The Water of Leith

The Water of Leith runs for 24 miles from its source in the Pentland Hills to the Port of Leith where it joins the River Forth. Historically it supported more than 70 mills producing flour, fabric and paper. Construction of the Water of Leith Walkway began in the 1970s and it officially opened in 1981. Over the years we have walked various sections; the last in 2017. We have never done the whole 12 miles from Balerno to Leith in one go but are now members of the Water of Leith Conservation Trust. Our most recent wander followed an afternoon which we spent walking around the Hermitage of Braid and Blackford Hill with some friends, clocking up 4.1 miles. The next morning walking down to Leith, the city centre was eerily quiet and it was relatively easy to keep a safe distance from others. The replacement building for the old St James shopping centre has progressed and the extension of the tramline to Newhaven is underway. On reaching The Shore, we had our first coffee inside a café since pre-lockdown in March. Afterwards, we took a quick look at the port which was filled up with static merchant and cruise ships going nowhere.

I read somewhere that six cruise ships are moored up at Leith. We certainly spotted a P&O ship and then began the walk. Buddleias line a lot of the pathway here

and also, the problematic introduce plant Himalayan Balsam which I photographed in 2017.

The Conservation Trust had a removal project in 2013 but it is incredibly difficult to eradicate completely because it shoots its seeds far away and additionally, they travel downstream on the water. Following the decline of industry along the river, wildlife has prospered. Today we saw gulls, mute swans and a grey heron but you could be lucky and spot a kingfisher.

Fish have returned to the river and otters have also been observed. There are several examples of street art along the path.

The walkway is closed in a few places. We had a diversion due to repairs underway on the Newhaven Road South Bridge which had become dangerous. Signposting of the diversion was not great but I managed to navigate us to rejoin the riverside walk. Near the Dean Path, there has been a landslip and other problems at other sites. After passing through Canonmills, we left the path near Stockbridge and found a seat to have our picnic lunch on. It was then time to return to the flat so we continued through Stockbridge, Hanover Street and tried to avoid the busier West End of Princes Street. Up Lothian Road and then along quieter Brougham Terrace to Bruntsfield Links, where I was very happy to see that sections had been left un-mowed and were filled with wildflowers for the pollinators. We managed to get back to the flat before a heavy rainfall mid-afternoon, having walked 10.3 miles. I am sure we will return to do another section or attempt the full length at some point.

Abandoned Places

 Abandoned places have always intrigued me. I wonder about the story behind them and the people who lived or worked there. A recent article in The Guardian by David Bramwell described the ghost towns in Britain as mostly been abandoned after the Black Death in the 14th century. The worst affected areas were Norfolk and Suffolk where the plague-infested ships landed. There is little left of many of them. Some were requisitioned by the military for use at the outset of World War 2 and practices for the D-Day landings. In East Anglia and other parts of the East coast, erosion is also a major problem due to rising sea levels. In late May this year, people in homes on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent were evacuated. As I write, one home has fallen from the cliffs and others are threatened. On our journey around the British coast we visited Rattray in Aberdeenshire which was abandoned in the 18th century when shifting sands blocked the harbour and covered the buildings.

Growing up in Scotland, the Highland Clearances which took place mostly in the 18th and 29th centuries are never very far away and the ruins of old crofts are found in many places. When we visited Sutherland in 2015, I learnt that people farming in the glens were removed to the coast near Bettyhill. Unfortunately, they did not know how to fish or possess any boats. We stayed for a week in a cottage near Skerray Harbour. From the harbour, Eilean nan Ron – the Isle of the Seals is visible, with ruined houses on it.

Between 1820 and 1938, this was home to several hardy families. They were forced to leave as the population was reducing in numbers (some having emigrated to North America or Australia) and getting older; making it hard navigate the 90 steps up the steep cliff from the harbour to the homes. They tried to settle nearby and were given £100 by the Duchess of Sutherland. In 2018 we visited the St Kilda archipelago which lies 40 miles beyond the Outer Hebrides.  Having been inhabited for 4,000 years was abandoned in 1930. It now has a military and a radar base and a few National Trust for Scotland employees are there for part of each year as well as a flock of Soay Sheep.

On our trips overseas we have also found derelict and abandoned places. Route 66 passes several towns left behind when the interstates were built.

