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December 2009

Catriona MacLeod talks to Lily Byron, Rosehall
Murdo Mackenzie trained as a blacksmith in Tain where he married and had one child. Then, in 1881, he moved to take up a post as estate blacksmith at Rosehall where the remaining thirteen children were born in an estate house where his granddaughter, Lily, now lives.
More

Catherine Mackay
An appreciation
The communities of Skerray, Tongue, Strathnaver and Bettyhill were saddened to hear of the sudden unexpected death of Catherine (“Lal”) Mackay in the early hours of Tuesday, November 17, 2009.
More

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
In April 1856 the Rev David Williamson, minister of the Established Church of Assynt, produced a report on the examination of the schools in the parish which had taken place the previous month. The examination included seven schools including the parish school and all of the charity schools. The three Free Church schools were excluded.
More

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

Court tends to decroft, if planning permission given
Although reading through recently published responses to the Draft Crofting Reform (Scotand) Bill suggests that many crofters believe the Crofters Commission enjoys sufficient powers to moderate the excesses caused by decrofting for financial gain, the head of the Crofters Commission sees it rather differently.

Bettyhill star recalls Norwegian hero in special Glasgow event
The life of a Norwegian hero who graduated as a musical instrument maker before risking his life in the Second World War is to be commemorated at the Celtic Connections festival next month in a show headlined by Bettyhill’s best known musician, Jenna Reid.

Free Press is exception to rule
Only two local newspapers in Britain are worth saving from extinction according to one to the country’s most eminent journalists. Writing in the Guardian, George Monbiot stated: “I can think of only two local newspapers that consistently hold power to account: the West Highland Free Press and the Salford Star.


November 2009

Woodland croft purchase suffers setback
The people of Assynt have failed to achieve sufficient local support to buy Ledmore Forest to create woodland crofts. The 1,038 hectare forest is owned by the Forestry Commission Scotland, which wants to sell it as part of its repositioning programme. More

John McKay McInlay, Fisherman, Achtoty, Skerray, 1810-1883
by Margaret McKay
There are no photographs of John McKay McInlay to give us a picture of him and there are no family papers. His land in Achtoty and what remains of his house are now part of the neighbouring croft but his life, however obscure and distant it now seems, is part of his descendants’ inheritance and greatly valued by them.
More

Nature’s call
by Andy Summers
Whatever turns you on, I suppose. “Look over there. He is near the back, beside the grey stone. He is scratching his head just now. No not that one! He is slightly smaller than the rest and he has dark legs. Oh look he has just stretched. Can’t you see?”
More

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

The neglect of crofting I see is at the hand of government
A Radical solution to croft speculation ran the headline! The latest lifeline thrown to Ms Cunningham’s Draft Crofting Bill must be a good one, given the amount of ink expended on the very bold type. Having read the earth-shattering proposal which revolves round a further restriction on the tenant crofter’s right to assign, I looked out of the window counting the number of crofts which are still owned or tenanted by those whose families were in them in 1912, a date, about which I have accurate information, and the words of the poet came to mind, “in vacant or in pensive mood...”

Catriona MacLeod talks to Elliot Rudie, Bettyhill
Earlier this year, Elliot Rudie found himself travelling to Paris, to be present at a conference celebrating fifty years since publication of William S Burrough’s controversial book, “Naked Lunch”. Also at the Festin Nu@50 was documentary arts film director, Allan Govenar, filming for his current project, “The Beat Hotel”. The film is centred around Harold Chapman’s stunning black and white photos of the residents of the aforementioned hotel in Paris, one of whom was Burroughs and another, Elliot Rudie, who had also been recording life in “The Beat” through his sketches, drawings and letters home.

Former Caithness solicitor has murder firmly in mind
Last month Wick resident Jean McLennan saw the toils of her labour come to fruition when her book “Blood in the Glens” was published, writes Fiona Burnett. The book, a collection of eleven true crime stories from the Highlands and Islands over the last sixty years, looks into the background of each crime, the motives of those involved, the crimes themselves, and their repercussions.


October 2009

Numbers up at Invercharron
The gods looked down kindly on the considerable turnout, as a slight drizzle at the time of the official opening caused people to pause and count their blessings as the rain clouds blew away, leaving a fine day.
More

Councillor calls for committee upgrade
George Farlow, SNP councillor for North West and Central Sutherland, has called on The Highland Council again for recognition of the Gaelic Committee equal to that of other strategic committees rather than hanging on the coattails of the education culture and sport service. The Gaelic committee of the Highland Committee met in Ullapool last Friday (September 25).
More

Studying medicine in the north
by Daniel Racey
I am in my fifth and final year at the Peninsula Medical School based in Plymouth. We are given the freedom to choose a block of study at the beginning of our final year. The purpose of this elective part of the course is to broaden our experience of medicine. Many students choose to go abroad to Africa or India or the Caribbean.
More

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

Catriona MacLeod talks to Cathel Kerr Mackay, Melness
Wisecracking musician and former coalman Cathel Kerr Mackay was born in Helmsdale a while back, in the Pope maternity hospital. They closed it shortly afterwards.

