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Dateline: Sunday 30 December 2012

Boxing Day Opening

Season's Greetings everyone! Whilst the traditional festive snow has thus far stayed away from Caithness the weather has had it's moments, with some of the local fields and low lying areas sitting full of water in places never usually seen. The heavy seas took their toll on the harbours on the east coast, with several experiencing severe damage - for more details and some excellent photographs visit the Caithness community website Heavy rain is lashing the window as I type this.....

The variable weather did not however deter a healthy stream of friends and visitors from coming along to our traditional Boxing Day opening, where hot mulled wine, mincemeat pies, tea and coffee were on hand to add to the warm welcome given to one and all. The opening has become a popular place to meet up with old friends for a chat whilst viewing the various displays. This year we had the added bonus of a live demonstration of how to ice traditional continental gingerbreads, with visitors invited to have a go. This proved very popular and we are grateful to Jana Emburey for ably demonstrating the fine art of making gingerbread look even tastier! Jana is at present working at the St Fergus Gallery in Wick. She is seeking to promote it as a community arts venue and welcomes young and old to view the exhibitions and engage in spontaneous drawing. Why not drop in and see her?

Another special feature was the unveiling of our latest exhibit - a 1941 Rolls-Royce Merlin engine! The engine was recovered by the late Bob Falconer and his friend Lewis Sinclair from a Hurricane fighter plane that was based at RAF Castletown during the second World War. The plane had crashed into the moss in the centre of Caithness during a training exercise. The engine is on loan to Castletown Heritage Society courtesy of Bob's son Robert and Lewis Sinclair, pending the establishment of a suitable location for it's display by Halkirk Heritage Society. The provenance and social history associated with the engine is truly fascinating - watch this space for a special feature! In the meantime the engine is on display at Castlehill Heritage Centre during normal opening hours.

Busy, busy, busy!

The queue for the mulled wine seemed to be constantly replenished...

Jana (right) demonstrates how to get started

Gently does it [Photo Sheila Moir]

Liz shows off her finished gingerbread

Muriel explains the history of the crashed Hurricane aircraft. The item on the stand is the carburettor from the Merlin engine

Deep in discussion about RAF Castletown

Muriel enjoys a good yarn with the two Alistairs

Part of the collection of artefacts recently donated to the Society [Photo Sheila Moir]

No excuse now ladies!! [Photo Sheila Moir]

Typewriters through the ages

Wallace and Gromit© would be proud of these

[Photo Sheila Moir]

[Photo Sheila Moir]

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Caithness Astronomy - Dark Skies Certificate

As reported back in October, Caithness Astronomy Group has been successful in its quest to have Castlehill Heritage Centre officially designated as a 'Dark Sky Discovery Site'. Castlehill Heritage Centre is one of eighteen new sites to be so designated - and we are the only site north of Inverness! The eighteen sites have been approved by the Science and Technology Facilities Council-led Dark Sky Discovery programme as safe, accessible areas with reduced light pollution that are good for seeing the stars.

CAG member Alan Kennedy recently presented Hugh Crowden with the official designation certificate, which is now proudly displayed by the entrance way in the main hall.

The next Caithness Astronomy Group event is a stargazing evening at Castlehill Heritage Centre on Friday 11th January 2012, at 7pm. See the CAG website for further details.

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Paper Making Workshop - 19 & 20 Jan

As long a go as the third millenium BC, the ancient Egyptians made a thick paper like material from the pith of the papyrus plant. The finished product was good enough to use as a writing surface and was widely used as a rival to parchment (which was made from animal skins). Nowadays we take paper for granted, and it is readily available to purchase in a wide variety of forms and finishes. But the art of paper making from whatever materials are available to hand has not been lost - as our tutor for this exiting, hands-on workshop will demonstrate.

Local artist Joanne B Kaar is a papermaker of international repute, and over the two days of the workshop will take us through the process preparing paper from a diverse range of materials. Did you know you could make paper from such things as banana skins, celery, cabbage, orange peel, onion skins, nettles, rush, NZ Flax, thistle down, pine needles, grasses or hosta..... to name but a few? Prepare to be amazed!

The two day workshop will take place on Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th January 2013. Cost per person will be £60 per person. Booking absolutely essential. Materials will be provided, however participants will be encouraged to bring along their own dried materials - whatever they may be!

To find out more and register interest, click HERE


Dateline: Monday 3 December 2012

North Highland Woodturners competition

An impressive display of lovingly crafted articles was to the fore in Castlehill Heritage Centre on Saturday 1st December, when the North Highland Woodturners Association held their annual competition and prize giving. A good turn out of members brought along a diverse selection of their work over the year, from bowls to trays, involute turned articles to goblets and trays.

Guest judge Neil Buchan was presented with a real challenge to select the prize winners as all the articles were of a very high standard, however after much deliberation the final results were as follows:

  • First overall - James Polson for his delicately turned goblet. A simple piece but very well executed and finished.
  • Second - Ivor Thomas. Ivor's unusual cruciform bowl was created using a combination of turning and carving - a fine example of inventive craftsmanship.
  • Third - Alec Younson. Alec's involute piece was fabricated using quadrants cut from a turned piece, reversed, glued, then turned again!
  • First reserve - Bob Boxhall. This well deserved prize reflected Bob's excellent progress as a relatively novice wood turner.

The North Highland Woodturners are based in Castlehill Heritage Centre and meet 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.

James Polson's delicately turned goblet

Ivor Thomas's cunningly turned and carved bowl

Third prize went to Alec Youngon's fine inverse turned piece

First reserve went to novice woodturner Bob Boxhall

Dateline: Monday 26 November 2012

Future programme highlights

With 2013 only 36 days away, here's a quick guide to some of the things we are planning by way of next year's programme, kicking off with details of our traditional Boxing Day opening:

  • Boxing day 2012 - continental Christmas gingerbread decorating with Jana Emburey plus usual mulled wine and mince pies.


  • Experimental paper-making with Joanne Kaar- a two day workshop on 19th and 20th January. PLease note there is a deadline for bookings for this workshop - please click here to register your interest.
  • Monoprinting evening with Jana Emburey, a Monday in February.
  • Vintage recipe workshop- interpreting recipes and home cures from 1860s with talented bakers from Murkle WRI
  • Thatching workshop--in conjunction with Mary-Ann's cottage.
  • Genealogy open day with an experienced researcher Allan Bruce who will give advice on researching family members in WW1. Planned for a Sunday in May
  • Basic Sewing with Helen Gunn-- a chance to attend a further full day session
  • Poetry writing workshop with John Glendale.
  • WW2 themed Concert
  • Traditional Bothy Night - November
  • Christmas Craft Sale - November

To register interest in any of these events, or to suggest others, please click here


Dateline: Sunday 25 November 2012

Bothy Nicht - bring on the next one!

Sometimes we just seem to get it right. Our traditional Bothy Nicht workshop has become something of an institution, with each year's event surpassing the last. The canny blend of information, learning, a good supper and wholesome entertainment seems to be a successful formula, and Friday night's event was no exception.

Our master of ceremonies Muriel was her usual efficent and highly entertaining self, interlacing the acts with informative pieces bringing to life the social history of the bothy, and in particular the character and working conditions of workers farm servants who used to inhabit them round the turn of the century.

