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Easter Ross

The Attractions of the District


Ecclesiastical History — Tain

„ „ Fearn



Invergordon .

The Villages .

The Castles .

The Golf Courses— Tain

Castlecraig (Njgg)
Tar bat

Personal Names

Place Names

The Sculptured Stones


Bibliography .










Tain from the Sea
St. Duthus Chapel
Fearn Abbey


Nigg Church
Tain Town Hall .
St. Duthus Church
Invergordon Ferry
Invergordon Castle

Ardross Castle
Golf House, Tain .
Tain Golf Course
Invergordon Stone

Facing Page 8



Ross-shire is a County Palatine of Scotland and Easter Ross is the
garden of Ross-shire. The district extends from the burn of Alness
(the river Averon) on the south to the Dornoch Firth and the Kyle of
Sutherland on the north. On the east it is bounded by the Moray, the
Cromarty, and the Dornoch, Firths, while on the west it is in touch on
high lands with the parish of Lochbroom, and that of Assynt in Suther-
land. It has an area of 283,316 acres and in this area are embraced the
nine parishes of Rosskeen, Kilmuir, Logie Easter, Nigg, Fearn, Tarbat,
Tain, Edderton, and Kincardine, the Royal Burgh of Tain, the
Police Burgh of Invergordon, as well as the villages of Bridgend of Alness,
Saltburn, Balnabruach (Nigg), Shandwick, Balintore, Fearn, Port-
mahomack, Inver, Edderton, and Ardgay.

The Highland Railway enters the district at Alness where there is a
remarkably handsome skew bridge of two arches ; and there are stations
at Alness, Invergordon, Delny, Kildary, Nigg, Fearn, Tain, Edderton,
Bonar Bridge, and Culrain near which the railway is carried across the
Oykel into Sutherlandshire by a latticed iron girder viaduct of 230 feet
span, 55 feet above ordinary spring tides It traverses in all over thirty-
two miles of the district. Though at Alness the railway is only 75
feet above sea level, at Invergordon 23 feet, at Tain 15 feet, and at
Bonar Bridge 20 feet, yet the views got on right and left from a railway
carriage are marvellously beautiful.


For people who believe that a holiday is best spent in some favourite
out-door pursuit and thus rest and renew vital energies, few districts in
Scotland afford such a great variety of attractions as Easter Ross. There
are three ideal seaside golf courses. There are miles upon miles of
beautiful sandy beaches from which bathers can safely get into clear salt
water, and on which children can play in clean sand or wade in clear
water by the hour. For the geologist who can follow in the steps of
Hugh Miller, the whole district is full of special interest. Those who
delight in shells, land or marine, or the natural history of the sea shore,
will find much to interest them. For the artist there are many combina-
tions of mountains and moors beautiful from many standpoints, wide
stretches of landscape and seascape ; and as light, shade, and colour vary
all day long, there is a never-ending variety of subjects for the brush or
pencil. The sociologist and the antiquary will find the place brimful of
interest, while those who delight in boating and sailing can do so safely.
Everywhere around there is a contented and prosperous population
possessed of that kindness and courtesy natural to Highlanders. The


cost of living is certainly much more moderate than in many districts
which offer fewer attractions.

Tain, the centre of the district, is by rail within eight hours of
Edinburgh and Glasgow, and within sixteen hours of London. Mails are
received and despatched thrice daily and the trunk telephone system has
been extended to Tain.

There are many points from which the widest of views of scenic beauty
can easily be obtained. Thus if a person stands at Invergordon Harbour
he can on a clear day see across the Moray Firth, and, skirting the horizon,
the distinctly defined coast of Moray ; nearer, the Sutors of Cromarty
forming the gateway through'which the waters enter, and which immedi-
ately within expand into a broad and beautiful bay with the old town
of Cromarty nestling cosily on the southern side ; on the north a rich and
fertile country with a magnificent background of hills. Other points
commanding even wider sweeps are Nigg Hill, from which one can trace
the railway from Elgin to Inverness and then right round to Helmsdale;
Tarbatness Lighthouse, the top of Tain Tower, and Struie Hill. Every-
where the scenery has the advantage of showing wide sheets of water
which add to the charm, for it still continues to be thought that
" scenery without water is like a drawing-room without a mirror."

If a map showing the rainfall in the various parts of the kingdom be
consulted it appears that this whole district lies within the driest belt in
Scotland, and the rainfall averages less than 24 inches per annum.
During the summer months there is much sunshine but the heat is
tempered by proximity to the sea. Approximately the average
temperature for May is 49°F., June 54 , July 57 , August 56 , 8°, and
September 53 . June is usually an ideal month and the pity is that
visitors cannot in larger numbers sojourn here then.

