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Nessie's Loch Ness Times

The Friendliest NewsPaper on the WWW

Established December 3rd, 1996
         Saturday 18th November 2000
Issue No 206

Historic Mansion Set To Be Hi-Tech Clan Centre

Descendants of emigrants who left North West Scotland for America long before the Clearances are behind a plan to buy and renovate a historic mansion as a clan centre.

The idea of converting A listed Balnakeil House at Durness for use as a hi-tech heritage centre and meeting place for Mackays and other North Highland clansfolk has come from pupils of McIntosh High School in Darien, Georgia, which has established links with Kinlochbervie High School. It has been taken up enthusiastically by adults in Darien and North West Sutherland, where the project was discussed further at a recent public meeting in Durness. A steering committee was formed to raise funds and gather further ideas. A cheque from the people of Darien was also presented by their representative, Gary Mackay, which helped to get the project started. Darien born Mr Mackay is descended from one of 177 emigrants, mostly Mackays, who left Durness for the New World in January 1736. They came from all over what was then known as the Mackay Country, stretching from Scourie to Strathnaver. Mr Mackay is an archaeologist who uses imaging radar to uncover buried mysteries of the past. Mr Mackay has registered the website domain name, which he intends to donate to the centre if the project reaches fruition. Kinlochbervie High School English teacher Michael Thornton said: "Apart from the idea of using Balnakeil House as a clan, cultural and arts centre which people would visit physically, there has also been a suggestion that it might be used for "virtual tourism", with databases into which people from all over the world could log into for pictures, music, sounds and records of the area." They could extract information on digital video discs and CD-Roms, he added, and charges would be levied for both virtual and physical visits to Balnakeil House to help with its upkeep. The project, which could provide useful employment opportunities, has the support of local Gaelic development group Am Parbh, which sees it as another means of promoting Gaelic and traditional music, especially as it overlooks Balnakeil churchyard, where one of Gaeldom's greatest bards, Rob Donn Mackay, is buried. Other ideas include using part of the building as a museum and archive repository, and as a learning centre for the University of the Highlands and Islands. Mr Thornton said the present owner of the mansion, Andrew Elliot, whose family has owned it for nearly a century, had indicated he would be willing to co-operate with an appropriate scheme for its future use. "Mr Thornton said: "We'll have the house surveyed and then make a bid for its purchase. We'll apply for lottery and other public funding as well as the American contribution and any local money raised. There's a big interest in America in this area." Balnakeil House, an imposing crow stepped two storey U-plan mansion overlooking the magnificent sweep of Balnakeil Bay, was intended as an occasional residence of the Lords of Reay. Its construction was started in the 1720s and completed around 1744. It incorporates cellars and possibly walls of an earlier building thought to have been the summer palace of the medieval bishops of Caithness.

Kilt Secret

Highland piper Calum Fraser couldn't believe his luck when Hollywood sex symbol Jamie Lee Curtis asked him what he wore under his kilt. Calum turned shy at the vital moment at a glitzy wedding in the US and kept the secret of the Scots. However, Mr Fraser, of Inverallan Court, Grantown, got five kisses instead from the gorgeous actress - and a personal message saying: "You made the whole thing rock for me." He had been invited to play at the ceremony by an American tycoon whom he had met while the latter was on a shooting holiday in the Highlands earlier this year. Mr Fraser, a former whisky lorry driver, is a professional piper who impressed millionaire Mallory Walker, a property developer from Washington state, when he played for his shooting party at plush Balavail House, in Kingussie. Mr Fraser, known to friends as Spud, said: "Mallory hired me to play for the 250 guests at his son William's wedding. "The reception was held in a big marquee in Ketchum, Idaho."

Castle Piping Contest

A 21 year old beat five other women and 14 senior male pipers to win a glittering Austrian crystal trophy for classic pibroch playing at Dunrobin Castle championships in Sutherland recently. Yvonne Mackenzie from Bonar Bridge, who works in Inverness, beat overall champion James McPhee from Glasgow with her rendering of "The MacFarlane's Gathering." She won the Glencalvie Gold Medal, coming first in senior light music and jig and hornpipe. Strath Urquhart, 16, from Kyle of Lochalsh, won the Gordonbush Cup for under 18 pibroch and the Kildonan Cup as under 18 champion, while his twin brother Conon went home with the Lairg Cup for under 18 Strathspey and reel. Their older brother Darroch,18, they are all pupils of Iain MacFadyen, won the Ulbster Cup as fourth placed in senior pibroch. Ruaridh MacLeod, a son of the manse from Portmahomack, won the Dunrobin Cup as overall under 15 champion. Yvonne Mackenzie, who has been piping since she was seven, said after her superb win: "This competition is great for young pipers in the Highlands. It gives them the opportunity to win something prestigious like this, and gives them encouragement to take on the really top class players winning gold and silver at the Northern Meeting and Oban." Organising committee convener Fraser Wilson said he was delighted with the response and the success of the first Dunrobin championships. "Everything seemed to go smoothly. We are very indebted to the 30 North estate owners who contributed trophies and prizes to pipers who had never won any major awards before."

