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Caithness Field Club Bulletin


Jess Campbell

Caithness District Council now subscribe to the Council for British Archaeology Scotland who recently, in co-operation with Inverness Field Club, organised a Symposium and Study Tour in Inverness on the subject of "Our Vanishing Heritage".

The programme for the symposium was of exceptional interest and comprised the following papers viz:

Highland Scotland - Landscape and Settlement Background - Dr. J

Smith, Aberdeen University

Coming down from the trees - Approaches to Prehistoric and Historic Landscapes in Northern Scotland - Mr. R. Mercer, University of Edinburgh.

Archaeology and Forestry - The role of RCAHMS in Survey and Record Mr. J. Dunbar, Secretary, RCAHMS.

Forestry and Monuments - The role of SDD Historic Buildings and Monuments for antiquities - Mr. J. Band, Director, SDD HBM.

Nature Conservation and Forestry - An Ecological Perspective - Mr. J. McCarthy, NCC.

Antiquities in the Countryside - A view from Private Forestry - Mr. R. Ogilvie, Fountain Forestry Ltd.

Archaeology, Forestry and Planning - A Planner's Problem - Mr. I. Shepherd, Grampian Regional Council.

The Morning session was chaired by Sir David Montgomery, Chairman, Forestry Commission and the afternoon session by Professor T. C. Smout. University of St. Andrews.

Caithness District Council are Associate Members of the Council for British Archaeology Scotland and I was privileged to be allowed to attend the Symposium as their representative.

Apart from the extreme interest of the various papers several other

interesting developments emerged as a result of the symposium, as


1 . Mr. Roger Mercer in his talk (No.2) above referred to an

archaeological field survey he had been carrying out in Caithness for the past ten years and in respect of which three volumes of reports had been produced.

At the conclusion of his talk, when questions were invited from the floor, I stood up and said that, as far as I knew, no one in Caithness was aware of his survey and suggested that, in the interests of archaeology generally, it would be of advantage if he were to let the local people know what had been going on by notifying the press when he arrived, arranging for some photographs of his team and perhaps giving a public lecture.

Apparently it had never occurred to him that this might be done. When I returned from Inverness I ordered from the University of Edinburgh a set of the records of the field surveys so that this could be kept in our museum records as The John Nicolson museum is intended to have as its theme the "Archaeology of Caithness".

Mr. Mercer was in Caithness again recently with his survey team and came to see me. I took him to the John Nicolson museum and as a result of his visit he has undertaken to help us in several ways viz:

(a) He is to contact the Scottish Museum in Edinburgh to see if it would be possible for some artefacts to be returned to Caithness. It is very annoying that we have only drawings of artefacts while the artefacts themselves are in Edinburgh.

(b) He is to let us have photocopies and a report on a recent study of one of the Keiss brochs carried out by one of his students. This will fit in very well in the John Nicolson museum.

(c) He is prepared to give a lecture in Caithness if his expenses can be met.

(d) He has authorised the use of extracts from his reports in publications such as the Field Club bulletin,

The second interesting development was that Dr. Colleen Batey, who carried out the Viking dig at Freswick, was at the symposium and informed me that she hopes to be in Caithness again this summer. It appears that the site at Freswick is far more highly regarded on the continent than it is in Caithness but with Dr. Batey's help we hope eventually to make a feature of it in the John Nicolson museum.

Dr. Batey also gave me a copy of the beautifully produced Glasgow Archaeological Journal containing her report on the rescue excavations at Freswick Castle carried out in 1979. This is most interesting and has some excellent photographs.

She also gave me a copy of the Caithness Coastal Survey from Dunnet Head to Helmsdale which she carried out in 1980/82. She must be the only person who has walked every inch of the Caithness coastline and has kept a record of it.

I have asked her, in fact, if we could use her report as the basis for a possible Caithness Coastal Walk and she is giving the request her consideration.

Her husband, Dr. Christopher Morris of Durham University, also informed me that he is organising an International Viking Congress in England next year and that he hopes to bring some of the delegates to tour Caithness and Orkney. Mr. Donald Omand is to be the local secretary for the Congress.

The third interesting development was that I asked Mr. Band, SDD Historical Buildings and Monuments about recognition of the importance or the Yarrows/Warehouse/Wattenan area. Some time ago the Highland Regional Council authorised a detailed investigation and costing of a development in this area. Following my discussion with Mr. Band however, I received a letter from the Historic Buildings and Monuments agreeing that the area was one of the most important concentrations of prehistoric archaeology in Scotland and stating that Section 17 of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological areas Act 1979 made provision for local authorities to enter into management agreements with occupiers of land on which there are ancient monuments. I have accordingly written to the Highland Regional Council asking if this proposal could be discussed.

A considerable number of the sites are, of course, already afforded the protection of scheduling under current ancient monuments legislation and the Cairn o' Get site is in the care of the Secretary of State. The Scottish Development Department are shortly to be approaching Clyth Estates about improved signposting for this monument and they have also co-operated with the owners to realign the fencing round Garrywhin Fort.

It is obvious that there is a great deal of interest in the archaeology of Caithness from outside sources. The sad thing is that there is so little appreciation of the richness and importance of their heritage by local people.