Fearn Balintore and Hilton Community Collage

Chapter 2 - Sidelights

Until the Church of Scotland was torn asunder by various schisms everyone attended their own parish church. This meant that  Shandwick people went to Nigg Old Church while those in Balintore and Hilton went to Fearn Abbey.

The first break with the established church occurred in Nigg in 1754 when a new minister, Patrick Grant, was imposed on the congregation against their wishes as a result of Crown patronage.  They flatly refused to accept him as their minister and after considerable wrangling a large part of the congregation seceded and asked the General Associate Presbytery of Perth to take them under their wing. About 1763 the Associate Church obtained a site at Ankerville and built a simple heather-roofed meeting house where they worshipped under Patrick Buchanan from 1765-99. [30]

The heritors, who supported the parish church, were not at all happy about this arrangement and it is said that they decided that Mr. Buchanan should be the last Secession minister in Nigg, and for that reason they pulled down the meeting house. This is not quite accurate as in fact its dismantling only took place when the farmer who had given the Seceders the lease died and his own lease expired, whereupon the laird, Lord Ankerville, claimed site and building and took the stones to build Shandwick House in Kildary.  [9]

Pitcalnie Estate then provided a site at Chapelhill for a new church and the congregation carried to it in creels what stones and rubble were left of their meeting house. The new building was finished about 1803, standing parallel to the road, but by 1870 they were unable to have the winter Communion there as it was unsafe for a large
congregation. The following summer the building was pulled down and rebuilt in 1872 facing the road, where it still stands.  [3O]

This Nigg Associate Church, which became the United Presbyterian Church in 1847, was more than just a secession from Nigg. It included people from other parishes who were dissatisfied with their own ministers' doctrine or had religious problems and the wide area it covered is shown in the districts into which the congregation was divided in 1862: (I) Parish of Tarbat; (2) Balintore and Parish of Fearn; (3) Shandwick to Easter Rarichie; and (4) Wester Rarichie westwards. This explains why so many people from Balintore and Fearn still attend Chapelhill church, [3O] which was re-united with Nigg
old Church in 1966.

In Fearn the first split in the church occurred with the Disruption in 1843. A Hilton man, Captain Mackay, was one of those who came out then and took an active part in the building of the first church in which the Free Church congregation worshipped. He became one of the elders and Congregational Treasurer and in 1899 his grandson, D. M. Munro, Glasgow, presented a bell in his memory to the new church which had been built on the old site in 1897.

Many people who were victims of the Clearances were members of the Free Church, but especially those in Hilton. When Hilton was still just one long line of houses it was known as 'Tir Goshen', the land of Goshen, for in every house there was a truly God-fearing man, Israelites spiritually, who were noted all over the Highlands for their Godliness.

The Free Presbyterian congregation worshipped in a corrugated iron church between Tullich and Fearn, now replaced by a church at Hilton.

The United Free Continuing congregation came into being in 1929 when those who refused to join the Church of Scotland, which Chapelhill now was, formed their own group in Balintore. They took over Chapelhill's meeting house there and, at great personal sacrifice, turned it into a fine church and also built a manse. Chapelhill Church
built a meeting house in Balintore to replace the one handed over to the United Free Continuing congregation.

People from the villages also attended the Central Church in Fearn before it amalgamated with Fearn Abbey recently.  The church played an active part in the life of the people, providing education and relief for the poor, as has been seen in other chapters.  In the days when there was no police force, they supplied discipline as well, covering everything from drunkenness and opprobrious language to morals and Sabbath profanation. One particular case was in 1721 when the Presbytery was informed 'that there was a very great Sabbath profanation committed in the parishes of Fearn and Nigg upon the Lord's Day on the 8th of this month (January) by some Custom House officers and a party of soldiers who pressed horses and carried goods in carts, the said day, in the time of Divine Worship, from the Port of Hilton in the Parish of Fearn to the Ferry-side of Cromarty in the Parish of Nigg.' The Presbytery asked for advice as to how they should 'behave thereanent' but in the end it was too difficult to find out to which Kirk Sessions the soldiers belonged, so the matter was dropped.  [29]


Quarrying at Balintore c.1930

There were several severe famines, especially 1783 which was known as the Black Year. The grain crop failed and the shortage of meal was so acute that the Government had to step in with supplies. Oddly enough, the parish of Fearn does not seem to have been seriously affected although Nigg on one side and Tarbat on the other were
badly hit. Shandwick, however, figures in the list of a hundred and seventeen needy households drawn up by the Nigg Kirk Session. The area was severely affected by a potato famine in 1851, somewhat later than the date usually given.

In the mid-nineteenth century there were several years of bad gales, but the worst one of all was in 1840 when for twelve weeks there was no white fishing all round the coasts. This meant desperate hunger and there can have been little compensation in the fact that the fishing just afterwards was the best for forty years.  [8d]   Old people remember being told of the great hardship caused by these gales, and the school log book shows how the great snowstorm of 1895 affected the Seaboard, closing the school for a week.

Parts of the coast presented ideal landing places for smugglers and the presence of Custom House officers at Hilton in 1721 implies that there was a good reason for them being there. Bishop Forbes in his 'Journal' in 1770 mentions that Macleod of Cadboll kept the best wines in his house4 and more recently bottles with the family crest, for home-filling from barrels, were found hidden in the rafters of the grieve's house there, so it appears that the Macleods were not unacquainted with smugglers. A patch of ivy on the cliff below Cadboll is said to cover a tunnel leading up to the house.

The villages had little cover for illicit distilling, but it took place all the same, at least in Shandwick. The Hill of Nigg was a favourite place for this activity. John Matheson, blacksmith at Wester Rarichie about the turn of this century, had a still a little way up the gully from Port an Righ and as late as 1939 barley husks were found lying at the site of the still. His whisky is said to have been excellent!

Even a quiet backwater like the Seaboard felt the heavy hand of the Press Gang and stories are told of how fishermen and press gangers fought a battle of wits from time to time. One one occasion the fishermen managed to land at Geanies and hide in the bracken to evade capture. They made their way home overland eventually and sent a woman at night to bring home the boat, using two oars herself.  The press gang had waited until nightfall hoping to catch the crew but finding only a woman they had to let her go. She was called henceforth, in Gaelic, 'Effie of the Two Oars.'

It appears that two old industries were carried on just south of Shandwick - burning of kelp on the shore and quarrying of mill stones from the millstone quarry at Port an Righ. [7]

Continued in Chapter 3
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