A battlefield where the Highlands sweep down to the firths
Sand-and-shingle beaches lining the Moray and Beauly Firths are backed by the hills and mountains of the Scottish Highlands. Wild birds abound on the foreshore, and there are cliffs pierced by caves steeped in legends. At the mouth of the River Ness stands Inverness, the ‘Capital of the Highlands’, and the road from Inverness to the east crosses Culloden Moor, the site of the last battle fought on British soil.
The streets that shelter below the steep surrounding hills are narrow and neat. Though the harbour at Fortrose is no longer used by the fishing fleets it has become a busy sailing haven and the base of the Chanonry sailing club, which welcomes visiting yachtsmen. There is safe bathing from a narrow beach east of the harbour. Fortrose’s ruined cathedral was destroyed, it is said, by Cromwell, who wanted the stone for his new castle at Inverness.
The Moray Firth passes through its narrowest gap around Chanonry Point, a long finger stretching out into the Firth. At the tip of the Point stands a stone commemorating the death of Kenneth Mackenzie, the so called Brahan Seer who is believed to have lived in the 16th or 17th century; his name is derived from Brahan Castle, near Dingwall, a stronghold of the Seaforth family. Mackenzie’s gift of ‘second sight’ brought about his death. He told the Countess of Seaforth that her husband was philandering with the ladies of Paris, which so irritated her that she had the seer tipped into a barrel of burning tar on Chanonry Point. Before he died, the seer foretold the extinction of the Seaforths, which actually took place in the early 19th century.
A good view of the whole of Fortrose and Chanonry Point can be obtained from the Hill of Fortrose, which can be reached by taking a rough, steep track starting just past the church, at the east end of the town.
This thriving fishing village, whose inhabitants claim descent from Spaniards wrecked on this shore after the defeat of the Armada, is the only community on the Black Isle which still retains its fleet. Fishermen’s cottages cluster about the small harbour, their gable ends facing the sea, so that fishing boats could be drawn up between them in rough weather.
There is an easy walk along farm lanes south of Avoch, on the north side of Munlochy Bay. Park at the southern end of the village and follow the lane for half a mile away from the sea. Then take the lane on the left, and follow it back to the starting point. The route gives splendid views of the bay and the mountains around it.
Set on high ground at the end of the mudflats of Munlochy Bay, this quiet farming community has had a long, and at times turbulent, history. Nearby Drumderfit Hill was in 1400 the scene of a bloody battle in which a large party of MacDonalds were slaughtered by the men of Inverness, which they were besieging.
The mouth of Munlochy Bay, which is renowned for its wintering wildfowl, is guarded by two hills. On the southern side stands Craigiehowe, where there is a herd of wild goats and a cave where, according to legend, a band of warriors known as the Fiann lie in magical slumber awaiting the horn call of their leader, the heroic Fionn mac Cumhaill, or Finn Mac Cool, to arouse them. The cave is accessible from the shore at Kilmuir.
A line of small cottages lies stretched along the Beauly Firth’s mud-and-shingle shore. Overshadowed by Ord Hill, North Kessock guards the entrance to the Beauly Firth and affords excellent views of the Kessock
Bridge; this has now replaced the ferry which for centuries carried people across the Firth.
The Firth offers good fishing for sea trout, as well as a variety of bird life along the foreshore. There is a good walk from the eastern end of the village through forest on the slopes of Ord Hill, from where there are superb views of the Firth. An Iron Age fort caps the hill.
Its position at an important meeting point of roads makes Muir of Ord the gateway to the Black Isle. With heavy traffic now diverted to the Kessock Bridge near the mouth of Beauly Firth, the streets of Muir of Ord are quiet and the village, built of red sandstone, has an air of repose that it lacked for many years.
At one time the village was an important market centre, with drovers bringing cattle from all directions to be sold.
Set at the mouth of the valley of the River Beauly, this quiet, prosperous town serves as a focal point for the scattered farms around it and as a dormitory town for Inverness. The river meanders past the town to the Firth, where vast mud-flats are the home of a variety of waders and wildfowl.
The main street is dominated by the war memorial and the ruins of 13th-century Beauly Priory, which contains a fine monument to Sir Kenneth Mackenzie dating from the 16th century.
There is an attractive walk through the Reelig Glen, 3 miles south-east of Beauly. Leave the main road south of Kirkhill along a lane signposted to Moniack Castle and Clunes, then turn along an unmarked lane, leading to a car park just before the bridge.
