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The once stereotypical image of men in tweed conjured up by the words ‘whisky drinker’ is long gone in the drink’s spiritual home.

Lauren (left) and Steph Murray

Lauren (left) and Steph Murray

There is nothing new about the number of Scottish women who enjoy sipping our national drink, and in recent years there has been a sharp rise in the number of females breaking into a traditionally male-dominated industry by taking on key production and management roles.

But sisters Steph and Lauren Murray have taken their passion for the amber nectar to a whole new level. Along with their parents Michael and Marie, they have turned their backs on the bright lights of Glasgow to buy a hotel in rural Speyside with the aim of turning it into one of the country’s leading destinations for whisky lovers.

Steph (28) and Lauren (23) took over at the helm of The Dowans Hotel in Aberlour last year after being won over by its location in the heart of Scotland’s most famous whisky producing region. Speyside is home to more whisky distilleries than any other part of the country, including internationally renowned brands such as Glenfiddich, The Glenlivet and The Macallan.

Steph found herself working in the hospitality sector while studying for a degree in international politics and human rights at the University of Glasgow. Unable to find work after completing her studies, she stayed on at the city’s prestigious One Devonshire Gardens and was offered a role as a supervisor.

The gardens at the Dowans Hotel

The gardens at the Dowans Hotel

“Working in a hotel was never something I thought about as a career option, but I really enjoyed it – even more so when I became part of the management team,” explains Steph.

“It’s probably fair to say that a lot of young people think about jobs in the hospitality industry as something to do to get by while at university. But as time went on I realised how much potential there was to develop professionally and to go beyond traditional student roles like working behind the bar.

“Things changed when my dad took early retirement three years ago. He could see how many hours I was working and while the experience I was getting was invaluable, the monetary benefit didn’t match. He also knew that Lauren, who was studying international hospitality and event management at Edinburgh, was also going to face difficulties getting work when she finished her degree.

“That’s when, as a family, we came up with the idea of buying a hotel that Lauren and I would run together, operating to the high standards that we had both set for ourselves.”

Lauren adds, “We had always enjoyed family holidays in the Highlands when we were young, so we were naturally drawn here in our search. We wanted to own somewhere we had a real passion for, and which we could share with the local community.

Bistro and bedrooms have been refurbished

Bistro and bedrooms have been refurbished

“We fell in love with The Dowans from the moment we saw it. It had a good reputation as being a country sports hotel, but we could see the potential straight away to develop something really special for whisky tourism. We made it our aim from day one to build relationships with the local distilleries.”

Over the past 10 months the family has been carrying out an ambitious refurbishment programme. Many bedrooms and the bistro have been overhauled – a second fine dining restaurant called Spé was opened in February – but one key change is yet to happen.

They plan to remove the bar from its current location in a snug lounge, and move it to another part of the hotel where the already huge collection of single malt and blended whisky from Speyside – and beyond – will be expanded even further.

Spirit of Speyside Festival

Spirit of Speyside Festival

Visitors and locals alike have been raising a glass to the investment and of their commitment to supporting the whisky industry: the hotel is fully booked during the region’s biggest celebration of all things malt – the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival.

The Festival, which takes place this year from May 1-5, is largely regarded as one of the world’s must-do whisky events. Last year it had 32,000 visits to events and generated £1.65m for the local economy – a figure which could be smashed this year as ticket sales look on course to break records.

The Dowans will be hosting five events during the Festival. A venison and whisky pairing has already sold out, while only a few tickets remain for its two luxury whisky dinners and two whisky tasting sessions, where there will also be a discussion on collectible malts.

“Whisky is huge here, and on top of developing our skills in hospitality we’ve also had to learn about the industry so that we can share it and educate our visitors,” says Lauren.

“We are so excited about the Festival – we couldn’t believe it when one of our events sold out within hours of tickets going on sale. We’ll be welcoming lots of people who are really passionate and enthusiastic about whisky, so it will be an excellent opportunity for us to test our own knowledge.

“I didn’t think I would have to learn a whole new topic so soon after my degree, but it shows that there is always scope to grow and learn new things in every career.

