Conservation training day

Castletown Heritage Society operates the Castlehill Heritage Centre as an educational resource for visitors, local students and school children and the local community. Through a programme of interpretive exhibitions and interactive workshops, we seek to stimulate and sustain interest in and understanding of the history, heritage, vernacular skills, biodiversity and physical environment of Castletown and the parish of Olrig.

Our aim is to preserve and maintain the unique heritage of our community within both local Caithness and broader Highland contexts.

To see previous events and activities, click here:

Guided village walk


All events take place in Castlehill Heritage Centre unless otherwise stated

(Completed 2010 event reports at bottom of listing)


Thursday 11 March


Quiz night at Castlehill

There was much hilarity, scratching of heads and whirring of cogs amongst the twelve teams who took part in our Quiz Night, and we were delighted to have four teams of youngsters from the Castletown Army Cadets.

Quizmaster Neil put the competitors though their paces with a balance of testing and easy(?) questions, covering ten different topic areas, such as Pot Luck, Television& Film, Blockbusters and Sport. In the event it proved to be a closely run thing for the top four teams, however the final 'specialist' round on knowledge of Caithness sorted out the 'knows' from the 'don't knows' with 'The Particulars' emerging as overall winners by only one point.

The teams were treated to a lovely supper of home baking and sandwiches mid way through the evening, courtesy of Liz Buchan, Jayne Blackburn, Jackie Donaldson and Muriel Murray.

After the raffle had been drawn, the Particulars were awarded their prizes, each receiving a beautiful turned wooden bowl crafted by local woodturner, Alastair Hossack.

The evening proved to be a popular success so plans are already afoot for another event in the autumn.

Heavy duty thinking in progress

Total concentration

'Well we did the best we could' - the second placed team 'Universally Challenged'.

Muriel presents the 'Particulars' with their prizes - turned wooden bowls made by local man, Alastair Hossack, together with a packet of ready-mix porridge for a snack on the way home.

Saturday 16 March

Traditional Home Fare and Baking

The wonderful aroma of home baking was in the air when the first of our traditional workshops for the 2010 season got underway.

Liz Buchan and Maisie Nicolson demostrated how to make pancakes, flourbread, oatcakes, brose, treacle scones, welsh cakes and berebread. Neil and John were on hand as chief tasters and showed how quickly they could disappear...

Muriel introduces Liz and Maisie

Liz finifhing off the edges of a batch of Welsh cakes on the girdle

Maisie starting off a batch of flourbread

Whisking up some pancake mixture

It's all in the wrist action!

Rubbing margarine into the flour mixture


1 to 2 April

Gala Concert

Friday 2 April

Traditional musical heritage workshop

For two days, Castlehill Heritage Centre was host to a Scottish Traditional Music Workshop, delivered in partnership with North Highland Connections and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

Local school children and music students were coached by ten students from RSAMD in a series of instrumental workshops. Tonight's concert, held in the recently refurbished Mey Hall was the culmination of their efforts, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house as the children and students entertained the capacity audience to music of the highest calibre.

The concert was compered and supported by the legendary Phil Cunningham, pictured far left with some of the RSAMD students and was without doubt one of the best traditional music concerts to be held in Caithness for many a year.

Wed 21 April

CHS Annual General Meeting

An enthusiastic audience turned out to hear Chairwoman Muriel Murray reflect upon a very full year of activity, a highlight of which was the the success of the Society in winning the Community Initiative category at the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards in November 2009. The AGM was followed by a fascinating talk by Barbara Hiddleston, archivist at the Castle of Mey.

The following were elected to Executive Committee of the Castletown Heritage Society:

Muriel Murray
Elizabeth Geddes
John Crowden
Jayne Blackburn
Roy Blackburn
Neil Buchan (Technical Projects Manager and Webmaster)
Hugh Crowden
Sharon Pottinger


A healthy turnout from the local community

Muriel presenting the Chairman's Address whilst Treasurer John checks his numbers

The new committee - from left: Muriel Murray, Roy Blackburn, Jayne Blackburn, Hugh Crowden, Liz Geddes, Neil Buchan, Sharon Pottinger, John Crowden

Barbara Hiddleston in full flow during her fascinating talk

John and Muriel renewing memberships

Time for a cup of tea and a yarn

Two day workshop

Sat 24 and Sun 25 April

Drystone Dyking Course

Participants in the latest of our very popular Drystone Dyking courses have created a new feature on the Castlehill Heritage Trail. Over the course of the weekend and working under the expert tuition of Master Craftsman Dave Goulder from Rosehall, a magnificent section of traditional Caithness drystone dyke, complete with a seating area, has been constructed adjacent to the north east entrance to the Trail.

