc storytellers.com in fortnightly instalments from the middle of January.

The one that got away
by Martin Morrison
The euphoria of the millennial celebrations didn’t linger long in the fishing community of Lochinver. As the last hangovers dissolved, the cry of “sold” saw the last boxes of fish head to the last lorry to leave the last quayside auction in Lochinver. The loaders shed their oilskins for the last time, went for their last after work pint and that was that. The pivotal act in a commercial tradition dating back centuries took its last bow on a cold January evening to an audience of its participants alone.


December 2017

Concern over PO pension accounts
Fresh concerns have been raised over the future of traditional post office services after a recent round of letters to pension holders from the Department for Work and Pensions. The letters, received by a number of Sutherland pensioners, urge them to change the way they receive state pension payments. More

Nature’s call
by Paul Castle
Oh! Is it a sparrow or a chaffinch, blackbird or song thrush? These are the burning questions revolving around many of our local Highland primary schools just now. More

The Dewar Commission of 1912
In 1912, the government appointed a Royal Commission, chaired by Sir John Dewar, to enquire into the provision of medical attendance in the Highlands and Islands. The result was the Highlands and Islands Medical Service Act of 1913, which provided grants to improve medical services in the area. It has been widely viewed as a prototype, or precedent, for the National Health Service. In 2012, the centenary year of the Dewar Commission, a sub-group of the Rural GP Association led a programme of commemorative events. The aim was to raise awareness of the continuing relevance of the report to the delivery of health services in rural communities. In the light of current debates over the future of out-of-hours care in Caithness and Sutherland, here we present the evidence of John Jeffrey, Secretary of the National Health Commission. He describes the geographical challenges to be overcome and the importance of having doctors situated at key points throughout the parishes. This is a slightly-edited extract from John Jeffrey’s evidence to the commission. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

NHS out-of-hours rethink on cards
Local working group to discuss “viable proposals” for urgent care
NHS Highland managers are facing hard questions over the latest reduction in out-of-hours services in North West Sutherland, writes Anne Macdonald.

New owners for Garvault
Adrian Aderyn, one of the new owners of the Garvault Hotel, near Kinbrace, is no stranger to wide open spaces, having recently run a lodge in the South African veldt along with his Austrian wife, Eva. Sharing in the Garvault venture is Mrs Aderyn’s friend, Betty Jenewein, an American.

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
Recently, and qe uitby chance, I came across information relating to two men from the north-west. One is relatively well known at present (he was referred to in last month’s Am Bratach) while the other is probably less so.


November 2017

Tourist rush for NW businesses
The 2017 season has rushed by with no sign of the upturn in visitors slackening for businesses situated along the North Coast 500 route. When we spoke to Sarah Macleod, manager of the Shore Caravan Site in Achmelvich on the last day of their season, she had just completed adding up the figures for the year. “We’re almost double what we were in 2015. It’s been unbelievable,” she said. Check-in figures are also around 30% up on 2016. More

Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
“The Map and the Clock: A Laureate’s Choice of the Poetry of Britain and Ireland”, edited by Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke, 2017. Faber & Faber. £9.99.

Many people have been introduced to the joys of poetry from popular anthologies. In my youth, it was the updated version of “Palgrave’s Golden Treasury” that got some of us exploring the highways and byways of poetry. For a later generation, it may have been “The Rattle Bag”, edited by Irish Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney and one time UK poet laureate Ted Hughes. More

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
In his booklet, “The Highland Estate Factor in the age of the Clearances”, Eric Richards describes the responsibilities and power exercised by factors. Highland factors have gained notoriety for the role they played in the Clearances, but their influence was to be felt long after the Clearances were effectively over. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Public road closed for six weeks
No temporary bridge means a 28-mile detour for motorists
Motorists have been left angry and frustrated by a recent phase of repairs to the B871 between Syre, in Strathnaver, and Kinbrace, with at least one driver narrowly missing costly damage to her car suspension after coming on a dug-up section of carriageway unawares.

