Highland Business Awards 2019

We were absolutely delighted to recently learn that Norse Stone is one of three finalists shortlisted for the Caithness & Sutherland Business of the Year at the 2019 Highland Business Awards. This was some really exciting news and, although we are keeping our fingers crossed for the final, we are thrilled to have made it this far!

During the application process, we got to thinking about just how far Norse Stone has come since the company was founded in 2015. Humble beginnings of three men in a shipping container with a saw and a polisher has grown to two quarries, eleven members of staff, a fully equipped workshop and bespoke production line.

Our quarries, Lieurary and Banniskirk, are both located on what is known as the ‘Spittal beds’ which is where you will find the finest quality Caithness flagstone. Lieurary is our main quarry and is also where our processing facilities are located. Banniskirk is our newest quarry just a few miles from Lieurary. It has already shown real potential in a variety of products giving Norse Stone customers even more options for their products.

Lieurary Quarry

Lieurary Quarry

Some of the Norse Stone Team

Some of the Norse Stone Team

The Norse Stone team is a unique mixture of people; men, women, age, background, training, experience. Some of the team, including our own managing director Michael Ronaldson, have been in Caithness flagstone industry for years whilst others had no previous experience but have learned, adapted and thrived in what is truly a diverse working environment.

Our workshop is kitted out with saws, polishers and fully automated CNC machinery with a specially built production line to increase our paving productivity. Caithness is known for its stunning landscapes and we are lucky to have our quarries surrounded by some of these. We want to protect our local environment and landscapes by developing low carbon production and extraction techniques such as recycling water to our saws, reusing offcuts and even working towards being as paper free as possible.

Community has had a huge impact on the Caithness flagstone industry and is something Norse Stone has always held in high regard. The local community is the backbone of Caithness flagstone. Even when stone production had all but stopped, it was the community who continued to pass down the working knowledge allowing the industry to once again be revived years later. Over the years, Norse Stone has been able to increase the support it can provide to the local community whether donations, sponsorship, information, photos of modern practices and, of course, local job opportunities.

We are immensely proud of how far Norse Stone has come in what is really a short amount of time and will continue to learn and develop so we can support our local community. Our product range will grow and mature to match the needs of our customers whilst we will endeavour to bring greater awareness of the versatile and durable indigenous natural stone we use.

We can’t wait to see what the future holds but, in the meantime, we hope you will keep your fingers crossed for us on the 27th of September when we attend the Highland Business Awards.

Summer Stands & Support

Whilst many people are getting ready to go on holiday or music festivals this summer, the Norse Stone team are getting ready to attend and support some of our local events.

For those following us on Facebook , Twitter or Instagram, you may have seen our posts on Friday and Saturday about attending the Caithness County Show. It’s a local agricultural event that is always well attended not least by the selection of trade stands. It’s not all just tractors here (all though there are quite a few of those!). From clothing to crafts, distillers to hot tubs and this year, Norse Stone!

We came armed with samples, brochures, a display complete with hearth (borrowed from RDI Renewables) and paving layout as well as our popular lego selection and some diggers for all the kids (big and small) who came by to say “hello” on the day. We met lots of people, both old and new, handed out most of our brochure packs and overall had a great day out. Despite a bit of typical Caithness County Show rain, the afternoon stayed dry enough that we didn’t even need towed off the field at the end of the day (another typical Caithness County Show activity!).

Norse Stone stand at Caithness County Show

Norse Stone stand at Caithness County Show

Hearth, stove and paving display

Hearth, stove and paving display

Samples and brochure display

Samples and brochure display

Our attempt at a Lego flagstone wall

Our attempt at a Lego flagstone wall

During the summer months, Caithness is host to a number of wonderful shows and events. Next on the calendar is the Halkirk Highland Games which always takes place on the last Saturday of July. We don’t have a stand at it this year, but we are a proud sponsor and we know some of our team will definitely be attending to enjoy the stalls and watch as the field events unfold. It’s a huge event on everyone’s calendar with competitors travelling from all over the world to compete! Rain or shine, it’s always an enjoyable day out.

Our last event of this summer will be another Highland Games, this time the Mey Highland Games. These games have been transformed in recent years with the inclusion of para events on top of the traditional heavy highland games. It is also a great chance to sneak a look at a royal! HRH, Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay, is the chieftain of these games and attends every year to mingle with the crowd and also judges the tug of war event. We will be keeping our fingers crossed that we are able to meet HRH as we attend the games this year with our own stand as well as being sponsors. Who knows, maybe we will be able to convince him to get some Caithness flagstone!

Keep checking our social media for more event updates and news.

Guide To Paving & Patio Design

Most of us have not had a lot of sunny weather yet this Summer however lots of people are still getting their gardens ready to host parties and BBQ’s for when the sunshine does finally arrive. Of course, no garden party is complete without some beautiful paving and a patio to hold the gathering on! To some people, designing outdoor spaces can seem pretty overwhelming but by following our helpful tips below, anyone can create the perfect area to hold their Summer soiree!

 1.       Keep your purpose in mind.
It’s important to never lose sight of the reason you want to build this space. Whether it’s to host big family gatherings or just a quiet space to relax and read a book, always plan for the intended purpose. It is so easy to get swept up in all the amazing design options available.

2.       Picking the perfect place.
You might be restricted to just one place to have a patio or you may have several options, either way, making sure that you get the right patio and paving position will impact on the overall design. Think about what you will most likely use the patio for and whether you want to take advantage of catching the sun, creating a private area, somewhere you can enjoy the views or a combination!

3.       Go large or go small?
Whether you are planning an intimate outdoor retreat or an area for large scale entertaining, the size of your space is key. Make sure there is plenty of room to move around especially if you are adding furniture later.

4.       Create different spaces.
Patios and paving don’t have to create just one space on one level. With a bit of imagination, you can create different zones with split levels and stepped areas and combine them using complimentary elements in each.

5.       Play with shapes.
Traditionally, many patios have been simple square or rectangle areas but sometimes that just doesn’t feel right! Try playing with circles, different angles and odd shapes to create a unique feature.

6.       Go with the flow.
Making sure that people can easily walk around, to and from the area is key to ensuring you will get the most from your patio area. Matching paving is a great way of leading people to your patio and creating a sense of flow and easy circulation.