There are in all just about 200 miles of roads beautifully kept, and
the surface is all that can be wished for by motorists and cyclists.


If that district which has little history is to be considered happy then
this is one of the happiest of spots, as there are records of wonderfully
few of those happenings which are considered history, civil or uncivil, but
much could be written of the ebb and flow of the many ecclesiastical or
religious waves by which for centuries the district has been swept.

According to Ptolemy, a tribe called the Decanbae lived in the district
which extends from Beauly to Edderton, and the Smertae occupied the
valleys of the Carron, Oykell, and Shin. At a later period the in-
habitants of the district were known as Picts, who probably mixed with
Celts. When the Norsemen came to the west coast they probably
drove the Scots eastward and thus there is some likelihood that in the
dim past there was a time when the inhabitants spoke Pictish, Gaelic,
and Norse. Before the opening of the tenth century the Norsemen were
all-powerful in the district and held sway for about two hundred years.


When their power waned at the opening of the twelfth century the Gaels
were triumphant and the Picts a lost race. Of the feuds for mastery
between these races not a trace seems to remain in authentic history or
local tradition and really nothing can be affirmed of it until it was
formally annexed to the kingdom of Scotland, and then for a long time
its history is associated with Tain, its capital, which received from
Malcolm Canmore its first charter somewhere about 1060 a.d. There
still exists in the Tain Council Chambers a notarial certified copy made
in 1564, of the Royal Charter granted in 1457 by James II., who in it
confirms the grants made by his predecessors, " To God, the blessed
St. Duthus, the church and clergy, the town of Tain and its inhabitants,
the immunities granted them within the four corner crosses placed about
the bounds of Tain and all their liberties and privileges."

Probably it was by Malcolm that the right of "Sanctuary" was con-
ferred on the town, a right which must have helped the place into
prominence all over the north as to it in lawless times the weaker could
go and be safe from their oppressors. It is quite possible that this right
was got from Malcolm^and his proselytising superstitious Queen Margaret
by Duthack or Duthus, afterwards St. Duthus, who is said to have been
born in the now ruined ivy covered chapel near the railway station and
who by that time had somehow acquired his saintly character. The
king would very likely hold Duthus in awe and readily grant the request
if he were told that a smith, when Duthus as a boy came to him for fire,
placed some live coals in his lap arid that the lad carried them home
without injury to himself or his clothes, and that angels were seen
encamping around his home at the Angel's Hill. St. Duthus studied in
Ireland, probably travelled as a missionary, and died in Armagh in 1065.
To this spot nearly two hundred years afterwards his remains were
carried and in this way the holiness of this sanctuary was further enhanced.
So sacred was this sanctuary held all over Scotland, that in 1306, when
Robert the Bruce's fortunes were at their lowest ebb, he sent his queen
and daughter here with several ladies and a number of knights. William,
the fourth Earl of Ross, unscrupulously violated the sanctuary, slew the
knights, and delivered the ladies up to their English enemies.

Its sanctuary was next violated in 1427 when Mowat, a laird of
Freswick in Caithness, was defeated by Thomas Macneil of Creich. The
vanquished fled here for refuge, but the angry pursuers slew all whom
they found outside and then set fire to the chapel and so brought death
to their enemies within and an end to the building, which has never since
been roofed. According to some authorities important documents placed
here for safety were also burnt, perhaps also St. Duthus' shirt, a relic
which was said to possess marvellous powers, but did not preserve Hugh,
the fifth Earl of Ross, from fatal wounds though he wore it at the battle
of Halidon Hill in 1333. The English, who likely enough regarded the
relic with awe, restored it to the sanctuary.


To the chaplain of this shrine, James IV. ordered an annual sum
to be paid that masses might be said on behalf of his father's soul, while
he himself did penance by wearing an iron chain to which he added a
link year by year, and came here on penance intent sometimes thrice a
year for nineteen successive years, that is from 1494 to 15 13. During
these journeys he would doubtless learn to take an interest in the
Highlands, would probably hear complaints of injustice and help to
maintain justice. He was here for the last time on 5th August 15 13, and
on 9th September following he fell at Flodden.

In 1483, William, Lord Crichton, took refuge within this "girth" of
Tain, and though verbally summoned by the King's macer to come to
Edinburgh, he refused to leave it and lived here in safety for some time.

