Castletown Heritage Society News

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Dateline: Wednesday 13 March 2024

Flow Country talk a great success

Big thank you to Milly from RSPB Forsinard for a hugely interesting talk last night. Who knew there was a blanket bog in the Congo! That a blanket bog heaves the odd sigh. Or that we have to maintain the peatlands or else the malevolent genie (carbon) will escape from the bottle.

If you missed this one, Milly is returning in the autumn. She should have news of their UNESCO Heritage Site bid.


Dateline: Saturday 2 March 2024

WWII Coastal Watcher memorabilia donation

Today we welcomed the three daughters of Dorothy Calder who was a young woman from Murrayfield, Castletown in the 1940s. They were eager for the war-time role of their mother to be honoured and publicised. Dorothy was one of a small group of Coastal Watchers who observed aircraft and ships in the Pentland Firth from a base on top of Olrig Hill. They were led by Stroma Sinclair, whose father Admiral Edwyn Sinclair built Dwarwick House aka the House of the Northern Gate. Completing those from Castletown were Lizzie Junor and Vida Houston. They had an envied reputation in accurate spotting and skilled identification. Among several objects relating to her time in the Coastal Watchers, her daughters brought Dorothy's leather satchel for carrying her pencils, pens and a tiny notebook containing beautifully hand-drawn images of the sea and aircraft to spot and report.

We at Castlehill were particularly delighted to accept the objects on long term loan as a new display area in the centre is almost ready for visitors. This will focus on the role of RAF Castletown and the impact the WWII had on the life of the village. Dorothy Calder's memorabilia will help to complete this story.


Dateline: Friday 1 March 2024

Standing room only at Drew's talk!

It was standing room only as the last attendees arrived for the talk on RAF Castletown by Drew Guttridge on Tuesday 27 February. His fascinating presentation included photos, plans and contemporary aerial shots of the aerodrome. Drew took the audience through the early days of its birth from the compulsory purchase of the land, its necessary drainage and the laying of runways using rubble from the slag-heaps dating from the days of the flagstone industry.

As squadrons arrived, work on the layout and surfacing continued. Drew outlined the types of action undertaken by each squadron and the aircraft used by each. The roll call of illustrious visitors from princes to air vice -marshalls and squadron leaders emphasises the importance placed by the Ministry of Defence on this remote and relatively tiny airbase. Gradually the need for the site as an RAF base faded and landings of aircraft diminished. For Drew the last arrival was symbolic of the future of air power. A Hoverfly helicopter from 771 Squadron landed in 1945. It later became the first aircraft to land on an ordinary ship, proving the advantages of manoeuverable helicopters in years to come.

The audience greatly appreciated the amount of research done by Drew over time and the engaging way it was presented. As CHS Chairman Hugh Crowden said in his thanks, it is important that people go home and tell the next generation about this vital spell in the history of our village.


Dateline: Wednesday 07 February 2024

Watch Out - Latest Podcast

While checking her watch, Muriel ponders on the local history of the timepiece.

CLICK HERE to listen.

 

 

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Evening talk on RAF Castletown - Tuesday 27 February 7.30 pm

The outbreak of World War II thrust Caithness into the front line, not least due to the threat of German invasion from Norway. In late 1939 the site for a new airfield for fighter aircraft was chosen at Castletown and, on 7 June 1940, just one day before the fall of Norway, RAF Castletown became an operational fighter station of No 13 Group, Fighter Command.

Drew Guttridge reveals the fascinating story of RAF Castletown - its birth, facilities, operations and demise.


Dateline: Sunday 07 January 2024

All at Sea at Castlehill

Our highly successful Castlehill House exhibition has now drawn to a close. Castlehill Heritage Centre will be closed to visitors for the next two weeks to enable our latest exhibition "All at Sea" to be installed, and will re-open on Saturday 20th January.

All at sea” will look at the maritime heritage of the area with stories of heroes and villains at sea, the earliest examples of sea going craft, the importance of our local harbour and much much more.

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New Year visitors to Castlehill House Exhibition

Among the many visitors to our Castlehill House themed exhibition over the festive season, young Brooke Bain was delighted to discover and play with dolls furniture which had belonged to her great grandmother in the early 1900s.

