Tourism goup seeks support for new strategy

Hopes for a new local marketing strategy were outlined at a major tourism industry event for the Isle of Skye held at Skeabost Hotel near Portree on Saturday.

The hotel's conservatory was packed with people involved in all aspects of the local tourism - from artists to hoteliers, from shop owners to landowners, from restaurateurs to photographers.

The meeting formed part of the Scottish Tourism Alliances' plan to increase overall earnings from tourism by £1 billion by 2020.  

A number of official speakers lauded the Outer Hebrides for the way the Outer Hebrides Tourism group - an industry-led body - had multiplied its membership tenfold and had just been instrumental in the launch of Hebridean Way cycle route from the Butt of Lewis to the Isle of Barra and the Eat Drink Hebrides food trail.  The launch had taken place at the new Harris Distillery in Tarbert, itself a major addition to the Outer Hebrides range of attractions.

Marc Crothall, the chief executive officer at the Scottish Tourism Alliance said the Skeabost event was one of a host of local events under the banner Connecting 2020 - the aim is to have at least 2,020 conversations with local businesses although probably 4,000 will take place.  He pointed out that the tourism industry employed 220,000 people and involved around 27,000 businesses. This region has highest growth of tourism employment inn the whole country.

The Scottish Tourism Alliance is the tourism industry’s voice and direct link with Government and has a seat on the UK-wide tourism body.  The STA 'On The Road' tour, of which the Skeabost event was part,  is intent upon connecting with as many small businesses as possible during Tourism Week in the run-up to the two-day Signature Conference in Edinburgh, along with the Thistle Awards, Scotland’s national celebration of top tourism businesses from every region. 

The leadership of the local tourism body Destination Skye & Lochalsh - with the slogan Developing All-round Excellence – is changing, the meeting heard, and a new group of tourism businesses is taking the lead with a new venture, which will have a much wider focus upon marketing the area and planning a future strategy.  

Among those contributing towards making these changes is Donald MacDonald, Manager of Aros in Portree, who said before the meeting:  “This is a real opportunity for everyone in Skye to work together to strengthen the local economy which, as everyone knows, is driven by tourism. 

"We need to collectively capture a new spirit of engagement, partnership and drive that will see this iconic destination reach its real potential. This will be the time to look at new initiatives, find effective solutions and help to develop the tourism product on Skye through a quality focused approach. Tourism is not just about beds and food, it engages every other service that is being offered on Skye.”

Shirley Spear, of the Three Chimneys Restaurant, who is also involved in a variety of other national promotional groups, said the new group, including Anne Gracie, of Skeabost Hotel, Donald MacDonald and Rob Ware from Sleat, wanted to create a "brand new conversation" about the future of the tourism industry in Skye and Lochalsh.  She outlined the way the structures of the industry had changed over the years, from local tourist boards onwards, to the present model of local industry bodies or DMO's. 

However, she said, this area had "not been very successful in pulling together a collaborative working group" and unlike all other parts of Scotland "in recent years…we don't seem to have made a great deal of progress in building a cohesive strategy for our local industry."  DSL started its life with a big flourish but "did not develop as many of us had hoped" because it had not been widely enough supported, she said. She praised the work of Neil and Rosemary Colquohoun, who along with Clive Pearson, had been the DSL driving force and had enabled it to achieve the progress which it had made.  But the group could not succeed in the future without developing a strategy and a business plan, winning external funding and involving everyone in the industry in Skye and Lochalsh.

(More information about STA, Tourism Week and the Roadshow, can be found here



From Glendale, Skye to the Arizona desert…with Gaelic

University of Arizona Gaelic Research Scientist, Muriel Fisher, with Dr Andrew Carnie, Professor of Linguistics and Dean of the Graduate College, and her
2015 Excellence in Community Linguistics Award


The historic, adobe-style Arizona Inn in the desert city of Tucson might seem an unexpected place for two island Gaels to meet (writes Katie Macleod), but then again ‘unexpected’ is a word that describes the career of University of Arizona Gaelic Research Scientist, Muriel Fisher, to a tee.

For the last eight years Muriel – who hails from Feriniquarrie in Glendale on the Isle of Skye – has been a Senior Research Scientist at the University of Arizona in the southwestern USA.  She is part of the University’s Critical Language Programme, aiding the Department of Linguistics in their research of Gaelic.  It’s one of 14 ‘less commonly taught’ languages in their remit, taking its place in the course catalogue alongside the likes of Kurdish and Swahili.

