Castletown Heritage Society News

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Dateline: 13 June 2022

Margaret Swanson - our Unforgotten Woman

We are delighted to be one of five museums across Highland Region taking part in an exciting project organised by Museums and Heritage Highland called 'Unforgotten Women' as part of Scotland's Year of Stories 2022.

Our 'Unforgotten Woman' features Margaret Swanson, the daughter of a Castletown cobbler. Margaret went to school in Wick before completing her education in Aberdeen. She became an instructor in the Glasgow School of Art where she developed the "Margaret Swanson System of Educational Needlework" for young women. Travelling widely, Margaret broke the mould by inspiring and championing women's independent creativity.

On Friday 24th June we are hosting a special event, where you are invited to come along to see the displays, join Castletown Primary School and local crafts groups in making your own 'sampler' in Margaret's memory, and hear Pauline Moore, BBC producer and reporter and experienced podcaster, interview Muriel Murray about Margaret's amazing story. Tea and cake will be served!

This event has been supported by the Year of Stories 2022 CommunityStories Fund. This fund is being delivered in partnership between VisitScotland and Museums Galleries Scotland with support from National Lottery Heritage Fund thanks to National Lottery players.

Dateline: 05 June 2022

The Queen's Platinum Jubilee Garden Party - what a great day!!!

Sunday 5 June 2022 was certainly a day to remember! After much work over the past week to prepare for our Garden Party to celebrate The Queen's Platinum Jubilee, all was ready for the gates to open - scones with strawberry jam and cream, cakes, tray bakes all ready to be served, tables set out in the Heritage Garden, kettles and teapots at the ready, bunting and Jubilee regalia in place and a fair buzz of excitement within the volunteers at Castlehill Heritage Centre.

It is no understatement to say that the weather turned out to be absolutely perfect, and during the course of the afternoon we welcomed a large and steady stream of visitors and members of the local community, friends old and new. It was great to see so many people enjoying the excellent cakes and goodies, engaging with the Jubilee celebration spirit, then staying around to relax and enjoy good conversation in the Heritage Garden, which was certainly looking at its best. Practical hands-on demonstrations by our friends from the North Highland Woodturners Association and the Caithness Astronomy Group contributed greatly to the day's proceedings - it was especially good to see so many young people getting involved with the available activities.

A highlight of the afternoon was the presentation of a thank-you gift (a folding hanging chair) to Irene Wares who recently retired after many years of service as our head volunteer gardener at Castlehill Heritage Centre. We are deeply indebted to her for the sterling work she has performed in creating and maintaining the wonderful displays in the Heritage Garden, which are admired and commented on by all who visit. We are delighted to welcome on board Christine Hornby as our new head volunteer gardener.

A special Platinum Jubilee cake baked by Castletown Heritage Society member Elspet Chapman in celebration of Her Majesty the Queen's 70 years of service was cut by Society Secretary Jayne Blackburn to resounding cheers and clapping by the assembled party-goers. You can never have too much cake!

All in all a really great afternoon!

Image courtesy of Gordon Mackie

Image courtesy of Gordon Mackie

Jayne cuts the celebration Jubilee Cake

Past Chairman Neil Buchan presents Irene Wares (blue waistcoat) with her retirement gift

Image courtesy of Gordon Mackie

Dateline: 14 May 2022

Platinum Jubilee Garden Party

As part of the events taking place in Castletown to celebrate the Queen's Platinum Jubilee we will be hosting a Garden Party at Castlehill Heritage Centre on Sunday 5th June. The fun will kick off at 1.30pm - hopefully in the Heritage Garden if the weather is good, and will continue until 4.30pm.

Teas/coffees and home baking will be on offer, a raffle, plus the chance to take part in 'hands-on' activities with the North Highland Wood Turners and the Caithness Astronomy Group. Don't forget to come suitably attired - there will be a prize for the best Platinum Jubilee themed outfit!

Entry is free - donations welcome!

Dateline: 27 April 2022

Castletown Heritage Society AGM

Castletown Heritage Society held its Annual General Meeting on Tuesday 26 April 2022 at 7.00pm in Castlehill Heritage Centre, the meeting taking place 'in person' for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.

After welcoming everyone to the meeting, chairman Neil Buchan gave a comprehensive account of the Society's activities in the period since the last AGM. To read the chairman's report in full click here.

Treasurer Jayne Blackburn presented the accounts for the fiscal year Apr 2021 - March 22 which confirmed that the Society continues on a firm, sustainable footing.

