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The National Roadshow in Caithness: A community well aware of its history

There's a tremendous sense of community in Caithness – not the kind of dusty, vague “community” that only exists in speeches and faded newsprint, but a tangible, breathing, vibrant community that looks around, rolls up its sleeves and does what needs to be done. 

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First published in The National, 30 June 2017

I’ve written about the Caithness Broch Project before, with their plans for a life-size broch that taps into a unique part of Caithness’ culture. You already know I’m a big fan of the Pulteney Centre, a self-sustaining social enterprise in Pulteneytown that started with 1.5 staff and now employs 55 people with a £750,000 annual turnover. This sprit has been recognised by our Arctic neighbours too, and it’s heartening to see the Regina project’s senior Arctic researchers and renowned experts making the trip to Thurso for advice on how to deal with depopulation and employment diversification.

People in Caithness get it done. This pragmatic spirit is epitomised in the tale of Badbea, a former clearance village from one of the darkest stains on Scotland’s history. Following the mass eviction of families during the Highland Clearances, in which sheep were deemed more profitable than people, families were forced to scatter across the land. Of the families who settled in Badbea, the men caught the fish, the women gutted the fish, and the children were tethered to rocks and posts to stop them being blown off the cliffs. The spirit of the Clearances looms faint over the county, echoed in The Silver Darlings, the most famous work of Dunbeath’s most famous son, Neil M Gunn, who led the Scottish Renaissance with Lewis Grassic Gibbon in the early to mid-20th century. Gunn fans could also visit the Clan Gunn Heritage Centre in Latheron, giving the clan’s backstory from Norse origins to the present day. Caithness is a county aware of its history.