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Chief Towns and Villages of Caithness

(The figures in brackets after the names give the population in 1911, and those at the end of each section are references to pages in the text).



Berriedale, Norse Bjarg-dalr, "Stony dale", in the quoad sacra parish of the same name, is noted for its fine scenery, being the most richly wooded part of Caithness. The population of the parish has steadily declined since 1851. The eldest son of the Earl of Caithness receives the title of Lord Berriedale.

Brough, Norse Bjarg, "Stony", or Gaelic Bruach, a fishing hamlet 3 miles from Dunnet Head, has a small pier.

Castletown (about 900), 5 miles S.E. of Thurso, is the chief village in the parish of Olrig. Its flagstone quarries were at one time considerable.

Dunbeath, Gaelic "Birch Hill", on the left bank of the Water of Dunbeath, half a mile from its mouth, and 22 miles south of Wick. There was once a parish of Duubeath, but it has long been incorporated with Latheron. Fishing, formerly the chief industry, is now in a backward state.

Halkirk (about 400), Norse Ha-Kirkja, "High Church", was the seat of the Bishopric of Caithness until 1222. It is regularly laid out on the banks of the Thurso, about 2 miles from Georgemas Junction. Near it are Brawl Castle and the Combination Poorhouse for the Western Parishes of the County.

Keiss (about 340), Norse Quoys, "Cattle-pen", 8 miles N.W. of Wick, is the chief village in the quoad sacra parish of the same name (formed in 1833). On the cliffs near it are the ruins of Keiss Castle. There were 17 boats belonging to Keiss in the year 1911, and 45 resident fishermen.

Latheronwheel and Janetstown (123), Gaelic Latharan-Faoilidh, "Fertile homesteads", about equidistant from Wick and Helmsdale (19 miles), is a fishing village. In 1893 it had over 20 boats, but in 1913 the number was reduced to 10. Near it is the Combination Poorhouse of the Eastern Parishes of Caithness.

Lybster (626), Norse Hlith-bolstadr, "Slope-town", the centre of one of the Scottish fishery districts, is the terminus of the Wick and Lybster Railway. The fishing industry in Lybster and neighbouring villages has for some years been declining, and the decline applies to the herring fishing as well as to the inshore white fishing. The catch of herrings for the season of 1911, when 70 men and boys engaged in fishing, was only 536 crans.

Murkle, Norse Myri-kelda, "Marsh-spring", a safe harbourage, where at one time the kelp industry was carried on.

Pulteneytown was founded in 1808 by the British Fishery Society, and named after Sir William Pulteney, its chairman. In 1902 it was united to the Burgh of Wick, The population in 1901 was 5137, while that of Wick was 2774.

Reay, Gaelic Ra or Ratha "circle", at the head of Sandside Bay, abounds with circles and cairns of the Stone Age. Reay gives his titular name to Lord Reay, the head of the Clan Mackay. The headquarters of the clan were at Reay in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

Scrabster, Norse Skjarr-bolstadr,"Skerry-town" has au important harbour, which is used both for trading and fishing. In early times Scrabster palace was the northern residence of the bishop of Caithness.

Thurso (3335), Thjors-a, "Bull-river", in early times the chief port in the north of Scotland, for centuries carried on trade with Norway, Denmark, and the Low Countries. When the Continental trade declined, it exported grain and other local products to the south of Scotland and the Hebrides. In 1633 it was erected into a burgh of barony by Sinclair of Ulbster. For nearly two centuries thereafter it was to all intents the county town, although Wick had been erected into a royal burgh in 1589, and had been made head burgh of Caithness in 1641. Beautifully situated in attractive surroundings, Thurso has maintained its position as a prosperous market town, but since 1881 the population (then over 4000) has steadily declined. It possesses several fine public buildings, a public library, museum, and excellent secondary school. An improved harbour would be a boon to the town.

Wick (9086), Norse Vik, "Bay", was in the Norse period of less importance than Thurso. Though Courts were established here in 1503, and it was made a royal burgh in 1589, and the county town in 1641, yet it remained of small account until the rise of its fisheries towards the end of the eighteenth century. The improvement of the harbour begun in 1810 has continued intermittently since that date. The harbour works have been repeatedly destroyed by heavy seas. A fine new bridge over the Wick River was opened in 1877.

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