Heritage Centre, Caithness Archaeological Trust and Dunbeath Strath Trail

Dunbeath Heritage Centre and Preservation Trust

A focal point for the rich culture and heritage of the Dunbeath area, concentrating on the life and works of locally-born author Neil Gunn.

The centre, operated by Dunbeath Preservation Trust, is located in the former school building where Gunn was a pupil over a century ago. Its alluring landscape of sea, harbour, river and strath inspired such acclaimed novels as Highland River, Morning Tide and The Silver Darlings.

In the old village of Dunbeath, perched on the hill, in the old school you will find an amazing source of information on the area. Archaeology, Heritage, Local Crafts and lots more. Very much worth a visit!

It has recently been extended and now has an exhibition area showcasing archaeological artefacts. Other features include two innovative floor-maps: one based on the Dunbeath Water, immortalised in Gunn’s book Highland River, and another laid out in stone in the shape of an Iron Age “wag”. Audiovisual programme past environment, photographic family archives, bronze sword which came from Lynegar, near Watten, and a second-century Roman denarius, found at a broch near Stirkoke, reference research library, bookshop, strath walk, historic buildings, harbour, picnic area.

The Centre overlooks the Moray Firth and has a prime view of the Beatrice Oil Field – the only oilfield that can be seen from the mainland. A pair of powerful binoculars in the Centre allows visitors to scan the area whilst listening to a recorded commentary. Dunbeath Estate, a modern highland estate has established a fold of traditional Highland Cattle.

Dunbeath Archaeological Survey record illustrate the length of human settlement of Dunbeath Strath, but also to reflect the true nature of the archaeological record: Dunbeath has some impressive monuments, but often the most significant sites are not necessarily the most spectacular.

Nearby, within a carefully-constructed “shrine” and safely installed in its own display cabinet, is the centre’s greatest archaeological treasure: the Ballachly Stone, dating back more than 1300 years but only unearthed in 1996. It features Christian symbols of a cross and a fish, along with two strange circular shapes that may or may not be representations of the sun and the moon.

Dunbeath Heritage Centre and Caithness Horizons is also diving deep into Tales of the Sea to explore and bring to life the maritime heritage of Caithness. Storytellers will unravel the myths and legends associated with fishing and the sea. It is the perfect opportunity for the new kid on the block to establish a working relationship with Dunbeath Heritage Centre, already well established on the Caithness heritage trail.

Dunbeath Heritage Centre’s salmon bothy and Education Room are very different venues, both are perfect settings for spinning yarns of our sea-going culture. The sea provide food, work and trade opportunities for Caithness since pre-history, and many a resulting tale had been told round local fireplaces. Tales of the Sea will help keep some of that oral culture alive.

Get planning coordinated by Museums Galleries Scotland, is a weekend where all across the country museums and galleries tempt visitors through their doors with a wonderful array of creative events.

The Centre serves as a hub for the shoot, and put forth an enormous amount of research and logistical support. For those that are wondering, a visit to the Dunbeath Centre is worth the drive to Caithness all on its own. With Dunbeath being a rich site of archeology and historical research. Tourist literature also available at Dunbeath Heritage Centre. In addition to the Heritage Centre, the trust owns a number of historic buildings in the vicinity, including the harbour store-houses and ice-house which provide a reminder of Dunbeath’s role in the 19th C. herring boom. The trust supports archaeological and environmental work in the local area.

Dunbeath Preservation Trust is based in the Heritage Centre situated just two minutes from the new Dunbeath bypass on the A9 north of Inverness. This heritage centre along the coast will tell the story of these northlands, of the local clans and of the Viking influence. The Trust has a substantial photographic collection, a large collection of family history material (the Heritage Centre is regularly visited by people tracing their ancestors in the area), unpublished manuscripts, maps and a library of antiquarian, archaeological and local history books. The Neil Gunn Society recently merged with Dunbeath Preservation Trust and the Trust has a large collection of material relating to Gunn and his work. Also provide guided walks, art installations, Bookshop. Visitors are most welcome to make use of our research room – call us to make an appointment.

Dunbeath Heritage Centre Hours:

Open daily from Apr to Oct. Mon-Fri from Nov. to Mar.

Dunbeath Strath Heritage Walking Trail

Turn off of the main A9 and go down toward the village of Dunbeath, the walk is signposted and is on your right. There is a car-park and picnic area behind the old mill. The Dunbeath Strath is a lovely walk – just follow the path – keep going and you will eventually come to one of the best preserved Brochs in the Highlands.

The Dunbeath Village sits attractively astride the Dunbeath Water with the much loved and beautiful Dunbeath Strath which is very popular for walks, picnics etc. Dunbeath Strath is one of the most popular and well known walks in Caithness. The Strath is famed for both its beauty and its connections with the author Neil M. Gunn, whose book “Highland River” is based on the area. The walk along the Strath is most often undertaken from the small car park and picnic area next to the old, tumble-down meal mill. It is possible to walk the entire length of the Strath from the harbour. It must be noted that the path covers land with stock and visitors are asked to keep to the path, shut gates and keep dogs on leads etc.