7.       Think materials.
Like a lot of home improvements, paving and patio is something you will want to get long term use from. So whilst ensuring you have a design you will be happy with for years to come is important, it’s even more important to find a material that you are aesthetically pleased with that will also last the test of time.

8.       Plan, plan and plan some more.
Every tip so far has included some form of planning and we really can’t emphasise this enough. Look and try out every patio position, every paving layout and do your research on your chosen materials. Don’t forget to plan around your intended plantings, furniture and any extras you may want.

9.       Decide on any special details.
Would you like to add a fire feature, some particular furniture or even some built-in planters? Keep your options open but remember to think about the size of space you are building and how much you can fit in.

10.   Keep it practical and set a budget.
Some designs, layouts and materials may look great at first but do they need a lot of maintenance to keep them like that and are you able to put in the extra time? And although keeping in or below budget is always preferred, the initially cheaper options may end up needing replaced sooner than the initially more expensive option leading to the patio having a higher life cost. It is also worth thinking about size of paving as extra wastage means extra cost as does bespoke sizes.

Lots to think about and consider but these tips should keep you on track to creating your ideal space whatever the purpose may be! Some of the reasons our Caithness flagstone is so popular is because it ticks many of these boxes. It is incredibly durable leading to longer life span, it can be cut to any size but we also have stock sizes to suit differing budgets, maintenance is minimal as it is so hard wearing and its natural charm means it is suited to various spaces and styles. If you would like help designing your Caithness flagstone patio and paving, get in touch with our team today!

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019

There has been so much going on behind the scenes at Norse Stone but one of the most exciting projects we have been working on is the Facebook sponsored garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower show.

The ‘Beyond the Screen’ garden was designed by award winning landscaper Joe Perkins and celebrates the positive and meaningful impact that social media can have on our lives. The garden has been designed around a coastal theme with the water representing what connects us all globally. Plants have been sourced from around the world to emphasise this idea and in still the connections we all have both on and offline whilst our very own Caithness flagstone has been used to create paving and rock outcrops inspired by Joe’s family holidays on the coast of Spain.

Joe Perkins Design RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019

We were lucky enough to have Joe and CED Stone Groups MD, Giles Heap, come up to visit our Lieurary Quarry to meet the team and see our stone up close. Joe and Giles, spent time in our quarry with some of the Norse Stone team hand picking pieces of stone which would meet Joe’s design vision.

I was blown away by the Caithness stone. It has beautiful colours and textures and is very strong meaning we could use it in huge sizes to get the drama needed in the garden.
— Joe Perkins
Norse Stone CED Stone Group Joe Perkins Design RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Once, the pieces were chosen, the Norse Stone team put the rest of Joe’s order together and we sent it down to CED’s Scotland depot in Castlecary where members of The Outdoor Room team joined them to check out the huge slabs of stone. The Outdoor Room are in charge of making Joe’s vision a reality and we can’t wait to see it all finally finished.

As many of you may know, we love our Caithness flagstone but we are also big fans of Lego so some of our team had a go at a mini garden design featuring, of course, Caithness flagstone paving and walls around the water feature. But we think it’s safe to say, we should probably leave the garden designing to the professionals!

rhs chelsea flower show 2019  norse stone lego

The ‘Beyond the Screen’ garden has been a collaborative effort by a number of different businesses and groups and we have been delighted to have played a part in it all. Others who have been involved include Groundwork UK, Bamber Wallis Designs, Deepdale Trees Ltd, Kelways Plants and the Landscaping Consultants to name a few! The garden is now completed and ready for showing to the public from the 21st – 25th of May at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Keep checking back on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for photo’s of the actual garden when we attend later this week.

**UPDATE** - 21/05/2019

They have only gone and awarded Joe Perkins a gold medal for his amazing RHS Chelsea Show garden as well as awarding the Outdoor Room best construction. Well done!!

Getting Into The Community Spirit

The schools are on holiday, daffodils are blossoming and lambs are bouncing merrily round fields whilst the talk of the Easter Bunny and how many eggs he will leave is on every child’s mind! In Caithness, Spring has well and truly arrived with our wide open views and rolling countryside bursting into colour in contrast with their surrounding Caithness flagstone walls and fences which have weathered another winter.

 

If you followed our #MarchMeetTheMaker posts or blog (or even just our social media posts!), you may have seen how much we, at Norse Stone, really do love Caithness. We love our heritage and culture, our dialect and local produce as well as our landscapes and amazing community. A big part of the community spirit in Caithness is down to the supportive businesses in the area and we are so grateful for the support we have been shown that we have decided to give back. But we aren’t doing it alone, oh no! We have teamed up with a fantastic group of local businesses and decided to give back to two of our local charities.

 

All of the following Caithness businesses have joined forces with us to create a wonderful hamper which will be up for grabs via an online raffle on Saturday 27th of April 2019: G S Donn Mechanical Maintenance & Repair, Eye Candy, Caithness Chocolates, Inspired By Caithness, Lindsey Gallacher Studio & Workshop, Shore Seaweed, The Ulbster Arms Hotel, Wolfburn Whisky, KW1CK Deliveries, Dunnet Bay Distillery , Highland Drones and Marks & Pencils. Make sure to check out our social media and the up and coming Facebook event page over the next week where we will post all the photo’s and information on the raffle but for now we will give you a wee sneak peak of the hamper contents.

Norse Stone Caithness Flagstone

Teaming up with some of our local businesses was the easy part, trying to choose only two local charities to benefit from this raffle was the really tricky part but we finally came to a decision. Our two chosen local charities are the Castlehill Heritage Centre and Balmore SSPCA Rescue Centre.

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The Castlehill Heritage Centre is a real community gem and a must see for any locals or visitors! It has wonderful exhibitions including a journey through time from the early Caithness flagstone industry right up to the present day. Found in the village of Castletown, it is a wonderful visitor experience with changing exhibitions about local history, heritage and biodiversity as well as workshops all year round. The converted farm buildings, which now holds the centres wonderful displays, are immediately adjacent to the old Castlehill flagstone quarry and visitors can explore the area further following the Heritage and Sculpture Trails.

