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New approach might be the saviour of Inverness's Old High Church

By Neil MacPhail

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Old High Church.Picture Gary Anthony
Old High Church.Picture Gary Anthony

THE group struggling to raise funding to save the Old High Church building in Inverness say they may have to be “realistic” and unite with other interested parties to make progress.

Friends of the Old High need to raise at least £150,000 to buy the historic building but progress has stalled a little since setting up in September 2022, despite a potential boost from the Kirk’s links with the globally popular Outlander TV series.

The Church of Scotland closed the building as a place of worship last year as part of cost-cutting across Scotland.

With its amazing historic links to St Columba, the Battle of Culloden, the Highland regiments and in more recent years Outlander, there is concern that the city’s oldest church will be lost as a community asset.

The Old High campaigners believe the building has potential as a hub for multi-cultural entertainment, educational, social and tourism activity.

Group secretary Jean Slater said they had hoped to open a dialogue with the Church of Scotland to explore reaching a financial deal that would allow them to take on the building sooner rather than later.

But the Friends were dismayed when the Church of Scotland did not reply to their approach.

She added: “They haven’t replied to our solicitor’s letter we sent to see if we could work something out and come to some sort of arrangement.

“I think we have to be realistic and probably have to work with other interested people to make progress.”

In the meantime the Friends are working with the local Impact Hub that gives free business advice for social enterprises and helps as a business consultant.

And they have been buoyed by a group of American Outlander fans who visited the church recently and were so impressed by its history and shocked at its closure that they pledged to take on the Old High as their charity of the year at a big event in October bringing the prospect of US dollars for the coffers.

Beth Pittman, left and Mhairi Jarvie at the Old High Church.
Beth Pittman, left and Mhairi Jarvie at the Old High Church.

The iconic building, featured in author Diana Gabaldon’s early Outlander books and TV series along with Culloden Battlefield and the Clava Cairns near the Highland capital.

This connection has attracted thousands of Outlander fans to make pilgrimages to the area from all over the world and especially the USA where interest is massive where so many have Scottish roots.

The North Carolina-Old High connection was made through local Outlander fan Mhairi Jarvie, who although not a religious person, has a passion for local history and preserving our heritage, and joined the Save the Old High Church group.

She said: “A few years ago I met a couple from North Carolina on an Outlander visit and we became friends.

“About two months later they returned with a group from Outlander North Carolina (ONC) and I gave them a tour of the churchyard and the ancient graves and showed then the bullet holes on the church walls where Jacobites were executed after Culloden in 1746.

“ONC has responded by making our fundraising effort their charity of choice for their big annual event, the Fraser’s Ridge Homecoming which runs from October 12-14.

“I met ONC founder Beth Pittman who said that they are wanting to make a big push for the Old High.”

ONC member Dawn Woo explained: “Fraser’s Ridge Homecoming is held at Leatherwood Mountains Resort in the mountains of western North Carolina.

“The area is in the near vicinity of the fictional Fraser’s Ridge in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books and gives our attendees an idea of the remoteness of the backcountry that Jamie and Claire (star characters in Outlander) would have experienced.

“Beth was so moved by the fate of the Jacobites after the Battle of Culloden at the Old High, that she made the decision right there to name the Friends of the Old High as the charity of the 2023 Fraser’s Ridge Homecoming to honor those souls lost at the Battle of Culloden.”

ONC members are shown round the Old High Church.
ONC members are shown round the Old High Church.

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