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2005  Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain

THE 2005 Durness Highland Gathering last Friday was once again a great success, attracting a large number of spectators and participants with an international flavour. Led by local piper James Mather, this year's chieftains - internationally acclaimed musicians Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham - were escorted by games president Ian Anderson to the village square at midday. There they were met by the chairman of Durness Highland Gathering, Iris Mackay, presented with the traditional badge of office - a cromag, or shepherd's crook - and introduced to the former chieftains who take part in the parade every year.

Then, led by the Ullapool and District Junior Pipe Band, the parade marched to the games field at Shore Park. On a dry but overcast day with a light cold wind, the introductions from the platform started with Iris Mackay welcoming everyone to the event.


She noted with sadness that in the past year two former chieftains had passed away, Charlie Mackay and Ken Macrae, as well as two local people who had given great commitment to the games, Jean Morrison and Hector Sutherland. She paid to them all. Little introduction was necessary for this year's joint chieftains. Shetland fiddler Aly Bain and accordionist/composer Phil Cunningham are one of Scotland's best known and best loved musical partnerships, with a following of ardent fans throughout the world. They have toured and recorded together since 1988 and to date they have recorded four albums. They each gave a short introductory speech and declared the 2005 Durness Games open.


It was obvious that the two celebrities enjoyed their day - a first for them - and declared they were honoured to be involved. They even joined the teams for the tug o' war! The field was surrounded by stalls and stands, with a presence by the Clan Mackay and the recent heritage project with several archive displays from Mackay Country. Gabe Norland, currently working on a musical arts project with local youths in Durness as part of the Scotland Against Drugs campaign, brought his mixing decks and sound system along, allowing the young people to try their hand at DJ-ing. The Northern Times also set out their stall, and gave away porridge oats with every purchase of their calendar!

The helicopter trips proved very popular and continued nonstop, with groups of five people at a time touring the skies over Durness with a bird's-eye view all afternoon. The Highland dancing and piping competitions, the heavy events, and the track, field and novelty events all had good participation from locals and visitors. There were a number of competitiors from the United States of America and Canada, with Ryan Verra of California winning two cups - the Rispond Trophy for open heavy events, and the Carrie Cup as senior champion in the open athletics. At 4pm an RAF Tornado fighter jet appeared and dominated the proceedings with a breathtaking display of aerial acrobatics. This huge machine twisted and turned this way and that, and performed some highly-skilled manoeuvres before flying vertically into the clouds and disappearing. The afternoon was expertly compered by Graham Bruce, with enlightening information about the events and their origins interspersed with humorous anecdotes and encouraging comments.


The games were brought to a close on the field at about 6pm with the presentation of cups and awards by Aly and Phil.

Later in the evening the games night dance was held in the village hall with Rhythm and Reel providing the music. Having such eminent musicians in the village meant that the opportunity to hear their music could not be missed, and on Saturday night Phil and Aly performed to a very appreciative audience in the village hall. The banter between them on stage is one of their hallmarks, and it was with some surprise that the audience learned that the Durness Highland Gathering was the first time in his life that Aly had worn a kilt. The Shetlander didn't find it an easy garment to wear, and there were plenty of laughs as Phil described how he had to show him how to put it on and take it off. "No Aly, it doesn't go over your head!" These supremely talented musical performers will be back in Durness on September 1 for the Food Festival.

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