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Caithness Field Club

Caithness Field Club Bulletin

Field Club Activities in 2004 (by Marion Owen)

Sunday 18 April – Coach Trip to Talmine – Every other year, the weather has been at least reasonable and more often it has been excellent – blue skies, warm sunshine etc. This was the year that broke with tradition. It rained almost consistently! First to Helmsdale, mainly for a comfort stop then along the strath where we inspected two souterrains and viewed from the comfort of the coach, hut circles and other iron age antiquities. On to Strath Naver passing the home of the notorious Patrick Sellar with its red roof and eventually to the Craggan Inn at Talmine for a sandwich lunch. On the way back the rain was still unrelenting, a few brave souls walked up the hill to look at one of the secret hides from World War 2 and so we returned home.

The Club Weekend – We had chosen Ballater this year staying at the Glen Lui Hotel which turned out to be an excellent choice – the hotel stood in its own extensive grounds overlooking the golf course.
Ballater rose to fame in the latter part of the 18th century after the discovery of supposedly beneficial waters at nearby Pannanich. Now it is an agreeable holiday town with many fine walks.
Saturday we headed for the Muir of Dinnet – a National Nature Reserve noted for its kames and kettle-holes – features of glacial action in the past. The largest hole is the Burn o’Vat, an extraordinary landscape feature well worth seeing. We had arranged to meet the Ranger, Phil Glennie, who told us that a wedding had taken place there recently and we wondered how the bride had negotiated the very narrow entrance !
On then to Loch Kinord with its Crannog dating from the bronze age and Loch Davan both noted for their bird life.

After lunch we were off to Tomnaverie and its recumbent stone circle and finally to Blue Cairn which was a horned long cairn just off the A97. This more or less completed our wanderings and the next day was Sunday.

We started at Knockargetty – an Iron Age hill fort, then to Kincardine o’Neil pleasantly situated on the left bank of the Dee with its ancient Mediaeval church on the main street. After lunch to Craigievar Castle – a superb example of a fortified tower house – a fairytale castle dating from 1610. Now in the care of the National Trust and an enthusiastic and well informed young lady gave us the guided tour. Our visit was altogether delightful, our attention drawn particularly to the magnificent plasterwork in the Great Hall.
Our last call of the day was to the Peel of Lymphana with its Mott and Bailie Castle unusual in that this one was low and wide.
Monday, we were left to our own devices. Corgarff and Kildrummy Castles were not far away and there were pleasant walks along the disused railway.

Sunday 16 May – A climb to the summit of Morven by kind permission of the Langwell Estate. This was led by Geoff and was our contribution to this year’s walking festival. 48 members and friends accompanied him on a lovely warm day. There was also a low level walk for people who just preferred to enjoy the sunshine. Everyone who started the climb made it down to the bottom again and we drove home with the sun still shining.

Sunday 30 May – A walk to the Duke of Kent’s Monument led by Jack and Myra. We all remember the story of how the Duke of Kent was killed when his Sunderland Flying boat crashed in 1942 in thick fog. This is a well documented piece of history to which I have nothing to add but on this perfect sunny day it was a most delightful walk. We ate our lunch in the shadow of the Memorial stone and many photos were taken.

Sunday 27 June - A walk to the broch at Balnacoill Strath Brora led by Calum MacKenzie. – On a rather unpromising day, a small group of a dozen members gathered on the road below Balnacoil Lodge and set off along the track running along the hillside above the Blackwater River, which runs into the River Brora nearby. Although there were menacing clouds around, for the most part the sun shone for us and the walking was very pleasant. Our objective was to visit the broch which is situated in the Black Water strath. There are quite a few listed hut circles in the area and at several points some of us left the track to clamber up the hill to try and identify them on the ground. One large group was shown on the hillside above the broch and we all took to the hill, finding them easily. We had our picnic lunches amongst the stones of one large hut circle, where we could see the broch at the bottom of the hill right beside the river. We could also see the very dark clouds coming up over the hill behind the river! We therefore lost no time in coming down, across the track and down to the broch, which sits on a raised area ending in a cliff at the river’s edge. At this point, it started raining, not very hard but we could see and hear a full-blown thunderstorm raging to the north. The broch is still quite impressive, though the wall on the cliff side has fallen away. To the south of the broch, the raised, flat area was covered with bracken making walking rather difficult. A defensive ditch around the broch was clearly visible, running around the broch platform where it was not defended by the river. After a good look round in the rain we all returned to the path, whereupon the rain cleared and we walked back in the sunshine again.

