Landscapes of Castletown
project has sought to document and reflect upon the 'living landscapes'
of Castletown through the eyes of some of the people who live here. It
sprung from a collaboration between Castletown Heritage Society and a
PhD student named Julian Grant, whose research at the University of the
Highlands and Islands focuses on the relationship between tourists and
local communities around the North Coast 500.
film cameras, the five participants in this project have created a set
of images (and accompanying words) that show Castletown as a vibrant place
where the land itself is etched with stories, relationships, uses and
meanings. This reminds us all - visitors and locals alike - that this
is not a remote wilderness but a peopled place. And, as you'll see in
the subtle hints of pandemic and lockdown, these images are a record of
the community at this moment in time: a 'heritage of now' for future
generations to look back on.
background - Julian Grant
of the participants in this project, Christine Stone, wrote: ‘I see myself
as a “dweller” whose links with the landscape — both present and past
— remain strong and vibrant. The various layers of my living landscape
are known to me, understood by me and important in my daily life.’ These
words beautifully describe the relationship between people and place that
is the focus of both this project and my PhD research. For a bit over
a year now, I’ve been working with the Castletown Heritage Society to
learn about the different ways that local people and tourists think about
and interact with the landscapes around them. Visitors come to this part
of the world for many different reasons, and its beautiful landscapes
are one of them. This area is home to stunning beaches and cliffs, wide
open skies, green fields and stone walls and scenic villages. And yet
for those who dwell here (as Christine says), this is also a working landscape,
a living landscape. Local people’s knowledge, experiences, everyday
routines and relationships all shape the way they see the landscapes around
them and the meanings they give to them. By giving us a glimpse into their
lives, the participants behind the images and words shown here have created
a wonderful community-generated record of Castletown and Caithness from
In Caithness and
all across the northern Highlands, tourism is a vital part of the local
economy and a feature of everyday life — especially in the summer months
when roads, B&Bs, campsites and beauty spots hum with activity. The creation
of the North Coast 500 touring route in 2015 has dramatically increased
traffic to the area, bringing much-needed economic activity but also raising
worries over the scale and type of tourism and its effects on local communities.
These concerns intersect with other deep-rooted issues: how the Highlands
are represented in culture and media, how land and resources are used,
and how to build a sustainable future for rural communities affected by
social, cultural, economic and ecological changes. As a researcher, I’m
interested in learning from the lived experiences of people in touristed
areas and envisioning new spaces for productive social action. Given the
opportunity, what would local people choose to share about their communities
with tourists? Can community-generated images and stories help encourage
a more inquisitive, informed and mutually beneficial form of tourism?
And what is the role of academics such as myself in shaping the relationship
between communities and tourism?
This kind of socially-engaged
research is right at home at the University of the Highlands and Islands,
where I began my PhD (entitled People, Place and the North Coast 500)
in January 2019. I moved to Thurso to start my fieldwork and set out with
the aim of working with several heritage organizations around the route
of the North Coast 500 to develop community-based research projects such
as this one. And this is what brought me here to Castletown and to the
wonderful set of volunteers and participants who have helped bring Living
Landscapes to fruition. In March 2020, I held a public event at the
Castlehill Heritage Centre to share some of the early findings of my research
and to invite people to join in the project. Only a couple weeks later
— on the eve of getting underway — we were plunged into the disorientating
and stifling new reality of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. The Living
Landscapes project was put on hold until it was safe (and legal) to
proceed. By late summer, restrictions had eased enough to allow us to
move forward in a smaller, semi-virtual fashion.
The five people whose
photos you see here each live within a couple miles of the centre of Castletown.
Coming from a wide range of places and backgrounds, all of them are deeply
rooted here in the local community as neighbours, parents and grandparents,
schoolteachers, heritage volunteers and (most recently) Covid-19 relief
coordinators. Perhaps it is this spirit of community service and love
of place that motivated them to sign up for this project. Each participant
received a 37-shot disposable film camera, which they used to chronicle
their own relationship with the landscapes around them as they went about
their daily routines over the course of the month of October. Once the
shots were developed and printed, in a series of one-to-one and group
sessions (whether over Zoom or in a quiet café) we shared the photos with
each other and discussed and debated the stories and meanings behind them.
