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Caithness Field Club

Caithness Field Club Bulletin

Field Club Activities in 2002
by Marion Owen

Sunday April 21 - Coach trip to Strath Brora which was well attended as usual. We left Thurso 9.00am and Wick at 9.30am. Our first stop was the Royal Marine at Brora, famous for its coffee and shortbread. Then to Dunrobin Castle where we walked through the grounds seeing the magnificent doo'cot on the way arriving at the Sutherland Arms Golspie - this was to be our lunch stop. We went on the road again to Rogart where we were shown around St Callan's church and graveyard by a very knowledgeable Mr MacDonald.

The same Mr MacDonald then escorted our coach to the home of a crofter where Bertie Boa was expecting us and these two gentlemen accompanied by two sheepdogs walked with us to the river. Here we saw the baptismal font of St Mirren - very well hidden, that we would never have found without assistance. After this, a leisurely drive through Strath Brora noting the Cross on a rock in the middle of the loch on the right which is a memorial to the Tizer family.

There was an obligatory stop in Brora for an ice cream and then home to dinner. The weather had been warm and sunny all day encouraging us to think of the delights of summer to come.

Sunday 26 May - A walk around the Forse estate led by Jack Barnaby -We started at Nottingham Mains Farm where our hosts - Mr and Mrs Sinclair, greeted us. Mrs Sinclair came with us for the main part of the walk and was a valuable source of information throughout.
The walk took us initially to the Forse House doo'cot which was built in the lectern style in the 18th century and is one of the best built and best preserved doo'cots in the north of Scotland. It contains over 400 nesting boxes and was a valuable source of meat for the estate.
We then proceeded to the first of five brochs that lie within a mile radius of the farm buildings. This broch had been partially excavated to reveal the whereabouts of the entrance but the ruins were largely untouched. From the site it was possible to see the four other brochs in the area. After this we took a roughly circular route seeing a wide variety of artefacts showing that this area had probably been inhabited continuously since the Bronze Age.

The most impressive site visited was the Wag of Forse. Excavations have shown that the site was initially a Bronze Age settlement of stone huts. Subsequently during the Iron Age a broch was built on the site no doubt using material from the settlement. Later, at least two long houses were built, partially destroying the broch in the process. These houses collectively known as a Wag had their slab roofs supported by stone columns and were connected by covered passageways. This is a very interesting site with enough of the original buildings remaining to set your imagination racing.

Elsewhere, we visited the dam and associated lochan that once supplied water to the mill about a mile away. A number of hut circles of bronze and iron age design can be seen and at least two have associated souterains which are underground passages leading away from the circles whose purpose is unknown. We also found burnt mounds which are evidence of a cooking technique whereby pre-heated stones are placed in a water- filled cooking vessel to provide the source of heat. Farming through the ages is illustrated by evidence of lazy beds, ruins of corn kilns and associated buildings such as a winnowing barn, also the spring which fed the whole area until recent times is still active and feeds into a number of wells around the estate.

A house, The Quoys, which was built by the Laird, in Irish style to combat his Irish wife's homesickness, illustrates more recent history.

A short detour to examine a standing stone completed the tour of this fascinating site which was greatly enjoyed by all. Even the weather was sunny and the botanists in the party with Ken's expert help found much to interest them during the walk.

Sunday 9 June - A walk Invernaver to Torrisdale - Cars were left at the end of Bettyhill Bridge on a dry but blustery day; 18 members and friends set off over the sandy, peaty area of the Invernaver Nature Reserve. With Ken Butler to point out and name the many plants special to this area (one lady listed at least 50 plants), we wended our way slowly towards the Iron Age Broch on the sandy buttress above the settlement area. Climbing up the side of the burn, where some Mountain Avens were still in flower, we were glad of the shelter of the broch at lunch time.

