Assynt - A Special Place

Many of our guests have, like us, fallen in love  with Assynt after holidays elsewhere in Scotland. If you’d like to know a bit more about the area we’ve included some more detailed background information and have provided a range of books in the cottage. More information is available Achins bookshop and the Tourist Information Centre.

Assynt became more widely known in 1992 when local crofters, led by Allan MacRae, formed a trust to buy-out the landowner.  This historic event is viewed as a major tipping point in regard to community land ownership in the Highlands.

The population of Assynt is approximately 1200, half of those living in Lochinver, its main centre of population.  During the 18th century the interior of the Assynt parish was known for its cattle while the population on the coast mainly earned a living through fishing and potatoes. The parish suffered badly during the Highland Clearances when between 1812 and 1821 over 160 families were evicted, most of these resettled into the coastal townships of Assynt. A large number of the current residents and crofters are direct descendants of those affected by the clearances.

In 1860 Nelson’s Handbook to Scotland for Tourists the village is described thus:

“LOCHINVER village stands at the influx of Inver Water to the head of Loch Inver, and has a post office, an excellent inn, a pier, an occasional residence of the Duke of Sutherland, and about 120 inhabitants. Inver Water issues from Loch Assynt, makes a westerly run of 5 miles, and contains great store of trout and salmon. Loch Inver is a sea-inlet, 3 miles, long and mile broad, and affords good natural harbourage. All desirable facilities to sportsmen can be obtained at the Inn. The surrounding scenery comprehends prospects inland to Benmore Assynt, seaward to Lewis, and presents a remarkable mixture of conflicting characters”

The Economy of Assynt

Fishing, crofting and tourism are the major economic contributors to the economy of Assynt. The port was mainly developed after the war. It has a small and reducing number of local boats, and is a base for east coast boats primarily from the Moray Firth. The fishery activities are mainly restricted to landing catches, and to providing services and stores to vessels. Several French and Spanish vessels also land at Lochinver but their catches are consigned directly to the continent.

Many local residents are crofters although crofting alone rarely provides a sustainable income and as a result most take on a range of roles within the community. The Scottish Government Crofting Commission inquiry suggested a vision of growing, prosperous, inclusive, sustainable and self-directed crofting communities, seeing crofters as flexible and adaptable to change; forward looking and, through building on their heritage, able to grasp opportunities. The depopulation of the Highlands through the migration of young people to larger towns and cities has affected the sustainability of crofting communities. However it is hoped that this can be turned around by the planned community initiatives.  

Tourism is of increasing importance to the economy of Assynt and while the length of the tourist season is increasing it still remains mainly April to September.  Many local businesses are sustainable as a result of tourism but the seasonal nature has an impact on local employment opportunities.

Most visitors to the area do not realise how many of the local facilities are owned and run by the local community as social enterprises.  We’ve included details of just a few:

Assynt Crofters’ Trust

In 1989 the coastal crofting strip comprising 13 townships and 21,300 acres of land were renamed by the owners Edmund Vestey as North Lochinver Estate and sold to a Swedish land speculator. When, in 1992 Scandinavian Property Services went into liquidation the land was divided into seven lots for resale. Local crofters decided to try to buy the land for the local community and almost six months later the sale was agreed.

Today the estate is owned by the crofters who work independently of each other but offer fishing and stalking collaboratively. They are also developing forestry initiatives and a cold storage facility for venison. They are investigating Hydro-electric schemes and more recently have installed a wind turbine to provide a renewable energy source to their new office and a sustainable income stream to the Trust.

Assynt Foundation

In June 2005 The Assynt Foundation, purchased the Glencanisp and Drumrunie Estates. The estate comprises 44,400 acres and includes the iconic mountains of Suilven, Canisp, Cul Mor and Cul Beag along with Glencanisp Lodge a victorian hunting lodge.

Aiming to manage the land for the benefit of the local community and to create employment and enterprise opportunities, The Foundation plans to install a hydro-electric turbine on one of its lochs which will provide an annual income of up to £500,000 per annum and also to build low-carbon affordable housing with the intention of reversing the negative demographic trends of recent years.

The Foundation is a charitable trust that operates a number of income generating activities. It has established AssyntBiz,com a social enterprise trading subsidiary to develop enterprise opportunities.  Traditional activities such as fishing and deer stalking operate alongside the letting of Glencanisp Lodge. The conversion of outbuildings on the estate provides a ceramics workshop for renowned potter Fergus Stewart and rehearsal space for local bands such as Grouse Beater Sound System who recently appeared at the T in the Park festival and the Edinburgh Fringe. Award winning poet and novelist, Mandy Haggith regularly hosts writing workshops at the lodge.  More recently the restoration of the walled garden has provided community growing spaces and opportunities for a community enterprise growing fruit and vegetables

Assynt Centre

Community Care Assynt took over the running of the Assynt Centre in September 2010 following the withdrawal of the Highland Council. It now employs three members of staff and offers a weekday lunch club and drop in information service. The Assynt Community Transport social enterprise offers transport to users of the lunch club. 

Lochinver Mission

When the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen withdrew from the area the local community decided to operate the Mission as a social enterprise to promote economic development and community activity.

Assynt Leisure Centre

Assynt Leisure, Assynt Community Education and Assynt Christian Community Youth Project worked together to build the centre which was officially opened in July 2005.

Activities focus on Sport, Youth Activities and Learning. As well as the sports facilities and fitness suite, a range of classes and activities are also provided. The Centre funds local people to become qualified coaches . This ensures a supply of volunteers to run activities and develops the skill base of the local community. Youth activities are provided three nights each week and the Centre also has well equipped internet and video conference facilities.

The Centre is a Learn Direct and ILA provider and can provide a range of courses and programmes including University of Highlands and Islands (UHI) distance learning programmes and the Sutherland Learning Partnership. The Centre also provides adult basic education, enterprise training and work related courses such as food hygiene and first aid.

Culag Community Woodland Trust (CCWT)

CCWT was formed in 1995 to manage the 40 hectare mixed woodland of Culag Wood under a lease from Assynt Estates and Highland Council. CCWT also purchased the 3000 acres of the Little Assynt Estate in 2000.  The trust’s main objective is to create opportunities for employment, improve well-being for local residents and visitors and encourage awareness of the area’s natural environment. 

In 2008 Culag Enterprises Limited was established as the trading arm of Culag Community Woodland Trust to provide employment and training opportunities for local people. It undertakes land-based contracts for local clients improving and maintaining access, footpaths and dry stone walls.

Lochinver Village Hall

The original Community Room was founded by the Lochinver Coffee Room Association in 1878. It was set up as a library, reading room and to provide food and rest for "those respectable citizens requiring these comforts". The new building was erected in 1902 for the princely sum of £168. The Hall could be described as a social business. It receives no grant funding and its income is all self-generated. Over the years it has become a focal point for ceilidhs, concerts and meetings and is a regular venue for visiting musicians and theatrical groups. More recently BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions programme was broadcast from the venue.

The Future

For such a small community to ‘punch so far above their weight’ in terms of volunteer activity, financial contribution and time would be unthinkable in most other areas of the UK.

Although the area struggles for economic sustainability, the community is positive about the future. They see their goal as joined-up community activity to pool resources between organisations and achieve even greater results.