Castletown Heritage Society News 2015

News Archive Pages
2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011

Dateline: Saturday 21 November 2015

A Song Among the Stones

The discovery of a slim volume of poems written by Scottish writer Kenneth Steven gave Muriel the idea of elaborating the historical events described in it. The poems told of a small number of monks who set off from Iona in the 6th century in search of solitude. In their tiny craft they made the perilous journey facing storms, thirst and fear.

With the help on art installation artist Jana Embury and her assistant Bobby McCarthy, Castlehill Heritage Centre was transformed into the heaving ocean. Heralded by a "processional" from bellringers from Castletown school under the direction of Miss Watson, and a rendering of the Iona boat song, the scene was set for Kenneth to read his evocative words. The poetry was accompanied by a magical background of music from Caithness harpist Erica Sinclair who researched folk music from Norway, a lullaby from Iceland and church plainsong to ensure authenticity.

Under the encouragement of art teacher Mrs Fell Castletown Primary schoolchildren had also worked to produce a wide range of painted and crafted interpretations of the monks journey. These continue to be on display at Castlehill for a few weeks.


Dateline: Sunday 4 October 2015

Summer School Week 4

We’re drawing to a close with our week-long excavations at the Baillie Hill excavations. It’s been an interesting week, and really instructive, full of unexpected results! Our hut-circle has turned out to be more than meets the eye. We’re now pretty confident that the building has re-used the site of an earlier burnt mound, digging the shattered stone and burnt soil that is typically found on one of these sites and using it as core material of the roundhouse. So, our site is both a burnt mound and a hut-circle- two Bronze Age sites in one!

Unfortunately we have very few artefacts to report- the site seems to have been kept very clean and tidy, not good for archaeologists! Most of the week has been spent determining which features might belong to the burnt mound, and which are part of the later structure; the challenge for our post-excavation analysis will be in identifying good samples to date each phase…

Today, Gemma and Paul excavated a deep pit within the house, which seems to have been clay lined, while Roy, Terry and Anna excavated post holes and other features within the building, which may be the remains of structural supports for the roof. Roland investigated the entrance, finding that the bank was lined with a kerb of set stones and a flagstone paving, underneath which was a drain slot, cut into the natural subsoil and probably designed to soak water away from the entrance.

There has been lots of recording to do as usual, and Muriel and Vanessa drew the sections through the roundhouse, recording the layers that had been excavated. Tomorrow, our job is to undo all of our hard work and fill the trenches back in!

To keep up to date with the latest on how our amazing archaeological project is going, check out the blog on the project website!

Dateline: Wednesday 30 September 2015

Summer School Week 4

The fourth and final week of fieldwork as part of A Window on the Hidden Bronze Age Landscape of Caithness is well underway now! We’ve chosen as the subject of our investigations into Bronze Age settlement an interesting hut circle at Skaill, close to Baillie Hill and the chambered cairns on Cnoc Freiceadain.

The site was not known before the LiDAR survey was carried out, and our team of volunteers were the first to record the site, so we are genuinely breaking new ground! Our first couple of days on site have involved deturfing the trenches, and already we’re finding lots of exciting archaeology. Wall faces and paving stones are already visible, as well as arrangements of edge-set stones… perhaps the remains of a hearth or post settings?

Perhaps the most interesting result so far has been the discovery of masses of burnt stone and charcoal in the bank of the hut-circle- typical remains usually found on a burnt mound, sites that are often interpreted as Bronze Age cooking sites. Was our site originally a burnt mound that was dug into and reshaped to make a roundhouse?

Today volunteer Vanessa excavated the remains of what may be a very crude ceramic vessel… It was in very poor condition though, so we lifted it intact and encased in the soils that buried it. We’ll have to await excavation in the lab before we can confirm what it is! Stay tuned for more updates!

To keep up to date with the latest on how our amazing archaeological project is going, check out the blog on the project website!

Dateline: Saturday 26 September 2015

Wattle and Daub Workshop

As part of the Bronze Age archaeology project Castlehill Heritage Centre hosted a two day workshop on wattle and daub. Conducted by Chris Goodman, participants spent the first day learning the skill of cutting and selecting the willow withies and then how to weave and twist them round the upright sticks in order to form a stable panel.

Wattle hurdles were used in early times to make portable enclosures for cattle and sheep. Interior walls of round houses were constructed in the same way. The second session was devoted to applying the daub, a mixture of earth, dung, horse hair, straw - anything to make the woven hurdle wind and water-tight. Much to the delight of the younger participants (and some of the older ones too) it was found that the best method of application was to hurl handfuls of daub at the wall from a distance, preferably over-arm!

Examples of the finished hurdles are at Castlehill. Come and admire them.

To keep up to date with the latest on how our amazing archaeological project is going, check out the blog on the project website!

Dateline: Saturday 5 September 2015

Summer School Week 3 - a test for hardy souls!

A core of hardy archaeology volunteers braved the most trying of weather to fulfil the tasks set for week three of the Bronze Age project. The usual Monday training workshops held in the warmth and comfort of Castlehill were led by Dr Graeme Cavers of AOC. The instruction covered the various techniques for measuring and recording the soil present in sites already identified as of interest. This follows the initial spotting done remotely by LiDAR scanning, and on- site measuring and surveying.

Dr Cavers delivered a fascinating and well attended public talk on Tuesday evening for those interested in the Bronze Age project but unable to take an active part. Gemma Hudson reported on the work done in the field to date.

Duly trained in the theory, the band of volunteers put it into practice as they used magnetometry, resistivity and GIS ground survey techniques. Test pits were dug at various intervals across the hillside and several samples from each meticulously bagged and labelled. These samples will be analysed by AOC. Some of the soil analysis will be done in the Archaeological research Facility at Castlehill Heritage Centre. The sites identified as interesting were then trenched at judicious points to find the walls of hut circles, if indeed they turned out to be this. At least one structure is proving a bit less usual in construction. Below the level of the walls were "ard" marks in the sub soil - an indication of early prehistoric cultivation.

The picture on the left shows Richard and Jonie Guest, Paul Humphreys, Winnie Main and Muriel Murray on site at Baillie Hill.

To keep up to date with the latest on how our amazing archaeological project is going, check out the blog on the project website!

Dateline: Saturday 15 August 2015

Summer School Week 2 - putting theory into practice

Another successful week was had looking at Caithness' Bronze Age landscape from Monday 13th - Saturday 18th July 2015. This time round volunteers were trained in hand-drawing methods such as plane-table and taped offset, along with digital technologies like total station and DGPS survey. Training was started at the Castlehill Heritage Centre on the Monday with some survey of the courtyard but continued all week out in the field on the real archaeological sites.

The image on the left shows volunteers Susan and Winnie record a modern stone wall with a plane table while in the background volunteers Paul, Terry and Alan receive total station instruction from AOC's Jamie.

