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Caithness Field Club

Notes On Three Caithness Doocots
Mrs E Beaton - Moravian Field Club

Dale House, Westerdale Halkirk Parish
Dale House, Westerdale Halkirk Parish Beehive doocot of four steps - the inward batter is so gentle that it appears externally like four cylinders placed one on top of another. The cote is rubble built with mud mortar and stands in the walled garden of Dale House beside the Thurso river. The garden wall has a gap to accommodate the cote which fills the breach left, and antedates the wall.
The door faces east and there is a step down of about 0.6m to the floor of the cote - an unusual feature which may have helped with the accumulation of dung. Nesting boxes start at 0.6m above the floor level (i.e. at ground level) and are of rubble stone construction, a coarser stone than the visitors to Caithness might expect - but Westerdale is a good way off from Castletown and its flagstone.
Nesting boxes number approximately seven hundred.

Internally, the cote, like that at Freswick, resembles more the straw bee skep than the bottle kiln the, internal form producing a funnel towards the apex favoured in Moray and Banff/Buchan. The apex entrance is large and is the only ingress for the birds. The cote is in reasonable repair.

I am sure that this cote pre-dates Dale House (early eighteenth century) and suggest a seventeenth century date. This cote, with the chapel on the same site, may suggest an earlier house of pretension.

Approximate circumference - 15m.
Wall thickness - 0.86m.

Freswick - Canisbay Parish
Beehive doocot of three stages similar in size and age to that at Dale, though the external batter is more marked. Internally the form is the same as Dale and again the apex hole is large. Rubble built with traces of harling. Repair reasonable.

There are two entrance doors, which is most unusual, one on the east which, from its proportions (1 -5m x lm), would seem original. (Beehive doocots some times have their entrances on the east, though not their pigeon-ports if these exist). The entrance on the south wall is tall and narrow (1.7m x 0.60m).

Internally the nesting boxes start 1.8m above floor level - while 0.6m to lm above floor level is common and helps to keep vermin away from the boxes - 1.8m is most unusual. The walls up to the boxes have been plastered and are smoke blackened - have the lower boxes been blocked at some later date and the cote used as a kiln? If so, the south entrance may have something to do with this re-use.

Wall thickness - 0.84m. Circumference - 15m approx.
Internal diameter - 3.7m Number of boxes - -approx.500 now.


Ackergill - Wick Parish
Impressive twin "lecturn" cotes placed symmetrically in front of, and each a little to the side of, Ackergill Tower, facing south west.

Click Picture to see a few more of the doocotes

The eastern cote is double chambered with approximately nine hundred nice, regular boxes of slate-like stone in each chamber, starting at lm from groundfloor. Each chamber is served by its earn door on the north side and by a swept dormer on the south. On the south wall are also two blocked windows one to each chamber. There is a long crack running down the west side, and the roof is beginning to go.

The west cote offers problems - it now has single chamber, but a blocked door on the eastern side of the north wall suggests it had two chambers. The two windows on the south side are not blocked. Internally there are no nesting boxes and no signs that they are there but blocked. The thickness of the walls are the same as those of the eastern cote. There are the remains of beams creating a low ceilinged ground floor room and a first floor room that was also ceiled at the height of the south wallhead. Also there is a fire place in the north wall of this room. No visible means of access to upper floor but the framing of the beams at the south west corner suggest a trap door or aperture for a ladder.

Without a ladder I was not able to get up to the fire place and examine it and the chimney flu (no external sign of a chimney). Possibly the flu measurements might suggest that it has been created in the thickness of the wall left after the removal of the boxes. The story then might be that at some time, probably in the nineteenth century, one cote was deemed sufficient for the needs of the, household (some eighteen hundred pairs of birds is a lot let alone three and a half thousand or so!) and the, western cote was altered for use as a cattle shelter on the ground floor and a bothy or chamber for farm servants in the heated room. This raises the query "did the incumbents of Ackergill want cattle and farm servants close to the front aspect of their considerable mansion?' Perhaps a 'garden room" is the answer.
The query also arises as to why the. windows of the eastern cote were blocked and was this done from the outside as the boxes mask them internally.

Measurements: East cote - 5m X 8m 
West cote - 5m x 8.5m
(Long walls SW and NE)
Wall thickness 0.8m
Boxes: 0.3in deep 0.25m wide

Caithness.org Notes

Merriam Webster dictionary definition
Main Entry: dove.cote
Pronunciation: 'd&v-"kOt, -"k�t
Function: noun
Date: 15th century
Variant(s): also dove.cot /-"k@t/
1 : a small compartmented raised house or box for domestic pigeons
2 : a settled or harmonious group or organization

Other Information
The popularity of the dovecote pigeon declined in the late 19th century as farmers realized that it was more efficient and brought greater financial reward to supply nations with bread than to convert corn inefficiently into this intermediate form of protein. The release of thousands of pigeons, together with escapes, established the feral populations in numerous European towns, in North America (where it is often known simply as the "city pigeon"), and other parts of the world as far away as Australia. Being naturally adapted to rocky ravines, sea cliffs, and barren sites, the bird has readily accepted the sides of buildings, bridges, and other man-made "cliffs." In towns it is fed and protected by an indulgent and benevolent public, at the same time being cursed by public health inspectors and those concerned with its depredations on stored grains.

Published April 1976 Bulletin