Finally, for the exhibition you see here, the participants wrote thoughtful
descriptive captions for their selection of photos that they wished to
share with the public. I am grateful for these perceptive and beautiful
contributions to my research and for the friendship that these five participants
have given me over the past year.
images and words are full of memories, of people, of bits of poetry, of
personal forms of knowledge rooted in the joys and challenges of life
in a rural community. They helped me see Castletown from a different angle.
Whether you’re from nearby or from far away, I hope that this exhibition
gives you food for thought. What do these pictures tell you about life
in Caithness today? How do they compare with your expectations and assumptions
about this place and the people who live here?
University of the Highlands and Islands
PhD title: People,
Place and the North Coast 500
This PhD studentship
is supported by the European Social Fund.
1 - Jayne Blackburn
was born in Egypt in 1950 and have moved home every few years virtually
all my life, first with the RAF for my father and then following job opportunities
for my husband. We originally came to Caithness from Canada in the 1980s
but left when my husband had a job offer in England. After 17 years we
moved back to Caithness with his job and have been here now for 15 years.
We chose to come
back because we love the slower pace of life and the open spaces. We moved
to Castletown and settled in. I taught for several years and joined Castlehill
Heritage Centre, first turning up on Wednesday afternoons and gradually
joining in more and more, enjoying the friendliness of the volunteers.
I particularly enjoy finding out about the rich history of Castletown
and its surroundings. Meeting a variety of visitors to the Centre and
listening to their stories is fascinating.
We were members of
a walking group in Manchester and joined one here in Caithness. The walks
take us all over the county enabling us to appreciate the variety of landscapes
and the open skies. I love walking to Castlehill and the village from
our house because it is a quiet time when I can take in the open space
and enjoy the wildlife that I might encounter. I joined the "Living Landscape
Project" because I thought it would make me look closer at my surroundings
and help me appreciate and be more aware of it. In this it has succeeded.
looks empty and deserted and as if nothing is happening, which is
deceiving as farm work goes on all year. It shows the empty bays
and the dryer ready to be cleaned. This is following the hustle
and bustle of the harvest, when combine harvesters, tractors and
trailers and farm workers are all busy bringing in the grain.
The sheep in
this field are gazing at the photographer whilst behind them you
can see the broad Caithness plain and the wide open skies which
is part of the allure of the area. The area around is a working
one, with the farm fields having different purposes either grazing
or crops such as barley and oats.
Here the two
cottages were originally for farm workers and were very basic but
have been renovated and modernised and now are now rented out to
holiday makers and contractors, showing diversification. These are
linked closely to the farm but have evolved into a second purpose.
They are in regular use during the summer season and beyond, showing
that the area is still very much linked to the farm work and the
visitors to the area.
are part of the historical legacy of the area. They are the remains
of RAF Castletown from WW2, (the firing range, and the decontamination
building). These buildings are part of the area that families, of
those stationed here in the war, visit as a pilgrimage to help remember
their loved ones. The fields around the buildings are grazing for
cattle and sheep who use the walls of the firing range as shelter
for their young.
THE OLD MILL
This shows the
dilapidated remains of the meal mill on the outskirts of Castletown
which provided employment to locals. This once substantial mill
creates interest from visitors as they wish to know what is was
and why has it not been renovated. It is part of the history and
reflects how employment has changed over the years.
UNDER A BLUE SKY
A seascape showing
Dunnet Bay and beach, Dunnet Head and the outer walls of Castlehill
Harbour, the colour of the sea reflecting the blue sky. This view
and the wide expanse of beach are part of the lure for visitors
to the area. Again the link to the area's heritage is depicted by
the flagstone walls of the harbour.
AT HIGH TIDE
This shows Castlehill
Harbour at high tide with a variety of boats, both for leisure and
for creel fishing. The sky is grey and overcast but the water in
the harbour is still. The harbour walls are the indication of the
history of the flagstone industry when the harbour was a hive of
AT THE HARBOUR
This is the
same harbour but on a bright sunny day and it shows the same boats
moored to the harbour side but also a visitor setting off in a kayak.
The harbour is used by the fishermen and visitors but in the heyday
of the flagstone industry it was a busy place exporting the flagstone
around the world. Large boats were loaded with the flagstone to
take to other ports.
