Caithness Chiel to be Chieftain of Helmsdale Highland Games
A CAITHNESS man who has become one of Sutherland's favourite adopted sons after living in the county for 35 years, will be Chieftain of this year's Helmsdale Highland Games at Coupar Park on Saturday 17th August.
The honour of being this years Chieftain has gone to Ian Sinclair who has lived in the picturesque Sutherland village for a total of 35 years over two different periods, and is a very well – known, popular, kenspeckle figure in both Caithness and Sutherland.
Ian,66, was a founder member of the Committee which revived the Helmsdale Highland Games in 1980 – now firmly established as one of the main events on the North Highlands social and sporting calender. He was Chairman of the Games Committee from 2006 to 2009 and is currently vice – chairman.
A tall, well-built, gregarious Highlander, Ian was born on a croft called “The Laid” at Occumster, near Lybster. His father, John, was born there and his mother, Mary belonged to Armadale, North Sutherland. He was one of a family of three – with Ronnie and Margaret, his older brother and sister.
He attended Newlands Primary School and then Lybster Secondary School which he left when he was 15. Back then further education at University or college was not as easy accessible as it was today, and, as Ian explains: “In these days, in my home, the attitude was 'out to work and pay your way'.”
The young Caithnessian had a hankering for crofting and his first job was with a local dairy farm. However, while he much enjoyed the work the wages were poor, and after two years he opted for a new career in the hotel business.
Over the next 15 years he worked in various hotels across Scotland – from the Burnbank Hotel in Twnholm, in Kircudbright, to the Culag Hotel, Lochinver, and the Royal and Holburn Hotels, and latterly the Park Hotel in Thurso, where he was manager.
And it was in Thurso he met and fell in love with a Helmsdale lass, and Ian wed Janice Miller in Bunillidh Church, Helmsdale in 1976.
The couple have two children, Laura, 29, who works in the nursing profession in Thurso, and Martin, 27, who is still single. Laura is married to Mark O'Brian and the couple live in Portskerra, North Sutherland. Martin has his own joinery business in Helmsdale.
Ian left the hotel trade in 1978 and moved to Helmsdale to take up a post with British Rail on the maintenance side – a position he held for the next 26 years.
His diligence earned him several promotions and eventually he moved to BR's headquarters in Inverness which meant moving home to Culbokie on the Black Isle for the next 10 years. During that decade he was tasked with opening new maintenance offices in Forres, Elgin and Keith, and his beat took responsibility for the Inverness to Aberdeen rail line.
This would involve setting out from Culbokie early in the morning and travelling as far east as Keith and beyond on a daily basis. As Ian recalls: “It was pretty hard going work wise...but the money was good!”
In 1998, fate decreed that the Sinclair family return to Helmsdale. BR decided to re-open their maintenance office in the village and Ian was handed the job of organising the re-opening and taking charge of BR maintenance from Kildary to Wick and Thurso.
Simultaneously, Ian and Janice took over the Bannockburn Inn in Helmsdale which they successfully operated for seven years – subsequently running a popular Bed and Breakfast in the village.
Although he took early retirement from BR several years ago, Ian believes in keeping himself busy and enjoys fishing and gardening; travels every now and then to watch Wick Academy and Brora Rangers; and occasionally goes on gold-panning excursions in Kildonan – but has yet to strike gold!
Said Ian: “It is a great honour to be choosen as Games Chieftain and I am very much looking forward to this years event. I have always enjoyed my contribution to the Helmsdale Highland Games Committee and I am delighted that it is growing and really going from strength to strength. Long may it prosper.”