From ospreys to hula-hoops – XpoNorth had it all

Blythe Duff stars in the award-winning, life-affirming short film Hula

Question: What’s the connection between a magnificent osprey taking a 20lb trout out of a Highland loch and Blythe Duff mastering the art of the hula-hoop?

Answer: XpoNorth, Scotland’s leading creativity festival, which took place this week in a warm and sunny Inverness.

We were in the Highland capital as delegates at XpoNorth and were wowed by the wealth of talent on display. From all corners of the country there were people from the worlds of music, screen, writing, fashion, crafts, gaming, broadcasting, publishing and textiles. Based in Eden Court, the festival was a magnificent showcase for what’s happening creatively in Scotland right now. And there is a great deal going on.

Maramedia's breathtaking osprey clip from Highlands - Scotland's Wild Heart

To watch Maramedia’s/BBC Scotland’s breathtaking osprey clip, click here

On Day One we took in as many of the events relating to writing and publishing as we could. New writers, old writers, new publishing, old publishing – change and new developments helping to maintain a thriving sector.

On Day Two there were two particular screen events I wanted to see. One was a talk by producer Nigel Pope from Maramedia discussing the making of Highlands – Scotland’s Wild Heart.  Hearing about the skills, dedication and extraordinary patience of the crew as they wait for those perfect shots was fascinating. And the clips he’d chosen to show were absolutely breathtaking!

The other event was the world premiere of young filmmaker Robin Haig’s short film Hula. As director, Robin has created a delightful film that is warm, funny and poignant, combining to perfection the performance of the hugely talented Blythe Duff and the Highland setting of Dornie, a village in Wester Ross that sits at the meeting place of the waters of Loch Duich and Loch Alsh.  It’s not in the least surprising that Robin won this year’s BAFTA Scotland New Talent Award for Best Drama.

To watch the trailer click here

To watch the trailer click here

But films don’t make themselves and we were very fortunate to meet Lindsay McGee, Hula‘s producer. Like so many people, I wasn’t fully aware of all the hard work and skill that goes on behind the scenes of any film and I suspect Robin was very glad to have the talented and capable Lindsay as her producer.

All this talent, all this creativity and some of the most glorious scenery in the world – Scotland certainly has so much going for it. And who could ask for better than that!

For the BBC report on Hula’s premiere click here

Looking for Brigadoon? It’s in Wester Ross under Loch Glascarnoch!

A drowned bridge on a drowned road - across the bed of Loch Glascarnoch

A drowned bridge on a drowned road – across the bed of Loch Glascarnoch

It’s supposed to appear for one day only, once every hundred years, Brigadoon, the fabled Highland village.  Now, intriguingly, after almost 60 years under water, the old road through Glen Glascarnoch to Ullapool has reappeared in a similar fashion!

Up until the 1950s the main road from Inverness to Ullapool ran through the middle of the glen.  Though the term ‘main road’ may conjure up false images for many today: back then, as in so much of the Highlands and Islands, it was still only a single track road with passing places.

The old lost road to Ullapool

The old lost road to Ullapool

Throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s, an unparalleled hydro-electric scheme was created throughout the Highlands, bringing ‘Power to the Glens’ for the first time ever. Glascarnoch Glen was dammed and an artificial loch, Loch Glascarnoch, created to hold water from Loch Vaich and Loch Droma, before feeding into the hydro system at  Mossford Power Station, five miles away.  When the dam was built the road was lost forever – or so it seemed.

Looking north to the drowned bridge

Looking north to the drowned bridge

Earlier this year SSE (Scottish and Southern Energy) decided to lower the water level in Loch Glascarnoch as a preparation for potential heavy autumn and winter rains, and suddenly there it was  – the ‘lost’ road – and with hardly a pothole to be seen!

It was a dramatic sight and when we arrived a number of people were already taking the opportunity to walk this ghost road while it’s still possible.  We walked for a mile or so, made it across the bridge (thanks to wellies) and perhaps half a mile or so further, but at that point the mud thickened and the road disappeared back into the dark water, and it was time to return to the car.

Old tree roots and grass visible for the first time in 60 years

Old tree roots visible for the first time in 60 years

It was fascinating to see old tree roots, but also interesting to see just how quickly much of the area had become green: tiny plants and grasses taking this rare opportunity to burst out between rocks and mud.  But, just like Brigadoon, the rains will come and this old ghost road and its bridges will disappear once again too. And, who knows, might well become just another strange tale of the mysterious and misty Highlands!!

Scoraig: almost an island

The starting point for the 5 mile walk-in to Scoraig

The starting point for the 5 mile walk-in to Scoraig

There are one or two places on the west coast of Scotland that are not islands as such, but which are to all intents and purposes islands. Scoraig on Little Loch Broom in Wester Ross is one.  To reach Scoraig you can either go by boat (the easy way – though always weather dependent!) from Badluarach on the south shore of Little Loch Broom – or you can walk. There is no road, no vehicular access, only a dramatic 5-mile cliff-side path. This was the route we chose earlier this year.  The walk starts at the road end at Badralloch and offers spectacular views down the length of Little Loch Broom.

Looking up Little Loch Broom from the path to Scoraig

Looking up Little Loch Broom from the path to Scoraig

Until the mid 1800s the peninsula supported a number of farming townships: houses grouped together surrounded by feannagan – ridge and furrow rigs for growing crops. By the mid-19th century, however, the estate had been sold off and the new owner dramatically changed the landscape of the area by breaking up the townships and laying out crofts. These were hard, harsh times in the Highlands and Islands. New homes had to be built from scratch, infertile land worked until a living could be eked from it.  Increased rents, both in kind and in labour, demanded by landlords.

Remains of the older community are still in eveidence

Remains of the older community are still in evidence

But battle on they did, and that so many survived is a tribute to the courage and determination of the inhabitants.  Life continued, families grew and according to Scoraig’s community website, there were 61 children at the school in 1873.  However, as steamer transport declined and road and rail routes passed Scoraig by – as well as the toll of two world wars – the population began to dwindle and by the early 1960s the last of the indigenous Gaelic speaking crofters had gone.

But surprisingly Scoraig didn’t die. A new wave of settlers arrived in the 1960s and 1970s and rebuilt this unique community. Back then some of their practices were regarded as odd– but their approach to self-sufficiency, wind and solar power are now seen as the way forward for the rest of us. They were hard-working pioneers and they were ahead of their time.  Scoraig has continued to grow and thrive; that the community supports a nursery and a school for children aged 5-14 is proof of that. What was once seen as ‘alternative’ living has stood the test of time and proven its worth. And can teach us all something for the challenges we face today.

The jetty at Scoraig

The jetty at Scoraig

New housing at Scoraig

New housing at Scoraig