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Dateline: Thursday 26 December 2013

Boxing Day brings a big surprise!

Our traditional Boxing Day opening saw a large gathering of members, friends and holiday visitors gather for some mulled wine, mincemeat pies and a generous helping of all round bonhomie. In additon to our festive welcome, visitors were treated to an amazing display of art works created during the year by members of the Castlehill Painting Group, which meets every Monday evening in Castlehill Heritage Centre under the tutelage of local artist Helen Moore. The works were very impressive indeed, all the more so considering some of the artists have only recently taken up the hobby. Also on display was our 'Needles, Shuttles and All' exhibition, so there was plently to explore and discuss!

But the big news of the day was the announcement by our Chairman, Hugh of the outcome from the recent quality grading of Castlehill Heritage Centre by Visit Scotland - we've been awarded THREE stars! Hugh explained how Muriel and Jayne had received an 'in cognito' visitor one Wednesday afternoon a few weeks ago, who turned out to be the Visit Scotland assessor. Calm and professional as always, Jayne and Muriel explained about the mission and ethos behind Castlehill, and how it was born out of a disused dairy through a lot of hard work by community volunteers, and how it has been developed into a thriving asset. We are delighted to receive three stars at our first attempt at grading - we know what our target is for next year!

Hugh proudly reveals the Visit Scotland Three Star Grading plaque

And we are going to put it here!

We just can't help showing it off!

We were delighted to receive a substantial throng of visitors to our Boxing Day opening

Alan explaining the secret of his mulled wine concoction - and very good it was too!

It's definitely a dog....

Always a pleasure to welcome family groups to Castlehill

Merry Christmas!

My granny is on the committee!

A example of the fine works on display

Quite thought provoking....

Another selection of works

Part of the 'Needles, Shuttles and All' exhibition

Some of our ever growing collection of sewing machines

John and Irene attend to some seasonal maintenance to the rose standards, while Fiona stands guard....


Dateline: Thursday 19 December 2013

2014 Programme of evening talks

The programme of events for 2014 is coming together nicely, and to kick off the year in fine style we have arranged a series of illustrated evening talks by local presenters.

  • Wednesday 29th Jan 2014 - "The Drove Roads" by Dave Glass
  • Wednesday 12th February 2014 - "Shepherds in the Straths" by Jennifer Bruce
  • Tuesday 4th March 2014 - "HOUSED ICE From Sherbet to Salmon, Ancient Mesopotamia To Modern Caithness. A story of a fascinating and remarkable product" by George Bethune
  • Tuesday 15th April 2014 - "Caithness History and How to Exploit it" by Professor Donna Heddle

All talks will take place in Castlehill Heritage Centre at 7.30pm.

With the exception of the talk on Wed 12th February, all talks are in being staged association with Caithness Archaeological Trust.

Dateline: Sunday 27 October 2013

Spinathon hits all 7 continents!

Have we achieved a world first? On Saturday 26 October, members and friends of the Castlehill Spinning Group assembled in Castlehill Heritage Centre to take part in what we believe was a truly unique event. Building on the experience earlier in the year of successful live on-line 'Spinning Challenge' with another spinning group based in Stanley in the Falkland Islands, the spinning group had set out to try to repeat the event, but on a global scale. After much research and hard work by Ann Johnson, contact was eventually established with like-minded spinning groups in Canada, India, South Africa, New Zealand, Japan, South America and Antarctica. The previous contacts in the Falkland Isles were also keen to take part again!

The 'spinning challenge' was to spin yarn from local wool, then knit a series of squares to an agreed pattern, which would then be posted out to all the participating groups such that each could then stitch them together to form a unique cushion cover and memento of the event.

Setting up such an event presented quite a few challenges, not least co-ordinating activities across the various time zone and having enough internet bandwidth available on the day to support at least seven simultaneous video/audio broadcasts! The latter was somewhat out of our control, but in the event it all came together superbly.

Kicking off at 9am a variety of contacts were made across the globe through-out the day, culminating in a 'golden hour' at 6pm when representatives from all seven continents were brought on line together - Leonora and the Crocus County Fibrecraft Guild in Calgary in Canada (North America), Daisy in Brazil (South America), the South African Spinners Group in Pretoria, South Africa (Africa), Swapna from Kerala in India (Asia), Glynis of Majacraft from New Zealand (Australia), Agniesczka of the Halley Base Camp, British Antarctic Expedition (Antarctica), and of course ourselves in Castletown (Europe). Result!

