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Caithness Field Club

Caithness Field Club Bulletin

Field Club Activities in 2003
by Marion Owen

Sunday 27 April - The year started with our Annual Coach Trip. This was to be "A Tour around Caithness". We left Thurso 9.30am picking up members from Wick along the way.  Our first stop was Sarclet and its harbour; the sun shone as we walked down the track to see the remains of the slipway, capstan and breakwater.  Next, Whaligoe Steps - where the intention had been to walk a little way down the steps to see the landing stage and nesting birds.  However some of us hadn't been here for a while and spurred on by the sunshine many of us galloped all the way down.

The Hill o' Many Stanes was next on our list and nearby was Halberry Head, the site of Crowner Gunn's Castle. On then to Latheron Harbour, a charming spot where we could have spent more time but our soup and sandwiches were awaiting us at Lybster's Portland Arms so Latheron Harbour had to wait until later in the year.

Lunch took a little while and so to Achavanic and its mysterious stone circle and on to Westerdale and its water mill. Here we meant to stop and take photographs but this was where our luck changed and the rain started to come down steadily. From here we drove on through Scotscalder / Westfield / Lythmore and Crosskirk hoping the rain would stop but it was not to be. However, the braver ones amongst us walked down to the chapel at Crosskirk with its graveyard taking in the snuff mill on the way back. We also saw and heard the new windmills - the closer you get and the bigger they look!
The bus tours are always well attended - there had been 45 of us - and it had been a most enjoyable day.
Tuesday 6 May - We had an illustrated lecture in the Pentland Hotel by Elizabeth Beaton on Traditional Buildings in Caithness. Elizabeth delivered her usual competent address to an appreciative audience. Her slides were lovely.

Sunday 18 May - Geoff led a party following "The Priest's Road" over the Scarabens - a walk that had attracted him for a long time. Some of our regular walkers didn't venture on this one - I was one of them - fearing it would be too tiring to be fun but Francis, the gardener from the Estate joined them and was a great help guiding the late-comers to the Chapel site. Two cars were left at Braemore and the main body set off from the garden. They were soon at the Chapel site, then crossed the Strathy Burn and after half a mile the Priest's Road could be seen. It had been a beautiful sunny day, a worth-while walk, perhaps a little longer than usual but everyone was happy about it.

Meanwhile, four ladies who had not joined the walk filled up a car and had a walk in Broubster Forest. This was delightful; I was surprised to see there was a loch there with an up-turned boat - I must not have looked at my map recently! An ideal picnic spot - not much bird life but plenty of botany.

Friday 23 to Monday 26 May -The Club Weekend. In Orkney this year based at the Kirkwall Hotel. We sailed from Gills, sharing cars to cut down on expense. The crossing was calm in both directions - in fact some of us enjoyed a bacon roll on the way out - a most delightful sail. The rest of Saturday was spent exploring Kirkwall, especially St. Magnus Cathedral and of course Judith Glue's Emporium!
Saturday - We left for the Brough of Birsay to visit the Earl's Palace, after which it was time for a pub lunch. During the afternoon we had a date with some of the Orkney Field Club members who had very kindly offered to take us to the Loons R.S.P.B. Reserve. It was unfortunate that the rain started and it proved to be a very wet afternoon. We saw all manner of ducks and swans but the smaller birds largely remained hidden away. As our particular guide remarked "... .they stay at home when it's wet just like we do"!..We did see an owl sitting on a post as we drove away.
Sunday - was a lovely sunny day and we had a delightful sail to Shapinsay from Kirkwall Harbour. The ferry takes about 25 minutes; we were met by a local guide, who walked with us through the village to Balfour Castle and gave us a tour of the castle and its grounds. Hospitality did not stop there and we were given coffee and home made shortbread which was an unexpected treat. We departed Shapinsay about 1.30pm had lunch and next on the agenda was a visit to the Broch of Gumess which looked very impressive in the sunshine. We ate them out of ice cream - there was some argument about who had the last one! On again to Unstan chambered cairn and Barnhouse settlement. Inevitably, we ran out of time and had to get back to the hotel for dinner. Gordon had arranged a Speaker for our last evening and Sandy Firth joined us for dinner, afterwards regaling us with tales of Orkney in days gone by.
Monday ~ The party split into two, half going first to Mine Howe where there was a recent excavation and the other group to Tomb of the Eagles. Then we changed around.
All good things come to an end so now it was time to drive to St Margarets Hope for lunch, a wander around and home on the ferry.
It had been a great weekend. Our thanks are due to Gordon McLachlan who researched and organised our programme very thoroughly.