The exhibition, which closed this weekend, featured photographs, documentation, stories and memorabilia from the era when Castlehill House was the centre of the Traill Estate. James Traill's house proudly overlooked Castlehill Harbour, which was purpose-built to enable the export of finished flagstone from the adjacent Castlehill Pavement Works. Sadly the house fell into ruin following a devastating fire in 1967.


Dateline: Sunday 24 December 2023

Merry Christmas from Castletown Heritage Society

Castletown Heritage extends seasons greetings to all our friends, members, visitors and supporters.

Castlehill Heritage Centre will be open as usual over the festive season - why not drop in to explore the Castlehill House exhibition - Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays 2-4pm.

Or join us for our special Boxing Day opening 2-4pm - enjoy some mulled wine, mincmeat pies whilst exploring the special display of artwork from members of the Castlehill Monday Night Art Group - you might be amazed!


Dateline: 21 December 2023

Refurbished WWII display area starting to take shape

Thanks to the efforts of volunteers Neil, Hugh and Roy, the creation of an improved display area within Castlehill Heritage Centre have taken a step forward. After three days of concerted activity, bare stone walls within a section of the Archaeological Research Facility currently used to display the Merlin Engine have been framed out, plaster boarded and taped ready for painting. Wiring has been installed to allow for socket outlets and radiant heating plus connection to our IT network. The aim is to transform this area to create enhanced displays focusing on Castletown's history during the Second World War.

As well as telling the story of our much admired Rolls-Royce engine from a Hurricane fighter aircraft which flew from RAF Castletown, there will be a tribute to Flight Officer Don Mason from Thurso. We are delighted to have been given a selection of war-time memorabilia from his days as a pilot and navigator in the RAF. A new interpretive section will also portray life in Castletown village during 1939-1945 and the impact of the nearby RAF Castletown, which was built on Thurdistoft farm.

True to our environmentally friendly credentials the purchase of new materials in the refurbishment is being kept to a minimum by the judicious re-use of existing stocks of wood etc., and upcycling of unused cabinets and such like.

Display area before

Display area before

Framing in place

 

Installing the insulation

Plasterboard complete

Plasterboard complete with inset display cabinet

Old bookcase repurposed as an inset display cabinet

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Welcome!

We are delighted to have made contact with Gary Eisenhauer, micropalaeontologist, who has recently moved to the area. He has been introduced to the Jack Saxon Collection of fossils curated by Castletown Heritage Society. Gary hopes to begin working in the New Year on the plan to preserve, display and interpret the world class collection for a wide audience.


Dateline: 20 November 2023

Latest podcast released - 'Daisy's Map'

Join Muriel as she tells the story of Daisy's Map. 100 years ago Margaret Sinclair (known as Daisy) emigrated to Canada as a twelve year old. Homesick for Castletown she drew a map in pencil of the village. Now the map has returned to Caithness and provides an insight into life as Daisy saw it. Click here to play episode


Dateline: 16 November 2023

Muriel nails it with John Calder of Dunnet evening talk

Tuesday night saw the first of our winter series of evening talks. An appreciative audience were taken through the life story of John Calder -a crofter from Dunnet, born in 1785. Subtitled "Guest of Napoleon" the career of John Calder on land and sea was presented by Muriel Murray. The content was based on previously assembled historical notes and family recollections, and bolstered by new research. It was particularly gratifying that many Calder descendants from Dunnet and Castletown were at the talk to learn about their ancestor. During conversations afterwards new information on the story emerged from members of the Calder family!

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"Caithness Birds" by Castletown Primary School pupils on display

Visitors to Castlehill Heritage Centre can admire pieces of art work done by pupils from Castletown Primary School in a special display entitled "Caithness Birds". Mrs Clarke from Dunnet has combined her joint interest in bird life and art to encourage the youngsters to depict some locally seen birds. Some examples are shown below - come along and see the rest!

The local branch of Scottish Ornithological Club meets at Castlehill during winter months. Look out for their series of regular talks and filmshows.


Dateline: 07 November 2023

Evening talk - John Calder of Dunnet

In the first of our winter 2023/24 series of evening talks, Muriel Murray pieces together what is known of John Calder born 1785 and brings to life the story of this local sea-farer as he finds himself caught up in momentous events.