The 'Spinathon' gets underway, with early link-ups to Masumi of Kakara Woolworks in Kyoto Japan, the South African Spinners, Swapna in India and Agnieszka in Antarctica

Muriel provides some information about sheep farming activities on her family farm

Wendy Freeke from the Free State, South Africa was a regular contact and participant throughout the day

The Castlehill spinning group participants varied throughout the day, but most were present throughout the marathon event

Enthusiastic junior weavers Rebecca and Kirsty delighted the on-line community. A unique experience to tell their friends at school on Monday!

Castletown piper Graham Geddes can truly claim to have played on a world-wide stage, simultaneously broadcasting to the seven continents!

Spinning and knitting took place throught the day at Castlehill


Success! Simultaneous contact was made with (clockwise from top left) The Falkland Isles, India, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada, South America, Antarctica, and of course, Castletown Scotland!

The spinners listen as each on-line group explains in turn about their activities and participation in the event.

Dateline: Saturday 19 October 2013

Drystone dyking - in spite of the weather!

The weather today was less than agreeable - varying between driving horizontal rain and a grudging respite overcast by a threatening sky. It didn't deter the intrepid participants in our annual drystone dyking course 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 basis of the wall was laid during the drystone dyking course last year, and when finished will form part of the northern boundary of the Castlehill Heritage Centre policies.

The course is a regular feature in our traditional skills workshop programme and remains as popular as ever. If you wish to learn the basics of a practical, traditional Cathness skill then please let us know - you can register interest here.

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Spinners go global - Saturday 26 October

Earlier this year Castlehill Heritage Centre was a buzz of activity when the Castlehill Spinning Group took part in a 'Spinning Challenge' with another spinning group based in Stanley in the Falkland Islands. The challenge was to spin yarn from local wool, then knit a series of squares to an agreed pattern, which would then be stitched together to form a cushion cover. Nothing too unusual about that you might think, until you realise this was all done live, on air, via an internet video link!

Well, such was the success of the event that the Spinning Group have arranged a global link-up spanning all seven continents! This unique event will take place on Saturday 26 October at Castlehill Heritage Centre.

The event is very much open to visitors, so if you want to take part in or witness a unique, groundbreaking event come along any time between 10 am and 7 pm, where, subject to the technology performing to order Castlehill will be in live contact with spinning groups across the globe.

Dateline: Monday 7 October 2013

Now on - Needles, Shuttles and all

Last weekend saw the launch of the Autumn exhibition which features a journey into the fascinating world of needles, thread, thimbles, awls, brads, looms, sewing machines, knitting machines, lasts, patterns and all sorts of intriguing equipment and devices. Learn about the trades that relied on them, and the hobbies and pastimes that used them. Do you know your Singers from your Brothers? Almost every home used to have one!

The exhibition is open every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon, between 2pm and 4pm. Entry is free, however donations are most welcome. All monies received go towards the upkeep and operation of Castlehill Heritage Centre.

Dateline: Wednesday 2 October 2013

Hands-on archaeology week - from Mon 7 Oct

Caithness Archaeological Trust and Castletown Heritage Society are offering a chance for the public to come to Castlehill Heritage Centre during the week beginning Monday October 7th 2013 to get experience of archaeological finds analysis - including wet-seiving, sorting, dry-seiving, analysing and recording soil samples from recent excavations in Caithness.

Training and tuition will be given by a qualified archaeologist. The first day will be an induction day, suitable for first-timers.

If interested please contact Paul Humphreys on or phone 01847 851 275

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Calling Saskatchewan, Canada

This is an appeal through the power of the web to the lady from Saskatchewan who recently contacted CHS through the website. We have tried to get back in touch with you, but our attempts to reply to your enquiry have been returned by the mail server.

Please get in touch - we have good news for you in connection with your enquiry. To leave a message, click HERE

Dateline: Saturday 28 September 2013

WW II Concert - a rip-roaring night!

Building on the success of the Edwardian Concert held two years ago, last night CHS laid on an evening's entertainment from the 1940s. The event generally followed the format of the 'Welcome Home' concerts organised in the village to raise funds for the war effort and to show appreciation for local servicemen and women returning home on leave in the course of the war.