We were delighted to welcome back Clapshot - Donald MacNeill, Dave Broughton and Danny O Hagan with guest members Katy Malone and Neil Parkin - as anchor for the musical entertainment. Dave led the band through a variety of reels, jigs, hornpipes and other traditional Scottish and Irish tunes, interspersed with some fine blues grass tunes from Neil P on the banjo. Jenny Broughton performed a most agile display of traditional clog dancing.

Regular Castlehill workshop supporter Heather Millard was in fine voice, getting the audience participating in a Northumberland folk song about a shipwreck, and performing a lovely piece called "On my own" from Les Miserables. Her wonderful singing of "Ye banks and braes of Bonnie Doune" by Robert Burns prompted one member of Clapshot to comment that it was one of the best renditions of that song he had heard from a non Scottish singer.

Katy Malone performed a couple of solo spots, including a humorous ditty about a small boy and his lost marble which had the audience in stitches, and her poem about men with moustaches was undoubtedly a song awaiting a tune! Katy also played bodran and the whistle with Clapshot - a talented lady. Danny O Hagan gave us a couple of folk songs wound round some good Glasgow banter and humour.

Castletown Heritage Society committee members were also to the fore - Neil Buchan performed some traditional bothy ballads - The Hash of Benagoak, It's lonely at nicht in the Bothy, and by special request, Barnyards of Delgaty. He also read an amusing tale called The Prowler. This true story reflected some real life experiences of George Blythe who, as a young lad, was stationed at RAF Castletown in 1941.

Helen Gunn gave us a character-perfect rendition of the classic Caithness poem Div e mind? by John Horne. Muriel brought the sad story of The Lybster Train to life in a more than passable attempt at the Caithness dialect, and entertained us with a humourous tale about the Dunnet Skate. Jayne Blackburn had us in stitches with her poem about a candle and Castlehill volunteer Alan Bruce recited the poem Castletown by Jessie Begg. Towards the end of the evening Izzie Currie brought the house down with her two, slightly risque songs....

Many thanks to all who came along to make the evening such a success, not forgetting the Castletown Hotel who provided the cottage pie for the half-time supper.

Roll on next year!

Dateline: Monday 19 November 2012

Bee Exhibition enthralls local schoolchildren

Castletown Primary School classes were fortunate to choose a fine crisp day for their walk to Castlehill recently. They came in three class groups to have a "Bee Experience." Each group was guided through the year's work for a bee-keeper by local guides Robin and Gail Inglis from Freswick. With lots of hands on opportunities to explore bee hives, smokers, and extractors the children learnt all about the making of honey and its collection by the bee keeper. Much fear and misinformation about bees and their stings was dispelled! Groups also looked at the life cycle of the bumble bee, the byproducts of royal jelly and propolis, and the anatomy of the honey bee.

On their return to school P7 penned neatly written letters of thanks expressing the best parts of the day in their eyes. CHS is always delighted to get such helpful feed-back.

Some of the comments received:

  • I liked learning that the bees huddled round the queen in winter to keep her warm
  • The best bit was the bee-keeper talking to us about his work
  • It was a nice walk down to the heritage centre and it was good to get out of school
  • The best part was how the bees make royal jelly to feed baby bees
  • We learnt that there are only twenty four species of bee left in the UK
  • We got to hold the frames - one had honey on it
  • It is very interesting how bees communicate by dancing

We all look forward to the next visit from Castletown School.

Photos of visit courtesy of Castletown Primary School

Dateline: Saturday 17 November 2012

Christmas Craft Sale

A fine, clear, crisp frosty morning bode well for a bright and sunny day - and we weren't disappointed. One of those days with cloudless skies horizon to horzon that make it a joy to be living in Caithness. It encourages one to get out and about, top up the vitamin D and cross a few more items off the Christmas shopping list.

And so it was. A steady stream of discerning shoppers, the curious and those that just fancied a nice cup of tea and some freshly baked fancy pieces, made their way to the Castlehill Heritage Centre where our Christmas Craft Sale buzzed with activity all afternoon.

The Caithness Handbell Ringers got things underway with a most enjoyable selection of seasonal tunes and carols. They even managed to persuade Muriel to have a go - and in typical style she performed faultlessly! Hidden talents there methinks. Click here for a short video clip.

Many thanks to all who came along to make the sale such a success - the eclectic mix of stall holders, the committee members for their usual dedication and lovely home baking, and all the visitors and shoppers who from feedback received really enjoyed their afternoon.


Dateline: Tuesday 13 November 2012

Coming soon - Paper Making Workshop

As long a go as the third millenium BC, the ancient Egyptians made a thick paper like material from the pith of the papyrus plant. The finished product was good enough to use as a writing surface and was widely used as a rival to parchment (which was made from animal skins). Nowadays we take paper for granted, and it is readily available to purchase in a wide variety of forms and finishes. But the art of paper making from whatever materials are available to hand has not been lost - as our tutor for this exiting, hands-on workshop will demonstrate.

Local artist Joanne B Kaar is a papermaker of international repute, and over the two days of the workshop will take us through the process preparing paper from a diverse range of materials. Did you know you could make paper from such things as banana skins, celery, cabbage, orange peel, onion skins, nettles, rush, NZ Flax, thistle down, pine needles, grasses or hosta..... to name but a few? Prepare to be amazed!

The two day workshop will take place on Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th January 2013. Cost per person will be £60 per person. Booking essential. Materials will be provided, however participants will be encouraged to bring along their own dried materials - whatever they may be!

A gift voucher for this workshop could be a really different and exciting Christmas present!

To find out more and register interest, click HERE

Dateline: Tuesday 6 November 2012

North Highland Woodturners Annual Demo

This years annual demonstration was held at Castletown Heritage Centre on 1 September. This years demonstrator was Michael O'Donnell the world renowned woodturner who lives at Brough, Dunnet. He has over the past few months been writing articles for a woodturning magazine on turning unusual objects and the methods, jigs, and fixtures involved. A program had been agreed that he would demonstrate one of these, a seed pod, followed by an elliptical vase and finish with a demonstration of turning a green wood [unseasoned] goblet.

The audience of around 40 people made up of 10 woodturners from Inverness, 10 woodturners from N.H.W.A. and around 20 local people were treated to a very interesting and entertaining demonstration by a master woodturner. Mick described how he had been inspired to turn these items followed by an explanation of the holding methods and the tools used. The audience was then treated to a demonstration of woodturning interspersed by easily understood explanations of the operations involved. In between each demonstration there was a coffee/tea and biscuits break during which the audience mingled and discussed what they had seen.

The final demonstration was the turning of a very thin walled green wood goblet in local sycamore. Mick demonstrated his technique of using a dark room with a single light shining through the wood to indicate the thickness of the goblet. At the end of each demonstration Mick gave the item to a member of the audience, so three people went home with a momento, and everybody went home appreciating the fine demonstration performed by Mick.

Thanks must also be given to Castletown Heritage Society for all the assistance given in setting up and with the tea/coffee breaks.

Report and images by Fred Haughton, Chairman, NHWA

Dateline: Sunday 4 November 2012

Helen has them in stitches...!