Tuesday-Thursday and Saturday were spent out in the field using the volunteers' new skills around the areas of Broubster and Shebster that we walked over during the Summer School Week 1. Click on the image on the right to see a LiDAR image of one of the areas explored - a rich Bronze Age landscape, just west of Shebster, although the field boundaries are probably later in date.

Friday was spent in the Heritage Centre due to the terrible wind and rain that was happening outside. Indoor work may have made us all fair-weather archaeologists but great progress was made in the final report for the project as the teams both digitized their site plans and compiled their gazetteer of sites that had been recorded.

Thank you and well done to all our volunteers that came out this week: Paul, Alan, Terry, Susan, Winnie, Carol, Val, George, Muriel, Jonie and Richard. Special thank you to Alan and Muriel for working around us at the Castlehill Heritage Centre, making us cups of tea and generally being very patient with us.

For the latest information on how our amazing archaeological project is going, check out the blog on the project website!

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Prehistoric Festival at Yarrows Archaeological Trail

Fancy learning about copper smelting, antler carving or life in general in prehistoric times? Then visit the prehistoric vestival to be held at North Yarrows on Saturday 29th August, celebrating the life and works of Joseph Anderson.

Click on the poster for further details.

Dateline: Thursday 25th June 2015

Summer School Week 1 - a participant's view

Chris Sinclair, Managing Director of Sinclair Aerial Surveys Ltd was one of the entusiastic participants in week 1 of the summer school. We were delighted to receive feedback of his experiences plus some of his aerial images:

"Congrats on a cracking 1st week of Bronze age History, thoroughly enjoyed myself.

This past week has been very interesting. All week AOC Archaeological Group have been in Caithness working in tandem with Castlehill Heritage Group to educate the community about the Bronze Age Landscape in Caithness. The week began with a classroom session at Castlehill on LIDAR, and how to use the data to spot potential sites of interest. Then from Tuesday onwards we were out in the field, inspecting the sites identified from the LIDAR data. It was fine to get tramping around areas of the county I'm not to familiar with. The weather wasn't ideal, but I did manage to get some drone flights in to get aerial shots of some of the sites. The image above shows 2 Bronze Age Hut Circles, each about 12m in diameter.

Learning how to identify these sites was very interesting. Through the use of Maps, Google earth and LIDAR there are a plethora of tools to assist, including the use of iPads in the field. The areas we investigated had an abundance of Hut Circles, Cairns and some potential burnt mounds as well. These are areas which have been setlled for a long long time. In one field we had evidence of habitation from Neolithic right through to Post Medival times.

Using the information gleaned from the LIDAR data for the Baillie Windfarm area, I intend to be out and about doing investigations to try and document other unrecorded sites, armed with new found knowledge and understanding."

Week two of the Summer School follows on Monday 13th July with a workshop in Castlehill Heritage Centre then more surveying and observation in the field from Tuesday to Saturday.

To see the full programme of activites , click HERE. To register to take part click HERE.

Dateline: Thursday 25th June 2015

Bronze Age Hut Circle Talk

This evening the Bronze Age Project welcomed Stratford Halliday, an eminent authority on hut circles to Castlehill. He took the audience through the work done by early archaeologists and antiquarians in the late 19th and early 20th century, before and after the establishment of the Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland, for whom Stratford worked until a few years ago.

Mentioning the many examples of hut circles and burnt mounds in Scotland , he put forward his own persuasive theory of a population of Bronze Age farmers regularly inhabiting, abandoning and resettling a series of sites peculiar to their family group. Seemingly random scatterings of hut circles cairns and mounds in a landscape should be seen as associated groups. Stratford maintained that knowledge of soil improvement through manuring can be traced to the Neolithic Age. Adding that English-based studies of Bronze Age agriculture could profitably learn from the clearer examples of the dynamic landscapes of Scotland, he finished by encouraging participants to get out there and find more evidence of local Bronze Age activities.

The project concludes week one of its programme on Saturday 27th. See the project BLOG for details of progress thus far.

Week two of the Summer School follows on Monday 13th July with a workshop in Castlehill Heritage Centre then more surveying and observation in the field from Tuesday to Saturday.

To see the full programme of activites , click HERE. To register to take part click HERE.

Dateline: Sunday 14 June 2015

Living the Life - Bronze Age style!

On Friday 5th June, Castlehill Heritage Centre travelled back in time with the aid of James and Sally-Anne of Ancientcraft. The weather was somewhat temperamental so James and Sally-Anne set up a prehistoric style shelter made of woven willow panels (you can find out how to make these in September! Check the events calendar in due course for more info) and animal skins inside the Heritage Centre. This set the scene, and was complemented by an impressive array of replica tools and other artefacts, many of which experimental archaeologist James made himself.

As part of the workshops James demonstrated flint-knapping, and the speed and efficacy with which he could make a useful tool such as a scraper for processing animal hides was just amazing. Over 50 pupils from Castletown Primary School participated in Ancientcrafts’ workshops and went back to school fired up to learn more about the prehistoric past; their first response was to look up ‘Ötzi the Iceman’ online, although apparently they felt that he did not live up to the high standard set by James! Praise indeed.




Thanks very much to staff at Castletown Primary School for bringing their pupils along, and to the pupils themselves for being so enthusiastic and asking such great questions.

James was on hand again on Saturday 6th June, when over sixty members of the public came to Castlehill Heritage Centre to learn more about the past. Thanks very much to everyone for coming along, and thanks especially to James and Sally-Anne of Ancientcraft, who delivered a really unique experience which was enjoyed by all.


Neil Buchan and Sheila Moir

There’s so much more to come – make sure you don’t miss out on following progress by subscribing to the project blog via the sidebar on the project website homepage, or give us a ‘like’ on our Facebook page.

Latest News: We are just finalising the last details for the weekend workshops in August and September. July’s pottery workshop with Potted History is proving very popular so if you want to come along, do get in touch ASAP to avoid disappointment. To register your interest - click here.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Bronze Age Archaeology project launch night

Our Window on the hidden Bronze Age landscape of Caithness archaeology project got off to a flying start on Thursday 4th June when thirty five budding project participants attended our special project launch event. Vice Chairman Neil Buchan introduced the evening by outlining the aims and objectives of the project and thanking our funders, the Caithness & North Sutherland Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund, for making the project possible. Dr Graham Cavers and Catherine Douglas from AOC Archaeology revealed the detail of our exciting project programme, from workshops on how to interpret LiDAR data, field excavations and cartography, and Bronze Age crafts workshops.

Graeme and Charlotte have already had a quick look at some of the possible hut circles that were newly identified in the LiDAR data, and they are just wonderful! Really substantial features that will make for an exciting programme of training, survey and excavation. We can’t wait to get started with the fieldwork!

If you are interested in taking part in the project, contact us by clicking HERE. There really is something for everyone!

For the latest information on the project programme and progress visit the project website or our Facebook page.

