An Account of Club Outings - 1996
Compiled by Marion Owen

Sunday 4 February - Yarrows
A short winter walk led by Gordon Wilson looking at the Antiquities around the Yarrows area..

Thirty people came on a bright frosty day; we started from Raggra.

First, we saw stone rows. A dozen examples have been recorded in Caithness and Sutherland and their function is still unclear. We were shown two chambered cairns, Cairn Righ which was very ruinous, excavated by Anderson l865 and Cairn Brounaran which had been greatly robbed and disturbed. Artefacts lost include three urns, thick pottery, skulls and teeth.

Then to McCole's Castle - a round cairn with stalls on a ridge above the loch. Until l900 it was fairly well preserved - excavated Rhind l853 and Anderson l865. Many artefacts were lost including the remains of two articulated crouched skeletons.

Our walk ended with a visit to Yarrows Broch. This is Iron Age with many outer buildings added later - an aisled dwelling known locally as a Wag. We arrived at the farm about 2.30pm after a good day in the fresh air.

Sunday 28 April - Strath Halladale to the Helmsdale River.
The first outing of the new season is usually a motor-cade, this one was led by Geoff Leet on a cool day when showers threatened but didnít happen. Twenty-two people were present.We headed west, saw the ferryman's cottage and hut circles at Bighouse, then to Strath Halladale where we saw the remains of the old church beside the settlement. Next an old barn at Achimore with remains of a horse gin and gearing - gearing and chain still remain. Near the Trantlemore turn off at Breacre there is a broch with a very obvious entrance passage judged to be around 2000 years old.

Right at Kinbrace and a short distance along the road we saw stone rows, the remains of a kiln and three shepherds graves, apparently in the ruins of an old church. Both this church and the one seen earlier were measured and their dimensions were found to be very similar.

Next to Upper Suisgill where there was a broch, a dunn and 2 souterains. One small girl in the party allowed herself to be lowered into one of them wearing a head torch! Then to Kildonan and off to Caen - a long cairn with horns extending to form an enclosure.

Back home at about 4.30pm through Helmsdale looking at the remains of Latheron Castle and the faces in the wall at the end of the Causewaymire4122

Friday 17 May - Club Weekend
The Club this year took over the Bridge Hotel at Bonar Bridge for its annual weekend and thirty four members were present.

On Saturday, armed with a packed lunch we set out for Lairg, spent time at the Ferry Croft Centre before walking the trail over Ord Hill rich in antiquities of a bygone age. There was a burnt mound, many burial cairns and hut circles and most impressive of all - Ord North - a magnificent stone cairn excavated l967 and dating back almost 5000 years. Then on to Sallachy House along a picturesque road on the south-west side of Loch Shin. The road stops at the house and we walked on to the nearby broch which is in a remarkable state of preservation. After lunch we motored along the A839 then south to the Raven's Rock forestry walk, an enchanting track along the Alt Mor burn where it cuts through a deep ravine. From there to Shin Falls where we paused for refreshment and walked around the woodland trails, then we dispersed to meet again at the hotel for dinner.

We had been fortunate enough to find a speaker for the evening. Mr Robbins is a qualified archaeologist who was commissioned to hold a watching brief when work was started on the re-alignment of the A836 near Lairg. He gave us a most interesting talk with slides showing us the artefacts recovered.

On Sunday we visited Croik Church where the windows have names of clearance victims scratched on the glass. There was also a ruinous Broch some yards away. As the morning was very wet, a decision was made to cut the programme short and to drive back to Bonar Bridge and on to the Mound by the high road via Strath Carnaig. A last stop was made to see the waterfall and Victorian fish ladder just above Loch Fleet before a very wet party made its way back to Caithness.

As usual, it had been a thoroughly enjoyable weekend. Geoff Leet proposed a vote of thanks to Allan Abernethy who always organises this event and we look forward to an interesting summer programme."

Sunday 9 June - North Calder Farm.
A visit to North Calder Farm led by Gordon Wilson - 46 people came.

