All posts by Graham Hill

George Gunn (?? – 1818)

We have been asked by  the London Gaelic Society if we have any information about a George Gunn who was listed as a Friend and Supporter of the Gaelic Chapel  with an address at the Admiralty. He left a wife and nine children, and is believed to have died on 15 December 1818 in Dulwich.

We have no record of him in the society but wondered if any of our Web visitors can help  – if you can please post a comment…


Blog from the North – March / April 2016

Bunty Gunn
Bunty Gunn

Goodness!  Where did March go?  Well, for Iain and me it went to the Caribbean where we spent ten days island hopping.  We flew to Antigua and flew back from Barbados having visited so many islands in between that it all becomes a bit of a  beautiful daze.  It was a gorgeous holiday.  Never have we seen so many vibrant colours used on the houses.  Particularly in Antigua where you would find a sweetie-pink house with an orange roof and yellow shutters, or a seagreen wall with dark blue decorations, finished with a golden railing – absolutely joyous this celebration of colour.  The young ladies too liked to be daring;  bright yellow mini-skirts tugged over, in some cases, quite sizeable embonpoints, their hair highlighted with gold and dressed in ringlets, they were stunning in their beauty.  The only down side, for me, was the method of hopping from island to island.  When our boat, the SS Serenissima, couldn’t berth at a pier we had to assemble in our life jackets and make our way down a wobbly companion-way to where, at the bottom, two strong sailors took a hand and an elbow each and said “jump”.  At this point you aimed for the side of a rocking Zodiac rubber boat.  At the next command you jumped onto a box in the boat, and then into the boat itself.  As if this was not enough, you had to do the whole thing in reverse at the other end.  After six of these terrifying episodes I decided I had been publicly humiliated quite sufficiently and went on strike.  No more island hopping unless we were firmly attached to dry land.  But the holiday itself was the greatest fun, with charming company on the boat, a superbly trained staff and a really enterprising and professional young expedition leader.


We left Barbados in 26 degrees of heat and returned to Gatwick in 6 degrees.  How our hearts bled for new passengers in the searing sun and scorching heat as the sleet and snow battered our Caithness windows.  How we pitied them, taking their sundowners on the afterdeck as we clutched a warming toddy in our frozen hands.  Not too much time for reminiscing, though, as we had next to prepare for Iain’s inauguration as Chief of Clan Gunn in Edinburgh on the 16th April.  This was a great occasion, held at the Merchants’ Hall.  Ben Kinsman, our grandson, proudly carrying his grandfather’s flag, led the new Chief into position.. The Lord Lyon then spoke interestingly about Chiefs in general and  presented Iain with his Letters Patent – i.e. his new Arms;  Iain thanked the Lyon and the Clan and proceeded to re-commision Robert Kamp Gunn and Richard Gunn as Commisioners for the Netherlands and North America respectively, presenting them with a document and a pinsel – the kind of triangular flag you see in paintings of medieval jousting – and then he had pleasure in appointing Todd Wall, the newly retired President of the New Zealand Society of Clan Gunn, as Commisioner in New Zealand.


After three hearty cheers for the new Gunn of Gunn, the party retired for drinks.  Presents were given.  Iain was already wearing the kilt which had been made for him by Alexis Kehm in Florida and gifted by her and the North American Society.  A lot of whisky appeared , some beautiful glasses from Nova Scotia;  jellies and spreads  and a picture from Canada and a hunting knife authentically decorated and presented by Bucky Nelson.  Iain was very moved by all the kindness and evidence of people’s generosity. The very good dinner which followed was enjoyed by all.   It was certainly an occasion which we will remember for ever.


So April moves on.  We are in the icy grip of an Arctic stream of air bringing snow and very cold winds.  The daffodils are in full bloom, the lambs are sheltering in their mothers’ sides, the calves don’t seem to feel the cold the same way.  Trees are bursting into leaf – much later than down south – even in Edinburgh they were fully out.  I must say that I always rather enjoy a second Spring when we have been away, although my thoughts do tend to turn, at the moment, to the warmth and light of the Caribbean experience. Also something we will not easily forget.