Music of the 40s was courtesy of the Caithness Big Band, and the pupils of Primary 6/7 from Castletown Primary School dazzled us all with their unique brand of musical enthusiasm. Comedy sketches, close harmony singing, highland dance routines, readings of contemporary news articles and personal accounts all added to the fun. Whistling diva Issy Currie led the community singing to round off the evening, supported by her troupe of 'Land Girls'.

A big thank you must go to our resident empressario Muriel Murray who put in many hours of research to source material from the original concerts, and also to the other members of the committee and friends who helped on the night and baked the delicious rock buns for our half-time tea!

A fitting display of period vehicles, kindly provided by Dickie Mackay

Celia Macdougal and Muriel resplendent in their 40's outfits

The capacity audience await the start of the show

The Caithness Big Band open the evening with a selection of popular 40s music

James Ashpool performing a comedy sketch called 'Cohen on the Telephone'

The boys and girls of class 6/7 from Castletown Primary School put on a fantastic performance of some familiar period songs

Amy and Faye

I've just won a prize for my 40s outfit!

So have I!!

'Senior Service' perform some barbershop close harmony

Val and James performing the 'Surrealist Alphabet'.

Belinda Gordon and pals performing 'Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy' in close harmony. Brilliant!

Celia sings 'Cheek to Cheek' accompanied by Peter Dyson

Issy and her Land Girls lead the community singing, complete with bubbles!

The girls get in the spirit of the evening

A superb selection of photographs is also available from Mike and Judy Gordon - click HERE to visit their photo album.

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Australia - Olrig roots linked up at Castlehill

Earlier this year Meryl Smith of Mansfield,Victoria, Australia contacted Castletown Heritage with a request for local directions in the Olrig area. Her planned trip to Scotland was to photograph as many sites of importance to her family, the Smiths of Olrig. Her particular branch of the Smith family lived in Hayfield farm just outside Castletown village. Meryl was keen to see the house, the farm and the location of the flagstone quarries owned by her forebears. Olrig House was another place on her list, where she hoped to sketch and take photos.

As luck would have it Hayfield farm is now owned by CHS committee member Muriel Murray. Meryl was given a personal tour of the original house, now part of the farm buildings. Some original features however are still visible like fireplaces and grates, windows and water pump. Meryl could detect the garden layout and pictured her great grandmother with her young family there.

Arrangements were also made for her to visit Olrig House itself where her grandmother was brought up after the death at Hayfield of her parents.

Meryl spent several hours in the archive at Castlehill Heritage Centre where artefacts and documents including newspaper articles about the Smith family were available for her to study. Meryl has kindly given us a copy of her work on the Smith family entitled "Smith History - Caithness to Mansfield ". This will doubless prove a useful asset to future researchers into family history.

This is the second Australian in two months with Olrig roots to have found their experience of Homecoming greatly enhanced by their visit to Castlehill Heritage Centre and the helpful information and local knowledge which it can offer.

Dateline: Saturday 31 August 2013

Science at Castlehill - The Forces of Nature

Following on from the success of our automaton workshop last year, this workshop provided an exciting and stimulating hands on experience for children to explore the mysterious forces of wind, which powered the water pump in the Castlehill flagstone quarry workings.

The workshop, which was led by local STEM Embassador Pat Kieran MBE, ably assisted by John Keeton MIMechE, involved building a model wind turbine with the aim of lifting a small weight through a fixed distance in as short a time as possible, using hair dryers for the "wind". The early part of the workshop investigated the energy contained in the wind and the viscosity of air in comparison with other media.

All photographs courtesy of Pat Kieran


Dateline: Tuesday 6 August 2013

What a weekend!

This weekend provided a great example of the varied role which CHS provides for visitors, locals and "users" alike:

  • Live video link with a spinning group in Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands,
  • Information received on local broch sites, harbour building, and past generations' close ties with the export of flagstone by sea,
  • Plaudits from visitors on the wonderful garden,
  • Useful info received on objects in our collection,
  • Help given to vistors on their forebears from 1880s in this area using some of our archived documents,
  • Help given to people trying to track down Dunnet ancestors.
  • Geological help provided for a local man who had found an unusual stone on his land, which proved to have originated on Morven and had been moved here in the Ice Age.
  • Plans firmed up and research continued on CHS forthcoming project involving community groups at Castlehill,

And all this in the space of a few hours! Thanks to all who were involved.