Life of World War I hero remembered
He had been an adopted child who was brought up by a brother and sister in the parish of Eddrachillis, yet thousands attended his funeral in a far distant land. Robert McBeath VC was only twenty-four when he died.

Nature’s call
by Paul Castle
I would like to start this particular article with a heartfelt thank you to Mary Legg the senior countryside ranger in Caithness who retired at the end of September. Mary has amassed a huge amount of knowledge and has worked tirelessly within the ranger service in Caithness for many years. Mary’s knowledge, enthusiasm and love of her work have resulted in countless successful projects and initiatives.


September 2009

‘Sea eagles took half my lambs’ — Rhiconich crofter
Although pleased with the price he received for his lambs in August, crofter David Forbes says he has lost between forty and fifty per cent of this year's lamb crop to sea eagles, birds protected in law.
More

Mandy wins award with her first novel
Author and environmental campaigner, Mandy Haggith from Achmelvich, near Lochinver, was last week announced as the winner of the inaugural Robin Jenkins Literary Award for her first novel, The Last Bear.
More

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
The introduction of the poor law in 1845 brought a major change to the way the poor were assisted. The management of the new system was entrusted to parochial boards who were empowered to raise money by levying an assessment on the rents, draw up a poor roll, appoint inspectors and build poorhouses. A central Board of Supervision in Edinburgh provided guidance and exercised control where appropriate.
More

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

Forest group content with Forsinain, Dyke and Rosal
The purchase of 16,500 acres of mainly afforested Forestry Commission land in Farr and Kildonan by North Sutherland Community Forest Trust is no longer an option, following the district valuer’s price tag of £5.4m.

On a mission to save the mission
The people of Assynt are once again on the community ownership campaign trail — only this time it is not land they are trying to buy, but a building. The Lochinver Fishermen’s Mission closed earlier this year, and following an enthusiastic public meeting last month the Assynt Community Association formed a steering group to find a way to reopen it and run it for the benefit of the whole local community.

View from the croft gate
by John Macdonald
While up on our hill ground gathering the lamb sale one of the first things I spotted was a fine sprig of white heather. It seemed a good omen and so it proved to be. It is a long time since I have gone to a sale and seen such a dramatic increase in stock prices and a buzz of relief amongst the sellers that at last prices start to come more into line with the price of everything we purchase to keep our agricultural enterprises going.


August 2009

Durness Highland Gathering 2009
“I really enjoyed the walk from the square to the park, with all the chieftains,” said Lachlan Ross from Kinlochbervie, chieftian of the 2009 Durness Highland Gathering, as he spoke to the assembled company on what started out as a very wet day.
More

Backcoaster’s Diary
Nae velar fricative noo
We ask, with not a little regret, if the Guid Scots Tongue is undergoing terminal decline.
More

View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
What a contrast of weather since I wrote last month. For a start, hot and dry weather as is rarely seen in these parts, followed by a northerly chill and as I write, very unsettled weather and back to a pattern with which we are more familiar. More

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

After 15 years crofters’ trust has £100,000 in the bank
Uncertain times for crofters and hill farmers they most certainly are, but Assynt’s crofter-owned estate is very much in the black after fifteen years of steady progress. “At the AGM there we had £100,000 in the bank and we made about — well on paper we made about — £18,000 profit last year,” says chairman, Allan MacRae. “That’s on paper, but the trust is doing quite well. We have no debts.”

Catriona Macleod talks to Christian Goskirk, Lairg
At the age of seventeen, having finished her schooling at Golspie High, Christian Goskirk decided that the bright lights of Scotland’s big cities weren’t enough of a change from her home village of Lairg and instead headed off across the sea for a year at senior school in America. It wasn’t that long ago, but even in the late eighties Gap Years weren’t commonplace and it was usually after university or college life that students ventured abroad for a taste of the wider world.

The best of company
Roger Leitch in conversation with Tommy Ross, a native of Tumore, Loch Assynt, and resident of Inverness
From the archives of the School of Scottish Studies, Edinburgh University
RL: Can I ask first of all, Mr Ross, when you were born?
TR: August the 6th, 1929.
Now, was this in Tumore?
In Tumore house by Loch Assynt, in Sutherland.
And how long were you in fact there?
Well, up until the time — I would be about eight years old when my father decided — there was a change in the estate then, and it was off to Argyllshire at Dalmally — that Sir Douglas Hall and Lady Hall, as she was then, decided to go and wanted my father to go with them.


