Castletown Heritage Society News

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Dateline: Wednesday 28 December 2011

Traditional Boxing Day Opening - a great launch for the Winter Exhibition - Castletown in Uniform

As is now traditional, Castlehill Heritage Centre opened its doors on Boxing Day afternoon, where a large crowd of friends, visitors and supporters were warmly welcomed and treated to hot mince meat pies and mulled wine.

This year there was an added bonus as Boxing Day was the launch of our new Winter Exhibition, which features a variety of themed displays and artefacts depicting the lives of local people past and present through their uniforms - school children, postmen, bus drivers, nurses, armed forces, policemen, Girl Guides and more!

The exhibition proved to be a great success, generating much discussion and interest among the visitors - as always, we gleaned a lot of interesting 'personal experience' information from these conversations, which we will use to supplement and enrich all the hard research work done by Muriel and her team!

The exhibition will be open every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon, from 2pm to 4pm.

Note: Our volunteer guides will be taking a well earned rest on New Year's Day - but we will be open as usual on Wed 4 January 2012.

To find out more about the exhibition, or the activities of Castletown Heritage Society, click HERE

Tradional Boxing Day opening - a great chance to meet up with old friends for a good 'blether'

Within minutes of opening, a good crowd of visitors were welcomed to the Centre

The hot mulled wine was much appreciated, especially by those who had included a visit as part of their traditional Boxing Day walk round the village

Div ye mind....?

Part of the display depicting the life and times of local policemen, nurses and postmen

Past regalia and ephemera from the local John O'Groat Lodge of Freemasons in the village

Atrefacts from the times when Castletown played host to the RAF during the second world war. Complete with genuine RAF issue potty!

More memories from RAF Castletown

Helmet belonging to Lieutenant William Keith, of the First Caithness Artillery Volunteers

Close-up of the helmet insignia

Thankfully, war-time essentials such as these are consigned to the past

Hugh providing detailed local insight

The display relating to local people involved in early military conflict proved very popular

Alistair and Morris - each a fantastic fount of local knowledge

Hiding the empty case behind the biscuit tin won't work Keith - I know that was your third mince-meat pie!

A most unseasonal daffodil in the 'Flower of Olrig' - is this the first to be seen in Caithness?

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Apologies to our regular website viewers for the absence of reports on some of the recent events and news from Castlehill. Your webmaster has been rather busy of late, however here is a 'catch up' on three items that were sitting in the 'pending' tray.....

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Bobbin Lace Making Demonstration

At the end of October we held a traditional skills workshop exploring the traditional craft of Bobbin lace making, tracing its early origins in 16th century Italy to demonstrations of modern day techniques. Bobbin lace is a lace textile made by braiding and twisting lengths of thread, which are wound on bobbins to manage them. As the work progresses, the weaving is held in place with pins set in a lace pillow, the placement of the pins usually determined by a pattern or pricking pinned on the pillow.

Our visiting experts Cynthia Hardyman and Jean Stitt delighted the workshop participants as they explained and demonstrated the process of Bobbin Lace making - intricate or what! Also on display were examples of 'Tatted' lace and 'Bobbin' lace.

Photos courtesy of Peter Hardyman

Muriel introduces the workshop and explains about the various examples on display.

A fine display of 'Tatted' Lace

Examples of 'Bobbin' Lace

It looks so easy....not!

Cynthia's equipment for the demonstration


Cynthia at work

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Caithness Astronomy Group - Meteorites

Regular visitors, the Caithness Astronomy Group held an event at Castlehill Heritage Centre on Sunday 20th November which featured a talk by a CAG member and an observing session. Also on display were a selection of REAL meteorite samples, on loan from the Natural History Museum, offering a unique opportunity to see some space rock up close.

Photos courtesy of Gordon Mackie and Peter Hardyman, Caithness Astronomy Group

Part of the Allende meteorite

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Castlehill goes Photvoltaic

As part of our long term plan to minimise the impact on the environment of operating the Castlehill Heritage Centre, we have recently installed photovoltaic panels on the roof of the north wing of the Centre. The panels join our existing bio-mass heating, and rainwater recovery systems as part of our overall eco-friendly vision for the Centre.

The panels were commissioned on the 2nd of December which immediately restored the trademark broad grin to the face of committee member Roy Blackburn, who has been the mastermind behind the organisation and installation of the system. Roy also managed to negotiate early installation such that we could take full advantage of the higher rate of energy feed-in tariff in advance of the December deadline! Hopefully the surplus energy generated will help us to offset the running costs of the Centre.

The panels are mounted on the south facing side of the north end of the building

Close-up of the 16 panel 4kW installation

41 Units already, and the sun hasn't even really been shining!

Dateline: Tuesday 20 December 2011


BBC Stargazing Live - Local Astronomy Event

Caithness Astronomy Group will be holding an astronomy event on Friday 20th January 2012 at Castlehill Heritage Centre. This event is being held in conjunction with the BBC Stargazing LIVE programmes which will be aired on the 16-18th January.

Come along and enjoy an evening of astronomical activities. Explore the universe with CAG members, who will give guided tours of the night sky and permit viewing of its wonders through telescopes. Short talks and other indoor activities will also form part of the event.

Free entry. Warm clothing is essential. Observing is weather dependent.

Children are welcome if accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Click here for more details

Dateline: Sunday 20 November 2011

Bothy Night Workshop - a good night had by one and all!

A capacity crowd took part in the latest in our popular series of traditional skills workshops. Following the successful format of the first 'Bothy Night' workshop we held last year, this year's 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, frequently lampooning their masters, working conditions or day to day events.

Master 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 volunteer entertainers - illuminated that is by tilley lamp and candles - most atmospheric!

Mid way through the evening, a traditional feed of haggis and clapshot was 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!

A great night was had by all and 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 haggis and clapshot.

We are also deeply indebted to local photographer Sheila Moir from Scarfskerry, who captured most of the proceedings on video and who supplied many of the images below.

Master of Ceremonies and our tutor for the evening, Muriel gets the workshop underway

The lights are dimmed as Tilley lamps and candles are bought in to create that authentic 'bothy' atmosphere


Clapshot were in fine fettle, here playing their opening set

There wasn't a spare seat in the house

Neil describes life in a bothy at the 'less comfortable' end of the market


Dennis Manson was on cracking form with the accordian, fairly setting toes tapping


Local storyteller Alex Parience from Portskerra captivated the audience with several enchanting tales

Donald McNeill engages the audience in some community singing

Liz Geddes reciting 'The Caithness Potato' in full Caithness dialect - brilliant!

Jenny Broughton step dancing to a rousing Clapshot tune

Neil singing 'Drumdelgie' - a traditional bothy ballad from the north-east of Scotland

Izzie Currie working the floor with the raffle

David Broughton and Donald McNeill - two stalwarts of Clapshot

Sheila always manages to get folk to smile!

Our turn to capture Sheila and her pals

A chance for a yarn at half time

John was one of the lucky winners in the bumper raffle, half the proceeds of which were donated to the BBC's Children in Need appeal

Ted Hopkins performing a tremendous rendition of 'The Shooting of Dan McGrew'

Izzie volunteered a couple of impromptu songs - we weren't quite sure what was coming next..!

Neil rounds the evening off, getting the audience singing along to that well known north-east bothy ballad 'The Barnyards of Delgaty'


Dateline: Sunday 13 November 2011

Christmas Craft Sale - best yet!