Much of the subsequent history of Tain and Easter Ross is connected
with the struggle of the various creeds and churches for mastery, and
some of these are detailed in the next chapter, but several other historical
incidents are worthy of note. For many a long year the Earls of Ross
and other great folk really held kingly sway and were very pleasant
masters for their subjects so long as they had their own way, but woe
betide any who turned on them. It is told, and though the story may be
apocryphal it is illustrative, that when an injured woman complained to
an Earl of Ross, then said to be resident at Balnagown, that she would
go to the king for redress he ordered horseshoes to be nailed to the soles
of her feet that she might be better able to perform the journey.

Among others who for a time had an interest in Easter Ross was "The
Wolf of Badenoch," who married a Countess of Ross, and received a
Royal charter of his wife's lands.

There are also records of clan battles. There was one fought at
Alt Charrais in i486 or 1487 between John, Earl of Sutherland, and
Alexander the Sixth of Balnagown. The occasion was revenge. One
Angus Mackay, the son of Neil Vass Mackay, had been previously slain
at Tarbat ; a son of the slain man begged the Earl of Sutherland for
assistance so that he might be revenged for his father's death. The Earl
yielded and sent his uncle, Robert Sutherland, with a company of chosen
men to assist Mackay. Strathoykell was invaded with fire and sword,
and there was " burnt, spoiled, and wasted many lands appertaining to
the Rosses. The laird of Balnagown, hearing of this invasion, gathered
all the forces of the province of Ross, and met Robert Sutherland and
John Mackay at Alt Charrais. There ensued a cruel battle, which
continued a long space with incredible obstinacy ; the doubt of the
victory being no less great than the desire. Much blood was shed. In
the end, the inhabitants of Ross, being unable to endure the enemy's
force were utterly disbanded and put to flight. Alexander Ross of
Balnagown was there slain with seventeen other landed gentlemen of the
province of Ross, with a great number of common soldiers."

Some of the leaders of Easter Ross Society, notably Katherine, the
eldest daughter of the ninth Earl of Balnagown, had resort to witchcraft


and poisoning to accomplish her purposes, and her career is fully and
interestingly set out in Chambers' Domestic Annals of Scotland, vol. i,
PP- 203.

Much interest was excited in this district in 1626 in connection with
the thirty years' war, and a regiment was raised here to fight under
Gustavus Adolphus. It is worthy of note that in these German wars
under this Lion of the North, there were engaged three generals, eight
colonels, five lieutenant-colonels, eleven majors, and more than
thirty captains, besides a large number of subalterns of the name
of Munro.

The Twelfth Ross of Balnagown, at his own expense, raised a regiment
of Rosses to help Charles II., and proceeded with the Scots to England,
where they were defeated at Worcester. Eight thousand prisoners were
taken, and among them many Easter Ross men who were sold as slaves
to the American Colonists. The laird himself was imprisoned in the
Tower and died in 1653. It is pleasing to have to record that after the
Restoration this king settled a pension on Balnagown's son.

That was not the only connection Easter Ross had with the fight
between Cromwell and the Royalists, and the following account of how
Lieut.-Colonel Strachan outwitted the celebrated Marquis of Montrose on
the borders of Sutherland and Ross is of interest.

The Marquis crossed from Orkney to Caithness in April 1650. He
had calculated on collecting a considerable force in that county, but
failed. He marched southwards, and the Earl of Sutherland retired
before him as he advanced and Montrose reached Strath Oykell with but
a force of 1200 men. Lieut.-Colonel Strachan hurried to meet him with a
party of horse, while Leslie was pressing on with 3000 foot. It was
resolved that the Earl should cross into Sutherland to intercept
Montrose's retreat, while Strachan advanced with 230 horse and 170 foot
in search of him. Under cover of some broom, they succeeded in sur-
prising him at a disadvantage, on level ground near a pass called
Invercharron, on the borders of the parish, on Saturday, 27th April 1650,
having diverted his attention by the display of merely a small body of
horse. Montrose immediately endeavoured to reach a wood and craggy
hill at a short distance in his rear with his infantry, but they were over-
taken. The Orkney men made but little resistance, and the Germans
surrendered, but the few Scottish soldiers fought bravely. Many gallant
cavaliers were made prisoners, and when the day was irretrievably lost,
the Marquis threw off his cloak bearing the star, and afterwards changed
clothes with a Highland kern that he might effect his escape. He swam
across the Kyle, directed his flight up Strath Oykell, and lay for three
days concealed among the wilds of Assynt. At length, exhausted with
fatigue and hunger he was apprehended by Neil Macleod, who happened
to be out in search of him. The gallant Marquis' subsequent fate is
well known.


