N E W S F E E D S >>>

An Account of Field Club Activities 1998
Marion Owen

Tuesday 27 January
The year started with an excellent illustrated lecture in conjunction with Aberdeen University from Donald Paterson. His subject was "Farming in Scotland 5000 years ago.

Wednesday 4 February
Wilma Miller told us of her wanderings and adventures in North China and showed us slides to illustrate her story.

Sunday 22 February
A winter walk led by Gordon Wilson to Ousdale Broch and settlement and later Berriedale Castle and fish houses.

Twenty enthusiastic souls set off down the heather covered hill side on a dry sunny but windy day. Our first stop was the settlements - an Iron Age site with hut circles and early boundary walls then the Highland Clearances village of the 1830's.

Next the Broch
the outer works were completely ruinous but the broch itself is in remarkable condition with entrance complete with unusual double door checks, three internal cells and mural stairway; also the roofing or floorway ledges are still intact.

We had lunch at the Broch out of the wind then went on to visit the remains of Berriedale Castle, the salmon biggins and fish and ice houses, reminding us of the days of the herring fishing.

Tuesday 24 February
Graham Robins - an archaeologist who had been concerned with the Portmahomack dig talked to us about the "Archaeology of the Eastern Seaboard"

Sunday 15 March
Winter walk to Strathy Beach and caves and then to Baligill led by Gordon Wilson

Twenty five people attended on a dry but windy day. We first walked to Strathy Beach and explored the caves (possibly once occupied by tinkers). A short history of Strathy lighthouse was given, first built as an all-electric station with mason light and fog system sanctioned in 1953, completed in 1958 and now redundant after 40 years service.

Then to Baligill where we saw a series of lime kilns from the earliest corn kiln types to the substantial latest types for commercial use. We explored an Iron age hill fort and another one was pointed out to us on the opposite hill outcrop. Otter spraint was found at two locations though the otter was not spotted.

On the way back, we admired a very handsome clapper bridge and a ruined wool blanket mill which was still recognisable.

Tuesday 7 April
Annual General Meeting - incorporated this year with our evening at the Brown Trout Watten. After the formalities, Gordon and Myra showed us slides of some of our outings and we were served a most enjoyable supper.

Sunday 19 April
The coach trip this year was from Thurso to Wick and on to Helmsdale stopping on the way (using our early start as an excuse!) at Laidhay for coffee and scones.

Thus refreshed, we walked to the old village of Badbea and so to Helmsdale where we had a light lunch. Some of us then went off to look at the Icehouse and the rest of us walked along the river bank.

We were rewarded by the sight of a bullfinch sitting in a nearby tree who stayed where he was to have his photograph taken many times over - quite impervious to this crowd of people and the clicking cameras !

After this, a leisurely drive through Kildonan, stopping on the way to explore brochs and settlements by the roadside and at 4.00pm we were met by Norrie Russell of the R.S.P.B. at Forsinard Station. After looking at the exhibits indoors, Norrie took us out on to the Flow country following the track laid out a little while ago. Alas!! we did not see any birds but our guide was a mine of information on pond life.

So, to the last stage of our journey. We had been given permission to walk up the old road to Bighouse where there is a lovely little bridge and hut circles each side.

This completed the day. The weather had been marvellous, warm, sunny - anoraks were left in the coach.

The only discordant note (literally!) was the bus microphone, which, wherever and however it was held still managed to emit a whistle. Marion was not amused!

Sunday May 10
A visit to Suisgill Burn - Bronze and Iron Age settlements and a visit to the old gold workings.

Thirty six members and guests enjoyed the walk on a beautiful sunny day. Although no Neolithic remains have been found in this Strath, our leader proposed to show us both Bronze and Iron age settlements.

We started up the North side of the Suisgill Burn until we reached an early Bronze age hut circle. After a mandatory coffee break, we proceeded to a unique Iron age hut circle which, very unusually incorporated the remains of an attached outer building and an intact souterain. Farther along, we discovered a number of Bronze age round houses with just an earthen surround without stone re-inforcement; these are peculiar to this area.

Lunch was taken at the old gold workings where a number of members tried their luck; some garnets were found but alas! no gold.

On the way back there was another Iron age settlement which had an unusual hut circle with a double wall and just before the bridge where the cars were parked, Paul discovered iron slag which added a little more interest to a perfect day.

29 - 31 May - The Club Weekend
We stayed again at Glendarroch Lodge Hotel Contin - warmly welcomed by Mrs Garrison who could not believe that it was nine years since our last visit.

After dinner and a good sleep our first stop was Castle Leod where we had permission to walk around the Castle grounds. Myra was on hand to share her botanical knowledge and there was a very impressive display of big trees including the mighty Scotch pine and the Sequoia.

Then to Rogie Falls where we had lunch and enjoyed watching the birds and seeing the waterfall.

A drive along Strath Conan came next, though unhappily, the rain started at this point. Some of our members were fortunate enough to see a golden eagle and there were deer a'plenty.

