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Dateline: Sunday 26 December 2010

Boxing Day - a time to remember

Sub-zero temperatures and inches of snow did not deter our intrepid committee from ensuring the traditional Boxing Day welcome at Castlehill Heritage Centre was as warm as usual. Mulled wine and mince-meat pies awaited visitors who braved the conditions, plus an exclusive peek at the preparations for our next themed exhibition - Domesticity. Centre of attraction was undoubtedly the magnificent replica Edwardian fireplace created by Hugh Crowden and David Swanson. With the building toasty warm thanks to our log boiler and underfloor heating system, visitors and committee alike felt right at home sitting round the fireplace reading old Groats and Couriers and reminiscing about times past.

The Domesticity exhibition will be fully up and running in a couple of weeks and will feature many artefacts from the Society's large collection of objects, photos and newspaper snippets illustrating everyday life at home in Castletown in by-gone times. Some objects may look all too familiar...... Watch the website for further details.

Time to relax round the fireside and catch up on some 30 year old news in the Groats and Couriers

Hugh working up a good glow from the fire

Tea, mulled wine, mincemeat pies and great company - perfect!

Neil and Liz engrossed - must be a good bit in the Sheriff Court

A delightful picnic set, with kettle, primus, matches, meths bottle, tea cups, trays etc - the set is 100% complete and original

Our circular stone feature and garden looked most picturesque in the snow


Dateline: Sunday 19 December 2010

Castletown feels the seasonal chill......

The far north of Scotland has been 'enjoying' some interesting seasonal weather the past couple of weeks, and Castletown is no exception. The pictures below of conditions in Castletown were captured this morning.

This scene walking up Main Street is reminiscent of an old black and white photograph

Olrig Church of Scotland


Traill Hall looking festive

A view up Murrayfield from the east end

The old parish church

Walking on the road is the only real option - thankfully there's not much traffic

The approach to Castletown School with Olrig Hill in the background.

Side streets had to wait their turn to be cleared

Dateline: Sunday 5 December 2010

North Highland Wood turners Association

Annual competition

Evidence of many hours of hard work was on display yesterday when the North Highland Wood Turners Association held their annual competition in Castlehill Heritage Centre. Muriel Murray was invited to judge to splendid array of artefacts. Overall prize winner was Ivor Thomas.

Prize winners and group members

Muriel was invited to judge the products







Dateline: Sunday 21 November 2010

Traditional Skills Workshop - The Bothy Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 'Castlehill Croakers' in full song

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

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

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

Plenty clash whilst munching the mash

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

Applause all round as the evening draws to a close


Dateline: Sunday 14 November 2010

Christmas Gift Sale - Sat 13 November

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

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

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

The sale gets underway at 10am

Delicate silk work and home made bread

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

A wide variety of hand made craft ware was on dispay

Necklaces and artwork

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

Taking a breather

Local speciality soaps

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

The CHS raffle table

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

Alastair Hossack explains how items are made

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

Dainty gifts

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

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


Dateline: Saturday 23 October 2010

Nuno Felt Scarf Craft Day

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

Forming the shape

Tidying the ends

A hive of activity

Taking shape

Two part finished scarfs

Sharon demonstrates how its done


Dateline: Sunday 10 October 2010

Lime mortar skills workshop - Sat 9 October

The weather proved most welcoming for the thirteen willing delegates, eager to learn to the traditional skills of using lime-based materials for the conservation and repair of Caithness vernacular buildings.

After giving a health and safety briefing, our master mason from the Scottish Lime Trust 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 coaching given 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.

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.

Castlehill Heritage Society is delighted to acknowledge the assistance of The Prince's Regeneration Trust in providing funding support for this workshop.

Breaking out the old mortar

Synchronised chiselling

A little care now saves a lot of work later

Preparing the lime mortar - initial dry mix phase

Water is carefully measured and added

As per traditional methods, two artisans work the mix

Now, this is how you do it

Replacing mortar chiselled out earier

Total concerntration

Is that you with the camera again, Neil??

With practice an excellent finish can be produced

The weather was kind for the durarion of the course, with lots for everyone to do.


Dateline: M0nday 4 October 2010

Local Vintage Car Club visits Castlehill

On Sunday 26 September, members of Caithness & Sutherland Vintage Car Club stopped off at Castlehill Heritage Centre during an outing on Caithness roads.