Dateline: Monday 25 May 2015

Breaking news! - A window on the hidden Bronze Age landscape of Caithness

It has taken many months of planning and organising but our latest project is ready to launch! After a competitive, public tender process we are delighted to announce that AOC Archaeology will be partnering with us to deliver our new archaeological project - A window on the hidden Bronze Age landscape of Caithness. Our exciting new project will explore and record a remarkable Caithness landscape recently revealed during a LiDAR survey undertaken in support of the Baillie wind farm development.

LiDAR technology (3D laser scanning from aircraft) has the ability to 'see through' vegetation, foliage, trees and bushes to look at the ground and the archaeology beneath. The survey recorded what has been described as one of the best-preserved and previously undiscovered prehistoric landscapes in the UK, including extensive evidence of farming and settlement at least 3500 years old.

Archaeological research in Caithness has, to date, tended to focus on later prehistoric (e.g. Iron Age) and historic (e.g. medieval and later) periods. Where investigation of earlier prehistory has been carried out this has focused on the chambered cairns of the county. The LiDAR survey has shown however that these visible remains are simply the tip of an archaeological 'iceberg', beneath which lie remarkable and previously unrecognised components of the Caithness landscape.

Our exciting new project aims to exploit the archaeological and historical information revealed by the LiDAR survey through delivery of an engaging and rewarding programme of participative involvement for the local community, local schools and volunteers from the broader Caithness and north Sutherland community. Between now and March next year we will deliver practical training workshops and activities covering LiDAR data analysis, archaeological landscape interpretation, in-field archaeological surveys, post finds analysis, and cartography. The programme includes delivery of four bronze age craft skills workshops, the first of which will run on Friday the 5th and Saturday 6th of June at Castlehill Heritage Centre - see the poster for more details.

All the output and records from the project will be captured in formal reports and high quality maps that will be held both locally and in national archives. Local talks, interpretive exhibitions and a web based resource portal maintained for five years after project completion will ensure the project legacy is accessible by all. It is all really exciting!

If you are interested in taking part in the project, come along to the Launch Night where all will be revealed. Alternatively, contact us using the link below. There really is something for everyone!

To find out more click HERE

We are delighted to acknowledge the funding received from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Caithness & North Sutherland Fund, without who's support the project would not have been possible.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Castletown Heritage Society AGM

Castletown Heritage Society held it's Annual General Meeting for 2015 on Wednesday 29th April. Chairman Roy Blackburn gave a comprehensive and entertaining account of the Society's activities over the past year - it really is amazing to hear the diversity and number of things we get up to! A copy of Roy's Chairman's Report is available here. Roy also presented the accounts which confirmed that the Society continues on a firm, sustainable footing.

On completion of all the formal reporting, interim Chairman Bill Johnston praised the outgoing committee for their efforts then took over the helm for the election of office bearers for the 2015-16 session, as follows:

Roy Blackburn (also Health & Safety Officer)
Neil Buchan (also Technical Projects Manager and Webmaster)

Jim Moar

Jayne Blackburn
Muriel Murray
Elspet Chapman
Liz Geddes
Alan Bruce
It could be you, if you would like to volunteer!

Following the official proceedings, guest speaker Muriel Murray delivered a fascinating talk supporting the launch of our latest publication - Boyhood Memories of Ham Farm written by David Findlayson. David was born on the 2nd of May 1919 on the farm of Ham near Dunnet in Caithness. At the age of eighteen he travelled to St Andrews where he matriculated at the University of St Andrews as a student studying for a BSc in Mathematics and Physics. So began an association with this institution that was to last for the next seven and a half decades, during which time he would achieve worldwide renown for the teaching of physics and research into semiconductor devices.

David, over the course of the years, felt that there was a danger that knowledge of the life he knew as a boy in Caithness in the 1920s might be lost, so in typical fashion he set about recording his memories of the history of the area and the everyday details of life for a boy on a Caithness farm. Castletown Heritage Society was entrusted to bring his fascinating story to life, and thanks to the efforts of Neil and Muriel the story is now available to purchase as a 132 page soft cover book for the very reasonable sum of £8.50.

If you would like to purchase a copy, but are unable to drop into Castlehill Heritage Centre, please CLICK HERE.

The AGM was rounded off with light refreshements.

Photos by Sheila Moir and Neil Buchan


Dateline: Tuesday 28th April 2015

Caithness Archive - On The Road

Castlehill Centre was pleased to welcome the staff of the Caithness Archive, normally based in Wick, last Saturday. The visit was one of a series of planned road shows round Caithness villages bringing the archives to the people.

Archivist Gordon Reid was delighted with the number of interested local people who came in to browse a fascinating array of log books, maps, legal documents, midwife's reports, and valuation rolls from yesteryear. It is hoped that this will be the first of several visits to Castlehill. The old documents prompted much recollection of the past, telling of stories and exchanging of memories.

All in all a useful and entertaining couple of hours. Many thanks to Gordon and his team.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Traditional Icelandic Turf Buildings Talk - Wed 15 April

"Nothing goes to waste" was the byline as CHS Vice Chairman Neil Buchan talked about his recent hands-on experiences at the Fornverkaskolinn Heritage Craft School in northern Iceland and its activities promoting the preservation of traditional Icelandic building skills and methods. Over the course of the evening, Neil described the basic architecture of Icelandic turf building structures and explained the traditional methods and techniques used to construct and restore them.

Dateline: Tuesday 17th March 2015

Highland Graveyards - Grave Misteaks

Seldom has the very title of an evening talk piqued so much curiosity. For weeks in advance we received several queries - what will be so amusing about Highland Graveyards? Well, almost as soon as the talk started everyone in the audience had a smile on their face as guest speaker Nick Lindsay from Clyne Heritage Society (Brora) revealed some of the 'typographical' errors perpetrated by the monumental masons of yesteryear.

Nick kicked off by talking about the voluntary project the Clyne Heritage Society undertook a number of years ago to clear the grounds of the Clynekirkton Graveyard at Brora in Sutherland. kirkyard, which was disappearing under 'Russian Ivy' and other predatory shrubs. The transformation was truly amazing.

During their work they discovered much about the physical and social history of the kirkyard, including a number of unusual gravestones - and quite a few 'howlers' in the engraving department. This inspired Nick to explore many other graveyards throughout the Highlands and elsewhere in the UK, resulting in a fascinating compendium of historical typos, each with a story to tell. He also revealed some examples from overseas.

Nick fielded a broad range of enthusiastic questions throughout the talk, and was somewhat taken aback when one of the audience pointed out that a photograph of a particularly striking wooden cross memorial he found in one of the local cemetries belonged to her mother's grave! As Nick put it "That's never happened to me before!"

To find out more about the activities of Clyne Heritage Society click here.

The next and final talk in the current series will be "Traditional Icelandic Turf Buildings" by Neil Buchan. Neil will talk about his recent hands-on experiences at the Fornverkaskolinn Heritage Craft School in northern Iceland and its activities promoting the preservation of traditional Icelandic building skills and methods. This talk will take place at 7.30pm on Wednesday 15th April 2015 at Castlehill heritage Centre - please note the change of date.