July 2009

Postbox
SNP seemed to draft bill with a ‘degree of militancy’
We are not only in the “silly season” but living in “strange times”, when on the one hand the Scottish government produces a “Shucksmith crofting bill” in bold defiance of crofter opposition to the Shucksmith Report last summer, but then the Northern Times keeps out of harm’s way by failing to report the more than lively meetings at Lairg and Durness, on June 9 and 10 respectively, when the consultation road-show reached the Raggie’s patch. More

Nature’s call
by Paul Castle
Several times in the past I have stood with folk on a guided sea watch at Strathy Point and struggled to see any cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) or just had a quick glimpse of a fin and that’s it. On a recent sea watch we saw four species in just two hours. Minke whales, common dolphins, harbour porpoise and Risso’s Dolphins were all recorded, with the Risso’s Dolphin’s right in alongside us. I wish every sea watch was like that. More

Crofting ‘reform’ as I see it
by Iain MacKenzie
“Vassals: in a feudal relationship with landlord, their feudal superior.” That is the description the well respected, late DJ MacCuish, crofting law expert, used to describe tenant crofters in a paper delivered in 1968.
More

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

Contractor for Glencanisp to be appointed this week
Recent Observer article criticised
The Assynt Foundation is expected to appoint the main contractor for the £1.3million redevelopment of Glencanisp Lodge tomorrow (Friday, July 3) and work on site should be underway in a matter of weeks.

Fiona Burnett talks to Angus John McEwan, Inverkirkaig
Born to Scottish parents, Angus John McEwan’s evacuation from London to Scotland during World War II was “influential”. He spent his earlier days with family in Tain, going to school there, interspersed with holidays in Lochinver where he also had family, later returning to continue his education in London, when the war ended. His education “was much establishment”, his college having an army and a corps where he was sergeant major, where he marched once a year in uniform across London Bridge to St Paul’s Cathedral, playing the drums as he went.

New edition of Bettyhill guide out
A new edition of Kevin O’Reilly and Ashley Crockford’s indispensable 2005 “What to see around Bettyhill” has been published.
The A5 39-page booklet fits in the pocket and contains an impressive amount of information for the visitor or local, covering the history, archaeology and geology from Loch mo Naire in lower Strathnaver to the holy island of Eilean Neave off Skerray to the west, to the remains of the medieval stronghold of the Clan Mackay, Borve Castle, near Kirtomy, which was destroyed by the Earl of Sutherland in 1555.


June 2009

New commission may charge crofters for essential services
Crofting Reform (Scotland) Bill, published by the Scottish Government on May 19, may be different in a some respects from that controversially advocated by Professor Mark Shucksmith’s Committee Inquiry on Crofting, but initial reactions suggest it could face a rough ride before it reaches the statute book.
More

Have you seen this bee?
by Bob Dawson
In the photo above is the wonderful Great Yellow Bumblebee, mentioned in these pages before (see Paul Castle’s column from April). Once widespread on the UK mainland, it is now only found along the northern coasts of Sutherland and Caithness.
More

Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
“One Light Burning (CD)”, Dave Whyte & Donny O’Rourke, 2008; “Blame Yesterday”, Donny O’Rourke, 2009. Both from Bonny Day Books.
Two years ago, I reviewed poet Donny O’Rourke’s and artist Harry Magee’s collaboration on “One Light Burning”. I wrote that the poems could be put to music. O’Rourke had the same idea, and asked Dave Whyte to write the music. The result of their collaboration is this excellent CD, which follows the same running order as the book.
More

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

‘Delinquent’ Glen to the rescue!
by Fiona Burnett
When, last month, residents of Scullomie, Tongue, witnessed an impressive mock water rescue demonstration put on by Karen Wyatt from Thurso and her 1-year-old black Newfoundland dog, Glen, they would never have guessed that until a short time before, Glen had caused his owner and her family endless heartache and distress. It was in fact the first time they had been in the water together.

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
The importance of the Caithness herring fishery in the nineteenth century has tended to overshadow the local fishery. Despite the often erratic appearance of the herring, problems accessing salt and barrels, and the challenges of finding a market, the west coast fishing was not insignificant.

View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
Friday. Cuckoo time and I am just about going cuckoo myself with this Blue Tongue vaccinations lark. We struck early when the scheme had just started: sheep and cows, the lot were done, being the start of the winter.


May 2009


Mackays turn out in force for Global Gathering
As this article is being written, the ground floor area of Strathnaver Museum, Bettyhill, is full to overflowing with Mackays. The contingents of this Mackay body are, while waiting to be photographed, being entertained by the highly accomplished members of the Feis movement and enjoying baking supplied by members of the community who would apparently give Mr Kipling a run for his money.
More

Fanagmore headmaster’s son dies at 89
On February 18 this year, John WR Junner died in a residential care home at the age of 89. He had been headmaster of Strachan Primary School in Aberdeenshire from 1966 until he retired in 1985. Immediately before that he had been headmaster at Strathy Primary, since closed.
More

Nature’s call
by Andy summers
Open wide! It won’t hurt”. When you are trying to take a mouth swab sample from a Golden Eagle it pays to be polite if you want to keep your fingers. When you see the remains of a badger’s skull, a tawny owl’s wing and a bit of antler from a stag lying in the nest, you know this is a top predator, which has some dangerous bits of kit.
More

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

Disparity in condition of roads unexplained — so far
After considerable time spent fishing for information, we have been unable, so far, to persuade Highland Council to explain to our satisfaction why the condition of two single track roads across what appears to be very similar terrain differs to such a degree that they could well be in different countries.