Golden Days Revisited

The golden age of steam returned to Inverness Railway Station recently as the town took centre stage in the fourth Scottish Highlands Rail Festival. Kicking off the Highland part of the event a journey from Inverness to Aberdeen and Kyle saw people travel by steam train from the east to the west coast of Scotland for the first time since the 1960s. The special journey was held to mark the millennium. Locomotives which took part in the festival had already made appearances across the Highlands and Stirling. From Inverness a series of excursions were made to Aberdeen and returned the next day and to Kyle. The carriages, which make up the famous Jacobite train from Fort William in the summer, are comfortable heritage stock with big windows making the most of the stunning scenery. This year the festival was organised by Highland Railway Heritage, a volunteer group of steam train enthusiasts. Chairman of HRH John Barnes said: "The excursions are designed to appeal to and cater for both family groups and enthusiasts." Mr Barnes said HRH, who have pioneered the return of steam trains on routes from which they have long been absent, aims to introduce a younger generation to "the awesome spectacle and sound of steam engines working hard on some of Scotland's most scenic and steepest railway lines.

Blooming Winners

Two Highland communities were celebrating their successes recently after wins in the prestigious Beautiful Scotland in Bloom competition. Alness made it three wins out of four to scoop the premier prize, the Bank of Scotland Rosebowl, and also received the best small town trophy and special project award for its Millennium Garden. Drumnadrochit was also celebrating after winning the small community award for the best kept war memorial in the Royal British Legion Scotland section of the contest for the second year running. The prizes were presented by Lady Jane Grosvenor, president of Beautiful Scotland in Bloom, at a ceremony in Pitlochry. It was attended by representatives from the 32 finalist towns and villages across Scotland that competed for the awards. Alness Community Association chairman Joan Ross was delighted with the community's triumph. She said: "Three out of four years at the top is pretty good. The number of people who come to see the flowers is incredible. A lot of floral enthusiasts from all over Britain come to Alness to see what the secret is." Scotland in Bloom chairwoman May Wright said: "Local authorities don't always have a lot of money to spend in the towns and villages for this competition and this is where the community involvement comes in. "Drumnadrochit has a strong group of people who lead by example and encourage everyone else in the community to do their bit, and the folk in Alness really pull together when it matters."

New Gaelic Centre for Islay

Argyll and the Islands Enterprise has pledged 200,000 in funding towards the cost of establishing a 1.8 million Gaelic centre on Islay. Plans are now under way to open Ionad Chaluim Chille Ile - the Columba Centre - in September 2001, in a converted cottage hospital at Gartnatra near Bowmore. Robin Currie, chairman of the board of Ionad Chaluim Chille Ile, said: "With this commitment, AIE is showing its faith in a project which is very important culturally and economically for Islay and Argyll. "We are in the process of applying to the Millennium Commission and we also hope to have European funding but this is the first building block to be put in place." The project aims to further the development of the Gaelic language through study, interpretation and enjoyment of the language, culture, history and heritage. The centre is set to build on other national initiatives to boost Gaelic and because of its location, it is hoped it will also promote stronger links between Scotland and Ireland.

Business as Usual (nearly)

The custodian of the biggest tourist draw in the Highlands has escaped flak from visitors despite the massive upheaval surrounding the 3 million redevelopment of Urquhart Castle, it was claimed recently. Although Historic Scotland admits numbers visiting the castle have fallen by around 12% over the last year, chiefs remained upbeat about the future and predicted work on the Loch Ness-side visitor centre and car park would be completed on schedule. At its peak, the ruin has proved to be the most significant paid for visitor attraction in the region, luring as many as 250,000 visitors a year. With road works now complete, contractors are in the middle of a major redevelopment which will result in a new visitor centre and 120 space car park next to the historic castle. For the past few weeks a beauty spot which has stopped countless visitors in their tracks has been transformed into a building site. But Historic Scotland spokeswoman Barbara Fraser said: "The work is going very well. "We've come through the peak of the tourist season without too many problems. "We put up forms for visitors to complete and have had no adverse feedback." She said a drop in visitor numbers had been anticipated in line with national trends.

Charity Event

Mechanics from Inverness took the skies recently to do a jump start of a different kind. The workers, from Hawco Volkswagen on Harbour Road, leaped 3,200ft from an aeroplane and raised in the region of 2,000 for the Highland and Islands Kidney Patients Association.

Political Roundup

Quango Decision Slammed.

The Labour government in Scotland, under whom water costs in the North of Scotland have risen by 43% this year, have backed the Water Industry Commissioner says Fergus Ewing MSP for Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber. Releasing text of the letter from Sarah Boyack - the Environment Minister - in response to his enquiries about the Water Industry Commissioner, Alan Sutherland, Mr Ewing said: "At a public meeting recently the Water Industry Commissioner received a vote of no confidence from every single one of the 200 plus audience at the Town House, Inverness."

Highland Weather Forecast

Saturday Afternoon
Rain/sleet in places, snow on the hills. Showers later. Drier in the South. Winds fresh/strong WNW. Temperature 4c to 7c.
Saturday Night
Wintry showers, snow on the hills. Local frost. Winds strong wnw. Temperature 0c to 5c.
Mainly cloudy with frequent showers some heavy and wintry at times. Cold.
Light/mod NE winds. Cold and cloudy with showers or periods of rain. Sleet and snow over high ground.


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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