Needles, pins and sewing machines were very much to the fore yesterday as master seamstress Helen Gunn ably demonstrated how to tackle those tricky textile repairs and how to set about creating bespoke items at our first 'Basic Sewing Workshop'. From replacing a zip to making a roman blind, Helen coached and encouraged the delegates, each of whom had brought along their own challenging article.

Helen demonstrates how to create a roman blind

Liz hard at work assembling a knitted patchwork blanket

Marking out the lining for the roman blind

Liz measuring out material for some rather smart cushions

Muriel adjusts the sleeves of a favourite jacket

Fancy material, and even fancier scissors!


Dateline: Monday 22 October 2012

Castlehill becomes a Dark Sky Discovery Site!!

Caithness Astronomy Group has been successful in its quest to have Castlehill Heritage Centre officially designated as a 'Dark Sky Discovery Site'. It was announced on Friday last week that Castlehill Heritage Centre is one of eighteen new sites to be so designated - and we are the only site north of Inverness! The eighteen sites have been approved by the Science and Technology Facilities Council-led Dark Sky Discovery programme as safe, accessible areas with reduced light pollution that are good for seeing the stars.

Dan Hillier, Project Lead for the Dark Sky Discovery programme who is based at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh said "It is great to see this project continuing to grow. The fact that Dark Sky Discovery continues to gain such momentum is testament to the hard work of all those involved with either nominating local stargazing sites or arranging events for the public to take part in". The Dark Sky Discovery programme aims to involve as many different communities as possible and encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to consider taking part in stargazing activities. A delighted Gordon Mackie, Chairman of Caithness Astronomy Group, was keen to emphasise the benefits of Castlehill "The Northern Highlands of Scotland are lucky enough to have some of the darkest skies in Western Europe and it's great to see the first Dark Sky Discovery Site in the far north of the UK is Castlehill Heritage Centre, where Caithness Astronomy Group hold many of their events."

The next CAG event in November sees science writer and astronomer Duncan Lunan giving a public talk at Thurso High School on Friday 16th November at 1930hrs - talk title is "The Future of Spaceflight". He will also chat about his latest book "The Stones and the Stars" which deals with Stone Circles and their astronomical connections.

The two stunning photos above are courtesy of Stewart Watt, CAG.

Dateline: Tuesday 16 October 2012

All things woolly wonderful!

On Sunday 14 October the inclement weather let up just long enough to allow visitors to the "Wool Experience at Castlehill" watch the alchemy of plant dyeing in action in the open air. Woad leaves, once boiled create a green liquid which on exposure to the air turns a rich blue (traditionally, Pictish warriors and drovers bonnets were dyed with woad.)

Fresh from the recent double success of presenting the skills of dyeing carding and spinning to Wick High school and Castletown Primary school, Ann Johnson and her group of crafty ladies put on a day long display of spinning, carding, weaving, heckling and dyeing. A stream of visitors dropped in to have a go at all the skills and to learn which plants produced which colour. Impatient youngsters were enthralled by the rapid methods for creating riotous colours on wool using squirty bottles and a micro-wave. Older people found that they picked up the knack of spinning quite easily. Many contacts were established and new members to the group signed up.

The event was held as part of the Wild North Festival.

Not a barrel of laughs leads to a real buzz...

Confused? To explain....

On Friday 12 October, Castlehill Heritage Centre welcomed visitors to the world premiere of a short film as part of the Wild North Festival. It had been made in the course of the two previous days by participants at a video making workshop run by Toby and Fionn Watts of Keiss. The Watts brothers put the students through the skills required to produce a piece based on Castlehill.

As their inspiration they chose the tragic tale picked from the archive of newspaper clippings held at the Centre. Two children had been left alone all day in the house while the parents went to work. On the parents return the children were found dead in a meal barrel. Whether it was a game of hide and seek that went tragically wrong or an attempt to get food from the barrel will never be known. The video captured in sound and image the stark tragedy of the event.

Also shown was a film shot by the Watts on an artistic installation at Keiss. EkkO explores the idea of a stone encircled space set in the landscape.

Next on the evening programme was a talk by Mairi Carnegie of the Scottish Agricultural College in Edinburgh. Mairi pitched her talk absolutely correctly for the benefit of a varied audience. It was apparent that the organisation of the life of a colony of bees within a hive was matched equally by the organisation of the work of the College bee health section.

There to help identify possible diseases in hives from samples sent in by bee keepers, the college also advises on the eradication and control of pests and threats like American foulbrood, sacbrood, and varroa mite. Caithness is fortunate in being one of the few places where varroa has not taken hold.

Mairi's talk complemented an exhibition on beekeeping and bumble bees, on display at Castlehill for the duration of Wild North Festival.

All in all a thououghly enjoyable evening. It is hoped that the video workshop will be the fore-runner to more incursions into the world of film making and post production.

Ever 'wand'ered about plants?

Harry Potter and his friends knew the importance of choosing the right source of material for a wand - holly, hazel, rowan or yew. At a recent Wild North festival event at Castlehill Heritage Centre, Seona Anderson of Plantlife International took her audience on a journey through time, examining the mythology of plants from Greek, Celtic and Norse times right up to the symbolism of national plants in the recent past.

A branch of rowan for example was good to have handy if pursued by malicious fairies, a hazel bough denoted kingship and learning, and yew for longevity. Even tiny delicate flowers had a powerful impact in ancient cultures. In Roman times the violet was a symbolic flower whose influence lasted into the 19th century France when supporters of Emperor Napoleon wore a violet to show loyalty. The blue cornflower spread west from the earliest home of farming the Euphrates valley in Iraq in the corn seed. It is also seen depicted in Egyptian tombs. It has become the flower of remembrance in France today.

Seona Anderson explained how the names of plants changed along with shifts in religion or power. For example Thor's helmet became wolfbane, Freya's hair became Our Ladies Hair and then ladies hair.

Plantlife International have launched a project which will appeal to craft lovers in the area. Groups or individuals are invited to make a small square in any fabric or craft medium illustrating a plant or flower of their choice. Photos of the completed square along with a short background story are uploaded on to the Plantlife website. A quilt of squares will be formed which will tour the country and is to be a focal point of next year's Wild North Festival in June /July 2013

Dateline: Wednesday 26 September 2012

Castlehill exhibition forward programme

As September draws to a close we are in the throes of dismantling the summer exhibition on "Flagstone Village". This will give way to a fascinating presentation on bees and beekeeping, under the banner of Wild North Festival. Robin Inglis who heads the Olrig and District Bee-keepers Association is an authority on bee-keeping and his wife Gail an accomplished photographer. We look forward to an interesting and eye catching display.

CHS has established a pattern of putting on two major displays a year, allowing the society to show the public a selection of the material which they hold under a common theme. For example "People in uniform", "Our maritime heritage" and "Entertainment over the years" have all been succesful exhibitions. Our winter display, due to be launched on Boxing Day will be called "Cultivation" a 'two for the price of one' play on words, implying working the soil and also the mind. In other words Education and Farming. It should prove instructive and evocative.

Uniquely, from late October to mid December we will break with tradition to put on an exhibition which will not have a common theme. Visitors will be able to see a varied selection of objects and artefacts recently donated to the society, providing wonderful and multifarious echoes of the past. The objects reflect the generosity of our members and friends and also the interest which people have in preserving small local items from yester year. Early typewriters, paraffin bicycle lamps, crucifix bottles, butter churns, a 19th shipwreck timber are but a sample of the extensive array to be on view. Come along and admire them.

