Fearn Balintore and Hilton Community Collage

Chapter 1 - Growth of the communities


There is abundant evidence of the presence of human life on the Seaboard from early days. A short cist containing a crouching skeleton was found in 1945 by Finlay MacLeod when laying water pipes to the Cedar Bungalow at Shandwick (map ref. NH 8558 7465)
and he also found several large stones indicating another burial site in the vicinity (map ref. NH 8566 7461) but these he left undisturbed.  Other ancient burials were found near the Swedish houses in Balintore and also near Ross Crescent, one at any rate also in a cist, which may date it, and that found by Finlay MacLeod, from the Bronze Age. It is believed that many raids were made on both north and south sides of the Moray Firth and that bloody battles were fought there between the Vikings and the Picts. Slochd Geal (white hollow) in Balintore had a reputation which made timid people afraid to pass by at night and it was only when excavations were made for house-building that human bones were found there, believed to have been the victims of some battle long ago. Traces of a Druid presence may also be found in two local place names. According to W. J. Watson who wrote authoritatively on Ross-shire place names, the word 'druidh' meaning a 'druid' occurs twice in the area, at Port an Druidh, the Druid's port, and Cadha
Port an Druidh, path of the Druid's port.2* On maps the spelling is given as 'righ', not 'druidh', the version given by Watson. According to the School of Scottish Studies, it is local pronunciation that is of paramount importance in understanding place names as it is it that continues the real tradition of the name, whereas the map name was often supplied to map-makers by either the minister or the schoolmaster who, unfortunately, were seldom local men. Place names were not given without a cause and they usually establish a fact about the place concerned, so in this case it is reasonable to suppose a Druidic influence at some point in the Seaboard area.
*See References on page 167.



The Picts were active in Easter Ross as a whole as the many Pit- place names show, and they left some of their finest workmanship near the villages. These are the Shandwick and Hilton of Cadboll standing stones; a third stood in the Nigg Old Churchyard and is now inside the church. Authorities on the subject say that these are Pictish symbol stones of around 800 A.D. Dr. Isobel Henderson says in her book 'The Picts' that the quality of relief sculpture among the Picts was extremely high and that in the north this technical brilliance was well represented in the Hilton of Cadboll stone, which stood to the west of a chapel at Hilton until it was removed by R. B. A. MacLeod of Cadboll (1818-88) to the grounds of Invergordon Castle. On the demolition of the castle in 1928 it was sent to the British Museum but so loud were the protests about this that it was transferred to the Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh where it now stands, exceedingly handsome and outshining all the other stones around it. Its base is said to have been left behind at Hilton, to have been dressed and incorporated into the lintel of a house and, in spite of much searching it has never been rediscovered.  Fortunately the Shandwick stone has not been removed and it still stands in a field just above the west end of that village. It was blown down in 1874 and broken into three pieces but has been repaired with iron banding on its original site, which had a flagstone base added in 1776. The Statistical Account of the 1790's gave its Gaelic name of 'Clach a Charridh' translated as 'stone of the burial place', saying that the area around it has been used until about 1790 as a graveyard and was used once again during the cholera outbreak of 1832. It was referred to at that time in the Nigg Kirk Session minutes as the 'old burying-ground at Clachcarry'. Unbaptized children were buried there well into into the late 1800s2 and according to A. Polson, a local writer on Highland folklore, so were suicides. The graveyard area was ultimately ploughed up by the tenant about 1885. The stone is about eight feet high and bears on the seaward side the Cross, proof that Christianity came early to the area. In the spaces alongside the shaft of the Cross there are animals and what appears to be a figure.  The other side shows processions and hunting scenes and also two Pictish symbols, the elephant and the double disc. It is becoming very weathered and the question of how it should be cared for is becoming a matter of urgency.

Not surprisingly, such striking stones have stories attached to them which are better known than the facts. Legend has it that they were erected to mark the burial places of three Norse princes who were wrecked on a reef just off Shandwick Bay. Their bodies were washed ashore at Hilton, Shandwick and below Nigg. The story goes that the princes' sister married the Earl of Ross to seal a truce and came to live at Balnagown Castle. 


Shandwick Stone - prior to conservation

Her complaints of her husband's ill-treatment caused him to banish her to Ballone Castle near Rockfield, but with the help of a servant she managed to contact her father and escape to her home. The Earl went in pursuit but failed to recapture her. Her brothers, the princes, chased him back to Scotland and nearly caught up with him but the wily earl, when nearing the reef, saw a way of escape. He led his pursuers on to it while he himself slipped through a channel, and thus caused the wreck of their boat and the loss of their lives. In stormy weather this channel can still be seen which lends weight to the legend. The reef is called the King's Sons or the Three Kings and also has a Gaelic name, Creag Harail, Harold's Rock, though no one knows who this Harold might be. [2]  (It is just inland from this reef that the druid/king place names are found.)