The display of superbly restored vehicles looked entirely at home in the grounds of Castlehill.

Dateline: Sunday 29 August 2010

Members lunch goes with real swing

By way of a thank you for their support over the years, and to celebrate the completion of the Heritage Garden, Castletown Heritage Society members and invited guests were entertained to lunch today at Castlehill Heritage Centre. Guests were treated to a delicious spread of cold meats, salad and accompaniments, topped off with a choice of strawberries and cream, Jayne's home baking or some of Liz Buchan's mouthwatering desserts - key lime pie, marshmallow cheesecake or chocolate bakewell tart. Strangely, many found it difficult to choose and opted for a sample of everything!

Fingers were drumming and toes tapping as Clapshot kept us entertained with a lively selection of tunes, including an excellent rendition of 'Castlehill'. Whilst the weather stayed dry, it was too blustery to eat outdoors in the garden, however it was warm enough to leave the door to the patio open. With the sun shining brightly through the door it added to the warm, lively atmosphere. Hunger sated, members strolled round the exhibition displays trying to find the answers to the 'Castlehill Quiz' - watch this space for the announcement of the lucky winner.

All in all lunch proved to be a great success, with lots of lively conversation and camaraderie, helped no doubt by the odd glass of wine... Thanks go to all the committee for their hard work and to Muriel for having the great idea in the first place!

Members and guests tuck in to a delicious spread

If music be the food of love, play on...and can I have seconds?

All very civilised - no school dinner rumpus here!

Lots of lively conversation

Sheila and Liz in deep conversation

Morris entertains

Clapshot were in fine form with many a toe tapping round the room

Joanne peruses the display panels, trying to work out an answer for the Castlehill Quiz

If anyone knows the answers, these two ex-teachers should!

Keith takes a stroll on the patio. Thankfully the weather kept dry, if a little blustery

Maisie and Agnes at the salad bar

If I promise to finish drying all the dishes, will you let me have my glass of wine back?


Forthcoming event - The Runaway Universe

On Sunday 5th September, Caithness Astronomy Group will host a public talk in Castlehill Heritage Centre.

Dr Martin Hendry from Glasgow University will present a whistlestop tour through modern cosmology and the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy.

Castletown Heritage Centre - Sunday 5th September at 1930hrs. Entrance free, donations welcome.

Dateline: Thursday 12 August 2010

Caithness Astronomy Group workshop

On Thursday 12th August, Caithness Astronomy Group held a Perseid Meteor watch and 'Telescope Workshop' where an audience of around twenty, consisting mainly of beginners, gathered in Castletown Heritage Centre to find out more about these instruments that have greatly aided exploration of the heavens for just over 400 years.....

For further information on the activities of Caithness Astronomy Group click here

Dateline: Tuesday 3 August 2010

It's a red letter day as His Royal Highness, The Duke of Rothesay visits Castlehill Heritage Centre

After weeks of barely concealed excitement, Castletown Heritage Society was today delighted to host a visit to the award-winning Castlehill Heritage Centre by His Royal Highness, The Duke of Rothesay.

The Heritage Garden was looking at its very best as our Chairwoman Muriel Murray welcomed the Duke and escorted him on a conducted tour of the facilities. Our original plan to introduce the Society committee members within the stone circle in the Heritage Garden had to be abandoned as a sudden heavy shower forced everyone under cover, however plan 'B' was efficiently swung into action, with the erection in double-quick time of our new 'corporate entertainment facility' (i.e. large gazebo) to provide the necessary shelter for the meet and greet to proceed in a dry environment.

Once inside the Duke was given live demonstrations of a representative range of activities that regularly take place within the centre, starting with a guided tour of the current themed exhibition on Business and Trades Past and Present in Castletown, where the Duke was introduced to individuals and representatives of various organisations, and who had either assisted us in developing the Centre or continue to support its operation; or both!

The Duke expressed his delight at how the Society had developed the former seventeenth century byre and dairy into a first class facility, extensively used by both the Society as a traditional skill venue and by the local community. Neil Buchan, our technical projects manager explained how our biomass log boiler and rainwater harvesting system contribute to our sustainable approach to the development and operation of the Centre.