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Most people will have at least heard, if not possibly even visited a SSPCA centre. Balmore is the rescue and rehoming centre for Caithness and Sutherland and is based just a few miles outside of Reay. Having run for over two decades, this small but busy centre has a dedicated team dealing with a range of animals coming from a number of different situations and all with the end goal of being able to rehome animals to their forever homes or release wildlife back to their natural environment. From dogs to cats, guinea pigs to rabbits and hedgehogs to birds of prey, this SSPCA centre does an amazing job for the local community and its animals.

So make sure to check our social media for updates over the coming days and help us give back to the Caithness community by raising money for these two amazing charities. We can’t thank the local businesses who have donated towards the raffle enough as well as the Caithness Voluntary Group for their help in making this happen. If you find yourself with time to spare, make sure to check out these amazing businesses, charities and group!

#MarchMeetTheMaker

It’s March! Spring is beginning to show, Easter eggs are lining shop shelves and social media is full of #MarchMeetTheMaker posts. For those of you who have never come across this hashtag, it was created by designer Joanne Hawker as an Instagram challenge in 2016 allowing a kind of behind the scenes look at businesses and the challenge is growing every year across social media! A list of challenges are posted for the month of March and makers from all over are encouraged to try to post a photo and explanation that ties in with that days challenge. Here is a quick run through of our posts so far.

Today is day 15 “Motivation/Goals” so we have decided to turn that into this month’s blog as well as todays challenge. Here are our top 3 motivation and goals:

Awareness: One of our main goals is simply to make more people aware of our material, Caithness flagstone. Despite the fact it can literally be found paving streets all over the world, it is generally pretty unknown by a lot of customers, designers, engineers and planners. It is an indigenous stone found mainly in the Northern tip of Scotland but is often over looked or not looked into at all!

Versatility: Those customers and professionals who have come across Caithness flagstone have only ever seen it as a paving material when we (and you) know it can be used for so much more! Once we can raise awareness of the material itself, we can then show them just what can be done with it. From paving to roofing, worktops to hearths, it’s a material that can be used throughout a range of design projects.

Growth: We may be slightly biased but we think Caithness flagstone is one of the most durable and versatile indigenous natural stones around. We want to see it used more often in both modern design and renovation projects. Not only growing the awareness and popularity of using the stone but also growing as a company ourselves with our team growing and developing their skills along the way.

That’s day 15 done, keep an eye out across our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for the rest of our #MarchMeetTheMaker posts!

We ♥ What We Do!

We have been feeling the love at Norse Stone the last couple of days and, if you follow our Facebook, Instagram or Twitter pages, you may have seen and taken part in our Valentine’s Day giveaway where our wonderfully talented team created two beautiful Caithness flagstone heart coasters. The lucky winner received them as well as a sweet treat.

Norse Stone Valentines Day Heart Coasters

However you did or did not celebrate, we want to share the love again but this time share our love of our amazing material, Caithness flagstone. The Norse Stone team were asked the tough question “what do you love most about Caithness flagstone?”. We have included some of their answers below:

Personally I love seeing the raw material go through the stages until I’m finished with it! My job is to do a lot of the polishing and finishing work for orders and I love the finished product, no two stone patterns are the same and it always brings a joyful smile to my soul seeing each stone in its finished state and being sent out into the world.
The versatility of the stone amazes me. Watching the processes it goes through to become any of a variety of finished products is a fantastic experience.
I love the pattern that you can see run through the stone. The different colours and even some sparkles
Taking it out of the ground in it’s natural state is, in itself, a great achievement but the stages that come next are a unique skillset that not many people have and are acquired over time with a love for the job as a whole.

We are very proud of our products and our team and hope you enjoy it as much as we do! Our team found it tough picking just one specific thing but would be delighted to hear what you love most about Caithness flagstone. Leave a comment below or get in touch!

Burns Blog

Every year on January 25th, celebrations are held all over Scotland to commemorate our national poet, Robert Burns. And, to be fair, it doesn’t stop at Scotland’s borders, tributes are paid across the world in the form of traditional Burns Suppers. If you haven’t experienced a Burns Supper, here are a few things you have missed out on which we think make the ultimate Burns Night celebration.


Set the Scene

Whether a smaller affair at home or a large community event, make sure to set the atmosphere for the night with flashes of tartan. Tableware, sashes, kilts, dresses, hats, jewellery; anything with Scotland’s beloved material is sure to make you and the venue look the part. Feel free to throw in some thistles and lucky white heather in simple vases or bottles to complete the look.

Following Tradition

Particularly at larger Burns Suppers, the tradition of several toasts and speeches with some of Robbie Burns poems and songs laced through typically make up a significant part of any Burns Night. Some choose to stick stringently to it whereas others take a slightly more relaxed approach (we once heard a Burns Night toast done to the tune of ‘the Fresh Prince of Bel Air’!). There is no right or wrong way but we love having even just a small toast or recite a single Burns poem, after all, the night is to celebrate him!

Entertainment

Along with tartan and Burn’s poems, traditional Scottish music plays a huge part in any Burns Night celebrations. From having a solo piper piping in the haggis to a full blown ceilidh band to dance the night away into the wee hours after the meal and toasts are finished, no Burns Supper is complete with out it!

Food & Drink

The final piece to the Burns Supper puzzle, is a hearty meal and a good dram. Ask anyone what you have to eat on Burns night and the answer is always haggis, neeps and tatties (that’s haggis with mashed turnip and mashed potatoes to anyone outside of Scotland!). Often served with oatcakes and a wonderful whisky sauce, there is nothing else like it! It may not be to everyone’s liking though so many Burns Suppers also provide an alternative like mince or sausages with neeps and tatties. Whatever your meal of choice, the traditional beverage to wash it all down is always a Scottish whisky. We are lucky enough to have Old Pulteney whisky on our door step however we are also big fans of the nearby Rock Rose gin, we think either are perfectly acceptable really!