Visitors taking advantage of a rest at the seat will be treated to a superb and uninterrupted view across the fields to Dunnet Bay and Dunnet Head beyond.

Sunday morning - the base layer is well advanced, the seat is starting to take shape and the end pillars are underway

The east end of the feature. Dunnet Head and the House of the Northern Gate can be seen in the background

Total concentration as the wall approaches full height

This is my hammer, and I know how to use it!!

Gently does it...

I know he's taking a photograph, but I'm busy.....

Liz and Muriel serve lunch, whilst John gets stuck into the dishes

Gordon checks his text messages whilst the team relax over some delicious home made food

Dave Goulder (bearded, centre) and our stalwart gang of course participants

Saturday 1 May

Peat Experience Workshop

Thankfully the weather was kind last weekend for the first "Peat Experience Workshop" delivered by Castletown Heritage Society in conjunction with Mary-Ann's Cottage at the nearby village of Dunnet. Answering an appeal from the trustees to replenish the peat stack at Mary Ann's Cottage at Dunnet, eight volunteers keen to learn the art of cutting peat joined three committee members of Castletown Heritage Society on Dunnet Head.

Under the knowledgeable command of Dave Glass, Brough and Hamish Manson and his son David from Dunnet, the voluneers were put through their paces. After an introductory talk on the various tools of the trade, they set off on the thirty five minute walk into the hill where work began in earnest. The peat bank was first 'tirred' (the top turf removed and the face prepared) then each volunteer had a chance to cut different shapes of peats with a variety of instruments. Once cut, the peats were tossed to the waiting catchers who set them on the heather to dry. The weather was ideal for the job, with bright sunshine and a slight breeze. The cut peat will now be left to dry for a few weeks before the second workshop. Proceedings were captured on camera and video by Mick O'Donnell, Brough.

Opening out the bank - Hugh demonstrates how it is done

Plenty space for everyone...

Peat cutting may be sustainable, but it is very hard work. Better in May, however as any later in the season and the midges can turn this into a living nightmare!!

It's all in the wrist/leg/back action....


A grand day out - and a fine collection of cut peat which will be left to dry for the next couple of weeks before being gathered and stacked at the next workshop - spaces are available for anyone wanting to learn more about this ancient craft.

CHS is also putting on a Peat Experience Day on Sunday May 30th. On offer will be a guided nature walk to the peat bank, a chance to watch or even try cutting the odd peat, bannocks by a peat fire at Mary Ann's cottage, a display in castlehill heritage Centre showing the formation of peat and the archaeological importance of peat as a means of conservation.

Anyone wishing to participate in the Peat Experience Day should register their interest as soon as possible by clicking HERE or telephoning 01847 821204.

Two day workshop

Sat 8 and Sun 9 May

Something Corny

Internationally renowned Elaine Lindsay from the Guild of Straw Craftsmen led a well attended workshop demonstrating how to make 'corn dollies' and other traditional handicrafts using straw as the base material. Elaine will probably remember her first trip to Caithness for the wrong reasons however. On her way north she was held up for over two hours at Berridale while a rescue helicopter landed beside her to transport an injured coach driver to hospital and the road was cleared!

Despite her very late arrival at Castletown Hotel, Elaine gave participants at the two day straw work workshop excellent instruction and demonstrated a wide variety of plaiting methods. The participants, whose ages ranged from teens to sixties, were delighted to be able to produce examples of many of the techniques.

Elaine is also co-ordinating stories on the history of harvest knots, corn dollies etc. Local visitors to the centre during the workshop were able to add their reminiscences of farm workers making and wearing harvest knots in their buttonhole at dances. Any other similar stories would be welcomed by CHS who will pass them on to Elaine.

Getting started


Janet checking the next steps

Finally starting to take shape....

