What is Caithness Flagstone?

Believe it or not, Scotland's climate was hot and dry around 400 million years ago.

But before you begin to dream of a prehistoric paradise, it’s worth noting that in true ‘Scottish weather’ style this Devonian climate wasn't without the odd flash flood.

Water would race from high ground down to the low-lying land below eventually creating a lake of colossal scale stretching from Moray to Orkney and all the way to Greenland. Now referred to as Lake Orcadie, its greatest depths lay smack bang where Caithness is today.

As the water level of Lake Orcadie rose and fell, sediments of sand, stone and fish coated the basin floor in thin layers. Fused together over time, these layers formed a sedimentary rock named Old Red Sandstone by legendary geologist Hugh Miller. This stone is also known as Caithness Flagstone.

A few hundred million years and glaciers later...

Signs of Lake Orcadie remain in the vast rolling landscape and dramatic cliff faces of Caithness. The county is reputed worldwide for the abundance of fish fossils found in quarries and beaches. The durable yet beautiful flagstone has been quarried in Caithness for thousands of years allowing people to build strong structures from Iron Age brochs to modern day houses, walls, even kitchen worktops and pavements on streets all over the world.

Each and every slab is unique and serves as a reminder of how this low-lying county came to be.

I see Caithness flagstone as a work of art. Each layer a thin stroke of the brush. A masterpiece composed over millions of years.


If you have any Caithness Flagstone related stories, feel free to share by leaving a comment below.

References and further reading:

Scottish Natural Heritage - Moray and Caithness, A Landscape Fashioned by Geology

Norse Stone - commercial working quarries in Caithness

Caithness Broch Project - a local and inspirational charity who's aim is to build a replica Iron Age broch using Caithness Flagstone.

StoneScapes - Lisa Poulsen's series of limited edition prints featuring Caithness flagstone and landscapes.

Hugh Miller - learn more about the Scottish geologist and writer.