Castlehill Spinning Group links with the Falkland Islands

Castlehill Heritage Centre was a buzz of activity on Saturday when the Castlehill Spinning Group took part in a 'Spinning Challenge' with another spinning group based in Stanley in the Falkland Islands. The challenge was to spin yarn from local wool, then knit a series of squares to an agreed pattern, which would then be stitched together to form a cushion cover. Nothing too unusual about that you might think, until you realise this was all done live, on air, via an internet video link!

The event was opened by Lady Thurso, who was presented with a beautiful rose by Ann Johnson of Castlehill Spinning Group. Hugh Crowden, CHS Chairman received a similar rose on belhalf of Castletown Heritage Society by way of thanks from the Spinning Group for providing the premises and the technology for the link-up.

A full report from event organiser Ann Johnson will follow, but in the meantime here are some images from the day:


Garden Delights

The Heritage Garden received much praise from visitors at the weekend, and you have to admit, it is looking really good.

We are, as ever, indebted to our volunteer gardener Irene Wares who most certainly has the magic touch with the green fingers.

The garden is open every day during the summer.

Dateline: Tuesday 28 May 2013

Uncovering the secrets of artefacts

As part of the recent Walking Festival, Muriel Murray gave a talk on some of the many artefacts housed in Castlehill Heritage Centre. Talks like these allow another type of exposure for the fascinating collection of objects donated to the society. On this occasion Muriel chose a to display and talk about variety of unconnected things which prompted discussion from the audience.

The first item was a brass plaque given by Miss Traill to her native parish of Olrig. Next was the story of a ship's bell which hang in a belfry in Barrock Mains; a print of a dog presented in the 1800s as a prize to a local shop keeper for admirable sales of Borax; two snuff boxes, one of silver given by the community to a much loved teacher in Bower, and the other fashioned from bog oak by a nearly crofter for his father in 1800.

The last items on show were a selection of miniature items - a tiny travelling ink well, an even smaller tin with minute calipers and finally a minuscule photo frame with space for two portraits. Look out for further chances to see more artefacts and hear their fascinating stories.


Castletown Primary School visit

On an unseasonal, blustery day two classes form Castletown primary school visited the exhibition on Schooldays in the Past. Pupils began with a quiz to familiarise them with the content of the exhibition then in groups they went round different activity bases. They examined the contents of a school satchel of the 1880s, and another typical of the second world war, comparing them with a present day school bag.

The children tried out their skills writing on a slate and with a dipping pen. Games of yesteryear like marbles and spinning tops proved popular as did the 1930s paper craft activities of constructing a snake and a fortune teller. We always look forward to visits from school children.

Dateline: Monday 27 May 2013

Venture North

Castletown Heritage Society is pleased to support Venture North - a group of small businesses dedicated to growing the Tourism Sector for Caithness and Sutherland. From modest beginnings late in 2012 the group has already established a brand identity and a reputation for taking a different approach to the promotion of tourism in the far north. For more information, follow this link to the Venture North website.

Muriel Murray, one of our stalwart committee members is a key player in Venture North and is keen to encourage other local businesses to get involved. For further information contact

Dateline: Wednesday 1 May 2013

Know Your Buildings talk

An enthusiastic crowd listened attentively to the excellent illustrated talk given yesterday evening by Pauline Megson of the Prince's Regeneration Trust. Pauline passionately described the renovation work undertaken at the Castletown flagstone workers' cottages in the Backies, before moving on to discuss how the various features present in buildings can reveal much about their history.

The talk was then followed by a visit and tour of the completed Backies cottages. The two original cottages have been combined into one cosy one bedroom cottage with modern facilities. The impressive conversion has been done in a very sympathetic way with much of the original features and character retained. The cottage will shortly be available to rent as a holiday let.

Dateline: Sunday 28 April 2013

Castletown Heritage Society AGM

It was quite a nostalgic moment when Muriel presented her Chairwoman's report at the Annual General Meeting of Castletown Heritage Society on Wednesday evening. After steadily steering the Society from aspiration to reality over the past sixteen years, Muriel had decided that the time had come to step down from the Chair. Whilst she had openly made her intentions known during the previous year, it still felt like one of those 'landmark' occasions.....

