Dingwall Places

Dingwall Community Collage
The modern Castle House and (foreground) relics of the original Dingwall Castle.  [Photo source unknown]

The Doocot

The following is an excerpt from ' The Romance of a Royal Burgh' by Norman Macrae,  first published in 1923 (page 56.).

James IV took a direct and personal interest in his Ross-shire properties, and made several visits to the Castle of Dingwall (these will be referred to in the next chapter), Kinnairdie Farm being specially called upon to provide not only for the King but for his deputies.

In 1507, James appointed Andro, Bishop of Caithness, his Chamberlain of Ross and Custodier of the Royal Castles of "Dingville" and Ardmeanach (Redcastle).

The Bishop held office for nine years, and he was given the rents of lands, woods, and castles partly to help the repairs of Dingwall Castle and the Red Castle.

Interesting references to Dingwall Castle are made in the reports furnished to his Royal master by Governor Andro. From these we gather that extensive repairs and additions were made to the Castle on account of (1) an attempt made by Red Hector, Tutor of Kintail, to seize the stronghold and so possess it by right of might - the Mackenzies of Kintail made several attempts previously to possess themselves of Dingwall Castle, but no Mackenzie held it until its glory departed, when it came into the hands of the Rev. Colin Mackenzie of Fodderty, who was the grandfather of the wife of Dr Kennedy of Dingwall - and (2) the incursions of west coasters under Sir Donald Macdonald of Lochalsh, the Macdonalds coming and going for thirteen months. During this anxious time the Bishop-Governor records that he had to provide additional defence works and to employ extra soldiers. A "perch of land" was bought from some person in the town (quite an interesting fact) for the purpose of bringing the "pit" to the Castle (what the "pit" was is not defined) and in order to strengthen the defences he bought "engines of war - serpentines, hagbuttis, culveringis, hand-bowies, arrows, halberts, laith-axes, jeddart staves, the powder callit lezgunpulder. . . and mony utheris thingis."

Governor Andro attended to the amenities of the Castle grounds as well as to the defensive strength of the structure. One of the three remaining ruin-relics of the Castle is what is still known as the "doo' cot." This originally was one of the corner towers of the old Castle, but was transformed by the Bishop into a dove cot after the type of the Norman towers, with low domed vaulted roof, having nest holes built into the wall on the inside.

Dingwall Features

Sir Hector Macdonald Memorial, Dingwall.

Hector Archibald MacDonald was a fine solider who rose from the rank of private to become commanding officer of a Highland Brigade in the time of Queen Victoria. An almost impossible feat when the only entry into the Commissioned Corps was by the right of birth, wealth and by the proper connections.

He was the son of a Crofter (small farmer) in the Black isle, across the firth from the monument. He enlisted into the 92nd Gordon Highlanders on the 11th of June 1870, having previously served with the local volunteers.  On enlisting into the regular army, Hector MacDonald took his soldiering very seriously from the outset. This dedication and his application to his army career ensured his rapid promotion through the ranks to become a high ranking officer. During his service in the Queen's Colours, he served in countries such as India, Afghanistan, South Africa, Ceylon and the Egyptian Sudan, for which he received numerous decorations and orders.

Due to grave charges brought against him by high ranking officials, he took his own life while staying in a Paris hotel. These charges were never substantiated.

MacDonald was subsequently interred in Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh. An obelisk memorial with bronze bust was erected over his grave in 1905.

Sir Hector is also remembered by a slender telescope-like tower memorial at Mulbuie, near his birthplace.

But the most significant monument to MacDonald is the national memorial in Dingwall. This was constructed between 1904 and 1907 (architect James Sandford Kay), its hundred foot high tower dominating the hillside above the town. Its main features are slender whinstone tower projecting from the rubbly sandstone base and the balistered parapet around the corbelled top platform. This in turn is surmounted by a castellated cap-house.  Panoramic views may be obtained from the top of the monument on a clear day, giving a true impression of the northern Highlands, as well as the ancient burgh of Dingwall in the hollow below. Settlement was confined to the south side of the river Peffrey and when the monument was erected development did not extend north of the Peffrey until after the War. During this period, the population rose from 2800 to the present 5000.

Further information on the life of Sir Hector MacDonald can be obtained in "THE RANKER" by Kenneth I.E. Macleod, available from the Dingwall Museum Trust, Town House, High Street, Dingwall IV15 9RY.

The memorial tower in course of construction.

The Cromartie obelisk.

