The Dreaming Bog

The Dreaming Bog

A new film that aims to highlight the unique story of a landscape of Northern Scotland will have its maiden screening in Lairg.

The Dreaming Bog is an ecopoetic story on Climate Change told through the lens of the Bogs & Peatlands of Northern Scotland and the Mires & Swamps of Finland. The film is based on the opening act of an epic new poem by Caithness Makar, George Gunn, ’Six Thousand Years of Sunlight’, and was produced by Sutherland born filmmaker, Robert Aitken.

The film seeks to seed a new wave of discussion on Climate Change where humans are placed back into the heart and narrative of nature, and honour that place. Although a complete telling, the film has been created as the opening of 4 x films continuing an ecopoetic discourse and engagement with the remaining stanzas of George Gunn’s modern epic.

As George says; “I was honoured when Robert wanted to use some of my poem for his new film, ‘The Dreaming Bog’. The subject matter of the Caithness and Sutherland Bog lands is very close to my heart given the Clan Gunn literally, culturally and historically, come out of the Bog.

George Gunn

Filming took place at the end of 2021 under challenging circumstances. As Robert explains; “After a difficult birth including; a pandemic, a lock down, two storms and multiple cancellations due to Covid and illness, it’s just incredible The Dreaming Bog got made at all. Given events elsewhere in the world however I give gratitude that I could create this film. In a strange way the challenges in production echo the wider situation and how we can overcome adversity.”

The global Bogs and Peatlands are an incredible gift of life, but are in danger of degradation through human-related activities. These places are home to an immense variety of plants and wildlife, and historically, humankind has lived and worked in the Bogs of northern Scotland since the arrival of hunter-gatherer. Arguably the greatest gift of certain Bog types is that they are the best Carbon Keepers on earth, up to four times more efficient at storing gas, poisonous to human life, than the rain forests.

The Dreaming Bog also contains heartfelt comment from those who actually live and work in the Bogs of Caithness and Sutherland, as well as Finland – informed testimony from passionate researchers, heritage curators and scientists, all who have delved deep in to the legacy of the Peatlands and their rich story.

Writer, ethnologist and archaeologist Cáit O’Neill McCullagh says; “As a landscape of course the Peatbogs preserve a tremendous amount of archaeology because It’s an anaerobic environment, an oxygen free environment. The Bogs of Northern Europe are well known as places where people would have deposited important things for ritual purposes. Hoards of expensive precious metals, materials that would have been fashioned in to swords or cauldrons but also for simply preserving things like you or I would put things in the fridge.”

Heritage and Digital curator at Timespan Arts in Helmsdale, Jacquie Aitken, continues on the theme of preservation; “Wood was not readily available to the township folk of far north of Scotland so they would have gone up to the Bogs and dug up Peat as fuel. They’d also come across old roots of trees preserved in the Bogs. It’s these hard bits of wood that they would utilise and make furniture out of, such as chairs. It’s a wonderful example of vernacular furniture that’s been derived from the Peatbogs.”

Other footage and comment was supplied by film partners from the University of Eastern Finland’s Mire Trend Project. With Finland’s landmass being one-third swamps, the Mire Trend Project looks at various influences of swamps and Bogs on Finnish society.

The topic of Climate Change is very much at the forefront of the global energy crisis with concerns on our reliance on fossil fuels versus the need for deliverable renewables. For the most part planet earth has paid little attention to human civilisation over the past 6000 years. Only since the industrial revolution has this relationship fractured; a mere 200 years and earth has seen its air, water, ice and rock begin to act directly due to human activities. As Robert says; “We all want the human journey to continue but our efforts thus far have failed. Adding Robert says; “Getting a message out there with a narrative that connects with people requires a different approach. It’s ultimately humanity that needs to change so I do find a lot of the messaging and terminology in the current arguments a barrier to any real progress. In short, we need a new story.”

Social scientist at UHI’s Environmental Research Institute in Thurso, Magnus Davidson, comments on his work on the Caithness Peatlands, known locally as the Flow Country; ”I try to understand the social history of the Flow Country, to better understand how we as a society might use the Flow Country in the future, but also understand the environmental degradation and as we look to restore the environment around it.”It’s this need for a new perspective on Climate Change that led Robert to make this film on the global Bogs. Given the importance to our past and current existence on earth the Bogs act like a planetary storage facility, physically and metaphysically. Due to the chemical make-up of the vegetation the Bogs hold a geological record of earth from millennia ago and act as a depository of our activities; a living and breathing vast record of our collective actions on earth.

