"It was the kind of coverage you couldn't buy," enthuses Gary MacKay, chief guide to the Kinlochbervie High School group who returned to Edinburgh last week after an amazing few days in Georgia, USA. He had just witnessed what looks likely to go down in history at the biggest media exposure North West Sutherland has ever received.
Newspapers, television and radio stations queued to interview high school pupils, Isla MacLeod, Scourie, Richard Mackay, Achriesgill, and Josh Talbot, Laxford Bridge. Accompanying the pupils as well as Gary were English teacher, Michael Thornton, and artist, musician and parent-helper, Ishbel MacDonald, Durness. Ishbel sold a number of paintings and played the fiddle, usually accompanied by Michael on guitar, during their stay.
During the week, Richard gave a Powerpoint presentation about the North West Highlands to Mackintosh County Middle School while Josh and Isla played the pipes at Mackintosh County Elementary School, Mackintosh County Middle School and Mackintosh County High School.
While visiting the high school, they were welcomed by Judith Floyd, a representative of the American State Department of Education. This official welcome was a result of Congressman Jack Kingston's Congressional letter of support which opens the door for state funds from the American government to develop the project, including funding to send pupils and teachers from Kinlochbervie to Darien. Congressman Kingston's letter, addressed to Gary McKay, is reproduced below. "This is the first of two letters, explains Gary. "The second one will be the one he's pushing through the joint session of the entire congress, the senate and the congress. That's an endorsement of the entire representative body of the United States government." Georgia is bigger than all of Scotland, with fourteen million people and the third largest agricultural state in the USA.
"The biggest thing for me was for them to see how successful their ancestors were, this is what you achieve when you work together. Perseverance. Making it happen. So round Darien they see the streets have Scottish names."
a bit stupid in my kilt to start with, admits Josh, "and
worried that people would laugh at me, but it turned out fine.
Isla and the other guests went swimming. "The Americans thought we were mad," she says, "but we thought the water was warm. "I got stung by a jellyfish! Twice!" Later, she got her nose sunburnt, but not before noting that Josh got a girlfriend, Britney ("He'll be cool when he goes back."), and Michael, canoeing down the River Darien (with alligators), rescued a teacher when she fell in. "I took a photo of it," she recalls.
Richard noted that "the roads were absolutely huge" out of Atlanta and really enjoyed putting, playing golf, canoeing, all of which he excelled at.