Perhaps of particular interest if your name is Calder!

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Latest exhibition unveiled - The life and times of Castlehill House

After a very successful showing of our annual Flagstone exhibition over the summer, it's all change at Castlehill with the opening of a fascinating exhibition exploring Castlehill House and policies, from its beginning in 1770 to its sad demise in 1967.

Come along and discover information on the owners, guests, employees and their lifestyle; examine artefacts reflecting life over the years; and ponder reminiscences from those who recall the house and estate. There's a lot more to Castlehill House than meets the eye!


Dateline: 13 September 2023

Cruise Ship Visitors

The nearby port of Scrabster, just seven miles west of Castlehill, is now well established as a regular port of call for cruise ships. The local attractions for visitors are obvious - The Castle and Gardens of Mey, Mary Anne's Cottage, the Rock Rose Distillery, and Wick Heritage Museum to name but a few. Thanks to the efforts of our stalwart committee over the past couple of years, Castlehill Heritage Centre has gradually been added to the options available to those cruise passengers wishing to make local visits within their time-restricted schedule.

We were delighted recently to welcome some visitors from the cruise ship Hebridean Skye, who arrived at Castlehill in glorious sunshine, and were able to take full advantage of the glorious blooms in our Heritage Garden.


Dateline:20 August 2023

Cream teas proving as popular as ever

Of all our annual events, the cream teas served every Sunday in August always prove very popular - friends old and new meet up for a chat and to enjoy some good old fashioned home baked scones and cakes. This year has proved no exception, the weather so far being kind enough to enable seating outside in the heritage garden, which is proudly showing its late summer blooms. We are most grateful to Helen and her team of volunteers for organising these ever popular events.

The first guests arrive

Great to be able to enjoy the sun in the heritage garden

Both new and familiar faces

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Visitor strikes it lucky researching his family history

One of our international visitors today turned out to be a descendant of James Smith of Olrig (1760 - 1853) who had emigrated to New Zealand in the early 1800s. Our visitor was delighted to discover that not only had we amassed an extensive archive of information on James Smith Esq, but that Muriel had delivered an evening talk at Castlehill on the life of Smith in 2016.

As he was staying in the village for a few days we were delighted to provide extended access to the archive to enable him to gather information on his family history.


Dateline: 30 July 2023

Map conservation underway

The volunteers at Castlehill are all too aware of the responsibility they accept when donations of photos, paintings, documents, objects and maps are received from members of the public. Very often this involves the regular updating of catalogued material. We are indebted to Margaret S for undertaking this task.

As can be seen in the photograph to the left, sometimes old maps and charts become fragile and brittle and require painstaking care, repair and special storage. Mary, Jayne and Muriel are undertaking this slow business using the skills acquired at a two day hands-on workshop held at Castlehill last year. The workshop was led by Helen Creasy, paper conservator at the Scottish Conservation Studio in Hopetoun House, Edinburgh.


Dateline: 28 July 2023

Give and Take

As well as hosting exhibitions on local history and serving delicious August cream teas, Castletown Heritage Society is frequently involved in local research on behalf of visitors both real and virtual. Recently we have provided assistance through our vast archive of information on local people and places over many centuries. For example we have helped a university student towards a thesis on the use of hedging in Caithness, delved into the history of a croft house on Birklehill for its renovator, and produced information and memories of the former farm of Harland, Castletown for a descendant of the family brought up there in the 1800s.

Extract from OS Map dated 1873 showing Harland Farm to the south-east of Castletown

Map extract reproduced by kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

Extract from OS Map dated 1966 showing that all traces of the main Harland Farm buildings have disappeared following the aquisition of the farm grounds by UKAEA to construct six houses for senior manager grades working at the nearby Dounreay Experimental Reactor Establishment. The feature arrowed may relate to a farm related structure constructed between 1873 and 1966.

Map extract reproduced by kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

Aerial photograph taken in 2016 showing further housing development within the plot by Highland Council and DM Geddes. The six UKAEA houses (now privately owned) are at the bottom left of the image. The remains of the feature identified in the previous map still exist at the arrowed location.