His Royal Highness seemed relaxed as he was guided around the exhibits and working demonstrations by some of the local partner organisations who make regular use of the Centre. The evocative smell of wood filled the air as Fred Haughton and Alastair Hossack of North Highland Woodturners Association showed how to turn a wooden bowl, and Denny Morrison's tale of how he made contact with American astronaut Bill McArthur in the orbiting space station captivated the Duke during the demonstration of the live amateur radio station by Les Thomas of Caithness Amateur Radio Society. Our weaving tutor Andrew Kieran from Reay found himself in deep discussion with the Duke who took a close interest in the workings of our weaving loom and the preparation of the cloth.

As the Duke made his way along the long building to the Castlehill Archaeological Research Facility, he perused a display of paintings from the regular Monday night painting classes run by local artist Helen Moore. Once in the facility, Dr Andy Heald of AOC Archaeology and our archaeological technician Len explained the processes by which archaeological finds from excavations are brought to the Centre, wet seived to separate out the interesting material, dried, then analysed before being catalogued and sent for archive in Edinburgh.

Before leaving the Centre the Duke signed our visitors book and was presented with a polished Caithness Flagstone plaque as a momento of his visit. The superb laser etched plaque was crafted by Spittal based Caithness Stone Industries and featured an evocative image of the Castlehill Windpump Tower and the Pilot's House with the Heritage Centre in the background.

As HRH the Duke of Rothesay made his farewells he spotted the Castlehill Windpump Tower within the site of the Castlehill Flagstone Works across the road. He threw down the spontaneous challenge to the Society to bring the windpump back into service as a major tourist feature! Well there is nothing like a challenge, so you never know - watch this space!!

Muriel welcomes HRH the Duke of Rothesay to Castlehill Heritage Centre

Anne Dunnet, Lord Lieutenant of Caithness officially receives HRH

Chatting with the welcoming party

The visit begins with a conducted tour of the Heritage Garden

Hugh Crowden, our exceptionally hard working 'retired' mason explains how the buildings and garden were progressively developed with volunteer effort.

Morris Pottinger talks about his current project to transcribe a series of local histroically significant diaries.

Muriel explains how the main room is used both for themed exhibitions and for vernacular skills workshops

Neil Buchan explains how our biomass log boiler and rainwater harvesting system contribute to our sustainable approach to the development and operation of the Centre

Denny Morrison and Les Thomas provided a live demonstration of the workings of Amateur Radio. The Caithness Amateur Radio Society meet regularly at the Centre.

Andrew Kieran explains the operation of our working weaving loom

Fred Haughton and Alastair Hossack of North Highland Woodturners Association chat freely with HRH

Dr Andy Heald of AOC Archaeology explains about our local archeological project 'Looking for Vikings'. Paul Humphreys our resident archaeological expert looks on.

Len demonstrating how sieved and dried archaeological dig samples are analysed

The Duke watches closely as Len processes a batch of finds material from a recent archaeological excavation through the wet sieveing process

Signing the Visitors Book

Liz Geddes, Vice Chairman of CHS presents HRH with a Caithness Flagstone plaque laser etched with an image of the Castlehill Windpump Tower and the Pilot's House, with the Heritage Centre in the background.

On leaving the Centre the Duke chats freely with the small crowd gathered to witness his visit

Calm after the storm - the committee members of Castletown Heritage Society and representatives of our helpers and supporters pose for a picture as HRH the Duke of Rothesay heads back to the Castle of Mey.

All photographs of the visit courtesy of James Gunn Photograpy.

A full gallery of James's photographs of the event can be found by following this link.

Dateline: Friday 30 July 2010

Flushed with success - rainwater recycling fully operational

Last year we installed two large rainwater collection tanks as a first step towards reducing our use of mains water within Castlehill Heritage Centre, helping to reduce the impact of the Centre on the environment. To date, the collected water has been extensively used for watering within the heritage garden, but thanks to a recycling system devised by Neil, stored rainwater now also provides the flushing water for the toilets and urinals.

The system is fully automatic in operation, delivering full mains pressure rainwater to the various cisterns and includes reversal to mains supply to cater for those long, hot Caithness summers when it doesn't rain for weeks.....

