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Caithness Field Club Bulletin
Field Club Activities 2017 (by Tony Bradford)
Sunday 5 February: A short winter walk in Dunnet Forest, led by Tony On an unseasonably warm day, 14 set out along the beach to connect to the path leading into the woods. Here their leader managed to lose them around the myriad paths; resulting more in resigned tolerance rather than outright mutiny. Finally arriving at the hidden Ginger Bread cabin, Jim Calder regaled us over our lunch with tales of the farmers’ legal tussle to prevent the whole of the links area being planted with trees: thus saving the future Coronation Meadows. Joy saw a Tree Creeper in the wood and showed a flock of Widgeon at the north end of the beach through her telescope.
Tuesday 25 to Friday 28 April: the club midweek, stay at the Glen Lui Hotel at Ballater The surprise late snow fall made it difficult to even reach our destination, however the Glen Lui Hotel gave a warm welcome with a fine dinner. On Wednesday morning the proposed easy walk on Craig an darach was made more difficult by overnight freezing. However the lower level circular walk still gave a good view of the glacial valley. The lower level Sessile Oaks had an ancient understorey of Blaeberry, Ling, Woodrush, Dog Violet, Wood Anemone and Bugle. Then to Balmoral Castle for lunch and a wander around the grounds and rooms open to the public. Then a visit to the Burn O’ Vat, which turned out, on entering, to be an impressive deep bowl, ground out by swirling rocks under the glacier. There was just enough time left for a quick completion of the first walk. The ascent was deceptively easy, but going down on the north side encountered slippery deep snow, resulting in undignified tumbles. Others chose a more sensible walk around a trail near The Burn O’ Vat. Thursday involved long drives, fortunately helped by rain clearing the snow. First to Craigievar Castle near Banchory: a reliably conserved NT property, which provided us with coffee then lunch. Next to Alford to find that the small railway engine that was meant to give us a ride, had been de-railed. Nobody was over keen for the walk around the park land in the rain, which might have been a diversion from watching the attempts to restore the engine using jacks and a 4x4 car. In the end all was saved by the splendid Transport Museum. I was particularly taken with a display of working models of steam locomotives and traction engines, but there was plenty more to keep everybody happy. Not many managed to find the final item on our itinerary: the Peel of Lumphanan. Margaret and Robert did, and reported, not only seeing the Norman motte, but also finding a souterrain. The final evening was marked by heart felt presentations to Marion and Geoff, retiring after so many years way beyond the call of duty.
Tuesday 16th May: Railway Cavalcade to Kildonan This departure from tradition attracted 13 including a wheel chair user. The party divided between those taking the road to the grounds of the burnt out Suisgill Lodge and others crossing the river and railway to Learable hill. Here the cross incised stone was located, along with visible standing stones, but stone rows would have needed a larger party to mark them. At the lodge garden we found 3 of the weird Japanese Umbrella Pine that were noted in John Miller’s fine little book, Trees of the Northern Highlands. There were also fruit trees in flower, native Bluebells and a lone Tortoiseshell butterfly. We took our lunch nearer to the station at an idyllic spot overlooking the river. Here there was a nest of Yellow Ants, with some flying caste coming and going at the entrance. Apart from the return train being 20 minutes late, there were no adverse experiences for this outing – a new mode for some – and the train staff could not have been more helpful.
Wednesday 7th June: Walk to Holborn Head led by Joy On a breezy but dry day, 8 people sneaked into the fenced off ferry area to admire the Caithness Volunteer planted scree, then beyond to the sheltered scrapheap under the wall up to the pier. The Vipers Bugloss was not yet in flower, but Kidney Vetch, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Wild Thyme, Ragged Robin, Bell Heather, Mousetail Hawkbit, Northern Marsh and Early Purple Orchid were. Then we headed up the Lighthouse road for the path to the headland. Here there was the intriguing Bitter Vetchling, surviving the weed killing campaign. Unfortunately there were no Auks on the cliffs and the Clett, only Gulls on the top. The walk was finished by taking the scenic route around above the harbour.
Wednesday 12th July: Old Thrumster Station and Broch trail, organized by Eleanor On a balmy afternoon 21 people arrived at the lovingly restored station on the old Lybster light railway. Ian Giles showed us around and described how the restoration was done, including a short length of track and the station platform constructed of sleepers. The work also included a surrounding flower meadow with trees and a pond. Islay McLeod then led us to the broch in the grounds of Thrumster House. This was laid out as a garden feature by Victorian owners, but not all archaeology was lost. It was recently surveyed by AOC Archaeology Group, and Islay described their findings. Then she and her daughter treated us, in her late 18th Century house, to a sumptuous afternoon tea. This was also co-hosted by impeccably behaved German Pointers, who, we were assured were working dogs.
Wednesday 16th August: Reay core path walk led by Tony In pleasant weather, 9 people joined the sign posted core path at the east end of New Reay, which follows estate and forestry drives eastward towards Old Reay. The only recognisable insects seen were Black Darter dragonflies; where a fortnight before there had been hosts of butterflies and bumbles. The prominent flowers were Yarrow and Sneezewort. At Old Reay we visited the old cemetery to view the Pictish Cross set into the wall of a chapel. Jenny pointed out the grave of one of the Patterson brothers who came north to manage the new cleared sheep farms. We then walked past the church, into the golf course, down to the dune area for a lunch break. Here we saw a lot of Autumn Gentian, with some Field Scabious and Greater Knapweed, as well as the more common Black Knapweed. We walked along the foreshore to the old ice house, which was now sealed up, presumably because it was thought to be hazardous. Returning by the road to the start, we found a plant of Goats Beard with a spectacular seed head. It then only remained to view the old Mercat Cross.
Sunday 8th October: an outing for HER Archaeology Month, visiting Dirlot, led by Tony On an un-seasonably mild day, 14 turned up, including 3 recruited by HER advertising. We first walked to the stone rows, which are reputed to be the most intact example in the county. Unfortunately they are bisected by a boundary fence and were mainly hidden by tall heather. We tried our best to mark rows with bodies for photographs, but this manoeuvre was rather lacking in numbers. Then back to the remains of the castle for lunch and a lurid reading from Calder’s History of Caithness about the feuding Keiths (owners of the castle) and the Gunns. In the fenced off RSPB reserve, an isolated Guilder Rose was seen on the opposite side of the gorge, and a female Hen Harrier was searching overhead.