By Castle Hill
Known as 'The Flagstone Village', Castletown is intimately associated with the historical extraction, finishing and export world-wide of Caithness Flagstone paving from Castlehill Harbour. Today it is a thriving community, and there is much to tell about the social, industrial, agricultural, maritime, military and archaeological heritage of our village and parish.
Olrig ObservationsFeb 25, 2023
100 years ago Margaret Sinclair (known as Daisy) emigrated to Canada as a twelve year old. Homesick for Castletown she drew a map in pencil of the village. Now the map has returned to Caithness and provides a fascinating insight into life as Daisy saw it.
Lost in the Post
When Muriel is handed a letter, handwritten by a Caithness businessman in early 1806, the upsetting contents prompt her to find out more. Her investigations reveal that the social consequences arising from the north mail robbery of 1805 stretched far beyond mere financial loss.
A Load of Old Rope
Rope is a commodity that is perhaps taken for granted - it is readily commercially available with sizes and specifications suitable for a myriad of applications, such as securing loads, hauling fishing nets or towing vehicles. Murial takes us back to a time before the era of industrially manufactured rope, to when rope and string was made from whatever materials were available to hand locally, such as straw, rushes, grasses, and even daffodil leaves!
Lady Janet's Elusive Daughter
Muriel investigates the curious story of Wilhelmina Barbara Traill, the eldest daughter of Lady Janet Traill and, she reveals, the surrogate daughter of Mary Dehaney, fiance of the lamented Sir John Sinclair, the 11th Earl of Caithness. The story starts with the donation of a heavy circular brass plaque to Castletown Heritage Society.....
James Traill of Rattar, founder of the Caithness Flagstone Industry
James Traill of Rattar, Sheriff Depute of Caithness, is probably best known as the founder of the Caithness Flagstone Industry. But there is much more to this man - he was in his time the senior law representative in Caithness, a renowned agricultural improver, and of course the talented entrepreneur who spotted the commecial opportunity that could be realised through the extraction and export of Caithness flagstone world-wide. Muriel reveals a little of the background of this talented individual.
The Tale of the Quarryside Rabbit
Love them or hate them, rabbits are considered both a pest and a valuable resource. The sight of a dead rabbit at the side of the road causes Muriel to ponder the lot of the rabbit and our relationship with them.
The Tale of the Olrig Selkie Grave
Local writer Gail Anthea Brown is passionate abut the rich folklore involving Castletown and the Parish of Olrig. In this episode Gail recounts the original tale surrounding the Olrig Selkie Grave, which lies in the Old Graveyard at Castletown.
Crop production at Mount Vernon Farm, Thurso, in 1822
A recently discovered page of accounting information provides a fascinating insight into the social aspects of crop production at a small Caithness farm on the outskirts of Thurso in 1822. Muriel brings the chronological entries to life, exploring the work involved, cost and extensive labour requirements to prepare the ground, sow corn and bere (early barley), harvest and gather in the crop for over-winter storage.
The War Knife
Muriel's research into the original owner of an old multi-blade pocketknife that was donated to Castletown Heritage Society reveals a fascinating account of a World War I Black Watch soldier and a remarkable link to a Girls School in the north of England.
The Power of the Sea
They that go down to the sea in ships: and occupy their business in great waters. (These men see the works of the Lord: and his wonders in the deep.) Prompted by the name of a distant Polish port, Muriel recalls some local maritime events illustrating the power and influence of the sea which connects us all.
All hands to the pump!
Water. A precious commodity and essential to all human, animal and plant existence. We tend to take the availability of clean, safe drinking water as a given in our modern age, but it wasn't always so and remains an aspiration for many. Muriels explores life in our parish when collecting fresh water from springs and wells presented a physical challenge and a daily chore before water was made more readily available as a public service.
Echoes of the past on Olrig Hill
Olrig Hill stands proud over the Parish of Olrig, and from the top uninterrupted views can be had over most of Caithness and the rugged coastline bordering the Pentland Firth. Over the millennia the hill has featured strongly in the lives of the local inhabitants, from iron age settlements, use as a site for signalling and communications, public hangings, and military operations, to more modern activities like Scout and Guide camps and the latest telecommunications systems. Not forgetting the ghostly goings on regarding the Piper of Windy Ha....
The 1847 Corn Riot at Castlehill Harbour
In April 1847, the proposed export of local grain by boat from Castlehill Harbour by landowner William James Sinclair of Freswick was seen as a great social injustice by some of his tenant crofters. They took matters into their own hands, marching on the harbour and storming the vessel to prevent it being loaded and leaving the harbour. Muriel recounts the true story of the events that took place and the fate of the rioters.....
