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Dateline: Saturday 21 November 2015

A Song Among the Stones

The discovery of a slim volume of poems written by Scottish writer Kenneth Steven gave Muriel the idea of elaborating the historical events described in it. The poems told of a small number of monks who set off from Iona in the 6th century in search of solitude. In their tiny craft they made the perilous journey facing storms, thirst and fear.

With the help on art installation artist Jana Embury and her assistant Bobby McCarthy, Castlehill Heritage Centre was transformed into the heaving ocean. Heralded by a "processional" from bellringers from Castletown school under the direction of Miss Watson, and a rendering of the Iona boat song, the scene was set for Kenneth to read his evocative words. The poetry was accompanied by a magical background of music from Caithness harpist Erica Sinclair who researched folk music from Norway, a lullaby from Iceland and church plainsong to ensure authenticity.

Under the encouragement of art teacher Mrs Fell Castletown Primary schoolchildren had also worked to produce a wide range of painted and crafted interpretations of the monks journey. These continue to be on display at Castlehill for a few weeks.


Dateline: Sunday 4 October 2015

Summer School Week 4

We’re drawing to a close with our week-long excavations at the Baillie Hill excavations. It’s been an interesting week, and really instructive, full of unexpected results! Our hut-circle has turned out to be more than meets the eye. We’re now pretty confident that the building has re-used the site of an earlier burnt mound, digging the shattered stone and burnt soil that is typically found on one of these sites and using it as core material of the roundhouse. So, our site is both a burnt mound and a hut-circle- two Bronze Age sites in one!

Unfortunately we have very few artefacts to report- the site seems to have been kept very clean and tidy, not good for archaeologists! Most of the week has been spent determining which features might belong to the burnt mound, and which are part of the later structure; the challenge for our post-excavation analysis will be in identifying good samples to date each phase…

Today, Gemma and Paul excavated a deep pit within the house, which seems to have been clay lined, while Roy, Terry and Anna excavated post holes and other features within the building, which may be the remains of structural supports for the roof. Roland investigated the entrance, finding that the bank was lined with a kerb of set stones and a flagstone paving, underneath which was a drain slot, cut into the natural subsoil and probably designed to soak water away from the entrance.

There has been lots of recording to do as usual, and Muriel and Vanessa drew the sections through the roundhouse, recording the layers that had been excavated. Tomorrow, our job is to undo all of our hard work and fill the trenches back in!

To keep up to date with the latest on how our amazing archaeological project is going, check out the blog on the project website!

Dateline: Wednesday 30 September 2015

Summer School Week 4

The fourth and final week of fieldwork as part of A Window on the Hidden Bronze Age Landscape of Caithness is well underway now! We’ve chosen as the subject of our investigations into Bronze Age settlement an interesting hut circle at Skaill, close to Baillie Hill and the chambered cairns on Cnoc Freiceadain.

The site was not known before the LiDAR survey was carried out, and our team of volunteers were the first to record the site, so we are genuinely breaking new ground! Our first couple of days on site have involved deturfing the trenches, and already we’re finding lots of exciting archaeology. Wall faces and paving stones are already visible, as well as arrangements of edge-set stones… perhaps the remains of a hearth or post settings?

Perhaps the most interesting result so far has been the discovery of masses of burnt stone and charcoal in the bank of the hut-circle- typical remains usually found on a burnt mound, sites that are often interpreted as Bronze Age cooking sites. Was our site originally a burnt mound that was dug into and reshaped to make a roundhouse?

Today volunteer Vanessa excavated the remains of what may be a very crude ceramic vessel… It was in very poor condition though, so we lifted it intact and encased in the soils that buried it. We’ll have to await excavation in the lab before we can confirm what it is! Stay tuned for more updates!

To keep up to date with the latest on how our amazing archaeological project is going, check out the blog on the project website!

Dateline: Saturday 26 September 2015

Wattle and Daub Workshop

As part of the Bronze Age archaeology project Castlehill Heritage Centre hosted a two day workshop on wattle and daub. Conducted by Chris Goodman, participants spent the first day learning the skill of cutting and selecting the willow withies and then how to weave and twist them round the upright sticks in order to form a stable panel.