Blog From the North – February 2016

Bunty Gunn
Bunty Gunn

What of Caithness in January? Well – we missed the worst of the flooding that affected both Scotland and England to the south of us, although Halkirk had a problem with the water table leading to flooded basements. What we did have was a lot of very cold weather with fiercely strong winds and sprinklings of snow, followed by days of thaw which made everything either slippery or muddy – usually both. This is when I discovered that in Caithness you do not call a spade a spade; whatever its ultimate use, it is called a shovel. A lorry driver made rather a mess of the verges in the driveway and told me he had moved the mud with a shuffle – which is how you say it up here.
This led me to think of other Caithness idioms; for example where I would say that something is “no good”. my neighbour would say it was “no use”. And where I would say something was “no use”, my neighbour would say “it’s not handy.” Gutters are – well – gutters along the edge of a roadway, but the things along the edge of a roof are rhones. And a bucket for floor cleaning use is a pail, your actual bucket being something to put rubbish into. You soon learn.
There are also lovely words like “swak” which is quite difficult to translate but means something like hale and hearty. A fork (garden variety) is a graip and in order to empty your barrow, you coup it onto the rubbish heap (or midden).
You don’t take advantage of anyone, you “take a lend” of them. But I think my very favourite expression was overheard at the check-out of the local supermarket. Two elderly gents were queuing to pay and one, spotting the other, said “Now then, Johnnie. I’ve no’ seen ye for a whilie. How’re you doing?” To which the somewhat surly reply was “Yer seein’ it”!
So now we’re just into February and “Henry” is raging round; the Canada geese are feeding peacefully in the field in front; the ponies up the road have got their jackets on, Morven and Scaraben are covered in icing sugar and through it all the sun is shining. The days are getting noticeably longer and the daffodils are pushing through. Spring may yet come.

Blog From the North: December 2015 / January 2016

Bunty Gunn
Bunty Gunn

Well, quite a bit of excitement, really in the last months.  We were told that the Lord Lyon King of Arms had recognised Iain as Chief of Clan Gunn.  Rather than be “of that ilk” which he thought was a bit Victorian, he will be Iain Gunn of Gunn and our son will be John Gunn Younger of Gunn.  In the days gone by the Chief’s wife was Lady Gunn, but I don’t hold with that, as Iain has not been ennobled, so I have been told (on high authority!) that I am now Madam Gunn of Gunn. Wow!

What is good about this is not that it is our family to be so honoured, but that there can now be continuity in the Gunn hierarchy.  Every time we go abroad and visit Clan Gatherings we see for ourselves how important it is that there is a Head of the Family.  It means that even in a huge country like the United States of America you are not lost, you have roots and a provenance.   The new Chiefly Arms are to be presented to Iain by the Lord Lyon  in April at the St. Donan’s Day Dinner, which will be held in the Merchants’ Hall  in Edinburgh on the 16th April.  It would be great to see as many of you as possible there.  Details will be going out shortly in The Herald.

Talking about the Arms, apparently the older the Clan, the less there is on the shield.  As Chiefly arms have never been registered, the Lyon ordered that new ones should be designed.  Help in this matter is being given by Mr. John Malden, who rejoices in the title of Unicorn Pursuivant.

The first draft suggestion showed, as a supporter, a very fierce Viking warrior, armed to the teeth with just about every weapon you could imagine and apparently wearing sun glasses.  This has now been modified and the other supporter is a Pictish woman, holding a bunch of juniper.  I’m not sure about the other details  but I’m sure it will look fine when it is done.  The motto stays the same, so the Gunns are either peaceful or warlike, depending on your point of view.

Caithness avoided the heavy rain that caused so much flooding during the last few months, but we were raked by fierce winds which must have come straight off Siberia, they were so cold.

When you shop in Lybster’s main street you need to know which way the wind is blowing and park accordingly because you could easily lose a leg if the car door shut on you, so strong are the gusts.

We were down in Pitlochry just before Christmas and were astonished by the fields  covered in water – lakes as far as the eye could see.  Every river, it seemed, had burst its banks and there were little knots of sheep stranded on high ground with water all round them.  Today, as I write, the sun is shining, the sky is blue and a flock of Canada geese is feeding in the field in front of the house.  They seem to like the salty grass – or more likely, the well-seasoned beasties they find in it.  The grass is green and healthy looking and all in all it is more like summer than Christmas.

So from sunny, warm and pleasant Caithness I wish you all a very prosperous New Year.

Blog from the North – September / October 2015

Bunty Gunn
Bunty Gunn

Is there anyone out there who still remembers “Mrs. Dale’s Diary”?  It was a long-running radio “soap” about a doctor and his wife and the life they led.  It often used to begin “I’m rather worried about Jim..”

