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Dateline: Saturday 26 December 2009

Boxing day opening of Winter exhibition voted a success!

Our traditional Boxing Day opening once again proved popular with visitors and locals alike. On offer was the chance to be the first to view the new winter exhibition 'Looking Back 100 Years' and to sample some mincemeat pies, shortbread and mulled wine, made to John Crowden's secret recipe. And not bad it was too!!

As often happens, many of those perusing the exhibits and displays were able to contribute further information, memories and anecodtes, all of which will be used to develop the exhibition and enrich the visitor experience.

The exhibition will be open every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon, 2-4pm, until Easter.

A steady stream of visitors arrived throughout the afternoon

Word 'processor', 1910 style
Fully functioning wind-up gramophone - the mp3 player of its day

Where's the cane and tails?

A selection of domestic artefacts from the turn of the century (20th century, that is)
Muriel explaining the significance and provenance of some of our maritime paintings
A very elegant visitor?
Advertising flyer for the Castlehill Caithness Flagstone Company Limited
Postcard with rare view of Castletown from the quarry looking south west
Those who enjoyed a stroll round the 'harbour loop' were treated to a stunning view of the old red sandstone cliffs of Dunnet Head lit up by the setting sun
John, Muriel, Neil and Hugh with the trophy the Society won for 'Best Community Initiative' at the Highland & Islands Tourism Awards 2009


Dateline: Monday 21 December 2009

Looking Back at Castletown 100 Years Ago

Castletown Heritage Society proudly presents their Winter Exhibition which offers a glimpse into village life, politics, health, local entertainment, transport, world affairs, clothes and fashion of 100 years ago.

Exhibition opens on Boxing Day - Saturday 26th Dec, 1-4pm.

Come along to the opening event at the award winning Castlehill Heritage Centre and enjoy some complimentary mincemeat pies and mulled wine.

Dateline: Monday 7 December 2009

'Comings and Goings' has been and gone

The summer exhibition 'Comings and Goings', presented as part of Scotland's Year of Homecoming has now drawn to a close. Many thanks to all who visited Castlehill Heritage Centre, particularly those who were inspired to share memories and snippets of local knowledge and history, all of which helped to bring the exhibition to life.

The Society is now hard at work putting the finishing touches to our winter exhibition, which will focus on the life and times in Castletown 100 years ago. From the social scene to the introduction of new technology, the exhibition will offer a fascinating insight into village life in Castletown at the turn of the century. Watch this space for further details to be released shortly.

To enable the new exhibition to be set up, Castlehill Heritage Centre will be closed to visitors for two weeks and will re-open at 1pm on Boxing Day, 26th December. [All venue bookings will however proceed as normal during this period.]

Dateline: Saturday 21 November 2009

Highlands & Islands Tourism Awards 2009

Best Community Initiative Award

Castletown Heritage Society

All the hard work and dedication of the committee, members and supporters of Castletown Heritage Society in establishing and developing the Castlehill Heritage Centre was formally recognised on Friday evening when, in the presence of Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, Castletown Heritage Society was presented with the Best Community Initiative Award at the 2009 Highland and Islands Tourism Awards.

The Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards scheme, known as the 'northern Oscars', is one of the most coveted accolades in the industry and recognises tourism players at the top of their game. It is designed to reflect the high quality, diversity and innovation synonymous with tourism today in the Highlands and Islands.

The glittering award ceremony took place at the Drumossie Hotel in Inverness and was attended by representatives from the 25 strong shortlist of the best tourism businesses in the region. Neil and Liz Buchan travelled south to represent Castletown Heritage Society as guests of The Highland Council, sponsors of the Best Community Initiative Award.

"From the moment we stepped out of the taxi it was clear this was going to be a special evening", said Neil. "Guests were escorted into the Drumossie through a guard of honour formed of Jacobite Highlanders in magnificent period costumes, before mingling with other nominees and award sponsors at a champagne reception. Anyone hoping for a early sneaky peek of the main hall was gently, but firmly, dissuaded by a ferrocious looking Highlander weilding a large pike, but who was more than happy to pose for photographs!!

The award ceremony was very slick and professional, with a short video profile of each shortlisted organisation prior to the winner of each of the ten categories being announced. By the time our category was showcased the buzz and excitement of the evening had fair built up, and the emotion released when Castletown Heritage Society was announced as the winner was very real. We knew the competition was strong and even to have been selected as a shortlisted nominee was quite an achievement, so walking up onto the stage to receive the award on behalf of the Society was a very proud moment."

