What do we think of when discussing the Highland’s of Scotland? Mountains, lochs, wildlife, snow as well as the gaelic language and culture.
While the majestic hills can seem like they are everywhere the Gaelic language is now confined to the islands located in the west with a stronghold mostly in the Outer Hebrides. The Highlands and Islands region accounts for 55 percent of Scotland’s 58,652 gaelic speakers. It is the island communities of Skye, the Western Isles which are now regarded as the ‘Gaelic heartlands’.
The Highlands are often portrayed as the most romantic part of Scotland and you can see why. Stunning unspoilt nature mixes with rugged mountains, deep blue lochs and empty forest glens.
Majestic Red Deer rule the hills and birds of prey often rule the skies.
Due to the ever and fast changing weather the Highlands can have a mystical feel to the visitor. One moment you see the hills, the next they are gone covered in mist. Sunny spells and dark shadows move over the hills and the white snow capped mountains in winter just give the Highlands a mystical touch.
FOOTBALL IN THE HIGHLANDS
Football in the Highlands does not begin and end with the Highland League. The aim of the North Caledonian Football Association is to promote and extend the game of association football in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
The area is widely represented in the North Caledonian League with clubs drawn from areas across the mainland counties of Inverness, Ross, Sutherland and Caithness. As far north as the Orkney & Shetland Isles and as far west as the Outer Hebrides, clubs are represented in cup competitions.
A league representing the area was introduced in 1896 as the North of Scotland Junior League. Its initial aim was to provide a league playing format for Junior Highlands clubs and predominantly the reserve teams from senior Highlands League Football clubs.
Upon its formation these teams mostly came from the Inverness area.
By 1906 though, the Association had welcomed several new member teams from outside the Inverness-shire area, specifically Nairn Thistle and Dingwall Victoria United who in time became known as Ross County.
By 1948, the league had dropped its Junior status and became known as the North of Scotland 2nd XI League or Highlands Reserve League. By the 1970s, the Highland League reserve teams which had frequently entered teams gradually dropped out with most finding that it was not financially viable to run reserve teams each year.
In a bid to shake up the set up and be seen as a more respectable senior football system, a decision was made to rename the set up the North Caledonian Football League in 1984.
Several senior clubs graduated from the league and used the system as a stepping stones to senior Scottish football. Amongst these clubs are Highland League Rothes, Wick Academy, Fort William. Ross County whose reserve team have won the league on numerous occasions are now a Scottish Premier League side with a set up that is the envy of all Highland clubs.
With the 2020-21 season approaching the league plans to split into two divisions.
Unanimous agreement has been made that for the 2020-21 season only, member clubs are to be divided into a two-tier league programme with new and returning clubs joining the bottom tier.
The divisions were determined as follows:
Macleod & MacCallum North Caledonian League Division 1
Golspie Sutherland, Halkirk United, Invergordon, Orkney, St. Duthus, Thurso FC
Macleod & MacCallum North Caledonian League Division 2
Alness United, Bonar Bridge, Bunillidh Thistle, Inverness Athletic, Loch Ness, Nairn County ‘A’, Scourie
The North Caledonian FA are now also working with the Highland League and North Region Junior FA towards ensuring closer links within the Scottish football league system. It is hoped that more eligible clubs will be able to compete for promotion into the Highland League with the likes of Halkirk United speaking of progress to the Highland set up.