IN THE CAR PARK
Here can be
seen motor homes and campers in the Castlehill car park. The car
park was originally part of the pavement quarry that has been filled
in and covered. This car park is a popular stop over for motor homes
and tents due to a lack of facilities for tourists and has good
views over the old flagstone works and the bay.
of trees is taken from the Dunnet Road and the small lodge at the
end of the drive. It used to lead to Castlehill House which was
owned by James Traill, who opened up and developed the flagstone
industry at Castlehill. The house is no longer there having burnt
down. This planting has a planning application in progress, for
the development into a campsite for visitors, thus showing that
the area is continually evolving.
2 - Neil Buchan
not a native of Caithness I have lived here since the age of four when
we moved north as a family from Aberdeen. Since those earliest days I
have always considered Caithness to be my home, so having married a local
lass it was no surprise that we should chose to settle here. We moved
from Thurso to Castletown almost thirty-five years ago and have always
found it a safe and welcoming community in which to raise a family. We
are now happily retired here.
In my youth and early
career I had little interest in history or heritage being more excited
by engineering and technology, but gradually came to realise the importance
of the past and the environment around us in shaping our future. Through
a neighbour I became interested in the activities of Castletown Heritage
Society, who take a practical, engaging approach to bringing the history
and heritage of the Castletown community to life. Having drawn me in I
have served as a trustee of the Society for over eighteen years, the last
two as Chairman, and enjoy using my professional engineering and management
skills in support of the Society, particularly during the creation, development
and ongoing operation of Castlehill Heritage Centre.
The Living Landscapes
project has been an exciting opportunity to capture a sense of the local
community as we experience it today. My approach has been to try to consider
how elements of our natural and built environment interact not just with
the past and present, but their potential significance to future observers
of these times - tomorrow's history today, perhaps.
My wife and
I have lived in our house in Castletown for nearly thirty-five years.
Both of us enjoy working in our garden which is surrounded by mature
trees affording good shelter from the worst of the Caithness weather.
Most of the garden is laid to lawns, shrubs and flower beds, however
we successfully grow fruit, including blackcurrants, tayberries,
loganberries, brambles, apples and rhubarb, plus a regular healthy
crop of garden peas. This year Liz nurtured two different varieties
of sunflowers - the classic tall ones and also a shrub variety which
produced large numbers of dense golden heads, similar to ball dahlias.
Whilst Caithness can on occasion live up to its reputation of horizontal
rain and gale force winds for the most part the weather is much
less dramatic, and with a bit of shelter and care Castletown gardens
can be very productive, with many providing impressive displays
play park in Main Street, Castletown was completely refurbished
between 2014 and 2016 thanks to the amazing work done by the Castletown
Community Project. This community led group organised many local
events to raise the funds necessary to install modern, high quality
play equipment on new safety play surfaces. The end result is one
of the best play facilities in Caithness, much used by the local
community and beyond. This is an excellent example of what can be
achieved when the community works together to a common aim, creating
a lasting legacy for the village.
Since the 1950s
Caithness has been at the forefront of several innovative developments
in the production of electrical power. From Dounreay to the west
of Thurso which was chosen as the UK's primary site for the development
of Fast Breeder nuclear reactors to the short lived venture by the
North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board in conjunction with the Peat
Marketing Board to build an experimental peat powered power station
at Braehour Farm, Scotscalder. Caithness is currently subject to
the extensive development of wind turbine installations; the scale
of some are pushing boundaries and having a significant impact on
the landscape of Caithness. The photograph shows the latest energy
development within the county by MeyGen.
Experimental tidal power turbines have been installed on the seabed
in the Pentland Firth which has one of the highest tidal races in
UK territorial waters. If the technology proves to be successful
there is potential for substantial power production with much reduced
environmental and amenity impact.
EVOLUTION OF BALES
I well remember
as a young lad some 50+ years ago getting chased by the farmer for
playing on his haystacks at Ormlie Farm at the edge of Thurso. At
that time cut hay was allowed to dry then gathered in 'coles' (bunches)
before being built into stacks for storage and subsequent use as
feed for the animals over the winter months. Shortly after it became
more common for hay and straw to be bound into square bales using
a mechanical 'baler' towed behind a tractor. The bales were easily
handled by hand and ideally shaped for stacking for storage over
the winter. In my 20s and 30s I spent many a summer helping out
at hay time at my wife's family farm at Larel. I was certainly a
lot fitter in those days! Nowadays most farmers make large round
bales as shown in the photograph, taken at a field at Murkle just
west of Castletown. The overall handling is reduced, but manual
handling is out of the question. The latest innovation is large
square bales, again requiring mechanical handling, but offering
greater packing density in storage. The photograph is therefore
a moment in time in the evolution of hay and straw handling - who
knows what will be the common practice in twenty years time?