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*** News round-up ***

Bookbinding workshop (22 Sept)

Bookbinding and Indie Publishing workshops at Castlehill with Hamish McDonald proved that a dozen folks with no previous experience as book binders could make a hand sewn, hard back book before lunch. Those who stayed for the afternoon session created a paperback book and learned how to go about printing and publishing their own work if they choose to do so.

Photos by

Sharon Gunason Pottinger

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Automaton family workshops (15 & 16 Sept)

Continuing our theme of an annual science based event we were delighted to host a unique hands on workshop where children designed and built their own automaton! It also proved to be a great opportunity for some technology bonding time with Dad/Mum!

Two workshops ran concurrently - a K'Nex model-building workshop for Primary School age children and parents, and a Lego Mindstorms programmable robotics based workshop for children over 10 yrs.

Led by local STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Embassador Pat Kieran MBE and supported by Sharon Gunason Pottinger, the event was a follow-on local activity in support of the British Science Festival in Aberdeen, and was sponsored by the British Science Association.

The STEM ambassador is a catalyst, a change agent. According to their web site ( STEM ambassadors 'create opportunities to inspire young people' in science and engineering and our workshops proved to be no exception.

Selection of photos from both workshop days provided by Pat Kieran

The workshops proved how much fun science and invention can be. Whether any of the workshop participants go on to become engineers or bridge architects, they will have learned about solving problems and thinking imaginatively. Whatever career they choose, those are important skills to have. More importantly, it helps release their potential as human beings.

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Dunnet Forestry Trust FOREST FEST (11 Aug)

Last month Dunnet Forestry Trust held a ‘FOREST FEST’ open day celebration to mark the completion of their latest venture. At the stroke of mid-day DFT members were led by a piper in procession through the forest trail to their new log cabin where a tree was planted to commemorate 10 years of community foresting.

After a few words by past & present members of the DFT board the log cabin was officially declared open and ready for action. A range of demonstrations and events took place during the afternoon, including pole lath turning, children’s orienteering, childrens drama workshop and pony trap rides, plus a number of raffles and stalls.

Castletown Heritage Society has enjoyed a long term association with Dunnet Forestry Trust who operate from an office within the Castlehill Heritage Centre. The log cabin, built entirely by volunteers under guidance and instruction from professional instructors is a fantastic addition to the array of resources and features created by DFT within the community woodland at Dunnet. We wish them every success in their ongoing programme of community based activities.

DFT members and friends gathered for the opening ceremony

The new log cabin, constructed entirely from natural materials, complete with turf roof

Some detail of the construction handiwork

Numerous display boards describe the local flora and fauna


A strange sombre character stands sentinel outside the cabin - a tribute to the chainsaw artist's skill

Dateline: Sunday 26 August 2012

Absence makes the heart grow fonder (hopefully)

Many apologies to our regular site visitors for the lack of updates over the past few weeks. This was due to a combination of your humble scribe being away enjoying the action at the London Olympics and some technical challenges following the migration of the website to a new server. I hope to catch up with things over the next few days, kicking off with the following report on the Scotlands Gardens event.

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Flagstone Village Gardens - floribunda maxima!

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.

On Sunday 29 July, Castlehill Heritage Centre hosted the local base for a special one day event held under the scheme in Castletown. Over 100 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. We are deeply grateful to Mr and Mrs Sutherland, Mr and Mrs Oag, and Mr and Mrs Jones for allowing their domestic gardens to be displayed.

Everyone agreed that the Castlehill Courtyard garden looked fantastic, due to the hours of work lavished on it by our head gardener Irene Wares. A new leaflet explaining the layout and history of the courtyard garden was created in time for the event - if you would like to download a copy click here.

Thanks to a great deal of commitment from the committee and spouses and /or fiancées, the event proved to be a great success. To all who baked such a wonderful selection of delicacies, made and served tea, washed up, took in money, sold plants, encouraged innocent passers-by to enter, well done!! A total of £307 was raised for Scotlands Gardens for their nominated charities.

Open for business!

The heritage themed courtyard garden at Castlehill, as viewed from the entrance gate

Our handcart provides a the setting for a cascade of Tum Thumbs

Delicate and elegant

The variety of thriving species is testament to the hard work of our head gardener, Irene Wares

The vegetable patch and coastal meadow at left centre

The teas provided by our committee members were a popular attraction, as was the plant stall, expertly manned by Irene

An old fashioned climbing rose - awash with colour

Very patriotic - just in time for the Olympic Games!

Another splash of vibrant colour

The herb wheel, centre is a constant source of varied fragrance - and popular with bees and butterflies

Two of our supporters taking a stroll round the garden

The Gardening Club from Wick arrive en mass

The entrance display at Alan and Gloria Jones's garden

Just lovely!

Another of Alan's beds

Approaching the Oag's magnificent garden - reclaimed from derelict land at the edge of the redundant quarry workings at the west end of Castletown

These beds are literally on the edge of the cliff face at the edge of the quarry - weeding in the dark not advised....

A mature display borders the traditional Caithness flagstone wall boundary

The entrance to the Sutherland's extensive garden - something different lies around each corner

A delightful bed overlooks Dunnet Bay

Simple, but stunning

And there's more!

Each corner has a particular theme

The oriental themed patio behind the house is most attractive

Little pockets of colour everywhere you look

Back at Castlehill, the recently donated Atco lawnmower was on display to the public for the first time. It has been fully refurbished and is in fine working order.

The ladies of the committee and helpers take a breather. General feedback confirmed my tasting trials - the cakes were truly scrumptious!

Dateline: Sunday 22 July 2012

Champion artist at Caithness County Show

We all knew that our chairwoman Muriel was handy with a paintbrush - the walls and ceilings in Castlehill Heritage Centre are ready evidence of this - however her talent extends well beyond magnolia emulsion. Muriel is a regular attender at our Monday evening painting classes and last year her talent was recognised when she scooped first prize in the oil painting category in the open industrial section of the Caithness Country Show. One year on and she has hit the big time - yesterday her delightful study of a pig not only won Class 43 for a painting in acrylics, but also won the John O'Groats Perpetual Trophy for the Best Exhibit in the Arts Classes! Well done Muriel!

Dateline: Sunday 8 July 2012

Olympic Day round Dunnet Bay - champion!

Our Chairwoman Muriel Murray has a knack of coming up with really good ideas to engage and encourage children to learn about the heritage of their local environment - and this was another winner. Playing into the theme of the approaching London 2012 Olympic games, participants were invited to visit five local venues where at each they would take part in an 'olympic challenge' to earn an 'olympic' ring. Once all five had been 'won' successful participants received a certificate and medal to commemorate their endeavours.

The venues, which were all based around Dunnet Bay could be visited in any order. Furthest east was the bird hide at St Johns loch, expertly maintained and manned by local artist and bird enthusiast Julian Smith and his wife. Visitors were rewarded with an exciting and constantly changing display of activity from the colony of Artic Terns currently resident at the site. For those who accepted the challenge there was an opportunity earlier in the day to see birds being ringed. On completing their visit participants were issued with a bird ring and the ring registration number of one of the birds ringed earlier in the morning, plus instructions on how to track their movements around the world.

