Hall of Clestrain Open Day – 21st September 2019

By Bernie Bell

There have been various causes for celebration  relating to the Hall of Clestrain this year – for more info, have a look at the smart new JRS website  https://www.johnraesociety.com/ , which even an Internet dinosaur like me, has no trouble in navigating!

A major cause for celebration, was marking  the 250th anniversary of the completion of the building of the Hall in the first place, in September 1769, and, 250 years after completion, major works were carried out to weather-proof the Hall, in preparation for winter 2019.

The roof was repaired, wind and water-tight windows and doors were fitted, and also proper guttering, to carry rain water away from the structure of the building. This all left the Hall looking,  maybe not as smart as it did in 1769, but looking ship-shape and ( hopefully!) ready for all that the Orkney autumn gales can throw at it.

Hall of Clestrain Bell

Another major reason for celebration this year, is that the Hall now has a Visitor Centre!!!  This was put in place in June, thanks to the combined efforts of Ivan Craigie, Paddy Casey of Casey Construction, and the manoeuvring skills of  Heddle’s Heavy Haulage.  Casey Construction have previously earned the gratitude of many middle-aged ladies (including me), by providing a Portaloo for the Clestrain Open Days!

Hall of Clestrain visitor centre JRS

Picture by John Welburn ABIPP – courtesy of the JRS website.

A Visitor Centre was much needed.  Jean and Ivan Craigie have been very supportive, and very kind, in lending the JRS their garage as a gathering point/information centre for previous Open Days, but it will be much better to have a place where artefacts and displays can be permanently exhibited.  We’ve come a long way, since a marquee in a field, on a windy day!

marquee Hall of Clestrain Bell

And, even the weather joined in the celebrations for the Open Day on Saturday 21st September – blue skies, beautiful sunshine, and a slight breeze – just enough to keep the midges away.

I have to admit, I didn’t make it to the Open Day – I have a cold, but I still rejoiced in the fine day, for those who could get there, and …….there’s always next year, when, no doubt, there will be further developments to report on.

If you’d like to read about the story so far, there have been numerous articles in ‘The Orkney News’, following developments relating to John Rae being acknowledged as the first non-Inuit to trek the North-west passage.  And also, relating to plans to restore the Hall of Clestrain so that it can become, not only  a place of tribute to Dr. Rae, but also a centre for information about early links between Canada and Orkney.


There is still much to be done, and donations to the work – whether financial or by participating in the JRS events and fundraising – is very much appreciated.  Again, take a look at the website, for details.

The story grows – as all good stories do.

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