 

However you decide to celebrate Robbie Burns, whether a full on traditional supper complete with ceilidh or a quiet meal at home with just a Burns poem in your mind, we hope you have a wonderful Burns night and would like to leave you with our tribute. As you probably know, Burns was born and lived in Ayrshire however he travelled and saw other parts of Scotland. This inspired some of his writings and, most notably, the Highlands was an area he grew very fond of even leading to the song “My Heart’s in the Highland’s”. As we are based in the Northern Highlands, we decided to show you some of the sights we have near our quarries that may have influenced Scotland’s most famous poet and have our very own managing director, Michael Ronaldson, to thank for the musical accompaniment. Enjoy and have a great Burn’s Night!

Norse Stone's tribute to Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns.


 


New Year, New Blog...

It’s the start of a new year and that means new blogs, new social media posts, new opportunities, new orders, new challenges and new design trends, just to name a few! But what does 2019 have in store for designing with natural stone? In one word. Balance.

Designers and customers are mixing things up; concrete table tops with wooden legs, glass walls surrounded by soft furnishings, large natural stone tiles set behind a traditional cast iron roll top bath. Whether small or large contrasts, both create lasting effects to its environment. On a smaller scale, this balance can be seen with fireplace designs. Many think of stone fireplaces as very traditional and even outdated but check out this Norse Stone bespoke order and how you can balance by bringing even the most ancient of materials into a modern home.

Before: Old, dull and in need of updating!

Before: Old, dull and in need of updating!

When you think of modern design usually ideas of clean lines and smooth surfaces come to mind however traditional design is usually full of character and natural imperfections especially in the materials used. So how could you combine these? Originally the customer had a dated gas fire with a matt polished Caithness flagstone hearth, stone surround and scallop edged wooden mantle. The only certainty the customer had decided on was they still wanted a Caithness flagstone hearth.

Work in progress!

Work in progress!

The customer started their fireplace makeover when they accidently stumbled across a stove they really liked and actually based most of the fireplace design around it! The initial plan was to use a Caithness flagstone hearth and mantle with stone surround however the customer decided they wanted more contrast in materials and colours. Once they had settled on an overall design, they began hauling out the existing fire, hearth and surround.

Oak surround with Caithness flagstone slips.

Oak surround with Caithness flagstone slips.

It was decided that because of the new layout, they wanted a new hearth with an entirely new design and different surface finish. After looking through Norse Stone samples, they decided on brushed riven with pencil round edging on the hearth. That’s when the oak surround and mantle came into play with a contrasting coloured back and balanced out with matching Caithness flagstone brushed riven slips inside the oak mantle and upstands. These not only added further textural contrast but also complements the hearth, tying it all together.

Showing off the bespoke hearth shape.

Showing off the bespoke hearth shape.

The shape of the hearth is the focal point! The size and shape of the surround, mantle and slips were designed around the overall appearance of the stove however the hearth was designed to almost mirror the shape of the glazed window on the front of the stove. The window was the design feature that caught the customer’s eye in the first place! By using this bespoke hearth shape to complement the stove, which in turn influenced the final design of the surround and back, all the elements tie together to create a beautifully balanced and truly bespoke piece.

Before and….

Before and….

After - What a transformation!

After - What a transformation!

At the beginning, the customer specified that they wanted to achieve a balance of traditional materials, contrasting textures, different colours and contemporary design with neither intruding on the other and, ultimately, having a unique end result. No small order but with some patience (and drawing up lots of different ideas) the customer thinks the finished design is the perfect balance for them and, most importantly, they were able to make sure that they still had a Caithness flagstone hearth. They even managed to complete the installation in time for Christmas!

All ready for a visit from Santa Claus #festivefireplace

All ready for a visit from Santa Claus #festivefireplace

Of course fireplace design is just one small area of design where balance and contrasts play a vital role. In reality, all areas of interior design require some contrast to add something extra special. Throughout households, buildings and even in exterior or landscaping design projects, natural stone, like our Caithness flagstone, can be used to add textural, material and colour contrasts. How will you use natural stone to create both balance and contrast in 2019?

With the range of finishes available and orders made to each individual customers specifications, get in touch with the Norse Stone team today for your design project.

GUEST BLOG - StoneScape: An Artists Tribute to Caithness Flagstone

You have seen our website, you know our products but how would an artist find use for a piece of Caithness Flagstone? This guest blog has been written by the talented Lisa Poulsen, of Inspired By Caithness, who shares her take on an alternative way to use natural stone.
— Norse Stone Team
Norse Stone Inspired By Caithness

I adore Caithness stone, so I photograph it. I love landscapes, especially vast open ones, and so I photograph them too. Through digital processes, I squish photographs of stone and land together, before printing the results for others to frame and enjoy.

Hello! My name is Lisa Poulsen. Although here in my hometown of Thurso in Caithness, I’m pretty sure I’ll be referred to as “crazy stone lady” in time. Let’s be honest, there’s only so long you can get away with ogling at stone pavements and walls with a camera before a more appropriate label emerges. Speaking of labels, design is my trade but I’ve recently swapped the ‘designer’ hat for a more roomy ‘artist’ one - all while working under the business name Inspired by Caithness.

Norse Stone Inspired By Caithness

Caithness is often referred to as ‘the lowlands beyond the highlands’, its landscape is wild, open and largely unspoilt.

I find when the daily grind gets a bit much, come horizontal rain or shine, exploring the county brings out my inner child. It encourages me to slow down and appreciate the surrounding textures and light. Even while rambling around hidden gems for the first time, it’s openness feels welcoming and familiar. Its a soothing experience, similar to Nan Shepherd’s description of exploring the Cairngorm mountains:

 “Yet often the mountain gives itself most completely when I have no destination, when I reach nowhere in particular, but have gone out merely to be with the mountain as one visits a friend with no intention but to be with him.”

   - The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd

Norse Stone Inspired By Caithness

My artwork pays tribute to the wide open landscape here in the Far North of Scotland as well as the stone that helped to form it.

Caithness flagstone has been used as a building material for thousands of years and, thanks to its beauty, strength and durability, is widely used around the world today from the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh to the Ground Zero memorial garden in New York.

Each layer, surface and edge is completely unique. Each piece plays its part in a 400 million year old story. I see sky, sea and land in the colours, textures and gradients of Caithness Flagstone. And through digital processes, I capture photographs of the stone’s texture from various locations including harbours, beaches, pavements, walls and benches and coordinate them with sections of a landscape photograph. Stone and land are digitally fused together across endless layers to create a single piece of art, or StoneScape. Each StoneScape breathes a new lease of life into the stone’s timeless story and adds depth to the simplicity of this land.

