An Account of Field Club Activities, 1995
Sunday 23 April
Then on to Freswick House passing the large dam at the entrance and the doo'cot. Cars were parked and we walked via the shore to a large mill house and the farm steading. Then on to the large excavated iron age broch with a folly atop it. There are only two of these promontary brochs in the county, the other one being at Skirza. By now, it was lunch time and we returned to the harbour, lunch was taken in our cars and afterwards the weather showing no sign of improvement, we called it a day.
5-7 May, Club Weekend
Sunday 14 May - Brawlbin, Shurrery
Our walk continued with a visit to three old steadings. The first one roofed with Caithness slabs and turfed; the second one housed a grain drying kiln; then a cart shed, the lintel composed of a tree trunk. Finally one small placer dam and an underground lade to an old mill. We wended our way home at approximately 3.15p.m.
Sunday 11 June - Poulouriscaig
There had been four dwellings, the last one vacated by the start of the second world war; an elderly local lady told me that the family went to live in Farr, but not a lot is known about the village which was built possibly early 19th century. A very green, pleasant area, the inhabitants presumably kept cattle and lived off the land with fish to supplement their diet.
At lunch time, we explored the burn and admired the scenery, then continued across the moor until a well defined stony track brought us down to Armadale.A lovely walk - very cold - but we had all enjoyed it. We were back in Thurso by 4p.m.
Wednesday evening 21 June - Summer Solstice Dunbeath
A delightful walk on a lovely evening; it did not at all matter that we had not seen what we came to see! We returned home about 11.00 p.m. George Watson proposed a vote of thanks to Les.
Sunday 9 July - the Duke of Kent's Monument - Allan led
After our break we started the long trek down the west side of Berriedale Water. We didn't see many birds but we did see an adder, I think Don and Elaine saw him first but he soon slithered out of the way and came to rest in a hole in the bank from where he peered out and regarded us suspiciously. This where he had his photograph taken!
Berriedale Water meanwhile wound its sometimes graceful way down the valley and we followed it. The vegetation was fairly high with tree roots to trip over and particularly along the lower reaches of the river, the track was quite rough and a helping hand was much appreciated.
Sunday 23 July - Boat Trip to Isle Nan Ron and Neave Island and afterwards to Slettell village - led by Jack
Neave is famous for being the home of a group of St. Columba's missionaries for a period of about 200 years in the seventh and eighth centuries.
Our party was unable to find the remains of St Columba's chapel but enjoyed the spectacular coastline with its precipitous cliffs and lovely beach.
Over on Nan Ron, uninhabited since 1938, the visitors enjoyed looking at the remains of some very substantial buildings which at one time, housed up to 70 people. They also toured the island looking at the varied coastline and the animal and bird life that once helped to sustain the islanders.
Fortunately the weather confounded the forecasters by remaining fine and everyone was able to enjoy a leisurely wander round the village before returning to Strathan at 4.00 p.m. to start the drive home. It had been a most enjoyable day.
27 August - Landforms of Latheron Parish
35 people attended on a most unpromising day for a motor cade with a difference - we hired a coach and Donald talked to us as we were driving along.
I'm sure that this particular Dunnet's coach - ably driven by a very pleasant chap who answered to "Willie" - wended its way down narrow lanes and was reversed into narrow gaps where coaches were never intended to go.
We started in Lybster, went to the harbour, were told about the Reisgill Born, then to Occumster and the Clyth Burn and a lovely stack just off the coast, that I at least had not seen before. On to Camster Cairns and so back to Lybster for lunch where most people took advantage of the facilities of the Portland Arms.
At 1.30 p.m. we were back in the coach again and were soon at Latheron Wheel with its impressive L shaped stack; we discussed goes and visited the gloup.
At Berriedale, we parked by the old bridge and walked to the river mouth. The sight of all that water was too much for some of our group and they enjoyed a paddle.
On the way home we were shown the striations at Achkinloch.
Donald talked to us in his usual laid back manner interspersing all the information he was giving us with anecdotes and humorous comments. As usual, some of the knowledge would "stick" and some would be forgotten, but it was a most enjoyable day.
A vote of thanks was proposed by Allan; we arrived back in Thurso at 6.15 pm.
Sunday 10 September - Wag of Forse - led by Gordon Wilson
Our walk started along the road to Wick, past the house with the unusual lattice leaded window and through the gate on the other side of the road and into the field. The first thing we noticed was a series of three springs - one a washing well with steps clearly visible, then to the East heading for Forse House and the Doo'cot.
We were told that this was a Scottish Lectern type of Doo'cot. Men were paid to chew bread which was subsequently fed to pigeons; the pigeons were crammed into their quarters and sometimes had their legs broken to fatten them more quickly for the table. We noted the ledges on the outside walls to stop rats taking the birds. In approximately 1617, the right to own a pigeon house was limited by statute of the Lairds. Continuing, we passed an early sluice dam and burnt mounds before arriving at the lochan with its dam, for lunch. We had intended visiting the broch on the escarpment but had to abort our plan as the river was in spate. Farther south-west we came upon another unexcavated broch, then very soon we saw the Wag.