The two 750 litre storage tanks are located on the patio area immediately adjacent to the main entrance to the building

Water from the guttering around the building slate roof is passed through a filter unit which separates out any debris and diverts clean water into the two 750 litre tanks

The heart of the system is a proprietary pressuriser/booster pump which sources it's supply from an intermediate tank which is supplied with rainwater from the outside tanks, or mainswater in periods of drought.

The 'brians' of the system is a control panel which senses the level of water in the intermediate tank, topping it up with mains water when required. The panel includes a counter so we can monitor how often during a year the mains back up system operates.

Rainwater from the storage tanks is introduced for the first time! The central copper pipe is the pick-up for the pressuriser pump and is fitted with a non-return valve at the bottom to ensure the pump remains primed at all times. The level in the tank is normally controlled by the ball float valve. Level switches in the tank (just out of view) operate in conjunction with the control panel to trigger the mains top-up solenoid valve to open should the level in the tank fall below a set level (i.e. rainwater top-up has failed) and cut off the top-up supply when the level is restored. The mains water enters through the white anti-syphon tube, visible towards the rear of the tank

Dateline: Monday 12 July 2010

Courtyard works near the final hurdle

The Heritage Garden courtyard at Castlehill took another step towards completion over the weekend, with the final hardcore surface being laid between the recently completed paths and dividing walls. The work to clear the area to the rear of the premises was also finished off, as was the final surfacing of the disabled parking area and the main entrance area.

John and Hugh spread the final layer of hardcore on top of the weed control membrane while Neil compacts it down with a vibro-roller

John and Hugh perfect their routine for the Castlehill Synchronised Shovels Team

The finished product.

Not bad for three volunteer amateurs...

The entrance area gets the treatment. Keith lends a hand on the broom to keep things tidy.

The disabled car park nearing completion. The beds in the background are a blaze of colour - a tribute to the hard work of our volunteer gardener, Irene Wares,

Spare hardcore was used to tidy up the shared access way at the west end of the buildings. Note the superb, original flagstone path revealed against the wall.

Thanks to some sterling work by Gordon on the JCB the access area to the rear of the courtyard now looks fine and tidy.

Dateline: Tuesday 6 July 2010

Archaeological programme starts Tuesday 13 July

Our summer programme of archaeological activities will get underway with an evening on Tuesday 13th July from 7pm to 9pm, when local archaeologist Paul Humphreys will explain the importance of pollen in archaeology. The evening will feature opportunities for participants to try some hands-on analysis of pollen samples and comparisons with ancient peat buried samples.

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

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


The peats are home and the stack is built

The hard work at the beginning of June has been rewarded with a fine stack of peats, ready for the summer season at Mary Ann's Cottage - see the report on 6 June (below) for further details. Many thanks to everyone who got involved with the process of cutting, setting up, transporting and stacking the peat.

The finished peat stack at Mary-Anns cottage

Very neat and tidy - note the herringbone pattern

Close-up of the workers' handiwork

Dateline: Monday 21 June 2010

Hard work is a great leveller (well it is with a JCB)

On a gloriously sunny Saturday evening great progress was made in tidying up the ground to the rear of the Castlehill premises. Gordon was centre stage piloting his uncles's JCB, making a great job of levelling the mounds of earth to the north of the building. The area now looks neat and tidy, complementing the rest of the building.

Unfortunately the sun disappeared on Sunday but the mist and rain did not hold up the process of clearing the undergrowth away from the east side of the main building and office annexe. The turf was carefully scraped away with the ditching bucket to reveal the original level from when the steading and dairy were operational. A surprise find was a lovely section of original flagstone floor, the surface worn smooth by the passage of many feet and not a little time.

With the turf removed, further repairs were carried out on the water channel that supplied the waterwheel for the threshing mill in the adjacent building. When works are complete, the flagstone covers of the channel will be exposed end to end, creating a distinctive feature and a reminder of byegone days.

The open ground to the north of the main building has now been levelled. The grand crop of thistles against the wall will be dealt with shortly.... The green 'turret' is the top of our foul drain biodigester.

The wall of the office annexe is now clearly visible, as is the unique to Caithness 'flat arch' over the original gateway. Plans are in gestation to make a feature of this arch and area, probably next year.

Pause for thought. Gordon inspects progress by John in clearing debris from a collapsed section of water channel.

Neil and Hugh discussing the repair to the channel covers.