But how did the language of the Misty Isle find its way into classrooms located in the legendary deserts of the American West?  According to Dr Andrew Carnie, Professor of Linguistics and Dean of the Graduate College, it all began as “a happy accident.”  “We happened to have a number of faculty [members] interested in Celtic languages and Muriel lived in town. Having access to a native speaker consultant is a critical part of doing research on a language.”

Interaction with the communities who speak the language is essential for successful linguistic work: this is why the faculty journey to Skye annually to conduct experiments and collect data, with Muriel acting as a liaison.  “They have a bunch of experiments that I help them develop, and then I act as a liaison between the locals and the linguists.”

“Linguists are like brain surgeons, they want to dissect it [the language], and they write papers about various aspects of it. It’s completely different to what we might think. It’s mathematical... I love all the different bits of Gaelic that they teach me, things that I would never ever have known,” says Muriel.

Andrew, who invited Muriel to join the department, explains that “Linguists are interested in how humans use, produce and understand language, as well as how we acquire it and how we pass it on to the next generation.  Gaelic is a particularly interesting language. While it is genetically related to English and Spanish... it has many properties that make it very different in the spectrum of languages we look at. It has all sorts of rare properties.” 

In an attempt to understand these rare characteristics, Muriel and her colleagues are currently working on a project involving both the University of Arizona and the University of Nevada; they recently received a grant from National Science Foundation, allowing them to undertake necessary linguistic research into Gaelic on the Isle of Skye.  

An official partnership is also in the works between the University of Arizona and Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, where Muriel has been teaching summer classes for more than 16 years.  If all goes well, a student exchange will take place, with students from Skye studying in Arizona, and vice versa.  “So many people care about the language, culture and traditions and are available to teach us about their language,” says Andrew.  “This makes the language a joy to study while at the same time contributing to the science of language.”

As if university classes and linguistic research weren’t enough to keep her busy, Muriel wears yet another hat: she offers Gaelic lessons via Skype to students around the world.  Her lessons (both on and offline) are not solely about Gaelic grammar, but Gaelic culture too.  “We come from a storytelling culture,” she says.  “So I also talk about where we grew up and our culture. You can’t separate them. Out here in the desert I talk about the sheep and the peats!”

Over the years her Skype students have logged on from as far afield as Colorado, New York, Mexico, England, and France. But whether they’re in the Sonoran Desert, in Skye, or around the world, the students always move Muriel with their desire to learn the language.  

“They move me to tears,” says Muriel. “That’s what gets your heart.  What makes it possible is the people, because the people themselves, they’re so interesting... because they’ve got this desire for the Gaelic. I just get really sentimental about it. There’s something about it that gets them in the heart and in the soul.”

Muriel is modest about her role and her achievements: it is over an hour into our conversation before I discover she has been recognised at the highest level by the Linguistic Society of America (LSA), receiving the 2015 Excellence in Community Linguistics Award. Muriel is only the second person to receive the award, which “recognises the outstanding contributions that members of language communities make for the benefit of their community’s language.”

“I think that’s alright. I’m quite chuffed,” admits Muriel, in that understated fashion typical of islanders. The LSA honoured Muriel not only for her “outstanding work with the teaching, promotion, and documentation of Scottish Gaelic” which has helped people around the world learn (or indeed, re-learn) Gaelic, but also for her contribution to linguistic research and documentation efforts relating to the language.  

It’s an impressive achievement, even more so for someone who found their way into teaching via all manner of adventures at home and abroad.  Muriel first moved to the USA in 1972, or as she says with a laugh: “When I was young and fabulous.”  Having previously worked as an artist in Tuscany and at the post office in Glendale, she soon found herself selling traditional Skye scones in Woodstock and even sheep herding with the Navajo in the Arizona desert.  

But it was teaching English in Mexico that opened the door to her current career. “That boots on the ground confidence... I think it helped me a lot,” she says of her two years across the border.  It was that experience that saw her start private Gaelic lessons in Tucson almost 20 years ago, begin working with the now-closed Tucson Open University, and graduate into the indispensable role she plays at the University of Arizona linguistics department today.

Muriel couldn’t have done any of it, she says, without her family: her husband, Paul Fisher, whom she affectionately refers to as Darling, and her two children, Alexandra and Jahil, who live in Los Angeles and New York City, respectively. Alexandra’s son, Cole, is even taking informal Gaelic lessons from his Nana.

Through it all, Muriel retains her attachment to Skye. She misses the land, and the sea, and - like so many islanders - still calls it ‘home.’ “Our earth home” she says with a laugh. That sounds so new agey! My home is with my husband, because I love him... but also we go ‘home’ when we go home [to Skye]. You’re connected to the land here, and you back and you recalibrate... You feel recharged, you seriously go back and charge your batteries.”