The Meramec Bridge in Missouri carried Route 66 after its completion in 1932. Resorts arrived and working-class resort called Times Beach opened nearby in 1925. It was home to almost 2,000 people. In the late 1960s Interstate 44 arrived and bypassed this and many other communities. Times Beach was evacuated in 1983 because of dioxin contamination resulting from contaminated fuel being used to deal with a dust problem in the streets and to deter birds from crops since the 1970s.

In 2011 we travelled on the Indian Pacific train from Perth to Sydney. The route crosses the Nullarbor and is the longest straight stretch of railway in the world at 478km. We made a stop at Cook in South Australia, a town created in 1917 when the railway commenced. It depended on trains for food supplies and now all their water as well. When we visited, we were told that the population was two people and one dog. It became a ghost town in 1997. The eucalyptus trees were planted in 1982 and do provide some shade. We had a couple of hours to wander around before getting back on the train.

Somewhere to visit on a future trip to the South West USA is Cerro Gordo, an abandoned silver-mining town which was purchased in 2018 by a guy who wants to restore it. It is about 200 miles from Los Angeles. In the 19th century around 4,000 miners lived there. It was renowned for gun fights and there is even a rumour that Butch Cassidy was there once. The town was abandoned in the 1930s and the 22 buildings were just left. The guy who now owns it plans to restore it and provide accommodation for visitors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Journey into the Past

Early March saw us taking a few days to revisit some of our old haunts in Scotland. The first stop was Dundee where James studied at the university from 1979-1984. A keen football fan, he followed Dundee United. So, when he spotted that Dundee Rep Theatre were putting on a production entitled ‘Smile’ about their manager Jim McLean, it was a must. We stayed at a central hotel just a short walk from the theatre and although some of it was a bit of a mystery to me (having never been to a football match), he and the rest of the audience enjoyed it very much. In the morning we drove along the Tay towards Perth pick up the A9.

Before reaching Perth we diverted near Errol to Cairn O’Mhor Winery. Someone James was at university with left the course and with her husband, has been making fruit wines and cider since 1987. We had a look around the winery and saw some cider being bottled before having a coffee with Judith and Ron.

After driving down the very familiar A9 south of Perth, we arrived at Doune. The castle, built in the 1300s, is now under the care of Historic Scotland.

My first visit there was in the early 1970s when my clarinet teacher had to arrange a musical group to play at the wedding reception of Lord Doune’s daughter. The castle has been under renovation for some time and not open the last time we passed by. Today, we did manage a wander round the interior

but the grounds and riverside were too wet from the recent heavy rains. The guy in the gift shop told us that while filming had gone on in the castle since Monty Python and the Holy Grail; after Game of Thrones and Outlander were filmed there, the number of tourists visiting had increased. Last summer they had days with more than 1000 visitors (many from the USA), causing huge problems when coaches tried to drive down the single-track road to the car park. Continuing up the route my school bus used to take, we arrived in Callander. Parking down by the meadows, I could see a snowy Ben Ledi behind all the ducks and swans hanging around on the water, hoping for some food.

At the south end of the car park is a mound known as the ‘Hill of St Kessog’.

St Kessog was an Irish follower of St Columba preached here in the 6th century. It is not certain whether or not the mound was part of a motte or castle hill but in the 1930s an archaeological dig found the remains of a pre-Reformation church just to the right of the mound. It is thought to be the first church in Callander built in 1238. It was later demolished and the graveyard was established with the hexagonal watch house nearby to look out for grave robbers. Callander also has a second-hand bookshop with adjacent book bindery.

Our next night was in Stirling where we met while working at the hospital there. Our hotel, in the old town was the original Royal Infirmary and the hotel next door was the old High School. We watched the sun go down from the castle terrace.

In the morning we were at the entrance just as the castle opened and had a look around the palace which was restored in 2011.

As most of the other visitors were waiting for the guided tour, we had the place to ourselves, looking at the sculptures and views over the surrounding countryside. Staff told us that in the high season they get up to 5,000 visitors each day.

A few miles further on is the Wallace Monument. Like Stirling Castle, I had not been there since childhood. The path winds up the Abbey Craig where snowdrops and primroses were blooming with blue bells and dog’s mercury emerging. These are both indicators of ancient woodland.