Examples of completed work

A superb example of what can be achieved

For futher info see Elaine Lindsay's website

Sunday 30 May

Mary Anne's Cottage from 10am

Castlehill Heritage Centre from 1pm to 4pm

'Peat Experience Day' - A Grand Day Out

On Sunday 30 May the second of the 'Peat Experience Days' organised by Castletown Heritage Society in conjunction with Mary-Ann's Cottage at Dunnet took place on the brilliantly sunny and slightly breezy peat bank on Burifa Hill at Dunnet Head. This event was a follow-on from the very successful peat workshop held earlier in the month, where a good quantity of peat was cut and laid out to dry.

Whilst the main activity of the day was to set up the peats to enhance the drying process and to take home the first consignment to Mary-Ann's Cottage, participants experienced the full peat life cycle - from trying their hand at cutting, setting up and stacking peats to sampling home-made bannocks baked over an open peat fire at Mary-Ann's Cottage, Dunnet.

From 1pm to 4pm in the afternoon, Castlehill Heritage Centre featured a display on the formation of peat, the archaeological importance of peat and stories of sacrifice, fairies and water gods of the peatlands.

Ready for the off

Easier than carrying by hand or a sack on the back!

John Crowden and David Glass explain the basics of cutting the peat

And this is how it's done


Making a start at the peat stack at Mary Ann's Cottage

I love work....I could watch it all day...

Enjoying the fruits of their labours...Carmel awaits a freshly made bannock


Winter Exhibition - Looking Back 100 Years

The Winter exhibition, which featured a fascinating insight into village life in Castletown and the surrounding area around1910 proved has now closed. The exhibition proved to be very popular. The Summer exhibition on Castletown businesses and industries over the past 50 years has now opened - see above.


Saturday 12 June

2 - 4pm

Northern Loops - Knit in Public Day

Unique opportunity to take part in national 'Knit in Public Day'. Thurso based 'Stitch 'n' Blether' will be running a sociable knitting event in Thurso precinct as part of the Northern Loops project aimed at knitting together a new inter-generational group to allow young and old to socialise and exchange knowledge.

In parallel with the main event. Castletown Heritage Society offered visitors the opportunity to run up a row or two of knitting or learn to knit.

Saturday 5 June

(All day Workshop)

followed by

Tuesday 8, 15, 22, 29 June

Evening Workshops

Writing at the 'Hill

Using Castlehill Heritage Centre and its surroundings as a touchstone for writing, we opened with a series of workshops focused on the building blocks of writing: description, character, narrative, and point of view. With activities both fun and useful, participants enjoyed a day of creativity.

June 5 began the series with an all day workshop (soup, sandwiches, tea, and coffee were provided). Participants walked around the harbour, along the old flagstones or in the garden at Castlehill as part of the day's activities.

The full day Saturday session was followed by three Tuesday evening sessions.

Sharon Pottinger, former writing teacher and local writer, led these sessions.

Future sessions include a look at poetry facilitated by Christine Russell and other genres led by local and visiting writers. To register interest, click HERE

9 & 10 October

Two one day sessions

Traditional skills workshop - Lime Mortar Pointing

Run in conjunction with the Scottish Lime Trust, this extremely popular workshop offers training in the use of lime-based materials for the conservation and repair of Scottish traditional buildings.

Twelve delegates maximum per day. £20 inc lunch and materials.

The last time we ran this event places were snapped up very quickly - to find out more and register early interest, click HERE

Monday 11 October

Morning session 10am - 12 noon Castlehill Heritage Centre

Afternoon session 2pm - 4pm Castlehill Heritage Centre

Evening Singing event 7pm to 9pm Castletown Hotel

National Mod 2010

Caithness - Fringe Event

"Caithness & Sutherland Sings"


As part of the Caithness Mod 2010 Fringe, Castletown Heritage Society will host a one day community singing event aimed at introducing new audiences to the singing traditions of the two most northerly counties in mainland Scotland.

Morning session 10am -12 noon - Castlehill Heritage Centre. Singer/songwriter Christine Kydd will begin the day by leading an introductory workshop to familiarise the groups with some of the songs from each area and gather information about songs sung locally - leading into an informal singing session.