Aerial photograph reproduced by kind permission of N Buchan

On the other hand we have been given a large quantity of documents on one of Castlehill's schooners the "Barrogill Castle", researched by the great-grandson of its former crew-member and owner. This welcome resource has been added to our collection of stories on the days of sail from our once busy harbour.


Dateline: 05 July 2023

Latest podcast - Lost in the Post

When Muriel is handed a letter, handwritten by a Caithness businessman in early 1806, the upsetting contents prompt her to find out more. Her investigations reveal that the social consequences arising from the north mail robbery of 1805 stretched far beyond mere financial loss. To hear the episode CLICK HERE.

Don't forget to visit our digital media page to explore our range of local heritage podcasts and videos.

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Hayve Basket Making Workshop a resounding success!

Strong fingers, a good memory and focused concentration were all required over the three day weekend workshop at Castlehill, as ten participants from all over Britain gathered to make rush baskets. Under the tuition of acclaimed basket maker Tim Johnston now based in Spain, bundles of locally harvested soft rush were slowly transformed into round baskets known as a "hayve". These containers were originally used by Caithness fishermen for carrying bait. The technique is ancient and intricate. Tutor Tim Johnston challenged the participants on day one, saying "This is not an easy basket to weave, but it is so important to bring the skill and knowledge of its making back to Caithness, its home."

During a well-attended public talk on the Saturday night Tim explained the research he had done on the technique, known as Neolithic braid used in the basket's construction, examples of which are found in diverse locations from Africa to Europe. Apart from a similar heather made basket in Orkney, no other example has been found in Britain. His investigations continue and he is anxious to appeal to any locals who may have seen such baskets, to get in touch with Castlehill Heritage Centre.

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Blooming Lovely!

Whilst wlaking through the heritage Garden at Castlehill Heritage Centre Muriel captured these images of some of the lovely blooms on display.

 


Dateline: 18 June 2023

Never a dull moment at Castlehill!

One of the things we love at Castlehill Heritage Centre is hearing the stories of our visitors and sharing our knowledge of the village of Castletown and the Parish of Olrig. A core passion of our team is assisting visitors with information, if we can, to assist with their family history research.

A recent example was the Taylor family (left) from Canada who visited the centre last Thursday. Their ancestor was born in Hayfield farm in the 1880s and emigrated aged 19 to work on the Canadian Pacific railway. We were able to direct them to places of family interest and gave them several new leads to help piece their family history together.

Usually our volunteers are able to show visitors examples of old local photos from our collection. This weekend however a couple from the south arrived with a vintage family photo album. They hoped to identify some of the people and places on the photos to piece together their family story. We were delighted that the album contained some Castletown images we had not seen before like this family group (right) outside Manu House, Murrayfield.

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A team from the Environmental Research Institute (ERI), based in Thurso, visited Castlehill Heritage Centre on Friday 9th June. They were holding their end of year session so each group could report back on the year’s activities and accomplishments. They enjoyed the home baking and tea and coffee provided by Castlehill volunteers. Following the formal activities they had a quiz and looked around the Flagstone Industry Exhibition and the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. The group included overseas students from Serbia, France, Portugal and other countries.

Feedback was very positive with the ERI team saying they thoroughly enjoyed their visit to Castlehill and gave many thanks for the informative information and the beautiful home baking which went down a treat! The volunteers were also thanked for all being such lovely hosts and looking after them.

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We were delighted last week to host a much awaited visit of members of Aberdeen Geological Society to Castlehill. In order to take a professional look at our recently acquired collection of fossils fish collected over a life-time by renowned local paleontologist Jack Saxon, three eminent members of AGS spent a full day at Castlehill. They helped us categorise elements of the collection and identify unrecorded specimens. They advised on storage and display of the specimens. With their wealth of expertise they suggested ways of interpreting the development of life on earth through the study of fossil fish.

Bob Davidson and Alan Holmes of Aberdeen Geological Society helping to identify some species in our Saxon Fossil Collection

Tiny, but as it turns out, very significant

Sidney Johnston labelling some specimens

Another good example

Although there is still much to do before the collection is ready for public viewing, it promises to become a hugely important part of the offering of CHS and the North of Scotland.


