Twin towns celebrate 25 years of friendship with visit

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This year marks the 25th anniversary of the first time the hand of friendship was extended across the Atlantic Ocean and grasped by residents of Pendleton, South Carolina, and Stornoway respectively.

The two towns are now famously twinned and with a quarter of a century now of friendships and memories shared between the two with a huge number of exchange visits over the same period.

And in 2017 the link remains as strong and fruitful as ever as evident by a number of American visitors to the island this week.

Students from Pendleton High School were this week afforded a kind gesture from Mother Nature with unseasonably mild weather for the group to enjoy trips around Harris and the west side of Lewis during their visit.

The group also enjoyed lessons at the Nicolson Institute as well as a guided tour of Lews Castle.

Peigi Maclennan, herself a visitor to Pendleton in the 1990s as a school pupil and now one of the organisers, believes the exchange trips are of a huge benefit to all involved.

She said: “It has been a very successful trip and everybody has had a great time.

“This exchange trip is wonderful for all involved and it provides life skills and experiences most won’t find anywhere else.

“Going across the world and staying in a home with a family is very different to staying in a hotel.”

She added: “All of the teachers who were involved in setting up the exchange trip in the beginning have all retired now and we now have several primary teachers involved but we would like to get more involved from the Nicolson Institute too.”

The intital idea to twin a town on the Hebrides and another in South Carolina arose by a chance encounter in America’s capital.

Former Pendleton mayor Carol Burdette told the Gazette that the foundation stones for a quarter century - and counting - of friendship were set before being nurtured and cultivated through the years by dedicated staff on both sides of the sea.

“It really was a lucky chance which created the link,” said Burdette.

“A lady named Jane Cahaly went to a conference in Washington DC with the state department of education and met some folks from Stornoway and began conversing.

“It was just a chance meeting which blossomed into this remarkable friendship and the people that come here from Pendleton just fall in love with the place.

“When I came over in 1995 I was with the town council and I promised that if I ever got elected mayor we would have a sister city. We began working on that in 1999 and the Convener and Chief Executive were very supportive. We had a wonderful twinning ceremony.”

The next group of Hebridean adventures will cross the Atlantic during the Easter school holidays in 2018 with a group of S5 and S6 students from the Nicolson scheduled to continue this well travelled and much loved road of friendship and discovery.