Our traditional Christmas Craft Fayre got off to a flying start yesterday, with many early-bird shoppers arriving sharp in order to find the best of the bargains. On offer was a fine display of high quality locally crafted goods and the Heritage Centre was soon buzzing for what proved to be our best craft fayre yet! Our thanks go to all the talented stall holders for providing such a fantastic range of goods, and also to the CHS ladies for providing a scrumptious selection of home baking that would have done a SWRI baking competition proud - much enjoyed by shoppers relaxing with a cuppa.

A fine display of knitted garments and artefacts

Embroidered goods

Carmel demonstrating speciality embroidery using a computer controlled sewing machine - items were available to order on the day

Artisan Caithness display of ear-rings hand made in Caithness

The North Highland Wood Turners Association had a superb display of locally produced, turned wooden articles



Crafts made while you wait!

From hats to monkeys to Christmas decorations

Sharon welcomes Lisa Poulsen to her first Castlehill Craft Fayre

These hands are never idle

John mans the CHS display of fine soaps, cards and local literature

Artisan Caithness necklaces, cards and felt work

The 'Three Hamigos' raised many a smile!

Roy patiently mans the raffle staff

Sheila and Marjorie enjoying a cuppa

The teas and baking proved very popular

Sheila and Isobel catching up on the latest

Itinerant minstrels enjoying the sunshine in the Hertiage Garden

Going like a train

Soaps and cards from the CHS stall proved very popular

Busy, Busy Busy!


Dateline: Saturday 23 October 2011

Spinning lessons for beginners.

Ann Johnston, Dunnet will be holding four beginners sessions at Castlehill Heritage Centre on November 2, 9, 16 and 23rd from 7-9pm.

Cost £5 per session for tuition, tea/coffee plus one payment of £5 to cover materials. A limited number of spinning wheels available.

To find out more and register interest, click HERE

Dateline: Thursday 29 September 2011

Celestial goings-on at Castlehill

Caithness Astronomy Group have invited Professor Martin Hendry FRSE (from the School of Physics and Astronomy at Glasgow University) to deliver a public talk at Castlehill heritage Centre on Wednesday 5th October.

Entitled "Captain Cook and the Cosmic Yardstick" the talk will explain how observations of the Transit of Venus across the face of the Sun, such as those recorded by Captain Cook in 1769, can be used to accurately estimate the distance from the earth to the Sun.

It is hoped to hold a brief sky observing session following the talk, weather permitting.

All welcome - Entry free (donations to CAG welcome) - talk starts at 7.30pm.

Dateline: Wednesday 28 September 2011

Simply Brilliant! - Edwardian Concert revives bygone days

It was a full house at Castletown Drill Hall last Friday night, where thanks to an article discovered in a 100 year old copy of a local Caithness newspaper, and some tireless research by our Chairwoman, Muriel Murray, 100 year old entertainment was brought to life by local artistes and volunteers. The performance followed as closely as possible the acts, words and music of the original concert, as comprehensively reported in the John o' Groat Journal of the day.

Master of ceremonies Neil Buchan compered the evening using the original words of Captain Calder who officiated at the original 1911 concert. Muriel Murray provided illuminating comments from a 2011 perspective. The audience were treated to a typical variety show of yesteryear, the programme including a piccolo solo from Eilidh Dunnet, duet and solo singing from Ruth Shallcross, Heather Millard, Fiona and Alistair Gray, and comic songs from Tony Hagon and primaries 6 and 7 of Castletown School.

The mood changed with a heroic recitation by Dave Lyall and Angus McBay and a Mark Twain sketch peformed by Ted Hopkins and Sharon Pottinger. Some agile footwork from dancers Amy Beardsley, Faye Gunn and Chloe Dunnett and a sweet piano duet from sisters Rhea and Martha Garbe completed the first half. At the interval vintage fare of Empire Bbiscuits and Colonial ginger beer was served and the programme resumed, as Val Hewison on fiddle and Sancha Crowe on piano played a rousing set of reels. Edna Morrison's performance of the music hall favourite "The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo" was met with huge applause and the programme drew to a close with a Gilbert and Sullivan madrigal.

But more delights were to follow. Assisted by a chorus of local singers trained over the preceding week by Professor Chris Underwood from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, the entire audience raised the roof, joining in old favourites like My Grandfather's Clock, The Mermaid, Shenandoah and the Drunken Sailor. The event was staged in association with North Highland Connections, who arranged the musical residency of Professor Chris Underwood and pianist Anne Macgregor. During the week Professor Underwood and Anne had worked with local schools, led the "Singing for all" sessions at Castlehill Heritage Centre, and conducted rehearsals and coaching for the vocal soloists at the Edwardian Concert.

Talking afterwards Muriel said she was delighted the concert had proven to be such a success "The feedback has been incredibly positive, reflecting the hard work, talent and enthusiasm of the performers and those who helped behind the scenes ". Graham Elliott of North Highland Connections agreed, adding that the event was a classic example of organisations working in partnership.

Photographs have been kindly provided by Alan Kennedy and Sheila Moir.

The stage is set, all we need now are performers. Thanks go to Woodside Garden Centre for the loan of many of the plants

Full to capacity - the front rows are reserved for performers from the Primary School

And there's more....!

Compere Neil Buchan checks his lines before assuming the part of Captain Calder, the 1911 Master of Ceremonies

Tony Hagon performs "Private Willis' Song", from Iolanthe by Gilbert & Sullivan

Amy and Chloe Dunnet dance the "Cake Walk"

Originally this dance was perfomed by slaves mockingly imitating the formal ballroom style of their 'employers', the plantation owners, but with an unmistakable ragtime beat.

The pupils of Primary 6 & 7 from Castletown Primary School sung "Daisy Bells" and "When Father papered the perlour"

The enthusiasm and commitment of the pupils was much evident

For their encore, the children performed "Where did you get that hat?"

A start is born...

Amy Beardsley and Faye Gunn perpare to perform a Highland Dance

Eilidh Geddes from Thurso enchants with the piccolo solo "Romance", written by Edward German

Members of the Castletown Heritage Society committee recite "The Border Maiden", written around 1863 by John Fraser from Glasgow. It echoes the times when serious skirmishes took place between the Scots and English over land and cattle in the Borders of Scotland

The committee were accompanied byHeather Bain of Thurso Pipe Band.

Co-incidentally, "When the tide comes flowing in" was written in Boston by Harrison Millard, and performed on the night by a Heather Millard

Tony Hagon again, this time performing a music hall number, "No wedding bells for me"

A period costume line up on stage before the interval.

Izzy hard at work judging the constumes of audience members who joined in the fun by dressing up in period costume

Caught in the act!

Committee members Roy and Jane Blackburn in fine style and humour

The prize fo best adult costume was awarded to Mr & Mrs David Broughton from Brough

Best children's prize winner

Neil, sorry, Captain Calder gets the second half underway

Ted Arther Hopkins and Sharon Pottinger perform a hunourous sketch called "The Telephonic Conversation", which is based on a short story written by the well known American writer, Mark Twain. By an amazing co-incidence both Ted and Sharon are American...

Sharon really gets into the part - convincing!!

Ruth Shallcross from Reay performs a lovely rendition of one of Ireland's best loved traditional songs.

Val Hewison and Sancha Crowe (hidden behind the pot plant) play a violin and piano set - "The surgeon's triumph", Bonnie Annie Anderson" and "Donald Stewart the piper", all written by James Scott Skinner from Banchory

Alistair and Fiona Gray singing the duet, "Life's dream is o'er"

David Lyall and Angus McBay in a spirited performance of the classic poem "Locheill's Warning" by Thomas Campbell. If only he had listened....