Dateline: 2 June 2023

1st Castletown Brownies and Rainbows help in the Heritage Garden

1st Castletown Rainbows and Brownies visited Castlehill Heritage Centre this week to help in our Heritage Garden. They spruced up their adopted 'pollinators' flowerbed and checked up on the status of the insect hotel they installed a couple of years ago. They all got stuck in with weeding the gravelled areas and watering the flowers. Well done girls!!

Photos: Alex Groves

Dateline: 18 May 2023

Wick Befrienders visit Castlehill

Today we were delighted to welcome a group from the Wick branch of the Befrienders organisation, who enjoyed exploring our 100 Years Not Out farming exhibition. The North Highland Woodturners Association assisted with the visit, laying on a hands-on demonstration of wood turning techniques, with each visitor making their own wood-turned keyring. Photos: Muriel Murray


Dateline: 14 May 2023

Castletown Heritage Society AGM 2023

The Annual General Meeting of Castletown Heritage Society took place at Castlehill Heritage Centre on Wednesday 26 April 2023 at 7.30pm. Approximately thirty-five persons were in attandance. Following acceptance of the Chairman's Report presented by outgoing Chairman Wendy Newton, and the Annual Accounts by Hon Secretary Jayne Blackburn, Neil Buchan took the chair as Interim Chairman for the election of the following officers and members of the Management Committee:

Chairman
Hugh Crowden
Vice-Chairman
Roy Blackburn
Hon Treasurer

Helen Gunn

Hon Secretary
Jayne Blackburn

Committee

Elizabeth Geddes
Christine Hornby
Joanne Howdle (elected in absentia)
Mary Humphreys
Alice Morrison
Muriel Murray

The formal business of the meeting being over, the audience were treated to a well researched and thoroughly engaging presentation by local historian Andrew (Drew) Guttridge on the secret history of the World War II military installations that were constructed and operated on and around the Dunnet Head peninsula between 1940 and 1946. Following a lively Q&A session, Drew was awarded a hearty thanks for his extremely informative presentation.

If you would like to get involved with, or wish to find out more about the activities of Castletown Heritage Society, please contact us HERE.


Dateline: 7 May 2023

Coronation Exhibition at Castlehill

In support of the events taking place over 'Coronation Weekend' in Castletown (and indeed throughput the UK) to celebrate the coronation of King Charles III, we staged a small display of coronation themed artefacts and memorabilia, examples of which are shown below.

Photos: Muriel Murray

Dateline: 03 May 2023

Rush Basket Making Course returns to Castlehill

We are delighted to announce that at the beginning of July we will be hosting another of our very popular rush basket making courses led by internationally acclaimed basket maker Tim Johnson. Tim, from the Isle of Wight, has travelled the world studying and teaching his art. This will be Tim Johnson's fifth visit to Castlehill as part of the ongoing programme of traditional skills tuition organised by Castletown Heritage Society. His focus this time will be on the manufacture of a Hayve, a unique style of bait basket. The hands-on course will be run over three days - Friday 30th June, Saturday 1st July and Sunday 2nd July, from 9:30am to 5:00pm each day.

The tuition fees are £50 per day so £150 for the full course. Payment in full must be made and cleared by 1st June. Tea/coffee and biscuits will be provided throughout the day, however participants should bring their own lunch.

The course will be limited to ten participants and places are already filling fast! If you wish to take part, and for further details, please contact us HERE.


Dateline: 7 April 2023

The Art of Husbandry

It is so satisfying when things come together unexpectedly. Regular visitor to Castlehill Heritage centre and bee-keeper Robin Inglis recently brought a selection of items to donate to the society. All very welcome were vintage bee-keeping magazines and equipment, a 19th century pyrography kit and a few books on agriculture. But what caught our attention was not the iconic and weighty "Watson and More - The Science and Practice of British Agriculture" published in 1949 and used by students until fairly recently, but a modest leather bound volume entitled "The Art of Husbandry" by J Mortimer. The writer dedicated it to the Royal Society.

Consisting of ten sections on every aspect of farming imaginable, from land types to pests and from farm buildings to stock varieties, it was written towards the end of the 1600s and was first published in 1705. The edition we were given was the fourth and appeared in 1716, illustrating the increasing interest in the systematic and scientific study of farming at the time. Here in Caithness early experiments in agriculture really began in the 1790s with innovators like Sir John Sinclair of Thurso East and James Traill of Castlehill.

