It is already one of the most romanticised voyages in history, but now Bonnie Price Charlie's escape 'Over the Sea to Skye' is central to plans to grow the population on the land taken over in Scotland largest community buyout.
The community owners of the Hebridean islands of South Uist, Eriskay and Benbecula, will also announce today that they will build a new distillery with micro brewery, create an enterprise zone to boost sales of island food products and further extend the harbour at Lochboisdale to accommodate a new ferry terminal for the next generation of ferries.
The ambitious strategy will also include a new village around the harbour, the renovation of dozens of derelict homes for low cost housing and tourist rentals.
Purchased at a cost of £4.6 million, Stòras Uibhist at 93,000 acres is the largest buyout since the Land Reform Act was passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2003, giving crofters and communities the right to buy the land on which they live and work.
Two and half centuries ago Prince Charlie made his way to these islands after his Jacobite army was defeated at Culloden in 1746. But with the Hanoverian 'Redcoats' and Royal Navy searching for him, an escape plan was hatched. He would be taken over to Skye dressed as Berry Burke, an Irish girl travelling with Flora MacDonald and six others.
On a June evening they left the south side of Loch Uisgebhagh on Benbecula's east coast, sailing into the immortality created by the Skye Boat Song written by Sir Harold Boulton in 1884.
Yet there is nothing to mark where they left on their famous journey, something that should be addressed by Stòras Uibhist's plans. A heritage trail is to be created celebrating the islands' history including the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and the sinking of the Whisky Galore ship SS Politician, in the Sound of Eriskay 1941.
The chairman of Storas Uibhist, Angus MacMillan's own mother came from the south of Loch Uisgebhagh where Prince Charlie and Flora MacDonald had left. He said: "There is still nothing to mark the spot, but the true story is important to these islands."
Mr MacMillan led the successful buyout campaign ten years ago, and said: “The next decade is about growth. With 25 staff now working for the estate, we have set in place strong foundations for the future. The economic future of the islands is in our own hands and our focus will be on creating jobs, stemming outward migration and increasing the population.
“We have a huge opportunity to use the natural resources of the islands, at land and sea, for the benefit of the people who live here. We need to build more houses, attract new people to the islands and increase tourism.”
He will reveal the plans at a special conference on South Uist today on employment in remote rural areas.
He said that in the first ten years, Stòras Uibhist had led the development of a £10 million wind farm with profits reinvested locally, raised funding for the creation of a £10 million marina at Lochboisdale and redeveloped the Old Tom Morris links course at Askernish, which attracts golfers from all over the world.
He continued: “It is incredible what has been achieved by the people of these islands since 2006 when we took control of our own lives. We have developed two £10 million community projects, restored a golf course that is winning international acclaim and from a standing start, the people’s estate now has a balance sheet with £35 million of assets. None of this would have happened under private land owners but we have to keep working hard to secure our own future.”
Today's conference comes in the week it was announced that the population of the island of Eigg, another famous buyout 20 years ago, had risen to 105 from 64 at the time of the buyout.
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