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Caithness Field Club Bulletin
Field Club Activities in 2006 (by Marion Owen)
Sunday April 23 – The Coach Trip – to Durness this year. We drove west – our Leader was George Watson and our Driver Raymond Grant. George as usual gave an excellent commentary and pointed out sights of interest along the way. Our first stop was Bettyhill and after that we sped along until we came to Balnakiel. We didn’t linger at the Craft Village though George told us there was a good bookshop there but we had come to see the old churchyard. This is the site of one of the first churches in Sutherland, the oldest part of the ruined church is Pre-Reformation (16th cent. A.D.) but the foundations are much earlier. Here is the grave of Rob Donn, the Gaelic Bard and within the church wall, the grave of Donald McMurchie, a prolific local murderer.After all this excitement we went for lunch at Sango Bay Oasis where we enjoyed soup and sandwiches. Next stop was Smoo Caves – we weren’t able to go into the cave but we walked down the hill and were able to get close enough to peer inside by crossing the stream. After this we headed for home and arrived in Thurso 4.30pm.
Sunday 7 May – A walk across Dunnet Head looking for Juniper. – This is an exercise in conjunction with S.N.H. who need to know the locality of these plants and their condition. It is known that there are colonies of the alpine version in Caithness, Sutherland and Wester Ross. There was a satisfying number of volunteers,17 in all and Ken split us into three teams to search for this elusive plant. It was all done very scientifically (!!) with the aid of a GPS, areas were roped off and then we proceeded to the next bit. Once we knew what juniper looked like it was quite simple and rewarding and as for sexing the plants – the females had berries so no problem there, but males and barren females are hard to tell apart. We finished our labours around 4.30pm. It was hard work – lots of bending and unfortunately very cold. This is an on-going project and we intend to repeat the exercise this year in another location.
Friday 12 – 15 May The Club Weekend -
Elgin this year at the Eight Acres Hotel. We had chosen well, our
accommodation was fine, lots of single rooms, pleasant staff and a Leisure
Centre for those brave souls who had energy left at the end of the day or
more impressively who got up early for a pre-breakfast swim!
Sunday 21 May – A walk Scrabster to Crosskirk –our contribution to the Caithness Walking Festival. There were 15 Field Club members and the Walking Festival provided 3 more - Geoff Leet was Leader. In cool windy weather we climbed past the decommissioned lighthouse and were shown the carbide gun house which was used instead of a fog–horn. At Holborn Head the sighting of a big cat six months earlier was described. The next feature was the damaged monument to Captain Slater, a naval chart surveyor, who tried to make his horse jump to Orkney! The horse stopped so Slater went on alone. The slate quarry gave us shelter for lunch, then downhill to Brims Castle with gun-ports and a two-hole privy. We saw the mausoleum at the cliff edge, and a graveyard. Over the cliff where the crew from a wrecked Swedish ship were rescued by rope ladder, and on to the road end at Crosskirk where the pilot cars returned the drivers to Scrabster. We never actually crossed the Forss River to Crosskirk Chapel.
Tuesday 6 June – An evening walk led by Geoff. We parked at Clyth village hall, and walked up to the Hill o’Many Stanes. It was a beautiful warm wind-free summer evening – we had a few of those last year- and it was a treat to be outside in the fresh air. Next, to the remains of Crowner Gunn’s Castle at Halberry Head. After this, we had intended to go to Whaligoe but plans changed and we continued along the road turning right for Guidebest. I don’t recall having ever driven down this road but we eventually parked outside a farm on the left and walked down a track to find a stone circle close by the left bank of Latheron Burn. I think we counted seven stones. What a magical evening.
Sunday 18 June – A walk around Strathy and Balligill – Ken Butler intended leading this but had to call off and in the event Jack Barnaby led using a GPS primed by Ken. It was a circular walk of about 4 miles. There was no shortage of plants of every description and it was a lovely day. Ken had left a written description which has now become an article in this Bulletin, so you can read all about it there. Eventually we arrived at Balligill and so back to Strathy and the rain started five minutes before we got to the cars.
Sunday 16 July – A 5 mile walk to Scaraben from
Braemore was advertised and a lower level walk to the Duke of Kent’s
monument as an alternative. Came the day and there was a change of plan –
not many people turned up.
Wednesday 26 July – a short evening walk with Ken
to Isauld Burn There was good attendance for a walk that began at
Sutherland’s garage, where we parked (by kind permission) and walked
behind the garage and down to the burn. There we saw the coarse grasses
and umbellifers typical of the mature sandy soil. There are lots of
primroses and several primrose-cowslip hybrids when walking to the golf
course. Skirting round the golf course and The Cottage we got into the
complexities of wild roses – there is Rosa mollis here and Rosa sherardii
as well as Rosa caesia and intermediates too! The thin soil and short turf
around this area has delightful dwarfed herbs and some orchids. In the
burn at this point is the remains of a ram-jet pump which once supplied
Sandside House with water, but it was too overgrown and muddy to reach.
Sunday 13 August – A walk Slettel village to
Scullomie and Coldbackie. Jack was leading – There were 12 people. A long
drive on narrow roads not helped by a herd of cows being moved and
incredibly 6 Jaguar cars in convoy! Some of the cars were left at
Coldbackie and the walk started at Strathan on a grey wet morning. The
initial climb up the hillside was easier than on previous visits as a new
track had been laid out and marker posts erected. The onward journey to
Slettel afforded splendid views of the coast and islands and we had lunch
in one of the old houses and wandered around amongst the ruins.
Sunday 17 September – A walk for Archaeology
month – An exploration of Broubster Square led by Geoff. 16 people came on
a beautiful day though soggy underfoot after the recent wet weather. First
we looked at the remains of the stone circle on a moorland ridge between
Broubster and Loch Calder. Only 9 of the original 32 remain. Broubster
suffered the same fate as Shurrery and Shebster in the clearances and 192
families were removed from this small area. I don’t know how many
homesteads there were originally but I believe there was a school built
1893. It is always nostalgic to wander around these ruins and imagine what
life was like 100 years ago.
Sunday 24 September – “A Telford Walk “ with Jennifer Bruce.17 people came. This was a different sort of walk – Jennifer has an article about this in the Bulletin so I won’t go into too many details. We followed water channels, lots of little bridges and barbed wire fences and had lunch in a kindly farmer’s barn out of the rain. We visited the harbour to see the outfall and ended the day at Mackay’s Hotel for tea and lots of nibbles; Jennifer had prepared a display of maps and photographs to further explain what we had seen.
Sunday 1 October – A walk for Archaeology
Fortnight led by Paul Humphreys – An exploration of Dirlot and Environs.
20 people turned up although early morning had been foggy and it was still
very wet underfoot. Paul had lots to tell us – making a living in those
days must have been hard work. Three classes of people were involved in
farming – Landowners, tenants and cottars. The land owners had their own
farm on the best land, the tenant farmers had their small strips of ground
for which they paid rent in the form of grain and labour on the landlord’s
farm; the cottars were at the bottom of the pile and lived quite frugally
on their crofts paying their rents mainly by labouring on the home farm
usually their poor ground did not yield enough to keep them. There are
fragmentary remains of 20 stone rows difficult to find.