A few miles further along the foot of the Ochil Hills lies the Broomhall. It was built in 1874 by John Foukes and Frances Mackison for James Johnstone. He was the younger of two brothers who owned a shipbuilding and mills business. After a family argument, James had the hall built in the style of Balmoral Castle with the tower so that he could look down on his brother. It is situated next door to where I lived from the late 1960s to 1974 on Long Row in Menstrie.

In 1906 the Castle was sold to an Italian Riding School and in 1910 became the Clifford Park Boys Prep School run under the auspices of William Herbert Leetham. Some sources say that in the early hours of Friday 28th June 1940 (others say in 1941) the building caught fire whilst the boarders were camping in the grounds. The fire seemed to originate on the second floor towards the rear of the building and the alarm was raised by the Local Defence Volunteers who were out on their night-time patrol. It took hold quickly and could be seen for miles as it lit up the sky. Under the direction of Fire Master Robert Cairns, water was pumped from the county mains near the old Menstrie railway station and it was brought under control before 9am. By this time a large crowd had gathered to see what had happened and offered what help they could. No one was injured but the building was completely gutted, although some furniture was saved. The cost of the damage ran into several thousand pounds but luckily Leetham had the building insured. Meanwhile, the boys were shipped elsewhere to continue their education. Information in the hotel (and other sources) state that a German schoolmaster took the boys camping on Myreton Hill and then set fire to it so that it could act as a beacon for the Luftwaffe returning from bombing Clydebank Shipyards in Glasgow. The Clydebank Blitz took place on the nights of 13th and 14th March 1941; nine months after some say the fire occurred at Broomhall. In 1946, and mostly in ruins, the proprietor of the house was Walter Alexander of Kork-N-Seal, a metal bottle cap manufacturer. By 1950, he had moved on and it belonged to Walter McAlpine Chalmers who rented it out to radio operator William James Sillars. During the 1950s the gardener’s cottage was sold to Tommy Kettles. I lived next door and went to school with his daughter; we used to play among the ruins although we were not supposed to as they were inevitably unstable and dangerous. The stables were converted into a house in 1977. In 1985 Broomhall was rebuilt and turned into a nursing home. In 2003 it was purchased by the current owners, who turned it into a small hotel with 16 bedrooms and a restaurant. The field which was in front of the hall and our house is now full of houses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Findhorn River and beach

In mid-November we visited friends in Inverness whom we had not seen for a while. One day they took us for a trip around some of the sites on the River Findhorn in Moray. It is one of the longest rivers in Scotland at 100km. We began at Dulsie Bridge which was erected in 1755 by Major William Caulfield as part of General Wade’s military road strategy designed to assist in suppressing the local population. It survived the Muckle Spate flood of 1829 which swept away mills, farmhouses and several other bridges.

Further downstream, Randolph’s Leap is the narrowest part of the gorge.

In the 14th century Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray lived on one side of the river at Darnaway. Sir Alexander Cummings and his six sons lived on the opposite side. Problems arose when the Cummings who had held the lucrative post of ranger of the Forest of Darnaway fell out of favour with Randolph and King Robert the Bruce and were told to keep away from Darnaway. The eldest Cummings son, Alistair, gathered a thousand men to attack Randolph but they were ambushed and retreated back to the river where Alastair and three others jumped over to the other side so it really should have been called Alastair’s Leap. There are several walks around the river and forest here of varying lengths. We did one of the shorter ones as it was quite wet.

Continuing down the riverside we came to Logie Steading which has been converted into a visitors’ centre with a café, art gallery, a bookshop and several small businesses including Logie Whisky and Wine. The road continues through Forres and on to Findhorn on the Moray coast at the mouth of the river.

We had passed through earlier in the year as part of the Round Britain drive but I have always loved the Moray coast since working in Inverness so was very happy to return. The Findhorn Foundation eco-village has been here since 1962 but is a separate entity to the rest of the village. We walked along the beach and dunes at the edge of the forest

and round to the harbour

before returning to Inverness. Wild camping is allowed on the beach for a small fee so I suspect we will be back.

Round Britain: John O’Groats to Dunnet Bay


After dinner at the Seaview Hotel which has an extensive menu and was very busy, I wandered around the now quiet seafront. There was no-one standing next to the milepost (there had been several coaches earlier).