Norse Stone Inspired By Caithness

Trick or Treat...

Have we ever mentioned that our Norse Stone team are a group of amazing multi-talented people? It’s true! They deal with everything from quarrying the stone, running the business, marketing, splitting stone, machining and hand finishing our products all from our own quarries in Caithness. But their talents do not stop at the quarry. Some turn wood, others are keen bike and car enthusiasts, there are musicians, budding photographers, amazing bakers; the list goes on and in the run up to Halloween some of our team got into the “spirit” of the holiday and turned their creative hands and tools to pumpkin carving!

Once they decided on their designs, they had to draw it on their chosen pumpkins and gut them out. Unfortunately some of our team realised they made a big mistake using washable pens to mark out their designs. Next year, they will use something more permanent!

Norse Stone Halloween Blog Pumpkin Carving
Norse Stone Halloween Blog Pumpkin Carving

Let the carving, BEGIN!

Norse Stone Halloween Blog Pumpkin Carving
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After some precision cutting, slashing and slicing, the Norse Stone team produced 4 spooktacular pumpkins.

Norse Stone Halloween Blog Pumpkin Carving

What do you think? We will be holding a vote on our Facebook page later today so make sure to check back and let us know which is your favourite fangtastic carving.

We loved changing it up and taking you behind the scenes a bit with this Halloween blog but fear not, we will be leaving the squash behind and focusing our tools back on flagstone for our next blog!

From The Quarry To Your Door...

If you find yourself surrounded by the beautiful landscapes of Caithness whether you are driving round the North Coast 500, on route to Orkney or just here to enjoy the local culture, you may notice something that appears almost everywhere you look. Caithness flagstone.

Norse Stone Caithness Flagstone

Buildings are clad in it, walkways are paved in it, fireplace hearths are furnished with it and the endless rolling fields that make up the countryside are enclosed by large vertical slabs of it. Caithness flagstone is literally everywhere! Having it everywhere gives the impression that it is an easily accessible material and you could almost be forgiven for thinking so as well but the raw material used to produce these unmistakeable stone products first have to be extracted from the earth below our feet.

Every kind of stone has different properties and that means the extraction processes can have differences from stone to stone as well. Caithness flagstone is extracted from a 3m high bed which is quarried in 16 individual layers. These layers are then split into flagstones, cut to shape and finished to produce Norse Stone’s stunning product range. Sounds straight forward, right?

Recently we have been opening new sections in both our Lieurary and Banniskirk quarries but it’s not as easy as just picking any old spot and lifting the first layer of stone, we have to find the stone and dig down to it first! Reinforcements, in the form of Alan Gows Groundworks, have been on hand to help with this stage. Luckily we already knew where to dig, but it still took a joint effort and 1 week of hard graft to lift 4m of overburden (or top soil) to get down to the first layer of the flag bed.

Norse Stone Caithness Flagstone

With the flagstone layer now in sight, it’s time for the Norse Stone team to individually extract and sort each layer of stone before it is brought into our workshop and made into the wonderful items you see across our website, social media and brochures. With so many products to choose from that are suitable for a wide range of projects, the only question left is which would you choose?

Home Is Where The Hearth Is

Summer holidays are over, the days are starting to get slightly shorter and some are even considering putting on or turning up the heating!

If you are following our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts, you may have seen some of our team recently went to Glasgow and, whilst there, they visited a few of our hearth suppliers and stockists.  So with the seasons getting ready to change from Summer to Autumn, we decided it would be a wonderful time to show off our beautiful hearth range.

A Caithness Flagstone hearth can add so much to any home whether you are looking to add a bit of heritage and traditional or a stylish and contemporary design feature.  As with all of Norse Stone’s products, our hearth range is made using our bespoke design service but we do have some standard shapes including:

Norse Stone Square and Rectangle Caithness Flagstone Hearth

The Square and Rectangle are the most simple and traditional shapes available, these can be combined with inserts to be added inside the fireplace for a stove to be placed on top of. It can be perfectly complemented with a full mantle and surround to a simple but beautiful oak beam.

Norse Stone D Caithness Flagstone Hearth

A stylish alternative to the more traditional hearth shapes, the D hearth combines the practicality of the Rectangle and Square layouts with a modern twist. It can equally be complemented with a surround and mantle or a simple beam above the fire place.

Norse Stone Corner Teardrop Quadrant Caithness Flagstone Hearth

Not all hearths are placed in the centre of a room, a fire or stove placed in the corner can create a subtle but stunning feature. The standard Corner hearths are a more traditional design with clean straight lines leading to a focused front edge. Whereas the Quadrant and Teardrop hearths provide a contemporary corner hearth design with their rounded front edge.

Norse Stone Bespoke Caithness Flagstone Hearth

Although these are our standard shapes, anything is possible. Our bespoke service has given us challenges such as creating full circle hearths, double sided hearths, hearths with no right angles at all and hearths to be made to a specific template provided by the client, to name a few! However the shape of the hearth is not the only important decision to make.

In one of our previous blog posts, we explained our selection of surface finishes and what their recommended uses were. All of them are perfect for hearths and so here is our mini guide.

Norse Stone Caithness Flagstone Finishes Guide

Now you have all the information you need to design your ideal hearth! Check out our Hearths & Fireplaces page for more photo’s as well as our Hearth Brochure. So whether you are looking to add a feature to your home or become a new stockist, all that remains is to get in touch with the Norse Stone team!

GUEST BLOG - Coprolites, Cairns and Caithness Brochs

Looking for something different to do this summer? This month we have a guest blog written by Kenneth from the Caithness Broch Project (CBP). He outlines some of the best examples of Caithness Flagstone to go and discover!
— The Norse Stone Team

Coprolites, Cairns and Caithness Brochs

Those Norsemen, eh? As if coming over here and pillaging everything in sight wasn’t enough, they ruddy well started to rename everything. Think about it – some of Caithness’ biggest and most recognisable names Camster, Duncansby, Whaligoe, even the Flow Country (taking its name from the Old Norse ‘flóð’, a term used for bodies of water).