Chip Shop was in operation by the time we came to stay in Castletown
in 1986 and had established a well deserved reputation for the best
chips in the county. People were known to travel from as far afield
as Thurso and Wick for a good chip supper. The owners were very
friendly and were always very kind to our son when he was a babe
in arms almost 30 years ago. Over time the chip shop has passed
through several owners and is currently run by the family who own
Company, another highly successful enterprise. Sadly the shop
was put up for sale in July 2020 and at the time of writing a sale
has yet to be concluded. Hopefully new owners with a passion for
good chips will emerge, but just in case I felt it appropriate to
capture what is a undoubtedly Castletown institution in a photograph.
WHITE - A SIGN OF THE TIMES
Church in Main Street, Castletown currently operates in a union
with three other churches - Dunnet, Canisbay and Keiss. Each month,
one of the parishioners collates and publishes a 'Prayer Diary',
offering thoughts of fellowship and worship for each day of the
coming month. The Prayer Diary used to be printed and distributed
to all the parishioners in the union, however with the advent of
the Covid pandemic this proved to be difficult. Not to be defeated
the Prayer Diary is now emailed out to everyone with a pre-registered
email address, and also to volunteers in each parish who print off
the Diary and distribute by hand to those who are unable to access
the Diary online. The photo reflects the impact of Covid whereby
the November 2019 edition was printed in full colour, but the subsequent
August, October and November 2020 editions are in black and white,
having been printed off on our home laser printer.
system at Castlehill Heritage Centre is based on a high efficiency
log burner coupled with a large thermal store that feeds underfloor
heating within the building. The logs are sourced from sustainable
woodland at Dunnet Forest
just three miles away. The boiler is fired once or twice a day during
the winter months (less often during the summer period) by our volunteer
'boiler crew' and we are grateful for their efforts and support.
Unfortunately the Centre is currently closed to visitors due to
Covid so we just fire the system twice a week to keep the building
and contents dry and in good condition. The photo was taken after
I had given the boiler its monthly clean and service.
A FLY CUP
AND FANCY PIECE
Prior to Covid
my wife and I enjoyed regular weekends away in our mobile caravan
plus days out and about locally. We have tried hard during the Covid
pandemic to continue this philosophy within the constraints of the
restrictions. Picnic lunches are the order of the day, whereby a
simple shopping trip is turned into an opportunity for a 'trip out'.
For the latter half of 2020 we were fortunate in Caithness to be
within 'Zone 1', which meant that travel within the zone was not
restricted, therefore we took every opportunity to have a picnic
lunch or afternoon cuppa outside somewhere. The photo was taken
in a layby overlooking the Burn of Acharole, just south of the village
of Watten. Our philosophy is that you don't have to travel far to
enjoy a wee trip out and about.
Whilst it is
the 'holy grail' for travellers on the North Coast 500, local
folk also enjoy a day out to John o'Groats. We often drop into Stacks
Bistro for an afternoon binge on their superb range of home
bakes, or an ice cream at Flavours.
The photo reflects, once again, the impact of Covid, whereby only
one patron is permitted into the shop at a time and 2m social distancing
applies in the queue outside. The Caithness Fudge ice cream is to
THE NEW NORMAL?
pandemic has impacted almost all aspects of normal life, not least
operation of Castlehill Heritage Centre. After due consideration
we decided to close the Centre to visitors until circumstances permit
an acceptably safe operating scenario. In the interim, Castletown
Heritage Society is trying to continue operations by maximising
use of the digital environment. Our 2020 AGM was held online using
Zoom, and committee meetings have also been held using this format.
One plus point to emerge from the pandemic is an increased willingness
of heritage organisations to work together 'online' for mutual benefit.
