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Castletown Heritage Society is delighted to have participated in the Highland 2007 Community Programme. With the support of a capital award we have successfully created a purpose built sustainable venue within the Castlehill Heritage Centre for the development and delivery of events and training workshops featuring local and vernacular skills, the objective being to preserve and maintain the unique heritage of the Castletown community within both local Caithness and broader Highland contexts.

Events were also supported by LEADER+

The Highland 2007 Vernacular Skills venue directly enables delivery of events, displays, training workshops and 'experience days' with the aim of stimulating interest and participation in traditional local and vernacular skills, and being delivered within the context of the community led Castletown Heritage Centre it is hoped the facility will enhance the awareness of and sense of pride of our local community in our rich heritage.

The following programme of events was held in Castlehill Heritage Centre Vernacular Skills Facility supported by revenue funding from the Highland 2007 Community Programme and Leader +

Rope, basket, and paper making workshop. Thursday 19th, Friday 20th April and Monday 23rd, Tuesday 24th April 2007.

The first of our series of workshops held as part of the Highland 2007 Community Programme was a four day adult workshop under the direction of creative artists Tim Johnson and Joanne Kaar. Tim and Joanne encouraged participants to interpret the spirit of this area - its present and past- using their expertise in a range of media with special focus on local materials. While Tim was our basket and rope work tutor, Joanne specialised in making paper from materials evocative of the place she is interpreting.

Tim Johnston at work

Having a go

Master and students

Making rope on Dunnet Head

Preparing materials

All my own work!

Rope making used to be a regular wet weather activity for farm-workers, fashioning rope reins from binder twine for the Clydesdale horses that pulled the plough and cart. A rope maker's business in the village made heavy- duty ropes for the ships transporting flagstones from the harbour at Castlehill.

Tim Johnston, rope and basket craftsman from the Isle of Wight was invited to join local paper-making artist Joanne Kaar in offering a 4 day workshop which would bring the old skill to life. Ten participants signed up for the experience, all with different backgrounds and different reasons for joining the work-shop. They were encouraged to be creative and to evoke the spirit of Castletown past and present, using a range of locally found natural materials - willow, rush, long-stemmed moss and garden plants like crocosmia, red hot poker, daffodil whose single-veined leaves lend themselves to weaving and plaiting.

Tim demonstrated rope- twisting techniques from around Britain and abroad and the preparation of rush for the making of brushes and the traditional shepherd's cape from Portugal. Joanne showed how to capture the sense of place by incorporating into paper pulp evocative local plant materials - peat, seeds, petals, fibres. Once pressed and dried, the sheets became pages of a book, the background to a visual arrangement or material for a box containing special objects. A suitable spot was chosen by each participant around the buildings of Castlehill Visitor Centre and the grounds of the now derelict Castlehill House. to display and photograph their completed work.

During the course of the event the tutors and participants were delighted when local farmers, farm workers and crofters dropped in to see the workshop in action, share their memories and demonstrate their own techniques of rope- making.

The workshop was the first event to be held in the newly completed Vernicular Skills Facility within Castlehill Heritage Centre. Castletown Heritage continues the series of traditional skills workshops with dry-stone dyking in May, traditional Caithness chair making in July, and croft crafts - spinning, weaving, rag rug making, bannock and crowdie making in September. A final exhibition is planned for October.

Some finished examples

Photos courtesy of Joanne Kaar

Tim, whose work is well known throughout Britain and beyond encouraged participants to bring along their own interpretive ideas and also their own skills to the project - such as knitting, weaving, collage, crochet and patch work. Tim's inspiration comes from his own observation and knowledge of diverse styles of basket and rope making from many countries, often dictated by the vegetation available locally.

Joanne's work has a distinctive maritime flavour. Brought up in Brough, Caithness, she lives and works overlooking Dunnet Bay. After graduating in Manchester her career as a fabric artist took her to Taiwan for a five month spell as artist in residence. Joanne produces unique paper incorporating materials such as herbs, seeds and plant fibres which add scent, texture and colour to the product. The resulting fibre can then be used in a variety of ways. For further information on Joanne's work visit her website.

Just like a jigsaw, start by spreading out the pieces

Setting out the foundation

Dave Goulder's faithful dog keeps a close eye on progress

First task completed - retaining wall for raised flower bed

Enjoying a well earned break in the Heritage Centre

Drystone Dyking Course Sat/Sun 19/20 May 07

The blustery weather on Saturday did nothing to dampen the enthousiasm of the fourteen delegates who signed up to take part in the third drystone dyking course to be run by Castletown Heritage Society. Their patience was rewarded with glorious sunshine on Sunday which also served to show off the fruits of their labours to best advantage.

Over the course of the two days, master craftsman Dave Goulder from Rosehall, Lairg, expertly coached the trainees in the basic craft skills before leading them on to more advanced techniques.

The popular two day course was run as part of a programme of events organised by Castletown Heritage in support of Highland 2007 Year of Culture.

The walls and features constructed by the trainees over the course of the two days will remain in place at the end of the course to support the formation a themed heritage garden within the inner courtyard at Castlehill Heritage Centre.

Further work will be undertaken over the summer to create a new access gate and walkway through the courtyard leading to the new visitor entrance to the Heritage Centre.

Dave Goulder was born in 1939 of a Derbyshire farming family - a railway footplate man, mountaineer, motorcyclist, classical music enthusiast, Spanish guitar player, Jew's harp virtuoso, songwriter, poet, singer, hedge layer, junk sculptor, naturalist, community arts administrator, drystone walling Master Craftsman/instructor, ceilidh band member, failed mandolin player, and arthritic. For further information on Dave's work visit his superb website.