A motion to adopt an update to the Constitution, dated 26 April 2022 and which had previously been circulated to Members of the Society for due consideration, was accepted through a show of hands by the Members present at the meeting.

On completion of all the formal reporting, interim chairman Hamish Pottinger presided over the election of the following office bearers for the 2021/22 session:

Wendy Newton


Jayne Blackburn


Alan Bruce
Neil Buchan
Liz Geddes
Joanne Howdle
Alice Morrison
Muriel Murray
It could be you, if you would like to volunteer!

After a short break, guest speaker Duncan Macniven presented a fascinating talk entitled Castletown's People 1755-2011 where he explored what has happened to the population of Castletown since records began in the mid-18th century, and outlined the demographic history of the area.

Duncan, who is based in Edinburgh and was Registrar General for Scotland between August 2003 and August 2011, demonstrated an encyclopaedic knowledge of demographic statistics and societal causes of change and spoke with an enthusiastic and animated style. A thoroughly enjoyable talk!

If you would like to assist in any way with the activities of Castletown Heritage Society, be it through donation/loan of locally relevant artefacts, contribution of historical/geneological information associated with the parish, or volunteering a little time to support our activities we would be delighted to hear from you. Feel free to contact us by telephone or email.

Dateline: 13 April 2022

Good news - Saturday afternoon openings restored

We are delighted to advise that as of Saturday 16 April we will once again be opening Castlehill Heritage Centre for visitors between 2pm and 4pm.

After almost two years of restricted (or no) openings due to the impact of the Covid pandemic we are excited to be returning to our traditional opening hours - Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 2pm to 4pm, other times by prior arrangement. We look forward to welcoming you!

Dateline: 06 April 2022

Society of Caithness Artists - Ukrainian Appeal Fund - What a Result!!

Fantastic news! The Society of Caithness Artists fundraiser for the Ukrianian Appeal Fund held at Castlehill Heritage Centre on Sunday was an amazing success!

Thanks to the generosity of the public in donating at least £25 each to take part in a blind draw for a wrapped and anonymous piece of art donated by local artists, the total raised was at least £3,600 pounds and counting!

Well done everyone for a brilliant effort in support of a very worthwhile cause.


Some of the 85 wrapped pieces of art donated by local artists

Donations included wood turned items and unique worked glass items

Mick O'Donnell assists a member of the public to make their selection of a randomised piece of art

In spite of thedamp weather there was a steady queue awaiting their turn to bag a masterpiece

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Hurrah! Our record system works!

The task of systematically filing our many documents and records on local people and places is time consuming but fascinating.

On Sunday we were able to delve into our archives and help one family find out about the history of their new home in Castletown, while another visitor was shown a picture of the house where her ancestor - the Reverend William Sinclair who was born in Coulag, Castletown in 1799 - used to live. More than that, we were able to point them towards an unknown relative who had already asked for our help about the same person.

If you are interested in this kind of detective work, come and join us! For more information click here.

Dateline: 02 April 2022

Annual General Meeting

The Annual General Meeting of Castletown Heritage Society will be held at Castlehill Heritage Centre on Tuesday 26 April 2022 at 7.30pm.

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

We are delighted to welcome Duncan Macniven, formerly Registrar General for Scotland (Aug 2003 - Aug 2011) as our guest speaker for the AGM.

His talk Castletown's People 1755-2011 will explore what has happened to the population of Castletown since records began in the mid-18th century, and will outline the demographic history of the area.

Duncan is an entertaining and highly regarded speaker who promises lots of little known facts!

Dateline: 29 March 2022

Society of Caithness Artists - Ukrainian Appeal Fund

The Society of Caithness Artists will be holding a fundraiser for the Ukrianian Appeal Fund at Castlehill Heritage Centre on Sunday 3 April between 1pm and 6pm.

Click on the poster for full details.

Do come along and support a very worthwhile cause!

Dateline: 28 March 2022

The ever changing landscape of Castletown

Our current exhibition - First and Last - is proving to be very popular with both tourists and locals alike. A recent addition to the displays is a pair of black and white photographs depicting a view of Castletown village from the south, taken from the top of the clock tower at the old Established Church of Olrig.

The image on the left is believed to have been taken in the 1930s; the one on the right was taken by our Chairman Neil two weeks ago. The contrast between the images clearly shows the changes, development and expansion of the village over the past 90 years. Click on the images for a large view.

