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Report to Mackay Country January 2003

23rd January 2003


Sangomore Headland
Sutherland IV27 4PZ
01971 511346

The idea has been initiated from the grass roots of the communities and a great deal of time has been dedicated to discussions with all the parties that can become involved and benefit from such an endeavour. The Mackay Country Scheme is a long-term project that can only succeed with the co-operation and commitment of individuals, groups and agencies that live, work and operate in the locality. We have communicated with the community Councils throughout the area and have been keeping the Sutherland Community Development Form involved in our aims and intentions. They have given the project their support. The venture is being planned for a long-term strategy in raising the awareness of the life and times and the ways of life, highlighting the undertakings that are currently going on, in the Land of Mackay. We wish to achieve this with a reference to the historical story of the Reay Country and develop a logical and coordinated approach to give the population of the area, visitors and potential visitors a view of a unique, interesting and coherent locality of the Scottish Highlands.

The area between Melvich and Scourie anciently occupied by the Clan MacKay, and known from the name of its chief as the Lord Reays country, Dthaich Mhic Aoidh is the Gaelic for the Country of Mackay, a reference to the dominant historical clan of the country north of Kylesku incorporating the parishes of Eddrachilles, Durness, Tongue and Farr It is intended that this project be centred on the area and the artefacts portraying the way of life in the locality past and present and although will be closely linked to the clan Mackay will not be a historical story of the already well documented and represented Clan Mackay. Scotland today is a modern, confident nation but the roots of its character lie in the history and traditions of its people. This project is seen as a starting point to encompass the concept of the area in an identifiable locality and develop a marketing strategy that can be built on. There is a need for a clear plan of action with realism with respect to what can actually be achieved. There must be pragmatism about timescales in terms of years, not months. We are progressing towards preparing a management strategy plan and researching the possibility of developing the Mackay Country brand.

The first stage of clearly distinguishing the concept has reached the end of the first phase. Generally the aim of re-identifying the Reay Country from Kylesku to Melvich in its historical context, but portraying and depicting the way and quality of life as it is lived now with a clear theme and sequence of effects of the past, showing a clear vision for the future.

We aim to demonstrate within the projects we undertake the wealth of literature, poetry, music and creative talents that go alongside the practical and hard work pursuits that encompass Mackay Country at the start of the 21st Century. Environment and issues of conservational nature are inextricably linked to the thinking. It is without a doubt that this feature will have to be continually elaborated and emphasised as the details of the individual schemes that are instigated and initiated by the Mackay Country are encountered. The philosophy underpinning the scheme is to highlight and develop all the aspects of living and working in the area in a positive, constructive and beneficial light. It must be driven from the communities that inhabit Mackay Country. It is proposed that the scheme delivers a view of the way of life and the associated life styles of the people and the communities presently living in the Mackay Country.

We have discussed the outline of our project with a consultation company Seabridge We have secured a domain name and intend this to develop into a web site for the scheme. The Initial project Report from Seabridge consultants can be downloaded at this site. We believe that this project must work from the bottom up; the people in the area must bring the living characteristics and environment to the attention of the many people around the world with Highland connections and interests. The concept is to market the Mackay Country as a territory and destination of interest, fascination and curiosity as it has always been throughout history but how it is in the 21st century.

The Durness Development Group have been the active catalyst in describing with the population and taking positive steps to achieve a result that starts to show a way forward. The first problems with such an undertaking is being able to explain to others the perception and view to involve interested parties in developing a working hypothesis. We believe we are achieving this with a high degree of success. All the Community Councils within the operation area are supportive having given their unqualified cooperation. This is accompanied by encouragement, backing and supports from various groups in the locality the most valuable being the North Sutherland Community Development Forum. It is expected that in the near future the structure for the continued organization, administration and management of the scheme will entirely involve members of this group. Detailed further on are the suggested first projects and it is anticipated that sub groups forming partnerships form the individuals, groups and agencies that live, work and operate in the locality will carry these forward. We will be interested to have involved representatives from the Clan Mackay.