Tongue to discuss buyout options for crofters’ land
The question of community land purchase is once more under discussion within some crofting townships on the Sutherland Estate. The possibility of a local buyout was to be aired at a meeting in Tongue on November 1, with a representative of the Community Land Unit in attendance to provide information on avenues of funding.

Historic store to close
The Store, Bettyhill, is set to close its doors for the last time on Saturday, December 2, unless a buyer for the business emerges before then.


October 2017

Officer bearers quit North West Geopark
Trouble continues to dog the administration of the North West Highlands Geopark, which has been left without a chairman, vice-chairman or secretary, following a series of resignations.
More

Canada’s first premier under scrutiny
John A Macdonald accused of abuse of First Nation peoples

A famous expatriate Scot with links to Rogart is the latest Empire figure to undergo a questioning of reputation. John A Macdonald, who was born in Glasgow, served as the first prime minister of Canada (1867-1873, 1878-1891). However, his treatment of the First Nations, particularly through education programmes rife with abuse, has led to calls for John A to be stripped of official recognition.
More

Litir bhon a’Cheathram
le Alasdair MacMhaoirn
A’ cumail oirnn sa mhìos seo leis na cuimhneachan a bh’ aig Eòsaph MacAoidh nach maireann. An trup seo, a bhith a’t eagasg ann an Srath Mòr. This month we are continuing with the reminiscences of Joseph Mackay. This time he talks about the period between the wars.
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Quick croft disposal begs questions
‘One of the purposes of the 2010 Crofting Reform Act was to address speculation in land’
A Strathnaver croft tenancy has gone up for sale only four months after being assigned to a new tenant. Selling agents Bell Ingram, of Inverness, are seeking offers in the region of £145,000 for the assignation of 127.7 acres of croft land at 10/11 Syre, which includes an agricultural shed and sheep fank.

Parent demand for Gaelic necessary say councillors
Kirsteen Currie, the SNP council member for north-west and central Sutherland, has spoken out over the sidelining of Gaelic and culture in the administration’s draft plan for the next term.

Obituary
Well-known Kinlochbervie writer, artist and popular retired schoolteacher Mr Andrew Marshall has died aged 94 following a fall in the local Ceilidh House, where he was a regular attender. He was airlifted from there to Raigmore Hospital but sadly died shortly thereafter from the effects of his fall — a broken hip.


September 2017

SNH U-turn on Ardvar
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has performed a U-turn on the issue of deer management at Ardvar in Assynt. Last month wt.e reported on the organisation’s threat to issue the deer management sub-group with a Section 8 control scheme if they refused to sign a legally-binding agreement to bring down deer numbers. Amid much publicity, this was vehemently opposed by the Assynt Crofters Trust. More

Owen, 12, beats family rival at Lairg!
It was a great day for Saval crofter Ivan Macleod and his 12-year-old grandson Owen Martin, who between them took home most of the prizes in the sheep and cattle competitions at last week’s Lairg Crofters Show. Their photo, and that of the North Country Cheviot with which Owen pipped his granddad for the overall livestock championship, are shown on this page. More

Nature’s call
by Paul Castle
You should have been here yesterday”, is a sentence which can send shivers down a ranger’s spine as it sometimes accompanies an unsuccessful wildlife-watching activity. I thought I was going to experience such an event this season. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Crisis in Gaelic-medium
Future of Bonar Bridge Gaelic unit in doubt
Special report by ANNE MACDONALD
The new school session has opened in Sutherland with no prospect of Gaelic-medium education returning to the county at either nursery or primary level, despite considerable interest in the language among parents attending toddler groups, which cater for the 0-3 age range.

Melness Olympian takes bronze
Winfried Leolpoldt reports on local success at the Special Olympics
Largely unnoticed, while the 2017 World Athletics Championships were ongoing in London, a young Melness athlete was competing at the Great Britain Special Olympics in Sheffield and secured a bronze medal for the Highland Team.