We travelled in convoy to North Calder's main quarry where there was ample space for all the cars. The quarry was explored with Myra identifying the wild flowers for us. We then headed back up the road to the steading where there is an early mill with byre attached at a later date; we were shown the inside decorative stone work and it was pointed out that the sluice handle was still in its original position above the mill race.

Leaving the lower dam, we followed the underground sluice to an early quarry and then to the larger upper dam. In the next field, we walked along a boundary wall with an unusual subsidence in parts creating a roller coaster effect, also running south is the remains of another early boundary wall.

Then to the gull colony passing more quarries and a spring well on the way. The black headed gulls were the first to arrive in this area and the smallest of the common gulls settled three years ago.
On to the main steading where surprisingly there remains the original byre, one of the first to give backfill feeding service. As we follow the track up the burn we pass several wall bridges and a wall clapper bridge. The burn gives way to another conservation area with tree planting and other natural growth.

A big thank you is due to Mr and Mrs Bremner for allowing us to visit. Gates were lifted off hinges, a bull was gently moved out of our way and we were invited into the house for a "comfort stop"! What more could they have done.

Wednesday 19 June - The Old Bridge at ForssAn evening walk led by Gordon Wilson to see the old bridge at Forss. Twenty three people came on a cool blustery evening. This is a delightful short walk and, surprisingly some of our members had not been before. Unfortunately, the weather was too cold to linger for long and our mission having been accomplished we returned to our cars and headed for home."

Sunday 23 June - The Lime Kiln at Reay led by Jack Barnaby
Twenty four people came. We started from Reay village and proceeded inland to the lime kiln Forest. Within the forest, we made a short visit to an archaeological site in which a cairn and hut circle were located. Then along the track to the lime kiln where, to our delight, we found a picnic table with benches so lunch was taken in some style.

The kiln which is the largest in the area is of square construction with hearths on three sides and a ramp leading to the top of the kiln on the fourth side to permit charging of the limestone. It is thought to have been built towards the end of the last century and operated until about the first world war. The limestone and peat fuel were available locally and we visited a limestone quarry adjacent to the kiln.

On the return journey, the route deviated from the normal track and cut through the unplanted areas between the trees. After crossing a burn and an internal deer fence, we reached the track leading to Achvarasdale. A short detour was made at this point to inspect a fank and associated buildings, the size of which suggested that in earlier times this had been an important animal handling area.

It only remained to cross the external deer fence with its rather rudimentary ladder and follow the path to Achvarasdale.

We were back in Thurso by 5.00pm.

Sunday 14 July -Boat Trip to Hoy
Thirty eight people had booked for a boat trip to Hoy and to everyone's disappointment it was cancelled at the last minute due to bad weather. The wind was blowing at 35 knots and showed no sign of abating, so on the advice of Mr Thomas, reluctantly we called it off. Perhaps we will try again next year."

Wednesday 17 July - Staxigoe Walk
Twenty three people assembled for an evening walk starting in Staxigoe led by Ernest Jones on a beautiful summer evening with plenty of time to admire the lovely coastal scenery. The present Staxigoe harbour was constructed in l830 and by l850 was home to some thirty boats; small schooners and smacks called here with salt, coal and iron and loaded meal and fish. The impressive stack and the colourful small boats in the harbour formed a pretty picture. From there we walked to Papigoe where we explored the broch and eventually made our way home.

Sunday 4 August - Dunnet Head to Ham Harbour
A coastal walk from Dunnet Head to Ham Harbour was led by Gordon Wilson and Jack Barnaby.

Following the new coastal trail on a beautiful sunny day, we left the Head and walked down past the lighthouse to the old walled area below; then to the track leading south passing cliffs, seascapes and inland geos. We lingered over lunch at an old mill site, then a visit to Brough Harbour noting the old lighthouse. We climbed up the new stairway towards Kerry Geo where we saw the old ramp road still intact from the herring fishing days. On approaching Ham, we came to what was originally thought to be a souterain but is now regarded as a chambered cairn.