"Once again it is my privilege to welcome you all to the Annual General Meeting of Castletown Heritage Society. Many of you are staunch supporters of our programme of events, be they exhibitions, workshops, musical events, or just popping in to see what is on. Many thanks too to those from the community who have donated objects and information to us to add to our collection. We are proud to be able to hold these things in safety and put them on display for the interest of the public. Photos, documents and stories all help build up a picture of our village and its wider area. We also liaise closely with Caithness Horizons over donations which may not fit with their collection policy but may better be housed and displayed here.

Before I proceed further, I would like reflect on the devastating news that Ice Tech has gone into administration this week. We sincerely hope that some form of arrangements are reached such that the workforce, much of whom are from the village, can find suitable alternative employment.

Following on from that sobering thought I have to report that we have suffered a 25% reduction in visitor numbers to our exhibitions compared to last year. Whilst this is not a precise figure since we rely on people signing the visitor book, it does reflect the national figures for overseas and UK tourists in Scotland as a whole. It bears out the importance of CHS engaging in a variety of activities and welcoming a range of users to the centre.

Building Works and Improvements. In pursuit of our quest to be as environmentally friendly as possible we took advantage of a kind offer from Ice Tech who had a superfluous small wind turbine. Planning permission to erect it within our grounds has been lodged with The Highland Council. Internally, our computer system is being reviewed by the appropriate committee members as suitable storage for our mounting collection of data is of great importance. In June a group from Wick High School pupils and staff spent a day here constructing a stone built mock well under the instruction of George Gunn, master dyker. The well will be used as a flower bed and has proved an attractive asset.

Last summer's exhibition had the theme of the flagstone industry. A key focus was the characters great and small involved in this significant local industry which put our village on the world map. In the autumn and through winter we decided to break with tradition. Instead of waiting for a common theme to emerge we put on a wonderful display of recently donated objects, all unconnected with each other. It was quite refreshing and gave a good idea of the range of material which comes in to the centre. Perhaps the most fascinating object which we have been privileged to display is a Rolls Royce Merlin engine from an RAF Hurricane that was based at RAF Castletown during the second world war. The plane crashed into a bog at Mybster during a training exercise, and there it lay for 50 years until the engine was painstakingly extracted by Lewis Sinclair and Bob Falconer. The present exhibition entitled 'Education' was suggested by Jayne Blackburn who researched schools in the village and parish. As always the original exhibition grows as visitors come and tell us their own reminiscences or return with more photos, school certificates etc.

Outreach. I have represented CHS at Thurso High School on two occasions to talk about the local implications of the clearances and subsequent emigration. I have also talked to the Field Club, the University of the Third Age, the Vulcan retirees club and various WRI and guilds. It is important to do this kind of visits it raises awareness of what we do, has promoted more donation, and is a way of obtaining feed back on what the public thinks and expects of the heritage business.

During the year we have run a diverse range of skills workshops - basket making, drystone dyking, basic sewing, music making, creative writing and mono-printing have all featured on our programme. The spinning and weaving group put on a 'woolly fun day'.

This year's science and engineering family day took place in glorious sunshine, once more allowing participants to spill outside into the courtyard. Inspired by the film Hugo, the theme was creating automata and robotic machines. Thanks must go to the local STEM ambassadors for assisting us with what proved to be a popular event.

Participation in the pilot project of Wild North Festival was an interesting experience. Our contribution to this celebration of our local 'wildness' included a video workshop, a day of wool craft activities (organised by the spinning and weaving group), a talk on plants and their legendary significance, a talk on bee-keeping, and an exhibition on bumble bees. This in turn led to a highly successful visit from a series of classes from Castletown school who learnt about both types of bee by engaging in different activity bases. By the end of the day Jayne, Robin Inglis and I had delivered our spiels 16 times. To celebrate the Olympics we ran a collaborative "Olympic day round Dunnet bay" event, culminating in an appearance of a real Olympic torch and its bearer Kate Barnett. The Queen's Golden Jubilee was remembered in dashing style with a garden party complete with hats to fit the occasion.

The annual 'Scotlands Gardens' event saw three village gardens join us in raising money for the scheme's chosen charities and leaving a little over to boost our own funds. The Bothy Night, Quiz Night and the Craft Sale are regular annual occasions on our calendar which continue to be popular and are important money raisers for us.

As our heart is firmly embedded in the community we celebrate the successes of our partner groups in the centre. Dunnet Forestry Trust opened a new Log Cabin within the forest, and Caithness Astronomy Group successfully applied to have Castlehill declared a Dark Skies Discovery Site - the only site so designated north of Inverness. We are delighted to host meetings of the Scottish Ornithologcal Trust here too.