Dateline: Sunday 1 March 2015

Brough Bay Association - social history archive

Our friends and colleagues at the nearby Brough Bay Association have created a wonderful archive of photographs, artefacts and recorded memories from the people of Brough.

This rich resource of social history is available to browse and enjoy at Castlehill Heritage Centre during normal opening hours - 2pm - 4pm every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

For further information about the archive and the activities of the Brough Bay Association, please visit their website:

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

The next talk in our series of winter evening talks will be held on Tuesday 17th March 2015, entitled "Highland Cemetries" by Nick Lindsay, Chairman of Clyne Heritage Society. Nick promises an informative yet amusing talk on this fascinating aspect of our cultural heritage.

All talks take place in Castlehill Heritage Centre and will start at 7.30pm prompt.

Dateline: Tuesday 10 February 2015

Iceland - A Caithness Saga

It was an in-house production tonight, when the speaker at the latest in our programmed winter talks was CHS vice chairman Neil Buchan. Neil gave an illustrated talk on his stay in Iceland in May 2014 through the Cultural Heritage Interpretation and Sustainable Tourism (CHIST) programme promoted by the ARCH Network and funded by the Leonardo da Vinci programme of the European Commission Directorate General for Education and Culture. The aim of the programme was to demonstrate to participants, Iceland's commitment to sustainable heritage tourism. This topic is very dear to CHS. Neil joined a small group of hand-picked delegates including archaeologists and conservationists. They were given hands on experience in the conservation and reconstruction of traditional turf- built houses, an iconic feature of the Icelandic landscape.


Being an accomplished photographer Neil treated the delighted audience to images of the breath-taking snow covered mountains, the ice-blue lakes and the formidable waterfalls for which the country is famous. The impressive man-made cathedral and public buildings in its capital did not fail to amaze. Particularly interesting for members of Castletown Heritage Society were examples of how Iceland portrays its social past through its heritage centres and museums.


Lastly Neil gave proof of the Caithness - Iceland connection and its continued importance to the Icelanders through the story of queen Aud or Audrunn, who features in the Icelandic sagas. Aud left Caithness with a large retinue by ship in the 9th century. After settling a large area of western Iceland, Aud set up stone crosses which are still visible today in honour of her conversion to Christianity. CHS hopes to interpret the epic story of Aud, incorporating it into a music and art project involving local schools.


Dateline: Thursday 22 January 2015

The men who went far, far away

A capacity audience filled Castlehill Heritage Centre to hear Ian Leith talk about the fascinating social history surrounding the Caithness people who left these shores in the late 19th and early 20th century for a life in Patagonia. Why Patagonia? Patagonia is an awful long way from Caithness, yet in the late 19th century a number of Caithness people took on this challenge not knowing what to expect.

By drawing on his extensive research which included a recent trip to Patagonia, Ian delivered a thoroughly enjoyable and informative talk on the lives and experiences of those who originally made the journey and their decendants living there today. This proved to be of particular interest to a number of individuals in the appreciative audience who were related in some way to the original Patagonia pioneers.

The excellent talk was followed by a lively question and answer session, during which Ian revealed that he hoped to capture all the information he had gathered in a new book. To find out more about Ian's research and the Patagonia project, click here.

The next talk in the series will be held on Tuesday 10th February 2015, entitled "Iceland - a Caithness Saga" by Neil Buchan. Neil will talk about his recent experience exploring the fascinating cultural and archaeological heritage of Iceland and the Icelandic mission to develop heritage tourism.

All talks take place in Castlehill Heritage Centre and will start at 7.30pm prompt.

Dateline: Friday 26 December 2014

Boxing day opening

Around thirty friends, supporters and first time visitors came along to our traditional Boxing Day opening where they were greeted with a warm welcome, toastie mincemeat pies, and even hotter mulled wine! As usual the afternoon proved to be a great success with stories exchanged, new friends made and acquaintences renewed. The variety of artefacts on display as part of the winter exhibition generated many 'do you remember' moments...

Neil and Alan were hosts for the day, with Alan working his magic in the kitchen. As he said himself, he rekons there's SWRI blood coursing through his veins!

The 2015 programme of activities will get underway in January with our series of evening talks:

Thursday 22nd January 2015. "The Men Who Went Far Away" by Ian Leith. The talk explores the history of the Caithness men and women who went to Patagonia in the late 19th, early 20th Centuries.

Tuesday 10th February 2015. "Iceland - a Caithness Saga" by Neil Buchan. An illustrated talk exploring the fascinating cultural and archaeological heritage of Iceland and the Icelandic mission to develop heritage tourism.

Tuesday 17th March 2015. "Highland Graveyards" by Nick Lindsay of Clyne Heritage Society. This light hearted talk will reveal some fascinating facts about highland graveyards.

Tuesday 14th April 2015. "Traditional Icelandic Turf Buildings" by Neil Buchan. Neil will talk about his recent hands-on experiences at the Fornverkaskolinn Heritage Craft School in northern Iceland and its activities promoting the preservation of traditional Icelandic building skills and methods.

All talks take place in Castlehill Heritage Centre and will start at 7.30pm prompt.

Dateline: Monday 22 December 2014

Winter Exhibition - Artefacts through time

A fascinating display of artefacts, tools and domestic equipment from a bygone era and how these have evolved over time. Are the modern 'labour saving' gadgets we take for granted an improvement over what used to be used? Or are we just fooled into thinking so at the hand of advertising pressure? Decide for yourself!

Our winter exhibition is open every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon from 2pm to 4pm.

Also - Don't miss out on our traditional Boxing Day Opening! Mincemeat Pies, Mulled Wine and more! 2pm to 4pm.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

New mobile app to unearth north Highland's rich heritage

Venture North is well advanced with their exciting project to create a smart phone app to help people discover the built and natural heritage on their doorsteps. Working closely with the heritage sector the project will help to develop cultural heritage tourism and encourage partnership working between groups. Heritage groups across Caithness and Sutherland have contributed to the development of the project including Strathnaver Museum, Caithness Horizons, Dunbeath Heritage Centre, Wick Heritage Centre, and of course Castlehill Heritage Centre.

There will be several ways for users to explore the heritage around them including using GPS which will help visitors to find all the great sites in our area. Each listing will give a brief description and images of individual heritage sites such as Castlehill Heritage Centre along with opening hours, contact details and information on accessibility. The app will also including links to our website for more information.

The app is due to launch soon - for more information click here.

Dateline: Thursday 20 November 2014

RSPB Evening Talk

Anna Jemmett the RSPB's Community Engagement officer delivered an engaging talk to fascinated audience on Tuesday night at Castlehill Heritage Centre. Her talk was illustrated by pictures of the RSPB's area of operation in Forsinard where former afforested blocks are gradually being restored to their original natural state. Anna explained some of the work done by a range of scientists based at Forsinard examining the effects of global warming and carbon capture through the areas of bog. She talked of the co-operation with other users of the land and water like fishermen and farmers.