A highlight of the evening was the performance by Mrs Edna Morrison of the music hall favourite, "The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo"

Fiona Gray again, this time singing a favoutite Burns song, "Of a' the airts the wind can blaw". Well, it is Caithness....

The final number was a superb madrigal "Brightly dawns our wedding day" from the "Mikado" by Gilbert & Sullivan. A very accomplished performance and fitting end to a thoroughly enjoyable programme

The 'scheduled' part of the evening over, Professor Chris Underwood leads the audience in performing some well known songs -" My Grandfather's Clock", "The Mermaid", "Shenandoah" and a topical version of "What shall we do with the Drunken Sailor?"

Muriel presents our piano accompianist Anne McGregor from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland who supported the workshops and performances all week

A drop of Caithness, in the form of Old Pulteney, in appreciation of all the hard work, coaching and infectious enthusiasm provided by Professor Chris Underwood, Head of Vocal Studies at the Royal Conservatiore of Scotland

Haste ye back!

Dateline: Sunday 11 September 2011

Rocket workshops prove a real blast

This weekend, Castlehill Heritage Centre hosted two one day 'Rocket Science' workshops organised by the Caithness branch of the British Science Association as part of the International Year of Chemistry, 2011.

Tutor for the weekend was Dave Tranter, amateur rocketeer extraordinaire and member of the Southern England Rocket Flyers. Dave made the long journey north from Wiltshire with wife Kay and daughter Catherine armed with rocket components and all the necessary paraphernalia to enable workshop participants to make, and then fly, their own rocket.

The 'unseasonal' rain meant that the original plan to launch the rockets from Thurdistoft airfield had to be abandoned, however by using lower power rocket motors to limit the altitude the rockets were safely and successfully launched from the shelter of the garden courtyard at Castlehill Heritage Centre.

The weekend was judged a major success, with everyone getting a successful launch - and all were successfully recovered after parachuting safely into the grounds of flagstone trail across the road.

Dateline: Friday 19 August 2011

North Highland Woodturners special demonstration

North Highland Woodturners Association are sponsoring a demonstration of Involute Woodturning [also known as inside out woodturning] by Alec Mutch of Ullapool Woodturning Centre on Saturday 17 September 2011.

Castlehill Heritage Centre from 1.30pm to 4.30pm.

Admission N.H.W.A. Members free. Non-members £2.00

Dateline: Wednesday 17 August 2011

Traditional basket making at Castlehill

Like many "End to Enders" Tim Johnson made the 600 mile journey to Caithness last week. His destination however was not John o' Groats but Castlehill Heritage Centre, where he delivered three days of instruction on traditional basket making. Tim, from the Isle of Wight, is an internationally renowned craftsman, travelling the world studying and teaching his art.

Some twenty-five students reaped the benefit of Tim's experience at Castlehill, where they learned to make dishes and bowls from buff willow, bags from rush and iris stems, and finally a traditional fishing creel for taking home the catch, made from heather stems or docken stalks, bound by hand-twisted coir twine. This proved a particularly physical task, as springy heather had to be subdued, and fingers ached as the twine was knotted and tightened, pulling the creel into shape.

The creel project was inspired by the donation of a 100- year- old fishing creel to the Centre by Sheila Moir of Scarfskerry. Tim stressed the importance of such projects to keep alive local crafts no longer practised today.

This was Tim Johnson's second successful visit to the Heritage Centre as part of the ongoing programme of traditional skills tuition organised by Castletown Heritage Society. It is hoped that a further visit can be arranged next year.

The following selection of photographs was provided by local fibre artist Joanne B Kaar.


BBC Alba visited Castlehill Heritage Centre on Tuesday 2nd August to film the preparations for the Basket Making Workshop. The footage was featured on a programme called 'An La' which means 'The Day', a news programme. Filming took place in 3 locations: Mary-Ann's cottage, Castlehill Heritage Centre and Brough Harbour. Pictured left are BBC Alba camerawoman Debby Waldron with Joanne Kaar and Muriel.

Pictured right is Debby Waldron with our own local celebrity camerawoman, Sheila Moir from Scarfskerry.

The footage went out on BBC Alba freeview channel no 8 at 8pm on Thursday 4th Aug.


Dateline: Sunday 31 July 2011

RSAMD to provide support for the Edwardian Concert

Following the discovery of an original handbill advertising a Castletown village concert at the turn of the previous century, Castletown Heritage Society hopes to recreate the atmosphere of an Edwardian concert featuring local acts and performers.

The concert will take place on Friday 23 September in the Drill Hall, Main Street, Castletown.

Through our association with North Highland Connections we are delighted to have secured the services of Professor Chris Underwood, Head of Vocal Studies at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Professor Underwood will deliver a week of training and coaching to assist performers in preparation for what will undoubtedly be an interesting and entertaining evening.

If you would like to take part, either as a performer or to assist staging the event, we would be delighted to hear from you. To find out more and register interest, click HERE


BBC Alba to film preparations for Basket Making workshop

Stop Press - We have just learned that BBC Alba will be filming the preparations for the forthcoming series of traditional basket making workshops to be held on 5, 6 and 7th August.

The workshop tutor will be Tim Johnson photographer, artist and basket maker. Among other exciting activities Tim will demonstrate the making of traditional fishing baskets or caisies. Tim will be assisted during the workshop by renowned local fibre artist Joanne Kaar.

To find out more and register interest, click HERE

Dateline: Saturday 16 July 2011

Muriel clinches top prize

What does the Chairwoman of Castletown Heritage Society do in her spare time? Well, apart from helping to run the family farm, Muriel has been developing her skills as an amateur artist and her efforts were today rewarded with first prize in the oil painting category of the Open Industrial competition at the Caithness Agricultural Show.

The well deserved award was for a real-life depiction of her grandson scaling a gate at the farm stables. Well done Muriel!!

Dateline: Thursday 30 June 2011

Scotland's Garden Scheme - a blooming success!

Scotland’s Gardens Scheme (SGS) is a registered charity created in 1931 which raises funds for other worthy charities by facilitating the opening of large and small gardens of horticultural interest throughout Scotland to the public.

Last Sunday, 26 June, Castlehill Heritage Centre hosted the local base for a special one day event held under the scheme in Castletown. A grand total of 125 visitors took part, starting off at Castlehill where on payment of their admission fee they were issued with a map plus information and details relating to flagstone village gardens within Castletown that were open to the public for the day.

Judith Middlemas, SGS District Organiser for Caithness, Sutherland and Orkney was in attendance throughout the day and declared the event a record breaking success:

"Thanks to the hard work of Castlehill Heritage Centre and three private garden owners, four gardens opened for the first time under Scotland's Gardens Scheme. Despite a rainy start a Caithness record breaking turnout of 125 paying garden visitors raised over £400. All the Garden Owners had agreed that 100% net of funds raised should go directly to the Scotland's Gardens Scheme's five charities so we are thrilled with the amount and grateful for their support.