Even flagstone, one of Caithness’ most famous exports, owes its name to those marauding Norsemen: ‘flaga’ is an Old Norse term for slab…honestly; it was all much easier when we spoke Pictish and used Ogham!

By the 18th century Caithness Flagstone had become famed worldwide for its qualities - as a hard-wearing and easily cut stone, and so is very practical in terms of construction. By the late 18th century, Caithness flagstone was being exported throughout the globe, from Mull to New Zealand! The sun never set on the British Empire – but if it did, its rays would be glinting off stone shipped from Scotland’s most northerly county…

However, Caithness remains a fantastic place to see some wonderful archaeological structures and historic buildings which showcase this fantastic resource. Here is a by no means definitive list of some of the top spots in Caithness to enjoy the simple pleasure of a bit of ‘flaga’!


Map of the Orcadian Basin

Map of the Orcadian Basin

Achnarras Quarry

Achnarras Quarry

1.       Really Knowing Your Coprolite

Geology is a complicated matter, so it’s best to investigate by scratching the surface, rather than with a mechanical digger. Caithness Flagstone forms part of the ‘Old Red Sandstone’ group, found across the North Atlantic, formed around 420 million years ago.

This is the time that Caithness flagstone dates to (there is Upper Caithness Flagstone groups and lower Caithness flagstone group, but, it’s all a little complicated), and the flagstone was formed after layer upon layer of sediment was formed when Caithness was actually underwater, forming part of Lake Orcadie.

If you want to find out more about Lake Orcadie and the forming of the flagstone, then make a visit to the Achnarras Quarry, beside Spittal.  This is a popular spot to go fossil-hunting, and you can find many different types of fossilised fish imprinted within the slates here – oh, and fish coprolites, too!

More info here: https://www.nature.scot/sites/default/files/2017-06/Publication%202010%20-%20Fossil%20Fish%20of%20Caithness%20-%20The%20385%20million%20year%20old%20story%20of%20Achanarras%20Quarry.pdf

Fun Fact: The origin of the act of copulation has been pinpointed to fish which inhabited lakes in ancient Scotland, such as Lake Orcadie. Microbrachius dicki is the first-known animal to stop reproducing by spawning and instead mate by having sex, and is named after Thurso resident and naturalist Robert Dick!


The long chambered Camster Cairns - Courtesy of the CBP

The long chambered Camster Cairns - Courtesy of the CBP

2.       Camster Cairns

These Neolithic Cairns – some of the best examples of the ‘Orkney Cromarty’ version of burial cairns – can be found a few miles north of Lybster. The ‘Grey Cairns’ are some of earliest structures to be found in the county – at around 5,000 years old - and so one of the earliest uses of Caithness flagstone. Check out the huge lintels lining the passage way as you crawl through them – made all the more impressive when you consider that all of this was done with ‘primitive’ tools. No modern-day power-saws used here!


Dunbeath Broch - Laurence & Jessica Norah, of  Independent Travel Cats  &  Finding the Universe

Dunbeath Broch - Laurence & Jessica Norah, of Independent Travel Cats & Finding the Universe

Ousdale Broch - Courtesy of the CBP

Ousdale Broch - Courtesy of the CBP

3.       Brochs!

As a member of Caithness Broch Project, I simply can’t resist talking about brochs, perhaps Caithness’ most iconic structures. For the uninitiated, these are tower-like drystone structures, built during the Iron Age, around 2000 years ago. Brochs, however, are much more than that – these are complex constructions – with double walls, staircases, scarcements, voids, galleries and many other features - which archaeologists, engineers and architects still debate over today.

Brochs are uniquely Scottish, but Caithness has more broch remains than anywhere else = although perhaps the brochs of Caithness do not quite compare to better-preserved examples in Shetland, Orkney, Western Isles or even on the mainland.

One of the best examples of a Caithness broch can be found by walking along the beautiful Dunbeath strath. This broch in particular will soon go through a conservation – and archaeological - project undertaken by the Berriedale and Dunbeath Community Council, so do join in if you get the chance. This broch and strath is mentioned in several Neil M. Gunn stories, so do take the time to investigate the area (and make sure to stop by the Dunbeath Heritage Centre afterwards!) and enjoy the exemplerary stonework of the broch. Take care when entering the cell – there is no fault with the stonework, but rather watch out for the big black spiders which reside in there! Eek!

Another ‘bonus broch’ can be found at top of Scrabster hill, beside Thurso. Many locals know this hill from the prominent ‘O’-shaped structure at the top, sometimes known as the ‘Polo Mint’. Not only is this a fine wee structure (a commemoration of the ‘Northlands Festival’, an arts festival which was held across Caithness in the late 1990s and early 2000s) in itself, but it is thought that the wee ‘bump’ on top of this hill is actually a broch, too!

For more info on brochs, visit www.thebrochproject.co.uk


Castlehill Heritage Centre

Castlehill Heritage Centre

Quarry - Photo courtesy of the CBP

Quarry - Photo courtesy of the CBP

4.       Castlehill Heritage Centre

One simply can’t not discuss flagstone without mentioning the Castlehill Heritage Centre. This lovely wee museum, based in what was Caithness’ largest flagstone works, tells you everything you need to know about the flagstone industry in Caithness. The size and scope of the works, built by James Trail in the late 1th century, reflects the huge amount of trade and business generated by the production, cutting and shipping of flagstone in Caithness.

Once you’ve visited the centre, make sure to take some time to explore the nearby flagstone heritage trail – the centrepiece being the picturesque watermill (although broch-like in appearance, this structure was used to pump water from the quarries). The harbour, too, showcases quaint vertically-stacked flagstones, from which a beautiful view across Dunnet Bay can be had. Other quarries throughout Caithness can also be visited including Forss.

 

For more information, visit http://www.castletownheritage.co.uk/


Breadalbane Street, Wick - Photo courtesy of the CBP

Breadalbane Street, Wick - Photo courtesy of the CBP

5.       A really really really long bit of Caithness stone

Here’s a bonus oddity – on Breadalbane Street in Wick, beside Wendy’s Salon, you’ll see a really really long bit of Caithness flagstone. You’ll see it branching across not one, but two windows of the adjacent house. Compare it to the other stone ‘bricks’ used on that house – and indeed the street – and it seems like a strange addition! I mean it’s really long. IT’S VERY LONG. Just take my word for it, and go see it. You’ll probably say “Wow, he was right. That is long.”