Damien Farlow and the heritage buildings
An enchanting yarn about Damien Farlow of Caledonian Properties, who meets local worthy Wullie Bain and becomes entranced by the history and heritage of the buildings he was employed to survey.
Elizabeth Yates - the first female mayor in the British Empire
Elizabeth Yates, whose family have strong connections local to the village of Castletown in Caithness, was appointed Mayor of the Onehunga Borough in New Zealand in the late 1800s, and in doing so became the first female mayor in the history of the British Empire. Her appointment broke long established social barriers, and whilst not universally popular amongst her male counterparts it was an achievement that so impressed Queen Victoria she sent her congratulations and encouragement!
Image attribution: By Archives New Zealand AEGA 18982 PC4 1894/14 - Archives New Zealand https://www.flickr.com/photos/archivesnz/27551199038/in/dateposted-public/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=72878853
Birkle Hill and the Birch Tree connections
Birkle Hill on the south-east edge of Castletown may not be high in absolute terms, but it offers a commanding view of the surrounding farmland, the village of Castletown and Dunnet Bay. Muriel researches the derivation of the name 'Birkle' and explores some of the features associated with the hill, uncovering many connections with the humble Birch tree.
The Custer Tablecloth
The Custer Tablecloth is a unique and poignant memento of the many service personnel who were based at RAF Castletown during WWII. The story behind it gives a flavour of the impact such a large military operation had on the village of Castletown and the surrounding area. The very existance of the tablecloth is down to the forward thinking of a young woman who captured evidence of an important but transient moment in history in a distinctive and personal way.
The St Dunstan's Clock
This unusual clock featuring braille markings and an engraved plaque 'St Dunstan's 1915 - 1965' was donated to Castlehill Heritage Centre a few years ago by the decendents of the original owner, local man Walter Mackay. The story behind the clock reveals some of the terrifying ordeals he experienced as a young man during World War I and his bravery and indomitable spirit after the war.
The late Victorian Mourning Dress
Lindsay Broomfield, a professional costume maker with a passion for heritage costumes reviews the Castletown Heritage Society entry to the virtual Highland Threads Exhibition, an innovative on-line exhibition showcasing a treasured costume from each of fourteen museums from across the Highlands of Scotland. Our entry, a late Victorian mourning outfit dates from the turn of the twentieth century and was lovingly passed down from mother to daughter over four generations. The earliest wearer is believed to be Mrs Elizabeth Taylor (née Macpherson) who was widowed in 1912. Her husband James Taylor was a crofter and farmed at Buldoo in Reay, Caithness. The outfit represents a time when the approach to death, funerals and widowhood were vastly different from attitudes today.
The Barque Samarang and Captain John S Goudie
A time-worn ninetheenth century oil painting of the Barque Samarang passing the Rock of Gibralter sparks an investigation into the three-masted vessel's fascinating history, and during the voyage of discovery a lesson is learned that all is not always what it seems....
Vikings, Tythes and the Parish of Olrig
Whilst out walking on the Dunnet Head peninsula, Muriel enjoys the panoramic view of the Parish of Olrig and reflects upon some aspects of the influence the Vikings and the Church had upon past life in the Parish.
The expeditionary adventures of James Forbes Sutherland
James Forbes ('Forbie') Sutherland started his career as a farm labourer on the Castlehill Estate in the Parish of Olrig, but was quickly recognised as having 'above average intelligence'. Thanks to the benevolence of his employer, James retrained as an Able Bodied Seaman and was subsequently recruited by James Cook to join the crew of the 'Endeavour' on its expeditionary journey to the south Pacific. Forbie acquitted himself well, playing his part in the discovery and recording of many new lands. Conditions for the crew on board the Endeavour were however far from idyllic, and after having survived being almost frozen to death during a re-stocking landing at Tierra del Fuego Forbie developed TB, and eventually succumbed to the condition in April 1770, two weeks after Cook discovered the east coast of Australia. Forbie was buried ashore and became the first British man to be buried on the shores of east Australia, at Botany Bay, where a memorial to him stands to this day.
Muriel reveals some reminiscences of William Waters from Bowermadden, whose passion to become a successful overseas missionary in the late 1700s didn't run entirely to plan....
The Edwardian Postcard
The fascinating story behind a postcard posted in Castletown, Caithness, Scotland, in November 1909.