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A Short History Of The Field Club
Leslie Myatt

Historical Articles



Caithness Field Club Bulletins

This article first appeared in April 1988 in The Caithness Field Club Bulletin

Last year saw the coming of age of the Field Club. It passed unnoticed. Did no one remember? In another three years time it will be a quarter of a centenary since its formation. Perhaps it could be marked by a special event.

For those members who have joined since the early days, it may be of interest to outline a brief life history of the past events which led up to the present days of the club.

The year 1966 saw the centenary of the death of Robert Dick, who although born in Tullibody, Clackmannanshire, became one of the most notable natural historians and geologists that Thurso has known. He had his own business here as a baker for over thirty years until he died on Christmas Eve, 1866.

In order to mark the centenary a small committee set up an exhibition in the Town Hall to form the Robert Dick museum and display part of his collection of fossils and botanical specimens. This was well attended and caused a lot of local interest. Mainly as a result of this, a group of enthusiasts assembled one evening in a well known Thurso hostelry to consider what might be done to continue the interest already shown. The people present included John Bramman, Neil Campbell, Leslie Myatt, Donald Omand and Jack Saxon and it was decided to try and form a society.

The idea was leaked to the press and this immediately resulted in letters to the editor demanding to know more about this secret society which met behind closed doors. There was obviously sufficient local interest and a public meeting was advertised in the Band Room of the Town Hall. There was a good attendance at which the proposed aims of the club of promoting an interest in the local history, natural history and archaeology of the Northern highlands and Islands of Scotland were explained. A committee was formed under the chairmanship of John Bramman and the Field Club was born, or perhaps reborn, as it was later discovered that a previous Caithness Field Club had been in existence earlier in the century.

A series of winter lectures and summer outings was organised by the committee and all were well attended. It was fortunate that amongst the committee members were experts in geology, botany, archaeology and local history who were able to give good lectures and at the same time lead interesting field outings. They also knew prominent lecturers outside the county who could be persuaded to come and speak during the winter.

The Field Club got off to a good start, and as the enthusiasm increased a number of its members were instrumental in the writing of the Caithness Book edited by Donald Omand and published by Highland Printer in 1972.

By April 1973 the first edition of the Bulletin appeared as a newsletter running to four pages. By this time a few keen members were carrying out field work including a magnetometer survey of part of Dunnet Links in an attempt to locate the chapel of St. Coombs. This was an area of land under threat to development by the construction of oil rigs. The Chicago Bridge Company, whom the Field Club opposed at the public enquiry, gave a generous donation to this survey.

The annual dinner had now become a landmark, with Robert Maclennan MP as guest speaker when it was held in Stefan's restaurant, Thurso. Some fifty members attended.

Weekend excursions were introduced as part of th6 programme in 1973 when the Club chartered the MV Pentaline skippered by Mrs. Henderson for a visit to Orkney as guests of the Orkney Field Club. They acted as guides and many of the ancient monuments were visited. The return trip was not without excitement as it involved crossing the Pentland Firth in gale conditions. Later another weekend visit was made to the Elphin area where a wide range of antiquities were visited together with a lecture given by Dr. Robertson who led a guided tour of the geological features of the area.

The committee has the power to elect honorary vice presidents to membership of the Field Club. The first two such members, David Miller and Jack Saxon were elected in 1974. Two other honorary vice presidents were later elected, the late Dr. John Corcoran of Glasgow University, who carried out the initial excavations at Camster long cairn, and Eric Talbot also of Glasgow University, who carried out excavations at both the Bishop's castle and the Clow Chapel.

By 1975 a number of serious articles had been published in the Bulletin, many of them the results of field work by members. They covered a wide range of interest including botany, geology, archaeology and local history. Some of the articles were beginning to have a wider interest than to just members of the Field Club. At the same time some members were also receiving recognition in national journals. It was therefore decided to set up a publication fund in order to produce more extensive works which would be available to the general public. The first of these, "Visits to Ancient Caithness" appeared in 1976 and ran to a second edition in 1982. In 1976 appeared "Alexander Bain of Watten" in time to commemorate the centenary of his death the following year. A year later in 1977 was published a checklist of "The Wild Flowers of Caithness" followed in 1978 by "John Gow, The Orkney Pirate". The last decade has seen somewhat lean years so far as new publications are concerned, although some members have been publishing elsewhere.

A number of eminent speakers have over the years addressed the Field Club. They include Dr. Audrey Henshall, Professor Alcock, Professor Gimingham, Dr. Aubrey Burl, Dr. Ronald Cant and Hamish Brown to name but a few.

The Bulletin has been a constant feature over the past fifteen years and some 800 pages have been published, coming towards the end of the fourth volume this year. It has always included items of news of interest to members together with articles and programmes of future events. The articles have been varied and have included the results of field work carried out by members. The Badryrie project has been reported and parts of the Brubster project have also been written up. This has yet to be completed in future editions.

Whilst a small number of members have always been actively involved in some form of project or field work this is an area where more people could easily become involved. It does not necessarily involve great expertise but does require time. There is much to record in Caithness and land uses, in particular, are changing rapidly. Old buildings are being constantly replaced by new. Adequate records are not always being made of what was there before the changes look place. These are studies in which any member could easily take part.

Joint meetings with other field clubs have taken place in the past. Orkney Field Club has already been mentioned but successful weekends have also been spent with the field clubs from both Elgin and Inverness. These have enabled members to explore further afield and also show others the wide variety of interesting features in Caithness.

Having survived its coming of age, and with a healthy membership, the Field Club has now become a firmly established organisation in the north.

This article first appeared in the Caithness Field Club Bulletin April 1988