As in other parts of the north the people of this district were much
agitated by "The Fifteen," though they seem almost unanimously to
have sided with the Hanoverians. Sir Robert Munro asked Lord
Strathnaver to assist him to defend Ross-shire. This he did, and at the
same time the Munroes, Grants, and Rosses were mustered by their
chiefs. When the Earl of Seaforth, who favoured the Jacobites, asked
Sir Robert to deliver up all his defensive weapons, he refused, garrisoned
his house, and sent men to the rendezvous at Alness. But Lord Duffus,
with Seatorth not far away, marched into Tain with between 400 and 500
men of the Mackenzies, Chisholms, and Macdonalds, proclaimed James
there, and then made haste south to join the Earl of Mar. The Easter
Ross men who stood by the Government were in 17 16 gathered at Fearn
to the number of 700, ready to march to Inverness but they had to
complain of the scarcity of provisions. So scarce indeed was meal then
in this district, that the people were starving. This regiment was soon
afterwards disbanded.

In ''The Forty-five " Easter Ross men, with the exception of the
Earl of Cromartie and his son, Lord Macleod, again seem to have
favoured the government and some of them were at Prestonpans and
Falkirk. Tain was during this time subjected to great distress and
oppression from a large body of Jacobites quartering there and making
arbitrary demands for money, and the magistrates were forced to make
large payments. The Earl of Cromartie raised 400 men and with his son
(then a lad of eighteen), marched to join the Pretender's army and they
fought— possibly against other Ross-shire men at Falkirk. Subsequently
tbe Earl held the chief command north of the Beauly, but was on 15th
April 1746, surprised and defeated near Dunrobin Castle where he was
captured on the eve of Culloden. For this, both father and son were
sentenced to death, but by the strenuous and good offices of Sir John
Gordon, the second Baronet of Invergordon, they were afterwards
pardoned. This Lord Macleod, after distinguished service in India,
succeeded to the estates of his influential uncle in 1783, and had his
family estates restored to him in 1894. It was he who sold the Inver-
gordon estates to Macleod of Cadboll.

So far the hisory of Easter Ross, like that of most other parts, has
simply been the story of the fighting of chieftains or their superiors for
supremacy but the condition of the people, as Hallam says, " like many
others relating to the progress of society is a very obscure inquiry. We
can trace the pedigrees of princes, fill up the catalogue of towns besieged
and provinces desolated, describe the whole pageantry of coronations and
festivals, but we cannot recover the genuine history of mankind. It has
passed away with slight and partial notice by contemporary writers, and our
most patient industry can hardly at present put together enough of the
fragments to suggest a tolerably clear representation of ancient manners
and social life."


" The Forty-five" altered the relation of the people to their chiefs and
the relation was afterwards in many cases a purely commercial one as
between landlordand tenant, andof course theformerwere naturally anxious
to get the highest possible rent for their lands. Farming in this fertile
machair was as yet carried on in primitive fashion but improvements were
being inaugurated and better crops were being got, but when it was found
on the Borders that the hills and dales yielded most profit when improved
breeds of sheep were reared, and that a sheep farmer from the southern
dales offered a rent of ,£350 for a sheiling in Glengarry for which others
paid only .£15 the temptation to most landlords was irresistible. Though
it involved hardship to the natives they were not allowed to stand in the
way and in 1763 the laird of Balnagown took the initiative and after some
experimenting, he in 1781 offered a farm to a Mr Geddes who is believed
to have been the first sheep farmer in the north of Scotland. The people
saw themselves deprived of their holdings for sheep and gave the farmer
all the annoyance they could. They shot or drowned many of his sheep
but yet Mr Geddes was able to pay his rent and grow rich though the
seasons were bad enough. In 1782-83 the crops were an entire failure
over the whole Highlands. So hard pressed were the tenantry that a
gathering of lairds and their factors was held in Tain on 10th December
1783 " in order to take into consideration the state of the tenantry in that
part of the country and to form some plan whereby they might convey some
effectual relief to their distressed situation." The minutes of the meeting
at which Donald Macleod of Geanies presided say, "the gentlemen present
having taken the state of the country into their serious consideration, and
having maturely and deliberately reasoned thereon, they were unanimously
of opinion that the situation of the whole of this country is extremely
critical, and that if severe and harsh means are adopted by the proprietors
of Estates in forcing payment of arrears at this time, though the con-
version should be at a low rate, it must have the effect of driving the
tenantry into despondency, and bring a great majority of them to
immediate and inevitable ruin ; and in so doing will go near to lay the

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Online LibraryAlexander PolsonEaster Ross → online text (page 1 of 7)