Visitors to Mary Ann's Cottage at Dwarwick were treated to a conducted tour and rewarded with a 'gold' (brass) ring complete with a hand made crochet tag. A fascinating place where time disappears as you learn about the life and times of Mary Ann and her family - the croft house is virtually as it was the day she left!

The SeaDrift visitor centre at the east end of Dunnet links is an interesting place where the local flora and fauna are displayed and explained by knowledgable ranger staff. The challenge here was to decorate a real limpit shell 'ring'.

The Dunnet Forestry Trust really entered into the spirit of things, setting up a special venue in the midst of the forest. The challenge was to find a series of clues hidden amongst the trees which, when pieced together told the story of common creatures and insects living in a typical pond in the forest. The 'ring' rewards were specially cut discs of wood from the forest, which the children could decorate with materials provided.

The final port of call was Castlehill Heritage Centre, where the challenge was to create an 'olympic' ring by weaving pre-soaked green willow twigs. The warm environment of the Centre proved to be most welcome, as the weather was 'less than summery'... A special treat was also in store, as Kate Barnett was on hand with her genuine London 2012 Olympic Torch. Kate took part in the round Britain Olympic Torch Relay, running her section in Aberdeen.

All in all a great event, with super feedback from those who braved the weather to take part.

The bird hide at Brough was a big hit with families, with a lively colony of Artic Terns a constant source of interest. Children collected a marking ring as part of their olympic quest

Liz gets some expert guidance from Julian Smith and his wife. Their passion and enthusiasm was quite infectious!

Visitors to Mary Ann's Cottage received a 'gold' (brass) curtain ring with crochet tag to record they had taken part in the tour of the cottage and outbuildings

The SeaDrift visitor centre at the caravan site at Dunnet was open especially for the event.

Children learned about shells and the life of crustacea in the sea.

Their challenge was to decorate limpit shell 'rings', formed when an abandoned shell is rolled around on the sea bed, wearing away the top section to leave a shell 'ring' shape

Two otter inhabitants at the Seadrift centre - perhaps looking for a ring of bright water??

The Dunnet Forestry trust were well prepared for the drizzly weather at their activity spot

The 'olympic' challenge involved learning about pond life through solving a puzzle, and decorating their own 'ring' of pine

Olympians hard at work decorating their 'ring' trophy

The clues to the puzzle were hidden amongst the trees - only once all the pieces had been collected could the puzzle be solved

Castlehill Heritage Centre provided warm respite from the grizzly weather.

The challenge at the Centre was to create your own ring by weaving willow twigs.

Nearly finished...

Kate Barnett was on hand to give children (and adults!) the opportunity to see and hold a genuine London 2012 Olympic Torch.

Dateline: Tuesday 26 June 2012

Budding Dykers at Castlehill

A group of pupils from Wick High School got a taste of crofting life yesterday when they took part in a drystone dyking training project at Castlehill Heritage Centre. The focus of their efforts was the creation of a wishing well shaped flower bed. Timed to perfection within the hours available to the pupils under the guidance of George Gunn master dyker, the circular drystone walls rose straight and true. The hard work, politeness and enthusiasm of the group from WHS was applauded by Muriel Murray and Hugh Crowden of Castletown Heritage Society.

It is hoped that the roof of the wishing well may be done as a woodwork project in school next session. Meanwhile the centre is looking forward to the next visit from the group, for a day of woolly fun- trying out spinning, weaving, knitting and crochet.

Photos courtesy of Elspeth Chapman of Wick High School

Dateline: Sunday 24 June 2012

Scottish Hydro Volunteers at Castlehill

Two local community groups recently had some work completed for their organisation courtesy of employees from Scottish Hydro Electric Power Distribution [SHEPD] and Catherine Patterson Volunteer Development Officer for Caithness Voluntary Group. Employees from SHEPD were involved in the 'Community at Heart' Scheme which gives every member of staff a day away from their normal work dues to volunteer their time and skills for a local organisation or charity.

Castlehill Heritage Society in Castletown benefitted from the use of SHEPD's volunteers when they refurbished and painted several exterior doors at the centre. Muriel Murray from the Heritage Centre was "absolutely delighted" with the work carried out, well done to all involved.

The use of employees for voluntary purposes is embraced by many businesses in Caithness under Employer Supported Volunteering which is coordinated by Catherine Patterson at Caithness Voluntary Group.

Many businesses volunteer their time or donate materials for local groups but don't always receive recognition. She would encourage businesses to get in touch if they want to help local groups and she is happy to coordinate voluntary activity. SHEPD are a wonderful example of the business sector getting involved at ground level in supporting their community.

The access doors to the Archaeological Research Facility are scraped and primed

Ricky Sutherland, Willie Middleton, Steven Lowe, John Blake & Ross McEwan enjoying a break from work at Castlehill Heritage Centre
Lookin good boys...

Dateline: Saturday 9 June 2012

Jubilee Garden Party

Diamond Jubilee fever hit Castlehill Heritage Centre today as a small, but enthusiastic gathering of guests and visitors took part in our celebration garden party. 'Garden' proved to be a technical term as unfortunately the weather was not quite good enough to hold the event outside as planned, but that did not stop a good time being had by all as we tucked in to dainty home bakes and sandwiches, washed down by a glass of wine and/or tea or coffee. The two hours passed in a flash and all too soon it was time to say goodbye.

Ready for the off

Sharon prepares an inspirational item of headwear for an unsuspecting guest

Yes, 'inspirational'...

Kath, Agnes and Ernie

Enjoying a good blether

Hamish parts with a fiver...always worth a photo

Izzie and her distinctive brolly hat

Liz feeds the helping hand

Time for grub!

Dry but breezy - the garden was decked out in fine style

The party goes with a swing


The entries for the best hat competition.

First prize goes to Liz, modelling John Lewis haute couture. Second prize went to Reg Lewis with an early 21st century Lidl napkin.

Unfortunately Ruby arrived just too late for the best hat competition

Ruby's home dressed hat cut quite a dash


Dateline: Wednesday 30 May 2012

Caithness Astronomy Group event 25 May

On the evening of Friday 25th May Caithness Astronomy Group held a public event at the Castlehill Heritage Centre. With glorious sunny skies outside the evening kicked off with some solar observing.

Observing the Sun safely requires the use of specialised equipment which CAG have thanks to funding support from the IoP in Scotland and the Dounreay Communities Fund. The equipment allowed observers to see sunspots which are often much larger than the Earth and prominences of hot gas towering above the violent and turbulent surface of the Sun.

With the sun dipping towards the north western horizon the assembled audience headed indoors for a talk on noctilucent clouds by guest speaker Ken Kennedy, the Aurora Section Director from the British Astronomical Association.

Ken has spent many years studying these beautiful "night shining" clouds that can be seen after sunset in summer months in the regions 50-65 degrees north and south of the equator. They form high up in our atmosphere near the boundary with space and he explained how there appears to be a link with global warming and that their formation also seems to be affected by solar activity cycles.

After the talk there was the opportunity for the assembled audience to see a selection of stunning local photos of noctilucent clouds and aurora. Ken also spent some time describing the ongoing research that that will see the NASA satellite AIMS collect data on noctilucent clouds above Caithness to compare with ground based observations.