The Heritage Centre Garden was a tribute to the hard work in getting the garden ready for show after the winter damage with the promise of even more flowers to come later in the year. The Herb wheel was in full flower, and the plants used for dyeing were fascinating. I am rather envious of the unspoilt hostas. Each of the three private gardens offered a revelation of what is usually hidden from view and it was a treat to see such well cared for gardens. A good variety of shrubs, colour cordinated violas and pots, together with a woody border and vegetable plots were my highlights of Catherine Sutherland's garden. I was amazed at the quarryside garden of Ann Oag who is indeed an intrepid gardener making a colourful garden, of herbaceous perennials, trees and shrubs, perched on the cliff edge where you would think nothing could grow. Behind Rosemary Mcleod's house was a hidden woodland with a stream at the bottom, a real treat for a windswept cliff top gardener like me. There were plenty of spots to sit and enjoy the trees and walking through pergolas clothed in clematis added to the adventure of the journey down from the house to the stream.

After the garden visits came a very welcome cup of tea and delicious home baking provided by the Castlehill Heritage Centre's supporters. It was a very successful afternoon and all involved can be proud of their efforts. Thanks go to all concerned."

Castlehill Heritage Centre hosts Scotland's Garden Scheme

Visitors browse the Heritage Garden within the courtyard at Castlehill

The sunken bordens are just on the point of bursting into colour

The 'shrubery' on the back wall of the Heritage Garden is starting to mature nicely

A lovely splash of colour in the fossil bed

Blooming lovely!

The border adjacent to the disabled parking bay presents a welcoming display

The raised bed adjacent to the main entrance to Castlehill Heritage Centre

All thanks to the hard work of Irene Wares and Hugh Crowden

The raised herb 'wheel'. The tall spindly plant is woad

The entrance to Rosemary Macleod's garden

Part of the lower level within the 'hidden' garden

Stannergill Burn provides a natural boundary at the bottom of the garden

Who would guess this is in Castletown, Caithness?

A fine tribute to the hard work of the Macleod's

The east aspect of Catherine Sutherland's garden

A very relaxing space

There are some lovely detail planters

A display to be proud of

A delightful oriental theme

Part of Ann Oag's garden is perched on the edge of Castltown quarry - a head for heights is definitely required!

No, this is not a Caithness Scorrie!

The display of lupins is a familiar sight to travellers on the Castletown to Thurso road

This display is on ground reclaimed from spoil from the flagstone quarry operations

Keith and Hugh welcomed the visitors throughout the day. Muriel and local SGS organiser Judith Middlemas (right) look on.

Refreshments including a splendid array of home baked cakes and fancy pieces were available throughout the day

There's nothing like a nice cup of tea to round off a very successful day

What is Scotland's Gardens Scheme?

The Scotland's Gardens Scheme is a registered charity [Scottish Charity no: SC011337], founded in 1931, which facilitates the raising of funds for other charities through the opening of Gardens to the fee paying public. The Scheme is organised into 27 Districts in Scotland each headed by a District Organiser and one or more Area Organisers, with a team of helpers, supported by Head Office in Edinburgh.

How does it work?

Each garden owner can choose their own charity/charities and 40% of their gross takings goes to that charity via our local bank account. The remaining 60% is given to the SGS charities after local and national expenses are taken off. SGS only have two paid members of staff; Paddy Scott - Director and Hazel Reid - Secretary both based in the HQ office in Edinburgh. All other members are unpaid volunteers.

40% of funds raised at gardening openings go to charities of the garden owner's choice whilst 60% net is shared between - Maggie's Cancer Caring Centres - The Queen's Nursing Institue Scotland - The Gardens Fund of the National Trust for Scotland - Perennial (The Gardeners' Royal Benevolent Fund) -The Royal Fund for Gardeners' Children.

How does SGS help to open gardens?

SGS provide advertising - annually in the yellow handbook "Gardens of Scotland" available about 1 Dec for the following year - in National and local press - by providing posters for local display - by providing fliers for local display - on the SGS web page - or on local web pages e.g.

SGS provide signage - HQ can make all kinds of laminated signs - in our yellow. These range from direction arrows to instructional signs, safety signs anything you want we can make. There are also large rigid yellow arrows for roads which carry the SGS logo as on the adverts.

SGS provide Public, Employers and Product Liability Insurance cover for domestic private owners opening their gardens under Scotland's Gardens Scheme.


Caithness Archaeological Trust

Anyone interested in archaeology are reminded that a community excavation is beginning on Monday 4th July at Thrumster House where the remains of a broch will be investigated.

See CAT website for details.

At the end of the project soil samples will be processed at the Castlehill Archaeology Research Facility within the Castlehill Heritage Centre, where volunteers are welcome to take part in the processing of the excavated materials.

Dateline: Tuesday 14 June 2011

No rest for the wicked at Castlehill Heritage Centre

There's seldom a day when something isn't happening down at Castlehill Heritage Centre, and Sunday was no exception. Apart from the general buzz around the Bee Keeping workshop, Neil was spotted strimming the grass around the periphery of the grounds and John was tackling a renewable energy issue - the solar powered watermill. The model watermill was made by Fred Haughton of Achvarasdal, and is a representation of the nearby (disused) mill at the east end of Castletown. It is a regular feature in the Heritage Garden, gently trundling away on sunny days. It had recently been trundling a little too gently, however after a bit of fettling by John it has been restored to full operation. [Photos courtesy of Sheila Moir.]

Sheila Moir captures a rare photograph of Neil hard at work. Having a photograph is rare that is - not that Neil doesn't work hard!!

Trendy - full safety gear, including steel toe cap wellies!

Muriel inspects the water mill, being restored to full action.


Dateline: Saturday 11 June 2011

Knitting in Public - it is legal, you know!!

Forget Rockness - Castlehill Heritage Centre is where the action was today!

The Northern Loops knitting club celebrated it's first anniversay by holding a unique event - a public knitting day! The weather couldn't have been kinder as members took full advantage of the sheltered Heritage Garden to click away on the old pins.

It was a beautiful day for the event

The stone circle in the centre of the Heritage Garden formed the heart of the days event

There was more activity indoors

Finished knitted garments


Dateline: Thursday 9 June 2011

Bee keeping workshop - last few places available

Did you know there were over 20,000 species of wild bees, and that archaelogical finds have indicated that harvesting honey from bees took place as early as 2000BC?

Local apiarist Robin Inglis will kick off our introductory session and workshop with an illustrated presentation revealing the fascinating life-cycle of the humble honey bee. Participants will be able to get up close and personal with live bees in an observation hive.

Part two of the workshop will focus on the practical side of domestic bee keeping in Caithness. Robin will demonstrate and provide information and advice on the cost of starting to keep bees, the purchase of hives and equipment, the care and handling of bees, and the treatment of parasites and diseases.

Sunday 12 June 10am - 4pm. Cost £15, including a soup & sandwich lunch.

*** LAST FEW PLACES AVAILABLE - To book your place, click HERE ***


Castlehill Archaeological Research Facility supports Nybster Broch excavation works

This week the Castlehill Archaeological Research Facility has been processing soil samples taken from the recent community excavation of the Nybster Broch near Keiss. AOC Archaeology provided training to local enthusiasts in wet-seiving techniques, using the state of the art machine designed by Paul Humphreys. The seiving process allows the "retent" and the "flot" i.e. the heavy and light materials in the soil sample to be separated from the bulk soil material. The separated 'finds' are then examined and analysed after drying.

Finds so far within the first two days of work have included fish and small mammal bones, marine and land shells, and some more unusual material connected to industrial processes of the time. These are awaiting further analysis. Members of Caithness Archaeology Trust, Castletown Heritage Archaeology Group and others have been involved in the learning process. The work requires patience, good eyesight and a steady hand with the tweezers! The size of the objects found, is illustrated by the tiny rodent's mandible in the photos below.