Postbox
Merit of tenancies
Labour MSPs propose that the Scottish Parliament shelves legislative proposals regarding crofting and that the Parliament’s time would be better spent combating the effects of the recession.

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
The settlement of the Island of Handa in the spring of 1828 proceeded according to plan. Ralph Reed, who was in charge of the operation on behalf of the landlord, Lord Reay, had pointed out the stances for the tenants’ houses. Not all of the applicants were content and one of them, Kenneth MacLeod, was anxious to give up his holding. There were, however, two or three others willing to take it. It was given to Eric Mackenzie who had gone with MacLeod to the factor at Tongue.

 


April 2009

Postbox
Wind turbines already rejected
I am surprised at Assynt Foundation development manager, Mark Lazerri, citing wind turbines as a possible source of income (“Foundation considers forest purchase as lodge works go on”, Am Bratach, March 2009.)
More

The touch of a master
Hector MacAndrew: Legend of the Scots Fiddle. Greentrax Recordings Ltd, Cockenzie Business Centre, Edinburgh Road, Cockenzie, East Lothian EH32 0XL. £11.85.
As a boy I was familar with the fiddle playing of Hector MacAndrew (1903-1980), thanks to my father, writes DONALD MACLEOD. A player himself, my father was horrified when a neighbour called in while a MacAndrew broadcast was playing over the air waves exclaiming: "You're just as good yourself!"
More

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
Handa Island was one of the few inhabited islands off the northern mainland. According to an account of 1726, it was inhabited by “one or two familys”. Later, however, it was cleared and given over to sheep, possibly in the early 1800s. By 1818 it was part of Badnabay sheep farm tenanted by William Munro of Achany and Ralph Reed at Scourie and inhabited by one of their shepherds, Donald Morrison.
More

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

Morrison family brings home the plight of AIDS-struck South Africa
‘From the minute they can walk they are singing and dancing’
Four Zulus — three men and a woman — will sing of their people’s heart-rending experiences at a free concert to be held in Durness hall this coming Saturday (April 4). The brainchild of Sangobeg-born Colin Morrison and his wife, Karen, artistes from the Gaelic tradition, like locally-born singing brothers, David and Willie Morrison, and piper James Mather, will also take part.

HIE in the spotlight
Does the government straitjacket that Highlands and Islands Enterprise appears to operate under mean it is forced to follow the latest whims of the politicians and even repeat the mistakes of the past? In this interview, we hope some light is shed on this and other questions of topical interest.

Postbus service
Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP, John Thurso, has written to the Royal Mail Group and Highland Council urging both parties to re-engage in discussions about the future of the postbuses that provide services between Tongue and Thurso. The council grant-aids the passenger element.

View from the croft
by John Macdonald
As I sit writing this article the showers are driving past the window frequent and heavy, as they say, not a day to lie behind a dyke, although I suppose that if the choice was between lying out on an exposed hillside or in the lea of a dyke I would opt for the latter.


March 2009

Robin Hood in reverse
Highland Council is apparently hell-bent on reducing the wages of its poorest paid employees whilst increasing the pay of thousands of better off staff — under cover of a “job evaluation” exercise. More

Backcoaster’s Diary
Stranger than fiction
We read in an Edinburgh broadsheet that six unnamed “historians and intellectuals” have been asked to provide information about the history and culture of Caithness, apparently with a view to demonstrating to councillors of that northern fastness that they have nothing in common with anything or anybody south of the Arctic Circle.
More

Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
Fasachadh An-Iochdmhor Ratharsair (The Cruel Clearance of Raasay) by Calum Macleoid. 2007, Clo Arnais. £7.99.
The name Calum Macleod will be known to all interested in Highland affairs: he was the Raasay crofter who between 1962 and 1976 built the road that ever since has borne his name, having failed to get the relevant authorities to provide one.
More

Postbox
Letter to minister
Through your columns I would like to thank all those who supported my petition to the Scottish Parliament, calling on the Government not to accept the main recommendations of the Shucksmith report on crofting. More

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

Foundation considers forest purchase as lodge works go on
£1.52m Glencanisp project to start
You might think they had plenty on their plate with a million plus renovation programme for Glencanisp Lodge about to begin, but the Assynt Foundation, the parish’s newest public landowners, are hoping to extend their 44,400-acre holding of mountain, loch and hill with around 2,471 acres of Forestry Commission land at Ledmore.

Darwin inspires Kerracher gardeners
A magical garden located in one of the loveliest parts of Assynt, and accessible only by sea, is to become even more magical this year when husband and wife, Peter and Trish Kohn, open an extension to the garden which the “Independent” has included in a list of the “10 best gardens to visit in summer”. Boat trips from Kylesku are available three times a week in the season time.

