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Caithness Field Club

Caithness Field Club Bulletin
2008

Field Club Activities 2007 (by Marion Owen)

Sunday 6 May - An outing for the Walking Festival - Badbea - Ousdale-Leader Geoff Leet. A wild sunny day - 17 people started off for Badbea. The village is well documented; small numbers of ruined crofts dispersed along the cliff top each with its own patch of cultivated ground still showing as grassy islands in the heather. The track leads to a monumental stone pillar set on the ruins of a long-house. This was erected in 1911 by Donald Sutherland from New Zealand in memory of his father who was born at Badbea in 1806.

Our walk was made easier due to the Estate having done some "gardening" and a lot of the bracken had been cut back. We spent quite some time in the old buildings (grateful for temporary shelter from the wind which was now gusting up to 70!).

Back to the cars for lunch followed by a walk to Ousdale Broch. Some of our party decided that they had been blown about quite enough and the rest continued to the broch where there is still quite a bit to explore. It was pleasant to call at Laidhay for refreshments on the way home.

18-21 May - The Club Weekend - Nethy Bridge this year.  We settled in to the very pleasant Nethy Bridge Hotel with plenty of time for dinner and a chat; Calum was to lead us on the first day.

Saturday morning, a showery, windy day, we visited a souterrain and a pre-clearance village situated just north of Lynchat some 2km NE of Kingussie. We parked at Chapelpark farm where a short walk along a track and across a neighbouring field brought us to the most impressive souterrain we had ever visited. Situated on a platform built out from a gentle south facing slope above the River Spey, it is known locally as An Uaimh Mhor (The Great Cave) or Raitts cave. It was brought to the attention of the philosopher Sir David Brewster (the son-in-law of James MacPherson the "translator of Ossien's poems and owner of the estate) in 1835. He excavated it and reported his findings to the Society of Antiquities in 1863.

An early drawing of the souterrain shows a horse-shoe shaped structure on a NE-SW axis, somewhat truncated on its western arm and entered from the NW by a sloping entrance some 4.9m long. The souterrain itself was 19.5m long, 2.13m wide and 2.06m high. Unfortunately at some time it was entered from the south side destroying some of the structure. What these buildings (dating from approx.AD100 - 400) were used for is debatable - suggestions range from food storage to ritual use.

A short walk uphill brought us to the village of Raitts. The village was cleared by James MacPherson in the early 19th century. The footings of some 15 buildings can be clearly seen as can the course of a road which ran through the township. Boundary walls and enclosures can also be traced. The buildings include dwellings, byres, corn drying kilns etc. They would have been constructed of turf walls on stone footings with thatch or turf roofs supported by A-frames, commonly called crucks.

Excavations in the mid to late 1990's led by Olivia Lelong showed that the area had probably been occupied from prehistoric times. Results from these excavations were included as part of the information used to build the reconstruction of a typical local village of the early 1700's at the Highland Folk Museum at Newtonmore where we spent a very enjoyable two hours in the afternoon.

Sunday dawned - weather rather more hospitable than on Saturday and today Geoff took over. We drove 1.5km from the hotel to Castle Roy, a tall defensive walled court in a field by Balliemore church. Some of us walked through Craigmore wood , the rest of us explored the graveyard. We then back-tracked to Nethy Bridge and crossed the Spey, past the terminus of the Strathspey private railway to the loos at Dulnain Bridge, then to Ballintomb Farm to drive along the track of the abandoned railway. We walked to three standing stones on a ridge by the Spey disturbing hares along the way. Off again, we drove NE on the A95 to Congash, up the farm track to our picnic spot. Suitably refreshed we walked back through a herd of mooing cows to find the symbol stones in the extensive ruins of a chapel site. A shower sent us back to the cars and we drove to the Osprey Centre to see the TV monitor showing one disconsolate bird on a branch. The walk around Loch Garten was magnificent, a fitting end to a most enjoyable two days.

Sunday 3 June - A botanical exercise with Ken and Myra at Hill of Forss looking for juniper; this is the second year of a two-year project sponsored by S.N.H. to count, map and assess colonies of juniper. 12 members attended on a cloudy day that soon degenerated to Scotch Mist and then heavy rain. We were a little more successful this time in spotting the difference between males and females after further tutoring! It turned out to be a very good colony with some large specimens along the dyke where it had not been burned.

Tuesday 19 June - An evening walk led by Eleanor " Around Auld Wick". I had asked Eleanor if she would provide me with a few notes to aid my failing memory but instead she wrote an excellent account complete with map and our Editor decided to print this as a separate article to be found later in this publication.

Sunday 22 July - A Botanical walk with Ken. We started at the car park down the bumpy track in Melvich which gives access to the beach and immediately, at the car park gate examined the plants in the short turf despite a cold wind and rain showers. Frog Orchid was not evident, presumably because in this cool wet summer it had not yet raised its head from the sandy soil. We headed north-west to the beach, noting in passing the Purple Oxytropis (a very rare alpine plant), the Soft Downy-rose growing in the dune sand and the beautiful Wood Vetch by a waterfall on the shore. Traversing the boulder beach we arrived at the pier and took to the road up the hill to the Portskerra loop road. Here we walked up to the road junction for loos and lunch in the cold and rain. In the afternoon we walked to the west end of Portskerra and out onto the headland called Rubha Goiridh. On the acid part we found the rare Eyebright called Euphrasia marshallii, named after the Rev. ES Marshall who found it when botanising this area in 1911. Then on the calcareous tip of the headland we saw the fantastically rare eyebright Euphrasia rotundifolia at its only site in the world. It was also found and named by the same Rev Marshall but knowledge of it became lost or confused until Alan Silverside from Paisley refound it recently.

Thursday 26 July - An evening walk led by Jack it should have been billed as "The Farm Land around Barrock House"- it was actually a fairly long muddy walk with much of interest to be seen along the way.  mile south of Barrock House is The Ring of Castlehill - The North of Scotland is devoid of Motte and Bailey Castles - the nearest one is at Invershin but here we have a Ring -work Castle consisting of a circular or oval bank and ditch probably 12th century. Nearby, is a Hill of Works Broch which is surrounded by a ditch of similar size. This raises the question of whether Ring-works pre-dated brochs or form a secondary (later) defence around them. Then on to "The Foxes Hillock" also known as Green Hill. This is a man made mound surrounded by a ditch with a causeway. This site clearly belongs with the other ring-works and it is unfortunate that it has no known history.

Sunday 12 August - This was to be a sail to Stroma - 24 people had booked but it was not to be. This is not the first time we have had to cancel but we can't unfortunately plan the weather. Better luck next time perhaps!

Sunday 2 September A walk for Archaeology month led by Calum MacKenzie -We had a beautiful day for this and it was a superb walk which was on the east side of Strath Naver in Sutherland. Our eventual goal was the Broch at Dunviden . This is a lovely site containing the remains of three distinct periods: Neolithic chambered cairn, Iron Age Broch and Clearance village. Seven standing stones are all that is left of the Neolithic cairn, the broch is completely ruined but still impressive, once strongly defended by a double rampart system. We spent an hour in the sunshine wandering about and looking at the river- one of those days that should never end!!

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