“We’ve currently got 150 malts in our collection and Steph has been preparing her own tasting notes to share with guests. We’ll be expanding the range when we move the bar into its new location, so there will be a whole new set of malts to discover.”

Steph adds, “I think people are genuinely quite intrigued by the changes that are going on at The Dowans. People are always a surprised when they find out that a hotel built on the country sports and whisky tourism is being run by two relatively young girls.

“We’ve never been daunted by the scale of what we’ve taken on, just very excited. I think aiming to achieve more, being ambitious and never being afraid of a challenge are key pieces of career advice, regardless of the industry you work in.”

Tickets for all events in the 2014 Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival – a key event in Homecoming 2014 which will kick off Whisky Month in May – can be bought via the website www.spiritofspeyside.com The Festival is also active on social media – facebook.com/WhiskyFestival and @spirit_speyside on Twitter.

Scotland’s wild places need to be protected

The John Muir Trust has welcomed the result of a Scottish Natural Heritage public consultation on its core wild land map, describing it as a “resounding endorsement” of the proposal to step up wild land protection. According to its analysis of the 410 responses received:

80 per cent back the wild land map
14 per cent oppose the map
6 per cent are neutral

John Muir Truse LogoIn the view of Stuart Brooks, chief executive of the John Muir Trust, “the scale of support for the map and the eloquence of the responses underline how passionately people value Scotland’s wild land.

We would now urge politicians of all parties to come together to support the map as the next step towards protecting Scotland’s world famous wild land from unsightly and ecologically damaging development. In particular we would ask the Scottish Government to include a reference to the wild land map in the draft National Planning Framework, which is now being scrutinised by parliamentary committees”

John Hutchison Stop the "mass industrialisation of our wildest landscapes"

John Hutchison
Stop the “mass industrialisation of our wildest landscapes”

Hundreds of individuals and dozens of not-for-profit organisations, including environmental charities, councils, community groups, and national bodies such as SportScotland and Historic Scotland have thrown their weight behind the wild land map.

John Hutchison, who chairs the Trust, stressed that the map was about protecting wild land from energy corporations and landowners intent on exploiting it for profit. “As one of the main driving forces campaigning for the map,” he explained, “the John Muir Trust would emphasise that this is not about preventing small-scale development of renewables or other infrastructure by communities and local people.

“This is about stopping the mass industrialisation of our wildest landscapes under tangles of turbines, pylons, road and power sub-stations. These developments might generate lavish profits for landowners and distant shareholders, but they create few if any jobs for local people.”

All of the responses can be downloaded from this page on the Scottish Natural Heritage website.

The Tale of the Lonesome Pines

Gosh, we are becoming an imperious nation. The mighty Scots Pine has just been declared our national tree. The Scottish Parliament is considering making the Golden Eagle our national bird. We already have the lion rampant. I hate to think what insect we might choose as a national emblem…the praying mantis perhaps. Thank goodness for the humble thistle.

Silver Birch Came well down the list

Silver Birch
Came well down the list

The Scots Pine came top of a consultation exercise carried out by the parliament’s petitions committee, well ahead of the rowan and the holly.The silver birch, my favourite candidate, came well down the list. I can only think this is because of the Scots Pine’s grandeur. They are not unique to Scotland. We don’t have that many of them, we are down to our last 250 million (around 8 per cent of our woodland). We chopped most of them down, remember, when we felled the ancient Caledonian forest.

They are only called Scots Pines because they do not grow naturally in England. But they are native to much of northern Europe, from Spain to Siberia. In Norway they are called the Norway Pine, in Mongolia the Mongolian Pine. Besides, they are not nice-looking trees. They are scraggy below and bushy on top. They don’t turn golden in autumn or light green in spring. They don’t sway in the wind or give shelter to much wildlife. And, like most of us these days, they live too long.

The Golden Eagle too is a worrying statement of national aggrandisement. The Conservative MEP Jackson Carlaw reminded us this week that the eagle was a symbol of the Roman invaders and the Nazis. He suggests we should adopt instead the cheery little Robin. The late Helen Eadie, MSP for Cowdenbeath, once championed the cause of the pigeon, though she called it the “dove of peace.”