Many people think that it is the northernmost point of the mainland. It is the furthest from Lands End on the road network but Dunnet Head is the most northerly point. There is a sculpture nearby entitled ‘The Nomadic Boulders’. Two Scottish environmental artists Dalziel & Scullion created it when it was discovered that huge boulders are moved long distances along the seabed when it was being surveyed for use by turbines. This is a small part of the sculpture which was made with three boulders that appeared on a local beach:

I then watched the sun go down.

In the morning I had a quick walk along the shingle beach looking for the cowries called Groatie buckies and are said to be found here. I did not find any. We left, heading west past the vehicle ferry harbour at Gills Bay which crosses the Pentland Firth to St Margaret’s Hope on Orkney. On a day with high winds we passed a house called Windy Ha. After the Castle of Mey we took the coastal route via Scarfskerry. The old telephone box here is now a book exchange. At Ham there is a disused mill

a rocky beach and old harbour constructed from slabs of the striated rocks.


At Brough, where the most northerly café on the British mainland was closed, we turned on the road to Dunnet Head. There are several lochs on the headland.

There is a lighthouse with foghorn.

A viewpoint on the summit and overlooks to the cliffs. It is an RSPB reserve but the high winds made it difficult to spend more than a couple of minutes looking at the cliffs.

In World War Two a large encampment and wireless station was built on the head and a few concrete buildings remain.

We carried on to Dunnet Bay and had a good walk on the beach before settling in at the campsite before rain arrived. The bay had a Viking settlement and farm which had been buried by the blown sand dunes. When the current road was built, sheep on the slope rubbed themselves against it and exposed traces of a wall and a rubbish heap. In 1995 archaeologists found more evidence of the Viking farm.

Some of the objects I saw on the beach might be turned into an abstract painting. I had hoped on this west-facing beach to see the sunset and the full moon rise in the east but clouds came in and destroyed my hopes. Tomorrow we have 500 miles to drive home. On this leg of the journey we have travelled 237 miles; taking our journey at a much slower pace than some of the people doing the North Coast 500. Our total so far, from the start in South Queensferry; is 3072 miles. This is more than Route 66 but not quite as far as the Lincoln Highway.

Round Britain: Wick to John O’Groats


Before leaving Wick we drove down the coast on the Trinkie Road. Trinkie means trunk and the road passes the Trinkie outdoor swimming pool. In the first third of the 20th century many local authorities around the Scottish coast created outdoor pools filled by the tides. They were used for swimming lessons, parties, barbecues and other festivities. Trinkie was restored several years ago and re-opened in 2003.

Just in case you cannot remember the name, it is painted on the rocks.

A little further along the road is the car park and the path to Old Wick Castle. It is a simple tower form and is one of the oldest castles in Scotland, thought to have been built by the Earl of Caithness, Harald Maddadson in the 1160s. In the 14th century wars of independence it was held by Sir Reginald Cheyne, a supporter of English King Edward I.

Driving back around the harbour, across the bridge and round the other side, we passed through the communities of Papigoe and Staxigoe. Before the road system was fully established this far north, Staxigoe was an important port in Caithness. At the end of Noss Head is a Stevenson lighthouse built in 1849 and automated in 1987. Noss comes from the Norse for nose: snos.

There was a statue outside it with no mention of who it was/represented. On the north side of the headland stands Castle Sinclair Giringoe. The Sinclair family who became Earls of Caithness have occupied the site since the 14th century when building began. It was remodelled in the 16th century by the 5th Earl but seized by Cromwell’s troops in 1651. They used it for nine years as their major north stronghold. The Sixth Earl sold the land title to a cousin and after the Earl’s death there was a dispute leading to a land battle and the castle became ruined and has remained so ever since.

The headland was a radio and secret listening post in World War Two. There are views across Sinclair Bay towards Castle Keiss and Duncansby Head. It is about 58.28◦ North. Back in town we picked up the A99 which runs around Sinclair Bay and through a number of small communities. Keiss has a castle; The Caithness Broch Centre is at Auckengill and there is another Castle at Feswick in a small bay. We ran into rain and low cloud before the road climbed Warth Hill and then descended towards John O’ Groats. We turned off to Duncansby Head, the most north easterly part of the British mainland. In between showers we looked at the lighthouse.