Castletown Heritage Society knew back in October that we had been shortlisted for the Community Tourism Initiative Award, which celebrates community collaboration and recognises initiatives and projects where community groups and businesses have worked together to improve the way their destination cares for visitors. Our fellow shortlisted nominees were the Auld Alliance Gourmet Academy at Kingussie and Dunollie in Oban.

Muriel Murray, Chairwoman of Castletown Heritage Society said: On behalf of everyone associated with the Society, I am delighted that we have been recognised with the Community Tourism Initiative Award. The Society started back in 1985, but its really only in the last 2-3 years that we have become more active since we secured premises from Highland Council which now operate as a heritage based visitor attraction and exhibition centre, used by locals and visitors from around the world all year round. Being shortlisted for the award reflects the proactive approach and hard work, particularly in the past year, by the dedicated members who give up their time on a voluntary basis.

Mingling with guests at the Champagne Reception

Thou shalt not pass!

Councillor Ian Ross prepares to announce the winner of the Best Community Initiative category

The moment of truth....

The unique award trophy is fittingly mounted on a plinth of Caithness Flagstone!

The standard of catering at the Drummossie is, quite simply, superb

Liz Buchan and Colin Simpson, Tourism Co-ordinator at The Highland Council enjoying the occasion

The whole ambiance of the evening was very professional, reflecting the status of the awards

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers set the seal on an outstanding evening

Their performance of 'Highland Cathedral' was simply sensational

The three hundred plus guests take to the floor to join in a unique rendition of rock band Queen's anthem 'We Will Rock You'

Neil & Liz Buchan with the coveted award, which will be proudly displayed in Castlehill Heritage Centre

Dateline: Saturday 14 November 2009

Pre-Christmas Sale at Castlehill a roaring success!!!

When we first had the idea for a pre-Christmas sale of locally sourced goods and hand crafted items we were convinced it would do well, but were understandably nervous as it was our first venture of this nature. Any qualms quickly disappeared as Castlehill Heritage Centre was thronged from the moment the doors opened at 10 am.

Visitors remarked very favourably as to the high quality and diversity of produce on display, including:

  • Slate and stone goods from Caithness Stone Industries
  • Cards, prints and paintings from local artist Helen Moore
  • Wood items lovingly crafted by the North Highland Woodturners Association
  • Hand knit hats, scarves, bags, socks and Christmas ornaments from Caithness Stitch 'n' Blether
  • Silk scarves, driftwood art, hand felted items from Castlehill Crafts
  • Books, calendars and speciality soaps from Castletown Heritage Society

Tea, coffee and a selection of delicious home baking kept both the visitors and stall keepers refreshed at what turned out to be a real social event!

Thanks to all who turned out to make the days such a success - it has encouraged us to try similar events in the future to showcase local talent, and by popular demand we will almost certainly run another sale for Christmas 2010!

Hugh and Keith take a breather in the sunshine in the courtyard garden


Dateline: Saturday 24 October 2009

Caithness Voices - songs and verse project in full swing

The buildings at Castletown Heritage Centre have been ringing with the sound of songs, stories and verse with a local connection. Our 'Tidelines' series of workshops under the direction of Katrina Gordon and George Gunn, have resulted in the collection of a variety of tunes , songs and poems from past and present. The eclectic mix includes items reflecting the distant past of the Caithness mercenary soldier, songs praising the village and its people and local traditional songs recalling a particular phase in local history.

Local people have contributed their musical memories, their voices and their compositions.

An evening's entertainment in the Castletown Drill Hall on 30th October at 7.30 will give an opportunity to hear a few of the collected pieces. Among notable performers will be Heather Calder-McPhee , Donald Macneill, Heather Millard, Catherine Mckenzie and Joan Elder. Also performing will be class P6/7 of Castletown School who are the first to be involved in a county schools project "Caithness Voices" run by Grey Coast Theatre. The second part of the evening will be a performance of George Gunn's "Fields of Barley", of particular interest as it is set just outside Castletown during the Second World War. It is hoped that the concert will stimulate interest in the local heritage of music verse and story telling.

The project is a long-term one, run in collaboration with North Highland Connections and involves much research but heavily depends on input from local people. If anyone has a remembered air or verse, Castletown Heritage would be delighted to hear from you. Email

Dateline: Thursday 8 October 2009

Half the time but twice the fun???

