Group Meetings

Friday 14th and Saturday 15th June 2019 at Stratherrick Hall

Following the resounding success of our ‘Things we used to use’ two-day exhibition last summer, we decided to stage something similar this year. To mark the 100th birthday of the Forestry Commission, the Trees and Forests of South Loch Ness exhibition was mounted in (and outside) Stratherrick Hall, masterminded by Bob Main and Mags Fraser, with an informative and hugely entertaining talk by Bryce Reynard on the Friday evening. As last year, the local primary school pupils were our first guests on the Friday, and found the exhibits fascinating, asking lots of questions which showed their enthusiasm and interest.

Inside the hall were a wide variety of wall displays, maps, ‘browsing tables’ of books and magazines, forestry tools from ancient to modern, including power saws, trees themselves from seedlings of different species to full-grown cross-sections showing annual growth rings. Particularly impressive was Mags’ and Janet’s ‘timeline’ showing the history of forestry in South Loch Ness and its effects on the life and landscape of our area. Outside, on the hall wall, were some of the Forestry Commission’s signs (including fire warnings) that have been so familiar over the years, while in the car park were old Ferguson and Fordson tractors, a vintage McConnel circular saw and a modern mobile saw mill producing boards from logs – these were all demonstrated, attracting much interest. We had some members of the public looking in after the Friday school visits, but many more enjoyed the exhibition on Saturday, including a group of local retired foresters.

A good turnout of about forty heard Bryce’s talk on Friday evening. After a short but fascinating black-and-white film about Scottish forestry in the early 50s, Bryce launched into a wonderfully colourful life history, with anecdotes from his forestry career which took him to virtually every corner of Scotland. As his life history advanced, his assistant Fred Millwood modelled the various Commission uniform jackets used over the decades, from tweed with red collars with crowns on them, right up to modern fleeces. Bryce found a growing interest in hillwalking fitted in ideally with his job, and another profitable sideline was running bed-and-breakfast with his wife in their several forestry homes. Bryce and Fred rounded off a great evening with a tuneful and amusing duet, and one was left with a feeling that here were two men who had found the ideal life career!

In conclusion, many thanks are due to Bob (himself a civil engineer with the Forestry Commission) and to Mags (who got a little presentation for all her hours of meticulous preparation) and to the numerous people who lent material and artefacts for the display, and also several from outwith the Heritage Group who gave their time over the two days to help man (and woman!) the event. In all, another huge success for the Group.

On Tuesday 23rd April at Stratherrick Hall we had a wonderful talk, excellently illustrated, by Dr Iain Robertson of the UHI Centre for History at Dornoch.   Iain’s style was clear and dynamic, befitting a professional lecturer on history, and it was pleasing to see a good turnout to hear him.

Iain explained the background to land problems;  how the traditional clan idea that the land you lived and farmed on was ‘yours’ was slowly eroded as clan chiefs came to be seen as ‘owners’ who could sell their land, and it often became sheep runs and deer forests in the 18th and 19th centuries, causing the notorious ‘clearances’.   These resulted in many smallholders, or crofters, getting squeezed on to congested, marginal land where they were tenants.   Starvation came with frequent potato harvest failures, and desperation led to ‘land raids’ as the 19th century moved towards its end.   Acts, such as the 1911 Crofters’ Act, tried to mitigate the crofters’ plight, but with very limited success.

The Great War changed this climate radically.  The Highlands produced a bigger proportion of the fighting force than other UK areas, and these men were promised ‘a land fit for heroes’.   Further ‘land raids’ took place, which although they were illegal, were viewed with increasing sympathy due to the war sacrifices made by the ‘raiders’.   After the war, further Acts of Parliament strengthened campaigners’ hands, and most people wanting land ultimately succeeded in their quest.  Housing improvements were made too.   While the greatest pressures for granting land were in the Western Isles and Skye, land raids were recorded in the Kingussie area, and at Dell farm in Stratherrick.

Coming up to date, these campaigns for land can be seen as the forerunners of successful, modern ‘community buy-outs’ as seen in Assynt, Eigg, North Harris and Gigha.

Iain’s talk stimulated a considerable number of questions from his audience, which he ably answered, and thoroughly deserved the hearty vote of thanks accorded to him.

 

WADE BRIDGE OF WHITEBRIDGE TRUST AGM

Before Iain Robertson’s presentation, John Townshend, chair of the Wade Bridge Trust, gave a brief report, indicating that no significant events had occurred since the last AGM.   The committee remained the same.   Information and photos of the Trust’s successful work in stabilising the bridge were on display.

Apologies for the lateness of this report.   It was back on 6th November 2018 that Maureen gave us her talk on this fascinating topic.   She described the lives and activism of Inverness women at the time of the Great War, not only Suffragettes, who engaged in ‘civil disobedience’ and hunger strikes, but also Suffragists, who lobbied Parliament somewhat less stridently and won over many men to the justice of their cause – voting rights for women.   The war proved to be a great opportunity for women to demonstrate their capabilities, particularly in medicine and nursing (Dr. Elsie Inglis  still being a famous name a century later), and partial voting rights for women were agreed by Parliament as soon as the war ended.   It was, however, to be another decade before full women’s suffrage and equality with men were granted.   Maureen showed us, illustrated by well-chosen photographs and press cuttings, that this period was indeed the one that kicked off the struggle for gender equality which continues to this day, and that the women of Inverness and area played a significant and valuable part.

