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The Importance of Caithness Stone
Gordon Wilson

All around Caithness can be found the remains of quarries; mostly defunct but some now back in use for commercial sales. One of these quarries – it is thought – at Upper Dounreay – dates from pre-historic times. Certainly we know that early Neolithic (Stone age) settlers first discovered that the local stone split easily, making it simple for them to build their chambered cairns. The Bronze age people used the slabs for the basic foundation of their hut circle and burial cists. Again, during the Iron age, we see prominent use of stones for hut circles, wags, aisle houses and wheel houses.

An early use of this unique stone was the standing stones and stone rows; at this time we also have the building of brochs which are found mainly in Northern Scotland – possibly early look-out towers. The Norsemen are believed to have built the earliest castles in the North; for example, the Old Man of Wick and Forss Castles. They did not find it difficult to construct sound defences using Caithness slabs.

The Mediaeval age brought the long houses, corn kilns and then the crofts where the early houses had cupboards, recesses, shelving and roofing tiles.

Even today, it has many uses. Paving stones used all over the world, fanks for sheep shelters, beast barriers on the roads, wells, water tanks, clothes poles and gate posts, roof slabs and tiles. Recently spotted - flues in the courtyard of the Clachan coffee shop in Thurso and drain covers at Mary Anne’s cottage. Caithness should be thankful for its stone and it is good to see that we still make use of it.