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Dateline: Saturday 19 November 2016

Paul Humphreys Memorial Library

Earlier this year Caithness lost a quiet, unassuming family man who was held in great esteem as a proactive and highly knowledgeable archaeologist. An engineer to trade, Paul Humphreys saw his retirement from his role as a Shift Manager at the Dounreay Prototype Fast Reactor as a great opportunity. He set about developing a 'second career' as an archaeologist with an infectious passion that inspired and encouraged others.

Over the years Paul acquired and developed a depth of knowledge of the archaeology of the Highlands, and Caithness in particular, which was unrivalled. As friends recently remarked, if there was archaeological activity happening anywhere in the Highlands Paul would be there, either wielding a trowel or offering advice and guidance, and usually both. He was a stalwart supporter and advisor to the archaeological activities and projects undertaken by Castletown Heritage Society

Prior to his passing, Paul expressed a wish that his collection of reference and technical archaeological books be donated to the Caithness Archaeological Trust (CAT) such that they may available to support the development of both individuals and the general knowedge and understanding of the archaeology in the area. Paul was keen that the books be accessible to all. Following discussion between Paul's family, CAT and Castletown Heritage Society, CHS agreed to set aside space in the Archive Room in Castlehill Heritage Centre to create a reference library, where the books could be displayed, accessed and managed in a secure manner.

The work to catalogue the books and create the reference library is now complete, with book shelving (to Paul's detail specification), lighting, power, wifi access and desk space installed by CHS volunteer members. The new facility was dedicated to Paul's memory at a sometimes emotional ceremony and reception held on Saturday 19 November, attended by Paul's family and a host of friends. After eulogies and anecdotes were shared by representatives of the organisations Paul was closely associated with the library was formally opened by Paul's two grandchildren, Chloe and Jason.

Roy Blackburn, Chairman of Castletown Heritage Society opens the proceedings

Muriel Murray speaks on behalf of Caithness Archaeological Trust

Dr Andy Heald of AoC Archaeology Ltd

Chloe and Jason cut the ribbon to open the Paul Humphreys Memorial Library

Desk space, power for laptops and wifi are available to support browing of the books

Stories shared

Tasty snacks

Paul's immediate family. His wife, Mary Humphreys is in the centre

Paul (yellow coat) in action during the CHS Bronze Age project in 2015


The Paul Humphreys Memorial Library may be accessed during normal opening hours of Castlehill Heritage Centre (2-4pm every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday), on Monday evenings from 7-9pm and other times by special arrangement. The books may not be removed from the premises.

If you are interested in learning more about the Paul Humphreys Memorial Library or participating in archaeological projects run by Castlehill Heritage Society, please contact us HERE.

Dateline: Monday 15 August 2016

Drystone Wallers visit Castlehill

Drystone wallers from all over the British Isles recently took part in Northstone 58 degrees, a drystone walling festival in Caithness celebrating the skills and techniques of this ancient craft. A visit to Castlehill Heritage Centre was a key part of their busy schedule where they viewed the exhibition on the local 19th century flagstone industry and had a well earned snack.

Afterwards they were treated to a different view of Castlehill harbour which built to export locally worked flagstone all over the world. The Wick inshore rowing club brought along their skiff and offered visitors the chance to take an oar and see the harbour close up as they slipped through the harbour mouth and into the bay. By all accounts it was one of the festival’s highlights.

The Wick club is keen to offer the people of Castletown the chance to build their own rowing boat and join many other coastal villages who have done that. If you are interested in learning more about building your own boat, please contact us HERE.

Dateline: Friday 20 May 2016

Wedding Bliss!

Castletown Heritage Society was delighted to be asked host the wedding of Catherine Murray and Bruce Bain at Castlehill Heritage Centre. The happy event took place today in what threatened to be rather damp weather but turned out to be blessed with periods of brilliant sunshine!

This was our first venture as a wedding venue and thanks to the planning and foresight of Muriel, Catherine and her family it proved to be a resounding success, with very positive feedback from all who attended. The event was strongly 'flagstone' themed, a tribute by Catherine to her mother Muriel's long association with, and dedicated service to, Castletown Heritage Society. The superb 'handfasting' flagstone which played a central role in the humanist ceremony was commissioned specially for the event.

Drinks and canapes were served in the Heritage Garden after the ceremony, with guests mingling and exploring the floral displays and heritage garden features. The sheltered garden courtyard was warm and welcoming and everyone seemed happy to linger long into the afternoon. When the time came it took Hamish at full volume to 'gently' encourage everyone to head for the coaches to take them to the reception!