From the recently commissioned and reported on project Initiation study of Mackay Country comment and response has been encouraged. This document has been widely distributed and the intention to develop a next stage progression from the report is underway. Worth noting is that this report is neither a business plan or project plan and has no costing attached. It was prepared as a text that could bring together the current thinking in a coherent and co-ordinated form. This we believe has been achieved and no great substantial approach should be dependant upon the report. The responses and constructive criticism are still being evaluated and the document is proving a valuable recourse for reference and orientation of the scheme. While response is still being evaluated as it is produced time scales are reluctant to be imposed for the obvious reasons of the large area and ensuring people are fully aware of the proceedings and current situation projects to take the undertaking within the MacKay Country Scheme forward are being considered.

To enable such a pursuit to be embarked on commitments of a principled and financial nature need to be included in the general project projections. The work carried out by the Development Group has been a team effort with numerous inputs from sources already mentioned.

Costs have been incorporated into the administration of the group and are seen as timely executive costs necessary to create and establish the Mackay Country scheme in the minds of the populous. To continue on any level with any phase and any stage within a phase or any project that will require phasing or staging administration, management and direction are going to incur costs. It is estimated that the projects identified should be looked on over a two-year period each with a momentum and budget of its own. The encompassing administration, management and direction all will incur a cost.

A valuable resource would be to have a project officer appointed to work with the sub groups working from the Development Group office in Durness, help co-ordinate activities between the groups and carry out detailed work for the groups in connection with the projects. This would be advantageous to elevating the volunteer time necessary to compile information, contact sources, write letters, arrange meetings and work with directors of the Development Group to compile detailed project plans, budget and costing forecasts and fill applications are examples of the assistance. We are hoping to be able to have the project officer of Initaive at the edge working from the Development Groups Durness office one day a week.

All the present costings have to be viewed as preliminary and preparatory steps into the detailed requirements of each project. For the most part they are costings foreseen to embark on the projects and cannot be seen in isolation as total project costs. Although they have to be separate entitles to simplify for clarity much of the composition to bring them about and the financial input needed to make them succeed overlaps. They are all dependent on the whole as sums of the parts.

The Web

As an example of the commitment the NSCDF has for the scheme they subscribed 1000 to the arrangement, planning, preparation and development of a web site. This has included a data base creation and e-mail notification system, domain name, community co-ordination, feedback appeasement, design and build, information gathering and collate, press releases and maintenance until January 2004. The web site is envisaged as the central reference point to the project and will be continually restructured to the maturity of the scheme as a whole. There is little doubt that to make this work there has to be a personal contact to the individual communities tied closely to the other projects suggested. Please note that this site will depend on input and feedback from many sources.

Academic Research Exploration and Harmonisation

As part of long-term scheme involving numerous projects encompassed within the Mackay Country we know that there have been many academic studies in a diverse number of disciplines within the area and we are aiming to endeavour to gather the results of these whether as thesis studies, dissertations or any other relevant theoretical or practical exercise. Long term this should lead to the publication of a collection of papers, either on-line or in printed form. This means finding all the publications in the public domain that were centred on Mackay Country.

The focus of our proposed research is to seek to identify potential researchers and work with them to agree a research agenda. We will then encourage research - whether by local historians or academics based elsewhere - into Mackay Country and the Province of Strathnaver.

The main question we want to answer is How much information, where is this information and can we coherently assemble this information into a local archive that can be accessed by any interested parties. Can we use this information to plan a coherent and coordinated approach to further research that would be relevant and valuable to the group, the community and any other academic institution that may wish to further research the fields of study uncovered. Furthermore is this research information relevant to our other development plans for the Mackay Country

An application to the Scottish Communities Development Centre has been submitted. This is a two-stage process. Stage 1 grant up to 1500 for a mentor/ consultant to prepare for stage 2. We envisage this project following the two stages. If we can raise a further 1000 to supplement stage 1 we can employ a mentor for a suitable time to compile from local knowledge within Mackay Country all known institutions, individuals, agencies that have used the area in any aspect for teaching or research. We envisage that this stage will require a mentor for a time of up to three months in addition we will have office expenses and travelling expenses. The area to be visited is vast and the only realistic method is by car.