Wattle hurdles were used in early times to make portable enclosures for cattle and sheep. Interior walls of round houses were constructed in the same way. The second session was devoted to applying the daub, a mixture of earth, dung, horse hair, straw - anything to make the woven hurdle wind and water-tight. Much to the delight of the younger participants (and some of the older ones too) it was found that the best method of application was to hurl handfuls of daub at the wall from a distance, preferably over-arm!

Examples of the finished hurdles are at Castlehill. Come and admire them.

To keep up to date with the latest on how our amazing archaeological project is going, check out the blog on the project website!

Dateline: Saturday 5 September 2015

Summer School Week 3 - a test for hardy souls!

A core of hardy archaeology volunteers braved the most trying of weather to fulfil the tasks set for week three of the Bronze Age project. The usual Monday training workshops held in the warmth and comfort of Castlehill were led by Dr Graeme Cavers of AOC. The instruction covered the various techniques for measuring and recording the soil present in sites already identified as of interest. This follows the initial spotting done remotely by LiDAR scanning, and on- site measuring and surveying.

Dr Cavers delivered a fascinating and well attended public talk on Tuesday evening for those interested in the Bronze Age project but unable to take an active part. Gemma Hudson reported on the work done in the field to date.

Duly trained in the theory, the band of volunteers put it into practice as they used magnetometry, resistivity and GIS ground survey techniques. Test pits were dug at various intervals across the hillside and several samples from each meticulously bagged and labelled. These samples will be analysed by AOC. Some of the soil analysis will be done in the Archaeological research Facility at Castlehill Heritage Centre. The sites identified as interesting were then trenched at judicious points to find the walls of hut circles, if indeed they turned out to be this. At least one structure is proving a bit less usual in construction. Below the level of the walls were "ard" marks in the sub soil - an indication of early prehistoric cultivation.

The picture on the left shows Richard and Jonie Guest, Paul Humphreys, Winnie Main and Muriel Murray on site at Baillie Hill.

To keep up to date with the latest on how our amazing archaeological project is going, check out the blog on the project website!

Dateline: Saturday 15 August 2015

Summer School Week 2 - putting theory into practice

Another successful week was had looking at Caithness' Bronze Age landscape from Monday 13th - Saturday 18th July 2015. This time round volunteers were trained in hand-drawing methods such as plane-table and taped offset, along with digital technologies like total station and DGPS survey. Training was started at the Castlehill Heritage Centre on the Monday with some survey of the courtyard but continued all week out in the field on the real archaeological sites.

The image on the left shows volunteers Susan and Winnie record a modern stone wall with a plane table while in the background volunteers Paul, Terry and Alan receive total station instruction from AOC's Jamie.

Tuesday-Thursday and Saturday were spent out in the field using the volunteers' new skills around the areas of Broubster and Shebster that we walked over during the Summer School Week 1. Click on the image on the right to see a LiDAR image of one of the areas explored - a rich Bronze Age landscape, just west of Shebster, although the field boundaries are probably later in date.

Friday was spent in the Heritage Centre due to the terrible wind and rain that was happening outside. Indoor work may have made us all fair-weather archaeologists but great progress was made in the final report for the project as the teams both digitized their site plans and compiled their gazetteer of sites that had been recorded.

Thank you and well done to all our volunteers that came out this week: Paul, Alan, Terry, Susan, Winnie, Carol, Val, George, Muriel, Jonie and Richard. Special thank you to Alan and Muriel for working around us at the Castlehill Heritage Centre, making us cups of tea and generally being very patient with us.

For the latest information on how our amazing archaeological project is going, check out the blog on the project website!

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Prehistoric Festival at Yarrows Archaeological Trail

Fancy learning about copper smelting, antler carving or life in general in prehistoric times? Then visit the prehistoric vestival to be held at North Yarrows on Saturday 29th August, celebrating the life and works of Joseph Anderson.

Click on the poster for further details.

