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Scallywags Nursery At Crossroads Nursery School Near Dunnet Is Saved

11th August 2019

You will note that Dunnet & Canisbay Comm. Council + Caithness Highland Councillors are thanked in this '' statement for their successful campaign to avert its threatened closure, at the start of the 2019/20 school year, of this valuable rural facility/service.

Ms Karen Williamson, the award-winning nursery unit's instructress, led that campaign ... including the national '' website as well as local petitions ... that led to a change of heart/about-turn by the Highland Council.

It had given almost no notice of the closure that alarmed the parents of young bairns in Mey, Brough, Scarfskerry and Barrock and others living in isolated farms or crofts in the area.

The Crossroads Primary school was founded & sited in its present location in the 1870s largely to cater for the offspring of farm workers, of which there was a considerable numbers then. Although Dunnet P. school was permanently closed in the 1970s ... with the village's pupils being bussed to Castletown P school after the latter's 'junior secondary' was shut ... Caithness County Council built a new school on the same site, essentially on an isolated farm field, less than two miles from Dunnet village. P. schools at Mey & (previously) at Brough were shut.

Some local persons thought then that ... with modern transport becoming available ... that it would have been more sensible to have built the new school in Dunnet village, but the Highland Region/Council has had to deal with 'the facts on the ground' on this issue, not 'what might have been'.

The population of Dunnet & Canisbay (ancient civil parishes that make up the D & C CC's area) is just over 30% of what it was in the early 20th C.

Dunnet, Brough & Scarfskerry (the latter from where it was said there was once a sea-captain from every house in the scattered crofting settlement) have a history of being major providers of officers for Britain's once-great Merchant Navy.

Amongst those was Capt. Tom Calder, (originally Rattar) master of the 6,000 tonne Liverpool, the biggest-ever British commercial windjammer at the end of Victorian times ... the iron-built vessel was over 100 metres long and had hollow steel masts so that the crew could access the yard-arms for setting the sails in relative comfort ... had been built to run non-urgent cargoes of bales of jute from Calcutta to the mills at Dundee, but later was a major trader in wool & grain from Australia, whilst also taking bulk cargoes to the USA. Her owners had specially toughened canvas manufactured for her 40,000 sq. feet of sails.

Another Dunnet seafarer piloted the first-ever vessel to sail though the newly-excavated Suez Canal c. 1869.

The Merchant Navy links were stimulated by not only the the presence of the international trade route of the Pentland Firth on their doorsteps, but especially also through the skills, foresight and tenacity of Victorian-era school-master Mr Edward Paterson. He established Caithness's first-ever night-school college, where he taught navigational skills to Dunnet parish's teenage lads.

Thus trained, they were able ... in scores ... to become deck-officer MN apprentices, that led to 'tickets' later eventually qualifying them (from Paterson's valuable 'grounding) to 'sea Captain' and 'Master Mariner' status, rather than having to join the MN as ordinary seamen, who had rough times afloat in those sailing-ship days, as the old 'sea-shanties' (contemporary sailors' folk-songs) tell us.

Paterson's sterling efforts at his (then) school at Burn of Ratter became transformational for the parish of Dunnet for several generations; the Red Ensign link still continues, but in a much reduced form.

With this reprieve, it is hoped that Scallywags will continue to provide practical benefit for generations of pre-school bairns, and is thus part of a notable ... & noble ... long-standing tradition in Dunnet parish. It is sited in modern a purpose-built facility in Crossroads school grounds, to which local persons in the 'noughties' (2000/2010) contributed by money or practical skills.

The D & C CC and the Councillors pointed out that Scallywags closure would encourage rural de-population, something that is totally opposed to the Council's vision as laid out in the recently-adopted CaSPlan (Caithness & Sutherland Development Plan (2018:2035) and that shutting the nursery could have led to longer-term plans of closing Crossroads P. School.

Bill Mowat


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Scallywags Nursery Opens New BuildingThumbnail for article : Scallywags Nursery Opens New Building
The new Scallywags Nursery at Crossroads school, Dunnet has capacity for 15 children and currently has 10.   Despite the past couple of years of uncertainty regarding the sustainability of some rural nurseries the committee of Scallywags has shown that it is viable and that there are sufficient children in the area to make use of the facility.  

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