Golden Eagle Scotland's favourite wild creature

Golden Eagle
Scotland’s favourite wild creature

The merciless Golden Eagle came top of a poll carried out by Scottish Natural Heritage, not just as our favourite national bird, but our favourite animal, beating the red squirrel, the red deer, the otter and the harbour seal. And, again, way down the list came some of my favourites, the puffin, the pine marten and the wildcat.

I’m left wondering if this is the sort of country I want to live in. It’s a question constantly on the lips of the referendumistas these days. And there was plenty for them to obsess about this week. The Governor of the Bank of England (and Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland incidentally ) came north to meet the First Minister to discuss his plans for a currency union after independence.

Mark Carney Governor of the Bank of England

Mark Carney
Governor of the Bank of England

This cool Canadian, Mark Carney, hinted vaguely that Scotland would have to sacrifice some of its financial sovereignty if a sterling zone was to avoid the problems the euro zone had been experiencing. The pro-union side took that to mean that an independent Scotland would have to accept whatever interest rate, debt level and tax-and-spend plans the Treasury in London might dictate. Mr Salmond read it rather differently – it was the Governor of the Bank of England accepting that independence could happen and that “technical discussions” could get under way about how a sterling zone would work. There would be no question however of an independent Scotland having its tax or spending plans dictated by London.

The Scottish government has meanwhile been making economies of its own this week. It announced that the number of police control rooms are to be cut from 11 to 5 and fire control rooms from 8 to 3. The fire brigade union said it will be “a disaster” for the north of Scotland but the government says it will lead to a more efficient service. The changes will be phased in over the next five years and there will no compulsory redundancies.

Mike Russell Attacked UK immigration rules

Mike Russell
Attacked UK immigration rules

The education secretary Mike Russell also breezed into the independence debate this week with a tirade against the UK immigration rules. He said they were preventing Scottish universities attracting valuable graduate students from India, China etc. He accused the Westminster government of being driven by xenophobia and the fear of UKIP. But an opinion poll in The Scotsman earlier in the week showed that more than half of Scots favour new limits on immigration. And I havn’t heard the Scottish government offering to take in refugees from Syria.

While on opinion polls, it’s perhaps worth recording what looks like a decisive shift in favour of independence. An ICM poll in Scotland on Sunday shows the Yes camp on 37 per cent, up 5 from last autumn. And when the 19 per cent undecided are excluded, the figure rises to 46 per cent. It’s being seen as a vindication of the SNP’s white paper putting the emphasis on child care.

I hope the children of Shetland were safely tucked up in bed on Tuesday night, as the Up-Helly-Aa celebrations saw the streets of Lerwick invaded once again by the Vikings. The Jarl Squad, a fearsome looking bunch of men in beards, threw their flaming torches into the traditional longboat and pushed it out to sea. Apparently in Norse mythology, the eagle was a symbol of strength and I guess the longboats were built of good Norway Pine. So perhaps our choice of national emblems is a sign that we are following our North Sea neighbours and heading for independence.

Scotland’s favourite bird
[Photo by Jon Nelson, Creative Commons]

The Scottish Parliament has heard an appeal to make the Golden Eagle the national bird of Scotland. It came from the RSPB’s Duncan Orr-Ewing and wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan. During his comments to the Petitions Committee, Mr Buchanan called for an end to the “persecution” of the birds in Scotland, arguing that he along with others was “astounded” that both shooting and poisoning took place.

The petition was first lodged in December by RSPB Scotland. Mr Orr-Ewing described the bird as a “true bird icon of Scotland”. He pointed out that many highland chieftains wore an eagle feather, as did the Royal Company of Archers. With only 431 pairs of golden eagles remaining in Scotland, he added that this represented “the whole of the UK’s breeding pairs, and it is regarded as a Scottish species.”

There was an objection to the plan from the Conservative MSP, Jackson Carlaw. He pointed out that the eagle had been used as a symbol both by the Roman empire and later by Nazi Germany. In his words, “The golden eagle is the symbol of an empire that once invaded large parts of Scotland, and more recently of another empire that tried to.”

He went to say that it was “a symbol of imperial power of which Scotland is emphatically not, never has been, and hopefully never will be.” He asked why another national symbol was needed and suggested that the robin would be a better candidate. However, the Committee agreed to take the proposal forward and it will now go out to public consultation. It follows a similar appeal for the Scots pine to be designated as Scotland’s national tree.