Going back to the religious significance of the stones, another early Christian influence appears in the name of St. Cormac's well near Old Shandwick farm. [1]  Cormack was the brother from whom Columba sought King Brude's protection in the 6th century2 and it is said that Columba himself had an establishment near Port Lark.  During the Dark Ages, little is known of what went on in Scotland, although a few dates and facts emerge. Norsemen began plundering and raiding, firstly on the west coast, and then on the east, until they held much of the Highland area. Their power was at its height under Thorfinn who died in 1064, after which their influence contracted steadily northwards. Norse supremacy in Easter Ross lasted a mere two hundred years or so and though they came as raiders and conquerors, the people of Shandwick and the other villages take great pride in claiming Norse ancestry. The name Shandwick is certainly of
Norse origin, from Sand-vik, and-bay,2 and the surname Vass may be so too, although it is possible that this name may be of Norman extraction, from Vaux or de Valli bus. This is not so impossible as it may sound because Dunskaith Castle, in the adjoining parish of Nigg, is said to be a Norman ring castle although no Norman baron received a grant of land in Ross-shire.

Shandwick is a compact village, with an unusual feature in that two of its streets are in separate halves, presumably because the houses in between have disappeared. Many of the Rosses in Shandwick are said to be descendants of Rosses evicted from Glencalvie near Ardgay during the Highland Clearances of the 19th century, thus bringing new blood into the community.  Balintore is the central village. Its name is Gaelic in origin - Bail-an-Todhair, bleaching town, a reminder of the days when flax was
grown in the north of Scotland.2 An earlier name is given as Port an Ab - Abbot's Port, Abbotshaven2 and this last name still appears on the title deeds of a house in John Street. The Abbey or Fearn was established in 1238 or 1242 so presumably its Abbots were those referred to. One division of the Abbey lands was called Catboll-Abbot [3] and this name still appears on the title deeds of a house in Park Street.

Being a seaport for a thriving Abbey must have encouraged early development in Balintore. The construction of a road from Hill of Fearn to Balintore in 1819 and the building of the harbour in 1890-96 all contributed to its growth and it is now the main village and focal point of the whole community.

An item in Cadboll Estate papers is thought to be an early reference to what was then called the Fishertown of Hilton - between 1561-66 the rental of Fearn Abbey included, 'The Fishers' 8 acres, which never payed a penny, but given to them for the purpose of dwelling upon and for furnishing fish to the place and County upon the Countries expenses, [4] which makes it appear that Hilton was specially developed as a fishing village.

By 1610 Hilton was known as Balnaknok from the Gaelic, Bail' a' chnuic, town of the cliffs.  [2] The parish records of Fearn list the communicants of both Hilton and Hilltown as though they were separate villages, though possibly a newer addition of Hilton fusing
with the older part may be the explanation. A plan of Hilton in 1813 shows only two streets with a total of twenty-four houses. Like Shandwick it provided refuge for victims of the Clearances so that by 1832 there were fifty-eight families, and a later plan of around 1908 shows how great an increase in population there had been during the 19th century. Many of the MacKays now in Hilton came originally from around Helmsdale in Sutherland during that time.  Blacktown is shown on the 1813 map as a hamlet on the raised beach above the chapel at Hilton with people living there certainly till the middle of the 19th century. [5]  Beyond it lies Cadboll where the ruins of Cadboll Castle still stand. This name is derived from the Norse Kattar-bol, cat-stead, as it seems that the cliffs there were the haunt of wild cats.2 Further east along the shore from Hilton there
are the foundations of what may have been an older Hilton, but which are more probably the homes of crofter-fishermen or little farmsteads when the land there was cultivated.  A six-inch map of the Seaboard shows the site of a castle just south of Old Shandwick farm. It was built about 1460 by William Ross of Little Allan, great-grandson of the last Earl of Ross, but because there is no evidence of a moat or fosse on the ground, it is not thought to have been built for defensive purposes. The materials of which it was constructed were removed long before 1872. Connected with this castle was a chapel whose walls were still standing about the 1790s [6a]  but they gradually disappeared and anything that remained of them and the castle were destroyed in quarrying during the 1939-45 war. What does remain, however, are one or two gravestones in an old graveyard at the farm which adjoined the chapel, which is now
mostly under a silage pit. 

Hilton also had a chapel whose foundations can still be seen and the chapel well is still in existence. The chapel site is scheduled in terms of the Ancient Monuments Acts. This was St. Mary's Chapel or 'Our Ladyis Chapell' as it was called in 1610, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. [2]  The street leading towards it is called Lady Street, and nearby was Bard
Mhoire, Mary's Meadow; there was a well called Oure Lady-Well, Lady's rock under Cadboll, and Lady's well near a small graveyard by the chapel where, as at Shandwick, unbaptized children were buried!

Continued in Chapter 2

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