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Dovecotes Of Caithness

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Notes On three Nineteenth Century Caithness Dovecotes

(map ref. ND064643)

Dale House Dovecote

Three Caithness Doocotes
Dale House, Westerdale Halkirk Parish
Freswick - Canisbay Parish
Ackergill - Wick Parish

  Freswick Dovecote

Forse Dovecote

Dunbeath Castle Dovecote

Dunbeath Dovecote on Doors Open Day

Ackergill Castle Dovecotes

Stroma Dovecote

The Stroma Dovecote is part of the mausaleum

Dovecotes In Caithness
Notes by Dunbeath Preservation Trust
Dove-cotes are among the earliest of farm buildings in Caithness, as elsewhere, the oldest beehive-form dates from the late 16th century.  cotes would have been constructed only on a landowner's estate: their presence can either point to a mansion-site or to an earlier dwelling. These prestigious farm buildings also suggest that the land was productive, particularly in grain - indicating an agrarian prosperity in Caithness.  an Act of Scots Parliament in 1617 restricted the construction of dove-sotes to those with land that had an annual value of 10 chalders of grain within 2 miles of the building.

There are seven free-standing doocots in Caithness (Dunbeath, Forse, Dale, Stemster, Freswick, Ackergill and Stroma) and a number integral to farm steadings (e.g. Barrock) or attached to walls (e.g. Sandside).  In Caithness there are three distinct types - the beehive, so called because it resembles the domed straw bee skep (Dale , Freswick); those that are rectangular with gable ends (Stemster, Stroma); and the lean-to or'lectern' form (Ackergill, Dunbeath , Forse).  They are built of good quality stone, lined with square stine nesting boxes and some with Caithness flag roofs.

Built south-facing to catch the sun with pigeon port or entrance also on this side.  The Dovecotes have a 'rat-course', an encircling protrusion of stone primarily designed to prevent entry by rats but also providing alighting or resting-placesfor the birds.

Each dovecote has its own style - double chamber, swept dormers, 12 crowsteps at Forse, single-chamber with 400 nesting boxes at Dunbeath, twin double-chambered lecterns with the comfort of plastering at the back of the boxes at Ackergill; 350 boxes rise in ever-diminishing rows and wooded framing - unusual for such an early dovecote at Dale.

A Story About Dale House Doocote
Dale House doo-cote is older than the existing house which is indicitave of an older building, presumably the house of the tower as mentioned in Henderson's Family History of the Budges of Dale.  Dale House became the tenanted farm-house in 1800 and was occupied by a family called Gunn who established around it a major farming enterprise.  Across the river was a small estate of Westerdale, owned by John Henderson, who in the Scots description would be described as 'a bonnet laird'.  Pigeons from the Dale doo-cot raided the hen's food that Henderson put out.  He complained to the Gunn's who rather mightily dismissed him with the words 'poind them'.  this term referring to the penning up of stray animals which would thne have to be recovered by their owner, who would have to pay a suitable charge.  Henderson went back to Westerdale and into the mash for his hens he stirred a considerable amount of whisky.  When the Dale pigeons came for their regular feed they were soon drunk and incapable of flying!  Henderson gathered them up in sacks and put word over to the Gunn's 'I have your pigeons, come and get them now!'