A report published by RSPB Scotland last year said there had been a “significant number” of occasions where birds of prey had been illegally killed in areas managed for grouse shooting. Just last month, police in Angus appealed for information after tests showed that a golden eagle found dead there had been poisoned.

Last year, as part of the Year of Natural Scotland, the eagle came top in a poll run by Scottish Natural Heritage and VisitScotland to find Scotland’s favourite wild animal.

Assynt – one of the last wilderness areas

They say Scotland has some of the last wilderness areas left in Western Europe. But where exactly are they? And how particular should we be about protecting them? The government agency Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is inviting views on its latest map of 43 “wild land” areas which will be offered some sort of protection under the planning laws. The haggling over this map will pitch conservationists against developers, city dwellers against country folk, romanticists against realists and will define the sort of country we want to live in.

Most of the wilderness area are in the Highlands

Most of the wilderness area are in the Highlands

Most of the 43 areas are, of course, in the Highlands and Islands. But there are three in the south of the country – Merrick, Talla-Hart Fells and Broad Dollar-Black Laws. Waterhead Moor-Muirshiel, just north of Glasgow, is also included. The rest stretch from Arran to Shetland by way of the Arrochar Alps, Ben Lawers, Ben Nevis, the Cairngorms, the Cuillins, Torridon, the Flow Country, Harris and the Orkney island of Hoy. (see full list below).

“Measuring wildness in inherently difficult,” SNH admits. One man’s wildness is another man’s wasteland. But the agency has tried to come up with a scoring system that is scientific. Four factors are taken into account: naturalness, ruggedness, remoteness from public roads, and a visible lack of built developments or “modern artefacts” such as wind turbines, pylons, telemasts etc.

Some compromises have had to be made where features do not spoil what’s called “the wider sense of wildness” eg the General Wade road that runs through the Corrieyairack Pass or the railway line through the Flow Country or an isolated farm building. On the other hand, some borderline areas have been left out of the map that some people might think should be included eg the Lowther Hills, Strathy Forest and North Lewis.

All in all, about 20 per cent of Scotland’s landmass has been classified as “wild” which means that planners will have to take the new designation into account when they are deciding on any new development, whether that be a wind farm, or a fish farm, or radio mast or a hotel or housing estate, or, dare we mention it, a golf course.

We’ve seen that such designations are not sacrosanct. Donald Trump has demonstrated that you can build a golf course on a SSSI, a Site of Special Scientific Interest. And there are a dozen other such designations – NNR, SPA, SAC, NSA, AONB, not to mention national and regional parks – where such exceptions have been made. The John Muir Trust estimates that you can see a wind turbine from more than half of Scotland’s land area.

JohnMuirTrustGreenThe John Muir Trust is leading the campaign to preserve Scotland’s wild land and it has welcomed the new map. Other conservation organisations, like the Scottish Wildlife Trust, the RSPB and the National Trust are similarly hoping the new map will be widely accepted.

But it is likely to be opposed in detail by local councils, developers, farmers and tourism businesses. An earlier draft of the map was sent back to the drawing board and SNH has had to carry out further statistical analysis to prove that certain areas really are “wild”.

There are those who argue that nowhere in Scotland is wild. All of our landscape, they say, has been influenced by human habitation but grouse moors, farmland, crofts and fishing villages still make for a beautiful, peaceful and spiritually pleasing experience. But even those opposed to wild land designations, or particular lines drawn on the map, admit that there is a balance to be struck between economic gains and preserving the natural wildness that is attracting businesses in the first place.

The Scottish government’s National Planning Framework hints that the presumption will always be against developments in wild land areas. Paragraph 99, for instance, reads: “ Some of Scotland’s remoter mountain and coastal areas possess an elemental quality from which people derive psychological and spiritual benefits. Such areas are very sensitive to any form of development or intrusive human activity and great care should be taken to safeguard their wild character.”

We shall see whether the government will live up to these fine words when the final map of wild land is written into the planning rules. And then we shall see if we can stick to them. The consultation period ends on 20th December.