Afternoon Session - 2pm-4pm - Castlehill Heritage Centre. This will involve a follow-up singing training session where the group will learn to sing local songs, including a Gaelic place name song about the Strath of Kildonan. Christine will encourage people to sing together and use a range of techniques to bring the best out of the group and build up confidence by the end of the session.

Evening public singing event - 7pm-9pm (and later) - Castletown Hotel. A public sing-a-long event where the groups will perform the songs they have learnt and song sheets will encourage audience participation.

Daytime information: Take packed lunch (tea, coffee, biscuits supplied) or meals available at cost in the Castletown Hotel

Evening information: Meals available in Hotel prior to even. Refreshments available from bar

Everybody welcome - entrance is FREE

Note: Under 16s to be accompanied by parent or guardian

Sunday 17 October


Highland Archaeological Festival

Guided walk through the grounds to the ruins of Castlehill House - once the grand home of Sherriff James Traill of Rattar. Followed by a presentation back in the warmth of Castlehill Heritage Centre on the history and architecture of Castlehill House.

To find out more - click HERE

23 & 24 October

Two day course 10.30 to 3.30 pm

Nuno Felt Scarf Craft Day

Castlehill Heritage Cebtre took on a bright and colourful appearance today when Sharon Pottinger demonstrated how to make Nuno felt scarves at this hands-on workshop day. Light but cosy scarves in a range of bright colours were made, ready for a Caithness winter.

Forming the shape

Tidying the ends

A hive of activity

Taking shape

Two part finished scarfs

Sharon demonstrates how its done




Summer programme of Archaeology Workshops

Our exciting programme of activities includes plane tabling hut circles, re-surveying Mercers work in Dunnet, recording the Castletown Battery, probing for the chapel of St Coombs, looking for signs of Stangergill Castle, and much more. Ideas from interested people are very welcome.

All our archaeological events involve hands-on participation and are suitable for beginners to experienced alike. Interested in taking part in 2011? For further details - contact

Saturday 30 October

10am - 3.30pm



Date and time of second day to be confirmed

Ganseys - Traditional Fisherman's Jerseys

Display of Ganseys and Introduction to Gansey Knitting & Heritage

Stephanie Hoyle, Highland Area Coordinator for the Moray Firth Gansey Project, will be bringing a collection of fishermen's ganseys to Castlehill Heritage Centre and demonstrating some of the patterns and techniques characteristic of ganseys.

  • Drop in and enjoy the display and share your own stories of fishermen's ganseys. Have you knitted one? Do you recall your mother or grandmother knitting one? Do you have one in your attic? Did you or your father wear one? Are you curious to know more about the history behind the ganseys or their stitches?
  • Try your hand at some gansey patterns with Stephanie's guidance. Bring your own DK wool (solid colour, firm twist) and smallish needles (2.75-3.25 mm). We'll have extras on hand if you want to give it a go on the day.
  • Start your own miniature gansey following the pattern in the book Knitting Ganseys by Beth Brown-Reinsel

For more information contact: Sharon Gunason 01 847 821 555

  • Later, in the new year a visiting lecturer will give an in depth one day workshop on gansey patterns from a wide range of places.

This project is being part-financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and by the Scottish Government and The European Community Rural Aberdeenshire, Highland and Moray LEADER 2007 - 2013 Programmes.

7 November

10am - 3.30pm

Silk Paper Making

One day workshop with Sharon Pottinger.

Saturday 13 November

10am to 3.30pm

Entry free

Castlehill Heritage Centre

Christmas Gift Sale - Sat 13 November

Our pre-Christmas sale of locally sourced goods and hand crafted items proved popular yesterday, with visitors commenting very favourably as to the high quality and diversity of produce on display. Learning from the experience of running our first Christmas Gift Sale last year, we used more of the rooms in the building to give stall holders greater space to display their wares.

Tea, coffee and a selection of delicious home baking kept both the visitors and stall keepers refreshed, served in the archaeology laboratory which had a Christmassy make-over for the day.

Thanks to all who turned out to make the day such a success - it is always a pleasure to showcase local talent, and by popular demand we will almost certainly run another pre-Christmas sale in 2011!

The sale gets underway at 10am

Delicate silk work and home made bread

You too could make beautiful Nuno felt scarves like these if you attended one of our workshops!

