21st May 2018
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Aly fiddles for Brough Lodge

Shetland fiddler Aly Bain and his long-time accordion sidekick Phil Cunningham are to perform in Glasgow in aid of the restoration of the Brough Lodge in Fetlar.

In the latest part of the Brough Lodge Trust’s ambitious plans to save the early 19th century mansion, the pair will play at a specially-arranged concert in the Alliance Française.

Bain, a patron of the trust, and Cunningham will be joined by French Celtic harp player Tristan Le Govic for the evening.

The A-listed building enjoys a beautiful and dramatic setting, on a windswept headland. Last inhabited in the 1970s by the late Lady Nicolson and her beloved cats, it could, if restored, provide a source of employment and income for the fragile island community.

The Nicolson family acquired lands in Fetlar in 1805 in the course of settling a debt and the new laird, Arthur Nicolson, is believed to have built Brough Lodge in the 1820s. Later, he built a folly in the grounds that was used for astronomical observations.

Nicolson was one of the lairds who participated in the clearances and the replacement of people by sheep affected Shetland in much the same way as other parts of the Highlands and Islands.

Fetlar saw a decline in population that continued through the 20th century, when the very survival of the community became a matter of real concern. Meanwhile, generations of Nicolsons led colourful lives, involving – among other things – the running of sheep stations in Australia and a remarkably brief marriage involving a New York debutante. The history of both the family and the house are documented in great detail, providing rich material to support the restoration project.

The Brough Lodge Trust was set up in 1998 to give the building a new future. However, there were legal difficulties and the trust was only able to acquire the building in 2007 following the intervention of its new chairman, Pierre Cambillard, a Frenchman who by then had fallen in love with both Fetlar and Brough Lodge, and who had seen the building’s potential.

The intention is that it should offer comfortable accommodation for a range of residential courses focusing on special interest groups, such as those interested in Shetland knitting and music, photography and archaeology.

The trust has taken care to ensure that the local community has been fully involved in the development of the project. There have been public meetings and consultation with Fetlar Community Council.

Bringing the whole project to fruition is likely to cost in the region of £3 million to £4 million and the trust has decided to split the work into two phases, the first of which is simply aimed at securing the building and ensuring that it is wind- and water-tight.

The greater part of the funding for the first phase is already in place, thanks to offers of assistance from Historic Scotland, Shetland Islands Council and the Shetland Amenity Trust. However, a major fund-raising effort is required to ensure that the whole project is completed.

M Cambillard said: “I’m confident that investing in Shetland’s heritage in this way will benefit the whole community. In restoring assets of this kind, we don’t just preserve the past; we also increase the attractiveness of our islands to visitors and help preserve or develop local skills, which is essential if the economy is to be diverse and prosperous. I would ask people to consider making whatever donation they can afford.

“It may seem ironic that the house of a rapacious laird should now be the subject of a restoration campaign; but that, for the trust, is part of the justification. The use of Brough Lodge as a tool to help turn around the island’s fortunes feels, in their view, like poetic justice. Apart from that, an architecturally unique building will be saved and the project will help to honour and strengthen important Shetland skills, especially in textiles and music.”

The fund-raising event begins at 7pm and the ticket price of £10 includes a glass of wine and the chance to sample Galette des Rois, a French pastry associated with Epiphany. Advance bookings are requested at the Alliance Française, 3 Park Circus, Glasgow (041 331 4080).

The trust would be delighted to hear from anyone wishing to make a donation to the project. Donations or any other form of support may be addressed to Brough Lodge Trust, c/o Paul Rutherford, 113a Commercial Street, Lerwick ZE1 ODL. A Gift Aid form is available on request and any donation will be acknowledged with a receipt.