Debris almost all gone. Daylight from another collapsed section of flag cover can be seen further up the channel.

As good as the day it was built - well not bad anyway!

Removing the turf in this corner revealed a lovely section of flagstone floor close to the entry to the what was the dairy. The water channel covers can be seen in the foreground.

Looking south along the line of the water channel. The steading buildings in the background are not ours, but are owned by Scotia Homes and are currently the subject of a planning consultation for potential redevelopment

It may not look terribly exciting, but it is considerably tidier than it was before! The building in the background is the steading threshing mill - the overshot water wheel was on the other side. Sadly it was removed for scrap about 50 years ago.

Dateline: Monday 14 June 2010

Knit and Natter - Wednesday 23 June, 2 - 3.30 pm

Why not join us for a Knit and Natter at Castlehill Heritage Centre.

Have you stopped knitting since the grandkids got bigger? Would you like to pass on your knitting knowledge but your children or grandchildren are not in the area? Tell us what you think about Northern Loops, a new programme for senior knitters willing to share their skills and knowledge with young people.

Needles and wool provided or bring your own. Coffee and tea provided

Interested in taking part? For further details - contact

Dateline: Wednesday 9 June 2010

Northern Loops - Knit in Public Day - Saturday 12 June

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

In parallel with the main event. Castletown Heritage Society will be offering visitors to Castletown Heritage Centre the opportunity to run up a row or two of knitting or learn to knit. Why not come along between 2pm and 4pm and have a go?

Interested in taking part? For further details - contact


Summer Exhibition Now Open!

Trades and Business past and present, in and around Castletown

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

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

Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons, 2pm - 4pm. Other times by appointment

Castlehill Heritage Centre, Harbour Road, Castletown, nr Thurso

Dateline: Sunday 6 June 2010 - What a busy week it has been!!

'Peat Experience Day' - A Grand Day Out 2

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

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

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

Ready for the off

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

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

And this is how it's done


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

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

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

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A view from above - of Castlehill

We are delighted to receive some aerial photographs of Castlehill, taken by Brough resident Stewart Smith. Stewart and his private aircraft are a regular sight in the skies over Caithness and the north of Scotland, and recently he kindly offered to capture some views of Castlehill Heritage Centre and the surrounding area.

As usual, click on the images to enlarge.

A superb view of Castlehill Harbour and the northern boundary of the old Castlehill House estate. The Heritage Centre is located in the long building to the left, 1/3 way down the image.

The boundary wall marks the grounds that used to surround Castlehill House, some remains of which can be seen on the right hand side. The original driveway is still discernable, teminating in the loop, a popular spot for locals to walk and exercise their dogs, as can be seen in the image.

The long 'L' shaped building and the coach house with four arches form the main buildings of Castlehill Heritage Centre. Hugh can be seen standing in front of the Coach House. The ruined buildings in the foreground are the remains of Castlehill farm and buildings associated with the Castlehill Flagstone Works. The Heritage Trail and the iconic Windpump Tower lie to the north of the Heritage Centre.

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Writers Workshop

Yesterday, eight writers collected at Castlhill to take a closer look at how to use description more effectively in their writing. Through a series of activities, the writers learned more about each other and themselves as writers as well as new techniques for description.

They will build on what they learned in the all day Saturday workshop in three Tuesday night sessions to be held on the 8th, 15th and 22nd of June. Writing begun in these sessions may be incorporated into a booklet of Writing at the 'Hill. Future sessions include a look at poetry facilitated by Christine Russell and other genres led by local and visiting writers.

If you want to take part in the three Tuesday sessions, which will cost 5 each, click HERE.

Bring a notebook or laptop and be prepared to enjoy an inspirational learning experience.

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Local schoolchildren enjoy the 'Peat Experience'

On Monday 31 May, Castletown primary students had an interactive session to learn hands on about peat bogs and life in the bogs. Paul Humphreys had collected creatures--large enough to see--and some small enough they required a powerful lens to see. He also offered a hands on opportunity to find creatures hidden in a sample of peat.

Muriel Murray told tales of things (including people) buried in the bog and told of tales and superstitions around it.

The children got to try their hand at matching pictures of bog plants with their descriptions.

Getting a close-up view of some tiny peat dwellers

Paul Humphreys was on hand to provides expert advice to the school children.