By the time we got back to Strathpeffer a watery sun was showing; some of us wandered around the village and four of us followed one of the well marked trails in Contin Forest.

Sunday brought a visit to the Eagle Stone close by the Ben Wyvis Hotel; this is a carved Pictish monument with ornamental arch and an eagle - possibly a marriage stone. Back in the village, we parked in the Square, visited the Pump Room and in spite of the pervading sulphurous smell, some brave souls sampled the Spa water!!

Next to the old cemetery, with marvellous views of the surrounding countryside and then on to Knockfarrel to see the vitrified fort.

We finished our weekend at Brahan Gardens, not at the time open to the public but we were able to walk around the grounds and enjoy our lunch.

So ended another weekend. Geoff proposed a vote of thanks to Allan. Much time and thought goes into organising an event like this and this is the twelfth successive year that Allan has undertaken this task. Again - thank you Allan!

Sunday 14 June
Exploration of settlements above and to the west of Kilpheder led by Gordon Wilson.

It was a beautiful sunny day when twenty one members set out to explore.

We were greeted by the sight of a herd of red deer on the skyline as we climbed up the west bank of the burn. We found both bronze age and iron age hut circles and a large area with old walls and clearance cairns.

Of the two iron age hut circles, one had a blocked off souterrain, the other a collapsed souterrain. We then climbed to the near-source of the burn where we sat down to lunch and were thrilled to watch a golden eagle soaring high above us.

We returned by following the burn downstream where we noted the abundance of wild flowers including some rare orchid, chickweed wintergreen and the yellow pimpernel.

Arriving back at the cars, we were again greeted by fifteen red deer grazing nearby.

A specially good day out with enjoyable company, the sight of the eagle and the red deer and of course the sunshine.

Sunday 21 June - Sail to Stroma.
On an overcast but calm day we visited the Island of Stroma in two boats. Each member was given a map of the Island and had five and a half hours to explore wherever they wished at their own pace. For those who were content to stay together, a visit to the mausoleum and doo'cote was first; a history of this was passed around, some members showed surprise that the graveyard was still in use. Then to the main street and the old church now stacked with old furniture and a tractor parked in the middle!! Outside at the rear, a collection of old whale bones, an ancient hand water pump and milling stones excited interest.

Progressing northwards through a series of placer dams, now dried up. There gulls nesting and the chicks, rudely disturbed, scattered and ran everywhere. The indignant parents dive-bombed the party!

A visit to the gloup came next - an unusually large inland blow hole from which could be seen the peregrine's nest with two fledglings almost ready to fly.

Some of the flowers spotted were primula scotia, ragged robin, squill thrift and various orchids.

Returning down the west coast there was an eider duck with several day old chicks. Farther along was the remains of the wrecked coastal vessel now almost gone.

Finally, late afternoon, the sun came out and it was lovely to relax and watch the many seals on the south shore before a pleasant sunny cruise back to complete the day.

Sunday 12 July
An outing to Warehouse Hill and Cairn of Get led by Gordon Wilson.

The day was dry but dull and sixteen people attended the walk from Whaligoe. We started along the now defunct track of the Lybster Railway passing the old railway cottages as we climbed the hill. Our first stop was at the tail end sluice of the Whaligoe upper dam where the complete water arrangement was explained.

On the next ridge, three Iron Age hut circles were examined before climbing to the Neolithic standing stone on the upper ridge.

Following the old drovers roads to Bruan we passed a pre-clearance settlement with a long house, corn kiln and outer buildings; and so to the Warehouse, after which the hill was named, where we inspected the old and the newer buildings and the garden. Adjacent to this was an Iron Age broch with outer works, the entrance and front areas easily recognisable.

After lunch we visited Kennys neolithic chambered cairn, passed downward round the Whaligoe upper dam to the Cairn of Get and a nearby Bronze age burial cist. There was an early lime kiln on our return route and a hill fort, stone rows and brochs were pointed out to us. This completed the walk but, perhaps worthy of mention - at the Warehouse, we saw a white rabbit and driving home on the Haster Road, we were flagged down by a man and a boy asking if we had passed a wheel on the road!

Whatever next!!

Sunday 2 August - Loch More to Backlass led by Gordon Wilson.
On a warm sunny day though rather wet underfoot twentytwo members met at the dam. We started along the track to Backlass and were met by the Hon. Patrick Sinclair, Estate Manager, who chatted with us for a while and thanked us for seeking permission to walk over his land. He wished us a good day.

At the small burn to the left lay a massive mill wheel which left us speculating on the whereabouts of the mill. We were fortunate to see a small herd of red deer just before reaching Backlass farm. We then explored the farm area noting the Neolithic circle of stones, possible placer dam and mill site and here, we enjoyed lunch in the sun.