Images courtesy of Historic Scotland

Jarlshof is perhaps the best known prehistoric site in Shetland with remains dating from 2500 BC right up to the 17th century AD.

Computer reconstruction of the Broch as it might have looked like

Computer reconstruction of the Broch as it might have looked like

The earliest settlers from the Bronze Age lived in small oval houses with thick stone walls. By the Iron Age, there were several different types of structure including a broch and a defensive wall around the site. The Vikings left a lot behind them. These ruins, including a longhouse, are the largest site visible anywhere in Britain. Some of these remains were only discovered after a storm at the end of the 19th Century.

The name ‘Jarshof’ itself was coined by Sir Walter Scott and it appeared in his novel ‘The Pirate’. The name stuck and was first attached to a Scottish fortified manor house and now to the site as a whole which is in the care of Historic Scotland. Earlier this year, it supported a project to create this short computer generated film by Kieran Baxter which tells the story of Jarlshof through the ages.

The film drew on aerial photographs taken from a kite-suspended camera – it needed to have special permission because it was so close to Sumburgh Airport. The project was completed at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, part of the University of Dundee. Glasgow School of Art was also involved in creating the speculative reconstructions of lost buildings, based on aerial photographs from a number of other sites across Scotland.

The film is now on display in the museum at Jarlshof where it can be seen to full effect accompanied by an exploration of the site itself. More of the story and images behind the project can be found here.