New minister in KLB and Durness
Rev Andrea Boyes has taken up a new posting to the Church of Scotland parish of Durness and Kinlochbervie. Mrs Boyes takes over from Rev Deon Oelofse, from South Africa, who served the congregation for a year.


August 2017

POSTBOX
Creag Riabhach ‘a serious mistake’
I noted the article in the July edition of Am Bratach concerning Anders Holch Povlsen’s challenge of the Scottish Government’s approval of the Creag Riabhach windfarm and the John Muir Trust’s desire to have designated “wild land” given statutory protection. More

Satellites getting closer
A proposed satellite launch facility at the Moine, between Durness and Melness, has taken a forwardsignificant step . More 

View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
July once again, and as it is my birthday month I am not short of reminders that I am one more step up the ladder of life. But we should be thankful that we are still on the ladder and able to take part in most croft activity. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

SNH threatens Assynt Crofters Trust over deer grazing at Ardvar
Almost quarter of a century after its historic buyout of the North Assynt Estate, the Assynt Crofters’ Trust has found itself head-to-head with immovable powers of a different kind, writes Anne Macdonald. “We did not throw off the chains of one landowner twenty-four years ago, to have them replaced by another’s”, says trust vice-chairman Ray Mackay.

Trees or sheep?
Environmental activist George Monbiot has hit out at the sheep industry in the Lake District, suggesting that the region’s newly-awarded World Heritage Status exemplifies “everything that has gone wrong with conservation” (The Guardian, July 13).

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
The necessity for a military force to bring the Durness rioters to their senses was the prevailing opinion amongst the county authorities at the end of September 1841. The Lord Advocate had suggested to Sheriff Lumsden that he should get the assistance of the parish minister, the Rev Findlate


July 2017

Digging for broadband
News that BT Openreach has agreed to pilot a “fibre-to-the-premises” scheme in Skerray and Altnaharra has been cautiously welcomed. BT claim that residents who connect to the scheme are “set to see their download speeds rocket from less than 0.5 Mbps to up to 330 Mbps”. In reality, the speed is likely to be around 80 Mpbs. More

Postie’s post
by Mark Gilbert
This time next year I could be a millionaire! I thought this when the debate on the morning phone-in on BBC Radio Scotland was about litter and the proposal that a deposit on cans and bottles could be a possible solution to stop people “wanging” them out of their vehicle windows or just dropping them in the streets. The suggestion was for 20p an item and I pick up lots of them.
More

Nature’s call
by Andy Summers
Last week when walking down the River Inver I heard a strange melodious whistle. It was difficult to pinpoint from where it came. I could not think what it was. Perhaps it was a meadow pipit or some other bird? I could hardly believe the noise came from a mammal, let alone an otter, but that is exactly what it was. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Povlsen’s appeal against wind farm ‘astonishes’ group secretary
The announcement that the John Muir Trust has launched a targeted campaign to save Scotland’s “wild” land from industrial development has rekindled the debate over the definition and future of such land, writes Anne Macdonald.

NHS Highland plays ‘hard to get’ with mileage allowances
Patients who are obliged to travel more than thirty miles to attend hospital appointments are in danger of missing out on their right to claim travel expenses from NHS Highland.

Why do we not appreciate the landscape of the north-west?
James Fenton urges a second look at woodland policy
I was recently out in the hills in Perthshire, although it could equally well have been Wester Ross or Sutherland, when I mentioned to the group I was with that the government has a policy of covering a quarter of Scotland with trees.


