Castletown Heritage Society News

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Dateline: Friday 29 December 2017

Boxing Day Magic

Our traditional Boxing Day opening proved to be especially popular this year, with a steady stream of visitors throughout the afternoon. Whilst the Farming and Crofting exhibition and displays generated lots of interest and feedback, the opportunity to have a go at some 'last century' children's and adult parlour games was irresistible for most. Spinning tops, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, Dominos, Draughts, card games and more - all without the aid of batteries or a wifi connection!

As usual, the mulled wine, tea and coffee and mincemeat pies went down a treat on a less than warm and cosy day. Thanks go to the committee members for providing the tasty bites and Hugh as mulled wine-meister.

The Farming and Crofting exhibition will be on display for a few weeks yet - miss it, miss out!

Dateline: Thursday 7 December 2017

Boxing Day Mulled Wine & Mince Pies

Why not come along and join us at Castlehill Heritage Centre for mulled wine, mince-meat pies and a good going chinwag on our traditional festive Boxing Day opening. Always a popular event!

Great opportunity to browse the Crofting and Farming exhibition.

Plus! Revisit your childhood with our selection of our traditional children's games!

Dateline: Sunday 19 November 2017

Crofting and Farming Exhibition Opens!

The latest exhibition in Castlehill Heritage Centre, 'Farming and Crofting' was formally opened today by Iain Morris of Olrig Mains. The exhibition offers a collection of photos and stories and the actual tools of work on and around the farm. A more inclusive title might be 'our agricultural heritage', but that belies the fact that agriculture - where our food comes from and how farmers struggle to balance 'efficiency' and 'sustainability'- two words that are hurled rather loosely from seemingly opposite camps - continue to affect us all even though we may not be aware of it.

The logic of people who actually do the work is undeniable - a few moments handling a peat spade explains what might otherwise seem an odd shape for a spade and why it is back breaking work. The display on casks reveals that a barrel is just one of many possible casks with distinct names based on the quantity they held. A 'firkin' for example holds nine gallons.

In addition to the many photos and their associated stories on dairying and peat cutting, horses and ploughs and managing the land, the exhibition, as always, prompted conversations. Iain Morris spoke about a chapter of evictions not familiar to most of the listeners. The evocative, sometimes heavy handed evictions of poor families from their crofts in the 18th and 19th centuries is familiar to most. Not as familiar are the later evictions, not by private landlords seeking to increase the yield of their land, but by bureaucrats breaking up large farms to make small holdings. Iain and his family were evicted twice for these ill-fated schemes.

The biggest change in Iain Morris's lifetime of farming, and one reinforced by the exhibition, is a change from labour-intensive agricultural practices. While everyone is familiar with the fact that Dounreay had an enormous impact on the life in Caithness, Iain offered some specific examples that helped bring it home. In the late 1950's, a farm worker earned about £5 10 shillings. Dounreay offered £8; a welder could earn £15. To understand what those numbers mean, Iain explained that a lamb usually sold for £5 and a fleece for £5. At that time, rent was based on the value of the wool crop. Sadly today the price of wool barely exceeds the cost of the shearing, but the price of wool for knitting (almost entirely spun outside the UK) has increased markedly since those days.

As fewer families are actively engaged in and on the land, the personal stories, the direct experience, disappear. We pass by fields and do not know the stories behind them - then and now. The intriguing exhibition at Castlehill and the stories it will prompt is a good step toward making our agricultural heritage manifest again so we can all make good decisions about how we want our community managed.

The Crofting and Farming exhibition will be open until January 18 every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday from 2-4 pm.

Special arrangements can be made for school groups or interested groups of individuals - just drop us an email here and we'll see what we can do.

Do go to see the exhibition and add your stories to the ones already there!

Dateline: 7 November 2017

Winter Series of Evening Talks

The winter programme of evening talks has now been finalised and kicks off in January 2018.

The first talk will be on Tuesday 16th January 2018 and will be given by Garance Warburton from the Caithness archive. This will be a chance to see some of the archive material linked to Olrig Parish. It will be a good opportunity to see these kind of documents that are kept in the archive.

The second talk is on Tuesday 13th February and will be given by Muriel Murray. It is titled “Following the Threads of History”. This will be a fascinating glimpse into local history from Neolithic to the present through preserved fragments of textile and their ghosts!

The third talk will be on Tuesday 20th March and will be given by F/Lt Don Mason RAF RV(Ret). It is titled “Their Past, Your Future”. Don Mason is a WW2 veteran who took part in the war as a pilot. He has a wonderful story to tell and also an exhibition to go with the talk. He is into his nineties and has a treasury of memories.

