Message from the Chief
Spring 2001

Published in Roslin O Roslin, Summer (Vol 3 No 24), Rory Sinclair, Editor.

by Malcolm Caithness

April 27th 2001

Dear all

2001 is almost a third complete but where has the time gone this year? Although there is no Gathering here this year there have been plenty of other things to keep us busy. Spring is here and London is about four weeks ahead of Caithness but already the days are longer up there than in London. I drove up to spend Easter with Berrie. It was fascinating to see the changes in the countryside from where the daffodils were over and the first of the leaves on the trees to where daffodils still had to flower and winter was not yet through.

Much more depressing was to see the effects of the Foot and Mouth epidemic that has brought real suffering to parts of the country - thankfully there have been no cases in the Highlands yet. It is confined to certain areas but where it has struck the results are terrible. Whilst driving for fifty eight miles through Cumbria and Dumfriesshire, on the border of Scotland and England, through predominately stock country I counted only twenty fields of sheep as far as the eye could see either side of the motorway yet in the next mile and a half I also saw twenty fields of sheep. Although the farmers are compensated for the loss of stock they still have expenses to meet with no income.

Also of concern are the breeds that are at risk and many strains of the Cheviot sheep have been lost forever. Only certain sheep can do well on this type of land and it takes years for them to adjust to reach full potential. The saving grace will be the limited gene pool of North Country Cheviots in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross-shire from where the restocking will have to come. The ancestors of these sheep were driven north from the Border country in 1790 by one of the first great agricultural improvers Sir John Sinclair the great, great, great, great grandfather of John, Viscount Thurso. Little could he have realised the added benefits of what he was doing.

Sir John would have been impressed the hours John is putting in going around the constituency that he wants to represent in Westminster. It is a huge area and includes Sutherland and Easter Ross. He will need a good break after the election but doubt he will have the time.

Easter produced a mixture of weather in Caithness. After a good early start for the lambing, the wind swung into the north and I walked on the beach at Sinclair Bay in an almost gale force snow blizzard. However the sun came out again, the wind changed and the skeins of pink feet geese that had been waiting for this set off across the sea for their breeding grounds to the north and northwest. It made me think that our ancestors had watched the same sight for thousands of years and they must have realised early on there was land beyond the horizon for they would have recognised the same birds leaving and then returning the following autumn.

Whilst there, a meeting of the Clan Association was held and the Gathering for next year was agreed. It will be much more limited than last year and will be held during the week of 27 May. Final details are being worked out but what we propose is that everyone will make their own way to Inverness from where we will take the train to Thurso. Accommodation will be booked direct by those attending and details of hotels etc will be available on our websites shortly. One day will be spent touring the county and if the weather is good there will be a boat trip around the Island of Stroma to see the nesting seabirds, which is an unforgettable experience. One evening will be a party to celebrate Berrie's 21st Birthday in suitable fashion and possibly a ceilidh on another night. You will need to register either on our website or with your Association secretary should you want to come. Payment for the costs of the official functions and travel in Caithness will need to be paid by the end of March 2002 and these are not expected to exceed 150. As soon as I can provide a firmer price I will.

So far as the Trust is concerned we have made good progress with Historic Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund. The cliff face was surveyed in the week after Easter and that also gave a good opportunity to plan the way ahead with the architect and engineer who were also present. A revised Conservation Plan will be needed and that is the next priority.

Sadly I have not travelled overseas yet this year so missed the Winter Gathering in Toronto, which I gather was another huge success with a wonderful presentation to Rory. However I am looking forward to the Stone Mountain Games in October and I will extend that trip to visit Canada as well as a lot of the USA. The first edition of the Clan Magazine has arrived from New Zealand and that Association is building steadily which is great news.

Malcolm Caithness


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