Spikkin Shaetlan, sustainability and the supernatural – Highlands and Islands in the media.

- Written by Iain Hamilton, Head of Creative Industries, Highland and Islands Enterprise

December already, and remember if you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping, the XpoNorth Christmas Market can help you with that! Once again, I have kept a note of media about the Highlands and Islands that caught my attention over the last month.

I want to kick off with an article in the Press and Journal about a new book on St Kilda. Lying 40 miles west of the island of South Uist, 110 miles from the mainland, the archipelago of St Kilda is the most westerly point of the Outer Hebrides. Maureen Kerr spent 15 years on the main island in the group, Hirta, working as a chef in the military base there. She was inspired by the diary of the school-teacher – George Murray - who taught there for a year in 1886. His descriptions of the community and islands at the time inspired her to write a book about him and his life there. It must have been a hard life and probably should be no surprise that the last islanders were evacuated in 1930. Definitely one for the Christmas list. There is also a link to a fabulous video of life on St Kilda filmed in 1908 which is well worth a watch.

On the subject of islands, you can also now set up your phone’s predictive text so you can ‘spik Shaetlan’ to colleagues and friends. Thanks to I hear Dee, a group with a passion for Shetland dialect, who developed the project with Microsoft Swiftkey. The initial version is based on a word list of more than 10,300 entries (which is roughly equivalent to the size of Jakob Jakobson's dictionary). You can get it for free as an app (play store or app store, depending on whether your phone is Android or iPhone), search for Microsoft SwiftKey keyboard. Their Facebook page has plenty of other content about Shetland and language.

And yet another island story, this time from Benbecula! The Week shows the lengths that your neighbours will go to for you. Peggy MacSween lost her wedding ring 50 years ago digging in her tattie patch. Her neighbour, Donald MacPhee armed with metal detector and spade, headed out to find it having just heard the story. He spent the next three days digging 90 holes, and happily was able to return the ring to its rightful owner.

Still water related but nothing to do with islands, Scottish company Global Energy, made an exciting announcement in December, with the news that the UK’s largest offshore wind tower manufacturing facility will be located at the port of Nigg, just north of Inverness. Global have “agreed terms with leading offshore wind tower manufacturing specialist, Haizea Wind Group, to build the £110m-plus state-of-the-art offshore wind tubular rolling facility at Port of Nigg, located in the Scottish Highlands. Nigg Offshore Wind (NOW) will be a giant, 450-meter-long, 38,000 m2 factory, capable of rolling steel plate to supply towers which will weigh in excess of 1,000 tonnes each and other products, to the booming UK offshore fixed and floating wind industry in the UK and abroad”. A fantastic development and recognition of the importance of renewable energy. The Nigg Skills Academy is perfectly located to train and upskill the workforce for the new facility.

I think I am on a bit of a roll here, neatly linking my paragraphs, as I wanted to highlight to homes in the Highlands and Islands that have been recognised for design and sustainability. Grand Designs feature a house in Assynt that has made the 2021 shortlist for RIBA House of the year the article entitled:

Simple Sustainability in the Scottish Highlands

describes the house as “an exemplary model of sustainable and considered architecture”. Aviemore also has its own award nominee. The house at Lower Tullochgrue is highlighted in the local paper, The Strathspey and Badenoch Herald after it was shortlisted for the 2021 Saltire Housing Design Award.

I got too smug there. I can’t see an obvious link for this, but it was too good a story to pass up. I have also just learned that the Highlands and Islands come in at numbers 1 and 6 in the top 10 haunted places in Scotland that you should visit! Now if that is not a claim to fame, I don’t know what is! I realise this actually appeared at the end of October, but somehow I missed it, and there will be plenty of seasonal stories elsewhere. The Scotsman reports that Highland region leads the way with 207 reported sightings of ghosts including that of Isabel Gowdie. In 1662, Gowdie and her accomplice, Janet Breadhead (really, that was her name) from Auldearn near Nairn, confessed to witchcraft, and consorting with the devil and the king and queen of the fairies. Their fate is unknown, but sadly it probably was not a happy one. Argyll and Bute comes at a reputable number 6, with 84 supernatural sightings, including phantom footsteps and slamming doors at Invercreran House. Heavy footsteps and slammed doors sound very much like my own house when the kids get home from school, but you never know.

For the final choice, we are going to head back north to Orkney, and the Neolithic village of Skara Brae. Older than Stonehenge, the site has been scanned and a virtual 3d model created allowing virtual exploration of the site, and in particular the mysterious House 7. The house unusually sits on its own, and excavations have found the skeletons of two women under the stone bed and a wall! The model has also been valuable allowing tracking of changes to the surrounding coastline caused by climate change, rising sea levels and extreme weather events


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