Paul Humphreys takes a breather from the intense concentration required to identify and analyse tiny finds

"Two little maids from school are we..."

"Anything they can do, we can do better..."

Hard at work, identifying the finds

A labour shared is a labour halved

Paul pays close attention to the tiny fragments of significant material within the general mass

Roy has a go

Muriel holding a tiny rodent mandible. The question is, where is the rest of the rodent?

Tiny fragments (of slag perhaps?) from industrial activity present within the finds

Muriel and Barbara hard at work at the wet seiving apparatus


Many thanks to Sheila Moir for the photos above

Dateline: Sunday 5 June 2011

Castlehill basks in glorious sunshine

After a week is distinctly un-summer like weather, Caithness has been blessed with stunning sunshine and warm balmy days this weekend. The courtyard garden at Castlehill heritage Centre is looking trim and tidy with colour starting to burst out everywhere you look. A fine tribute to the hard work and dedication of Irene Wares and Hugh Crowden.

The sea pinks are blooming lovely, providing a delightful splash of colour as one enters the courtyard heritage garden

Healthy Hostas

The sunken beds are a mass of glorious colour

The raised herb bed is a blaze of colour and aromas

The raised bed to the right of the main entrance to Castlehill Heritage Centre

The view welcoming visitors approaching the Castlehill Heritage Centre

Dateline: Sunday 29 May 2011

Official launch of the Wick Society's 'Our Rural Heritage' exhibition at Castlehill


There was a great buzz at Castlehill Heritage Centre yesterday evening when invited guests gathered for the official launch of the Wick Society 'Our Rural Heritage' project exhibition. The project is the culmination of many months hard work by the Wick Society to engage with the public in revealing the social history associated with images of Caithness rural life, extracted from the archive of photographs collected by three generations of the local Johnston family of photographers between 1863 and 1975.

The exhibition, which features a selection of Johnston photographs local to the Castletown area, was opened by local councillor Robert Coghill who praised the work of the Wick Society in bringing to life and sustaining interest in our local heritage, in this instance through the 'Our Rural heritage' project. He also commended Castletown Heritage Society for their work locally, and in particular the transformation of Castlehill Heritage Centre from what was once a disused dairy and byre into a multi-purpose facility which is an asset to the local community.

Speaking on behalf of the Wick Society, Harry Gray paid tribute to Castletown Heritage Society in supporting the project and the rural history working group in particular, which was set up to try to bring the images from the Johnston Collection to life. The work involved analysing the scenes depicted in each image and trying to piece together information through research of recorded material and applying local knowledge to create a background story to the images. He also commended the work of Wick Society member Fergus Mather and his team for their work in scanning the thousands of original glass plate negatives, digitally retouching the images and printing the high quality photographs on display.

CHS chair Muriel Murray also made mention of the close co-operation of the two societies as an excellent example of local heritage groups working together to maximise the benefit through the sharing of knowledge and resources. She went on to explain that the Johnston family were not the only photographers who had amassed an extensive archive capturing our rural heritage. Such sterling work continues today through local stalwart Sheila Moir from Scarfskerry, who is a familiar sight at local events clicking away and capturing video. In appreciation of her passion for the camera, Muriel presented a very surprised Sheila with a garden planter on behalf of Castletown Heritage Society.

Official proceedings over, the audience perused the display of images whilst enjoying a glass or two of bubbly and local oatcakes with dips. It proved to be a very pleasant social occasion with much conversation and discussion, and more importantly, new information coming to light about some of the images on display.

The exhibition runs until August in conjunction with our own summer exhibition on the social history of the Castlehill flagstone industry. Castlehill Heritage Centre is open Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons, from 2pm to 4pm. Other times and groups by arrangement.

Muriel welcomes Society members and guests to Castlehill

Harry Gray explains the background to the 'Our Rural Heritage' project undertaken by the Wick Society

Sheila Moir captures Harry on video

Our opener, Councillor Robert Coghil

Muriel presents Robert with a watercolour print of the Pilot's House at Castlehill in appreciation of his support to the Society


('Clashing' is the Caithness dialect term for full frontal gossiping)

Fascinating stuff

Hugh and Agnes study closely an image of Castletown Main Street at the turn of the (last) century

Deep discussion over the image of local cave dwelling 'tinklers'

Images of local farming life

It's busy!

Morris in fine form

Harry Gray and colleagues from the Wick Society

More 'clashing'

Local artist Joanne Karr shares a joke with David Glass

Part of the Castletown Heritage summer exhibition on the local flagstone industry, featuring some images donated to the Society by local man Scott Phares

Sheila Moir in action

Photo by Carol Thomas

John demonstrates how to build a wind pump tower using tumbler and cardboard modules

Photo by Carol Thomas

Liz, Andy and Joanne pose for a photo by Sheila

Photo by Carol Thomas

More intense study

Photo by Carol Thomas


Dateline: Saturday 28 May 2011

Wine making taster session generates enthusiasm

Our first in a series of workshops featuring traditional methods of making home-made wine got off to a great start today, with tutor Philip Wright's infectious enthusiasm for the hobby generating lots of questions and note-taking.

Philip kicked off the session by explaining the nature of wine, sourcing of materials, alcohol content and the legal context for home wine making (no issue at all unless you try to sell it or distill it into spirit), before moving on to explain the action of yeast and the basic processes for preparing, fermenting, clearing and bottling wine. Throughout the session Philip reminded course members that whilst proprietary wine making equipment is freely available to purchase, the majority of the equipment required to make your own wine is usually already available within the average household.

After a break for refreshments Philip moved on to reveal and discuss wine recipies using hedgerow and garden fruits and more unusual ingredients like pea pods, including useful advice on what works well and what best to avoid. Surprisingly, whilst elderberries grown in Ross-shire are suitable for producing a very good wine, locally grown elderberries from Caithness have far too much tannin producing a very bitter result. Did you know that there are even recipies for Yorkshire Pudding wine and worn-out-shoe wine? Essentially, provided the base material isn't poisonous you can make wine from it - it is all a matter of taste! One of the course members had brought along some samples of his own Gorse wine and Lychee wine - the latter being very tasty indeed!

Tutor Philip Wright starts by explaining the nature of wine and the basic processes

Demijohns containing such delicacies as rhubarb, potato and pepper, elderberry and carrot. Finished bottles of rhubard are on the left

Lots of note-taking and questions for Philip

The next session will be in September when there will be a "wine surgery" where you can discuss your wine making successes and failures. In a year's time once your wine has matured you can attend the CHS home-made wine tasting session. If you would like to register interest for the next session, click HERE.

Dateline: Thursday 26 May 2011

Brough Bay Exhibition ends after a very successful run

The Brough Bay Association exhibition closed it's doors yesterday for the final time. Michael O’Donnell, chairman of Brough Bay Association, said that the exhibition had been a tremendous success and reunited old friends who recalled memories and swapped many stories. He said: “The community spirit behind the project has been tremendous. We also greatly appreciated the assistance provided by Johnson Control and Wick Heritage Centre in the production of the larger pictures. Some of the pictures are from the Johnston Collection and show in great detail the harbour and village.” He added: “Many pictures and stories from the exhibition are published in a beautiful book which is available to order at the exhibition or from the Brough Bay Association.”

The exhibition, which was part of the Brough harbour conservation project, was taken from the Brough Bay Association history archive which will be housed digitally at the Castlehill Heritage Centre and be available to view during its regular opening hours. Creation of the archive is an ongoing process and members are always looking for more photographs, stories and artefacts.