The current Cromartie Monument is situated within the car park to the south of St Clement's church. A strange place for a monument, let alone a tomb, but on reflection a rather suitable place for the clever and worldly 1st Earl of Cromartie who was buried there on the 23rd of September 1714, nearly a month after his death. He was a leading Scottish figure of his day: Secretary of State for Scotland and Lord Justice-General and having been in public office for 60 years he retired back home to Ross and Cromarty to die at the grand age of 84.

Obelisk before demolition.

The present obelisk dates from 1921, built by the then Countess of Cromartie after the original was demolished in 1920. The original was a thinner and taller version, erupting from level ground with no trace of ornamentation surrounding it. This 65ft version was affected by the earthquake in 1800 and subsequently developed a pronounced lean which eventually led to its demolition.

It used to be called ‘The Pyramid’ by locals and such was the lack of external information that all memory and evidence that the 1st Earl was actually buried there had long been forgotten. Folklore suggested that the supposed vault was to the west of the obelisk where some of the older inhabitants had witnessed a local boy getting his head stuck within the iron gate that guarded the vault. It was also reported that it took a blacksmith from Inverness to remove the gate from the lad's head, no Dingwall tradesman being up to the task!

However the mystery was satisfactorily resolved on the 19th August 1875. Since there was no external evidence of any kind and the ground surrounding the obelisk was absolutely level, the dig was started on the west side where the story of the gate and the unfortunate boy originated from. Despite a deep trench, nothing was found which led credence to the story that the 1st Earl had been buried next to his beloved second wife, Margaret, The Countess of Wemyss, in the Wemyss vault. However, a second trench excavated to the south of the obelisk discovered four wooden coffins and a lead one nearest to the obelisk which had his name and date of death inscribed on it. Within this lead covering were a further pair of wooden coffins in excellent preservation with the original velvet still partially intact. His skeleton measured 6ft 2ins and corresponded to contemporary descriptions of him. This disinterment happened on the 10th of September and was undertaken on behalf of the family who wished to settle the matter once and for all. All was replaced as before and there is now a modern flower bed and surrounding wall protecting the immediate environs of the obelisk.

We are now left to find the identity of the four other bodies. The 1st Earl's immediate forbears were all buried in the nearby churchyard but he had in his lifetime enclosed about two-thirds of an acre to the south (now the car park), in the centre of which he constructed the obelisk. It is entirely possible his first wife Anne is there and other relatives too but currently nothing is known.

[Research by David and Sandra Macdonald of Dingwall resulted in excavation of the car park in 2014 to reveal the site of Dingwall's Viking parliament or 'Thing'.  When time permits, RCHS will add details.]

St Clement's Pictish Stone.

Across the road from the Cromartie car park, the stone now stands in the churchyard to the south of the church and just within the gateway. During renovations to the church in 1878 Mr William Jones discovered the stone being used as a lintel over one of the doors. Its original provenance is unknown. The rectangular slab of mica schist has the double disc and Z-rod and two crescent and V-rods on one side. The other side of the slab has three circles, a crescent and V-rod, and six cup marks. All of the symbols are incised and the stone is therefore a class 1 symbol stone dating from the 5th - 7th centuries A.D.
[Text and photographs provided by Dr. Tony Woodham.]

Ref.: "St Clements looks back" D. D. MacDonald, 1976, p. 35.

Pefferside Park.  [Photo courtesy of Dingwall Camera Club]

Town House Clock

The clock on the tower of Dingwall Town House has proved to be of great benefit to the townsfolk over many years, with its east- and west-facing dials and chimes.  Over the years weather had affected the structure, leading to the tower requiring masonry and wood repairs and the clock, refurbishment..

In the summer of 2014 scaffolding was erected round the stone and timber tower in order  that the project, commissioned by Highland Council, might commence.  The overall cost, £197,000, was met by the Council, Highland Leader programme and Historic Scotland.

The work in question included an analysis of eight layers of paintwork, the final revealing a pale  grey which is thought to be the shade favoured as a means of mimicking expensive leadwork.  All the wood of the tower was stripped back and reinstated in this, historic, colour.   Traditional lime harling was used to protect eroded masonry.  The clock's faces and machinery were stripped back and restored.

Painting the clock face.

Dingwall High Street from clock tower.
[Photos courtesy of the Editor of the Ross-shire Journal and photographer Gary Anthony.]

Dingwall's War Memorials      Click to view

Return to home page
Terms & Conditions     © Ross and Cromarty Heritage