But, it just goes to show the versatility of Caithness stone – and I can’t help but recall the huge lintels lining Camster Cairns whenever I see it; there is a satisfaction in seeing similar features throughout history!


Caithness Flagstone Wall

Caithness Flagstone Wall

Caithness Flagstone Roof Slates

Caithness Flagstone Roof Slates

6.       EVERYWHERE

Everywhere you look in Caithness, you will see a remnant of the past –whether it’s an archaeological gem like a broch or cairn, or a socio-historic structure like or a watermill, harbour, Caithness ‘hoosie’, or indeed one of the many hundreds of walls found throughout the county - you can’t fail to notice that stonework has had a huge impact on this county. Taking the time to explore some of its many treasures will provide you with a fun, flaga-filled day out. And not a Viking in sight!

Ready-Made, Made-To-Measure or Bespoke?

Hearths, worktops, flooring, paving and building stone have always been highly sought after products with a vast range of natural and man-made options readily available but what happens when readily available and mass produced just don’t fit? Whether it’s because you have a structure with uneven walls, a boundary at slightly unusual angles or boxed services that cut into your dream kitchen layout, Norse Stone can produce products to your exact requirements.

You might come across three main product descriptions; ready-made, made-to-measure and bespoke. Ready-made are standard designs, shapes and sizes that you buy off the shelf and made-to-measure is the standard design and shape with the option of choosing your sizes although the available sizes can still be limited. So what is the difference then between made-to-measure and bespoke? Bespoke is where almost every aspect of the product can be chosen. Let’s take a hearth as an example, one of our most popular bespoke made products. Each customer can have different requirements whether it is specific dimensions, a different hearth shape, a preferred finish or if cut outs are needed for service connections. With each project as unique and individual as the client themselves, why choose an inadequate “one-size-fits-all” when you could have a bespoke piece made to suit and fit in its surroundings?

Norse Stone Caithness Flagstone
Norse Stone Caithness flagstone hearth

Check out this work in progress photographed at our Lieurary quarry. It usually starts off as a simple sketch, more accurate dimensions are then added and, from these, a template can be produced. The optimum stone having been extracted from our own quarry is selected by our expert team and the template is placed on top, ready for cutting to shape.

If you have read our previous blog posts, you may have seen our stone finishes guide, it’s at this point that the chosen finish is applied to the newly cut stone. As a recap, Riven is the natural texture, Brushed Riven is slightly smoother, Antique is just a slight texture, Matt Polished (or Honed) is a smooth surface and High Polished is perfectly smooth with a high sheen. Edge finishes are also added along with optional sealing, oiling and cut outs.

The finished product is a combination of careful planning, thoughtful design and the use of high quality materials, skills and techniques. Using these, the customer can be sure of a stunning end product perfectly suited to their space.

Norse Stone Caithness Flagstone Hearth
Norse Stone Caithness Flagstone Hearth

But the hearth is just one example that our onsite design team specialise in with bespoke services available across our range of worktops, memorials, flooring, building stone and paving. So when planning your next design project, don’t settle for a simple ready-made or made-to-measure, which won’t do you or your project justice, find out how you can have your perfect product made exactly the way you want!

Get in touch with the Norse Stone team today.

Perfect Paving

Spring is finally upon us and that means it’s time to start planning those home improvements and design projects. For a lot of architects, urban designers and homeowners, that means looking outdoors and changing a drab, unused and uninviting space into a contemporary, relaxing environment perfect for spending those long summer evenings. One of the most popular ways of achieving this is using paving and that instantly starts the debate of which paving material is best to use. That’s where Norse Stone can help as our Caithness Flagstones and its natural properties are known worldwide and as such is considered one of the best paving materials. Don’t believe us? Have a look below and see why you should choose Caithness Flagstone for all your paving needs starting with our own Ugly Duckling story - The patio version!

(There once was an ugly patio with slabs all worn and brown....)

(There once was an ugly patio with slabs all worn and brown....)

As you can see from the before pictures, this outdoor space was in need of some TLC. The existing patio slabs were well used and passed their best with several cracked. Fast forward after some thoughtful planning and a lot of hard work and you have the finished result below.

(Say who’s an ugly patio? Not I! Not I!)

(Say who’s an ugly patio? Not I! Not I!)

Using a variety of sizes and shapes of Caithness Flagstone, and some gravel for contrasting colour and texture, the once unloved space is transformed into a modern outdoor retreat!

Of course, it’s not just small residential areas than can benefit from using this natural material, Norse Stone has collaborated on commercial paving projects as well. If you find yourself indulging in some retail therapy at the Glasgow Fort shopping centre, you only need to look down to find you are walking on our stunning  Riven paving. On your way to the Isle of Skye? Well, surrounding the Eilean Donan Castle holiday apartments, and overlooking views of the castle itself, is an eye-catching selection of crazy paving from our Banniskirk quarry.

Glasgow Fort shopping centre (left) and Eilean Donan Castle holiday apartments (right)

Glasgow Fort shopping centre (left) and Eilean Donan Castle holiday apartments (right)

No matter the size of project, our stone can adapt to suit the new environment but why should you chose Caithness Flagstone over other paving materials?

As early as the 18th century, the Caithness flagstone industry exported from the North Highlands of Scotland, where this iconic stone is quarried, to destinations all over the world including New York, USA and Sydney, Australia. Even the streets of Boston, which were commonly said to be paved with Gold, were in fact paved with Caithness flagstone. To this day the original stones are still lining the streets with many walls and buildings around Caithness showing off stone dating back 200 years. This combination of durability and strength comes from the stone naturally forming over 370 million years ago. Even in comparison with some of the most popular UK and imported paving materials, Caithness Flagstones combination of strength and durability shines through.

Caithness flagstone comparison

So when you decide it’s time for your outdoor space to receive a facelift and turn it into a beautiful outdoor extension of your home, workspace or commercial project, make sure Caithness Flagstone is at the top of your wish list.

Get in touch with the Norse Stone team to order a sample and discuss your requirements.

