Context 158 - March 2019

18 C O N T E X T 1 5 8 : M A R C H 2 0 1 9 There is a wealth of archaeology in the Highlands and Islands, along with palaces and vernacular cottages, lighthouses and bridges, cathedrals and follies, and enough castles to keep the tourists agog, not to mention the battlefields, gardens and designed landscapes, and all of this often framed by coastlines or mountains. Then you need to factor in the romance: the individual elements, even the set-piece splendours, are but ingredients in a wider story, often a sad one, but all the more appealing for all that. This layer of narrative is crucial because, rightly or wrongly, it weaves the tweed together, connects places to people, and draws that archetypal 21st century being, the tourist. It is difficult to overstate the wealth of heritage assets in this part of Scotland. There are two world heritage sites. The Heart of Neolithic Orkney is one of them, comprised of the best preserved stone-age village in western Europe at Skara Brae, the chambered tomb at Maeshowe, the Ring of Brogdar and the funerary monu- ments around it, the Stones of Stenness, and the Barnhouse Stone and theWatchstone.Then, out in the north Atlantic some 100 miles from the mainland, there is the other world heritage site, St Kilda, inscribed for its natural and cultural qualities, with its village of cottages a haunting reminder of the evacuation and abandonment of the island in 1930. If these are the jewels in the crown, there are plenty of other places and buildings to take the breath away. Historic Scotland, which looks after Scotland’s historic monuments on behalf of the Scottish Government, is responsible for eight monuments in Shetland, 22 in the Orkney Isles, six in the Western Isles, and a further 22 in Highland. The 5,000 year-old circle of standing stones at Callanish on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis merit the over-used epithet ‘world famous’. Eilean Donan Castle, sitting on the edge of Loch Duich, with a backdrop of mountains, is one of Scotland’s most pho- tographed buildings and a regular feature of Scottish calendars. The turreted French-style Dunrobin Castle, 50 miles north of Inverness, home to the Earls of Sutherland, has parts dating from the 1300s, although these are hidden behind Sir Charles Barry’s 19th-century chateau. Like much of the Highlands, Dunrobin also has a good story to tell, in this case on the very contemporary theme of fake news. During the Jacobite uprising of 1745, the Clan Sutherland supported the British government. So it was that the Earl of Cromartie, exhilarated by news of the Jacobite victory at Culloden, successfully stormed the castle, capturing it for Bonnie Prince Charlie. He was still there when the better-informed Sutherland militia arrived. The Sutherland family connects to the other face of the Highlands and Islands as a place of emigration and poverty. They played an infamous role in the Highland Clearances, and the money they made from the enforced transi- tion from crofters to sheep helped fund their chateau indulgence. While peripherality and rurality protected the region’s stock of historic buildings from the depredations of 20th-century developers, poverty and economic weakness still gnaw away at maintenance, and extend a welcoming hand to any investor promising jobs. Thus Scotland’s Highlands and Islands share the same conservation dilemmas that are expe- rienced in other parts of Europe such as Italy, Greece or the Czech Republic. The historical legacy has left a superabundance of sites and properties, not least in the vernacular archi- tecture of a multitude of small towns, but this plenty contrasts with a scarcity of resources, Eilean Donan Castle, at the edge of Loch Duich, is one of Scotland’s most photographed buildings. The present building is a 1919–1932 reconstruction by John MacRae- Gilstrap, who commissioned architect George Mackie Watson (Photo: Stefan Krause, Wikimedia) CLIFF HAGUE Taking the breath away Few places in the world better encompass the challenges of conservation than the Highlands and Islands. Rich opportunities lie in the parts of the local jigsaw in the small towns and villages.