Unfortunately the modern image doesn't quite capture the same vertical angle of view as the clock tower was shortened by some 40 feet when the church was closed as a place of worship, but it is fairly close. An assembled panoramic view of the whole village is also on display at Castlehill.

We are deeply grateful to Angus and Heather Cowap for granting Neil special permission to access the roof of the clock tower. Just as well Neil has a reasonable head for heights!

Short back and sides for the Heritage Garden

Our new volunteer gardener Christine Hornby has been busy pruning and preparing all the plants and beds in the courtyard and at the main entrance, ready to encourage the usual vibrant display of colour as the season progresses. As part of this a new area is being prepared as a small rockery. After planning the layout and selecting materials to be used, groundworks have now begun. Thanks must go to Christine and her helpers for manhandling large chunks of flagstone into place and locating complementary "bools" (Caithness term for rounded stones or boulders) to add to the terrain. New plants have been ordered but donation of plants would be welcome!

Eco-aware Castletown Rainbows and Brownies have adopted one garden bed as a bee and bug haven with a traditional bee-hive serving as a bug hotel. Carefully chosen plants will hopefully encourage pollinators. The children of Castletown Primary School are also contributing to the garden by raising seedlings in class for later planting. We are most grateful to everyone who has offered to lend a hand.

Tim the Basket-Maker to return in the autumn

The impact of Covid restrictions over the past two years had unfortunately forced us to put on hold many planned workshops and activities at Castlehill, including one by Tim Johnston, internationally acclaimed master basket-maker. Tim has been a popular workshop tutor at Castlehill on several occasions, and during his last visit he became fascinated by an antique "hiave" or bait basket last used in Scarfskerry. After much research on its construction and the origins of its design Tim has already taught its construction to a group of basket weavers in the South West of England.

We look forward to welcoming Tim back to Castlehill in the autumn, when he plans to run a workshop on this intriguing basket. Watch this space for further details!

Latest Podcast - The War Knife

Muriel's research into the original owner of an old multi-blade pocketknife that was donated to Castletown Heritage Society reveals a fascinating account of a World War I Black Watch soldier and a remarkable link to a Girls School in the north of England.

To listen to the episode click HERE.

Dateline: 04 March 2022

Annual General Meeting

The Annual General Meeting of Castletown Heritage Society will be held at Castlehill Heritage Centre on Tuesday 26 April 2022 at 7.30pm.

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

We are delighted to welcome Duncan Macniven, formerly Registrar General for Scotland (Aug 2003 - Aug 2011) as our guest speaker for the AGM.

His talk Castletown's People 1755-2011 will explore what has happened to the population of Castletown since records began in the mid-18th century, and will outline the demographic history of the area.

Duncan is an entertaining and highly regarded speaker who promises lots of little known facts!

Dateline: 16 February 2022

Walking Group at Castlehill

Seventeen members of the local Walking Group got a bonus preview of our latest exhibition 'First and Last' today when they visited Castlehill Heritage Centre after a walk around the village and the Harbour Road. The warmth of the Centre was a welcome respite from the damp conditions outside, and the tea and delicious scones baked by Society member Helen Gunn went down a treat!

The First and Last exhibition opens on Sunday 20 Feb at 2pm.

Dateline: 09 February 2022

Latest YouTube video - Caithness Commemorations

At the end of January our Chairman gave an illustrated talk to the Caithness Family History Society, taking them on a pictorial tour around some familiar, plus lesser well visited locations, antiquities and monuments in Caithness, and dipping into the stories and people of times past associated with them.

To view a recording of the talk visit our YouTube channel.

Dateline: 04 February 2022

First and Last at Castlehill - opening soon on Sunday 20 Feb!

All the amazing objects and artefacts within our collections at Castlehill have been donated by local people with the intention that we look after them and allow as many visitors as possible to see them and learn about the history behind them. We try to do this in an organised way through regularly changed themed exhibitions, displays and hands-on workshops and activity days.

Our latest exhibition focuses on contrasts - First and Last, Early and Recent, Then and Now. Be it objects, buildings, services or occupations things evolve and change - not always for the better!

The First and Last exhibition opens on Sunday 20 February from 2pm to 4pm, and every Sunday and Wednesday afternoon thereafter.

Dateline: 13 January 2022

The Power of the Sea

Our latest podcast, entitled 'The Power of the Sea' has just been released.

Prompted by the name of a distant Polish port, Muriel recalls some local maritime events illustrating the power and influence of the sea which connects us all.

To listen to the podcast, CLICK HERE or use the episode player below: