The Caithness Field Club’s First Excursion, 17 May 1902
Among the treasures in the Wick Archive (P286/ae) is the minute book of the earlier Caithness Field Club from 1902 to 1929 when it folded. Most of the members had Wick addresses, and press reports of their outings are preserved in the minute book:-
The first excursion of this Club came off on Saturday when upwards of forty members joined in a drive to Ackergill Tower, where they were received by Mrs Duff-Dunbar, who conducted them over the building. The structural features of this ancient castle, from basement to battlement, were inspected with the deepest interest. History does not give its age, but tradition alleges that it is older than Girnigoe Castle. The many valuable paintings which adorn the walls and staircase, the relics of antiquity and the curios both ancient and modern which the rooms contain, afforded a pleasure which the excursionists will not soon forget. Two standards which hang on the walls of the large dining hall, had a peculiar fascination for some of the party who were descendants of men who had followed these colours as members of the Caithness Legion in the year 1795.
A discussion arose as to the window or embrasure from which Helen Gunn, the beauty of Braemore, flung herself. Some held that it was from the east and others from the west side. Mrs Dunbar, on being appealed to, said that an old woman of eighty-four years of age, and who had been all her days about the castle, told her that she had always understood that it was from a window on the west side.
With considerate kindness Mrs Dunbar entertained the company to tea.
On taking their departure, Bailie Rae on behalf of the excursionists heartily thanked Mrs Dunbar for her hospitality and the great pleasure she had given them in allowing, at much inconvenience to herself, so large a company to have the free run of the castle.
Mrs Dunbar said it gave her much pleasure in doing so and hoped that they had all enjoyed their visit.
The company proceeded along the shore to the site of the historic chapel of St Tears, St Tayres or St Aires, as it is variously spelt, on the farm of Shorelands. Here Mr Charles Fletcher related the tragic incident which took place between the Keiths and the Gunns when twenty of the latter met their death by treachery. There is no doubt about the tragedy, but there is about the locality, though most people believe it to have taken place where they were then met. This gave rise to a discussion in which Bailie Simson, Mr John Robertson, fishery officer, Mr John Dunnet and others joined.
It was resolved to have the next excursion on Saturday fortnight.
This Summer, 2000, coach loads of American Gunns will view the outside of Ackergill Tower and tramp to the newly marked site of St Tears chapel unaware that they are belatedly following the Field Club!