A wide variety of hand made craft ware was on dispay

Necklaces and artwork

The CHS 2011 calendar, other CHS publications and nostalgia items proved to be very popular

Taking a breather

Local speciality soaps

A selection of quality pens crafted from antler horn and rifle cartridge cases, made locally in Reay

The CHS raffle table

The North Highland Woodturners Associaiton had a magnificent display of goods on offer

Alastair Hossack explains how items are made

From candle holders to nibble trays, it's all there

Dainty gifts

Home bakes made by committee members were available to accompany a cup of tea or coffee

The archeology lab proved to be an ideal venue for a cuppa and a chat


Friday 19 November


Traditional Music Workshop - Bothy Night

A near capacity crowd took part in the latest in our popular series of traditional skills workshops. The evening event explored the social history of the bothy, and in particular the traditional songs and stories of the workers and farm servants who used to inhabit them.

Bothies were outbuildings on a farm or estate, where unmarried labourers and workers used to sleep, often in harsh conditions. In the evening, to entertain themselves they told stories, sang old songs and often composed their own songs, occasionally lampooning their masters, working conditions or day to day events. The stories and songs were sometimes topically political, and given the single sex environment, frequently quite rude!

It was all good, clean family fun however as master (or should that be mistress?) of ceremonies Muriel Murray explained all about bothy culture, it's roots in the north-east of Scotland and its relevance to Caithness and Castlehill. Her illuminating talk was interspersed with some fantastic performances of music and song by local entertainers - illuminated that is by tilley lamp and candles - most atmospheric!

The highlight of the first half (in the eyes of your humble scribe) was Donald MacNeill's rendition of 24 Hours to Georgemas - a hilariously allegorical piece highlighting the experiences of travel by 'crawler' between Inverness and Thurso on the North Highland Line. A modern day bothy ballad if ever there was one!

Mid way through the evening, a traditional feed of stovies and oatcakes, beetroot and clapshot (a traditional orkney recipie of tatties (potatoes) and swede (yellow turnips). Whilst tea and coffee were served, most folk had brought along their own favourite form of libation, which helped the evening go with a swing, and probably most inkeeping with bothy life!

Our thanks go to all who took part in what proved to be a most informative and highly entertaining evening. Thanks go also to the Castletown Hotel who made the stovies.

Based on the very positive feedback received we will certainly look to deliver another social themed workshop!

It was pretty much a full house for the latest in our series of taditional skills workshops

Muriel gets the workshop underway with a potted social history of the bothy

Popular local group Clapshot formed the backbone of the entertainment for the evening, seen performing here under the light of a tilley lamp - very atmospheric!

Katriona Scott and Sally Edwards contributed some fantastic renditions of traditional bothy ballads

Donald MacNeill has everyone in stitches as he plugs Clapshot's latest (and only!) CD...after being prompted because he forgot!

The 'Castlehill Croakers' in full song

Celia MacDougall delivering a cracking rendition of The Muckin' 'o Geordie's Byre

Hugh was dressed for the part as he served the stovies at half time

A good feed had by all, with a vegetarian option available for non-carnivores

Plenty clash whilst munching the mash

The Castlehill Croakers re-formed as the Castlehill Choristers for an amusing rendition of 'The Frog'.

Applause all round as the evening draws to a close

Summer Exhibition

Sat, Sun & Wed afternoons

2 - 4pm or by appointment

Summer Exhibition - Trades and Business past and present, in and around Castletown

Learn all about the fascinating and diverse range of trades and businesses that have flourished in the village and parish over the years.

From the flagstone works to wood chip carvers to joke mask manufacture to state of the art freezer manufacture!

Castlehill Heritage Centre, Harbour Road, Castletown, nr Thurso


Monday evenings 7 - 9pm

Sessions restart mid-January

Wash and Brush Up III

Our very popular painting classes with Helen Moore have finished for the season.

Sessions will re-start mid-January 2011. Check the website regularly for further details.

Sessions run from 7-9pm on Monday evenings at a cost of £8 per evening plus materials. Juniors and OAPs £5. Beginners are especially welcome.

To find out more and register interest, click HERE

Watch this space for confirmed dates and further details, alternatively:

CONTACT US by email or phone 01847 821 204

To book a place on an event, email or phone as above