Dateline: Thursday 25th June 2015

Summer School Week 1 - a participant's view

Chris Sinclair, Managing Director of Sinclair Aerial Surveys Ltd was one of the entusiastic participants in week 1 of the summer school. We were delighted to receive feedback of his experiences plus some of his aerial images:

"Congrats on a cracking 1st week of Bronze age History, thoroughly enjoyed myself.

This past week has been very interesting. All week AOC Archaeological Group have been in Caithness working in tandem with Castlehill Heritage Group to educate the community about the Bronze Age Landscape in Caithness. The week began with a classroom session at Castlehill on LIDAR, and how to use the data to spot potential sites of interest. Then from Tuesday onwards we were out in the field, inspecting the sites identified from the LIDAR data. It was fine to get tramping around areas of the county I'm not to familiar with. The weather wasn't ideal, but I did manage to get some drone flights in to get aerial shots of some of the sites. The image above shows 2 Bronze Age Hut Circles, each about 12m in diameter.

Learning how to identify these sites was very interesting. Through the use of Maps, Google earth and LIDAR there are a plethora of tools to assist, including the use of iPads in the field. The areas we investigated had an abundance of Hut Circles, Cairns and some potential burnt mounds as well. These are areas which have been setlled for a long long time. In one field we had evidence of habitation from Neolithic right through to Post Medival times.

Using the information gleaned from the LIDAR data for the Baillie Windfarm area, I intend to be out and about doing investigations to try and document other unrecorded sites, armed with new found knowledge and understanding."

Week two of the Summer School follows on Monday 13th July with a workshop in Castlehill Heritage Centre then more surveying and observation in the field from Tuesday to Saturday.

To see the full programme of activites , click HERE. To register to take part click HERE.

Dateline: Thursday 25th June 2015

Bronze Age Hut Circle Talk

This evening the Bronze Age Project welcomed Stratford Halliday, an eminent authority on hut circles to Castlehill. He took the audience through the work done by early archaeologists and antiquarians in the late 19th and early 20th century, before and after the establishment of the Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland, for whom Stratford worked until a few years ago.

Mentioning the many examples of hut circles and burnt mounds in Scotland , he put forward his own persuasive theory of a population of Bronze Age farmers regularly inhabiting, abandoning and resettling a series of sites peculiar to their family group. Seemingly random scatterings of hut circles cairns and mounds in a landscape should be seen as associated groups. Stratford maintained that knowledge of soil improvement through manuring can be traced to the Neolithic Age. Adding that English-based studies of Bronze Age agriculture could profitably learn from the clearer examples of the dynamic landscapes of Scotland, he finished by encouraging participants to get out there and find more evidence of local Bronze Age activities.

The project concludes week one of its programme on Saturday 27th. See the project BLOG for details of progress thus far.

Week two of the Summer School follows on Monday 13th July with a workshop in Castlehill Heritage Centre then more surveying and observation in the field from Tuesday to Saturday.

To see the full programme of activites , click HERE. To register to take part click HERE.

Dateline: Sunday 14 June 2015

Living the Life - Bronze Age style!

On Friday 5th June, Castlehill Heritage Centre travelled back in time with the aid of James and Sally-Anne of Ancientcraft. The weather was somewhat temperamental so James and Sally-Anne set up a prehistoric style shelter made of woven willow panels (you can find out how to make these in September! Check the events calendar in due course for more info) and animal skins inside the Heritage Centre. This set the scene, and was complemented by an impressive array of replica tools and other artefacts, many of which experimental archaeologist James made himself.

As part of the workshops James demonstrated flint-knapping, and the speed and efficacy with which he could make a useful tool such as a scraper for processing animal hides was just amazing. Over 50 pupils from Castletown Primary School participated in Ancientcrafts’ workshops and went back to school fired up to learn more about the prehistoric past; their first response was to look up ‘Ötzi the Iceman’ online, although apparently they felt that he did not live up to the high standard set by James! Praise indeed.




Thanks very much to staff at Castletown Primary School for bringing their pupils along, and to the pupils themselves for being so enthusiastic and asking such great questions.

