2002 The Rt.Hon Lord Maclennan of Rogart
To the delight and astonishment the weather on the last Friday in July was just perfect for the annual Durness Highland Gathering. The previous day was deplorable but the doubts about whether the event could continue were unfounded. Whatever happened to give the north wrest corner a break from the wind and rain was much appreciated. The hard work and detailed organising were not in vain.
At midday the chieftain for the day Rt. Hon. The Lord Robert McLennan of Rogart retired from 35 years as Member of parliament and a highly respected man was escorted to the village square with the resounding bagpipe music from James Mather and accompanied by Games president Don Morrison where he was warmly greeted by chairperson Iris MacKay and introduced to the chieftains from previous years. After a slight delay while the Sutherland Schools pipe band were transported from the new village hall the parade marched to the games field followed by the crowd of participants and spectators for the day.
Iris greeted the waiting crowds with the chairpersons opening speech. She opened with a tribute but with a tinge of sadness to this year's event. Three local chieftains have passed away during the year. Christie Campbell, Billy Morrison and Dr. George Sanderson are all sadly missed from the community but the friends remain richer for having known them and have great memories of times with them. There was a special thanks to the former chieftains who make a special trip each year to Durness for their continued support.
An additional award has been included for the children of the primary school for Queens Jubilee, someone will have a lucky programme and at 2pm there will be the RAF tornado display. A static helicopter was parked on the lower field for perusal with the crew available for questions.
Lord Maclennan predicted that it was day that records could be broken and this proved to be correct! With enormous pleasure he declared the 32nd annual Durness Highland Gathering open. Usual track and heavy events open to everyone got underway. Dancing piping, racing, novelty events chuck the wellie, pillow fighting and tilt the bucket. The recently added event of clay pidgin shooting was popular. It was at the heavy events that Ian Ross form Dornoch was able to break two records. In the confined light hammer event Ian broke his own record set in 2001. In 1997 the confined heavy hammer record was set and as this event has not been in competition for a few years Ian was allowed to claim the record in the heavy hammer open setting a new record after 25 years.
This year saw a rise in the number of stalls around the field. Face painting, papermaking, music cassettes and pictures, home baking, woodturning children�s toys to name a few. To raise funds for the Beechgrove garden project Gill Brice ran a very successful bottle stall.
Graham Bruce gave a continual and informative commentary of all the events but just before 2 pm Squadron Leader John Mcewan from RAF Tain took over at the microphone and introduced the display. At precisely 2pm the tornado jet appeared at the end of the games field from the north over the sea and for about ten minutes flew in various stunning and acrobatic aerial tricks and manoeuvres. The low flying jet, paradoxical to the recent advertising of military activities in the area, caused the crowd to stop and stare in astonishment at the feats and noise that usually would have had the Trusted Agents and hot line to range control busy with complaints! The sight of a single aircraft performing specifically for the occasion with a detailed commentary about the skills and service of the pilots was fully appreciated by all watching. The static military helicopter had flown in earlier in the day and was a popular attraction and left the field with a circular fly over at three thirty. This has been the first time that there has been any military involvement in the Highland Games and has been widely accepted locally as a very positive step in cementing better relationships. One afternoon sees the climax of preparation for the best part of a year. As soon as the thank you letters are dispatched to the sponsors and confirmation of winners are sent for official records the next years event is started to be planned. The Highland affair, both a gathering and a games with highland hospitality at its best came to a close at around 5pm giving everyone an opportunity to prepare for the evening session with a dance to local band Blue Ridge in the village hall.
Over the last year new ideas and new committee members have been taken onboard. Janet Cordiner retired after 16 years as committee secretary and was called on to the platform to receive a token of appreciation form the gathering. Lord Bob presented Janet with flowers and a gift before his opening speech. Lord Maclennan spoke expressively and with feeling For all the earth the wind doth blow, I dearly love the west but when you combine it with the north its unbeatable and here we are in the most north-westerly part of Mainland Britain together at this Gathering to celebrate strength and grace.
Lord Maclennan said We all have a special place in our hearts that we return to in our imagination and think about when we are far away and the Northwest was my special place. More than place is the people and the people of Durness open their heart to those that come amongst them, it is the friendliness that makes people want to return. This rare occasion was a very great privilege and enormous pleasure and a chance to wear the kilt again on a proper sort of occasion.