Learning about the world of peat

Who says learning can't be fun?

Dateline: Tuesday 18 May 2010

Vernacular Buildings Group visits Castlehill Heritage Centre

Castlehill Heritage Centre recently hosted a visit of the Scottish Vernacular Buildings Group, who were on a fact finding coach tour of buildings of interest in the north of Scotland. The Group were impressed by the work done to bring the Castlehill buildings back into active use, and were particularly pleased to witness the work in progress during the Drystone Dyking course and the preservation of this traditional skill. The Group, pictured here making use of the patio in the courtyard for their picnic lunch, were "delighted with their visit".

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Something Corny

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

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

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

Getting started


Janet checking the next steps

Finally starting to take shape....

Examples of completed work

A superb example of what can be achieved

Dateline: Tuesday 4 May 2010

Plight of the Bumble Bee - Wednesday 19 May

Castletown Heritage Society is delighted to host an illustrated talk by Bob Dawson of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in conjunction with the Caithness Branch of the British Science Association.

Anyonee interested in finding out more about these fascinating insects and the important role they play in our world should come along to this free event at Castletown Heritage Centre on the 19th May at 1930hrs.

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Peat Experience Workshop - a grand day out!

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

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

'Tirring' or opening out the bank - Hugh demonstrates how it is done

Plenty space for everyone...

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

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


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

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

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

Dateline: Tuesday 27 April 2010

Eighteenth century industrial water channels restored

Back in February during a particularly wet spell, the access area to the rear of the courtyard garden flooded, threatening the garden works. John and Keith leapt into action with wellies and some nifty spadework, managing to stem the rising tide before it reached the level of the emergency exit door from the Vernacular Skills building.

On investigation, the water was found to be rising from one of the eighteenth century water channels, several of which run round the periphery of the Castlehill Heritage Centre and which supplied the water wheel driven stone cutting machinery at the Castlehill Pavement Works across the road, and the water wheel for the mill at Castlehill Farm to the north of the Heritage Centre. [The remains of the mill building can be seen at the top right of the second picture below - the building without the roof]. Whilst no longer in active use, the channels still carry groundwater from the field drains to the south of Castlehill buildings and can at times be quite 'lively'. The history of these underground water channels and others in the immediate area was the subject of a fascinating activity day run by the Society in October 2007 as part of Highland Archaeology Fortnight - for a report on that event, click here.

Last weekend remedial action got underway, taking advantage of Gordon our resident JCB operator, being home from university for a few days. The water channel was exposed and found to have partially collapsed at a point just downstream of where the water was emerging from the ground. After removing the heavy cover flagstones the channel was cleared of debris and accumulated silt, the channel walls were repaired where necessary and the flagstones replaced. Hopefully we can relax now for the next few hundred years....

Keith on flood mitigation duties. The water can be seen bubbling up out of the ground in the mid foreground

The investigation work begins. The surface is scraped back to reveal the flagstone covers over the water channel

Some cover stones were found to be borken - the cause of the blockage. Those that were intact were carefully preserved for reuse

Carefully does it. Much easier than lifting by hand!! The debris in the channel is visible in the foreground

Gordon and John get stuck into clearing the channel of debris and accumulated silt

Neil repairing the channel walls. In addition to retaining the water the walls also support the weight of the heavy cover slabs and any traffic loads

Looking good - the channel has been cleared and the walls restored to their former glory. Unlike Neil's waistline.

Much of the original craftsmanship is as good as the day it was built.

A visual check further down the channel confirms all is clear. The detail of the original wall construction is clearly visible

Dateline: Monday 26 April 2010

Drystone Dyking Course creates new community asset

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

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

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

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

Total concentration as the wall approaches full height

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

Gently does it...

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

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

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

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

Dateline: Wednesday 21 April 2010

2010 AGM reflects on a very successful year


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

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

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


A healthy turnout from the local community

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

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

Barbara Hiddleston in full flow during her fascinating talk

John and Muriel renewing memberships

Time for a cup of tea and a yarn

Dateline: Friday 2 April 2010

Music Workshop Gala Concert - Philomenal!!!!

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

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

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

Dateline: Saturday 13 March 2010

Traditional home fare and baking

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

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

Muriel introduces Liz and Maisie

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

Maisie starting off a batch of flourbread

Whisking up some pancake mixture

It's all in the wrist action!

