Advertisements were placed in
national newspapers offering the buildings for minimal rent to those who
had skills and viable business plans. The “Far North Project” as it was
known, attracted applicants from all over Britain, and eventually the
first pioneer residents made their way north to embark on a new
experiment in living.
Music on the Craft Village Green
during the Northern Lights Festival 2007
buildings were empty concrete shells with no plumbing or electricity.
Some had no glazing and were barely habitable. The conversion of the
bleak and deserted barracks into homes and workshops was daunting.
During the early years there was also help from the International
Voluntary Service who erected electricity poles and ran power cables.
The county councillor, Mr. Christie Campbell, offered a great deal of
support to the early settlers. These first inhabitants not only had to
make comfortable homes for their families, but also seek out sources of
supply, organise reliable deliveries and produce work with no guarantee
of an immediate income.
coffee shop, pottery and the first commercial transport to Cape Wrath
were instigated by founder members, Paul and Yvette Brown. Over the next
few years, many new residents arrived, bringing with them children who
greatly boosted the school roll in Durness Primary School. It was not
until around 1970 that any kind of association was formed. Meetings were
held to discuss such things as advertising and the improvement of the
common ground. Eventually, tenants began pressing the County
Council for a chance to buy their buildings, and in 1980 Highland
Regional Council offered to sell the properties to the sitting tenants,
and the residents took up the offer to buy. There were at that time
sixteen independently owned businesses. This made Balnakeil Craft
Village not only the first establishment of its kind in Britain, but
also the only one to be owned by its residents, and this situation
continues to the present day. In the early eighties, Balnakeil Craft
Village Community Co Operative was formed . This was a social
development project to provide facilities and services to residents and
visitors. The co operative ran a visitor centre with exhibition and
coffee shop and a regular commercial bus service to Ullapool and Tongue.
The community co operative was an ambitious project, and although it ran
successfully for several years, was eventually wound up in late 1986.
Balnakeil Craft Village – Today.
The Craft Village today is a
thriving place. Although the population is smaller and the
demographic has changed, with no school age children at present,
the Village is home to around twenty six permanent and several
more seasonal residents.
The opportunities which brought
those early settlers to Balnakeil in the 1960s and seventies,
still exist. The Village offers a unique way of life to people
with initiative and imagination .
At first sight, Balnakeil Craft
Village can seem a forbidding place. The ex military buildings
do not lend themselves easily to being prettified and require
constant maintenance. However, a closer look rewards the visitor
with many quirky details including decorative tiles around
doorways and set into pavements, and sculptural pieces by
ceramicist Lotte Glob and woodworker Alan Herman , both early
“Fish Fence” by Alan
The many trees which were planted in
the early days, have now reached maturity, and soften the harsh lines of
the ex military buildings. There are also flourishing gardens with
vegetables and fruit trees.
The Residents - 2014.
Craft Village buildings, once cold draughty barracks, are being
continually upgraded by their owners, with double glazing and central
heating now the norm. Occasionally, buildings become available for sale,
bringing new residents with different skills and interests into the
Village has no particular guiding ethos or principle, but people with
imagination and energy are always welcome.
Ceramic Sculpture and Tiles by
Currently, there is a diverse range of residents.
Businesses include two studio galleries selling paintings and
prints, a ceramic and textile artist, a mosaic artist, a boat
builder, an enamel artist, a woodwind instrument repairer and
woodturner, a stained glass artist, a mixed media artist, and a
leather worker. Some operate premises open to the public, others
work by commission and to order. Some are seasonal, some open
all year round. There are self-catering holiday lets, a
bookshop/gallery and restaurant, an artisan bakery and an award
winning chocolatier with coffee shop. A masseur and hairdresser
is our newest resident.
The operator of the Cape Wrath
ferry lives with his family in the village, and a copy editor
and a software designer are able to work remotely from here.
There are also retired members of our community, the oldest of
whom is over ninety. From the earliest days, the population of
the village has tended to be multinational, and this is still
the case. Whilst the majority of residents are Scottish and
English, there are individuals from Germany, Austria, South
Africa and Belgium. There is no organising group or committee.
Those operating businesses do so independently of each other,
although there is some joint advertising. Much of the Craft
Village land is held in common by the residents, and group
decisions are made about its upkeep and management.
“ The Good Ship Starling” by Alan Herman.