By David Black

In 2009 UNESCO, the Paris-based organisation which designates world heritage sites, tore a strip off the burgermeisters of Dresden for their proposal to build a bridge across the River Elbe. This would ruin one of the classic views of the ‘Florence on the Elbe’, it was claimed, albeit a largely reconstructed faux Florence, the authentic Dresden having been smashed to smithereens by British and American carpet bombing in the closing months of the second world war. The bridge-building burgermeisters were unapologetic, and they had more than two thirds of the citizens on their side. They also had the backing of the German courts. None of this impressed UNESCO. Dresden was stripped of its World Heritage Site status. Nothing daunted, the Dresdeners built their bridge. It opened to traffic this weekend.
UNESCO perhaps had a point, and a protest movement which included the author Gunter Grass had very sensibly suggested a tunnel might be a bit less obvious. Moreover, this is a bridge which will never win a beauty contest. That said, the pontificating heritage boffins in Paris have not exactly covered themselves in glory. For one thing, it’s really most amusing that UNESCO itself is housed in a rather tired-looking 1950s accordian-shaped megablock in the otherwise fashionable 7th Arrondissement. It was co-designed by a bunch of once trendy post-war ‘name’ architects chosen by a committee of worthies, and is not without merit, but no-one with a functioning brain could possibly suggest that it was sympathetic to its wider urban environment. Moreover, try looking towards the Seine from the Eiffel Tower and you’ll see a bridge remarkably similar to the one across the Elbe which has caused such offence. Shouldn’t Paris, too, be stripped of its World Heritage Site status? Seems only fair, if you ask me.
Then there’s the tricky issue of the cherry-picking. Take the case of the Scottish Parliament Building, which was purportedly built at Holyrood – the more accurate geographical designation of its site would be ‘The Watergate’, which lies immediately outside the Holyrood precinct, but for some reason they just won’t use the correct name. Wimpish ICOMOS, which has been advising UNESCO since 1972, refused to be drawn into the controversy on the grounds that it was too ‘politically sensitive’. Telling the residents and politicians of Saxony that their bridge is a ‘national disgrace’, on the other hand, would appear to be not in the least politically sensitive.
The Scottish parliament is a building which, as initially conceived, had elements of imagination, and insofar as there was a stupid and inflexible political determination to build something on the Watergate site rather than occupy an exisiting parliament building on Calton Hill, the other-worldly lyricism of Enric Miralles’ competition submission clearly had an aesthetic which other entrants to the somewhat restiricted competition lacked. Unfortunately the Miralles scheme was handed over to the civil servants’ favourite architects, RMJM. The aesthetic was debased, and all hell broke loose. The Watergate building was more or less doubled in size as lyricism gave way to concrete corporatism – albeit a state corporatism disguised by such cosmetic flourishes as bamboo window bars which gave the place the air of a Texan correctional facility, and ‘hair dryer’ Zimbabwean black granite panels. The costs went berserk, notching up world-record budget over-runs which made Utzon’s Sydney Opera House look like a bargain basement deal.
The most galling thing about the Scottish Parliament Building is that it isn’t even Scottish. It was entirely Downing Street’s baby, fronted by Tony’s man in Scotland, the late Donald Dewar. The underlying dynamic, you’ll be pleased to hear, was rumbling discontent amongst certain non-London-metropolitan Labour heavyweights over the cost of that most banal of iconic indulgences, the Millennium Dome. This was something of a headache for the chablis and seared polenta set, and doubtless ruined many a New Labour lunch at The Ivy. Peter Mandelson got a lot of gripe from the gritty northern comrades, so some wonk came up with a cunning ruse. Why not build similar modernist icons in Cardiff and Edinburgh? We could throw in a couple of baubles for Liverpool and Newcastle while we were at it – that should shut them up.
Holyrood was planned as New Labour’s ‘Cool Britannia’ gift to Scotland. We were all meant to be eternally grateful for such largesse (notwithstanding that it would be paid for out of the Scottish assigned budget!) but it backfired disastrously. As the farce became ever more baroque, London sought to maintain a distance from it, and it became a ‘Scottish problem’ – Edwina Currie even started prattling on about how the Holyrood debacle was proof positive that the Scots were congenitally incapable of looking after anything, never mind themselves. The Fraser enquiry carefully avoided any references to Westminster’s role, and fatuously concluded that ‘no single person’ was to blame. Even the pro-Labour Herald dismissed Fraser’s jesuitical report as ‘a whitewash’.
If Holyrood wasn’t Scottish politically, no more was it Scottish materially. The cement was shipped in from Wales – but at least that was in the UK. The steel was Japanese, the glass was Italian, and the famous ‘pod’ window frames were made from American oak which had been shipped out to cheap-labour Thailand for fabricating and laminating. The granite was meant to be Scottish – or at least a token amount was said to come from the Kemnay Quarry – but it was alleged that most of it had been imported from the South African town of Boschpoort. Desperate measures had to be taken to validate the bogus Scottish building – an award set up by the late Andy Doolan to encourage good Scottish architecture was diverted to this particular damage limitation exercise, and other awards would follow. Even the Cockburn Association, which was founded to protect Edinburgh’s heritage, spinelessly declared itself an admirer of the building.