The discovery during the year of an early 19th century account book along with a fascinating letter from the Battlefield of Waterloo opened up all sorts of lines of research. The ledger included a selection of vintage recipes which prompted a baking project trialling the recipes. We are writing a blog for the local paper and planning a video link with a group of bakers in Toronto in Canada where the ledger now resides. This is a good example of how the past and the present can work together.

One of the most rewarding things we do at Castlehill is help visitors seaching for their ancestors to find as much as possible about them through our documents, maps, photograph collection and our growing knowledge of local family history. Most of the communication is by email but sometimes in person. This coming year we have four different individuals coming to this area from Australia, Canada, and New Zealand to do just that.

For many years CHS has been at the forefront of promoting tourism in Caithness. through membership of CASVAG and attendance at annual tourism training meetings. This year the society has been working on a co-ordinated approach to examine what is needed and to get it off the ground. From a complement of 22 interested businesses the number was reduced to 7. This has required a lot of work - training in methods of problem analysis, market identification, web-site construction, registration of a trade mark and promotion of new venture. Each business had to produce a new offering. CHS decided to enhance interpretation of the area surrounding the centre. This has been achieved through completing an information board on Dunnet Bay and Head, a leaflet on the buildings behind the centre and investigating means of providing tourists with information through a phone app. Apart from the individual offerings we have been set joint tasks working with different partners on e.g. researching the web presence of the opposition - Dumfries and Galloway, Orkney, Kerry and Cork, and on setting up an introductory launch of the new venture. One important thing we learned was the importance of what were termed "evangelists" to spread the message. Can we count on you to spread the message that the far north is a great place to visit?

This year's programme began with a Paper making workshop led by Joanne Kaar by special request. This was also significant as our very first workshop six years ago was Joanne's papermaking. Last week we had another successful Basic Sewing day with Helen Gunn. Plans are in place for the Vintage baking get together in May and also a genealogy day run by Alan Bruce. The science family day will feature energy, inspired by our own 19th century wind pump across the road. In September we are planning to hold thatching workshop in conjunction with Mary-Ann's cottage. We now have a webcam which will allow planned live links between craft groups across the world. The spinning group have already set up a connection with the Falklands and are now setting their sights on links with the northern Scandinavian countries. Once again we are offering an evening visit and talk as part of the Caithness Walking Festival.

The Wild North Festival is running again this summer and we will be hosting a talk on prehistoric plantlife, a display on the great yellow bumble bee and a wall hanging called Patchwork Meadow.

This summer we are planning a new venture - afternoon teas each Sunday in July. Hopefully the weather will be kind enough to allow these to be served in the garden. We have also decided to open the garden for summer visitors even when the centre is not manned.

As ever we appreciate suggestions from the community for traditional skills workshops. As early as next week we are delighted to invite Pauline Megson of the Prince's Regeneration Trust who will talk on the renovation of the two cottages in the Backies in Castletown which are the last reamining un-changed flagstone workers houses. The Prince's Trust has meticulously preserved them in a way in which they can be sustainable. The talk should be fascinating. The summer exhibition will feature the flagstone industry with special focus on the export of the flagstones by sea from Castletown harbour.

My thanks go to the outgoing members of the committee for their diverse involvement in the running of the society--Vice chair Liz Geddes, treasurer John Crowden, projects manager Neil Buchan, and committee members Jayne and Roy Blackburn, Hugh Crowden and Helen Gunn. Most of these people have done sterling work for the society for many years and have been of invaluable support to me. Sadly we are losing our secrstary Fiona Bremner to work and family commitments. Sharon Pottinger has also decided to spend more time on her other pursuits. As I indicated last AGM I myself will be steppimg down as chairman, but please don't put me out to grass. I feel that I could still serve the Society in a different role on the committee. I am assured that we will have an injection of fresh blood into our organisation."

Following Muriel's report the 2012 annual accounts were considered, 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 2013-14 session, as follows:

Chairman Hugh Crowden
Vice-Chairman Neil Buchan (also Technical Projects Manager and Webmaster)
Treasurer John Crowden
Secretary Jayne Blackburn
Committee Muriel Murray
Roy Blackburn (Health & Safety Officer)
Liz Geddes
Helen Gunn
Alan Bruce (co-opted post AGM)
Julie Geddes (co-opted post AGM)
It could be you, if you would like to volunteer!