Jack Barnaby pointed out the hut circles and burial cists on the raised settlement area below - these are much easier to see from above - they were explored later at ground level. Our walk continued over the ridge of Druim Chuibhe passing the lochan to the Torrisdale side overlooking the River Borgie. We circled the ridge, admiring the views and dropped down to examine the hut circles and cists at close quarters before struggling back to the cars against a strong wind.

The sun then decided to make a tardy appearance and some of the party continued to the very interesting souterain at Borgie which was fortunately dry. This is a very impressive souterain, which was discovered purely by accident by Mr Murray, the crofter who owns the land.  On the way home, some people who had not previously visited the Brough of Borgie went off with Geoff Leet while the sensible ones took off for a comfort stop and an ice cream before returning home.

Sunday 28 July - A walk up Armadale Bum led by Ken Butler - This was our "Wet Walk" of the year. We met at the station in pouring rain though we were assured that the sun was shining brightly on Wick and Dunnet. Away we went, parked our cars on the south side of the bridge on the old loop road and headed up the bum, our eventual goal being the Broch.

The area around here is "A Site of Scientific Interest" and we had asked permission from Mrs Henderson of Armadale Farm which was readily granted. The midges scenting food arrived almost immediately and stayed with us much of the way. Along the walk, Ken identified for us many flowers and plants; there is plenty to interest the botanist - though some of us have to be trained where to look!

Arriving at our destination temporarily midge free we ate a damp lunch sitting on damp rocks and due to the unrelenting rain decided not to venture farther. We were home by mid afternoon - I for one happy to get into a hot bath!

Wednesday 14 August - The dig at Everley Broch - An informal outing to see the progress made by the Edinburgh University Team this year. Andrew Heald was the Archaeologist in charge of a team of enthusiastic diggers. There is an article by Andrew elsewhere in the bulletin.

Saturday 24 August - Lyn Leet took us to see some of our lovely old churches. This was the 125th Anniversary of S.P.A-B. (Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings). 28 members met in Sir George's Square in Thurso on a beautiful day and the first church was, of course, St Peter's and St Andrew's which was built to replace Old St Peter's in Wilson Street.

On to Canisbay and another fine old church built on high ground overlooking Gills Bay and the Pentland Firth which for centuries served as a land mark for shipping. Our last stop was Dunnet Parish Church- probably 17th century - a simple low whitewashed T plan church enclosed within a walled burial ground overlooking Dunnet Bay. Here, we were given a most welcome cup of tea by some of the ladies of the Parish. A thoughtful end to a most enjoyable afternoon.

Sunday 1 September - A walk from Westerdale to Dirlot - led by Geoff Leet.
Cars were parked at the Westerdale Bridge and we walked through the ex. peat works along the riverbank to see the broch. Retracing our footsteps we then headed for Dirlot pausing to look at some of the lovely old stones in the cemetery and so to Dirlot Castle. This is one of my favourite places and the sun shone down on us whilst we ate our lunch. As somebody commented - there is not a lot left of the castle, though it has been there for many centuries. Built by Ronald Cheyne about 1350, it changed hands rather a lot over time until in 1640 it passed to Patrick Sinclair of Ulbster as part of a marriage settlement to Elizabeth MacKay.

Across a barbed wire fence there are stone rows which had to be inspected before we moved on. A short drive took us to Loch More where we saw the salmon ladder and a short walk along the track took us to the old mill wheel and the remains of the old mill.

The Club Weekend- 6-9 September - This was to the Balmacara Hotel, Kyle of Lochalsh. We duly arrived at the Hotel in time for dinner and passed the evening discussing the weekend programme prepared for us by Gordon and Calum.

We had heard various reports about the hotel but in the event, it was very pleasant and all our rooms overlooked the Kyle of Rhea.

Saturday the 7th came and we drove to Balmacara Square for a talk by the Warden, Ian Turnbull, who told us about the property owned by the National Trust. This was followed by a very pleasant walk through Coille Mhor Woods to the Loch where there was a crannog. Back to the square we had our lunch, then drove to Plockton where we visited an open air church resulting from the Disruptions.