Word of the successful 'Laundry Day' workshop held with pupils from Castletown Primary School at the beginning of September (see report below) must have spread fast, for within days we received a request from Reay Primary School for a similar workshop.

Ever happy to oblige, Muriel Murray of Castletown Heritage Society organised another workshop in conjunction with STEM North of Scotland and local volunteers, this time compressed into half a day. Through a network of science and engineering 'ambassadors', STEM support activities and opportunities for schools to use to enrich the curriculum in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and technology.

Once again the pupils seemed to really enjoy learning about textiles, detergents and how 'claes' were washed in the 'olden days'.

Photos courtesy of Reay Primary School

Dateline: Tuesday 14 September 2009

Drystone Dyking Courses a great success.

After a week of decidedly mixed weather it was with mightly relief that the Drystone Dyking Course on 29/30 August was blessed with warm, sunny weather for both the Saturday and the Sunday. Under the expert leadership of master craftsman Dave Goulder from Lairg, course delegates quickly progressed from learning the basic skills to constructing a number of features within the Heritage Garden.

The pride of these is a circular stone wall, designed to be used as seating for visitors to relax and enjoy the ambience and features within the garden, and perhaps even enjoy a picnic lunch during those balmy Caithness summer days....

The foundation course for the stone circle starts to take shape

Work starts on the enclosure wall for the seashore/ fossil stonefeature

Dave Goulder demonstrates how to lay stones in an interlocking layer

Hard at work

The stone circle starts to take form

Total concentration

"Today we shall look through the rectangular window..."

The key to success is teamwork!

Enjoying a well earned break. Catering was provided by lady members of the Society, with a superb selection of soups, much in demand.

See this? Dead easy! We can tackle anything!

The completed boundary wall around the foreshore /fossil stone feature. This will be partially filled with sand and planted out with vernacular shore based plants.

The course delegates testing the circular seating feature. Dave Goulder looking cool in his shades.

Due to the above course being significantly over-subscribed, a second course was arranged to cater for the overspill. In the event, this course was also rapidly oversubscribed, such is the popularity of these courses.

The second event actually took place the previous weekend, with local man George Gunn, Drystone Walling Association Master drystone waller and DSWA / LANTRA Advanced Trainer, taking on the role of course tutor. After intial instruction and safety briefing in Castlehill Heritage Centre, the course transferred to East Murkle, where we were very grateful to CHS member Duncan Gray who provided the venue for the delegates to develop their new found skills through the construction of a retaining wall. Duncan's wife Janet kept the delegates in fine fettle with some delicious catering.

From the humble acorn do mighty oaks grow...

The foundation layer for the retaining wall takes shape

The foundation layer reaches surface level

"If your back gets sore, just stretch and enjoy the view..."

The wall starts to gain some height.

Note the inner face features to lock the wall into the earth back once backfilled.

Target height is achieved, ready for the coping stones.

A finished section of wall - very good it looks too!

If you would like to take part in the next dry stone dyking course to be organised by Castletown Hetitage Society, please contact us by EMAIL.


Dateline: Thursday 10 September 2009

Laundry Day the old way at Castlehill Heritage Centre

Pupils from Castletown Primary School recently tried their hand at doing the family wash using methods more familiar to their grandmothers, at a 'Laundry Day' workshop organised by Muriel Murray of Castletown Heritage Society in conjunction with STEM North of Scotland and local volunteers. Through a network of science and engineering 'ambassadors', STEM support activities and opportunities for schools to use to enrich the curriculum in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and technology.

During what proved to be an action packed day, the Primary 6 & 7 pupils examined a variety of 'old fashioned' wash-day equipment, including a fascinating variety of irons, the method of use of each being carefully explained. They learned a little about the science behind soap and detergents from ex Thurso High School science teacher Mrs Speed.

Using washboards, podgers, tin baths and mangles, the pupils quickly discovered that unlike modern washing machines and other such labour saving devices, wash day really was hard work where a simple equation applied: more effort = cleaner clothes!

The programme included learning about knitting and weaving, with music in the air as the pupils sang Gaelic 'waulking' songs as practiced by Scottish women as they rhythmically beat or 'waulked' newly woven tweed around a table or board to make it full and ready for use.

All in all, the pupils voted the day a big success.