Muriel will be returning again this summer to teach her regular Gaelic classes at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, as well as a new addition, one centred on ‘The Island.’  She says it will be much more hands on, with students going on trips to the likes of Raasay and Cana, engaging in situations where they will use the language they are learning.  As Muriel explains, “When you’re out there and you’re ordering tea, you’re going to remember your ‘bun’ or your ’soup’ or your ‘coffee’ – that stuff - much better.”

“I’m very very grateful to them,” she says of Sabhal Mòr, and the opportunity the role affords her to return to the island. “I don’t know what I would have done without them, because it’s Skye, you know?  I would still be grateful if it was on Uist or Harris or Lewis, but the fact that it’s on Skye is just fabulous.”

As we joke and laugh over gin martinis at the Arizona Inn, it’s clear to see that Muriel doesn’t take herself too seriously. She strives to make her Gaelic classes fun and enjoyable, and has a passion for the language and the people who are trying to keep the language of the island alive – even if it’s in the desert on the other side of the world.

(Katie Macleod, who formerly worked for The Skye Magazine, is an internationally recognised travel-blogger based in New York -

College moves ahead with village plan

Sabhal Mor Ostaig, Skye's National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture, has long been at the forefront of promoting and nurturing the language and culture of Scotland.  With that remit, it makes sense that the college would grow and expand according to the needs of its students, staff and wider community. 
Part of that expansion involves the creation of a new village in Sleat called Baile na Cille Bige or Kilbeg Village, for which the latest outline plan is shown above.  The aim is to provide up to 75 new housing units for the local community including the college's own staff and students; new college teaching, administrative and research facilities; as well as sports and recreation facilities for college users and the local community. 
Dòmhnall Angaidh MacLennan, Head of Estates and Services, says that this expansion will help the college to grow and prosper.  "This is a long-term plan," he stated.  "This is going to be happening over a 25-year-long time frame.  We formally opened Phase One in October 2015 in the presence of the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP."
Phase One, seen above,  consisted of site servicing and infrastructure, as well as the development of a new Administration, Research and Knowledge Exchange building, which has been named Ionad Iain Nobail in honour of the college’s late founder Sir Iain Noble.  Dòmhnall Angaidh stated: "It was Sir Iain's vision and energy that first got the college going. His legacy very much lives on with how the college has grown since its inception and naming the first building at Kilbeg in Sir Iain’s honour made perfect sense."
Costing over £6m, this significant capital expenditure project has been enthusiastically supported by the Scottish Government. Funding assistance has been provided by the Scottish Funding Council, the Scottish Government, the European Regional Development Fund (Convergence) of the European Union, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, The Highland Council and the Sabhal Mòr Ostaig Development Trust which incorporates the former Highland Fund and Urras na h-Aiseirigh.  Dòmhnall Angaidh said: "The college now has almost 43 years of growth behind us since being founded in 1973 and we offer upwards of 100 jobs here, on a year-round basis, in addition to offering courses in Gaelic language and related subjects to up to 1,000 students annually across our entire range of courses. The college, as a whole, generates a turnover of £5m per annum.  Each of our funding partners to Phase One at Kilbeg have been crucial to the college’s success to date.  They have wanted to work with us again and help the college continue to prosper."

Phase Two will see the redevelopment of the existing Àrainn Ostaig steading and adjoining buildings to provide upgraded facilities for conference and training activities together with associated delegates’ accommodation and catering provision.  Phase Three will involve the development of college and community indoor and outdoor sports and recreational facilities as the heart of the new village being planned for Kilbeg. 

The new building, Ionad Iain Nobail, was officially opened on 21 October 2015 by Nicola Sturgeon MSP, First Minister of Scotland.  The First Minister, also in the same visit, delivered the annual Sabhal Mòr Ostaig lecture, during which she emphasised the importance of the Gaelic language and culture.  She is quoted as saying: "What we're trying to do now is to ensure that our education legislation and schools system help, rather than hinder, the development of Gaelic.  So, we're adopting a proportionate and practical approach which will help to secure the language's future.  We want more people to learn Gaelic, to use it and to see its relevance in their everyday lives.  And, in doing so, we will ensure that Gaelic contributes to the social and economic wellbeing of local communities." 
The recent and emerging developments at Kilbeg will help ensure that Sabhal Mòr Ostaig remains at the forefront of promoting and teaching the Gaelic language together with its rich research, media and artistic traditions, while also providing for the practical needs of the growing numbers of college students, staff and and its wider community of users.

(Article written by Roz Skinner)

Luke Skyewalker!

Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker duelled in the foyer of the Aros, while Obi-Wan Kenobi looked on. Darth Vader marched purposefully up to the counter and asked for popcorn. The room was crowded with familiar Star Wars figures - and you would be forgiven for thinking you had stepped onto the set of a science-fiction film.

The explanation was simple - to celebrate the release of the latest Star Wars film, the Aros was hosting an event involving Star Wars themed costumes, with a prize for the best outfit.  Adults and children alike dressed up as their favourite characters.  Originality and creativity shone through, and the prize was awarded to a young Princess Leia.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens brought the three original main characters, played by Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford, back together in an action-packed adventure.  Set three decades after the original trilogy, the galaxy faces a new threat.  The film introduces new and engaging characters (as well as an endearing new droid  called BB-8) who unwittingly get caught up in an adventure to find Luke Skywalker and save the galaxy.  

The film was rumoured to have been filmed on the Isle of Skye and part of the enjoyment for local viewers was watching out for familiar landscapes.  Ireland also featured in the film - Skellig Michael, an uninhabited island, provided an incredible and intriguing backdrop for the final scene of an equally incredible film.      

Memories of holidays in Skye…50 years on

It was 1964, we were in our twenties, living in Manchester with two small children.  Both of us had already fallen in love with Scotland and had hopes of going to live and work there. 
In the spring we had seen an advert in what was then the Manchester Guardian for a Holiday Let, a little cottage on Skye at Herbusta, five miles from Uig, so we booked it for three weeks in September. 
We drove to York and put the car on the Motorail to Scotland, whilst we all slept in the sleeper compartments, to get off next morning at Inverness.  Whilst the cars were unloaded we went straight into the magnificent Station Hotel for porridge and kippers!
The night before we had accidentally left our little daughter's supper in the car, we could not reach it as it was all locked up on the train's car wagons, so she had gone to sleep hungry.  The kindly waitress at the station hotel brought her a huge silver dish of scrambled eggs and within about five minutes she had eaten every scrap!
Refreshed by breakfast we set off in our old Ford Popular to drive to Skye.  It took us far longer than we had anticipated to get from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh because of the winding roads and passing places.  When we arrived there we had a long, long wait for the ferry (three hours).
Finally having arrived on Skye, we were unaware how long it was going to take us to get from Kyleakin to Herbusta.  But make it we did, arriving in the dark at our cottage.  A lovely fire was lit to welcome us in, a jug of milk on the table, and a kindly neighbour unloaded our sleeping children and carried them into the cottage.
We loved it, the wonderful fresh air.  One day the wind blew away the nappies drying on the line, two fields away.  We drank in the beauty of the scenery, which stirred our souls as we pushed the old pram (conveniently left in the cottage) round the roads and lanes.  We were very near Flora Macdonald's monument.  There was a tea-room near there and we had frequent visits for scones and warm pancakes.  We were welcomed every visit with great enthusiasm and I can still hear the gentle lilt of their lovely voices.  Three-year-old Mark fell in love with the tea-room lady and wanted us to visit her again the next year…which we did! And how much we enjoyed the views of the outer islands from the cottage windows.  To us, in 1964, it was all so magical.
June 1965 saw us back on Skye at our little cottage, this time venturing further afield to the sandy beach at Staffin, and walking into the paths at the Quirang.  We did not want to leave but this time we drove home to Manchester, staying the night at the Kings Arms at Lockerbie.  We arrived home to find a letter for David offering him a job in Glenrothes new town (he was an architect)… so by September 1965 our dream was fulfilled and here we were living in Scotland. 
Move on 50 years (September 2014), we decided with a nostalgic urge to find our little cottage again.  We came on the bus from Edinburgh stayed in Portree and the following day caught the bus to Flora Macdonald's monument but there was no sign of the tea-room.  However, we set off down what we felt was the right road but it started to feel further than we thought.  Then we found a cottage which in our memory looked like ours so we plucked up courage to knock on the door.  This was opened by a lovely lady called Mary Ann Graham who was so welcoming, invited us in for a cup of tea and rock buns and then she sent us on our way and we soon found the right cottage.
Mary Ann was just my age so she had been living in her croft all these 50 years, whilst we had been living in Glenrothes, Lanark, East Kilbride, the Isle of Arran, and now Edinburgh. 
As we stood outside our former holiday let, memories flooded back, it had changed with a new extension added on, but there was the lay-by where we parked our old Ford Popular and the cows ate the rubber off the windscreen, and the rubber off the running board, we don't know how tasty it was but we made it home to Manchester without it! 
As soon as we got home to Edinburgh we hunted round for our old 1964 slides of Skye.  We printed them off and sent some to Mary Ann who loved them, and then we decided to share our story with the Skye Magazine.