Our fourth and AGM talk will be on Wednesday 25th April and will be given by Alan McIvor. It is a talk about Old St Peter’s Church in Thurso and the Church of Caithness. We all know the church is there but do we know much of it’s history. This will be most informative and will put the old church into context.

All talks will take place in Castlehill Heritage Centre. Detailed times and programme will be published in due course - watch this space! To find out more click HERE

Dateline: Sunday 10 September 2017

Foraging Workshop - Fine Cuisine!

Despite a rather wet morning, an enthusiastic group, children and adults, gathered for a foraging workshop led by Alasdair and Helen (Earth for Life). Participants were surprised at the number of edible and medicinal plants revealed to them on their walk through Dunnet forest. By midday the rain had stopped, the sun shone and the fruits of the foraging was laid out in the log cabin.

Alasdair and Helen showed how to light a fire without matches and once the water boiled, all enjoyed their choice of tea from the foraged leaves. Cooking followed and we learned and helped to prepare nettle and garlic omelette, sorrel and clover salad, nettle burgers and rowan bread. Both adults and children tasted, some warily but most came back for seconds!

It was a wonderful experience, interesting, informative, social and appealing to and involving all ages. there was a unanimous request for a repeat foraging venture in Spring.

Dateline: Monday 04 September 2017

A pot of gold at Castlehill?

The sun bursting through the clouds after a heavy shower this afternoon produced a delightful double rainbow over Castlehill Heritage Centre and Dunnet Bay beyond.

A matter of right time, right place.... always carry a camera!

Dateline: Monday 14 August 2017

Make the most of summer - Cream teas at Castlehill

Returning by popular demand, we will be serving Cream Teas at Castlehill on every Sunday afternoon in August .

Delicious home made scones and cakes. Guaranteed to get the taste buds dancing!

A perfect way to complement a Sunday afternoon stroll round the Flagstone trail or a meander round to enjoy the sights and perfumes of the superb Heritage Garden.

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Flagstone Exhibition - Now On!

Our very popular summer exhibition returns, featuring themed displays of artefacts, photographs and stories exploring the fascinating industrial and social history of the Flagstone Industry in Caithness.

Open every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 2pm - 4pm.

To find out more click HERE

Dateline: Saturday 3 June 2017

10th Anniversary Celebrations

This year we celebrated 10 action packed years since we completed the conversion of some redundant farm buildings at Castlehill into Castlehill Heritage Centre. From humble beginnings the Centre has gone from strength to strength. Highlights have included a visit by HRH The Duke of Rothsay!

We held an Open Day on Sat 3 June, in the middle of a month-long an exhibition showing the development of the building and garden from a derelict shell to the present set up.

Chairman Roy Blackburn kicked things off with a fascinating potted history of the activities, workshops and exhibitions that have been held in the Centre since opening. To find out more about what we have been up to, click here. Hugh Crowden followed up with a comprehensive yet humourous summary of the hard work undertaken by a small band of dedicated committee and society members to convert the steading and dairy into the multi-purpose facility we know today.

The Open Day was then officially opened by Lord Thurso who, after a supportive and informative speech cut the superb cake baked and iced by Elspet Chapman for the occasion. And very tasty it was too!

Helping us celebrate the day were displays and activities from other groups who use and support the Centre including Caithness Astronomy Group, North Highland Woodturners, Dunnet Forestry Trust, Caithness Ornithologists (SOC), Radio hams, Olrig and District Bee Keepers Association and the art class.

Dateline: Monday 15 May 2017

Ceramic Button workshops get off to a cracking start

It is always satisfying to find a local tutor for a workshop at Castlehill. Castletown ceramicist Miriam Nicol is no stranger to the centre. At our Boxing Day party she provided a festive activity making seasonal decorations in the shape of ceramic angels.

She has recently returned to instruct a large number of eager participants from all over the county to make artistically decorated ceramic buttons. Once the clay is worked and rolled, shapes cut out and dried, the buttons are painted before the final glazing and firing. The final result can be used to decorate a corsage, a hat or simply hung from ribbon as a pendant.


By popular demand Miriam has agreed to run a pre-Christmas workshop on the creation of small ceramic gifts. Watch this space for details of the event!

To find out more and register interest, click HERE

Dateline: Tuesday 25 April 2017

Castlehill Heritage Centre is 10 Years Old!

This year we will celebrate 10 action packed years since we completed the conversion of some redundant farm buildings at Castlehill into Castlehill Heritage Centre. From humble beginnings the Centre has gone from strength to strength. Highlights have included a visit by HRH The Duke of Rothsay!