James was on hand again on Saturday 6th June, when over sixty members of the public came to Castlehill Heritage Centre to learn more about the past. Thanks very much to everyone for coming along, and thanks especially to James and Sally-Anne of Ancientcraft, who delivered a really unique experience which was enjoyed by all.


Neil Buchan and Sheila Moir

There’s so much more to come – make sure you don’t miss out on following progress by subscribing to the project blog via the sidebar on the project website homepage, or give us a ‘like’ on our Facebook page.

Latest News: We are just finalising the last details for the weekend workshops in August and September. July’s pottery workshop with Potted History is proving very popular so if you want to come along, do get in touch ASAP to avoid disappointment. To register your interest - click here.

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Bronze Age Archaeology project launch night

Our Window on the hidden Bronze Age landscape of Caithness archaeology project got off to a flying start on Thursday 4th June when thirty five budding project participants attended our special project launch event. Vice Chairman Neil Buchan introduced the evening by outlining the aims and objectives of the project and thanking our funders, the Caithness & North Sutherland Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund, for making the project possible. Dr Graham Cavers and Catherine Douglas from AOC Archaeology revealed the detail of our exciting project programme, from workshops on how to interpret LiDAR data, field excavations and cartography, and Bronze Age crafts workshops.

Graeme and Charlotte have already had a quick look at some of the possible hut circles that were newly identified in the LiDAR data, and they are just wonderful! Really substantial features that will make for an exciting programme of training, survey and excavation. We can’t wait to get started with the fieldwork!

If you are interested in taking part in the project, contact us by clicking HERE. There really is something for everyone!

For the latest information on the project programme and progress visit the project website or our Facebook page.

Dateline: Monday 25 May 2015

Breaking news! - A window on the hidden Bronze Age landscape of Caithness

It has taken many months of planning and organising but our latest project is ready to launch! After a competitive, public tender process we are delighted to announce that AOC Archaeology will be partnering with us to deliver our new archaeological project - A window on the hidden Bronze Age landscape of Caithness. Our exciting new project will explore and record a remarkable Caithness landscape recently revealed during a LiDAR survey undertaken in support of the Baillie wind farm development.

LiDAR technology (3D laser scanning from aircraft) has the ability to 'see through' vegetation, foliage, trees and bushes to look at the ground and the archaeology beneath. The survey recorded what has been described as one of the best-preserved and previously undiscovered prehistoric landscapes in the UK, including extensive evidence of farming and settlement at least 3500 years old.

Archaeological research in Caithness has, to date, tended to focus on later prehistoric (e.g. Iron Age) and historic (e.g. medieval and later) periods. Where investigation of earlier prehistory has been carried out this has focused on the chambered cairns of the county. The LiDAR survey has shown however that these visible remains are simply the tip of an archaeological 'iceberg', beneath which lie remarkable and previously unrecognised components of the Caithness landscape.

Our exciting new project aims to exploit the archaeological and historical information revealed by the LiDAR survey through delivery of an engaging and rewarding programme of participative involvement for the local community, local schools and volunteers from the broader Caithness and north Sutherland community. Between now and March next year we will deliver practical training workshops and activities covering LiDAR data analysis, archaeological landscape interpretation, in-field archaeological surveys, post finds analysis, and cartography. The programme includes delivery of four bronze age craft skills workshops, the first of which will run on Friday the 5th and Saturday 6th of June at Castlehill Heritage Centre - see the poster for more details.

All the output and records from the project will be captured in formal reports and high quality maps that will be held both locally and in national archives. Local talks, interpretive exhibitions and a web based resource portal maintained for five years after project completion will ensure the project legacy is accessible by all. It is all really exciting!

If you are interested in taking part in the project, come along to the Launch Night where all will be revealed. Alternatively, contact us using the link below. There really is something for everyone!

To find out more click HERE

We are delighted to acknowledge the funding received from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Caithness & North Sutherland Fund, without who's support the project would not have been possible.