June 2017

No money to burn in Assynt
The wildfire which ripped through Assynt during last month’s dry spell has opened up fresh questions over approaches to muirburn as a management tool in this part of Sutherland. There is a view that the lack of regular and managed muirburn in many areas is creating a situation where fires can spread uncontrollably for miles due to the volume of rank vegetation and absence of natural firebreaks. More

Graeme at large
by Graeme Mackay
There is no doubt in my mind that Vienna is one the most beautiful cities in Europe. I was visiting the Imperial City last month with work, attending the Associations World Congress — basically an association for associations to discuss industry best practice. As part of my job I attend these events to sell Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire as the perfect destination to hold a conference or event. More

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
The attack on the inn at Durine — the most serious incident of the Durness Riots — took place on the evening of September 18 1841. Having driven the sheriff officers and their party from the inn, the “mob” returned and made a second rush into the building. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Hedge fund millionaire seals deal for Tanera Mòr
Tanera Mòr, the largest of the Summer Isles, has finally found a buyer after four years on the market, writes Anne Macdonald. The new owner is Ian Wace, co-founder of the London-based hedge fund Marshall Wace. Mr Wace completed the deal on May 4.

Care hub still on NHS agenda
NHS plans for a new care “hub” at the Kyle of Tongue came under fresh fire recently on the back of positive Care Inspectorate reports for existing residential care facilities at Talmine and Portskerra. Christian Nicolson, NHS Quality Improvement Lead for the north and west, has defended the decision to press ahead with the plans for a single replacement building.

History review
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
Julian Glover, Man of Iron: Thomas Telford and the Building of Britain, 2017, Bloomsbury Publishing, £25.
The renowned engineer, Thomas Telford, had a remarkable impact on the Highlands and Islands, being responsible for the Caledonian Canal, miles of roads, many bridges, and even churches and manses.


May 2017

Do-it-yourself visitor centres
VisitScotland’s commitment to funding tourist information centres in north-west Sutherland is officially winding down. The national tourism body has honoured its expressed wish to continue information provision in both Lochinver and Durness for the 2017 season. However, change is definitely on the way. More

Nature’s call
By Donald Mitchell
The “nature’s call” article for May is a good one to write, as most of the inspiration arises as you are composing it in April, when ideas fly into your mind like hundreds of migrating birds. Spring life is returning once more and the circulation of the seasons is quite literally inspiring. More

Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
Various writers and editors: “The Tide that Turned in Spring — An anthology of work by young writers in the Highlands”, Moniack Mhor, 2016.
Moniack Mhor is the Highlands’ own creative writing centre, based in Kiltarlity, near Beauly. Opened in 1993, and part funded by Creative Scotland, it provides opportunities for writers to hone their skills, gain confidence and get support from professionals. Its patrons include poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Scottish Makar Jackie Kay, the previous Makar Liz Lochhead, novelists Val McDermid and James Robertson and artist and children’s writer Mairi Hedderwick (author of the wonderful Katie Morag stories). More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

End of an era in Lochinver as stand-alone PO closes
Lochinver postmistress Anne MacLeod will close the door of the village’s historic post office for the last time on Friday, May 19, writes Anne Macdonald. It will be almost exactly twenty-three years since she took on the role from her mother, Julia, on May 18 1994.

There’s more to peat than meets the eye says writer Donald Murray
Anne Macdonald talks to the gifted bilingual son of Lewis

Donald S Murray, teacher, poet, playwright, short-story writer, historian, is a hard man to categorise. Born in East Kilbride and brought up in Lewis, he now lives in Shetland after a career teaching English at secondary schools in Lewis, Benbecula and Shetland. He writes in Gaelic and English, and has a literary catalogue of impressive breadth and depth.

Kate Macdonald: an appreciation
It is with great sadness that I am writing about the passing of the lovely Kate Macdonald, who left us on September 25 2016 at Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, following a long and courageous battle with debilitating ill health.