One such opportunity is the Highland
Threads Project, whereby Museums and Heritage Centres within
the Highland Region showcase costumes of local historical significance
in an 'on-line museum'. The image shows me sitting in our conservatory
discussing the project with committee members using the medium of
Zoom. On-line networking and socialising has expanded exponentially
during the Covid restrictions - will this be the new norm??
3 - Muriel Murray
it is because I was brought up a townie in Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen
that I am so passionate about my adopted home land here in Caithness.
I arrived as a newly qualified teacher in 1967 and initially was captivated
by the endless skies, the wide open spaces, the coasts and cliffs and
the people. I married into a long established farming family and became
a confirmed country dweller. Later my interest in local history led me
to Castletown Heritage Society where I helped set up a community heritage
centre. Through this involvement I participated in every tourism initiative
from the 1980s onwards , endeavouring to promote Caithness as a popular
My particular joy
is to talk to visitors to the heritage centre. In conversation with them,
whether from this country or others there is always much to learn as well
as much to tell.
behind the main street lives Kevin McPhee the lobster fisherman.
In the winter his large lobster boat is moved here from the harbour
by crane. I love to see the creels piled up in his garden next to
a refrigerated cabin, which hums away, keeping the lobsters cool
until collected. It fell silent during the lockdown in the early
days of the pandemic. Most of the catch is exported to the restaurants
of Spain and France.
SIGN OF THE
Spotted on a
local washing line. Not colourful bikini tops but anti viral face
family is separated by a few hundred miles we do try to get together
every six weeks or so, Covid restrictions permitting. It is particularly
satisfying when everyone can engage in a joint activity. Here we
are all fishing completely unsuccessfully in the rain at Castlehill
And here's the
male half of the family.
On my walks
I like to look at the different types of field gates. Prior to the
modern standardised tubular metal variety, gates used to be made
by the local blacksmith and had character. This is an example of
an "arts and crafts " design apparently unique to the Olrig estate.
Sue Pargeter, local artist and design enthusiast has located and
sketched half a dozen of them. All similar but each one unique in
its detail. She hopes to arrange an exhibition of her gate works
for Castlehill Centre, complemented by artefacts and photos from
My view of parts
of the village reflect my interest in its heritage. Tar-laying behind
the newly extended hotel reminds me that the building used to be
the general store and post office where my husband's grandfather
was post master. He was also agent for farm machinery and other
farming products. The building also housed William Keith's tailor
and outfitter business. On one occasion the entire staff of the
Castle of Mey were kitted out with suitable mourning clothes for
the funeral of the earl of Caithness's daughter.
MUCK THERE'S BRASS
The site of
the scrapyard was originally the depot of Morrison's buses. Castletown's
big employer Norfrost, which produced freezers for the world market
was expanding rapidly in the 1990s and the original bus depot was
in the way! A new site was acquired and the move made. In time both
Norfrost and Morrisons went out of business. Now a local farmer
uses some of the Norfrost buildings to house his sheep and fodder.
Now taking on
the mantle of agents for farm supplies and machinery, the new management
is sprucing up the premises. What a boon it will be when the fuel
pumps are reinstated for locals and tourists.
Our own bales
gathered in safely. There are two sights which gladden my heart
as winter approaches - a shed full of bales and a well stacked wood
pile. A very elemental feeling.
No colour prejudice
in Castletown. During lock-down I have written a series of countryside
stories for my three year old grand-daughter - a "townie". Her favourite
features the problems of Lilly the lamb in finding her black mother
Sharon in the dark!
4 - Sharon Pottinger
came to Caithness more than 16 years ago now as a tourist myself. My brother
and sister in law invited me to come along with them to the international
Gathering of the Clan Gunn in the belief that our name - Gunason - indicated
we were a sept (an offshoot) of the Gunn clan. A year later I was back
visiting the man who would become my husband. My first 5 years in Caithness
were on a farm, which was a foreign country within a foreign country for
me. I began writing to help myself understand my new home, writing myself
into the landscape. When I heard about Living Landscapes project, I knew
right away it was something I wanted to be a part of - for myself and
for others. These photos show some of the things I've learned and would
like to share with others.