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
In November 1850 the recently established Inverness Advertiser contained an article on the Highland Clearances which drew attention to events at “Abirscross, in Sutherlandshire, where the people lived in comfort, and paid their rents regularly; but, on a foreign migrant coveting their lands for a sheep walk, were ordered immediately to remove.”


February 2009

‘Positive feelings’ for forest trust becoming landowners
Group left ‘high and dry’ over log cabin
The North Sutherland Community Forest Trust, which we reported in December as expressing interest in purchasing up to 16,500 acres of mainly-afforested Forestry Commission land in Farr and Kildonan, is delighted with the public’s response to their proposals, but feel they still have some way to go in explaining what they are about. More

Foundation rebuked over MacKenzie petition
The petition to the Scottish Parliament by Netta MacKenzie from Elphin calling on the parliament to urge the Scottish Government not to adopt the main recommendations of the Shucksmith report on crofting is being closed on the grounds that communities will have a further opportunity to make their views known when the draft Bill is published and that the issues raised by the petitioner could also be considered as part of the Parliament’s scrutiny of the Bill and amended as necessary.
More

Litir bhon ’a Cheathramh
le Alasdair MacMhaoirn
Aig àm na Nollaig seo chaidh bha mi ann an Ontario, Canada, agus fhuair mi cothrom tadhal air sgoil Mnjikaning Kendaasawin a chaidh a chur air chois leis an treubh Ojibwe. ’S e sgoil sònraichte a th’ ann, on a chaidh curriculum a dhealbhadh a bheireadh a-steach mòran dhen dualchas aca fhèin. Abair ceum mòr a th’ ann, air sàillibh eachdraidh dòrainneach is cruaidh cas a bh’ ann nuair a bh’ aca ri dèiligeadh ris an Riaghaltas. (Bilingual)
More

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

Fiona Burnett talks to Joni Gray, Tongue
Having enjoyed her childhood growing up in Tongue, the sixteen year old teenager headed for the bright lights of London staying for four years, enjoying a whirlwind romance when she met her husband-to-be and became engaged after just three weeks of meeting him, becoming his wife four months later.

Postbox
Gulf Stream not taken into account
It’s a strange argument against global warming to suggest (Am Bratach January 2009), on the evidence of US scientists, that no forest plantings should be done north of 50 degrees N, i.e. north of The Lizard in Cornwall.

An Appreciation
The late Winnie Mackay
Now all we have are our memories, memories that will stay in our souls, treasured forever, for Winnie Mackay was what the real people of Sutherland will know as a true daughter of that county, beautiful, honest and brimming with kindness, so capable and with such a sense of humour she could disarm the Devil, and she called a spade a spade.


January 2009

Crofters Commission in hot water as some crofters' views overlooked
Crofters in Ullapool and Coigach were disappointed to discover in last month's Bratach that their views on the Scottish Rural Development Programme and the Shucksmith report, the subject matter of a Crofters Commssion meeting held in Ullapool on July 1 of last year, were not recorded. More

Obituary
Gordon Rutherford DL
March 29 1925 - November 16 2008
Gordon Rutherford, who died on November 16 aged 83 was a legend in his lifetime. His family came from Kildonan and a touch of gold was always about him — in his speech, in his humour, in his gift for friendship with all and sundry, in his glamour and his earthiness.
More

Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
“The Beatles in Scotland” by Ken McNab, Polygon, 2008. £20.
I was twelve when the Beatles had their first big hit, and the band — along with Bob Dylan — provided the soundtrack to my teenage years. Each record was bought as it came out. The singles and EPs have long since gone, and the LPs replaced by CDs, but I still regularly listen to their music. This beautifully written and illustrated book will be a welcome addition to the shelves of all Beatles’ fans.
More

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

The guga hunters
It takes a feat of imagination for those tied to the land and a more sheltered existence to understand what it is like to live in close proximity to howling gales, jagged rocks and the cruel sea. And even if we do have a smattering of understanding, it is easy to relegate such lifestyles — especially in their more extreme manifestations — to times gone by.

Postbox
Purity of race too difficult a concept
Imagine the fear which the headline “I`m an endangered species” struck into the heart of a male of a certain age. After realising John Macleod, son of the eminent principal of the Free Church College, and friend of crofters, was the author of the Daily Mail article I thought I could relax.

History File
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
David Hird’s excellent book, A Light in the Wilderness, tells the story of the building of the lighthouse at Cape Wrath and includes a full transcript of the very detailed specification and the contract signed with John Gibb from Aberdeen in the summer of 1827.


