Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Ord of Caithness - Article XIII - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea & Neighbourhood – Part F

Article XIII written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea was printed in the Northern Ensign on 4 March 1880 – Part F

The photo on the left shows Berriedale Head or Boch Ailean while the right photo shows another head named Bodach an Uird.  Source: http://www.ambaile.org.uk
“I had almost forgotten to say a word about a very prominent part of Berriedale - namely, Berriedale Head, or the Ord of Caithness, as it is sometimes called. It is situated about midway between Berriedale and Badbea. It is a high prominent headland, well known to seafaring men. The rocks rise perpendicularly to a height of nearly a thousand feet."

"The Needle of the Ord" is also a very prominent object. It rises Cleopatra needle-like out of the sea to a height of several hundred feet, and is surrounded by the sea, and stands at a short distance from the face of the perpendicular rocks. It, as well as the face of the rocks around it, swarm with all kinds of sea-fowl, except the solan goose. When the birds rise up from the face of the rock, in tens of thousands, they darken the air, and a person throwing a stone in the midst of them cannot miss striking several. Ailsa Craig, at the entrance of the Firth of Clyde, and the Bass Rock, in the mouth of the Firth of Forth, are inhabited by immense numbers of fowl, but nothing in comparison to Berriedale Head.” 

“The sea comes rolling in with tremendous force against the face of the rocks during a storm from the south-east, and there is no shore or landing place for a boat to be found.”

“There are several large coves at the Head, where at one time hundreds of seals were to be found in the herring season, but now there is scarcely one to be found.” 

My Comments:

The Ords

The use of the word Ord makes identifying the landmarks mentioned by Alexander Gunn a bit confusing. 

Not the Ord at the Border !

The well known Ord of Caithness was described in Groome’s Gazetter 1882-4 thus: Ord-of-Caithness, an abrupt, broad, lofty, granite mountain overhanging the sea, on the mutual border of Sutherland and Caithness, 4 miles by road NE of Helmsdale. The Ord at the border is not the Ord Alexander Gunn is referring to this time. 

Boch Ailean

When Alexander Gunn refers to the Berriedale Head or Ord of Caithness, I think he is referring to a headland also known Boch Ailean although there is another headland at Bodach an Uird that could be the one. Alexander Gunn’s great grandfather George Gunn lost his life in 1761 at the age of 48 at Berriedale Head while trying to secure a sheep that had got caught on the rocks, as did McEwan the Gamekeeper setting traps and George Duncan walking home in the dark. See blogs 11.11.2014 & 03.08.2014.

The Needle

The Needle of the Ord is commonly known these days as The Needle and is north of the Ord at the border. It is still a breeding ground for birds.  

Killing two birds with one stone!

Scotland is a bird watcher’s paradise. The sea birds are still abundant. The islands and the sea cliffs provide sites for many birds to breed during the summer months. My own visit to the cliffs at Duncansby to see the Northern Fulmar nesting was wonderful.

I doubt Alexander Gunn’s comment about throwing stones was really him trying to kill two birds with one stone rather a way of emphasising the numbers of birds in flight. 

In more recent times the issue of conservation of the seabirds breeding on the coasts has gained importance. A very interesting report on three surveys has indicated the national importance of the east Caithness Cliffs for breeding seabirds. This report gives details of the number of seabirds present in the monitoring plots in June 2005 and trends to be observed. Fortunately for us there are some fascinating photos of the very area and sea cliffs that Alexander Gunn was talking about.
From the Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report no 148.


There are stories over decades about the wild storms in the Moray Firth. When Wick was a busy herring port, many fishermen lost their lives in sudden violent storms.
Lower Left: Coastal Scene by John Wilson Ewbank, 1820
The powerful waves dominate the figures on the rocks who are trying to salvage items from the wreck of a ship that is floating in the sea around them.
Source: www.educationscotland.gov.uk
Right the contrast of a calm day at The Stacks Duncansby - my photo


The slaughter of seals in the area over the years had clearly led to their decline. See blog Seals Feb 2015

This is the last article in this series of Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea & Neighbourhood. A Native of Badbea returns to the Northern Ensign with a new series before long. 

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