A closer examination of our volume revealed handwritten notes on the frontispiece in faded ink. It was just possible to make out that they were farming records, giving for example the price of white and black oats in 1837 and '38. The signature "David Banks" was also visible in an equally faded ink. This confirmed what we had been told by Robin Inglis, the donor. The volume had belonged to the Banks family of Sunnybrae, East Mey, in Caithness. Robin had been gifted the book as it contained a section on bee-keeping.

The reason for the book having special significance today is that our current exhibition at Castlehill Heritage Centre features farming and crofting over the years. Alongside our display of old implements, artefacts and photographs we are hosting a wide selection of memorabilia loaned by members past and present of the Young Farmers Association. They are celebrating the 100 year anniversary of the movement which was started in Lanergill, Watten, Caithness by farmer John Robson of Lynegar.

The image to the right shows a plaque erected in February 2013 inside Watten Village Hall commemorating the foundation of that very first Young Farmers Club in 1923.

The image on the left features Bower Young Farmer Jak Murray reading our copy of “The Art of Husbandry".


Dateline: 30 March 2023

Clyne Heritage Society Celebrates 25 Years

Our good friends at Clyne Heritage Society in Brora are this month celebrating their 25 year anniversary. In order to mark this significant occasion they have been holding a series of special events during March, with a further fifteen events still to take place in April - see the schedule on right.

If you would like to take part in any of the activities and help them celebrate simply drop them a line at info@clyneheritage.com or call on 01408 621338.

Well done everyone! Here's to the next 25 years!

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Castletown Heritage Society AGM

The Annual General Meeting of Castletown Heritage Society will be held at Castlehill Heritage Centre on Wednesday 26 April 2023 at 7.30pm.

All Members, friends, supporters and interested parties from the Caithness community are welcome.

The guest speaker will be Andrew Guttridge.


Dateline: 27 March 2023

A Unique Pipe Banner is added to our Collections at Castlehill

A pipe banner is attached to the bass drone of a set of bagpipes, and usually displays heraldic insignia showing the affiliation of the pipe band concerned - clan, regimental, etc. A new addition to Castlehill Heritage Centre is a pipe banner which captures part of local military history through this heraldry. In 1908 the Territorial Force of part-time soldiers was formed from the existing volunteer force. The new units became battalions of the local regular regiment, which in the case of the north Highlands was the Seaforth Highlanders.

There were three territorial battalions of the Seaforths - the 4th in Ross-shire, the 5th in Sutherland and Caithness, and the 6th in Morayshire. All Seaforth battalions, with one exception, wore MacKenzie tartan, the MacKenzie stag's head badge, and used the MacKenzie motto Cuidich 'n Righ 'Aid the King' - the Seaforths had originally been raised by Kenneth MacKenzie, Earl of Seaforth. The exception was the 5th. They wore the Sutherland 'cat-a-mountain' badge, the Sutherland tartan, and the Sutherland motto Sans Peur 'Without Fear'. This was because the Dukes of Sutherland had been closely associated with the battalion's volunteer predecessors and it was seen as appropriate to commemorate and continue the association. All three Seaforth territorial battalions served on the Western Front in WW1. Some territorial units were amalgamated as part of post-war reductions in the Territorial Force. These included the 4th and 5th, who were merged to form the 4/5th Seaforths.

The pipe banner on display at Castlehill is from that period and so it carries the badges of the two original battalions. On one side is the standard Seaforth badge of the stag's head and motto together with a ducal coronet and the letter 'L'. This is the cipher of Leopold, Duke of Albany (a grandson of Queen Victoria) and refers to one of the Seaforth's subsidiary titles - 'the Duke of Albany's'. The background colour of the banner is a reference to the Seaforth's other subsidiary title - 'the Ross-shire Buffs'. On the other side of the banner is the unique Sutherland cat-a-mountain badge of the 5th Seaforths. As WW2 approached the 4/5th split into its original two battalions - both would serve in North Africa and Europe. Not only does this pipe banner capture the history of the unit, but also part of the military history of a notable Castletown soldier.