The day ended with a visit to Eilean Donan Castle (Clan MacRae); we were given a guided tour by a very efficient lady after which a visit to the cafe and shop seemed almost obligatory. The carrot cake was excellent!

Sunday the 8th - We left the hotel at 9.30am to drove to Bernera Barracks. This is a ruin now, said to have been built to house 200 men sometime after the rising of 1715. Long after the troops had left, the barracks gave shelter to many of the victims of the Clearances particularly from Knoydart.

We were on our way then to Glenelg and the great brochs of Dun Troddan and Dun Telve. They are still very impressive and standing to a height of 20 feet in parts. Many photographs were taken!

Our next stop was the old military bridge built by General Wade and on to the ruined church of Clachan Duich beside a war memorial with lovely open views over the countryside.

We ended the afternoon once again at Eilean Donan's coffee shop.

Monday the 9th - We went home today. There was plenty of choice of delights to see on the way back. Some of us headed for the Bright Water Centre and there was Strome Castle and Applecross. We went to Attadale House Gardens, which were delightful and astonishingly midge free.

A great vote of thanks was accorded to Gordon Maclachlan and Calum MacKenzie for organising everything so efficiently.

Sunday 20 October - A walk for Archaeology Week led by Geoff Leet - East Coast Castles. We started with the oldest mainland Castle possibly built 1160 by the Norse Earl of Caithness; this was the Castle of Old Wick. We noted the filled moat, the ledges inside to support internal floors and match thinning of the walls as they ascended.

Then to Girnigoe and Sinclair with their grim history. The sea gate is notable as are the gun loops, dungeon and hidden room above the kitchen On then to Keiss Castles - Old Keiss Castle built about 1600 by the 5th Earl of Caithness, passed to George Sinclair of Keiss in 1691, was ruinous by 1700. New Keiss Castle built 1755 as a three storey house - similar to Freswick. The Preaching Knight, Sir William Sinclair used a room in the old castle as the first Baptist Church in Scotland. David Bryce added new wings and turrets in 1860. Our last stop was Ackergill with its legend of fair Helen Gunn of Braemore leaping to her death from the battlements to avoid the brutal and licentious Keith! The history is all very well documented. Recently, a fire escape stair was required from the attic rooms and it is fitted within the great chimney.

Saturday 9 November - The Annual Dinner at the Pentland Hotel this year. This was a particularly good evening. Apart from an initial wait of half an hour, service was good and the meal was excellent. Our After Dinner Speaker was Nancy Nicolson - a lady of many parts. We hear her sometimes on Radio Scotland. I really do not know what the subject of her talk was, she had brought with her a small accordion and soon had us singing along with her. I have promised to send her a copy of our summer programme and she may well join us on one of our outings in the Summer.

Sunday 17 November - A winter walk on the Langwell estate led by Francis Higgins After two days depressing, continuous rain, it was a surprise and a great joy to be greeted by blue skies and sun shining on frosted grasses and ice-covered puddles. Twenty members joined Francis who is the gardener at Langwell for a walk on the Estate going first for a short distance along the cliff top with spectacular views both seaward and landward towards Scaraben and Morven. We then crossed the A9 and walked through the trees encountering a group of startled looking cattle - though perhaps we were more startled to find them there! At the edge of the planting we had a wonderful view down to the river and the gardens of Langwell House. We lunched here, watching the deer on the hillside opposite and below us, then off to a broch site and settlement which gave rise to much speculation and discussion.

The walk continued back above the river where we eventually descended to cross and re-cross it. The second crossing over a most impressive bridge which Francis thinks came from the old Lybster Railway - the river at this point is very deep with a lovely long, narrow waterfall. The path took us back to the gardens passing a lone stag with an impressive spread of antlers which stood so still that he was difficult to pick out against the background. Those of us who did not have to go and pick up cars had a walk through the gardens and the ice on the pond kept the four youngsters amused until the cars returned.

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