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Castletown Heritage Society AGM

Castletown Heritage Society held it's Annual General Meeting for 2015 on Wednesday 29th April. Chairman Roy Blackburn gave a comprehensive and entertaining account of the Society's activities over the past year - it really is amazing to hear the diversity and number of things we get up to! A copy of Roy's Chairman's Report is available here. Roy also presented the accounts which confirmed that the Society continues on a firm, sustainable footing.

On completion of all the formal reporting, interim Chairman Bill Johnston praised the outgoing committee for their efforts then took over the helm for the election of office bearers for the 2015-16 session, as follows:

Roy Blackburn (also Health & Safety Officer)
Neil Buchan (also Technical Projects Manager and Webmaster)

Jim Moar

Jayne Blackburn
Muriel Murray
Elspet Chapman
Liz Geddes
Alan Bruce
It could be you, if you would like to volunteer!

Following the official proceedings, guest speaker Muriel Murray delivered a fascinating talk supporting the launch of our latest publication - Boyhood Memories of Ham Farm written by David Findlayson. David was born on the 2nd of May 1919 on the farm of Ham near Dunnet in Caithness. At the age of eighteen he travelled to St Andrews where he matriculated at the University of St Andrews as a student studying for a BSc in Mathematics and Physics. So began an association with this institution that was to last for the next seven and a half decades, during which time he would achieve worldwide renown for the teaching of physics and research into semiconductor devices.

David, over the course of the years, felt that there was a danger that knowledge of the life he knew as a boy in Caithness in the 1920s might be lost, so in typical fashion he set about recording his memories of the history of the area and the everyday details of life for a boy on a Caithness farm. Castletown Heritage Society was entrusted to bring his fascinating story to life, and thanks to the efforts of Neil and Muriel the story is now available to purchase as a 132 page soft cover book for the very reasonable sum of £8.50.

If you would like to purchase a copy, but are unable to drop into Castlehill Heritage Centre, please CLICK HERE.

The AGM was rounded off with light refreshements.

Photos by Sheila Moir and Neil Buchan


Dateline: Tuesday 28th April 2015

Caithness Archive - On The Road

Castlehill Centre was pleased to welcome the staff of the Caithness Archive, normally based in Wick, last Saturday. The visit was one of a series of planned road shows round Caithness villages bringing the archives to the people.

Archivist Gordon Reid was delighted with the number of interested local people who came in to browse a fascinating array of log books, maps, legal documents, midwife's reports, and valuation rolls from yesteryear. It is hoped that this will be the first of several visits to Castlehill. The old documents prompted much recollection of the past, telling of stories and exchanging of memories.

All in all a useful and entertaining couple of hours. Many thanks to Gordon and his team.

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Traditional Icelandic Turf Buildings Talk - Wed 15 April

"Nothing goes to waste" was the byline as CHS Vice Chairman Neil Buchan talked about his recent hands-on experiences at the Fornverkaskolinn Heritage Craft School in northern Iceland and its activities promoting the preservation of traditional Icelandic building skills and methods. Over the course of the evening, Neil described the basic architecture of Icelandic turf building structures and explained the traditional methods and techniques used to construct and restore them.

Dateline: Tuesday 17th March 2015

Highland Graveyards - Grave Misteaks

Seldom has the very title of an evening talk piqued so much curiosity. For weeks in advance we received several queries - what will be so amusing about Highland Graveyards? Well, almost as soon as the talk started everyone in the audience had a smile on their face as guest speaker Nick Lindsay from Clyne Heritage Society (Brora) revealed some of the 'typographical' errors perpetrated by the monumental masons of yesteryear.

Nick kicked off by talking about the voluntary project the Clyne Heritage Society undertook a number of years ago to clear the grounds of the Clynekirkton Graveyard at Brora in Sutherland. kirkyard, which was disappearing under 'Russian Ivy' and other predatory shrubs. The transformation was truly amazing.

During their work they discovered much about the physical and social history of the kirkyard, including a number of unusual gravestones - and quite a few 'howlers' in the engraving department. This inspired Nick to explore many other graveyards throughout the Highlands and elsewhere in the UK, resulting in a fascinating compendium of historical typos, each with a story to tell. He also revealed some examples from overseas.

