River Ness… plus crafty Tom & a writing comp

River Ness – is it back to earning its keep?

Most of the world’s great cities straddle a river; London has the Thames and Glasgow the Clyde. Prague grew up either side of the Charles River, which it relied on for trade and transport, and Paris would be nothing without the Seine. Inverness may be on a different scale, but it is no different – its twin assets of the River Ness and the Beauly/Moray Firth placed it as the capital of an ancient kingdom which stretched from Perth to Sutherland. Evidence of its importance exists in ancient stones and settlements; the Knocknagel Boar Stone, Clava Cairns and Craig Phadraig.

In the 1600s, our coastal location allowed Inverness, the Highlands and Moray Firth towns to trade with France and The Netherlands. The River Ness created a safe and natural harbour for a mighty shipbuilding industry, and the North Sea was easier to navigate than the mountainous terrain that the A9 now cuts through.

Ships still use the Moray Firth, of course, but what about the river? If it wasn’t for the Ness, we wouldn’t have the city. But does it still earn its keep?

Sunlight dancing on the surface of the river at Ness Islands, Inverness

It’s bonny, but is that enough?

I’m just back from a lunchtime walk around the wonderful Ness Islands and today’s sunshine made it something special. I sat at the very tip of the islands, right at that hypnotic point where the water has to decide which way it’s going to flow. For once I got that beautiful wooden bench to myself.

The islands were busy, with dog walkers, cyclists and kids poking sticks into the shallows. I saw my usual heron at one of the burns that feeds the river from underneath Island Bank Road. No otters or seals, but there was plenty of birdsong, plus the music of the water over the stones. I got back to my desk refreshed.

Archimedes Screw at Whin Park… and more

An artist’s impression of the planned hydro electric scheme and visitor attraction. Image: Highland Council

Answering my own question, the river will soon be earning its keep as more than just a bonny foreground for tourist photos of the castle. It’s finally being used to create clean energy, following the example of the impressive Highland Hydro schemes of the 1950s.

A new Archimedes Screw hydro scheme at Whin Park will generate around 550,000 kWh of energy per annum, supplying the Leisure Centre with around half of its electricity. A swanky visitor centre will explain how it all works.

And while the river’s bars and hotels quite rightly capitalise on its beauty, one hotelier, Jon Erasmus, is using it for more. Work has just started at the Glen Mohr on the banks of the Ness to use the natural heat from the river’s groundwater to heat the hotel.

The Gathering Place – will it add, or detract?

Good news stories, both. But what of the most controversial news story connected with the river in recent months, new artwork The Gathering Place? It’s hard to get a sense yet of how it will look, and what impact it may have on the wildlife of the river. In terms of beauty, will it add or detract? In terms of usefulness, will it attract visitors?  Only time will tell.

K2P2, Pike, tuck, twist… splash

A crocheted cat couch, of course.

Finally, diver Tom Daley has an Olympic Gold. Did you think he already had one? Me too. But just when we thought we couldn’t love the Olympian any more, Daley was caught knitting at the poolside, as he watched the springboard final.

Daley’s Instagram followers will know that he took up knitting and crocheting during lockdown, and that he’s actually quite good at it. As well as jumpers for himself, a sofa for his cat, Christmas decorations and hats for kids, he’s raffled several hand-made items for charity, raising thousands.

Spring Bulbs. Well, it was a seasonal topic when I started it…

I love the tiny Union Jack pouch he made for his medal, ‘to stop it getting scratched’. But best of all is that Tom’s new hobby makes me feel marginally less nerdy about taking up cross-stitch. But I’m not sure my uneven sewing measures up or would raise any cash at all. Especially since I lost my glasses… But I am a tiny bit proud of my ‘Spring Bulbs’ though – hanging on my wall after being expertly framed at Wasps Studios.

Celebrate your writing!

While some of us have taken to crafty nonsense during lockdown, others may have taken a more cerebral route, and found themselves writing poetry and prose, maybe for the first time.

If that sounds like you, or you’ve always written and feel ready for an audience, the Highland Literary Salon have just launched their 2021 writing competition, on the theme of Celebration.

Submit up to 500 words of prose or 20 lines of poetry and you could be joining HLS’s celebrations in November during Scotland’s Book Week. Full details of how to enter are on their website: https://www.highlandlit.com/2021writingcompetition
Good luck!

This column is published by Highland News and Media in six of their newspapers across the north of Scotland. If you can, please support print media and the future of independent  journalism by buying a paper, or subscribing online. 

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