One particular study was of the decline in numbers of the Common Scoter - a misnomer indeed-whose chicks are apparently competing for similar food against small fish, which fishermen are now obliged to return to the water. RSPB observers have noticed that pools surrounded by forestry blocks are not populated by birds. This has been put down to the fact that in the wild birds would be able to spot the approach of predators for miles. The thick woods prevent this so the pools remain uninhabited.

Look out for similar talks by the RSPB team in various local locations.

CHS will soon be hosting a visit from a RSPB archaeologist to talk on discoveries made in the course of their work.

The Common Scoter image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence. Attributed to Ariefrahman.

Dateline: Saturday 15 November 2014

Food Fair - yum, yum, yum!

This was our first venture into organising a food fair, and from the moment the doors opened at 11am the hall was filled by a constant stream of people looking to purchase from the excellent selection of quality local produce on display. Whilst later in the day the numbers reduced a little the feed back from stall holders and the visiting public confirmed this was something we should definitely do again!

Whether you were after some scrumptious baking, yummy cheese, delicious preserves, mouth watering smoked products, flavoursome breads, delicate honey, brilliant beef or succulent pork there was something available to suit all tastes. Our teas, coffees and amazing home bakes were also much in demand.

We are deeply grateful to all the stall holders for entering into the spirit of the event and contributing to what proved to be a magnificent raffle.

Watch this space for the next event - miss it, miss out!


Dateline: Sunday 5 October 2014

Something Corny Workshop cancelled

Unfortunately, due to unforseen circumstances the Something Corny workshops scheduled for Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 October have had to be cancelled.

We hope to be able to reschedule this very popular workshop sometime next year. If you would like to express interest in taking part, click here.

Dateline: Sunday 14 September 2014

Another fine sunny day in the garden

Need we say more?


Dateline: Saturday 13 September 2014

Log boiler refurbishment

After six and a half years of solid, reliable, continuous service our Baxi log boiler was beginning to show signs of wear and tear. Some of the ceramic block that form the fire hearth had started to disintegrate, interfering with the injection of secondary air into the burn process. This was making it more difficult to light and also reducing the efficiency of the boiler. Time for action!

A full set of replacement ceramics was duly sourced from de la Haye Engineering and Neil spent a busy day stripping, cleaning and rebuilding the boiler, restoring it to its former glory. Hopefully good for another 6 years trouble free service!

If you would like to know more about our sustainable log boiler based heating system, click here.

Dateline: Sunday 3 August 2014

Sunday Cream teas in glorious sunshine!

The glorious weather today saw a steady stream of visitors enjoy the delights of Helen's freshly made strawberry scones and cakes in our Heritage Garden. Returning by popular demand, the delicious Cream Teas will be available at Castlehill Heritage Centre from 2pm to 4pm every Sunday afternoon during August. Miss them, miss out!

Local artist Joanne Kaar was also kept busy all afternoon issuing Postcard Sea artworks to the respective successful bidders in our arty fundraiser. All monies raised from the auction will be given to Brough Bay Association and Castletown Heritage Society, both of which are run by volunteers.


Dateline: Wednesday 2 July 2014

Postcard SEA Opening Night exceeds all expectations!

".... the hall already full, people outside, and still they kept coming, endless streams of them, from out of nowhere, and it wasn't even 7pm yet (official open time)!"

The success of the exhibition, which opened to a capacity audience of well over 100 people on the evening of Wednesday 2nd July at Castletown Heritage Centre, was down to the artistic talents and generosity of locals and others further afield. Businesses near and far also gave generously to support the event. Caithness artists Liz O'Donnell and Joanne B Kaar were the glue holding the project together, inspiring others to get involved and help raise money for two groups both run by volunteers, Brough Bay Association and Castletown Heritage Society.

Brough Bay Association chairman, George Douglas introduced Councillor Bill Fernie who officially pronounced the exhibition open. There was quite a buzz that evening, as three musicians, Dave Broughton on fiddle, Joe Kaar on guitar and Joanne B Kaar on wooden flute provided background music. Drinks and nibbles were handed out as people arrived, with the additional excitement of a raffle which was drawn on the night - 1st prize was a voucher for 2 maxi day tours of Orkney thanks to John O'Groats ferries, it was won by Jenny Swanson from Castletown.

Over 200 artworks are on display and were greatly admired, some people looking for their own entries, many searched out friends and families creations while others were bidding for work and a chance to acquire an original piece of art. There is something for everyone here, from collages, glass work, and traditional oil painting. With the first bids placed on private view night, their initial expectations have already been exceeded, but they are not giving any clues away, as the final amount raised will be revealed only when all bids have been sent in and the exhibition closes at the end of July.

Do visit Castlehill Heritage Centre to see the exhibition, place a few bids for your favourite artworks, and join in the raffle which will be drawn when the exhibition closes, tickets are only £1 each and you could win the top prize thanks to NorthLink ferries, a free return trip Scrabster to Stromness for 4 passengers, a car and Magnus' Lounge access.

The exhibition is open to the public from the 5th - 30th July, Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday afternoons from 2pm - 4pm. You can also see it on-line and e-mail your bids, full details here:

All funds raised from the auction will be given to Brough Bay Association and Castletown Heritage Society, both of which are run by volunteers.


Dateline: Saturday 28 June 2014

Caithness Writers Presents - Angus Dunn

On Saturday 27 July the Caithness Writers Group will be staging a special event at Castlehill Heritage Centre - a reading of his works by Angus Dunn, highland poet and novelist. He will be joined by local writers Catherine Byrne and Margaret Wood

The reading starts at 7.30pm. Admission free - all welcome.

Event funded by Scottish Book Trust Live Literature. To find out more click HERE

Dateline: Sunday 15 June 2014

Cultural Heritage Tourism - the Iceland chapter

The character, history and traditions of Castletown and the parish of Olrig have to varying degrees been influenced by the legacy of the Norse invaders in the early centuries AD. It was therefore with some considerable enthusiasm that our Vice-Chairman, Neil, applied to take part in a Cultural Heritage Interpretation and Sustainable Tourism (CHIST) programme in Iceland, exploring how Iceland approaches the portrayal and exploitation of its cultural history which evolved from the settlement of Iceland in 871AD by a Viking society contemporary to that in Caithness.

The CHIST programme was promoted by the ARCH Network and funded within the framework of the 'Leonardo da Vinci' programme of the European Commission (DG EAC) Directorate - General for Education and Culture. Competition for one of the six available places was strong and Neil was over the moon when he was selected - all the more so when it turned out he was the only 'amateur' in the party - the other five participants were all professionally associated with cultural heritage in some way.

