N E W S F E E D S >>>
April 1978 IndexBulletins Index

Caithness Field Club

Caithness Field Club Bulletin
1978 - April


E. J. Talbot

Excavations were carried out between 1975 and 1977 at the site of Clow Chapel in Scouthal woods, south of Watten village. The project was initiated and organised by the Extra-Mural Department of the University of Aberdeen as a training exercise.

The chapel is sited on a terrace in a loop of Scouthal Burn. A settlement is immediately adjacent to it on rising ground to the south west. Red Well is 100m to the west, over the Scouthal Burn.

Watten is the only parish in Caithness for which there is no certain site for the medieval parish church. Our investigations could give no certain answer to this problem but the results added to the tradition of burial at the chapel.

The chapel was constructed throughout with the local sandstone. Although the Inventory states that the stonework is 'without mortar' a small amount of lime mortar was found.

The only entrance to the chapel was in the southwestern area of the nave and was effected by three steps. There was a sill stone at the top step and the area here was crowded with articulated skeletons buried after the chapel had gone out of use.

In excavating the interior of the nave it was found that the maximum height of surviving walling was c. 1.1m. A few small cists had been inserted into the nave floor to take, presumably, 'unbaptised children'. Only in a cist at the S. end of the altar did the actual skeletal remains of children survive.

The altar was of dry-stone construction and stood to a height of 0.6m. In proved to be 1.75m long and 1m wide and was free-standing. In recent times fragments of a millstone had been placed, neatly, on top of it. There was no evidence of a cavity for relics.

The excavations showed that nave and chancel were not of one build and that the chancel, as it stands today, had been the eastern end of a uni-camera structure measuring approximately 5.75x14.75m externally. The addition of a nave came at a point 5.25m from the E end of the original building. Its dimensions proved to be 10.85mx6.5m. The chancel walls averaged 0.75m in thickness and the nave walls 1.25m.

The Settlement
The longhouse was partially excavated as it seemed the structure most likely to yield dating evidence. No dating evidence of a firm kind was forthcoming for the building, but it is unlikely that it pre-dated the eighteenth century since it possessed a mural fireplace. A fallen lintel was found in front of this together with heavily corroded iron bars which may have formed a fire grid.

The archaeological evidence indicates a relatively modern date for this building, and presumably the whole settlement. It is remarkable, therefore, that no documentary evidence can be found for its existence.

The full report of this excavation will eventually be published in Northern Scotland, published by the Centre for Scottish Studies, University of Aberdeen.

See Also
Churches in Caithness

Bulletin Index