The harbour conservation project was funded by LEADER, Heritage Lottery Fund, the Highland Council, Historic Scotland and Dounreay Communities Fund.

Dateline: Saturday 14 May 2011

Brough Bay Association Exhibition at Castlehill

Close on a hundred and fifty people turned out at Castlehill heritage Centre for the official opening of the Brough Bay Association exhibition on Sunday 1st of May. Entitled "Then and Now" the exhibition features photographs, stories and exhibits depicting the life and times of the village of Brough and Dunnet Head and has been staged to celebrate the conservation project at Brough Harbour. Opened by Lord McLennan of Rogart, the exhibition has been warmly received by visitors and has already generated a variety of new information and stories.

The exhibition runs until the 22 May and is open Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons, from 2pm to 4pm. Other times and groups by arrangement.

Photos by Sheila Moir


Wick Society launches 'Our Rural Heritage' project

The Wick Society recently launched a series of three exhibitions featuring photographs from The Johnston Collection. Councillor David Flear declared the project open at an evening event held in Wick Heritage Museum. Representatives from Castletown, Dunbeath, Halkirk and Watten heritage societies were present to signify their support of and involvement in this venture.

Over recent months the Wick Society has held events in Watten, Dunbeath and Castletown to bring local knowledge to bear on the identification of rural images that have come to light during the on-going digitization process on the Johnston glass-plate negatives. Castletown Heritage Society is an active member of the Local History Group has been formed within The Wick Society to discover more of the facts and stories that lie behind the images.

Neil Buchan, Technical Projects Manager of Castletown Heritage Society said, "We are delighted to support the Wick Society in delivering their fascinating 'Our Rural Heritage' series of exhibitions featuring images of rural life captured by three generations of the local Johnston family of photographers between 1863 and 1975. The close co-operation of our societies is an excellent example of local heritage groups working together to maximise the benefit for visitors and locals alike through the sharing of knowledge and resources. The exhibition will open in the Castlehill Heritage Centre in Castletown on Saturday 21 May and will complement and enrich our own summer exhibition portraying the history of the Castlehill Flagstone Works, which played a pivotal role in shaping rural life in and around Castletown in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century."

The project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Wick & Landward Ward of the Highland Council.


North Highland Woodturning Club launch website

The North Highland Woodturning Club has just launched its own website. The Club, which is based in Castlehill Heritage Centre meets on the first Saturday of each month, from 9am to 12 noon, except January and the third Wednesday of each month, from 7pm to 9:30pm, except January and December. Whether you are a beginner or a very experienced woodturner you can be assured of a warm welcome.

To visit their website click here or follow the link on the Friends and Links tab.

Dateline: Sunday 30 April 2011

Castletown Heritage Society AGM Wednesday 27 April 2011

When Muriel presented her Chairwoman's report at the Annual General Meeting of Castletown Heritage Society last Wednesday evening, it really made one sit up and realise just what has been achieved by the Society in the past twelve months.

Despite the national economic downturn, rising fuel prices and a prolonged spell of freezing weather over the winter, all of which had an effect on most local visitor attractions (we certainly missed our usual surge of people returning home for the festive period), the visitor's book tells us that we clocked up well over 1,000 visitors to our exhibitions. As many visitors choose not to sign the total number will be somewhat in excess of this. The summer brought visitors from Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Canada, Holland, Belgium and Germany, with the USA and Germany vying for the highest number of foreign nationals.

The visitor highlight was undoubtedly in August when we were delighted and honoured to have the signature of His Royal Highness, The Duke of Rothesay added to the visitors book. Over the course of his vist The Prince of Wales, as he is known south of the border, was shown round the premises where he met the committee, tutors, benefactors and representatives of the various groups that make use of the Castlehill Heritage Centre. It was a very pleasant occasion and most interesting to have been involved in the meticulous preparations required to host a royal visit.

As major building work in the centre and garden are now complete, recent improvements to the amenity of Castlehill Heritage Centre have included the surfacing of the open garden area and repairs to the 18th century water channels that once fed the mill to the north of the Centre. The toilets and urinals are now fed with flushing water supplied from our new rain water harvesting system. A meter records the amount of mains water saved in this way. In order to help maintain or high standard of presentations and workshops, we have recently installed a full audio visual system with ceiling mounted projector, sound system and multi-input connectivity. The acquisition of two lockable spot-lit glass display cabinets ensures the security of some of our more sensitive artefacts, while the donation of museum shelving has eased the storage problem. A further purchase which will allow better use of the heritage garden area during the uncertain Caithness summer, is what Muriel described as an 'awning', but is better known within the Society as the 'corporate hospitality facility'!

We are very grateful to all those who have contributed photos, maps, reminiscences, information and objects to us. These all help to build up a clearer picture of the past in our area. Most of this material comes from local people, but some arrives as a result of contact through our excellent web site from ex-pats and those eager to trace their Castletown roots. Throughout the summer of 2010 we ran an interesting display featuring local Trades and Businesses over the years. This was succeeded by the winter exhibition entitled Domesticity, a great way of displaying many of our collection of articles evoking home life in the past. These exhibitions proved very popular with the youngsters from Castletown, Halkirk, Melvich and Bettyhill schools all of whom visited with their teachers.

Castlehill Heritage Centre continues to provide a convenient place for various local groups to hold meetings and carry out activities. In addition to the popular Monday night painting class, the Spinners group and the North Highland Woodturners each meet there twice a month. The Caithness Amateur Radio Society are based in the Centre, and the Caithness Astronomical Society appreciate the centre facilities and our dark skies. Caithness Craft Development Group meet there on a regular basis throughout the year. The Castlehill Archaeology group now meets regularly under the guidance of Paul Humphreys. The current project is entitled 'Uncovering the Garth', and investigates the possible medieval settlement on the site of Lower Garth, between Castlehill and Thurdistoft.

Our own programme of traditional skills workshop has this year included drystone dyking, lime mortar pointing in conjunction with the Princes Regeneration Trust, peat cutting in conjunction with Mary Ann's Cottage, straw work, knitting, fishermens' ganseys, nuno felt making, silk paper making, traditional baking, and creative writing classes. Thanks must go to our talented tutors. Events which have become regular features of our annual programme have attracted the usual enthusiasm, like the Bothy Night, Quiz Night, the pre- Christmas craft sale, and our Boxing Day opening. And this year we invited members to a summer buffet with live music.

This year we have also been involved in some special local events. We became part of the Caithness Mod fringe in October. With the help of Christine Kyd, a well known Scottish folk singer, we hosted a day of local Caithness songs as a type of antidote to the Gaelic music tradition going on in Wick and Thurso. We were also the venue for classes in basic conversational Gaelic delivered by CLi Gàidhlig and sponsored by North Highland Trust.

As part of the Highland Archaeology festival we invited people to take part in a conducted walk through the ruins of Castlehill House and estate, and we put on a special display featuring the various owners of the estate, including the Traill family. The Society has always been anxious to do what we can to preserve the built heritage of the immediate area. To this end we have worked closely with the Princes Regeneration Trust. We hosted the public consultation meetings to look at Scotia Homes planned regeneration of the Castlehill farm steading and new build houses, and more recently proposals for the re-use of the Old Mill at the east end of Castletown. The Princes Trust collaborated with us in the lime mortar pointing course in the summer in the hope that volunteers might use that skill on the renovation of the two vernacular houses in the Backies in Castletown, purchased by the Trust during 2010.

