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Caithness Field Club

Caithness Field Club Bulletin
1977 - April

Membership Subscriptions
Members are reminded that the annual subscription for 1977/78 is now due. Timely payment of subscriptions would be very much appreciated by the treasurer, since the Field Club, like many other bodies, is feeling the effect of the present financial climate.

Articles for the Bulletin
Articles of local interest are always being sought for publication in the Bulletin. Although not essential, it helps considerably if when submitted they are typed with single spacing on A4 size paper. Items of news of interest to members are also welcomed. All articles for the next edition are required not later than the beginning of August.

Alexander Bain
Now almost completely sold out, copies of the second Field Club publication "Alexander Bain of Watten, Genius of the North" appeared on sale in December. Written by Robert P. Gunn of Wick, it has been a highly successful booklet.

Our next publication will be a botanical list for Caithness, expected to be on sale by the summer.

Recent Publications

A. Ross: The Folklore of the Scottish Highlands: Batsford, 1976, 174pp., illus., 3.50. Dr. Anne Ross is a scholarly, yet easy to read, writer on the Celts and Celtic customs as her two previous books have shown. As a child she lived in the Western Isles and learned Gaelic through which she acquired an intimate knowledge of the Gaels and their traditional folk customs and beliefs. The book contains chapters on witchcraft, festivals, beliefs and customs and is one of a series on the folklore and customs of the British Isles.

D. Sage: Memorabilia Domestica; or Parish life in the North of Scotland: Albyn Press, 1975, 332pp., 2pls., 7.50. Originally published in 1899 by William Rae, Wick, this book has long been out of print and it has been difficult to find a secondhand copy at a reasonable price. It is therefore pleasing to see its reappearance in this new limited edition of 750 copies, with an introduction by Field Club member Donald J. Withrington. Whilst the accuracy of some of Sage's factual evidence concerning the clearances and other events which took place may be open to dispute, one of the great virtues of this book is the account which the writer gives of Highland life in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

J. T. R. Sharrock: The Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland: T, & A. D. Poyser, 1976, 477pp., 417 maps, 10.50. What a task the British Trust for Ornithology have completed! Maps showing the distribution of breeding birds in Britain, compiled largely by the efforts of enthusiastic amateur ornithologists, give for the first time a clear and broad impression of this aspect of British birdlife. The Caithness contribution was gathered together by D. M. Stark (1968-71) and Mrs. P. M. Collett (1972-73); it is well up to the standard of the rest of the country and congratulations to all concerned are required.

The mapping scheme is without doubt a success - although it was not at all obvious that it would be. The Atlas of the British Flora published in 1962, triggered off many such schemes during the late 1960's, but shortcomings have led to the abandonment of some, while an ominous quiet has descended on others. So what about a breeding bird scheme? Birdwatchers are often quite incompetent at finding nests. Would unscrupulous observers shoo their rarities from one square to the next to get extra records? How does one cope with the rapid eruptions of Crossbills, Collared Doves and the like? Would a harsh winter in the middle of the project cause the picture to change overnight? In fact by a mixture of judgement, luck and hard work the obvious pitfalls have been avoided or remedied and the final results are both interesting and convincing. Why, is the Common Cull so uncommon in England? Did you know that Swifts nest on the remote island of Rona? The Hen Harrier has spread widely in recent years!

The transparent overlays of environmental factors are not so well checked out as the main text, with Caithness apparently seriously short of moorland habitat and having a native Sessile Oak wood. The technique of printing red dots on a black map background has led to a fair bit of misalignment - sufficient to irritate, but not quite enough to mislead. Yet these are small criticisms of a magnificent work which is worth saving up for.

'Persians'
Recently we received a letter from a correspondent in Nottingham asking if we could throw any light on the origin of the word 'Persians' used to describe the people of Canisbay. After making a number of local enquiries we drew a blank. However, with the help of Mr. John Geddes (author of 'Caithness Dialect') and the Houstons of John O' Groats we now understand that the 'Persians' were the 'Parishioners'; a name used to describe the people only to the eastern side of the parish - to the people around the Canisbay school area, i.e. Tresdale, Stemster, Seater, East Canisbay, West Canisbay (east of Gills) and perhaps Kirkstyle.