Concealed behind the Union flag on both sides of the banner are the embroidered initials 'GDKM' - Lieutenant Colonel GDK Murray commanded the 4/5th in the 1930s, and this was his personal pipe banner.

GDK Murray pictured when a Second Lieutenant

George David Keith Murray - widely known as 'Rogie' - was born into a farming and merchant family in Castletown in 1898. In 1915 he enlisted in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders and very quickly, just shy of 17 and a half, was commissioned in the Seaforth Highlanders. He was soon in France with the regiment's 8th Battalion. A week short of his twentieth birthday, the London Gazette announced him being awarded the Military Cross 'For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in a raid on the enemy trenches. When his party was held up by machine-gun fire he forced his way through the enemy's wire and bombed a machine gun. Finding that the rest of the party had been forced back, he rallied them and twice led them to the assault under heavy machine-gun fire. He displayed magnificent coolness and determination under most difficult circumstances.' His wartime service was also rewarded by the French. His 'resilience, valour and continuous good humour in the face of adversity in pursuit of the enemy' gained him the Legion D'Honneur, and his 'devotion to duty on the field of battle during military offensive' the Croix de Guerre with palms for gallantry.

After the war Rogie Murray continued his military service as a territorial in the 5th and then 4/5th Seaforths, which he commanded from 1932 to 1937. During the Second World War he raised and commanded a territorial anti-aircraft artillery, and after the war served on the staff of the Military Governor of Osnabruck - a job he relished, finding that it was relatively easy for a Scot to work with the Germans locals. He remained involved with the territorials until 1953, while also playing a large part in the farming and civic life of Caithness. He was knighted in 1959 and served as Lord Lieutenant of Caithness from 1964 until his death the following year.

Rogie's son Keith still lives in Castletown and is particularly proud of the pipe banner which belonged to his father Brig Sir Keith Murray. He thanked Alan Bruce of CHS for his work on researching and displaying the item.


Dateline: 22 March 2023

Forss Young Farmers at Castlehill

A group from Forss Young Farmers visited Castlehill this afternoon. After perusing the "Mucking in for 100 Years" exhibition they had a go at the “guess the object “ competition and tried their hand at raking hay the old way.


Dateline: 19 March 2023

Latest Podcast - A Load of Old Rope

Rope is a commodity that is perhaps taken for granted - it is readily commercially available with sizes and specifications suitable for a myriad of applications, such as securing loads, hauling fishing nets or towing vehicles. Murial takes us back to a time before the era of industrially manufactured rope, to when rope and string was made from whatever materials were available to hand locally, such as straw, rushes, grasses, and even daffodil leaves!

To hear the episode, click HERE

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Castletown Heritage Society AGM

The Annual General Meeting of Castletown Heritage Society will be held at Castlehill Heritage Centre on Wednesday 26 April 2023 at 7.30pm.

All Members, friends, supporters and interested parties from the Caithness community are welcome.

The guest speaker will be Andrew Guttridge.


Dateline: 08 March 2023

Weekend visitors meet Bronco the horse!

A couple of young visitors had fun at the weekend trying out Bronco - our Mobo toy horse which dates we think from between 1947 and 1950.

The Bronco horse was made by D. Sebel & Co. Ltd who were based in Kent and who made a range of Mobo branded toys. Our 'Bronco' horse was one of the most popular of their creations and can be ridden and moved by pushing down on pedals which in turn moved the horse’s legs backwards and forwards - surprisingly realistic! Broncos were available in several different colours including dapples (like ours), brown and black. It might be over 70 years old but it can still bring a smile to the face of a young rider!

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A stitch in time saves a precious donation

We were recently delighted to receive the donation of a very special WWII flying jacket featuring a yellow coloured integral fur lined hood. So far as we were aware, flying jackets of the time did not have integral hoods, however our investigations thus far have revealed that jackets like this one were only worn by air crew flying with Coastal Command. We also established that the standard survival gear provided in an aircrew dinghy included yellow skull caps that tied under the chin - the yellow colour of the hood means that Coastal Command aircrew would not have need of that.

When we received the jacket it was a little worse for wear with some of the stitched seams coming apart, especially where the hood attached to the jacket. We have just received the jacket back from having the seams lightly restored and it now looks quite resplendent and ready for action!

The jacket will form part of our plans to expand our WWII display area - watch this space for further details!

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Evening talk - Helen Moore - Landscapes

Our next evening talk will be presented by local artist Helen Moore on Tuesday 21 March at 7.30pm.

Helen will discuss the impact that the Caithness landscape has had on her work and how this has changed her work over the last 10 years. Helen takes the striking landscape of Caithness as her starting point, addressing themes of how rural space is used in the modern day, and the impact that humans make in the environment.


Dateline: 05 March 2023

New exhibition opens today - Mucking in for 100 Years!

Our latest exhibition opened its doors to the public today and features themed displays of stories, photographs, tools and implements from our local Olrig farming heritage.

The exhibition is being run in conjunction with the Caithness District Young Farmers Association which is celebrating its centenary this year.

The exhibition is open from 2pm to 4pm every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons.


Dateline: 28 February 2023

Jane Coll reveals the Northern Saints Trail

Local author Jane Coll opened the Winter series of Castlehill Heritage Centre talks with a presentation exploring the Northern Saints Trail. Jane explained the history of the pilgrimages in North Scotland and the modern goals behind the Saints Trails. Following the presentation Jane answered a great range of questions including the growing popularity for modern pilgrimages, to how pilgrims identified themselves to take advantage of the obligation for hospitality. The enthusiastic questioning could have gone on late into the evening if time had allowed. The map of the trails was a popular acquisition for many of the attendees, as well as Jane’s newly published book, ‘In Their Footsteps - exploring a northern pilgrimage way’. Report and photos by Wendy Newton.


Dateline: 25 February 2023

Olrig Observations - Latest podcast - Lady Janet's Elusive Daughter

Muriel investigates the curious story of Wilhelmina Barbara Traill, the eldest daughter of Lady Janet Traill and, she reveals, the surrogate daughter of Mary Dehaney, fiance of the lamented Sir John Sinclair, the 11th Earl of Caithness.

The story starts with the donation of a heavy circular brass plaque to Castletown Heritage Society.....

To listen to the podcast CLICK HERE or visit the Podcasts and YouTube tab above

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Harbourmaster William Baikie

Don't forget to visit our latest YouTube video where Muriel explores the story of William Baikie, believed to have been a harbourmaster and pilot at Castlehill Harbour during the heyday of the Castlehill Pavement Works in the mid 1800s.

To view the video CLICK HERE or visit the Podcasts and YouTube tab above


Dateline: 23 January 2023

Visitors call the tunes at Castlehill

One of our regular Castletown Heritage Society supporters came along the other day to donate a small bundle of sheet music from the 1930s, mainly comprising Scottish songs and tunes, including some rousing WW1 marches with patriotic lyrics.

In amongst the well used but cared for sheets was a real gem of a find - a copy of "The Wick Song" with words by Ian McHardy and music by Alex M Small. The lyrics wistfully recall Bridge Street in Wick, Papigoe, Staxigoe and the Grey Bools - a local geological feature comprising cliff-top storm deposits of large Caithness flagstone boulders near Oldwick Castle. The music proved a real hit with two of our visitors that day - who happened to be from Wick! Now all we need is a piano, a pianist and a singer... any volunteers?

 

Be it a flagstone worker from the 1800s or Bronze Age hut dweller, activities involving dressing up in period costume have always proven popular with our younger visitors - and some older ones too! We were delighted recently when a young visitor from Orkney donned a long cloak and flowing beard to play the part of a Viking trader, complete with weighing scales and basket of fleeces. The Norse did not have currency of their own so the scales were important to check the weight of gold used as payment. He drove a hard bargain, but then, none of our volunteers were brave enough to argue....


Dateline: 03 January 2023

Can you help identify this mystery object?

Happy New Year everyone!

One of our local friends of Castletown Heritage Society has just brought along this small object found in an old cottage in Murkle, near Castletown. Click on the images to see a larger version. It has caused a bit of head scratching - can you help identify it or suggest a use? Domestic? Some form of handicraft? Fishing?

If you have any ideas or suggestions as to what it is or is used for, please do get in touch! Contact Us