THE Saltire which flies from “the birthplace of the Scottish flag” was ripped away by gales – and replacing it is proving a nightmare.
As the debate over independence for Scotland gathers pace, it has emerged that recent strong winds damaged the Saltire Memorial in the grounds of Athelstaneford Kirk, East Lothian.
The current Saltire at the 1965 memorial was ripped away from the 30-metre flagpole, along with the ropes.
And because it is in a churchyard, using scaffolding or a cherry picker to replace the flag has been ruled out for the time being.
The village, near Haddington, bills itself as the “birthplace of the Scottish flag” because it was there in AD832 that Picts fighting Angles at the Battle of Athelstaneford saw a vision of a St Andrew’s Cross in the sky.
A centre at the village church attracts around 5,000 people a year who come to see the memorial, the flag, and learn more about the tale.
But replacing the 46-year-old flag, which was blasted free a month ago, is proving tougher than agreeing a referendum question on Scottish independence.
Dave Williamson, convenor of The Scottish Flag Trust, said: “The flag has been flying constantly since it was erected in 1965, so the priority is to get this back up as soon as possible.
“It’s getting up there that’s the difficulty.
“Because it’s in the church grounds in a graveyard you can’t get any vehicles in there, so that would rule out a cherry picker, and you can’t just balance a ladder against it.”
The Trust have called in experts to work out how to solve the problem.
Two options are on the table, both of them expensive. The first is putting up scaffolding around the pole, the other is taking the pole down.
Mr Williamson added: “We’re in the process of getting a few quotes for the work.
“The money will comes from the reserves, which will hit them a bit, but not leave us penniless or anything like that.
“The decision’s been made that we have to do it, and that’s all there is to it.”
Staff checked on the flagpole following the December gales and discovered the flag and rope lying on the ground.
“The pulley at the top had been of the pole has been dislodged and the rope holding the flag frayed,” said Mr Williamson.
Until the problem is sorted out, the floodlighting in the kirkyard is simply illuminating a flagpole with nothing attached.
The Trust is now in a race against time to get a new Saltire on the pole by April, when visitors start to arrive.