Cromarty Famous People

Cromarty Community Collage



Hugh Miller Cromarty Trail

Welcome to the Cromarty of Hugh Miller

Lying at the northern point of the peninsula known as the Black Isle, the ancient and former Royal burgh of Cromarty commands the entry to the deep natural harbour of the Cromarty Firth, once the summer base of the Home Fleet and now frequented by North Sea oil rigs on rest and recuperation. Surrounded by rich farmland, which prospered during the Napoleonic Wars, the town grew in social importance during the reign of George 111.

Hugh Miller, born on 10 October 1802, in this prosperous late Georgian seaport town, was to become well- known as a geologist and naturalist, writer and folklorist. He died in the early years of Queen Victoria's reign, having witnessed many changes in the nineteenth century society.

Cromarty still retains the atmosphere of that bygone age, and with this brief guide the visitor may discover something of the town's rich past.



The numbers on the map above refer to key features, associated with Hugh Miller. 

1. Hugh Miller's Cottage, Church Street
2. Miller House, Church Street
3. Hugh Miller Memorial, off the Paye
4. The Former Parish School, Shore Street
5. The Old Parish Church (the East Church), Church Street
6. The Old Graveyard of St Regulus,Castle Brae
7. The Gaelic Chapel, Kirty Brae
8. The Courthouse (or Town House),Church Street
9. The Harbour
10. The Old Ropeworks and Hempworks, Marine Terrace
11. The Old Brewery, Burnside Place
12. Forsyth House, High Street
13. Cromarty House
14. Cromarty House Stables
15. The Ice House and Salmon Bothy, The Links
16. Lighthouse and Keepers' Cottages, George Street
17. St Ann's, Church Street
18. Bellvue House, Church Street
19. The Retreat, Church Street
20. West Church, High Street
21. The Vennels of Fishertown
22. Bank House, Bank Street
23. The Fish Fossil Beds, Shore Path
24. The South Sutor
25. Eathie Foreshore and Fishing Station

1. Hugh Miller's Cottage, Church Street

The birthplace of Hugh Miller, 10 October 1802. Cottage built in 1711 by John Fiddes, his great-great-grandfather, using his prize money as a sailor on the Spanish Main. Cottage interior features a "hanging lum", a chimney canopy of wood and daub, used for smoking fish. In the care of the National Trust for Scotland.


 This photograph was taken during 'Open Doors Day' in September 2010 and shows the work of re-thatching the roof of the cottage nearing completion. In the same weekend it was announced that an anonymous benefactor had gifted £600,000 towards the upkeep of the property.  [Photo RCHS]

The work in question was initiated by the National Trust for Scotland assisted by grant aid under the Historic Scotland annual repair grant scheme. With riverbed-grown reed thatch, master thatcher Graham Carter, from Yaxley, Cambridgeshire, used 1600 reed bundles on the main part of the roof and topped it with a ridge of English straw, over a period of 8-10 weeks. This is the first time the cottage has been re-thatched since 1977, when reed from the River Tay, Perthshire, was used. It is anticipated that the new roof will last for over 50 years.

2. Miller House, Church Street
Built by Hugh Miller's seafaring father about 1800.
Later lived in by Miller and his wife Lydia when he was employed as an accountant by the Commercial Bank in Cromarty, before leaving for Edinburgh in January 1840, to become editor of "The Witness". In the care of the National Trust for Scotland.

3. Hugh Miller Memorial, off the Paye
The monument which towers above his birthplace was erected in 1859, following Miller's death in Portobello on 24 December 1856. The column is topped by the statue of Miller carved by Handyside Ritchie, and is a favourite perch for seagulls.
The Paye, a steeply cobbled lane, was once the main entry into Cromarty, leading to "the King's Ferry", an important part of the route north to the shrine of St Duthac in Tain. James IV is said to have used the ferry eighteen times, the last just weeks before he died at the Battle of Flodden in 1513.

