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Coast Line

The Moray Firth coast line from the Ord to Duncansby is just over 50 miles; while from Duncansby to Drumhollistan the curved line is over 40 miles. About five miles from the Ord is the old Castle of Berriedale, a noted place of strength in the days of the Norse. Near the mouth of the Water of Dunbeath stands Dunbeath Castle, the only one of the older strongholds which is still inhabited. Below the lands of Forse and Swiney stands the old castle of Achastleshore not far from Lybster Bay. Eight miles north-east of Lybster is the Stack of Ulbstcr and beyond it Sarclet Head stretching into the Moray Firth. Four miles farther north stands the picturesque old Castle of Wick, within a mile of Wick Bay. Bold cliffs, geos, and havens are a feature of this coast. The caves provide shelter for numerous gipsies at all seasons of the year. Masses of Old Red Sandstone form a bold outcrop on both sides of the Bay of Wick, where the North Sea breaks in spray and foam. There are stretches of sandy beach in Sinclair Bay and Freswick Bay, with sites of ancient strongholds. Castles Sinclair and Girnigoe are associated with the turbulent Earls of Caithness of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Ackergill Tower was a leading stronghold at an earlier date. Keiss and Bucholly Castles were also places of strength belonging to feudal magnates of the olden times.

The Pentland shore extends for 15 miles from Duncansby to Dunnet Head. Parts of the coastal region are flat or undulating, but the coast scenery at Duncan by and round the promontory of Dunnet retains its bold and rocky character. Some notable rocks are named the Men of Mey and the Stacks of Ham. The largest indentation on the Caithness coast is Thurso Bay, with a coast line (following the curve) of about 15 miles. Dwarwick Head on the coast of Dunnet and Holborn Head are striking promontories. In the 12 miles of coast between Holborn Head and Drumhollistan are many bold and lofty cliffs shelving into the Atlantic. The most striking promontory is Brims Ness, while, as the name denotes, there is a stretch of sanely beach at Sandside.

Coastal Gains and Losses: Lighthouses

It has been stated that in the early Pleistocene period Orkney and Caithness were united. Owing to extensive subsidence of the land in the glacial or post-glacial period the lowland valleys of Orkney were submerged and what had been a peninsula was converted into a group of islands. The low-lying country between Hoy and Caithness became a maritime channel, now known as the Pentland Firth, while an extensive area to the north-east of the Firth was submerged.

There was no subsequent upheaval comparable with this primeval subsidence, and raised beaches form no prominent feature of the Caithness coast. In Sinclair Bay traces are to be found of submerged forests extending under the North Sea, indicating subidence of the land in the post-glacial epoch. Stroma and the Pentland Skerries were the higher hilltops in the country submerged by the great subsidence.

Unlike those of Sutherland, the coasts of Caithness are free from shoals and dangerous reefs, but the Pentland currents have always been a source of danger to shipping. In olden times the "bores of Duncansby" and the "Men of Mey" were scenes of many a shipwreck. A lighthouse was erected upon Pentland Skerry in 1794, to guide the navigation of the eastern entrance to the channel. The lofty Dunnet Head light was provided far the western entrance in 1832. Noss Head light, near Wick, was erected in 1869, and Holborn Head light, near Thurso, in 1862. No light has been erected upon Duncansby, though it forms the north-eastern projection of Scotland, but a light has been provided all the northern projection of Stroma known as the Redhead, which, according to some authorities, is the "Verrubium" of Ptolemy.

Climate and Weather

The atmospheric conditions prevailing in Caithness depend as a rule upon two widely-separated centres of pressure. To the south of Iceland there is an oceanic centre of atmospheric pressure round which sweep cyclonic disturbances affecting north-western Europe, chiefly during autumn and winter. In spring and summer the centre of disturbance moves to the eastern regions of European Russia, round which there are low pressure or cyclonic conditions in summer and high pressure or anti-cyclonic conditions in autumn and winter. In winter the atmospheric conditions in the regions surrounding these two centres of pressure help to give the atmosphere a movement in the same direction, that is from west to east or north-cast, thus causing strong westerly gales (often accompanied with rain or sleet) which sweep over Caithness with a keenness, partly the cause and partly the consequence of its treeless condition. These gales raise the huge Atlantic billows which lash the cliffs on its western and northern shores.

During anti-cyclonic movements the weather is usually calm and fine, and in winter accompanied by keen frost. A feature of the spring weather is the prevalence of cold, chilly, easterly winds, blowing from continental Russia and Scandinavia. These winds are sometimes accompanied by sea fogs noted for their depressing effects. When these easterly winds rise to a gale the surface of the North Sea becomes greatly disturbed and breaks with terrific force upon the eastern coasts. Time and again the breakwater of Wick has been destroyed by violent easterly gales and all the efforts of man have hitherto been unable to meet the onset of the breakers. Easterly winds are common up to about the time of the summer solstice, when Caithness summer weather really begins. Autumn sets in about the middle of August.

The rainiest months of the year are January, November, and December, the average monthly rainfall then being about 6 inches compared with an average for Scotland of 3. 73 inches in January, 4. 77 in November, and 3. 91 in December.

The driest months are usually July and August, when the average rainfall is from 1 1/2 to 2 inches for each month, which is rather above the Scottish average. On an average rain falls upon twenty-two days in each of the three winter months and twelve days in each of the months of July and August. The total average rainfall in Caithness during 1913 amounted to 51. 79 inches compared with an average for Scotland of 39. 86 inches. Rain fell in Caithness upon 225 days throughout that year, the Scottish average being 201 rainy days.

The mean temperature for the three winter months is 39. 5 deg Fahr. compared with a mean of 39. 1 deg for Scotland. The highest temperature is attained in June, July, and August, when there is a mean of 55 deg compared with 56. 2 deg for Scotland.

In June 1913 there were 170 hours of sunshine in Caithness, compared with an average of 169 hours throughout Scotland. On the other hand the average sunshine in the county in December 1913 extended over 21. 7 hours, compared with 26 hours for the whole of Scotland.

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