Garioch Women for Change

Who are the Garioch Women for Change and why are they so keen for women to make their voices heard? The opening pages of my article in this month’s iScot Magazine

There’s something afoot in the Garioch! A century ago the first women on these islands got the vote: today women the length and breadth of the country are not only looking at what women achieved in the past, but also at what they hope to achieve today. And the Aberdeenshire based Garioch Women for Change group have organised a fantastic conference to this end.

A grant from the Scottish Government’s Suffragette Centenary Fund has helped finance the conference: an apt connection, as we have a magnificent heritage in the Women’s Suffrage Movement. In fact, should doubts about our ability to promote change ever assail us, it’s worth remembering that our Suffragist/Suffragette sisters were no different from us! They weren’t any braver, or stronger, or more intelligent, or more patient than we are, yet they were prepared to stand up for what they believed and face the (often unpleasant) consequences. They were ordinary women who took on a seemingly untouchable establishment and won!

The Garioch Women for Change conference organisers

There’s much we can learn from their achievements, rifts and all; much that can help us face the growing challenges to our society, and even to our democracy. Challenges which call for our engagement now, just as those women acted in their time. And the speakers at the Garioch Women for Change conference certainly reflect that engagement. Speakers whose expertise covers politics, history, communications, science, environmentalism and much more!

Among the speakers are the journalist and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch; Maggie Chapman, co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party and Rector of Aberdeen University; Prof Sarah Pederson of Robert Gordon’s University, who led the influential ‘Suffragettes in North East Scotland’ project; Aberdeenshire East MSP, Gillian Martin; Petra Pennington, Art and Community worker at Deveron Projects; Alison Evison, president of COSLA and Dr. Cait Murray-Green, CEO of a young Scottish company Cuantec, which produces compostable packaging from langoustine shells, a natural alternative to plastic. An impressive line-up!

The Garioch Women for Change are an intelligent and thoughtful group, with a clear understanding of why it’s so important for ordinary women to make their voices heard. Their conference on 15th September is free and open to all. And even if you can’t be there, there’s much to be done – so whatever we do, let’s make our suffragette sisters proud!

Registration information at Make Your Voice Heard

Time out in the Trossachs 1: An Ceann Mòr on Loch Lomond

‘An Ceann Mòr’ or ‘The Great Headland’: the dramatic new pyramid-shaped viewing platform at Inveruglas on Loch Lomondside

Ask most people to name a place in Scotland that they’ve heard of and chances are they’ll come up with Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. What Walter Scott set in motion all those years ago with his poem The Lady of the Lake continues today. And with good reason. A National Park since 2002, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs is possibly one of the best-known areas of Scotland. Natural beauty, lochs and mountains, hills and glens –  the Park has them all: and a-plenty.

When the Scottish Government launched its first Scenic Routes competition, there was a wealth of entries. Young architects from all over submitted pland for special installations, designed to enchance particular areas in the Park. The four winning entries were duly built and have become popular and much-loved sites for visitors.

‘Stargate Loch Lomond’ – Loch Lomond’s very own pyramid!

It’s not often you associate the Scottish countryside with pyramids, but Loch Lomond now has a splendid one!  An Ceann Mòr, Gaelic for the Great Headland, is one of four installations that marked the inaugural Scottish Scenic Routes project.  Funded by the Scottish Government, the four new landmarks were specifically designed to highlight features of much loved areas of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

The challenge to take a beautiful and much-loved spot and succeed in enhancing it has been at the heart of the Scenic Routes competitions, and it’s a challenge  talented young architects have risen to with resounding success. The winning designs are all very different, but have one thing in common; they make you stop, think and see a familiar scene in a new way.

Our first stop was the striking pyramid, An Ceann Mòr, which sits high above the loch close to the Inveruglas Visitor Centre, with stunning views down towards Ben Lomond and over to the Arrochar Alps. But that’s not all you’ll see as you stand on this beautiful wooden structure. You’ll find your eyes drawn to another distinctive landmark, the Loch Sloy Hydro-Electric power station. How often do we drive past it without giving it a second thought? And yet its construction was part of one of the most progressive and far-reaching engineering projects in the world.

Loch Sloy information board

Completed in 1949 and officially ‘switched on’ in 1950, Loch Sloy produces hydro-electricity, and in a country of rivers, lochs and plentiful rain, that supply is likely to be inexhaustible! The history of its construction – which included the tragic loss of 21 lives – is a revelation.  In fact, the massive scale of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Scheme was unprecedented, but succeeded in bringing ‘Power to the Glens’ in a way never before imaginable. By 1963 90% of the Highlands were attached to the grid, more than twice as many as when the scheme began just after the Second World War.