4. The Former Parish School, Shore Street
The single-storeyed building (The Anchorage, now a private residence) was once the school attended by Hugh Miller. He vividly describes his early years in "My Schools & Schoolmasters", referring to the cock-fighting which was condoned, and the fact that he was expelled following a brawl with the schoolmaster. However, Miller was largely self-taught, having access to the books of his uncles and others who took an interest in him. Samuel Smiles, the author of "Self Help", used Miller as an example to others.


5. The Old Parish Church (the East Church), Church Street


Photograph taken during 'Open Doors Day' in September 2010 when the renovation of the East Church was nearing completion following work carried out by The Scottish Redundant Churches Trust.  Photograph shows graves and wall in protective covering and duckboards protecting the graveyard.





A 16th century building of national importance, now in the care of the Scottish Redundant Churches Trust. Hugh Miller worshipped here. Its unaltered interior reflects the development of Presbyterian worship. The galleries, or lofts, were added for the growing congregation. The Cromartie Loft of 1756 contains a fine hatchment with the arms of George Ross of Pitkerrie and Cromarty. Miller as editor of "The Witness", the newspaper of the evangelical wing of the Church of Scotland, had a major influence on public opinion which, in May 1843, led to the Act of Separation (popularly referred to as "The Disruption"), and the establishment of the Free Church of Scotland. Miller's work as a stonemason can be seen in some of the gravestones in this church yard.

6. The Old Graveyard of St Regulus, Castle Brae
A short grassy path leads to the old graveyard. It is the site of the medieval Chapel of St Regulus. There are some interesting table-tombstones and the Ross of Cromarty family crypt. Hugh Miller's infant daughter, Elizabeth Logan, lies buried here. The small scalloped stone marking her grave was Miller's last known work as a stonemason.

7. The Gaelic Chapel, Kirty Brae
Now a picturesque ruin, it was built by John Ross, the improving laird, in 1783 to provide a chapel for the Gaelic-speaking worshippers from the neighbouring parishes.
The many sailors who perished on the "HMS Natal" when it exploded at anchor on 30 December 1915 lie buried here. It is possible to reach this chapel from the Denny Road, following a path known as the Stroopie Road to the Paye.


8. The Courthouse (or Town House), Church Street

Built between 1771 and 1773 also by George Ross, using funds from the commissioners of the Annexed Estates (land forfeited after the unsuccessful 1745 Jacobite Rising). The building was used for the sittings of the Sheriff Court and for other official purposes. The high perimeter wall and the cell block was added in 1847. The Town council and the Burgh Magistrates continue to use the building until the 1960s. It was later restored as an award-winning museum in 1991, and is run by a locally based Trust. The Museum presents the social history of Cromarty in a most imaginative way.



9. The Harbour
Cromarty's trading boom in the 18th century owes much to William Forsyth, who saw the potential to serve the wider Cromarty Firth. Forsyth's enterprise laid the bases after 1772 for the town's development by George Ross, which included the construction of the harbour by John Smeaton 1781 and 1784. It was in this period that Cromarty assumed its present appearance, reflecting its economic prosperity. In 1828, Invergordon improved its harbour piers and, with direct access to the rich hinterland of the Cromarty Firth, it prospered at the expense of Cromarty.

10. The Old Ropeworks and Hempworks, Marine Terrace
This extensive red sandstone building is one of the earliest examples of a factory building in Scotland, built by George Ross about 1775 for hempwork and later ropemaking introduced in 1805. Since the 1980s, it has been adapted to provide local authority housing, when a central building was taken down.

11. The Old Brewery, Burnside Place
Established in 1776, this was another of George Ross's enterprises, intended to wean the populance away from whisky. It was converted in 1989 by the Cromarty Arts Trust as a residential study centre and community facility. It is leased to Robert Gordon University of Aberdeen, and it's modern facilities are used by many groups for educational or professional courses.