The week long Icelandic CHIST programme was based in northern Iceland, in a region called Skagafjörður. The focus was on the preservation of traditional building methods and started with a two day hands on course in turf building. The region is rich in old historic buildings; turf houses, turf churches and stone and timber buildings, many of them belonging to the Iceland Historic Buildings Collections.

The programme was hosted by Bryndis Zoega, Project Manager at the Fornverkaskólinn Heritage Craft School, which is a partnership project between the Carpentry Department of the Northwest Iceland Comprehensive College, Skagafjordur Heritage Museum and the Tourism Department at Holar University College. The School supports and promotes historic building skills as well as recording and preserving the vernacular names and terminology associated with traditional Icelandic building methods, which are all in danger of being lost. The purpose of the school is also to build a network of cultural institutions, professionals and companies in the industry and promote research and exchange of cultural sciences. The similarities between the aims, objectives and activities of the school and those of Castletown Heritage Society were quite remarkable.

Being a practical, hands-on person by nature Neil thoroughly enjoyed taking part in the turf cutting and turf building restoration activities which involved the restoration of a turf byre on a working farm at Tyrfingsstaðir. Whilst vernacular building construction in Caithness is principally in stone, there were strong parallels between the general design and layout of the Icelandic turf buildings and their Caithness stone counterparts, in particular their progressive modification to meet changes in social and functional requirements and the optimisation of construction methods to take best advantage of the available raw material. The knowledge and practical experience gained will hopefully be very useful during delivery of our own vernacular skills workshop activities.

The remainder of the week was spent exploring numerous cultural heritage relates sites and facilites in the north and west of Iceland, including by special request various locations associated with Audrun the Deep Minded - a Viking queen who undertook an epic ninth century journey from Caithness to Iceland - more of this later!

The final day was spent in Reykjavik, again visiting numerous heritage venues, including the excellent 971 (+/-2) Settlement Exhibition - a must for anyone visiting Iceland.

Neil will be presenting a couple of illustrated talks based around the draft themes of Icelandic Turf Buildings and Cultural Heritage Tourism in Iceland as part of our forthcoming autumn/winter evening talks programme - watch this website for further details.

In summing up his Iceland experience, Neil simply stated "I want to go back!"

Learning to cut long thin turfs called 'Strengur' and 'Torfa'

Cutting thicker, wedge shaped turf called 'Klambra'

Forming the walls, some 1.2m thick, using Klambra between layers of Strengur, with Torfa placed across the width of the wall, just like stretcher stones in a dry stone wall.

Our taks was to assist the reconstruction of a turf byre on a working farm at Tyrfingsstaðir

The crew, including our turfing instructor Helgi Sigurdsson and the farmer and his wife

The fruits of our labours!

Iceland is a spectacular place

The 18th century stone built cathedral at Holar

Amazing scenery at Kalfastrond

A bit of thermal action at Namafjall

Looking back from Hell over the valley containing the Kroflustod geothermal power station

The iconic Hallgrimskirkja modernist concrete church that sits on high ground overlooking Reykjavik and is visible from all over the city. It was very wet on our last day!

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Postcardsea exhibition and fundraiser latest

All the postcards that have been sent from around the world will be on display at a special exhibition at Castlehill Heritage Centre, Harbour Road, Castletown. The exhibition will run from 9th to 30th July, every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon from 2pm - 4pm.

All the postcards will be available for purchase via a secret silent auction. Click on the poster (left) for further details.


If you are still hoping to join in the fun by submitting your entry, time is running out! Please return your artwork by Friday 20 June to Caithness Horizons Thurso, St Fergus art gallery Wick or Castlehill Heritage Centre Castletown. You can also post your work to Joanne if that's more convenient, but do ensure it will arrive in time. Full details here

All funds raised from the sale will be given to Brough Bay Association and Castletown Heritage Society, both of which are run by volunteers.

Dateline: Tuesday 13 May 2014

SEA inspired fundraiser hots up!

Earlier this year, Caithness artists Joanne B Kaar and Liz O'Donnell started a fundraiser for Brough Bay Association Castletown Heritage Society, inviting the public to get arty and made postcard size artwork inspired by the sea. With the deadline for handing in artwork in a few weeks time (20th June), things are starting to hot up around the world with artists adding the finishing touches to their creations.

The sea inspired fundraiser featured in the May issue of Coast magazine as their campaign of the month, and as a result the word spread with more artists getting involved including a ceramicist from the south of England and tapestry artist from Dumfries and Galloway both currently making work for the fundraiser. There has been a wonderful variety of materials used by artists, including 3D wooden sea creatures (which move around) from Taiwan, and more locally, glass you can 'sea' through is being formed!

Just this week artwork is expected to arrive from India and Tasmania, with the most unusual coming from Iceland - a sea of ash, volcanic ash paper. In 2010 the eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland caused enormous disruption to air travel across western and northern Europe. One Icelandic artist collected buckets of ash from around her house and used them as pigment in her handmade papers.

If you are joining in the fun, please do return your artwork in plenty of time, making sure your paint is dry first, to Caithness Horizons Thurso, St Fergus art gallery Wick or Castlehill Heritage Centre Castletown. You can also post your work to Joanne if that's more convenient. Full details here

All artwork must be received by the 20th June 2014 for exhibition & sale by secret silent auction in July at Castlehill Heritage Centre, Castletown.

All funds raised from the sale will be given to Brough Bay Association and Castletown Heritage Society, both of which are run by volunteers.

Dateline: Saturday 3 May 2014

Rowing Day at Castlehill harbour

The Maritime History exhibition at Castlehill Heritage Centre aims to provide a deep insight into the historic relationship that Castletown and the Parish of Olrig has with the sea. However static displays and artefacts can only tell part of the story, to truly understand the relationship one has to experience it for oneself!

Thanks to the support of Wick Coastal Rowing Club, a steady stream of eager participants were today able to experience the thrill of rowing round Dunnet Bay in a locally built classic St Ayles Skiff. The skiff is an outstanding example of what can be achieved by a band of enthusiastic club members - the standard of build and finish is superb!

The images below give but a flavour of the day - balmy weather, near mirror sea conditions, and enthusiastic rowing club members on hand to guide participants in the art of rowing a classic skiff.

Tea, coffee and a hearty array of home bakes were available throughout the day at nearby Castlehill Heritage Centre - thanks must go to Liz B, Liz G, Muriel M and Jayne B for their efforts in the kitchen - worth a visit to Castlehill alone!

Wick Coastal Rowing Club are keen to encourage the establishment of more rowing clubs in Caithness, especially in the Dunnet/Castletown/Thurso area. If you are interested in this idea, please let us know here.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

New signs point the way to Castlehill

Thanks to our recent quality grading by Visit Scotland, we have been able to invest in some new signange to assist visitors find their way to Castlehill Heritage Centre. The signs are located at either end of Harbour Road. Visitors passing through Castletown en route to/from John O'Groats and Wick now have no excuse for not finding us!

We are deeply endebted to our local councillors for supporting an award from the Highland Council Ward 4 Discretionary Fund to help defray the costs.