I had been reading
an essay by Wendell Berry when I first heard about Julian's project: 'The
difference between a path and a road is not only the obvious one. A path
is little more than a habit that comes with knowledge of a place. It is
a sort of ritual of familiarity. As a form it is a form of contact with
a known landscape… It is the perfect adaptation, through experience and
familiarity, of movement to place; it obeys the natural contours; such
obstacles as it meets it goes around. A road, on the other hand, even
the most primitive road, embodies a resistance against the landscape.
Its reason is not simply the necessity for movement, but haste. Its wish
to is to avoid contact with the landscape….' - Wendell Berry, The
And so I like to
think this photovoice offers some paths through our Living Landscape.
These photos give you a little glimpse of mine.
WICK, WITH IRONMONGERS WARES ON SIDEWALK
question about parking or not is more or less a local issue, the
question of this road as thoroughfare (passing people and vehicles
through without stopping) or as a shopping street is symptomatic
of the whole difference in viewpoint, I think between those of us
who live here and those using the NC500.
LOCHEND ROAD WITH TRIG POINT
is my 'patch' as Bill Oddie used to say. Halfway to the loch is
a trig point. A few feet to the east of the loch, the water course
decides to go east or west-all of this happens right under our noses.
The water chooses its own path and invites us to follow. Loch Heilan
hosts a variety of birdlife and is a good fishing loch. To see the
birds, however, you need to be patient. The swans see me coming
up the metallized road long before I arrive and paddle around to
a quiet corner just out of sight.
PAINT AT TWILIGHT ON BARN SIDE
There is a clarity
to the light here - both geography and history can contribute to
explain the physics of it, but I simply note it and try to catch
it. When I first moved here from Indiana, I missed the bold colours
of the autumn leaves, but the moor changes colours with the days
and the seasons, but it takes a bit more care to see it. And rainbows.
They often fill the sky arching overhead or as in this photo peek
shyly out from between clouds.
AT TWILIGHT ON BARN SIDE
on the barn shift hues with the light. From moment to moment a field,
a leaf, a side of a barn can move along the colour spectrum.
SPECS ON THE EDGE OF A HILL
We live on an
edge. The most obvious is the northern boundary, but there are others
as well. The northeast coast of Caithness is probably the only place
in Scotland where Gaelic was not widely spoken. And the place names
carry the legacy of the peoples and their languages that have passed
through here. So this photo, taken from Lochend looking toward the
field where the cattle are grazing on the hill, is meant to say
someone's edge is someone else's middle. Do we look like the cattle
on the edge of their sight as NC500s drive through?
DOING AS A PART OF BEING, PART 1
is built, in part, on living rock, and the innovation of putting
the stones vertical rather than horizontal has made a much sturdier
harbour. Just one instance of Scottish engineering which has created
marvels around the world, but as is often the case with infrastructure,
is largely invisible. There are still boats fishing out of the harbour.
DOING AS A PART OF BEING, PART 2
My gansey, made
for me by the inimitable gansey-man and archivist, Gordon Reid.
Its stitches reflect both tradition of knitting for fisherman and
an awareness of my personal history with motifs chosen to reflect
my life: marriage lines, cattle hooves, and tree of life.
DOING AS A PART OF BEING, PART 3
A bag of tatties.
Self-reliance - not self-sufficiency or isolationism - means kailyards
with their Hungry Gap kale and tatties were a mainstay of people
who value 'good hands.'
HARD AT WORK
MAKING PIZZAS AT LYTH ARTS CENTRE
Good hands and
self-reliance includes the arts. Lyth Arts Centre - the northernmost
mainland arts centre- manages to attract both local and world famous
creatives to the edge by offering hospitality and warm welcome.
It was very sad to see the house that has offered - hopefully will
again - so many people through its doors empty because of COVID-19.
Across the parking lot, where the theatre and lounge and kitchen
are, co-directors Tom and Charlotte set up a takeaway pizza business
to keep people and some revenue coming through the door.
Reeds for thatching
in a patch by the side of Barrock Road. Theck is the Caithness word
for thatch according to Iain Sutherland's The Caithness Dictionary.
Without knowing history or botany, these might just appear to be
weeds. They are much taller than other reeds. Morris said they were
valued for theck.
history bits are tied into the names of fields, farms, or former
estates, which reflect the people who farmed there. Greenland, although
the road sign remains, the farm town that was once there has largely
vanished. Farm names such as Greenland Mains-speak to the farm towns
and estates which comprised several farms. Even field names carry
tributes to those who worked there.
