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Nessie's Loch Ness Times

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Established December 3rd, 1996
         Saturday 20th January 2001
Issue No 215

The Scottish Scarlet Pimpernel

The swashbuckling story of Orkney's very own Scarlet Pimpernel has been rescued from obscurity by a local historian.

Samuel Laing saved three Royal Navy officers in French occupied Holland in a lull in the Napoleonic Wars before escaping on ice skates. Laing's Boy's Own adventure is told in his autobiography, which is being published for the first time more than 130 years after his death. He was a man of many parts - scholar, soldier, entrepreneur, agricultural improver, linguist, author, translator, provost of Kirkwall, failed politician and bankrupt. But the story of his undercover mercy mission in the Netherlands is rated particularly highly by Dr Ray Fereday, who edited and made sense of Laing's unpublished manuscript. Laing's adventures in Holland began when he went there to learn about business and fell for a Miss Ferrier, sister of a Scottish merchant. In 1803, three naval officers were shipwrecked in Holland on an intelligence gathering mission. Laing immediately offered to help them, even though he could have been shot. He took the men to his lodgings and got rid of their British uniforms before placing the two younger men in a boarding school, advising them to be "cautious and boyish in their conduct". Then, after fitting out the older lieutenant with "plain clothes", the two set out on a hazardous journey by canal boat and ferry across Holland to the Prussian frontier. Laing returned to the Netherlands, skating along frozen canals and dodging a sentry before returning to Britain with valuable intelligence. His autobiography says his adventure took him from Holland and the danger of an "imprudent marriage" to Miss Ferrier, who was "very good natured, but not sensible or handsome". Dr Fereday said: "He was the Scarlet Pimpernel for a week. He boasts about lots of other things in the book, but he was quite modest about that particular episode in his life." Laing's greatest achievement in his varied career was translating the Heimskringla, the saga of the Norwegian kings. With its tales of brave deeds and fast moving action, the work proved hugely popular in Victorian Britain, and is still highly regarded today.The innovations in farming and fishing that Laing brought to Orkney laid the foundation for prosperity in the islands in the 19th century. But later, after running into financial problems and narrowly failing to enter Parliament, he left Orkney to follow a new career as a travel writer. Laing's original manuscript has been lost. Dr Fereday produced the new book - adding his own biography - after many years working on a manuscript lodged with the Orkney Archives.


Pirate Fortress Facelift

An ancient pirates' lair on the island of Barra is to be restored as a major tourist attraction. The marauding MacNeil clan used Kisimul Castle as a base in the 11th century. Now Historic Scotland are planning large scale work on the fortress. They hope it will attract Americans and Canadians whose ancestors emigrated from Barra. Kisimul was bought by an American MacNeil descendant in 1937 and partly restored. But maintenance costs were huge and the castle was given to the nation last year on a 1000 year lease with an annual rent of 1 and a bottle of whisky. Historic Scotland are looking at exactly what work is required and at whether a better ferry link is needed to entice visitors. A spokesman for the Government agency confirmed: "Plans are being made for what the next step will be." Kisimul is the Western Isles' only medieval castle and an important relic of the area's lawless history. Craftsmen are expected to move on to the site in Spring.

Youth Parliament

Students in the United States are looking to their Highland counterparts as pupils launched a new forum to voice their concerns. Youngsters in Oregon have latched on to the example being set by the Highland Youth Voice Parliament which was officially inaugurated recently. Over 70 elected pupils attended the first meeting of the Youth Parliament at Carbisdale Castle in Sutherland. The North forum began making waves on the other side of the Atlantic even before it was up and running, thanks to a specially created Internet website. It was used to elect representatives to the Youth Parliament and has been visited by organisers of a similar scheme in Oregon who were interested in establishing a pupil exchange programme between Highland schools and those in Oregon. The Oregon Youth Programme currently brings together elected officials, media representatives and people campaigning for election or re-election with school board representatives to speak on measures which affect their school.

Earth Shattering Experience

The antics of a clumsy cow in a remote Highland location could register higher on the Richter Scale than a major world earthquake. Daisy stumbled into a fenced off seismic station, in search of sweeter grass at the Heights of Rogart in Sutherland. She knocked out the power supply from a solar panel to earthquake sensors buried a metre deep in the heather clad hillside. This meant that sensitive recordings of earth movements, being carried out by the Earth Sciences Department of the universities of Bristol and South Carolina, were lost for six weeks until the site was revisited by George Heiffrich and his team. Mr Heiffrich said: "By a strange coincidence, another of our stations, again operating in open country near Altnaharra, was cut off the following day but by a computer failure." The 8,000 buried sensors are so sensitive that they even record the ground tilting as an observer walks upon them. Mr Heiffrich said: "The cow's ramblings within the wire will be clearly seen when we take the data back for examination." But these two setbacks have not spoiled the year long study, because valuable data has been retained by both these stations and others from the island of Hoy to Bonar Bridge in Sutherland. Mr Heiffrich said: "So far our data has shown that an ancient sea floor, millions of years old, exists about 40km beneath Orkney. By recording earth movements from all over the world, we hope to show that this feature extends down into the north Highlands."