Neil Buchan spoke on behalf of the retiring committee to express their thanks to Muriel for all her hard work, dedication and most of all her vision in driving Castletown Heritage Society forward during her sixteen years in the chair. As a token of the committee's appreciation he presented Muriel with a specially commissioned pen locally made by Martin England using wood from a genuine Hurricane plane propeller.

Following the official proceedings, guest speaker Gordon Reid delivered a fascinating talk on the work of the North Highland Archive.

Muriel delivers her Chairman's Report

Interim Chairman Hamish Pottinger

Hugh's first moments in the 'hot seat'

Neil thanking Muriel for her hard work and dedication as Chairman

Photo: Sheila Moir

The ball point pen is beautifully crafted from a section of wood from a genuine Hurricane aircraft propeller

Photo: Sheila Moir

Retiring Vice Chairman Liz Geddes presents Muriel with a bunch of flowers

Photo: Sheila Moir


Photo: Sheila Moir

Guest speaker Gordon Reid introduces his talk on the North Highland Archive

Gordon in action

The range of information available from the North Highland Archive is amazing

Time for a cup of tea, a chat and payment of memberships!

Sheila and Agnes

Photo: Sheila Moir (well her camera, anyway)

Hugh and Muriel share a lighthearted moment

How does Sheila always manage to get everyone to smile?

Photo: Sheila Moir

Photo: Sheila Moir

Photo: Sheila Moir

Dateline: Thursday 18 April 2013

A stitch in time....

The second of our popular sewing workshops took place at the weekend. Needles were threaded and seams tacked as our experienced seamstress Helen Gunn guided and supported delegates as they tackled their items of clothing or other textiles that were in need of a little TLC to restore them to their former glory.


Annual Quiz Night

Whilst numbers were a little down on last year, this didn't deter our intrepid quiz afficionados as they did battle over ten rounds of ten questions during our annual quiz night. Questionmaster Neil tested their mettle with a range of topics both contemporary and traditional.

A fine supper was served at the half way stage - thanks go to Liz B, Jayne, Liz G and Helen for the baking and sandwiches, which kept disappearing at an alarming rate at one of the tables!

The winners overall were the 'Stonewallers' who after a close run battle eventually triumphed over 'The Brits' who stumbled at the last hurdle with the 'Disasters' and the 'Caithness' rounds.

Thanks to all who took part and contributed to the raffle. Here's to next year!

Questionmaster Neil in his stride

The 'Brits' in the foreground showed that one person down was no real disadvantage

Deep in thought......

The victorious Stonewallers

Can't imagine where they got that name from...


Springtime in the garden

Dateline: Tuesday 12 March 2013

Caithness Astronomy Group - Wild Skies

The next event on the Caithness Astronomy Group calendar is a Wild Skies Weekend extravaganza which takes place this coming weekend Fri 15 and Sat 16 March.

Topping the bill on Friday night at Castlehill Heritage Centre will be Professor Andy Lawrence of the Edinburgh Royal Observatory who will be giving a free public talk Hunting the Dragon followed by a stargazing session. Warm clothing essential, bring a torch. Children welcome if accompanied by a parent/guardian.

To download the full programme of exciting activities planned for the Wild Skies Weekend, click here.

Caithness Astronomy Group meets regularly throughout the year at Castlehill Heritage Centre and has full programme of events planned. Click here for more information.

Copy and paste the following link into your browser to view an amazing timelapse video sequence of night skies in Caithness which was produced by a Caithness Astronomy group member - truly awesome!

Dateline: Monday 11 March 2013

Spring Exhibition - Education - Now Open

Our exciting new exhibition featuring Education in Castletown is already attracting a steady stream of visitors.

The exhibition is open every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon, from 2pm to 4pm. Groups and special interest parties are very welcome by arrangement. Click here to request further details.


Recipe Project Bubbling Away Nicely

The volunteers from Castletown Heritage Society and Murkle WRI who undertook to try out a variety of home cures and recipes found in an old ledger taken from Reay to Canada in the 1840s have been making some culinary discoveries. Much of the method in the recipes had been omitted - obviously the housewives of the time needed only a notional amount of advice. Much experimentation has been required to create edible versions for the 21st century....!