Nick fielded a broad range of enthusiastic questions throughout the talk, and was somewhat taken aback when one of the audience pointed out that a photograph of a particularly striking wooden cross memorial he found in one of the local cemetries belonged to her mother's grave! As Nick put it "That's never happened to me before!"

To find out more about the activities of Clyne Heritage Society click here.

The next and final talk in the current series will be "Traditional Icelandic Turf Buildings" by Neil Buchan. Neil will talk about his recent hands-on experiences at the Fornverkaskolinn Heritage Craft School in northern Iceland and its activities promoting the preservation of traditional Icelandic building skills and methods. This talk will take place at 7.30pm on Wednesday 15th April 2015 at Castlehill heritage Centre - please note the change of date.

Dateline: Sunday 1 March 2015

Brough Bay Association - social history archive

Our friends and colleagues at the nearby Brough Bay Association have created a wonderful archive of photographs, artefacts and recorded memories from the people of Brough.

This rich resource of social history is available to browse and enjoy at Castlehill Heritage Centre during normal opening hours - 2pm - 4pm every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

For further information about the archive and the activities of the Brough Bay Association, please visit their website:

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The next talk in our series of winter evening talks will be held on Tuesday 17th March 2015, entitled "Highland Cemetries" by Nick Lindsay, Chairman of Clyne Heritage Society. Nick promises an informative yet amusing talk on this fascinating aspect of our cultural heritage.

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

Dateline: Tuesday 10 February 2015

Iceland - A Caithness Saga

It was an in-house production tonight, when the speaker at the latest in our programmed winter talks was CHS vice chairman Neil Buchan. Neil gave an illustrated talk on his stay in Iceland in May 2014 through the Cultural Heritage Interpretation and Sustainable Tourism (CHIST) programme promoted by the ARCH Network and funded by the Leonardo da Vinci programme of the European Commission Directorate General for Education and Culture. The aim of the programme was to demonstrate to participants, Iceland's commitment to sustainable heritage tourism. This topic is very dear to CHS. Neil joined a small group of hand-picked delegates including archaeologists and conservationists. They were given hands on experience in the conservation and reconstruction of traditional turf- built houses, an iconic feature of the Icelandic landscape.


Being an accomplished photographer Neil treated the delighted audience to images of the breath-taking snow covered mountains, the ice-blue lakes and the formidable waterfalls for which the country is famous. The impressive man-made cathedral and public buildings in its capital did not fail to amaze. Particularly interesting for members of Castletown Heritage Society were examples of how Iceland portrays its social past through its heritage centres and museums.


Lastly Neil gave proof of the Caithness - Iceland connection and its continued importance to the Icelanders through the story of queen Aud or Audrunn, who features in the Icelandic sagas. Aud left Caithness with a large retinue by ship in the 9th century. After settling a large area of western Iceland, Aud set up stone crosses which are still visible today in honour of her conversion to Christianity. CHS hopes to interpret the epic story of Aud, incorporating it into a music and art project involving local schools.


Dateline: Thursday 22 January 2015

The men who went far, far away

A capacity audience filled Castlehill Heritage Centre to hear Ian Leith talk about the fascinating social history surrounding the Caithness people who left these shores in the late 19th and early 20th century for a life in Patagonia. Why Patagonia? Patagonia is an awful long way from Caithness, yet in the late 19th century a number of Caithness people took on this challenge not knowing what to expect.

By drawing on his extensive research which included a recent trip to Patagonia, Ian delivered a thoroughly enjoyable and informative talk on the lives and experiences of those who originally made the journey and their decendants living there today. This proved to be of particular interest to a number of individuals in the appreciative audience who were related in some way to the original Patagonia pioneers.

The excellent talk was followed by a lively question and answer session, during which Ian revealed that he hoped to capture all the information he had gathered in a new book. To find out more about Ian's research and the Patagonia project, click here.

The next talk in the series will be held on Tuesday 10th February 2015, entitled "Iceland - a Caithness Saga" by Neil Buchan. Neil will talk about his recent experience exploring the fascinating cultural and archaeological heritage of Iceland and the Icelandic mission to develop heritage tourism.

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