*Courtesy of the Ross-shire Journal we are able to reproduce the article and photographs which appeared in the edition of 18 November 2005.
Storms are last straw for historic landmark
Campaigners have lost the fight to save an 18th century Easter Ross landmark, which had been earmarked for an exciting new future as an interpretative centre for ornithologists.
The B-listed girnal, or grain store, near Alness, had to be demolished because of safety fears after being lashed during the weekend storms.
The building was next to a public right of way and had become seriously unstable, leaving the authorities with no option but to order its demolition.
Attempts to save the building, built for the local laird in 1774, had been under way for the past year. But escalating costs, and difficulty in making regular contact with the owner in Australia meant that little progress was made.
The girnal was one of only a handful left around the Cromarty Firth. They were built to enable the landowners to store their grain before being loaded onto ships taking it to markets in the south and overseas.
The store at Alness was regarded as a particularly fine example of a link with a way of life that has long since disappeared due to the mechanisation of agriculture.
Jim Farquhar, area planning manager in Ross and Cromarty, said he was called out to the girnal on Saturday to discover that bad weather had seriously affected the stability of the structure.
He said, “It had become extremely dangerous, especially as it was next to a right of way where people walked without restriction. An additional problem was that it was built on sandy soil and the foundations had been undermined by rabbit warrens.
“We really had no option but to demolish it, so we arranged for a local building contractor to bulldoze it and it crumbled before our eyes. Everybody was very upset about it. It was a very striking building.
“We had been trying for a year to identify sources of funding to keep it in situ, but the weather beat us to it. A year ago it would have cost £35,000 just to stabilise it, but by last summer that figure had doubled to £70,000.”
With the backing of the local community, plans were being explored to give the girnal a new lease of life as a centre for bird-watching because of the Cromarty Firth’s international reputation as a haven for bird life.
That would have had significant cost implications, believed to be in the order of £250,000, but would almost certainly have attracted substantial sums in grant aid.
During the 1970s the site was owned by the construction giant Taylor Woodrow, in anticipation of lucrative energy-related developments along the Cromarty Firth. However, these failed to materialise and it was sold to the present owner, who lives in Australia.
Mia Scott, director of the Highland Buildings Preservation Trust, said the loss of the girnal was a big blow to those who had fought so hard for its retention. The Trust endeavours to acquire derelict historic buildings for repair and re-use.
“It is so sad, ” she said. “The girnals were a traditional feature of rural life and there are so few of them still around. But it was in an exposed position and I can understand the concern about aspects of public safety.”
She added, “The location would have lent itself so well to an interpretative centre for bird life. The proposal was put to our board a month ago with a view to it becoming a project. This building had great potential for re-use.”