12. Forsyth House, High Street
Built in 1772, reflecting William Forsyth's position as the leading merchant of the town. The fine pinned (or Aberdeen-bonded) red sandstone frontage is particularly noteworthy, as are its 20 windows, which were an indication of Forsyth's wealth.

13. Cromarty House
The Cromarty estate was owned by the Urquhart family, Hereditary Sheriffs of Cromarty, from the mid 14th century. Sir Thomas Urquhart, (1611-60), a soldier, writer and translator of Rabelais, lived in a substantial towerhouse on this site. George Ross demolished it, building the neo-classical Cromarty House in its stead in 1772. The architect is unknown, but it has similarities to Culloden House near Inverness. An unusual feature is the servants' tunnel which leads to the main road, opposite St Regulus graveyard. The house is not open to the public.

14. Cromarty House Stables
This fine U-plan building, contemporary with the house, has a lofty plaster-lofted interior supported on elegant Tuscan columns. This was restored by the Cromarty Arts Trust and used as a space for artists working in many media, with a spacious conference and exhibition area on the upper floor.

15. The Ice House and Salmon Bothy, The Links
A 19th century vaulted building with a round-ended gable is set into the slope of Braehead, and turfed over to preserve an even temperature. It was used for the summer of ice needed to pack the salmon netted locally. On the shore nearby stands the salmon bothy, formerly used by the fishermen. The links to the west were at one time also used for processing herrings, which was subject to seasonal fluctuation. The shore to the east was used by the inshore fishing boats and was the site of the old fish market. Miller's literary reputation was established when, as the Cromarty correspondent to the "Inverness Courier", he wrote five vivid letters (articles) on the herring fishing, which were republished in pamphlet form.



16. Lighthouse and Keepers' Cottages, George Street
This was established in 1846 to the design of Alan Stevenson, one of a long line of lighthouse engineers drawn from the same family (related to Robert Louis Stevenson, the writer). The stumpy tower is flanked by Egyptian-style Keepers' Cottages, now used by the University of Aberdeen as a base for the scientific study of the seal and dolphin populations of the Moray Firth, which attract much international interest.

17. St Ann's, Church Street
A narrow three-storey house built for a Colonel Gordon in 1807. Its red sandstone frontage is galleted (or cherry-pointed) with fragments of contrasting dark slate. It is said to have been built to spoil the outlook of Bellvue House.

18. Bellvue House, Church Street
A substantial 18th century merchant's house of L-plan design, featuring crow stepped gables and rounded dormers, which are building elements to look out for on many other Cromarty buildings.

19 The Retreat, Church Street
A substantial 18th century merchant's house of L-plan design, featuring crow stepped gables and rounded dormers, which are building elements to look out for on many other Cromarty buildings.

20. West Church, High Street
Following the act of separation in May 1843, when a large number of ministers followed Thomas Chambers and other leaders out of the Church of Scotland, to form the free Church of Scotland, there was an urgent need for new churches, manses and parish schools. The West Church was originally built as the Free Church. It was rebuilt in 1866 around the grave of Alexander Stewart, the first Free Church Minister in Cromarty, and again restored in 1932 following a fire. The church is now the principal parish church, although the Old (or East) Parish Church is used for occasional services.

21. The Vennels of Fishertown
The medieval core of Cromarty lay at the foot of the causeway to the east, and the cluster of small houses to to the west of Burnside form the nucleus of the later Fishertown. The narrow lanes or "vennels" are worth exploring for their variety of building styles and the sense of a close community. Photographs of 1900 show very little change in the pattern of building. The former cobbled streets are now mostly covered by tarmacadam. The wives of fisherman no longer sit at their open doors baiting the fishing lines with mussels.