Jack had organised a guided tour for us around the conservation area at Dunnet Mill ,we were shown the bird hide and Club members were given permission to use it at any time. A visit to Ham harbour ended a very delightful day. Thirty four people had attended including two guests from the Dingwall Field Club.

Sunday 25 August - Outing to Dornoch led by Allan Abernethy
The old railway station in Dornoch was opened in l902 and closed in l960 and here we assembled for our dander around Dornoch. Sixteen of us walked through the woods to see an un-marked memorial stone for a stranger who died in l844. The towns-people thought he might have died of cholera and for this reason would not allow him to be buried within the town, hence the anonymous stone in the woods erected by a mysterious K.P or perhaps K.R - the stone was very worn.

In a garden near the lower links of the town, we saw a stone marking the spot of the last judicious execution of a witch in Scotland in l722. This unfortunate lady was Janet Horn who was tarred and feathered and roasted after being accused of having turned her daughter into a pony and having her shod by the Devil.

Then to Dornoch Cathedral where we were met by Mr Ian Ross-Harper who gave us a most informative talk on the Cathedral and its turbulent history.

We had our picnic lunch by the airstrip, then went off to see the jail and that concluded our visit to the town.

We stopped on the way back at the mud flats at Embo. There was an abundance of wild birds and there were seals basking on the rocks. With the ruins of Skibo Castle behind us, it was a most pleasant place to end the day. We were home by 5.30pm.

Sunday 1 September -†Coastal Walk Castlehill to Murkle led by Gordon Wilson
This was an outing which almost didn't happen! By l0.00am it was a foul morning with heavy vertical rain - however, thirteen foolhardy souls met at Castlehill - five of them returned to the comfort of their homes and eight of us decided to risk it.

It must be a lovely walk on a good day and we hope to repeat it next summer; meantime, we plodded off passing the battery at Castlehill along the coast. There was a particularly high tide that day and we had to take to the fields on two occasions. The rain eased about l2.30pm for a short time and we ate our lunch(standing!) After about half an hour, it started again and so did we. We passed the wreck of the "Solvan" which came to grief on the rocks off Murkle at the beginning of the year, then to Lady Margaret's Seat . We arrived back in Thurso - very wet - mid afternoon.

Saturday 14 September - A Wick Walkabout
Lyndal Leet led this walk in conjunction with the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland"íThirty people met at the former Wick Post Office which is a tall Edwardian Scottish Revival 3 storey building built in l912, designed by W.T. Oldrieve. We noted the crow-stepped gables, a Caithness slate roof and a pedimented wallhead dormer.DR Simpson across the road (formerly an hotel) the earlier l9th century part was 3 storey, 5 bay and later in the century, a ground floor pilastered shop front was inserted

Then to Woolworths (formerly North of Scotland Bank) A classical Aberdeen granite 3 storet, 5 bay front designed by A Marshall MacKenzie in l886 to have 4 giant Ionic pilasters supporting a centre pediment and clock. The modern shop front is flanked by fluted pilasters.

On to Bridge Street and the Clydesdale Bank (formerly Aberdeen Town and County Bank) 1885 designed by J. Russell MacKenzie as a Venetian Renaissance palazzo; 3 storey, 4 bay with round headed openings over polished granite columns to ground floor and stugged ashlar walls. 5 carved heads occupy the spandrels. We picked out Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Victoria and it has been suggested by George Watson that the others might be John Knox, Wallace and Flora MacDonald. In the spandrels to the first floor are carvings of leeks, thistles, roses, shamrock and ears of corn.

The Bank of Scotland (formerly British Linen Bank) John Keppie and Henderson Glasgow, in l935 reconstructed earlier premises. The 3 storey asymmetric 5 bay building has a stone crest carved by Scott Sutherland, (noted for the Commando Monument and son of a former rector of Wick High School).

Bridge Street Church (formerly Free Church) built in l862-64 in the Gothic perpendicular style with 3 stage tower and pronounced spire, designed by William J. Gray of Berwick. The ornate Gothic galleried interior is lit by a large perpendicular window from Bridge Street.