Rising to 556 ft above the Beauly Firth and Inverness, Craig Phadrig provides varied walks through open woodland to the remains of an Iron Age vitrified fort on the hilltop. This fort is said to have been the stronghold of King Brude, a ruler of the Picts, and it commands wide views of the Moray and Beauly Firths, and of the mountains to the west.
To find the hill, cross the Caledonian Canal on the A82, then turn north towards Leachkin. After about a mile, take the turning on the left signposted to Craig Phadrig Hospital, and then after a further quarter of a mile turn right towards Upper Leachkin and Blackpark. The car park, with a map of the woods, is 100 yds further on.
PRINCE’S SAVIOUR A statue of Flora MacDouald, who aided Prince Charles Edward’s escape in 1746, stands at Inverness Castle.
Straddling the Caledonian Canal and the River Ness at the eastern end of the Great Glen, Inverness has come to be known as the ‘Capital of the Highlands’. Its dominating feature is its castle, built in the 19th century on the site of earlier buildings. Today the castle serves as a court house and as administrative offices for the council. In 1921 Inverness was the scene of the first cabinet meeting held outside London, when ministers met in the Town House because Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, was on holiday in northern Scotland.
The oldest building in Inverness, Aber-tarff House in Church Street, built in 1592, is owned by the National Trust for Scotland. The museum in Castle Wynd contains relics of the 1745 Uprising. There are displays on archaeology and local and natural history, and an exhibition on the life of the clans. The steeple that stands at the junction of Church Street and Bridge Street is all that remains of the ancient Tolbooth.
It is to the River Ness that the town owes its earliest development, and there are pleasant walks along the banks – especially to the Ness Islands, where a series of bridges carries the visitor from one island to the next along a maze of wooded paths.
The Caledonian Canal that links the Moray Firth to Loch Ness and the west coast has become a centre for pleasure craft. There are boats for hire, and cruises on the loch.
Open farmland and dark forest cover the site of the last battle fought on British soil, and the clash of steel, the thunder of guns and the cries of fighting men have given way to bird-song and the sound of an occasional car. But the 19th-century cairn and the gravestones marking the burial places of the clans recall the bloody engagement of 1746, when the Duke of Cumberland’s army defeated that of Prince Charles Edward and finally dissipated Stuart hopes of the throne.
The National Trust for Scotland owns the site and has established an Information Centre, an audio-visual exhibition and a museum in the old Leanach farmhouse that witnessed some of the most desperate moments of the fight. A waymarked trail takes in landmarks of the battle, but the scene in 1746 is difficult to envisage, since the area was then mostly open moor.
Just over a mile to the south-east lie graves of more ancient times. The Clava Cairns date from the late Stone Age and are surrounded by rings of standing stones. The site is reached by proceeding east from Culloden for a few hundred yards, then turning south on a signposted route.
Built after the defeat of the 1745 Uprising, Fort George is one of the finest 18th-century artillery fortresses in Europe. The visitor, entering by two tunnels through the ramparts and over a wooden bridge, is immediately struck by the power of the defences; every approach is covered by at least two cannon-lined walls, and often more.
Within the ramparts are the elegant Georgian barracks and the Regimental Museum of the Queen’s Own Highlanders. Other parts of the building are also open to the public. The guardhouse near the principal entrance has a permanent exhibition of plans of the fort, and from the ramparts there are fine views of the Black Isle and the Moray Firth.
Standing strong and defiant amid woods of beech and oak, the ancient castle of Cawdor has been the home of the Thanes, later the Earls, of Cawdor for many centuries. The dominating 14th-century keep was added to in the 17th century to change what had been a powerful fortress into a comfortable, but still defensible, home. The castle is still occupied by the sixth earl, which gives a lived-in air to the many elegant rooms.
The mellow stone from which the house is built combines with the calm atmosphere created by the surrounding trees to give the castle a pleasant and friendly air. The rooms contain a superb collection of family portraits, as well as tapestries and some excellent furniture. Around the castle are three separate gardens in varied styles.
PLACES TO SEE INLAND
Corrimony, 20 miles SW of Inverness, via A831. Neolithic cairn and standing stones. Daily.
Fort Augustus, 32 miles SW of Inverness. 19th-century abbey, guided tours daily in summer; Great Glen Exhibition, history of Great Glen, daily in summer.
Loch Ness Monster Exhibition, Drumnadrochit, near Strone, 14 miles SW of Inverness. Daily.
Urquhart Castle, near Strone, 14 miles SW of Inverness. 14th century. Daily.