A great day was had by all.

Amost 90 guests were comfortably seated on the patio area, protected from the occasional showers by a large canopy over the whole area.

Catherine and Bruce prepare to take their vows

The 'handfasting' ceremony, symbolising commitment for "as long as love shall last."

The 'handfasting' ceremony features the tying of cords to bind the wrists of the bride and groom together

The odd shower early on did nothing to dampen the spirit of the occasion

The central stone circle, built during one of the flagstone dyking courses run at Castlehill, makes an ideal setting for the family photo

Scottish tunes and airs provided a sympathetic backdrop to the event

Once the sun came out, guests made full use of the Heritage Garden to mingle and enjoy a glass or two of 'bubbly'

A great day

The grown-ups will never notice....

The access path

Time to go....!

If you would be interested in holding a wedding or other special family occasion at Castlehill Heritage Centre we would be delighted to explore the art of the possible. Please contact us HERE.

Dateline: Thursday 12 May 2016

Exhibition Launch

Our year long LiDAR archaeological project investigation into the Bronze Age in Caithness drew to a close this evening with a talk by Dr Graeme Cavers at Castlehill Heritage Centre. Graeme presented a flavour of everything we’ve achieved over the last year and in particular, what we found during the fieldwork summer schools which ran between June and October 2015.

A key part of the evening was the launch of the project exhibition and interactive ipad app, designed to present our evidence for Bronze Age archaeology in Caithness. The exhibition and 3D display will be a permanent feature at Castlehill Heritage Centre, so do come along and explore for yourself!

The results of all the the fieldwork undertaken during the summer schools last year are presented in a formal project report which will be held in both local and national archives. The 104 page report is available to all and may be download HERE. (File size is almost 13Mb)

For an overview of all the activities undertaken over the past year visit the project website and the 2015 news archive on this website.

Dr Graeme Cavers presenting the round-up of the year long project

Listening attentively

Graeme demonstrates the interactive 3D model of the Bronze Age Roundhouse and project outcomes

The permanent display of the project activities and outcomes

We are deeply grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Caithness and North Sutlerland Fund for their support to this project.

Dateline: Wednesday 20 April 2016

Castletown Heritage Society AGM

Castletown Heritage Society held it's Annual General Meeting for 2016 on Wednesday 20th April. Chairman Roy Blackburn gave a comprehensive and entertaining account of the Society's activities over the past year, the main highlight of which was our archaeological project - A Window on the Hidden Bronze Age Landscape of Caithness. Roy's report also reminded us of the diversity and number of things we get up to!

Treasurer Jim Moar 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 2016-17 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
Hugh Crowden
Liz Geddes
It could be you, if you would like to volunteer!

Following the official proceedings guest speaker Lord Lieutenant of Caithness, Anne Dunnett entertained us with a fascinating talk “Feuar, Tenant, Wadsetter – An Insight into Land Tenure of Yesteryear”.

The evening was rounded off with light refreshements.

A good crowd of volunteers and members of the local community attended the AGM

Roy delivering his Chairman's Report

Jim detailing the Society's financial status

Interim Chairman Bill Johnston describes the one that got away

Lord Lieutenant Anne Dunnett

Anne makes a point!

Anne is steadily building up her knowledge of her family tree

The 2016 committee (Elspet Chapman absent from photo)

Photo: Liz Buchan


Dateline: Saturday 2 April 2016

Rag Rug workshop

The mission of Castletown Heritage Society is to preserve the character, history and traditions of the Village of Castletown and Parish of Olrig. One way we seek to fulfill this is through the delivery of traditional skills workshops, of which today's 'Rag Rug' making workshop, led by Clemency Crowe, was the latest in a series of successful events. We ran a similar workshop a few years ago (see news archive - here), and it was by popular demand that we organised a repeat event.

Dateline: Tuesday 15 March 2016

Evening talks stir much local interest

As has now become tradition, the annual programme of activities at Castlehill kicked off with a series of evening talks.

In January, Angela Simpson's talk entitled "Flows to the Future - a Landscape of Global Significance" explored the ecology of the Caithness Flow Country and role of the new RSPB visitor centre in excouraging the engagement and education of both local enthusiasts and visitors to the area.

February saw Caroline Wickham-Jones present a well researched account of how modern survey and analytical techiniques have enabled the dramatic topographical changes to the shape of Orkney and the Neolithic landscape at the Ness of Brodgar over the past 9,000 years to be charted and investigated. Her talk "Underwater Survey and Changing Landscape of Prehistoric Orkney" was well attended and attracted many follow-up questions.