Dateline: Saturday 15 August 2009

CHS moves into decommissioning!

Castletown Heritage Society committee members are well known for getting stuck in, building things and generally making things happen, however Saturday saw us develop a new line of activity by branching out into building demolition. Not perhaps as exciting as the innovative decommissioning work being undertaken by DSRL at Dounreay, but during the course of the day Neil and Gordon successfully 'deconstructed' a redundant, traditionally built stone pig sty at a local farm. Strange, but true.

There was method in our madness however, as in return for safely removing the crumbling building and improving access to the farm courtyard, farm owner Muriel Murray generously donated all the recovered Caithness stone for re-use as raw material for the forthcoming drystone dyking course on the 29th August.

Carefully does it.

Over the years the rear wall had developed a decided lean towards the lower level field beyond.

Five trailer loads of good quality Caithness stone were recovered for re-use.

Neil and Gordon hand picking the remains of the usable material.

All gone. The central feeding trough and access way were left in place. Unfortunately Neil forgot to take his camera in the morning, so there are no 'before' pictures!

Dateline: Tuesday 18 August 2009

CHS Newsletter - Summer 09

To download a copy of our latest newsletter please, click here.

Erratum: Please note that in the report of the AGM on page two, the list of Committee Members should include Neil Buchan, Technical Projects Manager.

Note: File size is 5.25Mb, and is in pdf format. Those without broadband may need to be very patient...


Dateline: Saturday 15 August 2009

Heritage Garden works forge ahead

Work to develop the courtyard within Castlehill Heritage Centre took another step forward this weekend, with some redundant sections of drystone wall being carefully dismantled to make way for new features. All the drystone material was carefully recovered, and will be recycled as stock material for the forthcoming Drystone Dyking course in two weeks time.

A key deliverable of the course will be to construct a circular feature in the centre of the garden, next to the magnificent 'Victorian' style streetlamp donated by The Highland Council earlier this year. The feature will provide a main focal point for the garden, where visitors will be able to sit, relax and view the other features.

Hugh, John and Gordon make light work of dismantling one of the redundant sections of wall at the south end of the Heritage Garden.

Yes, that is real sweat on John's brow!

All the recovered stone will be recycled as stock material for the construction of new features within the Heritage Garden.

The outline of the proposed circular seating feature can be seen marked out in yellow.

Thanks to some neat paint work by John, the 'Victorian' style street lamp now really looks the part

Muriel samples some of the home baking provided by Liz as 'fuel' for the workers

Dateline: Sunday 2 August 2009

Castlehill in Bloom II

The heritage garden and grounds were looking at their best in the glorious sunshine yesterday afternoon, which, coincidentally, was well timed for a visit by Halkirk Gardening Club.

A fine show of colour at the forecourt of Castlehill Heritage Centre.

The Flower of Olrig boat featureis to the left of the Visitor Entrance

The bere is starting to fill out in the Crofter's Patch

The RAF memorial Patch in front of the restored gate rescued from the ruins of Castlehill House

A splash of colour brightens the access footpath to the main entrance

A glorious poppy stands proud in the Coastal Meadow Patch

Dateline: Saturday 1 August 2009

Orkney farmers visit Castlehill

A recent outing to Caithness for the Orkney Farmers Discussion Group brought 53 visitors to Castlehill Heritage Centre. Their primary purpose was not to view the heritage display nor to admire the courtyard garden but to inspect our wood fuelled boiler system providing hot water for the under-floor heating sytem. A few visitors at a time entered the boiler room where they were met by committee member John Crowden and given an account of the workings of the system, from collection of wood and operation of the boiler to monitoring of the monthly heat output created and boiler efficiency.

The group expressed their appreciation by handing over a bottle of one of Orkney's more famous products. CHS chairman was glad to receive sound first hand advice on the small crop of Orkney bere, ripening in the heritage garden.

CHS website enquiry about McIvor and Allan put to bed

The diversity of interesting questions thrown at us from people all over the world who have browsed our website never ceases to amaze.

Last week an inquiry came from Cambridge, Ontario, Canada from a gentleman who had just bought a heavily carved four poster bed at a local auction. Its provenence declared it to have come from a Scottish castle. The bed was made by McIvor and Allan, Castletown furniture makers and wood carvers, and had been owned by Mrs Buchner, John McIvor's niece.