The Hydro Board was the led by the Scottish politician Tom Johnston and over three decades the ‘Hydro Boys’ and the ‘Tunnel Tigers’ created generation and distribution schemes that became renowned the world over. Their achievements are all the more remarkable given the harsh conditions and often unforgiving terrain they had to work in. However, this ‘Power from the Glens’ ultimately changed the face of rural Scotland and the benefits continue to this day.

Hopefully An Ceann Mòr will be long-lasting too. It was designed by three young architects Daniel Bar, Stephane Toussaint and Sean Edwards from BTE Architects in Glasgow.  Eight metres high and with 31 steps, it is made from sustainable timber, wood which the young architects have chosen especially as it will gradually weather to a more muted silver-grey colour, blending in naturally to become part of the surrounding landscape.

Part of the landscape, but also a feature that makes us take more notice of that landscape than ever before. And that’s no bad thing at all!

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park

Aoineadh Mor – Morvern’s past re-examined

“An latha dh’fhàg sinn an t-Aoineadh-mòr shaoil mi gun sgàineadh mo chridhe” (The day we left Aoineadh Mòr I thought my heart would break) – Mary Cameron

Aoineadh Mor, Morvern

Aoineadh Mor, Morvern

It’s strange the things you remember from the past. At my first Scottish History tutorial at Edinburgh University many years ago, our tutor told us that much of history is myth, and that he wanted to start our course with some ‘myth-busting’.  Firstly, he said, the Vikings didn’t go around in horned helmets – certainly not into battle – and secondly, the Highland Clearances were purely economic, had to happen and were not that bad really.

That the Vikings wore horned helmets for ceremonial purposes only made sense – but forcing people from their homes and claiming “it wasn’t that bad really” was another matter altogether. And not one we could accept. While it’s true that economic migration from the Highlands was already taking place – and taking place across all of Europe – the brutal evictions faced by so many native Highlanders tell a very different story indeed.

The still waters of Loch Arienas, close to Aoineadh Mor

The still waters of Loch Arienas, close to Aoineadh Mor

Fortunately attitudes to the study of history have changed. The previous approach of kings, queens and dates of battles – the history many of us grew up with – has all but gone.  Sources and events have been re-assessed and a new, refreshing, and more honest emphasis placed on the lives of all.  And it makes history so much more interesting!

No-one can deny that the Highland Clearances are a particularly grim part of our nation’s history.  As large estates passed from hand to hand the new owners – from both Scotland and England – gave scarcely a thought to the people who lived on and worked the land: these people were invisible or regarded as being in the way, worthless.

Ruined house by the Allt an Aoineadh Mhoir burn

Ruined house by the Allt an Aoineadh Mhoir burn

One clear and unequivocal example of the inhumanity of that period can be seen in the deserted township in Aoineadh Mòr in Morvern.  In 1824 the land was purchased by a wealthy Edinburgh woman, who promptly had the whole village evicted to make way for sheep.  Home to more than fifteen families, it had 22 houses and outbuildings, run-rigs for growing crops, grazing for cattle, kail-yards, corn-drying kilns and winnowing barns. A young woman, Mary Cameron, with her baby and two other small children, was among those forced from their homes, her husband James carrying his aged mother up the steep path from the glen.  As they looked back, the destruction of their homes was already taking place.

With nowhere else to go they had to make their way to Glasgow and hope for work along with thousands of other dispossessed people.  It was a cruel time of low wages, appalling housing and disease. With help from their minister, James did eventually find work, but both he and their eldest son Donald fell prey to the ‘infectious fever’ so prevalent in the overcrowded and insanitary city, and young Donald died. Mary later told her story to Rev Norman MacLeod, one of the MacLeods of Fiunary in Morvern, thus giving us a first-hand account of the tragic fate of this community.

Lichen - a sign of pure, clean air

Lichen – a sign of pure, clean air

Today the Forestry Commission are responsible for Aoineadh Mòr and its beautiful setting close to Loch Arienas. Lichen abounds, an indication of the pure clean air in the glen.  There is a car park and well-marked paths to the former township. The signage includes illustrations of how the settlement would have looked when full of life. It also gives explanations, and helpful pronunciations, of the Gaelic words associated with Aoineadh Mòr.  But be warned! Cleared forestry areas are seldom pleasant places – often more closely resembling WW1 battlefields than anything else! – and even reaching the picnic bench on the other side of the burn was a challenge!

Do we learn from history, from the mistakes and cruelties of the past? I hope so. Change is in the air with the new Land Reform bill proposed by the Scottish Government, and backed by the great majority of people in Scotland.  It’s also worth noting that there are individual landowners already taking innovative steps towards redressing housing problems in the Highlands e.g. the new settlement at Achabeag on the Ardtornish Estate. Wise and fair use of our land is to be welcomed by all.

Aoineadh Mòr – Forestry Commission Scotland

Land Reform Bill

Achabeag

Ardtornish Estate