Crosskirk is home to a ruined chapel called St Mary's, whose architectural style owes more to the incoming Norsemen of yore than to traditional Scottish styles. It was built around 1100 AD, making it one of the oldest churches in Caithness. The church is roofless, and stands in a walled burial ground affording delightful views of Crosskirk Bay. There are signs of even earlier human activity in the vicinity in the form of an 8th century broch, while to the south of the church is a healing well dedicated to St Mary.
The village of Reay is just to the south of Sandside Bay, whose dunes encroach on the village to the extent that its church was buried in sand for over a century. The church was rebuilt in the 18th century and now stands proud with an attractive whitewash tower. The Reay Stone, set in the wall of the chapel, has a relief carving of a cross and ornamental knot-work and probably dates from the 10th century. There were Pictish and Viking settlements in the bay which also succumbed to the dunes. Nestling among the backdrop to the bay is the Reay Golf Club. Scanning the skyline around here it is impossible to ignore the huge steel sphere of Dounreay nuclear power station. The station, which is being decommissioned, has caused environmental concerns about nuclear fuel particles which have escaped into the bay, so much so that the beach is regularly monitored for particles. There is a Visitor Centre for anyone interested in such installations.
Map of the area.
© 2005 Dorcas Sinclair, via Wikimedia Commons