The Pentland Skerries are a group of islands offshore. The smallest, Little Skerry has a lighthouse.

Stroma lies to the north and a little further north are the Orkney Islands. After lunch I walked over the hill to the Duncansby Stacks which are impressive structures along the cliffs.

After we had settled into the campsite at John O’Groats, a transient rainbow raised our hopes of better weather tomorrow.

Round Britain: Wandering around Wick


Our campsite was on the banks of the River Wick. Gulls and ducks were nesting on islands in the middle and there are riverside walks

with some flowers still in bloom.

We walked with into town: passing some street art done by a local youth group

Emerging by the bridge you are opposite the smallest street in the world: the 2.06 metres and one door of Ebenezer Place. Pulteney lies to the south of the river and was not united with the Burgh of Wick until 1901. It is the home of Pulteney Distillery which dates from 1825.

Before this, there was a meal mill and brewery on the same site powered by water from Loch Hemphrigg which lies to the south; piped by the Telford water scheme. The town did not get piped water until 1845 after the cholera epidemic of 1836. Down at the harbour we walked past the South Pier

Herring fishing was a big industry in the 19th and early 20th century. The biggest recorded catch in one day was on 23rd August 1864 when 926 boats landed 24,000 crans of herring. The gutters and processors dealt with over 24 million herring in a single day. At its peak, Wick was the biggest herring port in the world. In the 1930s the industry began to decline and ceased in the Second World War. After a brief revival in the 1950s, it declined again and now there are only occasional white fish landings and some crabs, lobsters and clams mostly for the European market. Aside from leisure boats, there were several support vessels and company offices for the extensive wind farms we saw offshore yesterday.

A cannon sits by the harbour near the old herring market. It had been presented to the harbour trust in 1881 to act as a fog signal after the death of many fishermen at sea. The gun was moved to its current position in 2012.

Telford planned the Pulteney harbour, town and bridge; building beginning in 1807, much of the new housing was for people displaced by the clearances. The layout of new roads was planned. The Wick-Thurso road opened in 1813. In Albert Square we spotted something not seen in any other town we have visited: streetlights being washed.

Back across the river, we had coffee in the High Street where like many other towns in the UK, there were empty shops. I had intended to spend some time in the afternoon walking along the riverside but heavy showers of rain arrived so that was shelved, as was a coastal walk to the Trinkie Swimming Pool and Old Wick Castle which we will visit on the way out tomorrow.

Round Britain: Tarbat to Wick


On Monday we awoke to a wet and dull day. It was too wet for the forest walks in the hills above Tain, so we decided to explore the Tarbat Peninsula. A minor road from Tain passes a disused airfield and a moor which is still designated a military bombing site. During World War Two, many of the villagers of Portmahomack were evacuated so that landing exercises in preparation for D Day could be carried out. The village was quiet when we reached it. Its name means the Port of St Colman, an early Christian saint.

The Discovery Centre is based in the old church and covers the area history from the Picts to more recent events. Many of the local archaeological finds are displayed. The church is dedicated to 7th century St Colman and has had many incarnations from the earliest monastery and Pictish church to the Church of Scotland. In 1948 it ceased to operate as a church.

In the old churchyard is a baptismal well. It is said to have been sanctified by St Rule on his way to St Andrews and is still used to baptise the eldest son of the Earls of Cromartie to this day.

A statue entitled ‘The Pictish Queen’ sculpted by Leonie Gibbs sits near the church.

Quite a few of the local towns have a cast iron fountain dating from the second half of the 19th century when piped water reached the community. Portmahomack also has an old streetlamp dating from 1900. It is one of the first erected which used paraffin. They were extinguished during the First World War but electric light did not arrive until 1949.

Before we left the village I noticed a house on the shore. I have seen gardens with gnomes in before but these were all ensconced inside.

Three miles beyond Portmahomack is Tarbat Ness with its lighthouse. There is a walk from the village I had found on the Walkhighlands website and might have done it in better weather. The area on the Ness is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is visited by birds migrating from Scandinavia. The lighthouse was built by Robert Stevenson in 1840 and at 40 metres, is the third tallest in Scotland.