Dateline: Sunday 27 April 2014

Caithness Astronomy Group - Friday 9 May

Caithness Astrononomy Group are hosting a special evening talk by Denis Buczynski, Secretary of the Comet Section of the British Astronomical Association.

The event will be held at Castehill Heritage Centre and admission is free.

For full details, click on the poster.


= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Rowing Day at Castlehill Harbour - Sat 3 May

In support of our current exhibition theme 'Our Maritime History', the Wick Coastal Rowing Club will be showing and demonstrating their skiff “Spirit O’ Wick” which was built by them and launched in July 2013.

Weather permitting, enjoy a trip in Dunnet Bay in this superb example of a St Ayles skiff.

Castlehill Heritage Centre will be open throughout the day where light refreshments will be available.

Dateline: Thursday 24 April 2014

Castletown Heritage Society AGM

Castletown Heritage Society held it's Annual General Meeting for 2014 on Wednesday 23rd April. Vice Chairman Neil Buchan sat in the driving seat, Hugh Crowden having recently stepped down from the position of Chairman. A copy of Neil's Chairman's Report is available here.

On completion of all the formal reporting, interim Chairman Bill Johnston praised the outgoing committee for their efforts then took over the helm for the election of office bearers for the 2014-15 session, as follows:

Chairman Roy Blackburn (also Health & Safety Officer)
Vice-Chairman Neil Buchan (also Technical Projects Manager and Webmaster)

John Crowden (elected in absentia)

Secretary Jayne Blackburn
Committee Muriel Murray
Fiona Macleod
Liz Geddes
Alan Bruce
Julie Geddes (elected in absentia)
It could be you, if you would like to volunteer!

Following the official proceedings, guest speaker Catherine Paterson delivered a fascinating genealogy based talk on her personal experiences of trying to track down a mystery member of her family. Her talk sparked an enthusiastic Q&A session.

The evening was rounded off with light refreshements.

Dateline: Wednesday 16 April 2014

Winter evening talk programme draws to a close with a thought provoking challenge

The fourth in our springtime programme of evening talks took place on Tuesday 15 April when Dr Donna Heddle, Director of the UHI Centre for Nordic Studies in Orkney delivered a challenging and thought provoking talk entitled "Caithness history and how to exploit".

Having herself a good Caithness pedigree, she asked the audience to share her pride in the part played by people from the county over the centuries. She quoted a wide range of prominent aithness folk over many centuries who have shaped the world. It was good to be reminded of our own 16th century regal matchmaker, spy, map-maker John Elder. A man of great influence he arranged the marriage of Darnley and Mary Queen of Scots, drew up and presented to Henry VIII a map of Britain, sadly now lost. This map was used by Mercator in his series of later maps which informed the geographic world.

More recently Sir Edwyn Alexander Sinclair's war time involvement in the Battle of Jutland is perhaps better known. Engineer and inventor Alexander Bain from Watten invented the electric clock. His additional invention of the fax machine is all the more amazing when you realise that this was before the telephone was in use. Bain's story takes us back into the world of espionage and commercial theft, as his ideas were stolen by Wheatstone, a rival. Robert Brown of Camster was a great 19th century scientist traveller and explorer. He carried out scientific investigations in North America and North Africa. A tireless traveller, lecturer and writer, he died in London, a council member of the Royal Geographical Society.

Neil Gunn 's world -wide reputation as a 20th century author is based on his ability to capture the culture and landscape of his area in his novels. But the most rousing part of Prof heddle's talk was her assertion that WE are the Vikings. People tend to forget that Caithness was as important as Shetland and Orkney in Norse history.Caithness was the starting point for many raids and expeditions. Viking leaders could call on a strong mercenary army from the area. Caithness lads , as Prof Heddle put it, fought at the battle of Stamford Bridge and were among the many slain at Clontarf against Brian Boru.

After the Norse became Normans there was an influx of families encouraged to settle in Caithness whose names remain influential today, Stewart, Sinclair, Mowat. Bruce. Our Norse heritage is clear in our family names and place names. Where place names appear Gaelic, they tend to be the Gaelicised form of the original Norse. Prof Heddle challenged the audience to promote their area for its uniqueness, its speech, its thinly dispersed population, its wildness and its intangible cultural heritage. She advocated setting up a five year plan, seeking funding to make things happen, inventing a Caithness brand. One important focus should be on food- food from wild places, from the Flow Country with emphasis on purity and natural sources. Obvious visual marketing like" Flow Country tea-towels" and car stickers would help promote the message that we are proud to be from Caithness. Promotional short videos on Caithness should be available in buses, ferries, terminals etc.

Prof. Heddle's watch word was that the potential tourist does not know what they want until you tell them. So the message must be clear and robust, that we have a new experience to offer. In her opinion a strong local funding body should take on the important task of promoting Caithness. This should be HIE. We score over Orkney in that this area is far more accessible. No flights , no ferry needed.

The talk inspired so many comments and questions that the chairman finally had to call an end to formal questioning. Over a cup of tea however fruitful discussions continued further into the evening.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = == = = = = = = = = = = = =

A few weeks earlier on Tuesday 4 March, George Bethune presented a fascinating talk entitled HOUSED ICE - From Sherbet to Salmon, Ancient Mesopotamia To Modern Caithness. A story of a fascinating and remarkable product.

Dateline: Sunday 22 March 2014

Aurora Borealis over Castlehill

At the end of February, like the rest of the UK, Castlehill was treated to a spectacular display of the Aurora Borealis. The aurora is caused by electrically charged particles from the Sun entering the Earth's atmosphere, and creates an ever changing display of colour and movement in the north sky. The fact that Castlehill Heritage Centre is a designated Dark Skies Discovery Site was not lost on the local community, as dozens of spectators crowded around the Centre and the harbour area to watch a fantastic display in the inky black skies.

Gordon Mackie of Caithness Astronomy Group, was one of the eager onlookers and has kindly provided some of his superb images taken that night. CAG regularly meets in Castlehill Heritage Centre. If you are interested in astronomy, the Group would be delighted to hear from you. A selection of images from recent CAG events is available HERE.

All images courtesy of Gordon Mackie

Caithness Astronomy Group

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Arty SEA fundraiser continues to amaze

The arty fundraiser organised by Caithness artists, Joanne B Kaar & Liz O'Donnell for Brough Bay Association & Castletown Heritage Society is really gathering pace. The idea is for you to be inspired by the SEA to draw, paint or collage an item (or items) of postcard size artwork 18cm x 12cm, which will exhibited then sold by secret silent auction in July 2014 at Castlehill Heritage Centre, Castletown, Caithness, Scotland UK.

To date 27 entries have been received, all really amazing - so much talent squeezed onto a postcard size format! To see the all the postcards visit the SEA blog - and prepare to be amazed!

The latest news is that the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther is joining in the fun and organising family activities over Easter to make postcard size artworks inspired by the SEA for us. More details soon!