Wednesday 15 July – A tour around Olrig House by kind permission of the Reverend and Mrs Vellacott. There were about 30 people although this visit was restricted to members only, so the party was split into three and each group in turn were given a guided tour of the house, the gate lodge and the garden. The gate lodge is particularly delightful – restored in 1994 with its diminutive oriel window and ribbed and studied front door. Our hosts – charming and hospitable as usual plied us with refreshments before we left.

Sunday 25 July – Botany at Dunnet Links led by Ken Butler. It was a grey day and the ground was wet, but setting out from the Mid-Sands car park it was a fine walk across the sandy Links of Greenland . The show of flowers was superb so we began with the orchids: The Northern Marsh, the Early Marsh, the Common Spotted, the Fragrant, the Twayblade and the diminutive Frog orchids were all on show and differentiated. The Field Gentians and the Autumn Gentians were both prominent and colourful, the Scottish Primrose was almost past flowering and the Hair Sedge was too. At one point there was a large patch of Common Wintergreen, which is a rare plant in Caithness. The party crossed into Dunnet Forest to consider the various trees it contains, then down across the dunes to the beach, noting the variety of umbellifer family specimens seen on the way. The Magellan Ragwort was showy above the strandline on the way to the Beachcomber car park

Sunday 8 August – A walk on Learable Hill Kildonan led by Calum MacKenzie. About a dozen members decided to brave the unpromising weather. When we arrived at Learable, grey clouds and a threatening curtain of mist made the duration of the walk uncertain but having been assured we wouldn’t melt (or do I mean dissolve!!) we crossed the suspension bridge over the Helmsdale River and set off. Our aims were to look at some of the many features marked on the map, in particular one of the cup-marked stones that had eluded us on previous visits. We reached the top of Learable Hill and spent some time examining the stone rows, cairns and the standing stone with a small incised cross. The rows are very hard to make out in the heather as the surviving stones are so small, but we could just make out enough to see how the rows ran. Though the mist was still threatening, it did not seem to be coming any closer, so we continued down the hill to our next objective, the cup-marked stones. One stone was easy to find but not the more interesting one. After our picnic by an old field wall,it was a young visitor with us whose sharp eyes spotted a stone a little way off that seemed to fit the description. It was indeed the elusive cup-marked stone, hidden amongst some trees. It has over a dozen cup-marks carved into its surface; as ever we all wondered what they were for. After a good look and many photographs we set off downhill making our way along the lower levels where we came upon the ruins of several croft houses before crossing the railway line to reach the bridge. It was still early afternoon and most of us decided to visit Kildonan Lodge Gardens which were open that day. We enjoyed a walk in the beautiful well kept gardens and in the local hall to finish off a great day had a splendid afternoon tea provided by members of the local charities who were benefiting from the Open Day.
Appropriately, Calum won a bottle of wine in the raffle!! Congratulations Calum!!

Wednesday 25 August – A wander around Wick- a short evening stroll with Iain Sutherland. We met at the Heritage Centre and he took us around old Poultney Town showing us the old buildings explaining how old they were and the uses to which they had been put. As usual Iain was a mine of local information – he has a lot of tales to tell and it was a most informative evening.

Wednesday 15 September – A walk for Archaeology month led by Ken Butler. Quite a crowd of us parked cars by the Achavanich stone circle and off we went for the boggy walk to Badryrie. We did in fact expect a boggy walk but in the event it was not as bad as we had feared and we escaped with fairly dry feet. The cottage which once belonged to an aged relative of the late D.B. Miller was still very much the same with the hidden still and the hole in the wall for the bible. We looked at our Tree Regeneration project which was coming along nicely – we noted that the undergrowth seemed to be thicker. On the botanical side we saw lots of strange fungi – could they or could they not be eaten ?! The weather stayed fine for us and I think that members and visitors had enjoyed the outing.

Sunday 10 October – A walk for Archaeology week. Geoff led us to the Wag of Forss. This is a well documented walk – we have been many times but it is always interesting and we invariably find something new. The wag is spectacular, the doo’cot is quite the best example of its kind that I, at least have ever seen, we saw lime kilns and a souterrain and Geoff regaled us with the story of the secret hides from World War 2 one of which is hidden in the woods here. Meg Sinclair accompanied us and we always enjoy her company and wealth of local knowledge. The weather had been fine and we had all enjoyed our day.

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