Most scandalous of all, in 2005 the Royal Institute of British Architects was recruited to provide a stamp of approval in the form of the swanky Stirling Prize. One of the judging panel, Joan Bakewell, would later inform me she’d had reservations, but had been brought into line after she was persuaded that the building was at the cutting edge of sustainability. If so, she was well and truly duped. The list of foreign components above, and a thermal read-out by Scottish gas which showed leaking hot-spots all over the place, more than off-set all the guff and humbug about its energy use being from 80% renewable sources – presumably this energy use included the electric fans wilting MSPs had to use when it became overheated in the sunshine. Then came a final reckoning. One of the debating chamber roof beams crashed down, narrowly missing what was left of Scotland’s Conservative interest.
The curse of Holyrood was soon spreading like a bacillus. The BBC became infected when it commissioned a documentary, The Gathering Place, from the programme-packaging company co-owned by Kirsty Wark, one of the members of the design selection panel responsible for the appointment of poor Enric Miralles, whose reputation would be well and truly truncheoned by the Holyrood disaster. One piece of essential information missing from Ms Wark’s programme was a rather crucial point of law – the European Commission had declared the decision of the panel of which she had been a cheerleading member to have been an unlawful infraction of EU regulations. The day the Commission issued its ruling was a thin news day in Scotland, but for some reason the BBC failed to mention that the Scottish Parliament was conducting its business in an illegal building on its 6pm bulletin, leading instead with a highly important story about a pantomime horse race somewhere in the West of Scotland.
There is even reason to believe the Holyrood bug might have crossed the Atlantic. In March 2006 Bovis Lend Lease, the company which had been responsible for the construction of the Scottish Parliament building – and which had waxed fat as the cost of the project had risen from an orginal £10m-£40m to upwards of £400m – was appointed construction manager for the $360m World Trade Center Memorial at Ground Zero, in New York City. One of the conditions imposed upon those bidding for this emotionally-charged contract was a requirement for full disclosure of ‘contract performance history’ – basically, a run-down of other major projects the party submitting the tender had been previously involved in. Checking the Bovis Lend Lease website at that time revealed nothing whatsoever about its involvement in a project in Scotland which had allowed that same company to trouser millions of pounds at the Scottish taxpayers’ expense.
Shouldn’t the citizens of New York have been told about this? Don’t expect an answer anytime soon. Too many of the great and the good – Bill Clinton, Barbara Walters, Al Pacino, etc etc – were involved as trustees and board members of this project to allow the least squeak of a scandal to emerge in such sensitive circumstances. If Bovis Lend Lease did, indeed, launder its list of past contracts to play down its Holyrood dripping roast it certainly wasn’t going to be made public, and will no doubt remain as one of America’s best kept secrets. I would quote PR Newswire’s press release about how ‘honored and humbled’ Lend Lease was to have overseen the project, but it would only make you queasy. Within three months Bovis Lend Lease had reconfigured the budget at somewhere between $672m and £973m – as Yogi Berra might have wise-cracked it was just ‘that old feeling of deja vu all over again’ – at least to those of us who had watched the Holyrood budget ballooning out of control.
For the moment, back to Europe, and the slow, excruciating implosion of the Scottish Labour Party which began with public disenchantment over its crass mishandling of the Holyrood project, and ended with an outright electoral triumph for the SNP, notwithstanding the fact that the electoral system had been carefully devised to prevent any single party from sweeping to power. Lord George Robertson’s notion that devolution would ‘kill nationalism stone dead’ didn’t seem to be working too well. As an American politician once said when confronted with an unexpected defeat. ‘Ah well, the people have spoken – the bastards!’
In Paris, meanwhile, the Scottish Parliament Building would be forever the dog that had no bark as far as UNESCO and ICOMOS were concerned. In 2008, when there was some anxiety about the poor architectural quality of proposed major developments in Edinburgh, particularly at the site of the South Bridge fire and the so-called ‘Caltongate’, where a company headed by an English Heritage commissioner wanted to demolish listed buildings on the Royal Mile, a crack team was sent in from Paris to look into the dreadful philistine things that were being done to the city in the name of architectural mediocrity. A solemn report was duly written and published, but since this was the weak-kneed bunch which had kept its lip buttoned when the Edinburgh World Heritage Site was being desecrated within sight of the oldest inhabited royal palace in Europe (from which New Labour had cynically purloined the name ‘Holyrood’ for a parliament building on the Watgate chosen by an illegal selection process) who was going to pay them the least bit of attention?
Meanwhile, as such World Heritage Sites as the ancient Mosque and Souk of Aleppo and the citadel and Roman city of Palmyra are being shelled and pounded from the air, the Paris-based guardians of the built patrimony of the world are getting all tetchy with the Germans for building a rather boring bridge. Zut alors!