Forse Wag dated 1st millennium B.C./early first millennium A.D. appears as a wide collection of stones with a variety of structures - tunnels, chambers and steps. Twice, it has been partially excavated - in 1939 and 1948. It is one of the largest in the county, the site being approximately 80 yards square.On our return journey we passed hut circles and souterrain, a large standing stone and so to the Bell Tower. The story goes that the bell on the original chapel could not be heard over the hill, hence the Bell Tower was erected, so giving church members no excuse for absenteeism. A little to the west there is a lime kiln and more standing stones.
A wet, be-draggled party returned to the cars, the prosect of a hot bath very enticing. It was still raining!
We were back in Thurso for 4.00 p.m. to digest all that we had been told and feeling all the better for the exercise on a day when it would have been all too easy to be thoroughly idle.
Saturday 30 September 1955
The mausoleum is a curious structure. It has an Egyptian style exterior with battered walls and doorway and is roofless. The interior is, by contrast, classical with the end opposite the door covered in elaborate columns with Corinthian capitals and niches between with much elaborate carving on the bases, between them and above the capitals. There was much discussion about these elaborate carvings.
We will have to wait until Elizabeth Beaton's book on an illustrated guide of Caithness is published next year for her explanation, as she has seen similar ones elsewhere. It has been alleged that there are Masonic symbols amongst the carving, but nothing has been ascertained. Elizabeth Beaton maintains the carving represents standard symbols of the era. This mausoleum is not listed, which is extraordinary and while we know the Durbars of Hemprigggs came to Caithness in 1690, the date of this building is not known.
We then went to look at the 1790 two storey coursed rubble masonry ice-house at Wick Harbour and Geoff and helpers tied a rope to the stonework between the two doorways to help us up the steep slope. I regret not taking a photograph of us all climbing up on to the rope. We got some astonished looks from a passing motorist, who came by twice! This ice-house is of vaulted construction with sockets in the wall for a timber floor. George Watson told us there would have been an external timber staircase originally. Presumably the ice was stored below and the fish above but this is uncertain. Ice would have been brought in from lochs and rivers to be stored.
It came through the front entrance which is unusual, as normally the ice is let in through the back wall or roof, not possible in this case as there is a road over it.
We then went to the ice-house at Ackergill, again a coursed rubble masonry vaulted structure but with an anti-chamber and a high level hatch in the side of the vaulted roof to let the ice in, which would have been stored in the inner chamber and packed in the anti-chamber. Both chambers are entered through centre doorways, the outer one in a flat wall immediately below the end of the vault.
The last ice-house we looked at was at Keiss, a smaller version of the Ackergill one, (we only just managed to pack in) but with a projecting gable anti-chamber and centre door. The main chamber is served by a high level hatch beneath the crown of the vault in the landward gable. This ice-house is for sale by United Biscuits. We had a look at the herring and salmon fishing warehouse with their ground floor six bay vaulted cellarage which would have been used as salt stores. There are flagged first floors and joisted second floors. We looked at the 1820 pier, slipway and stilling basin with recessed stairways, one of them now built up. Then we repaired for a much needed cup of tea and a warm up at Caithness Glass.
A courageous few carried on to see the Sinclair Mausoleum at Ulbster dated 1700. It is a square single storey harled building with a raised centre entrance, a flagstone floor over a vaulted cellar and an ogee Caithness slate roof. It is set in a dry-stone walled burial ground with a pair of tall, rather out of plumb, rusticated ashlar gate posts. It is a very fine, most unusual building, which has had some emergency repairs carried out lately to keep it wind and water tight.
by Lyndall Leet
Sunday 5 November - Salmon Spawning at Braemore
By lunch time the walk had effectively come to an end and we were left to our own devices. Some of the party took off in the direction of Balcraggie Lodge to explore the Broch and the Homestead.
We were back in Thurso by 3.00 p.m.
Sunday 4 February 1996
First, we saw stone rows. A dozen examples have been recorded in Caithness and Sutherland - their function is still unclear. The ground was hard with frost and for this we were thankful, it would have been a very wet walk otherwise. We were shown cairns, chambered cairns - Cairn Righ (Reain) was very ruinous, excavated by Anderson 1865; Cairn Brounaran - a round/long cairn greatly robbed and disturbed. Artifacts lost include three urns, thick pottery, skulls and teeth.
Then there was McCole's Castle - a round cairn with stalls on a ridge above the loch; the highest part of the ridge has two standing stones. Now in a ruined condition, although until 1900 it was fairly well preserved - excavated Rhind 1953 and Anderson 1865. Artifacts lost include numerous fragments of pottery and human remains - two articulated crouched skeletons.
Our walk ended with a wander around Yarrows Broch. This is Iron Age with many outer buildings added later; an aisled dwelling better known locally as a Wag. There is some similarity to the Broch at Forse.
Again, what is a broch? Is it a defensive structure occupied at times of seige? Modern thinking tends to be more cautious; a fortress needs a well, usually absent from brochs also there is a distinct lack of evidence of warlike activities at Broch sites. Were they in fact, permanent look out towers. As late as the 1870's families lived in the ground floor recesses. Excavations generally find two or three hearths, broken fragments of pottery and quern stones; most of the pottery of later date.
We arrived a the farm about 2.30 p.m. we had a wonderful walk and no doubt next year more winter walks will be arranged; we shall need to keep our fingers crossed about the weather - surely, we can't always be so lucky!