The producers of The Dreaming Bog are keen for as many people as possible to see the film, listen to the panel discussion and get involved in the Q&A sessions. As Robert surmises; “The film is only half the story, we want host venues and the public to get involved and be participants. The film will also make a great addition to festivals, climate change and arts related activity venues may be planning with its themes around vulnerable landscapes, poetry, heritage & culture and its highly creative approach in storytelling.”

Robert Aitken

There are already a number of venues throughout the far North and Scotland signed up as part of a national screening tour of The Dreaming Bog. The film is now being offered to museums, arts venues, community organisations etc., of all sizes to host a screening event. To help host venues with costs the producers are wavering all film licensing fees and some other costs. They also offering help with advertising and promoting to ensure a successful screening event. In concluding Robert says; “I am so delighted we are kicking off our screening tour in Lairg, the region of my birth and of course not far from the precious Bogs. They are an incredible and hugely important landscape facing an uncertain future. It’s this story we have endeavoured to tell in The Dreaming Bog.”

If you wish to host a film screening event or receive more information of The Dreaming Bog please get in touch with Robert Aitken on:

For news and dates of live screenings of The Dreaming Bog please visit:

Broch-t back to life!

Broch-t back to life!

A millennia-old, ‘new-build’: first look at archaeological group’s ‘grand design’ for ancient monument.

Archaeological charity Caithness Broch Project (CBP) recently unveiled their impressive vision for the first broch to be built in Scotland in 2,000 years. Brochs – tall, double-walled, drystone towers found only in Scotland – were once common features in the Iron Age landscape across the Highlands and Islands, and Caithness can lay claim to have more brochs than anywhere else. CBP now want to recreate one as a thriving visitor attraction for the county.

The visuals, created by digital reconstruction artist Bob Marshall, showcase the ambitious aims of the charity, who seek to construct the monument using tools and techniques only available to their Iron Age counterparts.

The broch, designed by CBP co-founder Iain Maclean, reflects the wider architectural repertoire of brochs across Scotland, incorporates a number of flourishes such as triangular doorway lintels, cells built into the broch itself, and a series of outbuildings such as wags, wheelhouses and blockhouses.

“We wanted to capture a variety of features found in Broch construction from all over Scotland, so the design isn’t a carbon copy of any individual Broch but instead is a kind of chimaera of elements chosen for a number of reasons, ranging from structural robustness, health and safety, or purely because they were interesting. features.” said co-founder and director Iain Maclean.

Maclean also noted that there were “elements of the design such as the roof and the construction of the floors that had to be figured out with a degree of educated guesswork and speculation given that none of these survive in archaeological record”, remarking that their broch vision was “as honest an interpretation of what a Broch looked like as we may ever arrive at.”

It is hoped that the project will become an important visitor attraction for the region of Caithness, which has recently been projected to lose over 20% of its population over the next 20 years.

“This project will be a hugely important one for the county,” remarked CBP director Kenneth McElroy, “not only do we want this to become a sustainable and successful contribution to the economy of Caithness, but it could become an icon for the county too.”

Caithness Broch Project hope to acquire land for the construction of the broch within the next year, with funding sources from a variety of sources. By 2023 it is hoped they can begin their project in earnest, involving a wide range of skilled heritage craftspeople.

Digital reconstruction of an iron age broch – Caithness, Scotland. Image © Bob Marshall

For more on Caithness Broch Project, visit
To view more of Bob Marshall’s work, please visit

COVID-19 and a Volunteer Run Museum

drawing of external image of wick museum

We are delighted to welcome Ian Leith, Chair of Wick Heritage Museum, as our guest blogger for this month, writing about the challenges being faced as a volunteer run museum in the midst of a pandemic.


The Wick Society is wholly led and run by Volunteers. The Board of Trustees are all volunteers and each of our services are delivered through a bank of skilled, committed and dedicated volunteers. 

The Wick Society has responsibility for the Wick Heritage Museum, the Johnston Photographic Collection, Wick Society Boats and our oral history project, Wick Voices. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent government restrictions the Board, in conjunction, with the volunteers, decided NOT to open Wick Heritage Museum this year, nor has it been possible to launch our flagship, the Isabella Fortuna. 

