Enthusiasm was the hallmark of the week long BHS Scotland Highlands and Islands Tour mid-October which comprised 909 miles by car and four ferry crossings and the two flights to reach the more remote areas. Skye, Stornoway, Orkney, Caithness and Shetland all enjoyed a visit from BHS Chairman Professor Derek Knottenbelt.
In six days we worked towards creating a new committee on Shetland, liaised with the North Coast 500 route in terms of road safety and provided equine CPD to three Scottish island veterinary practices. It was a daunting ferry flight drive dash from the Hebrides to the Northern Isles, including Caithness. In all, we ‘touched’ 1000 of the BHS’s most remote and northern members with a full education programme.
Skye first where fantastic area rep Sam Nicolson recommended accommodation, booked the venue and promoted this event; after checking into the guesthouse a visit to Portree Stables was in order to enjoy one of their lessons in action and a clipping session that was being carried out during the school holidays. Dinner followed by an evening talk on the work of the BHS was a great success, before Derek delivered a very informative talk on a range of subjects relevant to horse owners on the Isle of Skye with lots of questions and discussion. Three new members joined up on the evening.
We took the ferry from Uig to Tarbert on the Tuesday morning and then followed a lovely scenic route to Stornoway where the wind was starting to pick up. We were greeted by friendly volunteers at their amazing Lochside Arena for a valuable veterinary session with Derek, offering expertise on a variety of topics. We had the opportunity to meet up with a couple of the volunteers prior to the evening lecture, including the familiar Paul Phillips. Despite the horrendous weather on Tuesday evening we had a good turn out for our BHS lecture where four new members joined up on the evening. We are looking forward to holding more events at Lochside in the future, and we loved the Stornoway hospitality.
Wednesday morning was the 7am ferry to Ullapool then Wick with a pre-arranged meeting with NW500 to raise road safety concerns concerns on behalf of local members, where the route managers agreed to put dead slow fliers in each NW500 application pack – so good work there! We also had time to fit in a yard visit with old friends at Achalone Activities before boarding the evening ferry to Orkney and experienced a rather rough crossing, where we met local BHS representative (Katie Coward) who was responsible for our Orkney itinerary.
On Thursday morning, vet clinic with Derek Knottenbelt at Cruan Riding Stables we had an amazing turnout of 32 people coming to watch these clinics. Thanks to Cruan Riding Stables for hosting this and to North Vets and Flett & Carmichael Vets for organising such great clients, before moving to a local community centre to hear presentations about the BHS with Derek delivering veterinary lecture. Four more members joined up at Orkney. Thanks to all who organised the catering on the day – very much appreciated by all.
Following the lecture, we took the ferry back to Caithness for an evening lecture at the Highland College. Once again, we had a fantastic turnout and more members joining on the evening. Back into the car after this lecture, to drive to Aberdeen for a morning flight to Shetland on the Friday.
We had a couple of hours before checking in for our flight on the Friday morning. We were then greeted in Shetland by Susie Nicholson, our BHS representative on Shetland. We had a busy schedule on Shetland, which started with a visit to Houlls Horses and Hounds – the home of the Icelandic ponies on Shetland. This was an amazing experience being able to watch these beautiful horses being ridden – well done to all for doing an excellent demo ride for us to view their different gaits.Whilst there, Derek offered some advice on a pony suffering from Alopecia. Thanks to Dorothy at Houlls Horses and Hounds for her hospitality.
We also had the opportunity to see some Shetland ponies before heading to Lerwick. In the afternoon, Derek met with the vets at Shetland Vets at their practice in Lerwick to discuss various issues and cases. In the meantime, Susie and Jean (another valuable volunteer) got the hall set up for the evening talk. We managed to quickly check into our guesthouse before meeting for a quick bite to eat with many of the Shetland volunteers. Shetland certainly won the prize for the best turnout and another four members joined giving us a total of 20 new members during the tour. On the way back to the guesthouse, we had the amazing opportunity to see the Northern Lights – this was fascinating. We left Shetland with plans for their own BHS committee.
One comment on Facebook summed the tour up:
"Hi, that was an absolute fantastic evening tonight in the college. Very interesting and learned loads of new things. I'm delighted to be putting money towards such a great charity."
The problems with size, remoteness, weather, tourism and isolation of Scotland have been re-emphasised during this epic six-day journey Derek said: ”The complexity of this week emphasised the fact that Scotland is a special case – it is far easier and quicker to get to Mexico or Australia! The enthusiasm of all these people is unquestioned – they are desperate to play an active role in the society, which is so inspiring.”