In March, Muriel Murray presented the fascinating life and legacy of James Smith Esq. of Olrig.

Dateline: Sunday 17 January 2016

A grand day out

After the wet and miserable weather over the past couple of weeks it was with some welcome relief that Caithness enjoyed a weekend of brilliant sunshine, made all the more 'special' by a light dusting of snow and hard frosts. Your interpid reporter seized the opportunity to capture some local views from the top of Olrig Hill on what was a fine crisp and clear Sunday afternoon. The 360 degree views from the OS trig point capture the landscape of north and east Caithness in a nutshell.

Castletown nestled at the west end of Dunnet Bay, with Stroma, Orkney and the Pentland Firth beyond

Again looking east, with the lower of the two communications masts on top of Olrig Hill in the foreground

Looking north towards Dunnet Head with Orkney in the distance, and Quarryside in the foreground

To the west, Scrabster lies sheltered by Holburn Head

Thurso, with Weydale Quarries in the foreground

Taken into the sun with the twin peaks of Morven in the distance. At 706m Morven is the highest hill in Caithness and lies close to the border with Sutherland.

Dateline: Friday 08 January 2016

Bright and white for a fresh new season

It has been a hive of activity at Castlehill over the past few days. Jayne has been busy 'spring cleaning', Neil gave the biomass log boiler it's routine service, and Alan, Roy and Muriel have been freshening up the entrance foyer and corridor, the outside wall of which is now resplendent following two coats of brilliant white masonary paint. Working the paint into the roughcast pointing between the courses of the original flagstone wall took a fair bit of effort but the end result is quite impressive. There's always something to do!

Dateline: Sunday 03 January 2016

Happy New Year!

Whilst Caithness has not escaped a prolonged period of wind and heavy rain, we have at least been spared the dreadful flooding seen in some parts of the country further south. It has been a less than pleasant start to 2016, weather-wise. From a rather more cheery perspective there has been a steady flow of visitors to Castlehill Heritage Centre, keen to explore our new Winter Exhibition and enjoy a 'warm-up' thanks to our biomass heating system, which keeps the centre nice and toasty whatever the weather throws at us. A big thank-you must go to our stalwart team of volunteers who man (and woman) the Centre and feed the boiler with best quality logs from Dunnet Forestry Trust!

Boxing day opening

A jovial crowd of supporters and first time visitors came along to our traditional Boxing Day opening where they were greeted with a warm welcome, mincemeat pies, and mulled wine. As usual the afternoon proved to be a great success with stories exchanged, new friends made and acquaintences renewed.

A wide variety of artefacts were on display as part of our winter exhibition which depicts communications in the parish through the ages, from word of mouth and the written word, dispatch riders, beacons on hills, postal system, newspapers, telephone and fax, to radio, television, and the internet. Much excitement was generated by the live radio amateur station worked by members of our local radio amateur club. Contacts were made with fellow radio hams in no less than eighteen different countries world-wide - France, Belguim, USA (Texas), Germany, Lithuania, Switzerland, Portugal, Estonia, Iceland, Russia, Azores, Poland, England, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Holland, Italy and Spain.

Muriel, Elspet, Neil and Alan were hosts for the day, with Alan once again working his magic with the mulled wine. A big thanks to Muriel and her daughter Catherine as they were up into the wee small hours baking the mincemeat pies!

The 2016 programme of activities is starting to talk shape and will get underway later this month with the first of our series of evening talks:

Wednesday January 20th 2016 - Angela Simpson from Forsinard with a talk entitled "Flows to the Future - a Landscape of Global Significance".

Wednesday February 10th 2016 - Caroline Wickham-Jones on "Underwater Survey and Changing Landscape of Prehistoric Orkney".

Tuesday 15th March 2016 - Muriel Murray present the fascinating social history of James Smith Esq. of Olrig.

Wednesday 20th April 2016 will be our AGM where we will be delighted to welcome Anne Dunnett, Lord Lieutenant of Caithness as guest speaker. Her topic will be "Feuar, Tenant, Wadsetter - An Insight into Land Tenure of Yesteryear".

Also, after much searching and asking we have now found a tutor for the Rag Rug Workshop. Clemency Crowe has agreed to take a class on Saturday 2nd April 2016. This is likely to be a very popular workshop - click here to register early notification of interest to avoid disappointment.

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