Returning the way we came, we stopped at a settlement area. There are possibly four settlements - strangely, one on top of the other, an early ruined croft with round roof and crucks and a communal corn kiln. Then, down to the ruins of an early chapel and beyond this, remains of a long house and an early corn kiln in good condition.

We left for home with the sun still shining and so ended one of the few glorious weekends of the summer.

Sunday 9 August
an outing for Archaeology week to Wag of Forse - led by Gordon Wilson.

A party of 41 met at the car park by the Clan Gunn museum thankful to find that in spite of a dire forecast, the weather was bright and sunny. The walk started along the main road to the old drovers road passing a unique early house with leaded triangular windows.

Soon after entering the field we came to an early spring/well which on examination, appears to have an older section and later addition to furnish water to the adjacent steading; the stepped area down to the spring plus surrounding top stones suggest it might be an early Holy Well. Much interest was shown in the lectern style doo'cot still in excellent condition. Then to the three broch sites which entailed further discussion, after which we headed for the dam where we had lunch.

So on to the Wag of Forse - always impressive, though we have been many times before. Passing bronzeand iron age hut circles we arrived at a standing stone - though there is doubt as to whether it is a boundary marker or a neolithic stone. Farther along we passed the old bell tower, probably 17th century whose purpose was to summom the scattered population to the church below

Quite close by, we saw the original neolithic standing stones, then passing one of the many lime kilns we were back where we started.

Sunday 13 September
A walk Torrisdale to Bettyhill led by Gordon Wilson.

On a bright and sunny day, eighteen members started to walk from Torrisdale. We first crossed the sand dunes to the remains of a neolithic chambered cairn and circumventing the point stopped for coffee where we had outstanding views of the Torrisdale and Bettyhill beaches. Climbing over the rise, we were unlucky not to see divers on the small lochan. A little farther along, we stopped for lunch on the broch situated on a buff overlooking Bettyhill.

We had a good view of the Iron Age settlement from above before descending to examine in detail a plethora of hut circles, bronze age cairns with cists, numerous other cairns and stone rows.

We then crossed the sand beds and ended a perfect day. The sun was still shining!

Sunday 27 September
Borgie river walk and the souterrain.

It was a damp and misty morning showing little promise - twenty-eight faithful members never the less assembled and away we went.

We were fortunate to have the company of Forester Donald McNeill who gave us a short resume' on the history of Borgie Forest - one of the first plantations in Scotland.

The weather remained dry and we walked along the bank of the river to the limit of the forest where we had lunch. We saw wagtails, wheat ears and dippers and salmon leaping high out of the water on their way up river to spawn.

Leaving the river and forest, we went off to visit the souterrain. Most members were fascinated enough to venture inside; Paul Humphreys entered first and remained there to answer questions and show us how well it was built. We did not lose anybody!!

Donald McNeill told us of the existence of another souterrain deep in the East Forest and a dozen of us travelled with him to see this. The keener members squeezed in to have a look though it was rather muddy and close by we found the remains of an early longhouse and kiln.

So ended our day - home rather later than usual but we had seen much of interest and everyone voted it an excellent day out.

Sunday 25 October
Deer watching at Langwell led by Geoff Leet.

Members met at the Nursery at Langwell where we left some of the cars and, more tightly packed set off through the wood. We were relieved to locate the stone which hid the key to the gate and the cavalcade set off slowly up the valley looking impossibly beautiful in the clear sunshine. As we drove, we saw small clumps of deer but much more timid than in earlier years.

We left the cars at the ruined house named Wag and set off for the real wag, avoiding the first burn by crossing the main river by the bridge and later, re-crossing by a bridge farther up. This led to a second burn which could be paddled in wellies and Geoff's wellies were thrown back several times - "God bless these wellies and all who sail in them"! It is difficult to lead in socks but Gordon knew the way to the pre-clearance settlement of Wagmore where we lunched, each bite being recorded on video by Jonathon Kirk. Perhaps we shall see ourselves at the A.G.M.!

The real wag is near-by and circular with a wag annexe. From that, we trecked North east over dubh lochs towards two more wags on the slopes of Morven. David Oliver spotted a greedy stag attempting to preserve his vast herd of hinds against a swarm of hopeful young stags. One of these parallel sided wags proved to be in good condition with four columns still supporting the roof slabs.

Our return drive was enlivened by an attempt to find a souterain beside a hut circle. We did find something!!

Sunday 15 November
A short winter walk around Loch Watenam.

This was our intended walk but due to recent heavy rains it was not possible. However, nothing daunted and under glowering skies fifteen members explored some of the many archaeological sites in the vicinity. Stone rows and chambered cairns from the Neolithic age, hut circles, duns and burial cists from the Bronze age then, brochs, hut circles and hill forts from the Iron age. All were present.

Also of interest was the elaborate water system for the Whaligoe mill and lime kilns, part of the area known as Lime Hills which runs from Wick to Latheron.

We ended our walk just before the weather really deteriorated, most members looking forward to a hot bath when they got home!