Just at the moment I’m worried about our swallows.  We have two pairs that come every May during the first week and depart every September during the first week, but this year one pair has lingered on, having hatched a second brood .  There they are, flying happily around in what is becoming  colder and less welcoming weather, obviously finding plenty to eat in the way of insects, but not thinking about the long journey to come.  Every now and again I go out and suggest they get ready to leave as they swoop joyously overhead – and I do really worry about them.  Silly isn’t it?

We have kissed goodbye to Summer, although we are having some beautiful days – windy and cool, but sunny and bright.  We had a wonderful trip up the Glen of Kildonan last week and it was magical with heather and autumn colours lining our route.  We didn’t see any raptors, though.  I still live in hopes of repeating a wonderful moment when we passed a gateway and there was what I took to be a stone garden ornament parked beside it.  “Why would anyone leave such a thing there?” I wondered to Iain.  “That was an eagle,” he said.  “Probably having  rest.”  Well, I suppose they do from time to time.

Once a year up here we have a Doors Open day for museums, cafes, castles – you name it.  Visitors can come and look over the places without having to pay entry fees, so the Clan Gunn Centre  hosted quite a few guests.  At “Waterlines” the cafe at the harbour that Iain and I are associated with, we were asked to provide a special dish for the day.  One of the fishermen, George Carter, is famed for his fish soup, so he provided industrial quantities of it and very good it was too.  I asked him for the recipe and it went like this:  “Some good cod I caught myself;  some haddock I got hold of;  a few onions from the garden, tatties from John O’Groats, a bit of this and that (secret ingredients I expect), Caithness water, boil it all up and there you have it.”  Delicious.

An enterprising local cafe owner at Whaligoe Steps has started providing special menus from round the world.  Booking essential.  Iain and I are off this evening for a Mediterranean Meal which sounds exotic in the extreme, what with Kapuska from Turkey and Mujadara from Spain.  Sounds good, don’t you think?

This is the last you will hear of the Most Northerly Lemon.  It played its part and turned out to be very nice and lemony.  But it appeared to be the only fruit on the tree.  I was just deciding to prune the thing to a bristle – and probably try to get another one – when I noticed, coyly tucked inside a leaf, a tiny new baby lemon.  So the tree is reprieved for another year.  However, I shall not trouble you with grandmotherly-like up-to-date accounts of its prowess as you’ve been through all that with me already.  Suffice it to say that unless climate change really does become dramatic, citrus fruit will probably not prosper in Caithness.  I shall just buy it at the store, like everyone else does.

Blog from the North – July / August 2015

Bunty Gunn
Bunty Gunn

Whilst tidying Iain’s study – a task more suited to a modern-day Hercules – I happened upon a copy of the John O’Groat Journal from August 3rd 1962.  And spent a whole morning reading it. Just the front page was fascinating.  The Picture House in Thurso was showing “The Young Ones” with Cliff Richard, whereas the Wick Pavilion had Frank Sinatra in “Sergeants 3”.  If these didn’t float your boat, then what about the Electric Bingo Stall and Amusement Arcade being set up by Bill Spencer at the Thurso Riverside?  The Dentist gave notice of his holidays and the “Gent’s Hairdresser” – Mrs. H. Bannerman – declared herself open for business that week.

“From Our Old Files” – a feature that still continues today – in 1862 “Mr. Alexander Sutherland had reared in the garden at Bilbster a cucumber measuring 20 inches in length and  8 and a quarter inches in circumference”.

Amongst the news items it was reported that thirty home-sick Tristan da Cunans who came to Britain after a volcanic eruption ravaged their island in 1961 wrote to  a welfare officer in Capetown asking for help to return home.  Iain and I were both in Southampton at that time and we remember these poor souls being brought to what had been a series of camps for oil workers at Fawley.  The camps were clean, minimal and no doubt unfriendly and I daresay the natives were a bit the same.  And the climate must have been very different from what they knew.  Volcanos would be preferable, it seemed.

I mention Iain and I having been in Southampton in 1962 because it is where we met and where in November of that year we became engaged to be married.  That was also the year of the first Gathering of Clan Gunn, well reported in the “Groat” that I found..  There is a large picture of Banniskirk House, home of Iain’s uncle, Dr. William Gunn and a splendid portrait of the “exiles” who had returned – 80 strong – to celebrate the first Gathering of its kind for 100 years.  Iain, looking remarkably boyish, is in the front row with many members of his family and the clan family.  The Gathering happened at the end of July, before Iain and I had met and so my first Gathering was three years later with a wedding ring and a small son.