December 2008

Local group set sights on Forestry Commission land
As the Scottish Government consults on what has been claimed to be the part-privatisation of the Forestry Commission in Scotland, a charitable company with members in the parishes of Durness, Tongue and Farr has expressed interest in acquiring up to 16,500 acres of commission-owned land, most but not all of it planted, in the parishes of Kildonan and Farr. More

Postbox
Government listens to crackpots
I have been a crofter for forty-four years, ever since my father gave me the croft when I was sixteen. My people have been fighting all kinds of weird policies proposed by strange-thinking academics who wanted to change crofting to a fairy world, but the Shucksmith recommendations take the ticket.
More

Fiona Burnett talks to Hamish Campbell, Durness
Shepherding is in his blood. Perhaps not surprising given that his great great grandfather was the first shepherd at Arnaboll, Hope, where his father and grandmother were born. He has sold his hardy breed of Lairg type North Country Cheviot tups as far south as Cornwall and as far north as Shetlan
d. More

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

No plans to cull deer on Little Assynt says chairman
The Assynt Crofters Trust raised fears at a recent meeting in the parish that the neighbouring estate of Little Assynt, owned by the Culag Community Woodland Trust since 2000, is planning to plant trees on the open hill with damaging financial consequences for their own operation.

What the commission heard
We can reveal that crofting and environment minister, Mike Russell MSP, did not request public meetings held in the summer about the Shuckmith report and the new Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP).

History File
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
In the mid 1820s the Reay estate management made strenuous efforts to end the illicit distilling of whisky by the small tenants, a practice often referred to as “smuggling”. On January 11 1827, John Horsburgh, Lord Reay’s factor based at the House of Tongue, issued instructions to Hugh MacIntosh, the ground officer for the parish of Eddrachillis, to collect all the copper still pots.


November 2008

Real test of crofter opinion came with recommendations
Evidence not so rigorous and compelling as Shucksmith says
Speaking at the Scottish Crofting Foundation's annual gathering in early October, Professor Mark Shucksmith took the opportunity to hit back at critics of his recent report and its recommendations for the future of crofting, writes a correspondent. More

Gone but not forgotten
November 11 is a special day in the calendar, known by various names, in particular Remembrance Day, Poppy Day and Armistice Day. More

Postbox
Mailbus journeys with a difference
It was lovely to read about “Donnie the Mails” in last month’s Bratach. It brought back many happy memories.
More

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

Postbox
Too much advice
“Who dug the crofts out of the hill?” enquired an exasperated crofter from Stoer towards the end of a long presentation on the merits of the Shucksmith report, which he did not seem to agree with.

The man with the cow
John Macdonald, author and compiler of “Rogart: The Story of a Sutherland Crofting Parish”, looks back on the life of the man whose photo appears on the cover of his book
Since launching the reprint and second edition of our book on Rogart parish I am often asked the question “who is the man with the cow”?

Shucksmith report: a response to David Forbes
‘Stirring stuff, but none of it is true’
by Alistair MacIver
If you focus on the substance of David Forbes' criticism of the Shucksmith Report in his "personal view" article (Am Bratach, August 2008), you'll be struck by how similar some of his views are to those of the Scottish Crofting Foundation.


October 2008

Invercharron games roundup
“If I never attend another Highland games, I’ll remember this one,” says Invercharron Traditional Highland Games president, Morag Chalmers, of last month’s event. “I thoroughly enjoyed the day.
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Postbox
Voters ignored
Rob Gibson’s letter in last month’s Bratach is worrying and disturbing.
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Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
“Scotland and the Union 1707-2007”. Edited by TM Devine. Edinburgh University Press, 2008. £14.95.
It is an irony of history that, 300 years after the Union of Scotland with England, a Nationalist administration is in power at Holyrood.
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Some other reports and features from this month’s print edition

‘Not Shucksmith’ report goes to crofting Minister
As we went to press, the Scottish Government confirmed that Mike Russell MSP, the environment (and crofting) Minister, was due to announce precisely at 2.35pm on Wednesday, October 1, his government’s long-awaited response to the Shucksmith report on the future of crofting.

Fiona Burnett talks to Donald Mackay, Scourie
By the time Lochinver-born Donald Mackay from Scourie came into the world, his father, also Donald, was reported to have consumed forty-seven cups of tea!

Lady Elizabeth recalls life during the last war
During the World War II, women from all walks of life came together in the form of the Women’s Land Army, a non-military organisation, where thousands of women all across the country threw themselves into men’s boots, working the land to provide the country with much needed food.


September 2008

Foundation meets MacRae as Shucksmith suffers delay
A sense of emergency at the Scottish Crofting Foundation may have prompted a meeting between their leaders and one of the principal critics of the Shucksmith report on crofting, and of the organisation’s surprising reaction to it. More

Hats that are not for wearing!
by Andrew Marshall
Since the Bratach has a much wider circulation than in its own postcode no doubt some readers shop at a Sainsbury branch.
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Postbox
English was never big in Caithness until Dounreay
I just want to thank you for publishing Dr Stiubhart’s article on the history of Gaelic as spoken in Caithness.
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History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
The economic depression which followed the Napoleonic Wars hit the Highlands hard.
More

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

Postbox
Seeing the bright side of Shucksmith
“Sort out the Crofters Commission”, was the main message agreed by over 120 crofters and crofting representatives at a meeting in Broadford last summer, according to the Free Press and The Crofter.

