The Laidhay Longhouse

Last Footsteps of Home, inspired by the true story of Catherine McPherson who boarded an emigrant ship bound for the New World in 1813, used many film locations throughout the far north of Scotland including Brora, Golspie, and Kildonan. The journey however begins for the films heroine inside the authentic Laidhay Croft Museum, Dunbeath. I’m was hugely excited that the film used actual locations connected with the Highland Clearances in Caithness as well as Sutherland. It’s very important that our story has an empathy with the area and the circumstances that the local people often found themselves facing. You can only do that by being on the land and breathing in the air where the more turbulent events of the Clearances happened. Laidhay Croft Museum, Dunbeath was definitely one of the hidden treasure of our locations. The two hundred year old rushed thatched roof longhouse was a ready made film set for us with the most amazing collection of 18th and 19th century agricultural and domestic items. The period box-bed and living areas are of special interest to our interior scenes. Laidhay, a Highland Croft comprising 16 acres of arable together with rights over 15 acres of rough grazing, came into the possession of the Bethune family in 1842 and remained with them until 1968. William (Beil) was the last to live here. In 1969 the building came up for sale and was purchased by Malcolm Cameron. It was also about this time that Mr Bert Mowat, proprietor of the Portland Arms Hotel, Lybster, made the suggestion that the croft should be restored as a museum. In 1970 the Laidhay Trust was set up with the building finally opening to the public in 1974.

Elizabeth Cameron from Laidhay said: ‘'We are delighted to be involved with the production of Last Footsteps of Home. It will certainly be a great boost for the museum in highlighting how people lived, worked and how Laidhay fitted into the local community. I feel very confident that people will receive the finished film positively.” Nearby Laidhay is Dunbeath Heritage Centre offering a wealth of information through its manuscripts, photographs and items of local culture as well as displays. Giving a wider context to the Highland Clearances, the centre is also a repository for writer Neil M. Gunn, whose reputation as one of Scotland’s most important twentieth century authors was established in books such as The Silver Darlings and Morning Tide. A few miles further south is Badbea, a former Clearance village by the cliff tops. The village was populated when the staths of Langwell, Ousdale and Berridale were populated in the 18th and 19th Century by families evicted from their homes cleared for the establishment of sheep farms. The evicted tenants who settled in Badbea worked out plots of land on the notoriously steep hillside. It was reported that the women would tether their children and livestock to the rocks while gutting the fish. I first visited Laidhay and explored the surrounding area as a teenager and then many times as an adult. When I started writing Last Footsteps of Home there was only one place I had in mind for our heroine to begin her emotional journey. As the landscapes, seascapes and hinterland of Dunbeath once inspired a giant of Scottish writing, it has me also. Without the much-valued work of these small but so important museums we simply could not tell our story as imagined. For that I will be eternally grateful.

© 2017 Robert Aitken

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