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Latest volume of Let's Remember Caithness is more than a book – it's a 'communal photo album'


By John Davidson



Miss Munro and her pupils at Scotscalder. The school closed in 1962, one of many rural schools that had to shut their doors as their catchments dwindled and transport improved. (Linda Munro)
Miss Munro and her pupils at Scotscalder. The school closed in 1962, one of many rural schools that had to shut their doors as their catchments dwindled and transport improved. (Linda Munro)

"Let's Remember Caithness is more than just a book; it's a communal photo album," says Alan McIvor in his introduction to Volume 5 of the series, which has just been published.

This is an apt way to describe the aim of the series – as a communal photo album. It is the culmination of a communal effort, involving the contributors who send in photographs and patiently answer questions, the staff at Nucleus: The Nuclear and Caithness Archives for their help in searching through back files of the local papers, and the production staff at Highland News and Media.

"Every year we try to get the information right but, through faulty memory or a shortage of time for research, mistakes are sometimes inevitable," said the editor James Miller. "That said, they are nobody’s fault except our own, and we offer apologies in advance for these. Let us know and we can print corrections in the next edition." There are two examples of this in this year’s volume.

We are especially pleased this year to pay a modest tribute to Jack Selby whose photography captured much of the essence and spirit of everyday life in the county in the decades before his death in August 2007.

A Clan Gunn gathering in the early 1960s. (Margaret Gunn)
A Clan Gunn gathering in the early 1960s. (Margaret Gunn)

Jack and his wife Peggy were among the influx of southerners who came to Caithness in the course of the Dounreay experience. Jack worked as the Dounreay housing manager but his interest in photography is the one we celebrate here.

Some of his pictures in the book are the same as those on permanent display in the corridors of the North Coast Visitor Centre (Thurso Town Hall in his its modern guise) and, in Let’s Remember Caithness, we ensure they will reach a wider audience.

We also have a section devoted to images of Caithness’s timeless coastline. Thanks to Ben MacGregor we can see the coastal cliffs and geos from the sea, a viewpoint that few of us has the opportunity to experience.

Of course "timeless" in this context is relative. The coastline is constantly enduring erosion albeit at such a slow pace there is usually little to be observed in a lifetime. We have three images set beside contrasting postcards from a century or so ago.

It is remarkable to think that the Young Farmers Clubs in Scotland had their birth in the district of Lanergill a century ago, when a few local men formed the first branch in the country, and we are delighted to include some pictures of YFC activities.

Lanergill school closed many years ago, sharing the fate of other country schools as rural populations declined and transport improved to allow bussing to larger centres. We have a few pictures of the pupils and teachers in some of these rural schools – in Dunnet, Spittal and Scotscalder – to encourage us to remember just how many bairns passed through their doors.

Wick harbour with sailing vessels was a popular, photogenic subject. This is a somewhat artistic shot of sails and reflections. The postmark is 1920 but probably the image was captured at least 20 years before then. The card was sent to Edinburgh and the message reads: ‘To Lybster for week-end – I shall put up at Hotel and hunt up relatives on Sunday. Best love G.’ (Richard Wood)
Wick harbour with sailing vessels was a popular, photogenic subject. This is a somewhat artistic shot of sails and reflections. The postmark is 1920 but probably the image was captured at least 20 years before then. The card was sent to Edinburgh and the message reads: ‘To Lybster for week-end – I shall put up at Hotel and hunt up relatives on Sunday. Best love G.’ (Richard Wood)

This year’s volume also has a section of vintage postcards showing Wick in its herring heyday, some photos of Thurso Pipe Band marking its 110th year and also celebrating Thurso’s twin-town link with Brilon in Germany, and a few shots of the various vessels that have borne the name of St Ola and plied the crossing between Scrabster and Stromness.

Every Caithness person of a certain vintage seems to have a St Ola story, and no doubt these pictures will evoke some memories.

The success of Let’s Remember Caithness and its predecessors over the years stems from the willingness of Groat and Courier readers to dip into their collections of photos and send them into us. We appreciate everyone’s help and take good care of what we know are precious family pictures.

Many folk are now scanning their photos and sending them in as digital images. We would ask anyone doing this to ensure the resolution is at least 600 dpi, as anything less than this can lack clarity. What looks good on a smartphone does not always come out well in a full-page enlargement. Likewise newspaper cuttings do not always reproduce well.

How many more photographs and mementoes are out there? If you think you have something that you would like to share with other Caithness folk, now is the time to start turning out the albums and choosing pictures to contribute for next year's edition. We always look forward to seeing what comes in.

  • Let's Remember Caithness, Volume 5 is available now in local shops, priced £17. It can also be ordered by calling 01463 246575, ext. 8614.
Revellers at a Young Farmers Club Ball in the late 1960s. (Nona Mackay)
Revellers at a Young Farmers Club Ball in the late 1960s. (Nona Mackay)
‘E Ola’ or, more properly, the St Ola was well known to generations as the boat that sailed between Scrabster and Stromness.
‘E Ola’ or, more properly, the St Ola was well known to generations as the boat that sailed between Scrabster and Stromness.
Activities on Thurso beach include water-skiers just offshore and racers of the Pentland Firth Yacht Club beyond.
Activities on Thurso beach include water-skiers just offshore and racers of the Pentland Firth Yacht Club beyond.

Confirmed stockists include: Lybster Post Office, Main St, Lybster; Dunbeath Post Office; Malcolms Newsagent, 73 Kinnaird St, Wick; The Gift House; Newsbeat, 32 Princes St, Thurso; Groatie Buckie, John O'Groats; John O'Groats Post Office; Castletown Butchers, Main St, Castletown; Coo's Tail Gallery, Traill St, Thurso; Serendipity, 14/18 Rotterdam St, Thurso; Keystore Express, Bridge St, Wick; Halkirk PO, 9 Crescent St, Halkirk; J & A Mackay, Gr, 4 Traill St, Thurso; Keystore Hillhead, 9 Hillhead Road, Wick; Splurge, Halkirk; Mackays Hotel, Union Street, Wick.


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