April 2017

Golspie hotelier in tune with past
Anne Macdonald talks to Eddie MacRae of the Golspie Inn
Thinking about Sutherland in the nineteenth century, it is almost impossible to escape the long shadow of Dunrobin, which stretched northwards and westwards through the straths and villages of its extensive hinterland. More

Special feature
Kyle Centre reopens after £250,000 work completed
Funding from the Climate Challenge Fund enabled very high levels of insulation, reducing its carbon footprint and running co
sts
After a £250,000 extension and renovation project, the Kyle Centre in Tongue is due to re-open this month. North Coast Connection, which runs the centre as a community wellbeing hub, is delighted that the community will be able to use the building again
. More

Graeme at large
by Graeme Mackay
Iceland is the place to be. A small island of fire and ice anchored between tectonic plates in the north Atlantic, this country is the one to watch. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

NFU relationship with politicians under fire
Eyebrows have been raised over the recent secondment of the Director of Policy for the National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS) to the Scottish Government.

Postbox
Rosehall broadband ‘abominable’

I always look forward to reading Am Bratach and agree with every word of the article “Broadband Woes” in last month’s edition. .

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
The first incident of the Durness Riots took place on August 14 1841. After being attacked and prevented from serving the warrants to evict, the sheriff officer, James Campbell, formally declared himself deforced.


March 2017

Unusual burglaries
A series of unusual burglaries took place in the Durness area on and around the night of February 7, involving a hotel, a boat, two vehicles, and at least one unoccupied property. More

Three men in a boat
by Martin Morrison
One fine May morning a few years ago, three executives from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and a dozen or so students found themselves marooned on the desolate southern shores of Loch Druim Suardalain in Glen Canisp in Assynt. How they got there, what they were doing and why, remain a mystery. We’ll probably never know. Let’s just say it’s probably best all round if it stays that way and just gets put down as a bad day at the Facebook page. More

Litir bhon a’ Cheathramh
le Alasdair MacMhaoirn
Bhruidhinn ri mi cuideigin bho Cheap Breatainn an là roimhe, agus thuirt e gu robh cèilidhean cudromach sa bhaile aige airson math na Gàidhlig. Thuirt e cuideachd gu robh e a’ mìneachadh cèilidhean ceart, chan e cèilidhean mar a tha iad ann an Alba. Thuig mi na bha e ag innse dhomh. Tha cuimhn’ am air daoine, gu mì-fhortanach nach eil againn a-nis, a bha a’ cumail cèilidhean ann an taigh ach chan eil iad cumanta san là an-diugh. Mar as trice ann an Alba ’s e seòrsa de chonsart a th’ ann an cèilidh.
I spoke with someone from Cape Breton the other day and he told me that ceilidhs were important in Cape Breton for maintaining Gaelic. He also said that he meant house ceilidhs and not ceilidhs as they are in Scotland. I understood what he meant. I remember people, sadly no longer with us, who kept ceilidhs in their houses. This is not so common today, and for most people a ceilidh means a concert.
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Broadband woes
Service got slower after fibre optic cables installed

Residents of Melness are becoming increasingly frustrated with the poor level of broadband service available from BT — standards which seem to have got worse, not better, since the installation of fibre optic cables began in the area over two years ago.

Uncertainty rules
Plans for restructuring the management of schools in north-west Sutherland remain shrouded in uncertainty, despite a decision on the Farr group having been postponed for a month to allow further consultation

Stoer-born choir conductor and teacher dies
The death occurred on February 20 of Rodney Mackenzie, a distinguished secondary school teacher and conductor of prize-winning Gaelic choirs.