Not only were the volunteer cooks and bakers active in the kitchen, they were persuaded to put their thoughts into print. Elizabeth-Ann Mackay of the Caithness Courier suggested a series of articles tracking the progress of the project would be of interest to readers. Writers have recalled memories of their early cooking and baking lessons in their Mothers' kitchens.

The culmination of the project will be an evening in May devoted to demonstrating such 1840s delicacies as lemon biscuits tea-cakes and jelly roll cake. This will be shared with a group in Canada including Janet Macleod who brought the ledger back to Caithness last summer.

The recent purchase of a Web Cam for the Heritage Centre will allow this and other heritage activities to be shared with our partners all over the world.


Local news - Huna Corn Mill regeneration project

Work is underway at the historic corn mill at Huna, near John o'Groats, which is to be the focus of a new, ambitious, community-led regeneration project. The Prince's Regeneration Trust (PRT) and the North Highland Initiative (NHI) are working together with the landowner, the local community and key stakeholders to restore the mill as an exciting new visitor attraction. Archaeologists from AOC Archaeology Group have been working to accurately survey and record the mill, its contents and its surroundings as the first stage in the redevelopment process.

John O'Groats Mill at Huna has the potential to become a key attraction in Caithness, contributing to the regeneration of John O'Groats and the wider rural area. In order to create a sustainable future for the mill, PRT and NHI are exploring options for additional uses that could be carefully integrated within the site. These may include a farm shop, cafe or restaurant, visitor facilities, interpretation and display on built and natural heritage themes, a bakery, workshop or gallery. An open day held on 1st August 2012 attracted over 100 visitors from across Caithness and the north of Scotland, garnering widespread support for the project. The mill is particularly important as it is the last in Caithness to retain its machinery and fittings, all made in the Wick Foundry and fitted by millwrights from Wick.

Watch this space for further details of the work as it progresses.

Dateline: Tuesday 22 January 2013

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 demonstrated.

Local artist Joanne B Kaar is a papermaker of international repute, and over last weekend's two day workshop she took the eager participants 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? Hard to imagine that anything as elegant as beautiful handmade papers could come out of this collected gunk, but Joanne was so well organised and knowledgeable that in two days of intense chopping, pounding, boiling, mixing and dipping we all had several samples of beautiful paper, knew about such fancy lingo as "Adapted Eastern sheet formation", "deckle and mould" and "formation aid". And we have accordion-style books in which our "recipes" have been recorded.

Part science, part cookery; all fun! Thanks, Joanne!

Photos courtesy of Sharon Gunason Pottinger

Dateline: Monday 14 January 2013

Castletown Heritage Society Dinner

In community led organisations, an oft held truism is that nothing happens without someone putting in the effort, and during 2012 the Executive Committee of Castletown Heritage Society have certainly been doing just that. 2012 was without doubt a year to be proud of, with robust visitor numbers, successful new projects and workshops and a growing band of friends and supporters. There comes a point however when you just need to let out the stays, sit back and chill in preparation for what lies ahead. And so it was on Saturday night when the Committee and their partners gathered in Castlehill Heritage Centre for a relaxing evening meal, a wee libation and a good old chin wag.

Evening organisers Neil and Liz, Roy and Jayne had transformed the main hall from a multi-functional exhibition space to a passible impression of a dining room, complete with soft mood music, incidental lighting, candles and crisp white tablecloths (aka sheets). After a satisfying three course meal members relaxed and chatted, with memories stirred by a projected slide show of images from the various workshops, events and exhibitions that had taken place during 2012. Here's to 2013!

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CAG Stargazing Event

There was a fantastic turnout with over 70 people (& BBC Alba) attending Caithness Astronomy Group's latest stargazing event on Friday 11 January, held as one of the nationwide BBC Stargazing Live series of events. Activities on the night at the newly designated Dark Sky Discovery Site of Castlehill Heritage Centre included beginners talks, a quiz and an observing session outside under the dark star filled skies. CAG were delighted that so many people took the trouble to join them on the night.

To learn more about the activities of the Caithness Astronomy Group, see their website for further details.

Dateline: Monday 7 January 2013

Castlehill Spinning Group

The Castlehill Spinning Group will be kicking off the new season with a beginners evening on Wednesday 9th and Thursday 10th January.

Returning spinners and new spinners most welcome.

Come along and have a try. No wheel needed. Come and be inspinnerised!!

To find out more and register interest, click HERE