Guide to Stone Finishes

With many domestic and commercial projects following the current trends and incorporating natural stone materials into their proposals, it can be difficult to tell what will be most well suited for each part of a design project. At Norse Stone, we are going to try to make that a bit easier for you!

You may have seen, heard or even experienced why we are so passionate about our local material, Caithness Flagstone, and know about its fantastic durability properties but did you know that not only can it be made to your dimensional requirements, but to your choice of surface and edge finish as well? In case you didn’t, we have put together a mini guide to the finishes available at Norse Stone and some of their most popular uses.

Riven Paving

Riven Paving

Weathered Riven Paving

Weathered Riven Paving

Brushed Riven Interior Flooring

Brushed Riven Interior Flooring

Antique Hearth

Antique Hearth

Matt Polished Worktop

Matt Polished Worktop

High Polish Coping

High Polish Coping


Let’s start with the most natural finish, Riven. A slightly rough textured surface, it isn’t machined at all and instead the unprocessed finish is determined from extraction. This finish is mainly used for exterior projects including paving, wall coping, cladding, window sills, slates, lintels steps and garden features but is also commonly used for hearths.




Weathered Riven has the same textural properties as standard Riven however instead of the well known dark grey Caithness flagstone you may be used to seeing, this stone comes in a variety of colours. Quarries, such as our Banniskirk site, have had stone left exposed to the elements for years causing the stone to oxidise and the colour to weather to create stunning brown/grey variations.



A Brushed Riven finish is machine brushed so that it has a slightly smoother surface than the stones natural texture but maintains the rustic appearance. Better suited to interior design projects, this finish lends itself well to flooring, hearths, fireplaces, steps and signage.





To achieve an Antique finish, the stone is machine smoothed and then brushed leaving just a slight texture behind. This finish is used predominantly for flooring, hearths, fireplaces, worktops and signage as well as memorials.



Matt Polished (also known as Honed) finish, is machine polished to a smooth surface texture and perfectly suited for interior use. Flooring, hearths, fireplaces and worktops are popular Matt Polished interior products alongside furniture, shower trays, window sills and tableware with some opting to use it in exterior design for memorials and signage. A further option with this finish is for the polished stone to be sealed and enhanced which gives the stone a darker, almost black, appearance. This is our most popular finish due to the stunning end result it gives across our product range.


The last, but by no means least, surface texture is the High Polished finish. Machine polished to a high sheen, it is then sealed and enhanced making it the perfect show stopping interior finish. Used throughout the home, it is most popular for hearths, fireplaces, worktops, tableware, window sills, wet wall, tiles and shower trays.

Now for our most popular edge finishes starting with the Flamed Edge. This effect is accomplished with a straight sawn edge which has been flamed using extreme heat to blister the cut surface giving the edge a natural Riven appearance to match a Riven finished top. The edging effect is used primarily for building finishing materials including rustic hearths, steps, window sills and benches.

Another alternative option is our Natural Edge finish. Natural fractures in the quarry are prone to sources of calcite and minerals and with these fractures leaving stone exposed to many years of water filtration, they combine to alter the stone providing an edge effect with variety of colours. 

Now that you know your Riven from your High Polished (and everything in between!), you can decide on the perfect finish for your Norse Stone product. If you do have any further questions on stone finishes, please get in touch with our team or request a sample and let us know which Caithness flagstone finish is your favourite!

Stone Trends 2018

Norse Stone Blog

Like flared trousers and avocado bathroom suites, trends come and go but one item that never goes out of fashion is natural stone.  From modern and contemporary buildings to rustic country cottages, there is always a place to use natural products; inside and out.  And with architects and designers more commonly putting emphasis on using sustainable and crafted materials, stone is an obvious choice of material to use.

When considering stone, most would think of paving, roof tiles or walls and whilst these are all excellent uses, with its striking appearance and durability, Caithness Stone can do so much more.

As a truly versatile material, our stone can be used throughout interior design to bring a sense of nature and the outdoors in to your home.  A robust and non-absorbent material, it is ideal for kitchen or bathroom worktops and flooring, especially with the use of underfloor heating.  Frame your fireplace with a bespoke Caithness Flagstone surround and hearth to make it a stunning focal point for all to enjoy.  Whereas subtle touches including tables with stone tops, coasters and placemats add some interesting textures without intruding too much on the overall interior design.

Outside spaces, too, can benefit from using natural stone in its design.  Formed and quarried in a place that can see all four seasons in one day, Caithness Flagstone is amongst the most durable available making it ideal for exterior use.  Commonly sought after as a building material, it is used to produce traditional roof tiles and can create striking textures when used as external cladding.  It has been shipped all over the world to be used as paving and can be cut to your design for memorial benches and standing stones. Whilst exterior designers continue to use natural stone in landscaping to create a rugged but relaxing space to reconnect with nature.

With these trends set to continue the only question is, how will you be using natural stone in your projects?

Where does your flagstone floor come from?

IMG_8218.jpg

Along with an aga, a flagstone floor has been a farmhouse kitchen staple for centuries. You may have visited or even lived in a country house with those unmistakeable black, square cut flags, authentic and incredibly hard wearing. 

If you're the lucky owner of a flagstone floor, it's most likely originated from one of two places - North Wales, or Caithness, in the Scottish Highlands. 

Flagstone is an umbrella term for types of stone that can be easily split into layers. Welsh flagstone (or Welsh slate) is slate. Caithness flagstone is actually a sandstone.

Whilst Caithness stone and slate look similar, they have different geological properties as they were formed in different ways. Slate originated from volcanic ash, whereas sandstone is a sedimentary rock. This means that was formed from the compression of lots of sediment over millions of years.

We commonly think of sandstone as being red. Caithness flagstone however varies in colour from grey/brown to dark grey. When polished professionally it takes on a striking, almost black colour. 

As a sandstone, Caithness stone is not absorbent, which makes it ideal for bathrooms and kitchen worktops and floors, where spillages are likely and cleaning is regular.

These days Caithness flagstone is more popular than ever. And you no longer need to tip toe across a cold stone floor in the morning, as a Caithness flagstone floor is well suited to underfloor heating. 

And as the old farmhouses prove, a Caithness flagstone floor will more than withstand the test of time. 

You can read more about the history Caithness flagstone here.