The Society has always been aware of the importance of co-operation and partnerships. For us 2011 will be known as the year of co-operation. We made an early start by giving space to the Caithness Amateur Radio Society to mount a display celebrating their 50 years of existence. Members operated a live station during our open times and also when we had school groups visiting. The pupils soon became adept at tapping their names in Morse Code.

From the first week in May, Brough Bay Association will put on a varied display, featuring the past and present of that area with photos, artefacts, an audio visual presentation, recorded reminiscences and items for sale. At the end of May they give way to the Wick Society who are taking some of the photos in the famous Johnston Collection on tour. Under the heading Our Rural Heritage, they will put on display at Castlehill some confirmed images from this area and also some of more doubtful origins in the hope that they may be identified. This exhibition will run until the end of August, concurrently with our own interpretation of the local flagstone industry. You would think that information on the 19th century enterprise would fade with time but in fact recent photos and documentation given to us has enhanced our knowledge of its operation.

In June Castletown is taking part in Scotlands Gardens Scheme with our courtyard garden and several other village gardens going on show for an afternoon in aid of charity. Castlehill Heritage Centre will be the HQ for the event and the Society will be serving teas throught the day.

This season's traditional skills workshops programme has already got under way with a fascinating session on traditional gansey pattern making. Events scheduled for later in the year include beekeeping, jam and preserve making, traditional basket making, wine making, lace making and another workshop on Gansey knitting.

Following on from the tremendous success of our 'Bothy Night' workshop last year plans for a repeat event in November are already underway. Music/performance workshops are proving to be very popular and this year we propose to try something a little different by staging an 'Edwardian concer' in the Autumn. This idea arose from the discovery of a newspaper report of a village concert held in aid of the Castletown Street Lighting Fund in 1911. Artistes came from Castletown, Thurso and Wick and included singers, comics, instrumentalists, rounded off by a short play. We have managed to run to earth most of the materials performed and plan to put on a re-enactment. Collaboration in the form of vocal tuition for performers will come from the Royal Scottish School of Music and Drama, courtesy of North Highland Connections. If anyone would like to be involved in the performance, costumes etc please let get in touch!

Muriel concluded her report by thanking the members of the committee for their sterling work for the benefit of the society. All put in long hours despite having many other commitments. Vice chair Liz Geddes who helps man bases for schools visits, Neil Buchan (technical projects manager and webmaster), John Crowden (treasurer and joint secretary), Sharon Pottinger (crafts co-ordinator, writing tutor and minutes secretary), Jayne Blackburn who mans the centre on Wednesdays, catalogues the photo collection and brings the past to life for our school visitors and Roy Blackburn is in charge of Health and safety and is involved in maintenance and fund-raising activities. Muriel paid a special tribute to Hugh Crowden, who does absolutely everything from opening up the centre, stoking the boiler to digging flower-beds. He likes to think of himself as a practical manual person but the visitor's book comments section proves that he is also an excellent and charming museum guide! Finally, Muriel welcomed back Carol Thomas, who to our delight has returned to the committee, ready to turn her hand to research or shortbread making, as the need arises.

Thanks are due too to many non committee members who offer assistance in a unobtrusive way. Irene Wares is responsible for the wonderful and prolonged floral display in the courtyard, Davie Swanson is available to do joinery work, and Joanne Kaar co-ordinates and quietly lends a hand. Liz Buchan can always be relied on to turn out magnificent baking, and Gordon Buchan is our digger driver. As you can see the society is well served by its volunteers, is in good heart and ready for another successful year.

Following Muriel's report treasurer John Crowden presented the accounts which confirmed that the Society remains in a healthy state, in spite of the economic downturn. On completion of all the formal reporting, interim Chairman Hamish Pottinger praised the outgoing committee for their efforts then took over the helm for the election of office bearers for the 2011-12 session, as follows:

Chairwoman Muriel Murray
Vice-Chairwoman Elizabeth Geddes
Treasurer John Crowden
Secretary John Crowden / Muriel Murray (joint)
Committee Jayne Blackburn
Roy Blackburn (Health & Safety Officer)
Neil Buchan (Technical Projects Manager and Webmaster)
Hugh Crowden
Sharon Pottinger (Crafts Coordinator and Minute Secretary)
Carol Thomas

Front row from left - Liz Geddes, Muriel Murray, Hugh Crowden.

Back row from left - Neil Buchan, Carol Thomas, Roy Blackburn, Jayne Blackburn, Sharon Pottinger, John Crowden.


Once the formalities of the evening were over we were treated to a fascinating illustrated talk by guest speaker Ian Leith, author of "The Man who went to Farr", the story of Patrick Sellar, the factor who stood accused of culpabable homocide for his part in the Strathnaver Clearances.

During his presentation "Remove or Improve - the Sellar and Traill approaches", Mr Leith compared and contrasted the approach and achievements of the notorious Patrick Sellar with that of his contemporary James Traill who is held in a far more positive light, both of whom played their part in delivering improvements during the late 18th and early 19th century.

The thought provoking presentation sparked lively debate with members of the audience adding some fascinating additional insight. The excellent evening drew to a close with the traditional serving of tea and biscuits, and much continued discussion!

Dateline: Sunday 20 March 2011

Castletown Mill regeneration - what do you think?

Castlehill Heritage Centre recently hosted a well attended public consultation meeting to discuss plans to regenerate the derelict Castletown Mill at the eastern edge of the village. The consultation was held under the auspices of the Prince's Regeneration Trust who are seeking ways of bringing the buildings back to life for the benefit of the area and the local community.

Following a visit and tour of the mill buildings in the morning, the evening event heard Tom Duff of LDN Architects explain that the mill was an important part of Castletown's industrial heritage, and it's restoration could act as a catalyst for other regeration projects in the area. A number of possible uses and projects were outlined, with particular attention paid to the need for a sustainable development with a sound business plan supporting commercial viability.

The attentive and responsive audience acknowledged the potential of the building and provided some very positive feedback and ideas as to how the buildings could be brought back into use - from flats, aquatic sports support facilities and offices to a micro brewery.

What do you think? Do you have any ideas that might support or create a viable opportunity at the Mill? Would you like to see the mill developed into a prestigous facility, acting as a gateway to Castletown and Dunnet Bay? Or is it all just another crazy idea?

We want to hear your views! Please forward your ideas and suggestions to Castletown Heritage Society who have been tasked with canvassing local opinion and ideas on behalf of the Prince's Regeneration Trust.

Click here to submit your ideas and comments.


Archaeological Investigations at Nybster Broch

If you enjoy taking part in our series of archaeological workshops and excavations, then this is an opportunity not to be missed. For two weeks in April, and two weeks in August, Caithness Archaeological Trust are looking for volunteers of all ages to take part in excavations at the Nybster Broch Project. The work will be done under the expert guidance of professional architects and provides an exciting opportunity to get hands-on involved in site survey, assessment and recording, excavation, recording and analysis, or materials analysis and conservation.

It's free to take part and no previous experience is required. For full details, click this link.


Dateline: Saturday 12 March 2011

Quiz Night Fun at Castlehill

There was much scratching of heads on Thursday evening at the annual Castletown Heritage Society Quiz Night. Quizmaster Neil put ten teams through their paces with ten rounds of topics such as General Knowledge, Food & Drink, Geography and the Natural World, Sport and Food, Glorious Food. At the halfway point it was a close thing at the top between 'The Rants' on 42 and regular competitors the 'Particulars' on 46.

