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Caithness Field Club

Caithness Field Club Bulletin

CAT Chronicle (by Gordon MacLachlan)

The Field Club is participant in the Caithness Archaeological Trust (CAT) and Gordon is our trustee. This is his report for the year.

2007 was a busy and successful year. I represented the Field Club at 4 committee meetings and Paul Humphries represented once. At the AGM Malcolm, Earl of Caithness was re-elected as Chairperson, Nan Bethune as Vice-Chairperson, Barbara Hiddleston as Secretary and George Bethune as Treasurer. One trustee, Arlette Bannister had resigned. Three new trustees were elected – Meg Sinclair, Jennifer Henderson and Gordon Smart.

Alas, our Archaeological Officer (AO), Emma Sanderson, was leaving at the end of October when funding for her post ran out. The chairman thanked her on behalf of the Board for her hard work and organisation skills , especially on the educational side of archaeology with the schools and Caithness Young Archaeologists. She will continue to work for her PhD.

The constitution of CAT will be reviewed by Cameron Taylor now that our present position has been reached,

The AO attended and partook in the Caithness Heritage Development Advisory Group projects, viz:

a) At Achavanich the fence line has been moved, grass cutting instigated, road signage installed and interpretation panels designed and installed.

b) At Cairn o’ Get a car park extension has been completed.

c) The Pictish Trail has been extended through Caithness with road signs, interpretation panels initiated and new literature.

d) A Broch Trail has been proposed and some work commenced.

Many events were held during the year and projects continued:

a) At the CSA Scottish Archaeology Fair in Strathpeffer CAT was present with promotional boards, a computer display of work on Sinclair Girnigoe Castle, hands-on activities – bobbin-winding, cave painting etc .

b) At the Caithness Heritage Fair, Paul and Mary Humphries manned a stall in Wick Assembly Rooms. Marred by a poor position, a continuous slide show was given of the Spittal Project and Broch Excavations and promotional boards were displayed.

c) On “Doors-Open” Day (Sept 8th) twelve sites were open to the public:

· Telford at Berriedale Church

· Dunbeath Heritage Centre

· Clan Gunn Heritage Centre

· Northlands Creative Glass

· Shelligoe Archery

· Waterlines Heritage Centre

· Sinclair Girnigoe Castle

· Clan Sinclair Centre

· Castle of Mey Gardens

· Mary Ann’s Cottage

· Castlehill Visitor Centre

· RNLI Scrabster

d) A Conference – The Picts in Caithness was on 1st Sept. There was a walk to the House of Peace, Ballachly with archaeologist Lloyd Laing for the examination of the trenches.

e) Excavation took place of Whitegate Broch, Keiss. It is a fascinating excavation with a boat-shaped well lined in stone with six steps, also the presence of human and animal bones in an area about one metre square in the wall. Ongoing excavation will probably take place in 2008 after discussion with AOC and Nottingham University.

f) It is hoped to carry out renovation work at Achvarasdal Broch in conjunction with Historic Scotland, subject to a favourable response regarding access from the landowner (Church of Scotland) – and subject to Scheduled Monument Consent and funding.

g) There is a wish to develop and update the Northlands Viking Centre. The National Museum of Scotland, through discussions with the Keeper of Archaeology, Dr. David Clarke, has agreed to loan aspects of the Tress Barry collection back to the local community on a 5-year loan to be housed in a developed Northlands Viking Centre. Also the Centre might be the focus for the proposed Broch Trail.

h) The editing of a new Guide Book is under way and one of the eight landscape tours is completed.

i) Excavation of Pullyhour Henge near Halkirk will start at Easter under Prof. Richard Bradley of Reading University, who proposes excavating two sectors with the intention of making comparison with henges in north-east Scotland. Volunteers will be needed to help with this project as Bradley is bringing up only a few students.

j) At Sinclair Girnigoe Castle Malcolm hopes to continue the excavations in August / September. The Field Club hopes to visit to see the results.

k) There is a proposed visit by the Historic Environment Advisory Council for Scotland, which gives strategic advice to Scottish Ministers and is an influential group. They are interested in community involvement in the conservation and preservation of the historic environment. They will be here on Saturday May 31st and Sunday June 1st.

l) Just south of the Bruan churches, in a loop of the road, is a mound which is usually assumed to be a broch. A suggestion has been made that it might be an undisturbed cairn and worth a single trial trench to investigate.

m) As part of the International Archaeology and Glass Festival 2008, CAT, Northlands Creative Glass and AOC Archaeology are to run a Caithness Creative Glass Schools Competition open to all school children in Caithness to design a “Window on the Past”. It will be split into 4 age groups. There will also be an Arts and Archaeology Conference – the working date is suggested to be October 4th and 5th 2008.

n) At the committee meeting of March 23rd the AO raised the question of the CAT policy on windmills in Caithness. There was much discussion and a sub-committee of Malcolm Caithness and Paul Humphries was asked to form a proposed policy to put to the committee. The policy has not yet been formulated.

o) The River of Stone project divides Caithness into 3 geographical sectors:

· The Broch sector in the north-east around Keiss

· The Viking sector on the north coast from Huna to Dunnet Bay, and

· The Museology of Landscape sector, mainly along the east coast looking at areas rather than individual sites, e.g. Yarrows, Watenan, Camster.

p) There is also the Early Buildings Project continuing after the experimental stage in Spittal Quarry. A fresh “greenfield” site is hoped for to develop permanent buildings in the form of two chambered cairns and a broch.

q) In the Castletown Heritage Centre a Wet Washing Plant is being installed by AOC, alias Professor John Barber, to process soil samples from Caithness and perhaps beyond. It will also be used to train local people in the procedures. It will probably be ready by March 2008.

r) A henge at Pulleyhour will be dug from 22 March to 12 April 2008. Near the end of the dig Professor Bradley of Reading University will give a talk at Halkirk. The site is at the SW corner of the square loop of road just south of Harpsdale. It is marked on the Explorer 451 map as an enclosure. A henge has a circular wall outside a ditch.

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