This small building
is half of the combined Castletown-Canisbay surgery. They punch
above their weight to look after us, let alone visitors. And the
hospitals: Wick has no pediatric unit or surgeons after hours; and
Dunbar Hospital in Thurso has no A&E. There is no local police station.
Even minor traffic accidents can close essential roads for hours
because someone has to come up from Dingwall to investigate. Between
here and Inverness there are only cottage hospitals, and local ambulances
are often tied up taking patients from here to Inverness, so emergency
services at all levels are already stretched thin.
AT BROUGH BAY AND THE EMPTY TRAILER
An old boat
destined for a place of honour after refurbishment was taken on
the eve of its move to Brough - no one knew who or where it had
gone. There was a flurry of words on Facebook and Caithness.org
and in the local paper. The next part of the story was that the
boat was returned 'under police escort' and is now safely under
lock and key while it gets its refurbishment. It will then be placed
with historical explanation at Brough. The empty trailer is about
things going missing - only some of which can be returned or replaced.
A VIEW OF
THE STEPS AT BROUGH LEADING DOWN TO THE BEACH
Prior to the
building of the pathway and those steps, only very hardy individuals
could get over the seawall and down to the beach (and back up again).
Those unassuming looking steps so easily taken for granted required
thousands of volunteer hours: drafting proposal to Paths for
All, getting support for the application, and then the hard
graft of making the path and the steps. Maintaining or expanding
existing infrastructure is hard work and very expensive. Brough
is a living harbour and the last of the little harbours to still
have its own committee.
AT BROUGH HARBOUR
By the side
of the bothy where the historical plaque and the flowers - all done
by volunteers - there is a box for donations. The last time I was
at Brough I saw folks enjoying it, but no one dropped a farthing
in the box. They park in the lot that needs maintenance, walk down
the quay or along the path and pick up rocks and shells and sing
to the seals - all of which they are welcome to do, but someone
has to pay for the upkeep and provide the labour to keep it there
for all of us.
5 - Christine Stone
I was born in Upper Coll on the Isle of Lewis, today I live in Castletown
where I am a supply primary school teacher and Gaelic language tutor.
I love engaging with people and nature at any and every opportunity and
I am deeply involved in my local community.
Most recently, I
co-ordinated the local 'Castletown Covid-19 Support & Response Volunteers'
in order to furnish needy community members with a wide range of supports:
hot meals, dog-walking, pick-up and delivery of prescriptions, befriending
telephone calls, shopping delivery and any other essential supports which
I came to be involved
in the Living Landscapes Project by attending an evening at Castlehill
Heritage Centre where Julian's presentation grabbed my entire attention,
imagination, sense of thrill and exploration. I was always - and am always
- out and about with my camera but to engage with my own living landscape
with new concepts and ideas made my excursions more vibrant and colourful
as I viewed things not only from my original perspective but through another
additional lens, so to speak. The entire process, from beginning to end,
was a huge pleasure and particularly so during such a difficult and trying
time in our lives.
- taken at Castlehill Harbour
the harbour, the visitor may view the boats hauled up on the grass
as old and no longer seaworthy. The 'Saramanda' sits there, the
strong, tall wall providing shelter from the winter season until
the summer weather allows her to return to the bay. There, her skipper
guides her to times of plentiful fishing, to reward for toil and
to generous giving. We who know this living landscape, know him
and know why his boat bears this name. We know the taste of fresh
mackerel from bay to plate.
AND SOIL - taken at the Woodland Traill
unite - flagstone carvings bending to rich earth. A place to rest
I feel the familiar
urge to reach a slender forefinger to the top right-hand corner
of each stone - a little push - and there! Perpendicular perfection!
A DYING GUILLEMONT
- taken at Dunnet Bay
Black and white
signifies distinction of one thing from another. This dying guillemot
represents, to my mind, the reality of life and death, the loss
of what is truly valued as heritage and history in the face of changing
culture and circumstance. As sure as the ebb and flow, the crest
and trough of the tide will change this shoreline, as sure as the
sky casts cloud or sunshine on this landscape, as surely as those
changes will forever seal the doom of this young guillemot, so the
blacks and whites of what we hold dear will be swept away, changed
or perhaps forgotten in the passage of time, unless we grasp, hold
dear and keep alive what has gone before so that it remains vibrant
and relevant in our current culture, life and living landscapes.