Many found the topic so interesting that the conversations continued on after the event whilst enjoying a glorious sunset.


For information on future local astronomy events, visit the Caithness Astronomy Group website :

For further info on noctilucent clouds and how to report seeing them visit: &

Image Credits: Alan Kennedy and Gordon Mackie.

Dateline: Sunday 6 May 2012

Drystone Dyking

In true Caithness style the weather played fast and loose this weekend, with periods of brilliant sunshine punctuated with brief showers of horizontal hail. It didn't put off the novices taking part in our drystone dyking workshop however - they just buckled down under the guidance of local master craftsman, George Gunn.

After being briefed on the theory of drystone dyking and the necessary safety precautions, the team set to work constructing a length of dyke to the north of the Castlehill Heritage Centre. The finished wall will form part of the northern boundary of our land, but more importantly, the skills gained by the team will be put to good use at another project in the village.

Later in the year Castletown Heritage Society, in conjunction with the The Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment and The Prince's Regeneration Trust, will be supporting a community project to restore two iconic workers cottages which have survived unmolested from the days when Castletown was host to a thriving flagstone industry.

The theory session over, it's time for lunch

Preparing a frame for the guide lines

The base course is laid

Gathering stones

Setting the guide lines

Tutor George Gunn explains the finer points of setting the guide lines

The wall starts to take shape

Small stones packed in the core help to lock the structure together and block the wind from whistling through the wall

What a setting for a workshop! The most northernly point in the British mainland - Dunnet Head - in the background.

Attention to detail

The completed wall will partly form an enclosure at the north end of our policies

George Gunn explains the importance of correct stone placement


Dateline: Saturday 28 April 2012

Castlehill Heritage Society AGM

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

"Welcome to the annual general meeting of Castletown Heritage Society. As ever your support of this society is greatly appreciated. On behalf of the committee I would like to thank all those who have attended our events and contributed home baking which always makes an event a bit special. Many thanks to the people who have donated and loaned materials from the past for our exhibitions and for our growing collection of objects and photos reflecting the heritage of the area. People also kindly think of us when recycling unwanted modern stuff. Painting and craft materials, items of furniture, plastic busts and mannequins for displaying vintage costumes, have also come our way. Of course the real grist to our mill is often in verbal form, when local visitors come in and give us information or tell us anecdotes illustrating village life in past years or supply dates or missing names on photographs.

Last year my report commented on the effect of the prolonged cold spell on visitor numbers. This year we have felt the financial squeeze and the high cost of fuel impact on visitors to the winter exhibition. Having said that I can report that approaching 1000 visitors have passed through the doors to see the exhibitions. This does not count those who choose not to sign the visitor book nor the hundreds of people from all over Scotland who come here to attend our skills workshops.

Visits from schools and youth groups are always a delight. We tailor the displays and activities to meet the requirements of the Curriculum for excellence. Among foreigners most came from the USA , closely followed by Australia, and France. Also represented were Belgium, Switzerland, Hong Kong,and Germany.

On the works and improvement front, our latest project has been the installation of solar panels on the south facing roof. The project has been driven by Roy Blackburn who is pleased at the units produced since December even through the shortest days. This will help defray the costs of electricity, one of our most costly items. Having been operating here for five years we are entering a maintenance phase of repairs to things like guttering and addressing the need to freshen up rather than construct. One constant job is the preparation of the garden in readiness for the summer. Hugh Crowden and Irene Wares have put in many hours of labour to ensure the garden is worth admiring all year round.

Last summer we were pleased to host exhibitions by Brough Bay Association on the theme of "Then and Now". Thanks to this collaboration we have now dual screen viewing facility and additional storage for exhibition items in the map cabinet. Next came Wick Society's summer exhibition "Our Rural Heritage" featuring photos from their vast Johnston Collection with relevance to this area. We were able to provide them with more information on some images and purchasers for some of their photos. Our winter display has the title "Local people in uniform". It showcases both military and civilians in uniform and has attracted much interest.

As you know the other string to our bow is the programme of traditional skills workshops which runs throughout the year. Since last April we have run sessions in beekeeping, wine-making, lace making, ganseys, and less traditional perhaps two very successful family rocket making days. Participants designed, created and test flew their rockets under the guidance of Dave Tranter and funded and arranged by the British Science Association.

September saw the Edwardian Concert, another example of enhanced results through collaboration with others, this time with North Highland Connections. They were able to arrange a vocal music residency in the lead up to the concert. Prof Chris Underwood and graduate pianist Anne Macgregor of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland energised the occasion, going into schools and conducting evening rehearsals here at Castlehill. Such was the community involvement and success of the concert that we entered it for an Epic Award with Voluntary Arts Scotland. Thanks to our many supporters we won the Scottish area for People's Choice online voting and came second in the Best project section. Among our rewards was a voucher for art materials which have been ordered and will benefit the Monday evening painting class.

In the course of the summer Castlehill archaeology laboratory was in great use. Soil samples from the various excavations at Thrumster, and Nybster were wet sieved, dried and analysed by volunteers under the tuition of Jaqui from AOC archaeology group. Many volunteers from our Castlehill Archaeo group were also involved in the process of digging on site.

In June we took part in Scotlands Garden Scheme along with three other village gardens. This raised funds for the schemes charities and a little for us too. Some events now take a regular place in the activities programme. The Highland Archaeology Festival walk on October, the ever popular craft sale in November and the bothy night in November are all well attended.This year the bothy night had a transatlantic flavour with contributions from Americans Ted Hopkins and Sharon Pottinger.

That annual battle of wits the Quiz set by quizmaster Neil Buchan is not to be missed for fun and rivalry. In a couple of weeks the summer exhibition on the "Flagstone Industry and beyond" will be set up. It will look at the rise and fall of the industry and examine what happened next. The winter theme will be "education" This years traditional skills programme has already got off to a creative start.

For the past two weekends we have had Tim Johnson, basket maker, and his colleague Monica Guilera from Barcelona, instructing groups of eager students in the techniques of using local materials to make mats, baskets and other containers in traditional patterns and styles. Examples of these are on display. In the course of his visit to the north Tim discovered examples of local traditional baskets using unusual techniques, which he is presently researching.

In conjunction with our crafty associates we are putting on a 'woolly fun day'. Come and have a go at carding, spinning, weaving, natural wool dyeing and crochet and felting. It is hoped that a sheep will make a starring appearance too. We celebrate the Queen's jubilee with a garden party in the courtyard, and mark the year with an Olympic Day round Dunnet Bay encouraging. Visitors to the various local attractions from Dunnet Head RSPB site right round to Castlehill.

The British Science Association is funding another exciting family day, this time inspired by the film Hugo - participants will make their own automatons. Our programme concludes by special request with a practical session on Basic Sewing with dress maker Helen Gunn. Later in the year we hope to play a part in the Wildnorth Festival promoting the natural and cultural attractions of the area. The spinning group, which meets here twice a month, is having an intriguing event called Shoulder to Shoulder at which a team will endeavour to create a garment from fleece against the clock. The added interest is that they are doing this in competition with a spinners group from the Falkland21 Islands.