CHS and the archivist at the Castle of Mey were able to supply some information on McIvor and Allan and the possible story of the bed.

Further information on the history and activities of McIvor and Allan can be found in our comprehensive and highly popular 144-page illustrated book on the history of the village and parish, which is available to purchase in pdf format on CD ROM, priced at £15.

Copies are on sale at Castlehill Heritage Centre or can be ordered by EMAIL. P&P will be charged at cost.

A sense of Homecoming

Castletown Heritage Society have always known that there was a good atmosphere in Castlehill Heritage Centre.

It is heartening, when visitors tell us that they, too, feel a special feeling of coming home, when they arrive in Castletown in search of information on previous generations of their families who have lived and worked here.

Dateline: Monday 20 July 2009

Summer programme of archaeological exploration

Looking for Vikings - Our summer programme of archaeological field work on the Dunnet links is now underway. Scheduled activities include geo-physical surveys, coring, trial pits, excavations and post excavation analysis. Paul Humphreys is our project leader, with technical support provided by Graham Cavers of AOC Archaeology.

Interested in taking part? For further details contact:

Dateline: Monday 13 July 2009

Weaving Workshop a Winner

CHS was very fortunate to secure the services recently of local weaver Andrew Kieran just before he left for the Borders to study textile design. Andrew first showed the art of knot weaving using a small wooden frame. He explainied that a loom allows, in essence, the interaction between fabric and the weaver and in theory could be constructed from anything from a few sticks to a lamp-post.

Picking up on this concept by using two picnic benches as a loom, Andrew then demonstrated tablet weaving which creates a narrow decorative strip of the form thought to edge Viking garments.

Interspersing his demonstrations with references to ethnic and historic weaving practices, Andrew ably instructed and entertained his students.

Drystone Dyking Workshops fully subscribed

The next workshop at Castlehill will be on dry stone dyking on August 29th and 30th with Dave Goulder. This workshop is now fully booked.

Such has been the popularity of this craft that a supplementary workshop will be held at East Murkle Croft on the weekend of the 22nd and 23rd August under tutor George Gunn. This course too is now fully booked.

Dateline: Sunday 12 July 2009

Castlehill in Bloom

The recent fine weather has encouraged a superb show of colour and produce within the Heritage Garden at Castlehill, captured here by Sharon Gunason.


Dateline: Monday 15 June 2009

Caithness Family History Group visits Castlehill Heritage

There was a good turn out of members of Caithness Family History group for their visit to Castlehill Heritage Centre.

After an introduction by their president Anne Dunnett, a short welcome was given by CHS Chairwoman, Muriel Murray, followed by an explanation of the origins of the building and the activities that take place in it.

The group then viewed the current exhibition "Comings and Goings" which looks at social movements into and out of the area. The garden with its heritage themed beds was an added attraction. Over a cup of tea, served by CHS committee members, the visitors had a chance to chat to each other and exchange reminiscences. As usual, CHS learnt a great deal by the end of the evening.

To view a gallery of photos from the evening, courtesy of Sheila Moir, click here

Dateline: Monday 18 May 2009

Castletown WRI display celebrates 90th Anniversary

Castlehill Heritage Centre is currently hosting a small display by Castletown WRI in celebration of its 90th year of continuous operation. Castletown WRI is the second longest formed WRI in the area, being established in April 1919. In those days meetings were held in the Castletown Higher School gymnasium; the annual subscription was two shillings, or sixpence per quarter. Members had to bring their own cup and sugar!!

The display includes a selection of memorabilia and photographs, such as this one from the 70's. Many familiar faces there, albeit some 30 years younger!!

The WRI meets on the second Wednesday of each month in the Drill Hall extension, Main Street, Castletown. New members are most welcome.

Fruits of labour showing in the Heritage Garden

The hard work over the past few months to create the first stage of the heritage themed garden within the courtyard has been rewarded with a fine showing of young shoots. The round feature (see left) contains a variety of traditional garden herbs, such as thyme, parsley, chives, mint, sage and rosemary, to name but a few.

The mixed plot (see right) has two plantings of vernacular cereals - the darker one to the left is Black Oats, the lighter rectangle is Bere. In the foreground the curly Kale is doing really well, protected from the attention of itinerant slugs by collars round the stems, fashioned from cardboard by Hugh. Also in this plot are a line of tatties and a few rows of neeps - the latter forming part of the staple diet of Caithness man, sheep and cows alike!