Rubbing margarine into the flour mixture

Dateline: Thursday 11 March 2010

Quiz Night at Castlehill

There was much hilarity, scratching of heads and whirring of cogs amongst the twelve teams who took part in our Quiz Night on Thursday evening, the first such event we have held in the Centre. We were delighted to have four teams of youngsters from the Castletown Army Cadets.

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

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

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

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

Heavy duty thinking in progress

Total concentration

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

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

Dateline: Monday 8 March 2010

Castletown Primary School P3-4 visit Castlehill for a 'Flagstone Experience' day

The boys and girls of Primary 3 & 4 from Castletown Primary School were given an insight today about the traditional skills involved in working with Caithness Flagstone. Castlehill volunteer Hugh Crowden demonstrated how flagstone was cut from the quarry, split into workable sections then trimmed to make roofing tiles, all done using original hand tools from the collection of artefacts at Castlehill. The pupils were then given the opportunity to try their hand at using the tools for themselves, and discovered that life as a quarry worker would have been quite hard and tiring.

A highlight of the visit was to try dressing up in contemporary 19th century clothing, with workers wearing a waistcoat and either a floppy hat or a flat cap and the gaffer wearing a bowler. The last activity was to lay a paved path with pieces of flag bearing the initials of each pupil.

Also on hand were Muriel Murray and Jane Blackburn, who explained how fossilised fish, frequently found within Caithness Flagstone, were formed.

Hugh explains about the various hand tools used by workers in the Castlehill quarries in the late 1800s

I'm ready for anything now!

Now I want two tons of flag roofing slates ready for delivery, and that's before you can have your lunch...!

Learning about the various fossilised fish commonly found in Caithness flagstone

We think this is what they looked like before they were fossilised!

Hugh explains the purpose of each tool and how it was used

Jane explains about the fossils

Making the peg hole that was used to secure the slate on the roof

That's it - hit it hard, just there!

It's not as easy as it looks!

I'm going to do this!

Learning how to 'walk' a flag (using a light-weight wooden substitute - toes are precious!)

A fine example of fish fossils - recently domated to the Society by Alan Saxon - son of the late Jack Saxon, renowned expert on Caithness fossils.

Muriel feeding the insatiable thirst for knowledge!


The pupils tried their hand at laying a short section of Caithness flagstone paving. Each piece bears the initials of a pupil

In the courtyard garden

Bye - see you again soon!

A few days after their visit, Castletown Heritage Society were delighted to receive a superb Thank-You card, hand made by the P3 & P4 pupils of Castletown Primary School

Muriel admiring the handiwork of the pupils

Some of the artwork is really excellent

Dateline: Sunday 7 March 2010

Winter exhibition proves popular

Our winter exhibition 'Looking Back 100 Years' has proven to be very popular with locals and tourists alike.

The exhibition is open every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon, 2-4pm, until Easter. Other times and groups by arrangement - to make a booking, click HERE.

No Health & Safety warnings in those days about using half full of boiling water!

A complete array of mending materials

A selection of personal artefacts from circa 1910

Putting on the style for a visit to the theatre

A dainty display

A superb model of Point of Cott Stalled Cairn, Westray, Orkney, produced by local amateur archeologist, Paul Humphreys, Dunnet

Some photographic artefacts from 1910, including INTONA self toming paper, allowing prints to be produced at home with the minimum of equipment

For the relief of rheumatism, lumbago, sciatica, insect and bee stings

Dateline: Thursday 14 January 2010

2010 Programme of Events

Castletown Heritage Society operates the Castlehill Heritage Centre as an educational resource for visitors, local students and school children and the local community. Through a programme of interpretive exhibitions and interactive workshops, we seek to stimulate and sustain interest in and understanding of the history, heritage, vernacular skills, biodiversity and physical surroundings of Castletown and the parish of Olrig. Our aim is to preserve and maintain the unique heritage of our community within both local Caithness and broader Highland contexts.

We are delighted to announce our programme of workhops, activities and exhibitions for 2010, from our popular drystone dyking courses to musical workshops and learning how to make 'corn dollies'! To browse the diverse range of proposed activities, please click HERE.

To review previous year's events and activities, click here: