When an old friend learnt we were moving to Inverness after living on the Black Isle for more than 30 years, he immediately invited me to join a group of volunteers. For some years he had been a member of the team who tend the woodland and the network of paths, on the hill overlooking and around the old Craig Dunain Hospital. My friend became insistent when he heard that our new house was to be in that same Victorian building.
But ‘lockdowns’ meant it took well over a year before our house was ready and I was able turn out for the Dunain Community Woodland’s (CDW) ‘Monday Club’. This body of volunteers most certainly should not be confused with the right-wing political grouping of the same name. Dunain’s version just happens to meet every Monday morning to tackle the tasks of the day. These can range from strimming the paths to the judicious felling of selected trees; clearing gorse and bracken to building benches; mending fences to planting saplings and putting up tastefully painted notice boards. After a couple of hours the group gathers to discuss world affairs, the meaning of life or the fortunes of Inverness Caley/Ross County. These exchanges are conducted while sitting on logs drinking tea from thermos flaks and enjoying an apparently endless supply of apple tarts.
The dozen or so who can turn out on a Monday morning are mostly retired, but come from a variety of backgrounds. Significantly some worked in the old hospital when it was operating. They can still close their eyes and see the golf course, football pitch and farm that used to be part and parcel of Craig Dunain. They watch from the hill as the wards in the old building that used to be their place of work, are converted into flats and town houses. But there are also former firemen, council officials, businessmen, a crofter who used to work for the Crofters Commission, a retired vet and now a second former journalist. For the most part they just enjoy being outside doing some practical work, and making a wee bit of difference.
I learnt early that several of the volunteers had been involved for over 15 years, going back to when Dunain Community Woodland (DCW) was established. That was in 2005 when Robertson Homes, the company developing the Craig Dunain site, had proposed transferring management responsibility for around 100 acres of woodland and hill to DCW. That transfer has never been completed, and so the ambitious plans for a community woodland have not all been realised. Much has been done over the years, however, from the planting of an area christened the children’s forest to staging small festivals in the woods.
Meanwhile the Monday Club’s work continues every week. It is an entirely voluntary effort with members using their own equipment and providing the fuel for their chainsaws, strimmers, etc. There is an obvious pride in caring for the area. It an area used by hundreds seeking local recreation or those embarking on/ just finishing the Great Glen Way, 74-mile long-distance walking route to Fort William. It has been obvious from the start that the volunteers make a point of engaging with those crossing the hill, whether to provide local information or encouraging those embarked on some physically demanding effort - it is amazing the number who seem to enjoy cycling up a steep track.
Monday of course is not the best day for those who might want to join the team, but have a job or other weekday commitments. Consideration is being given, therefore, to see if it might be possible to start a team who could give a few hours over the weekend. So watch this space.