Just finished is an areawhich has been sown with Costal Meadow Mix (see left) , which contains an accredited mix of grasses and wild flowers, all natural to the area. Over the next couple of months it is hoped to complete construction of a central circular feature formed out of Caithness flagstone, and which will provide seating and a focal point for the garden. Adjacent to this will be a large feature flagstone, which is currently being laser engraved with images of local fossils, courtesy of Caithness Stone Industries. Watch this space for further developments - better still, why not come along and see for yourself!

Castlehill Heritage Centre is open from 2-4pm every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, other times by arrangement. Groups most welcome. Contact for more details.

Wash and Brush Up - talent abounds

Captured in action this evening was the painting class run by Helen Moore every Monday evening over the winter. These classes have proven to be both highly popular and very successful, with several newcomers to the craft discovering hidden depths of talent.

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

Dateline: Sunday 12 April 2009

Castletown Heritage Society

Annual General Meeting

The Annual General Meeting of the Castletown Heritage Society will be held in the Castlehill Heritage Centre on Wednesday, 22 April at 7.30pm.

The guest speaker will be Mike Ledger, Quarryside, who will talk about his research and travels in the pursuit of the story of those local men named on the Castletown War Memorial.

All welcome - refreshments will be provided.

Drystone Dyking Course

Castletown Heritage Society are pleased to announce that it will be holding another of its very popular drystone dyking courses on Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th August.

Over the course of the two days, multi-talented master craftsman Dave Goulder from Rosehall, Lairg, will coach course delegates in the basic craft skills before leading them on to more advanced techniques.

Dave 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.

If you wish to secure a place on this popular workshop, or require further information, drop us a line at Early booking is recommended.

Dateline: Sunday 5 April 2009

Castlehill on-line

This weekend was a bit of a landmark at the Castlehill Heritage Centre, when the newly installed internal IT network was commissioned making internet access and networked printing available within the Centre for the first time.

The system includes a fully configured VOIP phone service, which hopefully will be up and running later this week. This will be a huge asset to the Centre as to date we have been relying on mobile phone services which, due to the building having two foot thick stone walls, have been somewhat unreliable.

Castlehill House gates brought back to life

Anyone walking into the Castlehill Heritage Centre during the past few months could not fail to notice the great strides taken by Hugh and the team towards the creation of the heritage garden within the courtyard. New paths and raised beds have appeared and thanks to a generous donation by the Street Lighting department of The Highland Council, the courtyard now boasts a fully functional Victoriana-style lamp column.

This weekend saw a poignant moment however, as a magnificent cast iron gate carrying the Traill family crest and motto in the centre, took pride of place in a purpose made aperture in the east wall of the courtyard.

The gate is one of a pair that once guarded the harbour- side entrance to Castlehill House grounds, and was rescued a couple of years ago by the Society from under a heap of rubbish and debris in the ruins of Castlehill House. After much wire brushing by Muriel and a lick of paint the gate has been restored to something of its former glory, and stands as a reminder of the role of the Traill family in establishing the Flagstone Works at Castlehill.

Dateline: Saturday 14 March 2009

Rainwater harvesting at Castlehill

It seemed stragely ironic that the weather should turn wet and thoroughly miserable whilst Neil and Hugh were installing the first phase of a rainwater harvesting system at Castlehill Heritage Centre. At least they were able to test that the diverter/filter operated properly and that there were no leaks!

Water from the guttering around the building slate roof is passed through a filter unit (see right) which separates out any debris and diverts clean water into two 750 litre tanks. The water will initially be used to provide water for watering the new heritage garden, currently under construction in the courtyard.

When phase two is complete in a few weeks time, the system will additionally supply all our water needs for toilet and urinal flushing, thereby reducing mains water usage and the impact of the Centre on the environment. A back-up mains water feed will however be installed to cater for those long, hot Caithness summers when it doesn't rain for weeks.....

Dateline: Sunday 8 March 2009

Knitting Workshop with Deirdre Nelson

This weekend, Castletown Heritage played host to a workshop by internationally renowned needlework artist Deirdre Nelson (pictured left). Over the course of three days, Deirdre inspired an enthusiastic group of craft hobbyists in the art of interpreting aspects of local social history through knitting.