Hackness Battery – One of Orkney’s most notable military landmarks celebrates its 200th anniversary

Work began on Hackness Battery and the Martello Tower on the island of Hoy in 1813. At the time, Britain had been fighting in the Napoleonic Wars for several years. These defences were built to discourage French and American warships from targeting British merchant ships travelling past the north east coast of Scotland. The battery, which was the first of the buildings to be built, was designed to provide a gun platform and also provided room behind for a barracks, store and powder magazine.

Hackness Martello Tower

Hackness Martello Tower

Two towers followed at Hackness and Crockness, the latter now in private ownership, and are two of only three in Scotland, the other being in the Port of Leith in Edinburgh. Taking their name from the round fortress at Mortella Point, in Corsica, their elegant and compact design combines military and domestic functions and are more commonly found in South East England.

The battery was upgraded in 1866 against a perceived threat from the American Fenian Brotherhood during the American Civil War. However neither the battery or the tower saw the action for which they were intended, but each continued to be used for military purposes into the 20th century.

Kit Reid  Historic Scotland

Kit Reid
Historic Scotland

To mark the anniversary, Historic Scotland, which looks after the battery and tower, operating them as seasonal visitor attractions between April and September each year, is running special costumed tours each Wednesday throughout the summer which will help bring to life this fascinating site. Visitors will have the opportunity to meet a tour guide in the uniform of a royal artillery gunner, and find out more about the history of the site, which includes the opportunity to see examples of barrack room furniture and other military memorabilia.

Kit Reid, Interpretation Manager for Historic Scotland explained that “Hackness Battery and Martello’s Tower provide a fascinating insight into military history of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. We hope that visitors enjoy the new tours which are designed to help bring the buildings to life and provide a flavour of what it would have been like to stationed here all those years ago.”

The Burrell Collection in Glasgow, one of the finest examples of 1970s architecture, has been awarded A-listed status by Historic Scotland. The building in the city’s Pollok Country Park, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, houses the vast, eclectic collection of arts and antiquities amassed by the shipping magnate, Sir William Burrell.

Sir William, who split his time between his house in Grosvenor Terrace in Glasgow and Hutton Castle near Berwick-upon-Tweed, gifted his entire collection of over 8000 objects to the then Glasgow Corporation in 1944. The principal rooms of Hutton Castle were reconstructed in the museum and include items from the hall, dining room and drawing room.

Burrell’s collection consisted of a wide and diverse group of paintings and other arts works from late Gothic and early Renaissance Europe. But is also included examples of Chinese art, French and Dutch paintings, Islamic art and objects from ancient civilizations.

In 1970, the Corporation launched a competition to design a bespoke building as a permanent home for the collection. It attracted a staggering 242 entries. Two years later, the design by architects Gasson, Anderson and Meunier was selected and work started in 1978. The winning design stood out from the others due to its position within Pollok Country Park, nestling into the woodland at the edge of the open parkland. Costing £16.5 million, the Burrell opened to the public in 1983 and attracts around 200,000 visitors each year.

The Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, welcomed the listed status, adding that the collection was “one of Glasgow and Scotland’s most impressive buildings of its period and has contributed so much to our understanding of design thinking and the innovative use of interior and exterior space.

“The A-listing for the Burrell Collection is a fitting tribute especially in this its 30th year and recognises the significant contribution it has made to Glasgow’s landscape and the aesthetic pleasure it has brought to many over the years. This is a fantastic building that not only houses the internationally renowned collection of art and antiquities from across the world, but is itself a masterpiece of structural design.”

In the view of Councillor Archie Graham, Chair of Glasgow Life and Depute Leader of Glasgow City Council, “It says everything about the Burrell Collection building that is regarded so highly in its own right and is often named as one of Scotland’s best. The A-listing from Historic Scotland allows us to celebrate this world famous building as proposals are brought forward for a refurbishment which will secure it for future generations.”

A spokeswoman for The Twentieth Century Society, (a national amenity organisation) pointed out that The Burrell Collection represented an unique contribution to twentieth century architecture in Scotland and to museum design internationally. The building’s strength lay in its design, she explained, complementing the collection rather than competing with it, its sensitive palette of materials allowing it to blend with the landscape.

Public Information Feature

In an effort to persuade more people to pre-register online for this year’s St. Andrew’s celebrations, Historic Scotland is giving away free tickets to more than 40 of Scotland’s top heritage attractions. The sites include Stirling Castle, recently voted the UK’s best loved heritage attraction by members of Which? magazine, and Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness.

The promotion is part of the Scottish Government’s Winter Festivals programme which celebrates three of the country’s most distinctive festivals – St. Andrew’s Day, Hogmanay and Burns Night. People can download free tickets for the attractions they would like to visit. They’re able to specify how many they want; but they’re only valid for Saturday 1st December and Sunday 2nd December. The tickets are only available to those who register in advance at a special website.

According to Stephen Duncan, Director of Commercial and Tourism at Historic Scotland, “there is no limit on the number of sites that people can sign up for. However there are some restrictions on the number of tickets available at certain sites to maintain a quality visitor experience.” Edinburgh Castle’s allocation of free tickets has now all been used up.

He added: “Visitors need to register in advance to gain free access so we’d advise people to sign up as soon as possible so that they don’t miss out on the opportunity to visit a great heritage attraction for free.”