The wee A938 is an aye-clatterin road tae cycle, an it’s that roch at A’Mhoine that it shaks yer bike ablow ye’ve mounted a runaway washin machine. There’s nae muckle tae see. Acidic bog. Scrubby wee plants an heather. A refuge biggit tae gie bield tae the weary traiveller rots aside the road like sae mony ither bothies here.

There’s a gey steep brae that weeches ye doon toward Tongue fae the A’Mhoine Peninsula, the site o the soon-tae-be-biggit Scottish Spaceport.

Tae an Angus loon like me, wha’s mair accustomed tae guid rich tattie soil, the laun hereaboot doesnae leuk like owre muckle at aa. Owre bitter fir neeps, owre cauld fir berries.

Although far fae stowed out, the peninsula wisnae entirely tuim as I birlt by. Ae wee mannie stood his lane ablow the blue sky, in the peat bog by the road. Aa aboot him were stacks o peat, haein the damp blawn oot them bi the snell wind. He wis in tattie-bogle claes, wooly jumper, jeans torn hauf tae targets. I got aff the bike an had the crack wi him.

I sperit at him anent his wark. “Ach. I like the peat cutting fine. It’s no ma job, I just dae it fir the hoose fire. Ye cannae get much done aroon here wi aa the tourists,” he telt me, noddin his heid at some phantom thrang o coaches on the road.

I couldnae see a single motor horizon tae horizon. “They are aye efter a photie or something. They see me as some kind o timepiece, a real Highlander. I havnae the hert tae tell them I’m a retired polis fae Ayrshire!”

I wis owre blate nou tae get the photie I’d been wantin. A hielan timepiece is exactly whit I’d thocht he wis. Tae me this seemed the richt, naitural wey tae yaise the laun. Ae teuchter oot wi his peat stacks, makkin the best o a bad lot. Hou should a place sic as this find itsel wi a spaceport? Gin ye stertit reivin the lift wi muckle rockets, wad the essential spirit o the place no be tint?


The neebors think sae. Anders Holch Povlsen, the Dane wi aroon 6 billion quid tae his nemme, bocht Eribol estate through his firm Wildland Ltd in 2016, an nae lang efter wis threatenin tae pull oot o his one hunner million pund investement, should the spaceport ging aheid. Like ither rich absentee lairds,, Povlsen wants the hielans bare, unpopulatit, an available fir his brand o elite tourism, whaur the wealthy get tae enjoy a landscape free o ony human clutter.

Mony estates an laird wad hae got a cauld grue aff sic a wealthy cheils interference. This isnae ony ordinary skelp o hielan estate, but. Twal thoosan acres or thereaboots o this staney, treeless terrain is the property o the Melness Crofter’s Estate, ane o the larger community ownerships o laun in Scotland. It doesnae obey the normal rules. It’s story’s an interestin ane.

Like sic a large pairt o Scotland’s mair marginal laun, until the 1990s Melness wis in the pooch o an absentee laird. An Englishman cried Michael Foljambe. Mr Foljambe bade in Nottinghamshire whaur he bred cuddies, pit on equestrian events an the like. He inheritit Melness estate fae his faither.

READ MAIR: Absentee laird gifts 10700 acres to Melness crofters

Whan this laird fun himsel auld, hairless an heirless an in need o sortin oot his legacy, he split his estate in twa. Pairt he gied tae his nephews doon in London, pairt he giftit tae the local Melness croftin community. At the time there wis a certain amount o clash that the laird wis basically gien awa the Gudeman’s Croft o unwarkable laun tae the natives afore blessin his nephews wi the bit o estate that wis yaised fir fishin an shootin, an therefore could easy mak siller.


Picture by Alistair Heather

Yet the Melness Crofter’s Estate havnae shirked the sair tyauve o makkin their airt profitable an sustainable. Ane o the fruits o their wark is their seemingly succesfu ettle tae bring a rocket launchpad tae their quiet croftin peninsula.

Lockheed Martin hae been carefully courtit owre years an are nou leukin mair likely then even tae big their new vertical satellite launchpad on the Estate. It will be yaised tae fire telecommunications, meteorological an ither siclike satellites up an get them birlin aboot the earth.

READ MAIR: Sutherland wins race to host UK's first spaceport as prospects grow for tourist space flights from Scotland 

Melness dates tae the Clearances. Fae the eichteen hunners till the nineteen nineties, the guid fowk o Melness made protestations anent the need tae impruive the infrastructure.

In 1894 a crofter, spikkin at a gaitherin in the Free Kirk said: “Sutherlandshire is last in everything, and the tail of Scotland; but we don't want Melness to be a small tail stuck at the route of the other tail."


An artist's impression of Sutherland spaceport

Fir bang on a hunner years, naethin changed except the nemme o the laird wha owned the laun fae their far aff base.

Nou, just twa decades efter communal ownership an the airt is awa free tae the locals, that it wad become ane o Europe’s central portals atween the lift an the laun. The rent they’ll tak in fae the spaceport will gie the hail airt a boost.

Tae ma Soothern een, there wasnae muckle tae be dune wi the laun at Melness. It maun hae seemit just sae wanchancy tae the English laird that gied it awa finally. Yet tae them wha ken the laun an hae a real need fir it tae succeed, it leuks mair like a perfect launchpad fir success.


This is the latest article by Alistair Heather published by The Herald in Scots. Click on his byline above to see more.