Bird Watching

Activities and Things to Do

New survey/excavation 2012 »


One of our early visitors, Robert Louis Stevenson, described our landscape from his Samoan island thus:

Grey recumbent tombs of the dead in desert places,
Standing stones on the vacant wine-red moor,
Hills of sheep, and the howes of the silent vanished races,
And winds austere and pure

Not very much would have changed, were he to return today, and the tops of the Yarrows hills, in their broad sweep beyond the loch of Yarrows, are dominated by the standing stones and long barrows of the "silent vanished races". Caithness has some of the richest and most varied archaeological remains in Britain, particularly from the Neolithic and Iron Ages. The famous Camster cairns, which are now fully restored, are located across the Yarrows Hill and form part of the rich concentration of Neolithic chambered burial cairns of the area. These are located near the road from just north of Lybster to Watten. A well-laid trail takes the walker out over the Yarrows Hills to see some of the barrows, round tombs, broch and settlements.

The Hill o' Many Stanes, just to the south, and convenience from the A9 are 22 rows of stones, arranged in rows, an arrangement repeated beside the Yarrows loch, near North Yarrows cottage.

The Iron-Age dwellers' "brochs" are everywhere, on raised mounds, or beside the lochs. Yarrows has a particularly good one, straight across the loch from North Yarrows cottage. Little Loch Rangag, on the Latheron-Thurso road has a lovely broch, on a small promontary.

Freswick is worth a visit to see something of the Viking way of life, in an area whose names are redolent of the era of their early settlement.

If you are planning a stay at Thrumster to explore some of these why not take a day trip to Orkney on the foot ferry from John O'Groats, and visit some of the priciple monuments there on a guided bus tour. The crossing is quick and exhilarating, the bird life is fabulous, and you may bring back some beautiful Orkney knitwear, silver jewellery, smoked salmon, etc. Well worth a visit.

Newsflash: Two significant lithic scatter sites have been discovered in the Yarrows area, comprising tools, cores and debitage. Initial findings suggest a Neolithic settlement in one area, and Mesolithic activity in the other, only the third such site to be discovered in Caithness. Further study scheduled for September.

New survey/excavation 2012


Thrumster Estate has always been at the forefront of the drive to research the very rich archaeology of the area, and we follow in the august footsteps of Alexander Rhind and all the great Victorian antiquarians who flocked to Caithness in those days.

This year, from 9th – 15th September 2012 we can offer a taste of real excavation using modern methods and equipment.

We shall be looking at an abandoned farming settlement described in Estate records as “The Toun and Lands of Swartigill”. No leases exist in respect of this farm during 19th century, and we feel it will have very early antecedents.
No experience necessary.

For further details please ring us on 01955 651387 or e-mail us.

Bird Watching

The variety of habitats at Thrumster make our small corner a mecca for the birdwatcher. The sea cliffs which form our Eastern border are one of the most important locations for many breeding colonies of seabirds, as well as ravens, skuas and peregrine falcons, which may be seen hunting on the inland areas. Our moors are the haunt of a very wide range of birds, and one of the best places in the country to watch the beautiful hen harrier. These may often be seen at quite close quarters, being the least shy of all our raptors.

The small-scale nature of farming on the crofts ensures that many of the farmland birds which have disappeared from the more efficient farms of other areas, are here in good numbers, and the air is always full of the sound of curlew, plover, larks and myriad other small birds. The flocks of twites which are to be seen around North Yarrows, are quite a feature of the place, as they jink and turn in unison over the turnip fields.

The charm of a spring evening by the lochside, with no traffic noise, but the sounds of snipe drumming, the cock grouse defending his ground, and curlew calling as they have for countless generations.

Indeed these hills have been the habitation of man for more than 5,000 years. Look beyond the loch, and the ancient standing stones, and the tombs of the Neolithic peoples to whom they were home, look down on a scene which has hardly changed since those primeval days.

North Yarrows Cottage is available for rent throughout the season, and Lance, the keeper, is available for guidance and information on the bird life of the area.

From June to September, John O'Groats Ferries do birdwatching trips around the sea cliffs near the North coast - a wonderful and exciting experience.


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