Caithness – Prehistory to paperweights

In the far north-east of the British Isles, lies a flat almost treeless plain; just over 700 square miles of moorland with scattered settlements, a large expanse of peat bog and farms and crofts along the straths, or low river valleys. The coastal areas to the north and east are wild, dramatic and filled with huge colonies of sea birds.


This is Caithness. In this sometimes bleak area, washed by a glowing light that changes from morning to night, there are hundreds of brochs and chambered cairns attesting to the presence of a significant population as far back as the Iron Age. Brochs are uniquely Scottish dry-stone towers which were probably fortified houses. Chambered cairns date to the Stone Age. They were used for burials. While they are technically underground, in most cases the chamber was first constructed and then covered with earth leaving mounds on the otherwise flat land.

Life in modern Caithnessis concentrated in the towns of Thurso, gateway to the Orkney and Shetland Islands, and Wick home of the world’s shortest street, and original home of Caithness Glass Paperweights. Wick is also a center for walking tours exploring the spectacular coastline or the archaeological treasures of the area, as well as for bird-watching.

A bit further south is the tiny town of Lybster, a former fishing village noted for the 365 Whalligoe Steps cut into the cliff face by means of which the catch would be brought up from the sea. Since 1995 Lybster has been home to North Lands Creative Glass “an international centre of excellence in glass making, encouraging collaboration with other artforms.” The excellent facilities, classes and seminars at North Lands have – as hoped – stimulated an interest in this fascinating part of Scotland, and bring artists working with glass from all over the world to Caithness.


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