If you would like to take part, click HERE for all the information you need, and more!


Dateline: Monday 3 March 2014

Visit to Edinburgh Caithness Association

On Thursday 20 February our vice-chairman Neil travelled south to Edinburgh at the invitation of the Edinburgh Caithness Association to give a talk about the activities of Castletown Heritage Society and the Castlehill Heritage Centre. The E-A Society meets regularly to maintain long established links with Caithness. We have benefited greatly in the past from historical information donated to us from the Society, so it was nice to return the compliment.

Dateline: Saturday 15 February 2014

Shepherds in the Strath

A particularly foul evening did not deter a goodly number of determined souls from attending the second in our programme of evening talks on Wednesday 12 February. Jenny Bruce rewarded their perseverence with an excellent session on the migration of borders shepherds and their families to Caithness and Sutherland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Of particular interest was how a relatively small number of families ended up having such a significant influence in the agricultural development of Caithness and Sutherland. Accompanying her presentation was a fascinating display of information, revealing the depth of Jeanny's knowledge and research.

The next talk in the series will take place on Tuesday 4th March, when George Bethune will discuss HOUSED ICE - From Sherbet to Salmon, Ancient Mesopotamia To Modern Caithness. A story of a fascinating and remarkable product.

Dateline: Sunday 02 February 2014

Our Maritime Heritage exhibition opens!

The new winter exhibition at Castlehill Heritage Centre 'Our Maritime Heritage' opened to the public on Saturday 1st February at 2.15pm.

Our mission as a society is to preserve the character, history and traditions of the Village of Castletown and Parish of Olrig, and one of the means through which we do this is by running themed exhibitions and displays. In choosing 'Our Maritime History' for our current theme we seek to reflect and explore the fascinating history and association this area has with the sea - from the arrival of early Viking settlers, to the export and import of foodstuffs, raw materials and finished products, villains, heroes, wrecks and rescues from the 16th century to modern day, all with a particular focus on the social history of the people involved.

Our research into our local maritime heritage has revealed numerous humorous events, tragedies and stories of high drama and excitement. When considering who might be an appropriate person to open our new exhibition one person stood out as having an intimate association with our theme, especially the high drama and excitement bit. Billy Farquhar, from Thurso, dedicated almost four decades of service to the local maritime industry and during his 32 years of service with the Thurso Lifeboat he saved at least 81 lives. When he first joined the Thurso lifeboat crew in 1969 it proved to be a baptism of fire, as during his very first shift he was sent out to attend the Longhope lifeboat disaster at Orkney where eight people lost their lives.

His role as coxswain of Thurso lifeboat saw him in action many times in the stormy waters of the Pentland Firth, achieving national acclaim for his heroism at the helm when in March 1999 the Thurso Lifeboat averted a major disaster as the Multitank Ascania threatened to run aground at Dunnet Head. He has received many awards for his bravery and heroism, not least the Old Pulteney Maritime Achievement Award which is given annually to a local resident who has contributed greatly towards the community and the maritime industry.

The exhibition will run until Easter, and is open to the public every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon from 2pm to 4pm.

Vice Chairman Neil introduces the exhbition opener, Billy Farquhar, who recently retired as Coxswain of Thurso Lifeboat

Billy discusses some of his exploits

There's lots to see - including a feature on the work of the RNLI

A collection of medals, some of which are contemporary with the sinking of the Titanic

Medal awarded to the crew of the RMS Carpathia, whjo came to the rescue of the survivors from the Titanic

Nice try, Roy - you aren't quite that old...


Neil Buchan

Liz Buchan

Roy Blackburn

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

The Drove Roads of Caithness and Sutherland

Our programme of evening talks got off to a cracking start with the talk on Wednesday 29 January by David Glass, from Brough, on the Drove Roads of Caithness and Sutherland. Whilst modestly not claiming to be an 'authority' on drove roads, David's passion for discovering and exploring the history and location of the local drove roads has led him to develop a deep insight into the life and times of the drovers and the routes they followed in taking cattle to market. This was clearly evident as at the end of the talk David confidently fielded a wide variety of questions from the capacity audience.

The event was staged in conjunction with Caithness Archaeological Trust.


Dateline: Sunday 26 January 2014

New for Spring - Hand Spinning Classes

The Castlehill Spinners Group are planning to hold a series of five spinning classes aimed at the beginner. Under the tutelage of Ann Johnson, delegates will participate in hands-on workshops where all the basic techniques will be revealed and put into practice.

The workshops are keenly priced at £5 per session. For those unable to bring their own wheel and materials, wheels will be available to hire for £10 for the whole five weeks, including materials.

To find out more, or book a place, please CLICK HERE

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Maritime Heritage exhibition opens Sat 1 Feb

The new winter exhibition at Castlehill Heritage Centre 'Our Maritime Heritage' will open to the public on Saturday 1st February at 2.15pm.

The theme explores early Caithness settlers and villains, heroes, wrecks and rescues from the 16th century to modern day.

The exhibition will be opened by Billy Farqhuar from Thurso, formerly Coxswain of the Thurso Lifeboat.

Dateline: Sunday 19 January 2014

Fancy taking part in an artistic challenge?

To visit please CLICK HERE

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Wed 29 Jan - Evening talk - 'Drove Roads'

The first of our 2014 portfolio of evening talks (see below) will take place on Wednesday 29 January at 7.30pm in Castlehill Heritage Centre.

Local weaver David Glass will explore the fascinating history and folklore surrounding the drove roads, which were used by farmers and crofters to transport their sheep and cattle to market, or between summer and winter grazing.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Maritime Heritage exhibition opens shortly

Over the past few weeks Muriel and Jayne have been beavering away assembling our new winter exhibition 'Our Maritime Heritage'.

The theme explores early Caithness settlers and villains, heroes, wrecks and rescues from the 16th century to modern day.

Watch this space for more information!


= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Out with the old and in with the new

2013 may now sees like a distant memory, but fear not - all the 2013 news has been safely archived and is available for you to browse! To visit the 2013 News archive page CLICK HERE

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

2014 Programme of evening talks

The programme of events for 2014 is coming together nicely, and to kick off the year in fine style we have arranged a series of illustrated evening talks by local presenters.

  • Wednesday 29th Jan 2014 - "The Drove Roads" by Dave Glass
  • Wednesday 12th February 2014 - "Shepherds in the Straths" by Jennifer Bruce
  • Tuesday 4th March 2014 - "HOUSED ICE From Sherbet to Salmon, Ancient Mesopotamia To Modern Caithness. A story of a fascinating and remarkable product" by George Bethune
  • Tuesday 15th April 2014 - "Caithness History and How to Exploit it" by Professor Donna Heddle

All talks will take place in Castlehill Heritage Centre at 7.30pm.

With the exception of the talk on Wed 12th February, all talks are in being staged association with Caithness Archaeological Trust.

If you want to find out more about our programme of evening talks, please CLICK HERE