22. Bank House, Bank Street
This double-fronted house the location of the original agency for the Commercial Bank (later the National Commercial and ultimately the Royal Bank of Scotland). The first agent, Mr Ross, recruited Hugh Miller to become its accountant, and later his deputy. Between 1835 and 1840 Miller thus gained an insight into business affairs which was later to be useful when he became editor of "The Witness". In 1839, Miller composed his Open Letter to Lord Brougham against the judgment regarding Patronage (or the intrusion of Ministers). He sent a copy of his letter to Mr Robert Paul, the Commercial Bank Manager in Edinburgh with whom he trained. Paul was a staunch member of the evangelical wing of the Church of Scotland, which led to the invitation to Miller to become the first editor of "The Witness", which took him to Edinburgh in 1840, and his subsequent fame.

23. The Fish Fossil Beds, Shore Path
Trained as a stonemason, Hugh Miller developed his lifelong love of natural history into a highly focused study of geology, which led him to the descovery of the "fish beds", an argillaceous (shale) rock containing fish-bearing calcareous concretions of Middle Devonian age on the Cromarty shore. He desribed these fossils in his famous book "The Old Red Sandstone" which first appeared as a part-work in "The Witness", awakening the interest of many people in natural hisory. The fish fossil site along the shore path opposite the Reeds Park is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The shore path forms part of the 90-mile Black Isle Path Network.

24. The South Sutor
One of the two outstanding headlands which form the entrance to the Cromarty Firth. Miller, in his "Scenes and Legends", refers to the two shoemakers (or sutors) who threw tools to each other across the Cromarty Firth. In reality the Sutors are prominent hills of resistent psammitic granulite shot through by Caledonian intrusions of granite and earlier metamorphosed igneous dykes. The woodland cliff path (100 steps) to the South Sutor may be approached from the shore path beyond Reeds Park. The South Sutor provides spectacular views, especially to Morayshire where the Old Red Sandstone also occurs. Miller conducted a fascinating correspondence with fellow naturalists such as Patrick Duff, the Town Clerk of Elgin, who was responsible for the many similar fossil discoveries in Morayshire.

25. Eathie Foreshore and Fishing Station
This a key site for Miller's fossil discoveries, with many locations along the shore northwards towards the Eathie Burn and the Old Red Sandstone outcrops. The Eathie foreshore is reached from the main road to Rosemarkie, turning left at Newton Farm and then continuing past Eathie Farm to a well-signed track with a small carparking space. The Eathie Haven on the southeastern shore of the Black Isle contains fault-bounded Jurassic sediments of Kimmerdgian Age. These lie within the crush-zone of the extension of the Great Glen Fault, the same structure which defines the location of Loch Ness futher to the southwest. The well-constructed path which leads down to the foreshore gives good views of the coastline. The path leads to an old salmon bothy, once used by Cromarty fisherman when salmon-netting off this shore. Now a Site of Special Scientific Interest, ammonites and belemnites of the Jurassic measures can still be seen, and a variety of seabird and other flora and fauna make the excursion well worth the effort. Walkers need to be suitably dressed and reasonably fit for this strenuous walk.

Acknowledgements
Published by the Cromarty Arts Trust, which wishes to thank the Cromarty Courthouse Trustees, the Cromarty & District Community Council, the Narional Museums of Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage for advice and assistance with this publication.

Text edited by Lester Borley. Designed by Ian Boyter. Printed by Allander.

Photographs by Andrew Dowsett, Lester Borley, the Cromarty Courthouse Museum, the National Trust for Scotland and the Royal Commision on the Ancient and and Historical Monuments of Scotland. The Cromarty Arts Trust gratefully acknowledges the financial support received from the Ross & Cromarty Enterprise and Scottish Natural Heritage towards the cost of this publication.

Some further reading.
Cromarty: an illustrated guide - Cromarty & District Community Council (2001)
Hugh Miller in Context - Cromarty Arts Trust (2002)
Ross & Cromarty, a historical guide, by David Alston, publ. by Birlinn (1999)
A Noble Smuggler, by Martin Gostwick, publ. by Inverness Courier (1997)
Ross & Cromarty: an architecural guide, by Elizabeth Beaton, publ. by RIAS (1992)

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