Castletown Heritage Society News

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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: www.postcardsea.blogspot.com

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!

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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 www.postcardsea.blogspot.com

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 www.postcardsea.blogspot.com

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.

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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.

 

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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)
Treasurer

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.

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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

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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...

Photos

Neil Buchan

Liz Buchan

Roy Blackburn

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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

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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 www.postcardsea.blogspot.com please CLICK HERE

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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.

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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!

 

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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

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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