Originally from Ireland but living and working in Glasgow, Deirdre graduated from Glasgow School of Art in 1992, and her work has evolved through experimenting with materials and working methods to provide a humourous commentary on social and textile history. Her work employs a variety of techniques and materials fusing traditional textile skills and contemporary reinterpretation. She has exhibited in Britain and overseas and has recently been selected for Jerwood contemporary Makers in London. Deirdre is currently artist in residence at Taigh Chearsabagh Museum and Arts Centre in Lochmaddy N. Uist, Outer Hebrides.

Typical of Deirdre's works on display this weekend was a curiously long sock with small 'memo notes' attached. Deirdre explained that during her time in Uist she learned of a story about about a mother who's son was away working in Edinburgh. As the mother was concerned for his welfare she regularly wrote to him, her news being littered with words of advice and reminders of how to look after himself. Often she would send parcels, including hand knitted clothing. "I could just imagine the mother knitting a sock which got longer and longer as she absent mindedly focused on what her son might be doing and formulating appropriate words of advice, rather than concentrating on the sock... I captured what I thought might be some of those words and attached them along the length of the sock and gave them a contemporary feel by formatting like the header of an email."

As can be seen from the photos below the workshop proved to be a great success, with local themes being developed in the knitted form, such as bottles of Old Pulteney whisky, fish and pebbles, siren fish, boats, jute twine vests and traditional music notes to name but a few.

Thoughts are formulating for another workshop later in the year. If you are interested, drop us a line at

Photos: Neil Buchan and John Crowden

Dateline: Sunday 1 March 2009

Astronomy Club meets at Castlehill

On Friday past, Castlehill Heritage Centre was host to the newly formed Caithness Astronomy Group. Master of ceremonies for the evening was Mike Lunan, who kicked things off with a presentation describing the variety of objects that are potentially visible from our northern location. With the cloud breaking after a day of lousy weather the Group moved outside to the courtyard, where all lighting was turned off to optimise viewing - and they weren't disappointed.

Group Chairman Gordon Mackie picks up the story: "We were treated to breathtaking views of the night sky. It's hard to believe what we managed to see, all in the space of a couple of hours. Early on we were treated to views of the crescent Moon and Venus showing a similar crescent phase. Then with the sky darkening the Pleiades, the Orion Nebula and the Milky Way started to become visible. By the end we had seen stars & star clusters galore, galaxies, a planet almost without its familiar rings, a passing comet, an iridium flare and a shooting star or two. Let's hope for more of this at future events!"

The Caithness Astronomy Group has put together a comprehensive programme of events for the coming year, all in support of the International Year of Astronomy. The programme culminates in a Meteor Watch and IYA2009 End of Year Event, back at Castlehill on Sunday 13th December. For further information on the group and its activities, contact Gordon Mackie (Chairman) or Pat Kieran (Secretary)

Photos: Gordon Mackie

Dateline: Sunday 22 February 2009

Signage at Castlehill

Finding your way to Castlehill Heritage Centre is now easier than ever thanks to some new signage erected by committee members this weekend.

The smart new signs were supplied by Malcolm Begg at Haster, the grey colour being chosen to blend in with the building stonework.

If coming by car please park in the Heritage Trail car park, directly opposite - there is ample space available. This will help keep the hardcore area in front of the entrance available for blue badge holders or others having access difficulties.

Dateline: Tuesday 03 February 2009

Archaeological Post Excavation Workshop

Following on from the success of last summer 's archaeological training project 'Looking for Vikings', the archaeological post excavation training workshop held last Sunday proved to be very popular indeed. Dr Andy Heald of AOC archaeology coached the eager attendees in the techniques and processes involved in sifting, sorting, recording and analysing finds from archaeological excavations. Very much a 'hands-on' experience!

To register interest in the next workshop please contact

Dateline: Wednesday 21 January 2009

Programme of events for 2009

The draft programme of events for 2009 is now available. Many new and exciting events and workshops are also under development - check regularly for latest details.

Dateline: Friday 02 January 2009

Craftsmen 'Turn out' for Prize Giving

Members of the North Highland Woodturners Association recently held their annual end of year prize giving where a stunning array of wooden artefacts were on display, reflecting the skills and techniques deployed by this dedicated group. The judge was Mr Body of John o'Groats pottery.

The regular Saturday morning workshop sessions, which take place in the Multipurpose Skills Workshop Area within the Castlehill Heritage Centre, resume in February.

Dateline: Thursday 01 January 2009