An introduction to Dunbeath Preservation Trust

Dunbeath Preservation Trust was founded in 1985 by the then owner of Dunbeath Estate, the late R. Stanton Avery, "to support efforts to explore, study, preserve and maintain" the unique natural and cultural heritage of Dunbeath and its strath in harmony with its ongoing contemporary community. Avery's bequest assists the long-term viability of the Trust, its Heritage Centre and other resources for the "educational and other charitable purposes" he intended.

Since 1985 the Trust has gone from strength to strength and is now a fully independent body. The recently redeveloped Heritage Centre, a fully registered museum, provides a focus for the Trust's activities in the following areas:

Education

The Trust supports a wide variety of educational services at every level. It is closely involved in both primary and secondary school project work and frequently hosts 'study days' for schoolchildren (based on the Centre's displays, for example, or using the 'field lab' or including visits to the historic harbour buildings, the mill or the broch). To date, the Trust has supported and aided six undergraduate degree dissertations through access to its archives and databases, and has close connections with numerous postgraduate students in archaeology, anthropology and environmental sciences. The Centre has provided a base for Aberdeen University ex-mural courses in geology, environment and archaeology, and for Thurso College's computer training courses (providing computer skills for the unemployed). In addition to these more formal educational contexts, the Trust organises a weekly guided tour of Dunbeath and its environs and hosts a programme of evening lectures: these are well attended by visitors and local people alike.

School visit to Dunbeath broch

School visit to Dunbeath broch

Archaeology

A number of years ago a thorough archaeological survey of the strath was conducted by Glasgow University and supported by the Trust. This survey identified several hundreds of sites, many of which have subsequently been scheduled and recognised as being of national and international significance. One Bronze Age site, for example, is proving to be completely unique and may alter academic thinking on this period. A number of early Church stones have recently been found in the strath, one dating from the 7th century, another from the 8th, providing powerful evidence for a Christian foundation in the strath and supporting an oral tradition that is well-known in the area. The Portormin Runestone was recently discovered by four schoolchildren (after working on a school project on the Vikings!). This stone has been the subject of much debate in Scotland, England and Scandinavia because it includes both Anglo-Saxon and Viking runes. Professor Alex Morrison's book Dunbeath: A Cultural Landscape, part-funded by the Trust, provides an excellent introduction to the strath's archaeology from its earliest human inhabitants until its abandonment in the nineteenth century and the expansion of Dunbeath village and harbour during the herring fishing boom.

Selection of Trust Publications
A selection of Trust publications

Archives

The Trust has a substantial photographic collection, a large collection of family history material (the Heritage Centre is regularly visited by people tracing their ancestors in the area), unpublished manuscripts, maps and a library of antiquarian, archaeological and local history books. The Neil Gunn Society recently merged with Dunbeath Preservation Trust and the Trust has a large collection of material relating to Gunn and his work. Visitors are most welcome to make use of our research room - call us to make an appointment.

The Environment

Over the past 10 years, the Trust has commissioned a number of environmental studies of Dunbeath. This has included a study of the Dunbeath Water and the part it has played in shaping the modern landscape, a study into the effects of the agrarian revolution, and the taking of environmental core sample from the upper strath. The Trust hopes to support a further PhD student to analyse this core so providing invaluable information of the environment since the last Ice Age. A 'mosses and lichens' survey was carried out in 1999 and the results should be available soon. The flora and fauna of the strath has been surveyed and recorded.

Buildings Portfolio

The Trust owns and maintains an important portfolio of buildings. The Heritage Centre itself is based in a mid-19th century school building. To which the adjacent school master's house has recently been added allowing the Trust to host touring exhibitions and provide limited accommodation to research students. Dunbeath Harbour, with its storehouses, bothy and ice house, provides a wonderful commentary on Dunbeath's own 'boom' period during the 19th century's 'dash for the fish'. A Vernacular Buildings of Scotland group recently visited the buildings and found them extremely exciting. The Trust provides public parking at the harbour and at the start of a walk along the strath. This path is also maintained by the Trust and is known to be one of the most popular walks in Caithness. It is enjoyed by local people and visitors alike.