Craft fantasies in the Cairngorms, polished balls on Orkney

Okay, perhaps not the finest of titles, but it did catch your attention enough to get you to read this blog! Glad you are here though as I introduce the first blog highlighting some of the items in the media that I really liked this month. My opener comes from the Smithsonian Magazine and picks up on a new archaeological find in Orkney.

While excavating a chambered cairn on the island of Sanday, archaeologists have found two 5,500-year-old, highly polished, stone balls. Archaeologists believe they could have been symbols of power, or because they have found skeletons with evidence of blunt force trauma that could have come from objects like these, they may have been used for bashing folks’ brains in. I suppose that is a symbol of power of sorts as well! Orkney has UNESCO World Heritage status for the incredible amount of archaeology found on the island group, telling us so much about life from around 4,000BCE.

Another area of the region that is justifiably famous is the Cairngorms National Park. Within its borders is the Fife Arms Hotel, one of 14 hotels recommended by The Crafts Council for craft lovers to indulge their “travel fantasies” in perfectly formed retreats. The national park is in good company with other hotel locations including Florence, New York and Lisbon. Owned and renovated by the owners of gallery Hauser & Wirth, the hotel is described as a “treasure trove” of local crafts and furniture as well as artworks from international greats such as Picasso. The Cairngorm National Park itself is the largest in the UK. Home to one of Scotland’s main ski centres it also contains one quarter of Scotland’s native forest, and a quarter of the rare and endangered species in the UK. A lesser-known fact is that it has more breeding waders than the whole of Wales!

If I asked you if you wanted a Thysairidae on your new scarf, would you know how to answer? We do now!

Crùbag is a textile design company founded in 2013 by Jessica Gianotti, and located at the Marine Science Institute in Argyll. Crùbag is very much focussed on creating a multi-disciplinary approach to design, merging art, fashion, and marine science, and does actively include scientists in the work. A percentage of the company’s profits go to supporting education and research about the sea. So, the Thysairidae? Well, it is part of the design on the fabulous Conchas Red scarf, from the new Seamount collection. The Thysairidae is a bivalve (clam) found 2,200m down at the base of Anton Dohrn Seamount. If you include seamounts, Anton Dohrn, which lies west of St Kilda, is actually the highest mountain in the UK, beating Ben Nevis by 500m.

Perhaps the connection between design and marine science should be no surprise, as well as a massive coastline, the Guardian University Guide 2022 has ranked the University of the Highlands and Islands first in Scotland (and third in the UK) for earth and marine sciences subjects (and second in Scotland for hospitality, event management and tourism subjects).

From the depths of the ocean to space next. The BBC featured the story that a Scottish Land Court judge has approved a change of use of an area of croft land near Tongue in Sutherland for the building of the new space port facility. The ruling means the first rockets carrying small satellites could launch from Space Hub Sutherland from next year. The land court was established to hear disputes in crofting – crofts being small agricultural units, that also carry rights to access common grazing areas.

September also marked another milestone with Inverness festival The Gathering taking place. The Northern Meeting Park in Inverness hosted around 6,000 festival goers, and the reaction from the bands and the audience showed just how much they have missed live events over the last two years.

Next up, how Gaelic storytelling became on online hit, again from the BBC. “I’m not really technically-minded,” says Linda Macleod – but it hasn’t stopped the TV star from delivering Leugh is Seinn le Linda (Read and Sing with Linda) digital Gaelic reading sessions to thousands of kids during the pandemic. Something many parents will have been grateful for over the last 18 months and certainly a plus for the rapidly growing numbers of children in Gaelic medium education and possibly for the many adults who have started learning the language. Language learning app, Duolingo signed up 127,000 learners in the first few months of launching their Gaelic course, 20% of these from out with Scotland.

I suppose I really must finish with the latest Loch Ness Monster sightings! Reported in the Inverness Courier this month are two sightings. One by Irish hospital clerk Eoin O'Faodhagain spotted on the Loch Ness Webcam, the other, a sonar image reported by holiday maker Benjamin Scanlon, out on the water with Loch Ness Cruises. The boat's captain estimated it to be 3-4m long, at a depth of about 20m. We could do with another sighting quick as that takes this year’s total to unlucky 13!

Written by

Iain Hamilton

Head of Creative Industries, Highlands and Islands Enterprise


* indicates required

XpoNorth will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing. Please let us know all the ways you would like to hear from us:

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at We will treat your information with respect. For more information about our privacy practices please visit our website. By clicking below, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.