Monday, October 21, 2013

Katherine Sutherland of Golsary - Part A

Katherine Sutherland was born in Golsary, Caithness, Scotland in 1765. John and Marion Sutherland her parents, were tenants in the age-old Golsary croft where they farmed and raised their family.

The small hamlet of Golsary is not shown here but it was very close to Rumster as shown in the centre of this extract of the Thomson Map of 1832.

Like many other old farm steadings in the north of Scotland, Golsary is now totally deserted. A grassy hill by the Burn of Golsary covers a broch that was a fortified tower about 2000 years ago. At some stage a farm settlement was built from local stone, crofting families moved in and moved out. Stones from the old broch were taken from time to time to patch a wall or strengthen the kiln. Golsary was occupied into the twentieth century. In the 1940s the Forestry Commission planted the Rumster Forest in the area. Fortunately Golsary with its magnificent sycamore tree, old farm steading and broch was left undisturbed.

An eagle owl or a hen harrier?  It glanced at me with bright shining eyes then turned its head away to watch for more important things.

I badly wanted to get to Golsary. Having checked on Google Earth to get a sense of direction, I drove to Rumster Forest, hid my car in a grassy clearing, entered a gateway and took a hike through the forest tracks. With buzzards gliding silently overhead looking for prey, the eerie forest was near enough to unnerving. Was I really alone or was that a red fox watching me from the undergrowth? At ground level, the trails seemed much longer than shown on Google Earth, and it was hard to be sure I was on track. After walking for ever my ears picked up the sound of water where I thought the Golsary Burn was likely to be. Following the murmer of water, I spied the old stones of the Golsary steading standing staunch and proud midst the long seeding grasses, wild flowers and surrounded by large forest trees.

Approaching the steading cautiously in case any wild animals were taking refuge there I suddenly fell into a deep, wet, overgrown ditch. I thought of the snakes I have seen in ditches in other parts of the world - but no adders here thank goodness. It took me a while clambering round to find a safe access out of the ditch and into the ruins of the building.

Walking through this ancient doorway was just the most amazing feeling. Here was I, far from home and no-one knowing my whereabouts. But this was the very place my great, great, great grandmother Katherine was born to her mother Marion, two hundred and forty-five years before.  Was her DNA still buried where the midden had been? I doubt it.

 But here against the warm granite stones were the remains of an ancient garden bursting with ripe red and black currants. They were growing from Katherine and Marion's earth. I pulled the berries off in strips and ate handfuls. The sweet red fruit juice was a sacrament, a sign of a sacred thing. I drank from the Golsary Burn, then sank against the warm ancient stone wall, soaking up the atmosphere and feeling I was in heaven - but no-one else was there so I couldn't be - could I?

On 28 January 1765 John Sutherland walked down the Burn of Golsary, till it branched off to join the Burn of Forse, on to the coast and to the Latheron Kirk (see top map) where he presented his baby daughter Katherine to be baptised. His brother James Sutherland of Rumster was a witness along with Donald Bain the Latheron Parish Catechiser.

Burn of Golsary

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