When we arrived, a robot was mowing the lawn: some modernity in the midst of all the history.

The path continues to the end of the peninsula

and we saw one seal briefly. The stone stackers have also been here at some point. Returning to Tain, we joined the A9, crossed the Dornoch Firth

and entered Sutherland. Before reaching Dornoch we also crossed the River Evelix. Dornoch Cathedral is Scotland’s smallest and was built by Gilbert de Moravia who became bishop, beginning in 1224. Two hundred years later, a Bishop’s Palace or Castle was built and is now a hotel. There is a crowd-funded distillery start-up there. We could not see inside the cathedral as a funeral was in progress.

However, we did have a browse in the nearby independent bookshop:

Afterwards we took a minor road north out of town and then along the south shore of Loch Fleet which is a National Nature Reserve. We paused just after the ruins of Skelbo Castle

spotting a grey heron and a curlew in the distance.


Back on the A9 the cloud was low. Near to The Mound, there was a ‘Caution Otters’ sign and hordes of people were down by the bridge looking for them, so we carried on passing through Golspie and Brora. We had previously visited Dunrobin Castle and Clynelish Distillery so pressed on to our destination for the night: Helmsdale. The rain had eased when we arrive there so we had a short walk around up to the Telford Bridge and the old harbour. The town has been a port since 1527 but the first harbour was not constructed until 1818. In 1832 a fishing boat brought cholera to the town but it was rescued from decline when other fleets brought herring in.

Timespan is the heritage and arts centre.

Before dinner we walked down to the modern harbour where sea birds were lined up on a wall as the tide came in.


The following day we were back on the A9, entering Caithness north of Helmsdale. A little further along is the site of the abandoned village of Badbea. People were moved during the clearances in the early 1800s when landowners decided that the glens where most people lived would be better places for sheep farms. Some people were living at Badbea in 1793 but most arrived in 1802 when Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster decided that Ousedale, a fertile glen on his Langdale Estate required clearing for sheep farming. He tried to encourage people to engage in the coastal industries. At least twelve families lived at Badbea. It is said that the winds on the cliffs were so strong that animals and even children had to be roped together to prevent them from being blown over the cliffs. Eventually it became impossible to continue and people left; the last resident departing in 1911. The short walk from the carpark leads to a memorial and the remains of a few homes.


After coffee at the River Bothy in Berriedale (where the mobile library was parked up outside) it was time to head north. The next stop was Dunbeath. Very little remains of the monastery which once sat slightly upriver from the village. It was washed away in the 18th century. There is a heritage trail which goes along the river and up a hill to a broch and some old stones.

The village street was constructed between 1840 and 1850. One of my friends from Aberdeen University told me that her grandfather worked at the mill by the old bridge. Just outside it we met an elderly man who remembered him.

Neil Gunn the author was born in Dunbeath in 1891. I read his books many years ago. There is a memorial sculpture down at the harbour.

Looking across the water there is a cave accessible at low tide and the castle which is not open to the public.

Back on the A9 we took the A99 to Wick at Latheron passing through Lybster, Ulbster and Thrumpster. The coast is littered with ancient remains of brochs, castles, cairns and standing stones. There are also the ruins of abandoned crofts and large wind farms stand offshore. Soon we were settled into our riverside campsite.

Round Britain: Cromarty to the Dornoch Firth


On another sunny day we set off from Rosemarkie up the Fairy Glen to join the road to Cromarty. It is a village sited between the Sutors, the two headlands one mile apart at the entrance to the bay. We parked by the shore where dozens of kayakers were arriving and getting ready to enter the water. The Stevenson lighthouse built in 1846 is now a Field Station for Aberdeen University marine biologists.

A small ferry runs across to Nigg on the other side during the summer months.