February 2017

Hub on NHS Highland agenda
No-one attended Kinlochbervie consultation meeting in October

As we went to press, plans to develop a new single health and social care “hub” facility on the north coast of Sutherland were to be put before the board of NHS Highland on Tuesday of this week. The proposals follow a period of consultation as to the future of care home services currently provided at Caladh Sona, Talmine, and the Melvich Community Care Unit.h Community Care Unit.
More

‘The hills are dead’
Environmental activist George Monbiot aims to better “the terrible legacy of European farm subsidies” with a post-Brexit world in which “rewilding” benefits from the support hitherto given to hill farmers.More

View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
Another year, and probably a false dawn for those of us looking for a year of peace from mankind-induced tragedy. We can but hope. On the croft front everything has been very quiet, as has been the weather. The named storms seem to have given us a miss, and for that we are truly thankful. Quite satisfying to see on the telly news reporters braving the elements with umbrellas as they attempt a broadcast while we can look outside and say, “well, it’s not raining here.” But I had best not tempt providence.
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

‘Exciting initiative’ going places
Trying to be heard here today is grim’ — Councillor Linda Munro
Speaking ahead of the Highland Council’s education, children and adult services committee meeting on January 26, head of education Jim Steven defended his master plan for the management of schools across the Highlands, claiming that it is the only way to sustain the provision of education in rural areas.

Council defends its snow clearing
Questioned about their reaction to conditions on Friday January 13, a Highland Council spokeswoman confirmed that plough drivers “are advised to keep the blade 5-10mm above road level. This ensures a reasonable life of plough blade rubbers with adequate snow being cleared to allow salt to be effective provided there is enough traffic.”

The road to nowhere
by Martin Morrison
When the plans for the North Coast 500 were first announced, I felt my heart sink for a second. There seemed no specific reason for this. I just felt strangely uneasy, as one might on waking briefly during a generally unpleasant dream. Perhaps it was some ingrained cynicism stirring deep down.


January 2017

Editor appointed
The board of North West Sutherland Council for Community Action, publishers of Am Bratach, is pleased to announce the appointment of Anne Macdonald as editor of the magazine. Mrs Macdonald, a crofter’s daughter from Strathcanaird, will take over from retiring editor, Donald MacLeod, on January 16 after having served ten years as archivist for Skye and Lochalsh, based at Portree. More

Two Mackenzie families in strath
Last month we published a photo of the late Chrissie Mackenzie of Croick, Halladale, linking her family to one “exchanged” for a piper, Ruairidh Mackay, writes Donald MacLeod. The photo and some information about Chrissie were given to me by Sandra Train, but the story about her links to the Gairloch Estate were passed to me directly by Chrissie and her brother Hamish in the 1960s, information I shared many years later with piping historian, Bridget Mackenzie, author of Piping Traditions of the North of Scotland.
More

Nature’s call
by Andy Summers
It was dark, the dogs limbo-danced under the croft gate. The broken landscape was still devoid of colour. The smell of pre-dawn hung in the unnaturally warm air. The Hebridean sheep heard the rattle of the sugar beet pellets in my bucket and had started moving forward long before I could see their black fleeces in the murky gloom. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Tourism body ‘committed’ to enhancing visitor experience
l Durness and Lochinver centres are in private hands because HIE sold them off (at a big loss)
l Highland Council reduced its grant to VisitScotland by £150K in the last financial year
l Highland Council Ranger Service: six or seven posts have already been shed though they’re a ‘really good source’ of help and information

VisitScotland has allayed fears to some extent that Durness and Lochinver will lose their visitor centres in the coming financial year. A spokeswoman for the tourism body said: “We wish to continue to have a visitor information presence in both Lochinver and Durness in 2017 and beyond and we are currently awaiting a response from the landlord around ongoing lease negotiations.

Editorial
Crofting travails
The Crofting Commission has experienced a very, very difficult year. While all organisations go through rough patches, matters usually come to a head and the difficulties are somehow resolved. There is not the case with the commission

Litir bhon a’ Cheathramh
Alasdair MacMhaoirn
Bliadhna mhath ùr dhuibh, tha min dòchas! Tha agamsa ris a’ cholbh seo a sgrìobhadh ro làimh, agus abair gu bheil e duilich an-dràsta! Cha mhòr nach eil a h-uile rud ann an ceò de mhì-chinnte. A’ tòiseachadh gu h-ionadail tha croitearachd bun-fos-cinn, nas fharsaing chan eil fhios ann a bheil no cuin a tha reifreann ùr gu bhith ann dha Alba, san Rìoghachd uile gu lèir chan eil ann ach ceistean mu dheidhinn Breatainn agus an Aonadh Europa (AE). A good New Year to you all, I hope! Writing this column ahead of time can be difficult. At present pretty much everything is uncertain. Crofting is in disarray, we don’t know when or even if there will be another independence referendum, nationally there are no answers to the relationship between the UK and the EU..