CHEST - taken at the Shingle Beach
show of shingle, shell and shore. Perhaps the traveller will choose
the beautiful, bright oranges and yellows, or grasp the green, sea
glass. We who know this living landscape see beyond. Our treasure
lies there, insignificant and unnoticed by those who cannot see:
a "groatie buckie", as they're called here, a peedie wee shell beloved
on these shores. Plain is beautiful - and lucky, it seems. We do
not look with ease; we search with determination.
TIME - taken in my garden
of dates. Mementos abide… Julian, speaking with Christine, in October
2020. They wear masks to forever set the scene as taken in the year
of the Covid-19 Pandemic. He sports a sweatshirt - a product of
the 2010 Royal National Mòd in Caithness. She sports a Scotland
Rugby World Tour 2007 fleece. The bench which once sat in the village
Free Church found its new home in the garden in the summer of 2015.
These are the changing years.
VIEW - taken at Castlehill Harbour
Dunnet Bay to Dwarwick Pier, the scene is familiar - as if sitting
with a friend of old. The comfort of seeing it is somehow marred
by a stone stack which was not there before. It hurts my eyes. Each
day, my original vision fades as the stone stack remains. My mind
wrestles - I am unsettled and disgruntled that my landscape of years
has been distorted by an unwelcome, unnatural structure. I struggle
and then, one day…. I act. The stone stack is no more.
- taken in the windpump tower at Castlehill
We, whose delight
it is to live here, have obtained the wide lens view of our living
landscapes. Looking beyond the narrow, limited view, our vision
gleans a higher, wider, fuller measure as we engage and interact,
with all our senses. The sights, smells, sounds, touches and tastes
draw us in, providing opportunities to connect in a meaningful,
sustaining way. We are those that stay and not those who simply
THE SELKIE - taken at the Old Cemetery, Olrig
Our living landscapes
connect us to the past - our historical past and that of myths,
legends and folklore. A visitor may wander through the old Olrig
grave-yard, content to be in a place of quiet reflection. We know
the Selkies. We know the story of these shapeshifters. They are
part of us and we need not wonder or wander, for we know where the
AND SCARCITY - taken at home
- a place of wide, open skies, painted in differing colours of seasons
that come and go.
- a place scarce of trees - their beauty captured in forests and
gardens. The link between our cotton-white clouds and bark and trunk
- between our vast skies and hidden places connect us. We can each
search for shapes, for faces and for the hidden art created within
both by our living landscape. There is always more to see than meets
the eye. What do you see?
LIGHT on our PAST - taken at Castlehill Harbour
archway" a visitor may say. The sunshine illuminates the past,
shining its freshest light on the darkness of ignorance, inviting
us to step through into the warmth of knowledge - into our history
- to which we are bound. The welcome light affords an opportunity
to engage with our stories of old - to gain the truth that surrounds
our ruins, to help rebuild our understanding of the fragments which
remain where once the story was lived out from day to day.
BENCH - taken at the shore, Castlehill
A place of rest
for young and old from near and far, for those who find our living
landscape vibrant and ever-changing, for those whose pause in this
place is short - the need to move on to the next big picture propelling
them forward, all too speedily. Here is a place to ponder, to speak
of families, of friendships, of community, of conversations, of
thankfulness, of desires and of diligence.
Here is a place
where prayers are made.
- taken at Sandend, Castlehill
To some, this
points the way to a handy beach access. Perhaps the stone is unread
or read hastily and without connection. We who stay and know, remember
the person whose name is etched into the flagstone. He lives on
- his story lives on although he is no longer able to walk with
his guide dogs to this place, although he is no longer singing the
Gaelic songs on his way home, past the lodge. This landscape connects
us to him and our fond memories rise to greet us.
it is the BEST - Castletown FC Football Pitch
In our village,
we have an impressive football pitch. Like a finely woven cloth
on the loom, the cut grass patterns are in themselves a piece of
art. This ground has welcomed generations who love the beautiful
game. We, who observe, see the work that goes into maintaining this
living landscape … a work of dedication and commitment, spanning
decades. A visitor may see a green space. We see a man and witness
his unflinching devotion to maintaining what some say is the best
pitch in the county.