Maureen’s talk was preceded by a brief AGM of the Heritage Group.

Apologies for the lateness of this post!   This exhibition, titled ‘Things we used to use’ was staged in Stratherrick Hall on Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd June 2018.   Quite literally hundreds of utensils, tools and artefacts from the past were on show, filling the hall, but leaving plenty room to circulate and chat as well.   All the exhibits were labelled, with photographs to show many of them in use, and committee members and friends of the Heritage Group were on hand to explain things and help everyone to wallow in nostalgia.

On the Friday, we had visits from those too young to experience nostalgia – the pupils of Foyers, Aldourie and Stratherrick Primary Schools.   they particularly enjoyed demonstrations of musical instruments, a wind-up gramophone, a stirrup-pump (great chance to get wet!) dairy utensils and laundry equipment.   Some of these items were outside, joining an old Ferguson tractor.

In the hall were exhibits relating to traditional activities of the area – such as farming, forestry and gamekeeping;  cobblers’ and blacksmiths’ tools were on show too.   Home and school were also well represented, with dozens of once-familiar (and quite a few still familiar) domestic items, plus school books, part of a desk (with inkwell) and the inevitable tawse!   A popular feature was the mystery table, displaying twenty strange-looking objects!   Most older visitors identified some of them, but only the most knowledgeable recognised the lot!

Joining our school visitors on Friday morning, and then in the afternoon and evening too, as well as on Saturday, was a steady stream of members of the public, some old friends and neighbours, but many visitors to the area too.   Reactions were invariably most enthusiastic, and it is clear that, after a breather of a year or two, there will be demand for another similar event.   We now have lists of the fascinating exhibits that many locals have in their homes, sheds and barns!

It’s always risky naming people who helped, either by contributing items or in storing, displaying or demonstrating them, because someone always gets left out.   Suffice to say that this was a wonderful team effort, preparations for which started a couple of months before the exhibition itself.   You all know who you are, so give yourselves a well-deserved pat on the back!

 

Following requests received to the Heritage group after the Boleskine Community Care AGM, for a more formal showing of Heritage Groups photos that were displayed on in a rolling slideshow during the  tea break, after the  main business of the  AGM .  It was decided to have an event targeting the older residents and former resident of the area, showing Heritage photographs, including the Rose Fortune Collection to stimulate interest in local heritage.  Also to see if some of the photos containing unknown people could be identified.

 The event, to an invited audience and general public was held on Jan 24th to a good turnout despite the blustery weather. The photos were displayed on a screen via a projector. Bob Main  controlling the projector  displaying of the photos , Alister Chisholm did the commentary on the photos  whilst Morag Macneil, Alison Randall and Heather Parrot, recorded the names of people identified and stories associated  with people and places .  Prior to the event commencing and during tea intermission Scottish music was played by Ernie Randal and Alex Sutherland .

 The afternoon proved a great success and was enjoyed by the attendees as they recalled people and days of long ago from the Stratherrick and Foyers area .

On Tuesday 21st March at Stratherrick Hall, we were treated to a fascinating and sometimes mind-boggling illustrated talk by Sandy Ross, retired Head of Geography at Millburn Academy, Inverness.   Anyone who knows Sandy is very aware of his huge enthusiasm for his subject, which came over so clearly as he graphically described the effects of the Wurm glaciation – the most recent stage of the Ice Age – on the land that the Inverness area now occupies.   Ice two or three kilometres thick covered the Highlands, and was slowly grinding over the land as gravity caused it to move down towards the sea – which it also covered.  The rocks in the Loch Ness area had been shattered by earthquakes along the Great Glen Fault (much more active in the distant past), so the huge weight of moving ice easily gouged out this loose material to form the trough of the Great Glen.

Nearer Inverness, streams flowing under the ice deposited this material to create eskers, in the form of Torvean and Tomnahurich, and ‘marine platforms’ where the deposited material met the sea.   Once the ice all melted after the Ice Age, the land slowly rose up due to the release of the ice’s weight (this ‘isostatic’ readjustment is still going on), so the marine platforms are now high and dry, and the steep edges of them form the slopes climbed by the likes of Godsman’s Brae and the Market Brae Steps.   Much of the finest material carried by water under the ice ended up in what is now the Beauly Firth, explaining why it is so shallow, silted up by all this deposition.

Sadly for an enthusiast like Sandy, man’s constant ‘development’ of Inverness’s site with ever more powerful earth-moving machinery means that the evidence of the work of these amazing natural forces thousands of years ago is becoming increasingly difficult to trace.   It is just as well that it is being recorded, mapped and photographed by the likes of Sandy, before it becomes further blurred by man’s activities.

Bob Main proposed a well deserved vote of thanks to Sandy, who answered many questions from a good-sized audience, while Alison Randall and Heather Macleod ably served tea, coffee and biscuits to all.