Dunbeath Strath Heritage Walking tour will take a walk in history as they tour the ancient remains of village settlements before visiting Dunbeath Heritage Centre and hearing about the migration of past generations from Caithness to New Zealand. The tour focuses on the site of the village of Badbea and an Ousdale early settlement. Expert speakers from New Zealand and locally will explore the reasons for the early migration at the final stage of the tour at Dunbeath Heritage Centre.

It is possible to walk from Dunbeath Heritage Centre to the beach, approximately 2km round trip – it may be advisable to arrange for transport to collect the group from the beach. Fisherman’s Bothy in the harbour – must be arranged with Dunbeath Preservation Trust (c/o Dunbeath Heritage Centre) prior to outing. For small groups only, no seating. Dunbeath Heritage Centre can offer expert guidance and education regarding the heritage of the area – prior booking essential. Highland Council Ranger Service may be able to accompany you. This needs to be arranged prior to outing. Tel: 01955 607758

Approximate distances

Round trips: Mill – Dunbeath broch – Mill: 1 mile, Mill – Prisoner’s Leap – Mill: 3 miles
Longer trips: Prisoner’s Leap – Tutnaguil: 1 1/4 miles, Tutnaguil – Cnoc na Maranaich: 1/8 miles, Cnoc na Maranaich – Mill: 4 1/4 miles

The Caithness Archaeological Trust (CAT)

From the peaty interior to the staggering coastline, evidence of early people’s lives can still be seen and visited today. The Caithness Archaeological Trust (CAT) outlines some of the prehistoric and historic remains in the following area:

  • Wild Harvesters
  • First Farmers
  • Early Metalworkers
  • Broch Builders
  • Priests and Picts
  • Vikings and Norse
  • Clans and Castles
  • Industry, Farming and Enterprise

The Grey Cairns of Camster remain among the best preserved chambered cairns in Northern Scotland. Careful excavation and restoration makes them accessible to visitors.

The Caithness Archaeological Trust (CAT) promotes and co-ordinates the development of archaeology and aims to re-engage local people with their heritage as active participants, not passive bystanders. Central to the Trust’s projects is the support and involvement of the community, in an area where such a thing still exists in the proper sense of that abused word.

A good example of this community involvement is the Dunbeath Heritage Centre, which currently presents the archaeology of the area around the Wag of Forse, including finds on loan from the Museum of Scotland.

The Caithness Broch Centre based in Auckengill Old School, takes over where the Northlands Viking Centre (Old Northlands Viking Centre is now transformed into the Caithness Broch Centre) with new facility, collaboration between Caithness Archaeological Trust, National Museums Scotland and The Highland Council explring extraordinarily rich archaeology landscape of Caithness. The Caithness Archaeological Trust (CAT) has led on the project since the outset and has overseen the transformation of this Highland Council facility. It has three main narratives: the nineteenth century community who first excavated the brochs; the community who lived in the area two thousand years ago; and the community who now work and live with the brochs. It is as much about the people living today as their ancestors who excavated the brochs in Victorian times and those who built them two thousand years ago. During International Clan Gathering Caithness Archaeological Trust organise an excellent range of visits to Dunbeath Broch and Harbour, Laidhay, Camster Cairns, Achavanich stone circle and the chambered cairn project at Spital quarry.

How to get there:

Dunbeath offers easy access both North and South on A9 Trunk Road with both Wick and Thurso around a half hour drive away to the North and Inverness under 2 hours drive to the South. East of Neil Gunn Road.

Contact Info

Walking Trail at Former Old School House:
Tel: 01593731269 (Caithness Archaeological Trust)
Tel: 01593 731233 (Dunbeath Heritage Centre)
Email: ema…@caithnessarchaeology.org.uk (Caithness Archaeological Trust)
Email: i…@dunbeath-heritage.org.uk (Dunbeath Heritage Centre and Preservation Trust)
Web: Dunbeath Heritage Centre: Click here and Caithness Archaeological Trust: Click here

Further read for your more interest:

  • Dunbeath Strath Archaeological and Historical Places
  • Walks venture north to Dunbeath
  • The Portormin rune-stone at Dunbeath Heritage Centre: unearthed by four Dunbeath youngsters on local beach
  • What unspoilt world class archaeology Caithness has to offer: more excavations and underwater explorations
  • A Virtual Tour of Dunbeath Heritage Centre


Heritage Centre, Caithness Archaeological Trust, Dunbeath Strath
Old School House south of Wick on the A9 (T) road, Dunbeath
Caithness KW1 6EN
Scotland, UK

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