To celebrate we are having an open day at 1pm on Saturday 3 June, which will be opened by Lord Thurso as part of a month-long exhibition showing the development of the building and garden from a derelict shell to the present set up. Come and learn more about our future plans!

Plus! Displays and activities from other groups who use the Centre including Caithness Astronomy Group, North Highland Woodturners, Dunnet Forestry Trust, Ornithologists (SOC), Radio Hams and art class. Refreshments available.

Some memories:

Doors Open Day, August 04

Electricity and lights are go! Apr 06

Lining and insulation of exhibition space underway - Jan 07

Kitchen installation underway - Apr 07

Operational! - May 07

Tidying of the courtyard heritage garden - July 2010

To find out more and register interest, click HERE

Dateline: Friday 17 February 2017

Thank You!

Since first opening our doors to the public some ten years ago, we have always been very grateful for feedback from our visitors as to what we are doing right and to help us identify areas where we could improve the visitor experience. Castlehill Heritage Centre has always totally run by volunteers, so whilst browsing our current Visitors Book the other day it was truly humbling to read some of the feedback that people have taken the time and effort to record there. Click the images to read some random examples.

Thank you so much, and haste ye back!

Dateline: Saturday 11 February 2017

The Bothy Night - another winner!

Our traditional annual Bothy Nicht workshop had become something of an institution, but in 2013 we decided to let the event rest for a while. The Bothy Night was clearly missed as members of the local community regularly asked when we were going to run them again. The decision to revive the event for 2017 was rewarded with a capacity crowd - the gentle blend of information, learning, a good supper and wholesome entertainment seems to be a successful formula, and Saturday's event was no exception!

Host for the evening was committee member Jayne Blackburn, who inbetween acts entertained the audience 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.

A veritable cornucopia of local entertainers kept everyone toe tapping and joining in throughout the evening - Clapshot, Joan Elder, the young and very promising Castletown Buskers, Denis Manson on accordian, Muriel reading stories and poems, Joanne Carr and friends with some fine folk tunes, Mary Smith and Joan plus the inimitable whistling Issy Curry, accompanied by Nancy Foggo.

CHS Chairman Roy Blackburn rounded the evening off with heartfelt thanks to all the entertainers and eveyone who came along to the event. Next year perhaps?

The audience gathers in preparation for an evening of entertainment, education and a tasty supper

Jayne Blackburn explains the social history and living conditions of Bothies

Clapshot kick off the first session with a fine selection of tunes, with Danny O'Hagan on guitar and Roger Broughton on banjo.

Joanne Carr and friends

The Castletown Buskers

Nancy Foggo accompanies the inimitable Issy in a whistling extravaganza

Dateline: Sunday 5 February 2017

All Change - 'Life at Home' exhibition draws to a close

Our fascinating exhibition illustrating everyday life at home in Castletown in by-gone times has had a very successful run since December. The eclectic mix of artefacts from the Society's extensive collection of objects, appliances, tools, furniture, photographs, newspapers and other domestic ephemera went down a treat, with many very positive messages being recorded in our Visitors Book.

The next themed exhibition is currently being set up and we expect his to be open to the public around the 22nd of February. Hatches, Matches and Dispatches will explore the rites of passage through life and features a wide range of artefacts and ephemora from our extensive collection of items. From christening gowns, wedding dresses and bier stretchers, to stories of growing up and old in Castletown and Olrig parish.

Dateline: January 2017

2017 Programme of Events

The 2017 programme of activities is starting to talk shape and will get underway later this month with the first of our series of evening talks:

Tuesday 17 January - Ice and Fire

An illustrated talk by Castletown Heritage Society committee members Neil Buchan and Elspet Chapman exploring the different styles and approaches to the preservation and presentation of cultural heritage in the diverse climates and ethnicity of Iceland and Cyprus.


Wednesday 1 March - Highland Railway Memories

John Macdonald started his career as a signalman at Georgemas in 1956, later working at Perth, Blair Athol, Aviemore, Beauly and the Kyle line. John's illustrated talk will include memories of how the railway worked in the age of steam and the transition to the first diesel engines. Includes some rare images taken by an engine driver in Helmsdale on probably the last goods train under steam.

Tuesday 25 April - What ever happened to Janet Oal?

Muriel Murray presents another of her fascinating talks exploring the life and times of another of the more interesting characters from the local area. The talk will follow the Castletown Heritage Society AGM which will take place at 7.30pm.

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

For a full listing and latest news of events scheduled for 2017 click HERE

If you are interested in learning more about building your own boat, please contact us HERE.