You may know where your home is, but would all the authorities and others, past and present, agree?
At a media briefing at the Inverness HQ of Northern Constabulary, the Chief Constable was sitting in front of a display which had a computer generated map of the force area which was represented by outlines drawn with squares and rectangles.
On closer examination it became clear that this had added the islands of Tiree and Coll, which would have been of interest to Strathclyde Police who have been bearing the costs of policing these two islands since the creation of the force 37 years ago.
The changes made then to local government boundaries, and police force areas, can still cause some difficulty and not just for graphic artists.
How many remember now that the Ardnamurchan Peninsula was in Argyll, even though to get there by road you had to drive in and out of Inverness-shire?
As the good folk of Glenelg , shortly to be twinned with Mars, have pointed out they now have a Ross-shire postal address. But the community was always within the old county boundaries of Inverness-shire until 1974/75 and the creation of the regional and district councils, when it came under Skye and Lochalsh District Council. Confused?
On the other side of the country a similar geographical indignity was suffered by the people around Arday. The village had always been in Ross-shire. It sits at the southern end of the Bonar Bridge which takes travellers over to the village of the same name (Bonar Bridge) which was and still is in Sutherland. The bridge crosses roughly at the point where the Kyle of Sutherland ends and the Dornoch Firth, begins, the two waterways which provided the historical boundary between Sutherland and Ross-shire or Ross and Cromarty as it was also know, but that’s another tale. However Ardgay became Sutherland for local government purposes.
Of course there was an older dispute about the boundaries of Ross and Sutherland on the other side of the country. Back in the time of the clans Macleod of Assynt (Sutherland) and the Ross chief of Balnagowan (now seat of former Harrods owner Mohamed Al Fayed) were in dispute over where the boundaries of their territories marched in the west at a place called Altnacealgach.
Essie Stewart a traditional storyteller from Sutherland and one of the last people to have taken part in the traditional 'Summer Walking' of the travelling families, has been recorded telling of the day it was resolved:
“Ross Balnagowan maintained that Altnacealgach was his, Macleod of Assynt said no, that Altnacealgach was his. And they decided to settle it once and for all. And a day and a date was set. And Macleod came with his clansmen from Assynt and Ross Balnagowan came from the other side with his clansmen. And they're standing there at the burn. And Macleod is saying, 'We are standing on Sutherland soil.'
Charles Ross is saying, 'No we're not; we are standing on the Ross-shire - ' And they argued. And Charles Ross said, 'No I can tell you,' he said, 'categorically that I am standing on Ross-shire soil.'
“That morning, before he left Balnagowan, he'd filled his boots with soil! So, he wasn't lying; he was standing on Ross-shire soil. That's the way, Altnacealgach, got its name - cealgach , meaning crafty, cunning etc. Macleod of Assynt was tricked out of Altnacealgach.”
But there is still a deep human attachment to the old counties, despite their demise being almost 40 years ago.
Acclaimed Highland historian Professor Jim Hunter’s childhood home in Duror, left Argyll in 1974/75 to become part of the Lochaber District Council area under Highland Regional Council. But he says
“When I am asked I always say that I am from Argyll. The Stewarts of Appin would be turning in their graves if they knew they were now part of the Cameron lands of Lochaber. It is still hard to accept that Ballachulish and Glencoe are not part of Argyll but Helensburgh is.
“But what irks just as much is the idea that Argyll is somehow not part of the Highlands. Argyll was the historical heart land of the Gael. That’s what it means, the coast of the Gael. The Highlands in Gaelic is meaningless, the phrase is is the Gaidhealtachd, the land of the Gael. Yet you hear the BBC saying ‘in Argyll and the Highlands. Does this mean that Duncan Ban MacIntyre’s Beinn Dorain and Castle Stalker are in the Lowlands, not to mention Iona of St Columba and Islay the base of the Lords of the Isles?
“What hasn’t helped are these ludicrous signs on the likes of the A9 and the A828. They were put up by the Highland Council on its boundaries, but they welcome people to the Highlands, when they have been driving through the Highlands for previous two hours. It certainly would have been a surprise to Rob Roy to have learnt that his world round Loch Lomond, Balquidder and Strath Fillan was in the Lowlands.”
He though it would be the Scottish Government should think about putting up signs marking “The Highland Line” on fault line which historically divided the Highlands from the Lowlands, culturally and geographically for example north of Callendar. “The A9 entrance to the Highlands is also particularly striking, just south of Dunkeld. It would also help you advertise your blog!”
Professor Hunter said he had despaired in 1974 that the best the olf Scottiosh Office could come with for an area that contained Stirling Castle and the Trossachs was Central Reigon. “Meanwhile Grampian was be the first area of local government called after a TV station.”
From Barn to Burgh?
Ambitious £40m plans to build a new village on Skye have taken a major step forward with the purchase of land to build Kilbeg on the Sleat Peninsula, which will have a university campus on its doorstep.
The proposals, which include 93 homes, four offices, a shop, cafe-bar and sports pavilion, were approved in April last year. One of the aims of the master plan is to link the two campuses of Skye’s Gaelic College Sabhal Mor Ostaig (SMO), which is part of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).
The college began in an old farm steading converted between 1973-83. It now boasts a multi-million pound development on a nearby site which has grown since 1998 and is the main economic driver of south Skye.
According to SMO it means that, in partnership with Sleat Community Trust, Clan Donald Lands Trust and the Sleat Community Council, the first new village to be built in the Highlands in more than 100 years.
That’s only true if you dismiss the likes of Dunbeg, outside Oban, which started as a few Admiralty Nissan huts in the Second World War and now has a population of almost 700 with their own shop, church, school and even a UHI research facility.
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