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AN offer to give the Old Man a helping hand has been rejected by Historic
Scotland – and it has angered Wick conservationist Iain Sutherland.
He branded the quango as “bloody-minded” and “snobbish” in dismissing the
offer to tidy up the ruined 12th-century keep which stands sentinel on the
coast just south of Wick.
Mr Sutherland is chairman of the Wick Society but occasionally undertakes
additional projects assisted by a group who share his interest in
conservation. He wrote to Historic Scotland volunteering to clear up rubble
which had fallen from the Old Man, as it is known locally, although its
official title is the Castle of Old Wick.
However, while thanking Mr Sutherland for his “kind offer”, Historic
Scotland added they would have to decline it.
Their regional services manager, Thomas Simpson, pointed out that the castle
had been in the guardianship of the Scottish ministers and their predecessors
since 1957 and it carried “clearly defined parameters in which we are allowed
to operate and manage it”.
He went on to say that Historic Scotland was aware of the castle’s needs and
further works had been programmed for the future which would involve careful
handling of, as Mr Simpson put it, “what can only be described as a very
The reply brought a sharp reaction from Mr Sutherland, who took umbrage
particularly at its tone. He stressed there would have been no question of
his team carrying out any restoration or structural work.
He said: “In any case, we have considerable experience of such work over the
years, as is evident at Whaligoe Steps, the castles of Sinclair and Girnigoe
and the lighthouse at Auckengill.
“But all we intended doing in this case was a general tidy-up to make things
more presentable for tourists who visit the site, out of the goodness of our
hearts and at no expense to Historic Scotland. It would have made the keep
more accessible to tourists and a bit more attractive.”
Mr Sutherland said that the response from Historic Scotland had not come as
“They adopt the same bloody-minded and snobbish attitude to anyone who shows
any initiative,” he claimed.
“They take the view that because they didn’t think of a project then it can’
t be worth doing. It’s their prerogative to turn things down but I reckon
that we have demonstrated more building experience in the last thirty years
than that collection of trosks.”
Mr Sutherland said it was a typical example of the way conservation was being
conducted. The official attitude appeared to be that it was more attractive
to leave buildings in a ruined state than to try and do something about them.
He observed: “They are only ruins because no-one maintains them.”
Mr Sutherland fumed: “There are signs up inviting holidaymakers to visit the
site, but what do they find when they get there? A heap of rubble which is an
embarrassment and sends them away with the wrong impression about the area’s
“Historic Scotland have a lot to answer for. Our tourist industry is
desperately trying to recover at the moment and we need all the visitors we
Mr Sutherland said that if the site was properly cleaned up and laid out the
Old Man would be “immensely important” as an example of where Viking
nobility once lived.
He said he had no intention of taking the matter further but gave the
following pledge: “There is a lot of dissatisfaction about Historic Scotland
and the way they discharge their duties, and when people decide to replace
them they will have my full support.”
l Repairs have had to be carried out at an historic Caithness site following
the slippage of stone on the archway at Sinclair Castle.
The work was authorised by the Clan Sin-clair Trust, which was gifted the
ruined Sin-clair and Girnigoe castles by the Earl of Caithness.
The Earl of Caithness said yesterday: “It is sad the slippage happened, and
it underlines just how fragile the castles are, but we are pleased the trust
has been able to rush in and carry out the work which required scheduled
Meanwhile, the trust is hoping to hear next month whether its Heritage
Lottery bid for £500,000 has been successful. The money represents about 50
per cent of the estimated £1 million cost of preserving the 15th-century
Plans are also being drawn up to restore Sinclair Castle and develop other
facilities at the site over the next few years, including the creation of
study and Clan Sinclair centres and a nature reserve.