Obituary
Jessie Rooney, 1923-2008
Jessie Rooney was born at Riverside Cottage, Hope, on August 15 1923, third eldest of nine children born to Isa and Jessan Gow

The Assynt Highland Games in words and pictures
It was a day of record smashing in the heavy division at this year’s Assynt Highland Gathering, held in the Culag Park on Friday, August 8.


August 2008

Durness Games: place of reunion
At the opening ceremony, this year’s chieftain, Cate Jackson, said she had never missed a Durness Highland Gathering since 1970, despite living away all her adult years. More

Bernd’s KLB swim marks his 50th visit
Bernd Retzlaff, a high school teacher in Berlin, first visited the Oldshore-Kinlochbervie area in 1973, writes Andrew Marshall.
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Postbox
Oran a’ Phetition
Over one hundred years ago Màiri Mhòr nan Oran remarked that her people had become so strange that sorrow was wheat to them. More

View from the croft gate
by John Macdonald
Haymaking is the task of the moment and, of course, the weather has decided to play up. More

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

Assynt trust unhappy with Shucksmith crofting report
Skye-born advocate issues warning
In a letter sent to the Scottish Government minister for the environment, the Assynt Crofters Trust has become what is believed to be the first established crofters’ organisation to publicly criticise recommendations contained in the report of the Committee of Inquiry into Crofting.

The Shucksmith report — a personal view
‘Shucksmith claims a croft is a public asset, like a municipal park’
The Shucksmith report or crofting enquiry is a modern-day “consultation” for the new Scottish Government, writes David Forbes.

Downtown crofting on the up
When I wrote that July article about incomers boostng land usage I hoped to get some reaction, writes Andrew Ma
rshall.


July 2008

Wedding in a romantic setting
by Fiona Burnett
Castle Varrich, the ruined castle overlooking the village and Kyle of Tongue, believed by some to have been a stopping off place for the bishop of Caithness on his visits to Durness in the late Middle Ages, was a centre of attraction on Saturday, June 21 — Midsummer’s Day — at three o’clock when family and friends gathered to witness local painter and decorator Scott Coghill and German-born Silke Plass exchanged marriage vows.
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Sisters make dash for charity
Strathnaver sisters, Marsaili (left) and Catriona MacLeod, raised £450 for Cancer Research UK when they took part in the charity’s “Race for life” in Aberdeen on June 2.
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Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
Mandy Haggith “The Last Bear”, Two Ravens Press, 2008. £8.99.
This story, set in North West Scotland over a thousand years ago, pits two groups against each other: the Vikings from Scandinavia who at the time the novel is set have settled to a mainly peaceful life and the Celts who earlier arrived in Scotland from across what is now known as the Irish Sea.
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The Inner Man
by Chris Duckham
At the restaurant we love to use the freshest local fish, and one of my personal favourites is sea trout. More

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

Shucksmith report receives poor reception at North West meetings
You would not guess by listening to crofters in North West Sutherland that the “authentic voice of Scottish crofters” is conveyed in the Shucksmith report on the future of crofting.

New life is being breathed into Kinlochbervie crofting
A woman in Harrogate phoning a friend in Kinlochbervie said: “I’m fed up with the rising cost of food; I’m going to grow my own."

Fiona Burnett talks to Douglas Pearson, Skerray
Douglas Pearson, Achtoty, Skerray, has experienced life from a great height.

Lairg Music Festival: a matter of teamwork
At the 2008 Lairg Music Festival the usual array of musical talent drawn from all round the country was on display.


June 2008

‘Dangerous’ Shucksmith raises crofter temperatures
The Shucksmith report on crofting, published last month, has been described to us as a "dangerous" document offering "Eastern block" solutions to the challenges facing today's crofter.
More

Gallaibh nan Gàidheal ’s nan Gall (Caithness of the Gael and the Lowlander)
by Domhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart
Recently we’ve all been hearing and reading rather a lot of opinions, not all of them particularly well-informed, about the question of Caithness’s Gaelic heritage.
More

Backcoaster’s diary
It seems that conservation plans reported in these columns a month ago, plans designed to save the River Naver from anglers, are not going according to plan. More

Nature’s call
by Andy Summers
I was feeling a bit sore this morning.
More

History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
In July 1765 the factor for the estate of Coigach in the parish of Lochbroom reported that several of the tenants had lost cows, horses, sheep and goats during the previous winter.
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May 2008

Scotland-wide rural scheme ‘discriminates’ says MacRae
Crofters’ leader, Allan MacRae of 83 Torbreck, Lochinver, describes aspects of the Scottish government’s flagship Scottish Rural Development Programme, which received EU approval in January, as “hugely disappointing”.
More