A monument on the shoreline is a memorial to all those who emigrated to North America after the clearances. It lists the names of the ships. Most of the buildings in Cromarty are 18th or 19th century. 13 sites have connections to slave plantations, mostly in Guyana and many of the merchants are buried in the cemetery here. Slavery is something Scotland has been late to acknowledge. There is no Museum of Slavery in Scotland while several English cities have one. In 2018 the University of Glasgow announced it was paying £20 million in reparation for donations derived from slavery merchants. George Ross, a businessman, bought Cromarty in 1772 investing in a harbour, hemp works, brewery, nail works, a lace-making school, stable and a hog yard for pigs. The hemp was imported from St Petersburg and the factory produced bags and sacks for West Indian goods. He built the Gaelic chapel in 1784 for the influx of Gaelic speakers into the town. Cromarty was one of the towns that made so much money from the slave trade that it petitioned against abolition. Perhaps the most famous son of Cromarty was Hugh Miller, a self-taught geologist, naturalist, writer and florist born in 1802. The house he was born in and the one he lived in are now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland but were closed at the time we visited.

He died in Edinburgh in 1856. There is a trail around the important places in the town, including his statue. The oldest building in the town still standing is Townslands Barn built in 1690 for Bernard Mckenzie. In the early 19th century it was converted to a threshing barn and latterly for agricultural storage. It is Grade A listed and was acquired by the community in 2018 who hope to be able to raise funds and restore it for some future use.

We had coffee at the Emporium which in addition to having a small café, sells new and used books, gifts and postcards.

Afterwards we continued along the north shore of the Black Isle, passing through Jemimaville and then stopping at the RSPB Udale Bay Reserve. Many migrating birds stop here to feed. We saw Canada and Pink-footed Geese and other birds in the distance. In the logbook someone in earlier in the day had seen an osprey feeding.

After crossing the Cromarty Firth, we stopped at Tain for supplies and as we were too early to check in to the campsite, had a look at the first item on the Pictish Trail. The Edderton Cross-Slab is a stone dating from the 9th century with a Celtic Cross and three horsemen: it is not certain who they are. Other fragments of stone are inside the old church which is only open at certain times. The Pictish Trail runs from Edderton to Altnaharra and visits 13 sites.

After checking in we needed a walk. The site sits between the A9 near the Dornoch Firth Bridge, the train line (and former station now a house) and just beside it runs a minor road down to Meikle Ferry Point. Cattle were grazing in the fields around the bay and looked at us curiously wondering who we were.

The passenger ferry ceased to run when the bridge opened in 1991. Prior to this vehicles had to drive to Bonar Bridge to cross the Firth. There are now houses at the tip of the point but the old piers on the south and north shore are still visible.

We have to be off the site by 10am tomorrow to continue our journey north.

Round Britain: Fortrose and Rosemarkie


The Ward Lock & Company guidebook to Northern Scotland published sometime after 1948 begins the chapter on the Black Isle by pointing out that ‘The Black Isle is neither black nor an island’. The peninsula is around 23 miles long and 8.5 miles wide. Re-connecting with our coastal tour we crossed the Beauly Firth by the Kessock Bridge. I have a memory that when the bridge was being constructed (it began in 1976 and opened in 1982), building started from each shore but the two sides did not match up or connect properly initially.

It is around 20 years since we were last here. Across the bridge we took a B road to Munlochy and then continued through Avoch and on to the campsite by the beach which stretches between Rosemarkie and Fortrose. It looks over to Fort George on the other side of the Moray Firth which we visited in June.

Rosemarkie is the older of the two towns: a monastery having been founded there in the seventh century. They were united by royal charter in the 15th century. The following morning we walked into Fortrose, stopping by the cathedral ruins. Work on the cathedral began in the 13th century. In 1572 after the Reformation, William Lord Ruthven was given the lead from the roof and it is said that Oliver Cromwell’s army removed stone and timber in order to build a fortress in Inverness in 1653. The cathedral bell clock still rings.

The nearby chapter house became a court with a prison below.

After coffee we walked down the west side of Chanonry Point to the lighthouse.There is a whole network of foot/cycle paths around the Black Isle.

Fortrose Bay is sheltered by the point and was very still.

The Black Isle is home to the only resident population of bottle-nosed dolphins in the North Sea and the point is said to be the best place to spot them but we did not see any that morning. Walking back along the east side on the beach to the campsite, we enjoyed a lazy afternoon before heading back to the point later in the sunshine. It was very busy as a shuttle bus runs from the town centre. Numerous seabirds were feeding offshore but still no sign of any dolphins. The footpath back towards Rosemarkie was lined with wildflowers gone to seed.

However, this harebell was among the few still flowering.

We walked 7.1 miles today and tomorrow it will be time to move on.