Stage 2 would then be contacting, visiting and researching archives, developing relations and working with any interested party to ensure further academic work in the area is beneficial to all. If we are successful in the application 10000 is the maximum. If we can raise this to 15000 with a local supplement and apply for match funding a good graduate post would be created. The funds would also have to cover an understandable amount of expenses, as this post would involve travelling much of the country.

This possibility has already attracted attention from Project Officer Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division (GUARD) and the Senior Research Fellow of Arkleton Centre for Rural development Research in Aberdeen University.
The application details can be forwarded to supplement the information supplied here if necessary. Stage 2, with a comprehensive job description, would be prepared on successful completion of Stage 1.

Stage 1 Funding has been secured

Signposting, symbol and identifying mark

Firstly, gateway signage can alert visitors to the fact that they are entering Mackay Country. Secondly, the use of the Mackay Country identifying mark on all signage will give a coherent feel to the entire area and reinforce the perception in minds that they are somewhere different and very special. This is a subtle form of marketing and will serve to keep visitors in the area for longer. Developing a strategic plan for the position of signs will have to be considered. It is not practical to envisage that we can convert all the signs throughout the locality to detail the Mackay Country and all its inclusions. This is very closely linked to the development of what is referred to as the Branding and will require a lot of local consultations and clarifying at each and every step.

We have sought advice from the Highland Council regarding signposting regulations and planning policies. Both will work with our scheme.

A signposting strategy and plan must be developed in consultation and it is advised that we involve the Tourist Board. Initially we need to detail all the legislative, technical and practical implications and contact by visiting the community councils at the edge of the area. This will involve a lot of research and communication with the Highland Council. Thorough discussions and close working with a graphic designer before a graphic designer is commissioned will be essential. Detailed costings will have to be prepared.

Theoretical Trail Development

Trails are a well-established means of guiding tourists through an area, ensuring that they get the best possible experience. For time-pressured visitors a clearly signposted, well-interpreted trail is a popular activity.

The rich history of Mackay Country and spectacular landscape lends itself to trails. The newly established Strathnaver trail is a good example. Until we can provide detailed and motivating trails we are supplying a note of places and sites worth visiting. This part of the scheme will require much local input in the first stages to provide the names of the interesting sites with a little informative text. Before we even start to develop trails on a varied selection of themes it is proposed that a more detailed narrative with photographs be inserted on the web site. The sites of interest will be linked to or from their community or village page on the site. This will involve visits around the Mackay Country to meet with inhabitants visit sites, photograph and record the various possible trails that can be developed in the future. Making a start in the compilation of information and gathering of local knowledge could lead to a simple but helpful and enlightening brochure. This would be a result with a useful outcome.


All the projects are interlinked and there are threads identified that are able to link them together. As the scheme becomes more involved, compound and complex we will require bringing together facets that is duplicated or relevant to one an other. In an attempt to set out on this foreseen characteristic a video is proposed that will initially be all encompassing of the Mackay Country. We are not including the costs of this project, as we believe the previous are more worthy of initial investment although this would be a start of a need to try to develop a coherent inward investment strategy. It would require a considerable amount to embark on. Although modest the revenue from the sale of a production could be used to pump prime other activities. This project would start on the recordings of todays activities including ceilidhs, festivals, feisan, concerts and other cultural events that are occurring throughout Mackay country. A detailed account of all the current literature, music, poetry, art and lifestyles would be included. This would have ongoing effects and sub projects identified as the video was compiled.


It is proposed to wait until a decision form the Forum is reached and a response from the Scottish office before preparing more detailed budgets. This information will be presented as soon as possible.

At the last meeting in Skerray it was agreed to continue with the present structure of the Development group and form a sub committee from nominations to continue the scheme and its proposed projects. Proposals from individuals to form this group should be submitted.

The clan Mackay are receiving this document and they have been asked to give their response and this extends to an invitation to become involved.