Sunday 1 June - A walk to Carroll Broch and Ducharry Hill Fort - The route was led by Jack Bamaby and members who preferred a low level walk had a forest and loch walk led by Myra.  We met at Brora car park and using as few cars as possible because of limited parking space we drove to the Ford. Here we divided into two groups, the climbers heading up to the Broch leaving the rest of us to meander along the loch side with occasional forays to examine the remains of settlements.  These settlements are more visible from the hill fort, but it was a beautiful day and we enjoyed the scenery and the company and the sighting of an occasional stag. To add to the general interest. Ken and Myra discovered and identified for us the many plants in bloom that time of year.  The low level walkers were back at the Ford before the others and Myra had time to dip her feet in the water while Richard valiantly walked back to Brora to fetch the car for Joyce.
We had spent a lovely day in the sun and to improve the shining hour, stopped in Brora for a much appreciated ice cream on the way home.

Sunday 15 June - A walk Duncansby to Skirza led by Calum MacKenzie - This was very well attended and included two visitors from S.N.H. so quite a crowd of us took off across the moor with wide views of the sea.
Duncansby Stacks were well populated by sea birds and - to our delight - puffins.  We finally managed to tear ourselves away and commenced our tramp across the turf passing the impressive Wife Geo along the way.  Arriving at Skirza, some of our more energetic members walked back the way we had come for the exercise! Again the weather had been warm and sunny - it had been a great day out.

Wednesday 9 July - Puffins at Drum Holliston - an evening walk led by Ken Butler. An enthusiastic crowd set off in search of puffins and on the sea stack just off the coast, we found puffins a-plenty. We had left Thurso about 7 pm and arrived back on the road about 9.30pm. A lovely evening stroll and it was still pleasantly warm.

Wednesday 6 August - Mid-week walk led by Myra from Lybster Harbour to Achastle (See Lybster To Forse Castle). On what was surely the hottest day of a very hot summer, 15 of us set off up the brae above the harbour. There were pauses to look at flowers and birds as we wended our way along the coast to Achastle. We also kept an eye open on the seaward side in the hope of sighting some of the cetaceans (porpoises, dolphins and whales) which have been observed around our coast this summer, but no luck! This had been a large herring station in the 1800's and there is still evidence of habitation before the herring boom. We lunched here enjoying the scenery and relaxing after our hot walk. Later, some of us revived sufficiently to scramble uphill and along the cliffs for a closer look at the ruins of Forse Castle; the rest of us sought welcome shade in the old buildings.
The return journey seemed to pass more quickly than the outward one - probably spurred on by the thought of cool drinks at the Waterlines cafe.

Sunday 31 August - This is a tale of woe!! A sail to Pentland Skerries had been arranged by Gordon some months ago. On the 27 August, one of the Directors phoned and said that this booking should never have been accepted at our chosen times and if we still wished to sail, they could take us at 0830hrs and return us at 1730hrs. All intending sailors were informed and this was deemed unacceptable. A strong letter of complaint was sent off to which there has been no reply.

Sunday 12 October - A walk for Archaeology Week to Latheronwheel led by Geoff. Twenty members and guests assembled on a rather grey day. First we admired the harbour built in stages from 1842 by Mr Dunbar. Back up the road a little, we crossed the bridge (built 1726) and in the large field to the south we inspected the ruins of the Watch Tower, then on to the long cairn, which like all the monuments here is much damaged. A little farther on, there were stalled cairns and a briar encrusted broch. Almost lunch time now so we followed a wooded track down the hill and back to the bridge.
After lunch, we drove to Houstry and admired the much-altered broch then farther to the Wags noting the surviving example of a secondary beam now recently buried. It was getting cooler now, the weather had not improved so it seemed a good time to head for home.

Friday 21 November - Gordon led a short walk from John O'Groats to Sannick in brilliantly sunny weather tempered by a keen wind. We met at the car park where Gordon told us about the Viking burials found nearby and led us East along the coast path to a chapel site and on to Sannick Bay. Here the Boars of Duncansby were beginning to form.  We returned by the remains of the curious tower house found by the sand excavators in the 1940's.  A nice surprise now - Dr Jack Dunnet who spoke to us at the Annual Dinner had invited us to his house for lunch.  Jack lives at Skirza and he and his wife generously plied us with soup and rolls and our visit ended with a conducted tour of his garden which stretches from road to sea. This was all very enjoyable and there were 17 members present so feeding us was no mean feat.

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