N.B.  Sandy’s talk was preceded by a brief AGM of the Wade Bridge of Whitebridge Trust, chaired by John Townshend.   John reported that essentially nothing had changed over the last year.  The bridge is stabilised and safe, but awaits further funding to complete its restoration.

Following our usual brief AGM on Tuesday 15th November, we enjoyed a most interesting presentation by John Wombell on Scottish Rock Art.   John is a member of the North of Scotland Archaeological Society, and showed us many fascinating slides of ‘rock art’, mainly from the Scottish Highlands.   Rock art can take many forms, but the most widespread examples are cup and ring marks, gouged out of either bedrock or separate boulders using a ‘chisel’ of harder rock.   However, more elaborate artwork can also be found, all performed in the same way.   This rock art all dates from Neolithic, or later Stone Age times, roughly six to eight thousand years ago.   Many of the examples John showed us were from Ross-shire, but he takes the view that South Loch Ness probably has many as-yet undiscovered sites.

Since the meeting, John has emailed the following:-  “Your group showed plenty of interest, and the North of Scotland Archaeological Society are here to help in a new Scottish Project.   Trina (John’s wife) suggests that we offer your group a ‘rock art familiarisation’ walk either around here (Easter Ross) where access is good, or somewhere else we can agree on.   Otherwise we really should come and see some of your sites, and a joint outing might go down well with the active members of the NOSAS, if you would like to suggest something”.

Heather Macleod, our treasurer, is very interested, and it’s suggested that anyone who would like to form an archaeology group, researching not just rock art but other evidence of our more distant past, should first of all get in touch with her at heather-macleod@btconnect.com   As John says, he and the NOSAS will give us plenty help and encouragement.

Louise Boreham’s presentation to us at Aldourie Castle on 22nd March was undoubtedly one of our highlight events.   Before an audience of about fifty, Louise gave us a fascinating and thoroughly researched talk on the Aldourie Pottery in Dores (where the Parish Hall now stands), lavishly illustrated by the many images she has gathered over the years – and also several actual examples of Aldourie pots.   She gave us much information too about the other potteries that Mary Fraser-Tytler and her artist husband GF Watts were involved in, at Compton near Guildford and Cumnock in Ayrshire – source of the clay for the potteries.   It was sad that the Aldourie venture seemed to last only from 1900 to 1904 – though during that brief time Louise’s grandfather actually taught pottery classes at Aldourie, giving her the motive to find out more about this short-lived local industry.

How appropriate it was that Louise’s talk was delivered in Mary Fraser-Tytler’s childhood home of Aldourie Castle.   We were delighted when Lavinia Turner, manager of the Aldourie Castle Estate, offered us the venue free!   As well as comfortable seating (filled to capacity by our audience) in the great hall, tea, coffee, shortbread and biscuits were provided after the talk in a large sitting room, and both spaces were warmed by roaring fires.   Indeed hospitality of the highest order – many thanks, Lavinia!

Iain Cameron, also a child of Aldourie Castle, gave an appropriate vote of thanks to both Louise and Lavinia.

We had a packed hall on Tuesday 6th October – one of our best turnouts ever;  thanks to everyone who came along.   After the customary brief AGM at our autumn event, it was over to Morag MacNeill and Bob Main to tell us about the Gaelic words behind virtually all of the place-names in our area.   Morag took us through the common Gaelic elements which make up place-names, like water features (rivers, lochs, etc), hill and lowland features, as well as common adjectives like colours, and then gave us examples of these in use in our local place-names.   Bob managed the laptop and projector to illustrate Morag’s examples with maps and photographs.

Mistakes have crept in over the years due to printers and signwriters being unfamiliar with Gaelic:  Loch Mhor should almost certainly be Loch Mor, which is the way everyone pronounces it.   A sign at Inverfarigaig reads ‘Inverfarigaig River’, which actually means ‘mouth of the river farigaig river’!   The sign should read simply ‘River Farigaig’.   At the end of their presentation, Morag gave out a most useful handout, summarising the most common Gaelic words used in our place-names.

Language is such an important part of who we are and where we live – our identity and history – and we must thank Morag and Bob for showing us the Gaelic heritage of our beautiful and historic part of the world.   The link below will take you to Morag’s handout explaining the Gaelic words used in our place-names.  LINK TO HANDOUT

The Group’s next event will be our summer outing.   This year it will take the form of a guided tour of Fort George, on Wednesday, 15th July 2015 at 3pm;  a great chance to see round this fort, built to help ‘pacify’ the Highlands after the Jacobite uprisings, replacing the original Fort George on the site of today’s Inverness Castle.   The Wade roads which run through South Loch Ness were built to connect Fort George to Fort Augustus and Fort William.   We will have the benefit of a knowledgeable guide.

If you’d like to join us, please let Alan know (alan@tramstop.org;  01463 751258).   The entrance charges ares £8.50 adults and £6.80 concessions – reduced from last year – and there will be a 10% discount if our numbers are 11 or more.   We will meet promptly at three, at the Visitors’ Car Park, Fort George, just a couple of miles beyond Ardersier.   If you’d like a lift, contact Alan on the contact details above.

Hope to see you there!