Sheriff Court built in 1862-66, designed by David Rhind as an Italianate 2 storey and attic 3 bay building with pilastered centre gable and tower, crowned with cast iron cresting. The detailed cornice has lion head masks..

The Town Hall built in l828 in the civic classicism and Scottish burgh style is 2 storey with a projecting 3 bay arcade carrying a 3 stage tower, initially square, panelled above, then octagonal with blind and clock faces, capped with an arcaded and domed cupola.

Riverside Nursing Home (formerly Station Hotel) built 1866 with massive triple gabled river frontage, 3 storey on the Bridge Street elevation, the site sloping steeply at the rear.

The Royal Bank of Scotland - circa l830 - This classical finely detailed 3 storey 3 bay free-standing banking house has an additional ground floor bay to the south over the basement facing the river frontage.

The Bridge - Built 1875-77 by Murdoch Paterson, engineer, to replace the l805-07 Telford Bridge. It is a wide 3 arched bridge on triangular cut-waters.

Ebenezer Place - The shortest street in Scotland is reputed to have had the entrance to MacKay's Hotel, now entered from Union Street.

We enjoyed the traffic-free quiet of Union Street and looked at typical l9th century houses and flat Caithness arched pends (one with a fireplace!) Sandy Gunn showed us the site where the world war 2 bombs fell injuring his mother while she was carrying him.

Wick Heritage Centre - Early l9th century house including the last surviving curing yard circa l830. Ian Sutherland joined us at this point and we continued past the Black Steps (painted by Lowery) and the l807 Telford Round House. It has 3 bays, the shallow bowed outer bays joined by a piended slate roof spanning the recess. The long central chimney stack, recently rebuilt, runs the full length of the ridge.

We noted Telford's Breakwater and the Lighthouse which was built on the end of it in l830, also the Pilot House which is perched on the cliff above, on our way to the original Fishmart starting to be restored by the Wick Society. Ian Sutherland showed us the buyer's desks, furniture and the bank screen by torchlight as the windows have had to be boarded up due to vandalism.

This concluded our walk. We will be able to learn much more when, in a few months time, Elizabeth†Beaton's Illustrated Architectural Guide of Caithness is published by the Rutland Press." (Now published.)

Sunday 27 October - Deer at Langwell Water
We assembled at the Langwell Nursery and drove in a slow convoy up the estate road , seeing buzzards and bunnies but only one set of antlers over the horizon. At the derilict house called Wag we left the cars and soon had to cross a stream which had become a torrent. Close over a rise lay a large herd of deer, and we all had a long look, the deer having spotted us only when we finally advanced. We devoured our lunch at the circular Wag, an iron age stone dwelling with some of the columns and roof slabs surviving.

Sunday 17 November - Dirlot Castle and District led by Gordon Wilson
Nineteen people joined us for a walk on a day of very unpromising weather. Having parked at the Dirlot steading we walked to the graveyard to look at some early graves, the oldest dated l726. We continued to the Castle which is a 13th-14th century stronghold - strictly speaking a fortified hunting lodge - very small, approximately l8feet by l0feet but with walls 6 feet thick and possibly standing to a height of three storeys. Believed to have been built by Sir Reginald Cheyne about l320; subsequently held by the Gunns, Sutherlands and MacKays. We heard the legend of the Devils Pool where the kettle of gold was flung and the fearsome water horse guard was described in some detail.

We then continued over the Royal Engineer's Bridge and walked down to the settlement; one hut circle was found but a further search failed to find any more. A bronze age cairn with a possible cist and a long house with corn kiln intact provided other points of interest.
After lunch we walked back up to the bridge and crossed the large boggy area to a small knoll where there are several stone rows running in fan shaped lines. Then another early settlement with long houses, corn kilns and cultivated areas still with their boundary walls.
The walk ended unceremoniously with a hasty retreat back to the cars dodging the hail stones! We were home by 3.00pm.