"Too English"

A council has shelved plans to name a street in a Highland village The Acres, after complaints from English residents that the name is too English. Referring to the issue in the small village of Insh, near Kingussie, local councillor Sheena Slimon said: "That particular area of the village is traditionally known as The Acres but it was felt it was too English even by the English." Englishman Nic Bullivant, who lives in the road which so far serves only five houses but could end up with 25 in a new development, said: "I have consulted most of the householders round about and the feeling is that no name is required." Some people in the village who have given their homes names rather then numbers see giving the road a title as "creeping urbanisation". Bob Cameron, area planning manager for Inverness based Highland Council said:"It is not generally required for country roads to be given a name but in this particular case there could eventually be 25 homes served by the road. "In my opinion a name for the road could be justified. There is no guarantee all of the houses will have their own names at the end of the day." Edinburgh born Mrs Marian Fursman of nearby Aviemore, one of three people developing the Insh site, said: "I think The Acres is a lovely name. "What else can you call it? It is the traditional name. The people who were cleared from nearby Glen Tromie in the middle of the last century were moved to Insh and each given an acre of land, hence the name. "I think most of the people in the new houses will be incomers. I have no objection to Gaelic names, my own house has one which means 'site of the tinkers'."

Whale Fund Gains

A tiny Hebridean charity with a full time staff of three has been catapulted into the forefront of marine science research in Britain after the award of more than 800,000 of Lottery funds. The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, which operates out of a converted bakery in Tobermory on Mull, was started in the early 90s by a sea angling boat operator, Richard Fairburn, to finance the recording of the huge numbers of whales he was seeing on his fishing trips. Since then the charity has thrived and now runs two offices, one in Tobermory and the other in Oban, and provides work experience for more than 80 students each summer. Now the Trust is seen as being at the forefront of the battle to save the fragile marine life among the 360 islands. Half of the grant will be used to finance the purchase of a boat to provide a base for the charity's research work and to operate as a mobile classroom throughout the islands. Much of the remainder of the funds will be directed to further the work of encouraging accurate and comprehensive reporting of whale sightings.

Heritage Base

An island historical society received a boost for Western Isles Council recently after it got the green light to lease land to build new premises at Barvas School on Lewis. The education committee agreed to grant the request for land as a base for the activities of the Barvas and Brue Historical Society (Comunn Eachdraidh Bharabhais agus Bhru). The highly active society which has a membership of about 100, told the authority in a letter from vice chairman Angus Macleod that it is hoped to gain charitable status soon. Acquiring land for a building would allow applications for funding sources to be processed, the committee heard. After the meeting, education chairman Norman Macdonald said Barvas and Brue was a very successful society.

Charity Event

The efforts of two dedicated fundraisers over the course of more than half a century have been recognised. Two Inverness committee members of MacMillan Cancer Relief were awarded with Chairman's Medals for their outstanding fundraising efforts for the charity. Aileen Ligertwood co-founded the committee in 1973 and Muriel Gordon joined her soon after. The pair have between them worked for over 53 years and so far this year have helped raise more than 24,000 towards the 1.6 million cost of a planned Raigmore MacMillan Cancer Unit.

Political Roundup

"London Policies"

Commenting on recently published export figures, the Highlands and Islands MSP, Dr Winnie Ewing, said: "The publication by the Scottish Labour government of the latest statistics on Scottish manufactures exports highlights that once again the economy in Scotland is suffering because of the policies introduced by this Labour government. "The level of manufactured export sales in the last four quarters has plummeted by 7.4 per cent in current prices in comparison to the previous four quarters. "Instead of accepting London based policies Labour should be advocating a Scottish solution to a Scottish problem which takes account of particular Highland needs."

Highland Weather Forecast

Saturday Afternoon
Cloudy, wintry showers in E a.m, dry and sunny in W. Winds light in E, fresh S-SE in W later. Temperature 1c to 5c.
Saturday Night
Cloudy in NE a.m. and W later. Rain/sleet inW later. Winds mod/fresh SE. Temperature -4c to 2c.
Sunday
Bright/sunny spells and some blustery showers. Moderate/fresh W winds. Clear spells overnight.
Monday
Unsettled with cloudy skies, periods of heavy/persistent rain and local gales. Becoming showery later.


Caledonia



This is Caledonia ( Caley for short ) A Ness-Scape family member and mascot. She is a White German Shepherd. Caley has decided to take over the editing of Nessie's Loch Ness Times, and she's sure she'll make a good job of it. What do you think?

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