That same small son and his wife were instrumental in putting together the programme for the International Gathering held in Caithness in late July of this year. Everyone, including their children and those of Helen our daughter, really rolled up their order tramadol india sleeves and helped in so many ways, which made Iain’s and my job (tweaking things at the Caithness end) much easier.  It was so heartwarming to see that they could enjoy themselves at what was quite an adult event.  Bodes well for the future, we hope.

Caithness is basking in blissful sunshine at the moment, having had an horrendous torrent of rain, thunder and lightning last night.  Dunbeath Gardens were open on Sunday to the public and 1,000 people went there.  Several charities are benefiting from the visits.

Iain and I were delighted to meet. Bruce Keddie and his wife Caroline at the Clan Centre a couple of days ago.  Bruce, from New Zealand, is one of the Christchurch Pipe Band and taking part in the Edinburgh Tattoo.  He had been really anxious to visit his family homeland which his forebears left 150 years ago and so had been given a couple of days off by the Parade Commander.  It’s a tough life performing at the Tattoo – every night from 9 p.m. and then back to the barracks at about midnight, twice on Saturdays.  The soldiers all live together in the student accommodation at Pollock Halls, but the wives have to fend for themselves, so Caroline and three others had taken an apartment in Edinburgh and were really enjoying themselves.  Bruce’s dream had been to play the pipes at the Clan Centre and Iain and I were treated to a most splendid recital – he is a great piper – ending, poignantly, with “Going Home” which is also known at part of the New World Symphony by Dvorack.

Today, down at the harbour in Lybster, we met another man fulfilling a long-held wish;  a windsurfer who is circumnavigating the British Isles in aid of cancer research.  He set off from Clacton in Essex two and a half months ago and hopes to be back home (going down the East coast) in another month or so.  What a brave, fit man.  He has a website called Windsurfer round Britain and if anyone wants to donate, it’s through that.  We watched him take off from the harbour when the wind was right and it is hard work, I tell you.  Apparently he had always wanted to do this, so really is living the dream.  Too many people don’t, he believes.  We certainly had a friend who  said one would always regret not having done something.  I’m sure that’s right.

I am about to regret losing the Most Northerly Lemon – but to a good cause;  a really excellent glass of gin and tonic with some friends from afar..  Cheers!

Blog from the North – June 2015

Bunty Gunn
Bunty Gunn

I’m sorry about May.  Apart from the election it was a month where all you wanted to do was pull the duvet over your head and wait for summer.

The election was a fairly bitter pill for the Lib Dems of Caithness (of whom I am one) to swallow.  A huge surge of nationalism, triggered by the Referendum, ousted John Thurso and elected Dr. Paul Monaghan. Just about the first thing he had to do was deal with a shoal of letters and e-mails, begging him to intercede in the affairs of the Royal Bank of Scotland versus Lybster. The bank proposes to close its branch here, causing huge upset in the area and a lot of ill feeling towards an enterprise which the taxpayer is supposed to own, but in which the taxpayer has no say. The bank has just had to pay a huge fine for wrong selling of products, but it was hardly the fault of its clients who feel they are being penalised for something they did not do.  I don’t know whether the petitions, the phone calls or the afore-mentioned letters and e-mails will do any good, but at least we will go down having tried our best.

June has arrived but with no let-up from the wintry weather.  Temperatures in the teens|(occasionally) during the day and minus 3 degrees at night.  I am very sorry for the swallows who arrived a week late and must wonder why they bothered to come at all, it is so cold.  The gorse is in glorious bloom and the broom is just beginning to flower.  It is curious that they can both be yellow, but quite different yellows and also have different scents.  The gorse, in the sun, is coconut-smelling.  The broom is flowery.  There’s a lot of activity in the fields with cows and calves in abundance, including the lovely little Highlanders who look just like cuddly teddies, but who could give you a fine bunt if you messed with them.  Tractors are out, fields are ploughed and the far from delicate stench of slurry fills the air as the acres are “dunged”. The Lands End to John O’Groats walkers have started, and the cyclists and the vintage car rallies.  We have a friend who lives near Lands End and I always wish that I could send a message with the walkers as they pass our gate on the way back.  In a cleft stick, of course.

The village is gearing up for the Fete on the 27th June, held in the garden of the Manse, although our Minister has retired through ill-health.  We have a rolling list of lay-preachers and there is another retired Minister who takes over from time to time.  I don’t know what the future will be.  So many churches are closing or amalgamating and I cannot say that we have a very large congregation.  As it is we box and cox with the church in Dunbeath.  Still, the faithful do attend and the Fete always attracts a good crowd and the money goes to good causes.  Let’s hope for a decent day for it.