December 2016

‘Clueless’ education bosses bleed support
Support for the education authority in Tongue and Farr probably reached a new low last week when a Highland Council official emailed a document to parents outlining an unwelcome reorganisation of their children’s schooling that could end up in a court of law. More

Graeme at large
by Graeme Mackay
"Deck the halls with boughs of holly" — Christmas is fast approaching and for some of us it is a stressful time deciding what to buy people, who to buy for and how much to spend. The truth of the matter is that most of us would be happy with a visit, a card or a phone call but regardless it is the time of year to think of others and appreciate those who mean a lot to us. More

Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
Scotland’s favourite book
Recently, the BBC held a poll to discover what was Scotland's favourite book. In October, the broadcaster devoted a TV programme to looking at the top ten. Without a doubt, the list demonstrates a diversity of genres and styles, mixing classics with contemporary work. More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

‘Crofting is no collective endeavour and never was’
Crofting convenor cleared of misconduct as Upper Coll papers passed to Police Scotland

A crofter from the heights of Assynt has expressed sympathy for the predicament of Colin Kennedy, the convenor of the Crofting Commission, who is facing calls for his resignation from all and sundry, including politicians and crofters’ leaders (Am Bratach, November 3, 2016).

Gaelic weekend report
From the ages of 15 to 80-plus they came from Campbeltown, Aberdeen, Inverness and Balchladich; thirty in all to enjoy some quality teaching at all levels and some fine hospitality at Glencanisp.

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
In 1845 a special correspondent of The Times reported on the condition of the poor in the Highlands.
Proceeding along the north coast of Sutherland he came across a “nest of cottages or huts” called Sangobeg. The people had resisted the attempt of James Anderson at Rispond to clear them but apparently had no means of fishing. The correspondent claimed that the “condition of the people here is just one remove from absolute starvation”.


November 2016

MP supports wind farm at Altnaharra
Local MP Paul Monaghan has given the thumbs up to Creag Riabhach wind farm on Altnaharra Estate. The long awaited decision by the Scottish Government to go ahead was warmly welcomed by the developers, councillors, community councils and others over a wide area, perhaps reflecting the widespread community benefit envisaged in the planning application which even included free electricity to local residents. More

Postie’s post
by Paul Blackman
Before I got the Skerray posting job I did some holiday cover in Bettyhill. I remember my first day setting off with “John the Post”, notebook in hand, up Strathnaver to Kinbrace, to meet the early morning train with all the newspapers. More

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
The proposal by Captain Jespersen to establish a whaling station at Weaver’s Bay on Loch Laxford became a source of public debate. In November 1949 the Duke of Sutherland again raised concerns about the financial backing.
More

Some other reports and features from this month’s paper

Tongue and Skerray crofts sale not soon says factor Voy
But Portgower crofts likely go to local trust
The Sutherland Estate has no plans to sell off its Tongue and Skerray crofte to tenants and is unlikely to do so during the lifetime of the present Countess of Sutherland..

Crofter commissioners not at war says embattled convener Kennedy
Colin Kennedy points finger at civil servant as source of internal strife
The turf war engulfing the Crofting Commission since April has been compared to the 2016 US presidential election campaign in its ferocity and bitterness. In the commission’s case, it is mainly levelled at the 56-year-old elected convener of the Inverness-based statutory regulator of crofting. (Download advice from Colin Kennedy and Catriona MacLean of the Crofting Commission
here