Continued collaboration with the Princes Regeneration Trust facilitates courses based on vernacular local buildings. The Trust are currently engaged on a project to save and breathe new life into the two remaining 19th century workers cottages in the Backies in Castletown. CHS is working with them on dry stone dyking and lime mortar pointing.

Our craft groups have undertaken to provide help with furnishings of the time, rag rugs, trad baskets , rush mats, lace edging for curtains and antimacassars. In July we will be hosting another Scotland Gardens open afternoon while the centre will be the continued venue for many of the Caithness Astronomy Group's interesting series of evening meetings. They are at the moment working on a proposal to seek Dark Skies status for Castlehill. Other regular users of the centre are Caithness Archaeological Trust whose summer conference will be held here in May, and Caithness and Sutherland Craft Development Group. The North Highland Woodturners Association meet here twice a month. Look out for their forthcoming demonstration by Mick O'Donnel later in the summer, and examples of their work on sale at the November craft sale. Dunnet Forestry Trust and CHS continue to be neighbours and offer each other mutual benefit, and Caithness Amateur Radio Society hold regular metings here.

This extensive array of events past and present would not of course be possible without the hard work and dedication of the committee. This year my personal thanks go to John Crowden who despite working in Aberdeen and offshore manages to attend to the accounts in an efficient manner and shares secretarial duties with me, Liz Geddes (Vice Chair), Neil Buchan (Technical projects officer and webmaster), Sharon Pottinger (craft and writing co-ordinator and minutes secretary), Carol Thomas, (minutes secretary until globe trotting and family commitments had to come first), Roy Blackburn (Health and Safety Officer and responsible for renewable energy). Jayne Blackburn mans the base on Wednesday afternoons and deserves special mention this year for taking on the organisation of 6 days of catering for craft workshops. They say that an army marches on its stomach - this is true also for Castlehill courses. Providing a communal meal helps participants bond and work with a will. Thanks to all those who have contributed soup and baking for our many events.

Once again the person who comes last but by no means least is Hugh Crowden. Hugh clocks up daily attendance at the centre to attend to the boiler and to fetch the necessary logs from Dunnet Fores - that is when he is not seeing to maintenance, serving tea or digging the garden - or starring in heritage videos and on BBC television and radio. We all owe him a huge debt. Hugh was away on holiday for five weeks earlier in the year and his absence was greatly felt.

I am indebted to Joanne Kaar for co-ordinating visiting craft tutors and opening our eyes to further opportunities. Davie Swanson is always at hand to supervise joinery work. I have mentioned her before, but a special word of thanks must go to Irene Wares our volunteer gardener whose skill and hard work ensures an attractive and prolonged floral display in the courtyard. I think you will agree that Castlehill Heritage Centre is here to serve the community and tourists.

If you would like to be involved in helping in any way and for any length of time, please let us know. We know that not everyone has the time to commit to being an office-bearer or committee member, but CHS is totally dependent on people like you. Thank you."

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 2012-13 session, as follows:

Chairwoman Muriel Murray
Vice-Chairwoman Elizabeth Geddes
Treasurer John Crowden
Secretary Fiona Wares
Committee Jayne Blackburn
Roy Blackburn (Health & Safety Officer)
Neil Buchan (Technical Projects Manager and Webmaster)
Hugh Crowden
Helen Gunn
Sharon Pottinger
It could be you, if you would like to volunteer!

Back row from left - Neil Buchan, Hugh Crowden, Helen Gunn, Liz Geddes, Roy Blackburn, Sharon Pottinger

Front row from left - John Crowden (Treasurer), Muriel Murray (Chairwoman), Fiona Wares (Secretary).

Following the official proceedings, guest speaker Celia McDougal presented an illuminating talk on the history of Caithness place names.

Sharon reads the minutes of the 2011 AGM (without the benefit of her glasses...)

Muriel delivers the Chairwoman's address

Interim Chairman, Hamish Pottinger

Guest speaker, Celia McDougal reveals all about Caithness placenames

Tea time and a chance for a chat

Celia's displays attracted a lot of attention

Liz Geddes gives the vote of thanks

John renewing memberships


Dateline: Tuesday 24 April 2012

Tim Johnson weaves his magic

Over the past two weekends we have been delighted to welcome back Tim Johnson as tutor for our traditional basketmaking workshop sessions. Tim, from the Isle of Wight, is an internationally renowned craftsman, travelling the world studying and teaching his art. This was Tim's third visit to Castlehill as part of the ongoing programme of traditional skills tuition organised by Castletown Heritage Society.

This year we ran two workshop weekends over five days. The first Friday workshop was aimed at introducing beginners to the basic skills required to make an article from rush or willow. During the Saturday and Sunday two-day workshops, Tim helped participants develop their skills to a higher level. The first weekend focussed on rush and soft materials while the second was mainly willow but some use of soft materials in combination with the willow. Tim's natural ability to coach and demonstrate soon had participants quickly getting to grips with the basics and progressing rapidly to the point of turning out some articles to be proud of.

Thanks must once again go to our willing volunteer members for providing some excellent lunches - we are rapidly earning a reputation for serving some of the best home made soup around! Thanks also go to Joanne Kaar for providing some of the photos below.

Tim Johnson prepares his materials

Watch my hands...

Stitching a basket using plaided strips

The base section completed

Paul, meticulous as usual

Joanne deep in concentration

As much an artform as a craft

Some finished examples

And there's more...

Some of Tim's handiwork

Now how did they get the stone in there?

Course participants with some of their handiwork


Dateline: Saturday 14 April 2012

Signage restored

The majority of Heritage Centre survived the worst of the February gales without complaining, however our main sign on the south end of the building made a bid for freedom, ending up scattered around the disabled car park. As repair would have resembled a jigsaw with some bits missing a new sign was obtained from Malcolm Begg at Haster and secured to the wall with substantial anchor bolts drilled into the stone wall. Hopefully this one will stay put for a few years!

Dateline: Friday 30 March 2012

CHS Quiz Night - results are in!

Seven enthusiastic teams took part in the annual Castletown Heritage Quiz Night yesterday evening. Questionmaster Neil fair got the grey cells churning with a range of topics contemporary and traditional, with one or two curved balls thrown in to keep the teams on their toes.

The ladies of team 'Murkle' set the pace with consistent scoring, leading by one and a half points at the half way stage before being overtaken by team 'Vertially Challenged' with two rounds to go, having lost out on the 'Science & Technology' round. It was nip and tuck in the closing stages however with only four and a half points separating the top five teams, however it was team Murkle who held their nerve with a fine showing in the 'Caithness' round, enabling them to pull clear to win by one and a half points from 'Vertically Challenged' who flopped spectacularly on the 'Olympic Challenge'.

A fine supper was served at the half way stage - thanks go to Liz B, Muriel, Sharon, Jayne, Liz G and Helen for the baking and sandwiches, and to Izzie C for her sterling work on the raffle.

Awaiting the results. Too late to adjust your thinking cap now Morris

Muriel with the winners - Team 'Murkle'. Remember, don't open the eggs before Easter

Team 'Fossil Fish' with their consolation Malteezer Bunnies

Dateline: Sunday 11 March 2012

Caithness Walking Festival

The now traditional Caithness and Sutherland Walking Festival will take place this year between the 19th and 27th of May. A brochure and flyers will be available shortly. Click on the image or here to see the programme of events.