In addition, a number of other local by-names in use in the parish are given in the complete list below,
CRAB EATERS of Keiss
YOWLIES of Aukengill
TAMMY FUDS of Freswick
MUTTON EATERS of John O' Groats (from 'Rockies' or wild sheep)
WARRIE BUGS of Huna (from seaweed)
PERSIANS of East Canisbay (from parishioners)
GREEN RUNNERS of Gills
CADLING HEIDS of Stroma
BAGGIE ERSES of Mey

Undoubtedly many other local by-names are, or have been used to describe the people of Caithness. We would be pleased to hear of others so that we may extend the list.

Proposed Summer Programme
Below is given the proposed Summer programme of outings, which is subject to suitable weather and, where necessary, permission to visit the sites.

Sunday 24 April - The Reverend Donald Sage was minister of Achness during the last clearance of Strathnaver in 1819. An earlier clearance had taken place in 1814. In his book, Memorabilia Domestica, he describes the life of the people who lived in some of the sites to be visited. The outing will include visits to the chapel site at Ach'na h-Uai' near Kinbrace where he periodically ministered, and to some of the settlements where the people once lived before the clearances took place. Finally there will be a visit to the museum at Farr. Cars leave Wick 9.00, Thurso 9.30. Organiser, L. Myatt.

Sunday 22 May - Now deserted, the village of Badbea once housed twelve families. Lying on the top of the precipitous cliffs on the east coast south of Berriedale, the children are said to have been tethered to stakes in the ground to prevent them falling in the sea three hundred feet below. The outing will include a visit to Badbea and then a walk covering part of the old coastal road round the Ord to see the iron age promontory fort at Dun Glas. Cars will leave Wick 9.00, Thurso 9.30. Organiser G. Watson.

Sunday 12 June - An outing to walk up the picturesque Armadale Burn, in places cutting a hundred feet below the banks on either side. The interesting botanical life along the burn will be seen together with a rather spectacular broch site and hut circles from the iron age period. Cars leave Wick 9.30, Thurso 10.00. Organiser K. Butler.

Tuesday 21 June - At the top of Cnoc na Maranaich, along the Dunbeath Strath is a large standing stone, carefully positioned such that in about 1800 BC at the summer solstice the setting sun would finally disappear below a well-defined notch in the distant horizon. Weather and cloud permitting, we hope to observe this phenomena, demonstrating its use as a bronze age calendar site. Cars will leave Wick 7.30, Thurso 8.00. Organiser L. Myatt.

Sunday 17 July - One of the attractions of Caithness is its wide open spaces and the apparent barrenness of the interior. For those who like a good walk in peaceful surroundings, an outing will be arranged to walk from the Glutt to Braemore. Stout walking shoes are recommended. Cars will leave Wick, 9.00, Thurso 9.30. Organiser D. Oliver.

Sunday 31 July - The Dubh Lochs of Shielton are no place to go alone unless you know the way across this floating bogland. However, with an experienced guide it can be a most interesting outing to see the plant life which thrives in such an area. From Shielton the party will then walk to the Clow to see the excavation being carried out by Mr. Eric Talbot at the chapel site. Cars will leave Wick 9.30, Thurso 9.30. Organiser K. Butler.

Sunday 11 September - Despite the name, "Kirk Stones", alongside the Kirk Burn near Stroupster, when this site was partially excavated in the middle of last century, nothing was found to confirm its ecclesiastical nature. The site nevertheless is well worth a visit with the remains of circular dwellings and an oblong building. Is it an early Christian settlement? A visit will be made to this and possibly other, sites in the area. Cars will leave Wick 9.30, Thurso 9.00. Organiser D. Miller.

Members not having their own transport should not be deterred from coming along on these outings and should come along to the meeting place as spare seats are usually available. In any case the fewer cars the better since parking spaces at the sites are usually rather limited.

Corrigenda
Owing to a typographical error in the Bulletin Vol. 1 No. 8 on page 129, line 25 should read,
". . . . . .Mariota, the elder, married first Sir John Douglas and, after his death without issue, John de Keith, second son of Sir Edward de Keith, Great Marischal of Scotland . . . . ."

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