After a welcome break for tea , sandwiches and home bakes, during which the raffle was drawn, the close rivalry between the top teams started to show, with 'Hopeless' and 'Eureka' making a late surge. It was the Particulars however who stormed away, dropping only two points over rounds 7, 8 and 9. Their commanding lead meant that their (now traditional) poor performance in the Caithness round failed to change the final order, leaving them in top spot with a final score of 76. 'The Rant' shared second place with 'Hopeless' (both on 65) with 'Eureka' (63) just missing out in fourth slot. The 'Booby' prize went to the 'Oldies', who were slightly disadvantaged by having only three team members. At least that's what Marjory said.

Pictured above is the winning 'Particulars' team, holding their prizes - a unique framed print of a golden sunlit view of the Castlehill Flagstone Works windpump tower, with Dunnet Head in the background (see report dated 25 Feb below to see the image).

Thanks go to all the competitors who came from as far afield as Portskerra, Wick, Thurso, Dunnet to join the local contingent from Castletown. Thanks must also go to Liz B, Muriel, Liz G, Jane and Sharon for providing splendid home made fare for our 'pieces', and everyone who donated a raffle prize.

Dateline: Tuesday 08 March 2011

Castlehill Archaeology Club Meeting

The second meeting for 2011 of the Castlehill Archaeology Club was held on Sunday 27 February. A good turn-out of archaeology group members enabled division of labour on activities both at Lower Garth and in the field behind Castlehill Heritage Centre.

The first group was briefed on the intricacies of field walking, walking the length of the field following a visual line between sets of two markers, scanning the ground for any fragments of pottery or flint, bagging the finds and marking the location with a flag. The second group worked with a will, using secateurs, sickles, scissors and rakes to reduce the vegetation within the two buildings at Lower Garth and their immediate vicinity.

At the next meeting the group will wash and analyse the finds from the field walking exercise. Also of interest to the study of Garth is the composition of the orchard. It is planned to take samples of the trees once they are in leaf and have their type identified. One possible co-operative project might be to graft cuttings and bring them on in the tree nursery at Dunnet Forest. One particularly large tree stump appeared to be of considerable age. The group will attempt to ascertain its age, either by measuring its girth, or by using dendrochronology ie counting the rings.

Dateline: Friday 25 February 2011

A stunning view over to Dunnet Head

Sometimes you just have to stop and take a photograph. Whilst heading down Harbour Road towards Castlehill Heritage Centre one crisp day at the end of January, one couldn't help but be impressed by the stunning view of the wind pump tower and the derelict quarry worker's cottages at the Castlehill Flagstone Works, picked out in golden sunlight.

Dunnet Head in the background looks quite forboding by comparison, a stark reminder of the dramatic Caithness climate where during the winter it is not unusual to experience all four seasons in the space of an hour......

Dateline: Thursday 17 February 2011

Brough Bay Association Heritage Project - workshop

On Saturday Castletown Heritage Society was delighted to host a workshop led by Dr Issie MacPhail of Assynt Research & Consultancy on behalf of the Brough Bay Association Heritage Project. Over the course of the day Dr MacPhail explained the finer points of recording, transcribing and filing oral history, and offered practical advice on how to set up a logical and accessible archive catalogue of captured information.

So far excellent progress has been made in Brough Bay Association's ambitious project to capture and build a picture of contemporary and historical life around Brough Bay, with much valuable data being captured through interviews held with Brough residents past and present.

Later this year, in May, the Association will stage an exhibition in the Castlehill Heritage Centre to showcase the results of the project.


Caithness Amateur Radio Society Exhibition

Caithness Amateur Radio Society have set up a live working radio station and an exhibition at Castlehill centre to celebrate 50 years of existence of the Club's existance. The display includes material on radio's beginnings, the importance of war-time military radio communications in Caithness, the ex US Navy Communications network in Caithness and much more.

The display will be manned by club members during normal Castlehill opening hours from Sunday 20 February until the end of March.

The award winning Caithness Amateur Radio Society meet on the first Wednesday of every month in the Nethercliffe Hotel, Wick @ 7:30pm and at the Castlehill Heritage Centre, Castletown, at 7pm on the 3rd Wednesday. Anybody interested in any aspect of radio communication will be made most welcome. The Club Callsign is MS0FNR. To find out more about Caithness Amateur Radio Society click here


Castlehill Archaeology Club meeting at Castlehill

The next meeting of the Castlehill Archaeology Club will be held on Sunday 27 February. Meet at the beach car park opposite the old mill at 10 am. The morning will be spent removing vegetation from the site at Lower Garth and initial probing to locate any vestiges of earlier construction.

Interested in taking part? - click HERE

Dateline: Sunday 6 February 2011

Spinning group off to a flying start

It was a full house at Castlehill Heritage Centre this afternoon as the spinning group kicked off their regular sessions for 2011 proof, if any were needed, that interest in this traditional skill remains live and kicking.

Newcomers and beginners are most welcome to come and take part - the group meets on the first and third Sunday of every month from 1.30pm to 3.30pm.

To find out more and register interest, click HERE


Castletown Mill regeneration consultation - Wed 2 March

On Wednesday 2 March Castlehill Heritage Centre will host a public consultation meeting to discuss plans to regenerate the Castletown mill. A visit to the premises (safe areas only) will take place earlier in the day with the public meeting comprising a presentation and discussion taking place in the evening. Light refreshments will be provided.

To find out more and register interest, click HERE

Dateline: Sunday 23 January 2011

Castletown Heritage helps the BBC's Edwardian Farm

Viewers of episode ten of 'Edwardian Farm' on BBC2 might be surprised to know that the programme had a strong Caithness and Sutherland connection, thanks to Castletown Heritage Society! Filming for the series was done in Devon, with one scene requiring peat to be burned outdoors on the moors for cooking. The producers for the programme ran into a problem trying to source peat locally as The Dartmoor Trust did not permit peat to be removed from the moor and no hand-cut peat could be found nearer to hand.

Eagle-eyed researchers spotted on the Castletown Heritage Society website that the Society had organised a peat experience workshop in May last year in conjunction with Mary-Ann's cottage at Dunnet and phoned the Society to ask if they could send them a pallet of hand cut peat.

All the peat that had been cut during the workshop on Dunnet Head last year was securely stored in the peat stack outside Mary-Ann's cottage so was not available, however Society Chairwoman Murial Murray got in touch with Alex Patience who lives in Portskerra. Alex had taken part in the workshop day and relies on peat for her own heat and cooking at home. She arranged for a pallet of peat to be despatched to the other end of the country. Viewers of the popular television series saw Portskerra peat being duly burned on Dartmoor. The presenters did at least admit it came from Scotland!

To see the episode on BBC iplayer click HERE (available until Wed 26 January). The peat fire cooking scenes are near the end.

Dateline: Sunday 2 January 2011

A Guid New Year to ane an' a'

The committe of Castletown Heritage Society extends our very best wishes for 2011 to all the Society's friends, supporters and well wishers.

The snow may have finally melted but it is still a cold, dreich day - perfect for remaining snug and warm indoors whilst you explore the new programme of events on offer from Castletown Heritage Society for the 2011 season.

Whether it bee attending our workshop on bee-keeping or volunteering to take part on our Edwardian concert evening, we would be delighted to hear from you. Click here to book a place or send us your thoughts on the forward programme. Feedback on past events or ideas for future events or workshops would also be most welcome.