Of particular note is the walk from Thurso East to Castletown on the morning of Friday 25th May. Why not round off your day with a visit to Castlehill Heritage Centre, which will be open specially for the afternoon.



2012 Programme of events

The 2012 season is well upon us with the Winter exhibition "Castletown in Uniform" proving to be very popular. There's lots more to come during 2012, where on offer is an exciting mix of family events, traditional skills workshops, creative writing opportunities and the summer exhibition featuring the 19th century flagstone industry.

March sees the ever popular family quiz night and the first in a series of summer writing workshops for which the theme is the Seasons. In April Tim Johnson, a leading traditional basket maker, makes a welcome return to deliver two weekend workshops the first using local material like rush, the second concentrating on willow. A variety of stylish articles will be produced.

George Gunn, master craftsman is the tutor for a two day dyking course in early May. After a day's tuition and practise at Castlehill, some participants will be involved in wall building at the Backies in Castletown. The project there is directed by the Princes Regeneration Trust to restore two iconic flag workers' cottages.

The Queen's Diamond Jubilee will be marked by a courtyard garden party - an opportunity to give that wedding hat an extra airing. In collaboration with neighbouring tourist attractions Castletown Heritage is organising an "Olympic day round Dunnet Bay". This will be a family event with stands, competitions and activities with an Olympic theme. An occasion not to miss will be " Woolly jumper to woolly jumper". Visitors will be able to watch the shearing of a sheep, the wool being washed, carded, spun, and knitted into a jersey, all against the clock.

Bookbinding and basic sewing skills also feature in the programme, while in the autumn a family science day is planned in conjunction with the British Science Association. This capitalises on the success last year of the rocket making day during which would-be rocketeers of all ages made and test-launched their own models. This year inspired by the film " Hugo", participants will make automated models.

Castlehill is also the venue for other groups. Caithness Amateur Radio Society, a spinning group, a painting class, the North Highland Woodturners Association, craft groups and Caithness Astronomy Group all meet there regularly.

To see the full programme of events click here.

To register interest in taking part or to find out more about any event, just follow this link.

Dateline: Sunday 5 February 2012

Are you a Young Scot? - your views count!

Creative Scotland is the national body for the arts in Scotland and would like to help even more young people take part in the arts. To help them do this they are putting together Scotland’s first National Youth Arts Strategy to make sure that everyone gets their chance to shine.

To do this they need your help! If you are between 11 to 26 years old, then your views, your perspective and your voice are all important in helping to shape the strategy. So don't hold back, tell it as it is!!

To take part, click on this link to access the Young Scot Online Questionnaire – there is even a prize draw opportunity for all those who take part!

Dateline: Sunday 22 January 2012

Epic Awards - Thank You!

Fantastic news! Last Monday we learned that thanks to your help and support, Castletown Heritage Society won the 'People's Choice' Award and came runner up in the Scottish national Award!

As reported on the Epic Awards website, Muriel Murray tells us how happy the Society is to not only win the runner-up award, but also the People’s Choice Award, voted for by the public . . .



We as a society were delighted that the Edwardian Concert project brought us success in the first ever Scottish Epic Awards. It was gratifying to have had recognition for the months of planning, researching, practising and performing and back stage help from a huge number of people. But above all the event was such fun and captured the interest of the community. We like to think that the judges also gave consideration to the on-going work that we do in the community in many different ways. Taking part in the People’s Choice was a great experience. So many people showed their support by voting for Castletown Heritage Society, not only society members their friends and families and those resident in our village but also participants in our skills workshops and other activities, off-shore workers, ex-pats, showing us what a broad base of support we have for our efforts at Castlehill Heritage Centre.

The news is getting round the community and people are talking about the results in the street! We applied with every confidence in ourselves, but were humbled by the variety and quality of the projects undertaken by the other contenders. The committee of Castletown Heritage Society, who helped draft our submission, is thrilled to have featured among the winners. Committee members are particularly pleased to see that the prize includes access to training and advice programmes on running community groups. We are very keen on training but our remote location can make attending training events just a little more difficult. Having on-line access to this will be of great benefit to us.

Dateline: Sunday 15 January 2012

CHS 'Thank You' Dinner

It was very much come in, relax and chill as committee members, supporters and their spouses gathered at Castlehill for an informal evening and buffet dinner, which was organised by way of appreciation of all their hard work undertaken during the year in support of the Society. Muriel and John had laid on a marvellous spread which was much appreciated and enjoyed by everyone.

A big surprise was the showing of a recently commissioned video depicting Caithness Heritage, featuring our very own Hugh Crowden, who happened to be in the right place at the right time when the camera crew arrived unannounced at Castlehill one day! Completely unfazed, Hugh had done a cracking job taking the camera crew on a tour of the Heritage Garden and Centre, explaining about the history of the flagstone industry. A born natural in front of the camera if ever there was one!

Overall a thoroughly enjoyable evening for which many thanks must go to Muriel and her team.

Welcome drinks and nibbles

Wheresoever three women gather together, so shall there be quality gossip...

John, shy as usual, preparing the buffet

Morris and Paul discuss the display memorabilia from Castletown Primary School

The food's ready!

Muriel welcomes everyone to the event

Muriel highlights some of the work of our supporters

I'm getting hungry Muriel...

You hold and I'll pull

Sheila captures the event for posterity

Preparing the profiteroles - they really were as good as they look!

Liz and Keith practice their Hiawatha routine


Dateline: Wednesday 11 January 2012

Epic Awards - We've been shortlisted!!

Last year we organised the re-enactment of an Edwardian Concert held exactly 100 years ago in the local village hall. To do this we engaged the support of the local community, from school children to more 'senior' performers, for what turned out to be a highly successful evening - click here to see the news report for further details.

We have been delighted to learn that the Society has been shortlisted for an 'Epic Award', which are intended to shine a spotlight on the excellent work of voluntary and amateur arts groups across the UK and Republic of Ireland. We are currently one of six organisations in Scotland shortlisted in the 'People's Choice' category, where members of the public are invited to vote for what they believe would be the most deserving winner!

This is where you could help! It would be very much appreciated if you could review our entry, and if you feel it appropriate, please vote for Castletown Heritage Society.

To review the shortlisted entries, follow this link:

To vote for Castletown Heritage Society, click on the green square with the 'thumbs up' symbol immediately below our entry, which can be identified by the photograph below:

Many thanks! Voting closes at 9am on Monday 16 January, so fingers crossed!!

Dateline: Sunday 08 January 2012

2012 Programme Launch

The committee of Castletown Heritage Society extends our very best wishes for 2012 to all the Society's friends, supporters and well wishers.

As the cold, wet and windy weather over the festive holiday period shows no sign of abating, what better than to make a visit to the warm and welcoming atmosphere at Castlehill Heritage Centre. Our Winter Exhibition featuring Castletown in Uniform is now well underway (see below) and we have been delighted to receive much positive feedback.

The forward programme of events for 2012 is coming together nicely, with some events and dates already confirmed - click here to see the new programme of events on offer from Castletown Heritage Society for the 2012 season.

Whether it be attending our workshop on basket making or volunteering to take part in the restoration of an iconic workers residence at the Backies, 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.

To see the archive news from 2011, click here

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


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.

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?