Skye parents aim for Gaelic school
by Arthur Cormack
Ninety-nine children currently attend Gaelic-medium in Portree, while 136 attend the “mainstream” school. More

Nostalgic reunion for Lovat Scouts
by Willie Morrison
Three Lovat Scout veterans of World War II relived the dangers, fears and excitement of more than sixty years ago when they met again this week for lunch at Achness House Hotel, near Rosehall. More

Litir bhon ’a Cheathramh
le Alasdair MacMhaoirn
Taighean Geala agus smachd sòisealta. Thàinig an smaoin seo a-steach orm bho chionn ghoirid nuair a fhuair mi brath bho charaid mu colbh a bh’ anns The Herald (12/4/08). (Billingual) More

Bookends
by Kevin Crowe
Review: The Thistle and the Crescent” by Bashir Maan. Argyll Publishing 2008. £12.99. More


April 2008

Rhiconich crofter favours right to buy
In evidence submitted to the Scottish government’s Committee of Crofting Inquiry, a North West Sutherland crofter, who for a number of years was a prominent member of the Scottish Crofters Union North West Sutherland Area, illustrates the advantages of both the tenant’s right to buy and of the tenancy system itself. More

Council ploughs on with ‘cluster’ head at primaries
Opposition by Tongue parents to the joint headship of Tongue, Farr and Melvich primary schools, revealed in Am Bratach last month, has not deterred Highland Council from pressing ahead with the appointment of a single teacher to supervise the three schools.
More

Local lads set up building business in Tongue area
A brand new building business, Kyle of Tongue Construction, has been set up by Graeme Gunn, Melness, and Richard Mackay from Tongue. More

St Kilda — the edge of the world
by Jaqqi Carney
It is no easy feat getting your feet on St Kilda. More

Nature’s call
by Paul Castle
The early part of the year is a relatively quiet period for us countryside rangers before the mad, head-down rush of spring and summer really begins. More


March 2008

Parent council was ignored over ‘cluster’ appointment
Education bosses performed a climbdown of sorts the day after we questioned the local authority’s procedures for appointing a new joint head teacher to Tongue, Farr and Melvich primary schools.
More

Writers and artists explore Strathbrora
Thumbing through this booklet, some will ask why it has been published by a heritage society when the first impressions are of a work not obviously concerned with the past. More

Litir bhon ’a Cheathramh
by Alasdair MacMhaoirn
Deagh naidheachd ann an Inbhir Theòrsa! (Billingual.)
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History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
In 1818 Dugald Gilchrist took over the sheep-farm of Shinness: some of the large population of sub tenants were not permitted to remain or chose not to.
More


February 2008

Planner’s dream
After examining evidence garnered from seventeen public meetings held in June and August of last year...More

Broadband on the blink for two days
by Fiona Burnett
Broadband users in Strathnaver, Altnaharra and Kinbrace, left without a connection for two days late last month, were told their computers were to blame. More

Ùrachadh success at Celtic Connections
Taigh na Gàidhlig Mhealanais project, Ùrachadh, was well received at Celtic Connections, where the multimedia show made its festival debut at the Tron Theatre on Burns Night, reports secretary, Catriona MacLeod.
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View from the croft gate
by John MacDonald
I see that regulation about the double tagging of sheep is kicking in about now.
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History file
by Malcolm Bangor-Jones
The new sheep farm of Shinness was let to the Matheson family in 1808. Ten years later it was taken over by Dugald Gilchrist of Ospisdale, sheep farmer, road contractor and minor landlord.
More


January 2008

Gaelic accounts not acceptable
A small Skye-based company has challenged the notion that the Gaelic language has no place in official documentation by submitting its annual report and accounts for 2006-2007 to Companies House, Edinburgh, in Gaelic alone. More

Blas Festival latest invite for minstrels
Ùrachadh, the group of Caithness and Sutherland Gaelic singers and musicians — presently preparing for their first appearance at Celtic Connections on January 25 — have further dates to add to their diary, following an approach from the Blas Festival.
More

Rob Donn descendant gives talk at Farr ceilidh
American Ellen Beard, a former labour lawyer turned student of Gaelic at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, who has the distinction of been descended from the Mackay bard, Rob Donn (1714-1778), spoke of his poetry and of her family connection to the illustrious poet at a special ceilidh organised by George Gunn, writer-in-residence at Strathnaver Museum, Elliot Rudie and their associates at the museum. It was held in the Farr Bay Inn, Bettyhill, just over a month ago.
More

Fiona Burnett talks to
Cathie Barbara Mackay, Tongue
An interest in people and surroundings began early in life for Cathie Barbara Mackay, a former Tongue councillor, and district nurse respectively, who, at the age of ten found her voice.
More

Backcoaster’s Diary
In the month of the year when people all over the world celebrate the birthday of Scotland’s most famous poet, it is worth remembering Robert Burns’s talent for extemporaneous composition.
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