However, the Johnston Photographic Collection and Wick Voices are both online resources and continue to be available.

We are also making use of our websites, social media and more recently YouTube channel. This has allowed a certain public presence to be maintained. 

Now, with restrictions being slowly eased and a determination on the part of many to return to a normal situation, guidelines are being issued for museums and other visitor attractions to consider re-opening. The challenges facing the Wick Heritage Museum in terms of social distancing, PPE and hygiene were considered by The Wick Society Board on 25th June 2020 with the decision taken to NOT open during the 2020 Season.

The following considerations and discussions were used to come to the decision.

Consultations and Discussions

A number of virtual meetings and forums have been and continue to be attended. These give an indication of the universal challenges and opportunities that the Wick Society must consider. 

Many museums both nationally and regionally are preparing to open at some point over the next few months. Some, depending on their layout will find it relatively easy to implement the necessary controls and restrictions. Others are looking at alternative approaches to their layouts and/or offerings. 

One of the major differences between the Wick Heritage Museum and many others, is that we are wholly run by volunteers. Museums that have employees are in the more ‘fortunate’ position of having qualified and on-site staff to plan and put in place the necessary conditions. 

As we are wholly voluntary, we have to rely on the goodwill and availability of volunteers to take on considerable tasks. By the very nature of heritage volunteering, many of our teams are in older/vulnerable age categories and possibly more susceptible to health risks.  

The basic options we were faced with are:


Open on a limited basis

Remain closed for the season

Look at ways of taking the museum and its stories out-with the Museum walls. 

Factors to consider:

Do we have capacity in terms of volunteer availability and desire to engage? 

As explained many of our volunteers are older and cannot be put at risk

Can we achieve the necessary social distancing guidelines?

The Wick Heritage Museum is made up of a series of small rooms with narrow corridors and stairways and a one way system is not practical.

The guided tour was a key element of our offering. This would not be possible.

What will the local community expect from us?

From general discussions the community at least understand our decision and welcome our intended approach of taking the ‘Museum Beyond the Walls’

Do we have the resources to make the required social distancing and hygiene rules work?

With the Museum closed there is little income and any major expense in terms of resources threatens our reserves.

What will visitors expect in terms of hygiene and safety?

In this we have no real idea. We know what would be required of us, but it is difficult to predict the expectations of any visitors.

There is a genuine fear in the North of Scotland that visitors will see that we have been relatively free of the virus and therefore may not be overly responsible. Admittedly this is more of a perceived fear than a known reality.

How will our longer-term viability and credibility be affected by opening or not opening?

The Wick Heritage Museum has been a recognised visitor attraction and if visitors are disappointed to find the museum closed, this could affect our reputation.

What can we do ‘outside’ of the Museum to provide a heritage experience for both locals and visitors?

We have always recognised and received great support from the local community and while our ‘Museum Beyond the Walls’ concept is for everyone, we see this period as a new opportunity to engage with local people as well as tourists.

The decisions before us therefore were as follows: 


The Disadvantages:

Considerable amount of preparation required 

Cost of preventative and protective materials (some small funds may be accessible)

Difficulty in recruiting volunteers

Unable to do guided tours

The Advantages”

We provide the service people will/may expect


Opening on a partial basis:

The Disadvantages:

Probable closure of some sections of the Museum

Compliance would still need to be achieved

The Advantages:

Some income

Provide ‘something’ for visitors

Not Opening:

The Disadvantages

Loss of credibility

Loss of income

The Advantages;

Time to properly prepare and make any necessary changes for 2021 Season

Opportunity to approach our heritage from a different perspective.

New Ways – Alternative Approaches

Create a concept of the Museum Beyond the Walls

We already have the Johnston Photographic Collection and Wick Voices, online.

Create a heritage map detailing and exploring the stories behind our local heritage, throughout the town.

Consider the use of the Museum Courtyard and the exterior of the historic Herring Mart as activity/display spaces (weather permitting)

Work with local shops and the Town Centre Development Trust to utilise empty shop windows as display areas

Work with other museums/attractions in the area

Continue to create online and social media content

Wick is classed as a ‘heritage’ town, so this provides an opportunity for visitors and locals to explore and understand the history and heritage of the Royal Burgh of Wick.