Total concentration

Dave Goulder coaching the delegates

Gradually things start to take shape

Definitely looking good!

Dave Goulder (bearded, centre) and the course delegates

Caithness Chair Making - Sat 14th July 2007.

The Caithness Chair making workshop was judged to be a great success.

Fred Haughton from Achvarasdal first instructed delegates on the types of wood he uses for his wood turning, usually sourced from his local woodland at Achvarasdal. Fred showed slides of the various types of tree and the form of branches they produce. A remarkable range of usable woods are to be found growing in Caithness.

Fred then displayed images of Caithness chairs including the earliest known example which is in the Wick Heritage Museum. The traditional chair which we know as a Caithness chair is in fact identical to the Sutherland chair.

Fred explained how chair-makers would seek out a likely growing tree and ensure that it grew to the desired curve for the chair back by judicious training. In Caithness where wood was in short supply, many chairs were made of drift wood. Fred's slide show then demonstrated the method he used for restoring a child's chair found in a Dunnet croft-house. and lastly how he assembles the pieces while making a chair from scratch.

Workshop participants then had a lesson in traditional mortice and tenon joint cutting and many tried their hand at the procedure. A collection of Caithness chairs was on display and the slight variations in size, design and construction were studied. At the end of the day participants left with a great appreciation of the skill required in producing our local chair.

Vernacular furniture revival!

Hard at work

Raking and cleaning out mortar joints

Carefully does it

Not like that, like this!

Final surface dressing

The finished product!

Scottish Lime Trust Road-show

Saturday 1st Sept 2007

The weather held for what proved to be an extremely popular Scottish Lime Trust workshop, with a full compliment of sixteen willing delegates taking part in training in the use of lime-based materials for the conservation and repair of Scottish traditional buildings.

Jackie Pauley got activities underway with an illustrated presentation on the origins, 'science' and uses of lime based materials in traditional building techniques.

After giving a health and safety briefing, master mason Michael Geddes led the delegates outside into the Castlehill courtyard area where he demonstrated how to prepare various lime mortar mixes using quicklime and hydrated lime materials.

Delegates were then given the opportunuity to put the theory into practice, with Mike coaching them in various traditional and modern techniques for the preparation of masonary prior to repair using a lime mortar.

This was very much a 'hands on' event, and delegates were encouraged to try out the full range of techniques on their 'own' section of the Castlehill building.

Gillian Ferguson ran hands-on children's activities throughout the day, including making plaster casts from moulds and painting.

DVD based video training material and displays of samples of lime materials and a range of affordable building conservation books supplemented the practical sessions.

Based in Fife the Lime Trust travels the country instructing in the correct method of maintaining traditional buildings through practical demonstration and participant involvement. For further information on traditional building renovation visit the Scottish Lime Trust website.

The 'L' team! Michael Geddes third from right

A welcome tea break

Much discussion over lunch. Gillian and Jackie on the right.

Lime materials on display

The effect of just a little water on a lump of quicklime....

We haven't had much sunshine recently, so I thought I'd make my own!

Patchwork quilting

Rag rug making

The pattern starts to appear

Hugh and Janet preparing the frames for rag rug making

And here's one we made earlier..

Croft Crafts

Saturday 29 Sept 07

Castlehill Heritage centre was a hive of activity as the last in the series of traditional skills workshops swung into action.

Seventeen ladies from a tender age to the more mature, spent the day trying out the crafts of their choice. On offer were rag-rug making, spinning, crochet, knitting and patchwork quilting.

Under the tuition of Joanna Mackay, Sheila Jack, Janet Corbett, and Ann Johnston, colourful mini rugs began to take shape on a hessian background, and sunflowers, sea-scapes and abstract designs emerged from a pile of shredded cloth remnants.

To the whirr of the treadle, lengths of woollen yarn were gently coaxed from the fleece as the art of spinning was learnt.

Some ladies were re-learning an art which they had forgotten, while others were enjoying something quite new.

To recall another almost forgotten domestic skill, Joanna Mackay demonstrated how to make crowdie, the traditional soft cheese of Caithness. Official taster and connoisseur of crowdie Morris Pottinger declared it to be excellent.

All agreed that "good instruction, good lighting, good food and good crack" made for a successful day.

Once again we were delighted to welcome a number of spectators who dropped in to watch proceedings.

Janet and Joanna preparing materials

Gently does it....

I'm definitely going to get the hang of this...

Ann explains the finer points of spinning and carding

Hmm.... this is trickier than operating a JCB!

Programme Finale - Saturday 27 October 2007

Open Day and display of outputs from the Vernacular Skills Workshops.

A steady stream of visitors arrived throughout the afternoon

Products from Joanne Karr's workshop on paper making

In stark contrast to the damp and dreich weather, a warm welcome awaited everyone who came along to the Open Day on Saturday 27th October.

On display were examples of what was achieved during the vernacular skills workshops held as part of the Highland 2007 Community Programme. Many of the workshop tutors were on hand to explain the techniques and skills used including Joanne Karr, Nona Mackay and the ladies of Murkle Rural, and Ann Johnston, whose sessions on spinning and carding were very popular.

Visitors were also able to view the latest progress in developing the Centre, including the access arrangements through the garden courtyard.

Treadle powered wood working lathe and samples of work by local craftsman Alan Jones.

The access path through the garden is now all but complete - well done Hugh and Muriel!