The Most Northerly Lemon is almost ready to be picked.  We are saving it until Gathering time and will dispatch it with due ceremony.  Perhaps even to celebrate the continuation of the village branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland.  Well – we can dream, can’t we?



Blog from the North – April 2015

Bunty Gunn
Bunty Gunn

Up here in Caithness March kind of morphed into April without our really noticing it.  It snowed, it hailed, it rained and the wind blew mercilessly – and you honestly couldn’t have said whether we were in Spring or the middle of Winter.  There is a saying that “April is the cruellest month” but March wasn’t far off and May looks as though it is going the same way.  We had tourists at Easter, shivering along the shores and huddling into cafes serving hot tea and coffee.  Occasionally the sun would put in an appearance and all the young girls would appear in strapless dresses and very short shorts for about five minutes.  During all this we had a number of events to do with tourism and getting people here earlier than the Summer.  A good deal of hollow laughter was heard.

However all was not doom and gloom, I assure you.  The St. Donan’s weekend in April was delightful.  The dinner was held in Lumley Castle, near Durham and very splendid it is, too.  When you arrive by car, the only entrance appears to be an open door at the foot of some very impressive steps.  Entering there, though, finds you in the dungeons – or so it seems – and you get a good idea of what it must have been like to live there in days gone by.   Gordonstoun school has – or certainly used to have – a similar sort of arrangement and you arrived at the headmaster’s study by way of the kitchens where various cooks and bottle-washers indicated the direction you should take.  Novel, if not very quick.

Very slightly brighter weather prompts the movement of cows and calves between pastures. The field in front of us is currently receiving a new batch and I can seen the farmer trying to persuade them that the field is infinitely preferable to the grass verge outside it that seems to have taken their fancy.  Lambing is almost over – we are late lambers up here, to try and take advantage of warmer weather.  Some hopes this year!  I’ve noticed a lot of triplets amongst the babies which is great for the farmer but must be bewildering for the mothers.  The daffodils are just going over, but the white narcissi are in full and lovely bloom, although knocked sideways by the snow we had the other day.  I’m going to stop this – I am becoming a weather bore.  Let’s just say that the fields are green, the lawn has had its first cut and the gorse is golden and everywhere.  The swallows should be here this week, but it may be a bit chilly for them (there I go again) and the Most Northerly Lemon continues to ripen.


Blog From the North – March 2015

Bunty Gunn
Bunty Gunn

I’m sitting here in the north of Scotland, waiting for the partial eclipse of the sun.  Having been told that this is one of the best places to see it, I am full of hope.  Early this morning there was a beautiful sun just waiting to be obscured by the moon, but now the clouds are rolling in (also predicted) and :I wonder how much of the actual moments we shall be able to see. If it happens before I finish this, I will let you know.

March came roaring in with gales and lashing rain.  We lost another tree – that makes ten, I think, this year.  Fields were waterlogged and lambing started with all those poor little newly borns getting wetter by the second.  Farmers up here hate early lambing in the rain.  Normally the lambs are organised to be later in Caithness and Sutherland because although the lambs can stand the cold, wet is something they succumb to and it is easy to lose everything you hoped for if the weather is bad.  On the other side, the daffodils are loving the damp conditions and edging into bloom.  I used to enjoy it when we lived in London and came north for Easter because we got two Springs.  Everything would be pretty well over down south and just coming to life up here.

It’s 9.30 a.m. and it is getting darker, but whether this is cloud cover or eclipse I can’t tell at the moment.  The sun is still shining on the fields, but the shadows are longer and, somewhat eerily, the wind has got up and the clouds are filling.  I need the lights on in the house.  A  flock of birds flew swiftly over, going home I imagine, but other than that there are no signs of any other birds.

Goodness!  Was that it?   Well.  There you go.  Apparently that was it.  Blink and you missed it.  Most disappointing.  I have to admit that I wanted Drama.  I wanted darkness over the face of the Earth. I wanted a sense of Otherness.   And what did I get?  Just a deep shadow.  What a let-down.

I have learned (later) that there were places where real darkness fell, so I feel a bit cheated.  And as the next eclipse is in 2026,  I must be contented with what I got today.

By the way, the Most Northerly Lemon is ripening slowly.  Very slowly.  It needs more sun.  So now that the moon has done her bit,  here’s hoping April will bring us warmth and light.  Happy Easter to everyone when it comes.