Fearn Balintore and Hilton Community Collage

Chapter 22 - The Present Day - Further Changes on the Seaboard 1979

During the past decade considerable changes have taken place on the seaboard following the discovery of oil in the North Sea. One very important decision taken by the current authorities was the siting of oil-rig building facilities at Nigg Bay later known as the Highlands Fabricators (Hi-Fab).

As a result many workers had to be brought in to augment the local labour force available, and accommodation in the villages as elsewhere in Easter Ross was strained to bursting point. Consequently many of these men were accommodated to start with on two cruise liners moored at Nigg until housing was provided in the vicinity, after which these ships were withdrawn.

Now an era of great activity set in. As part of a large housing programme priority was given to a new Council estate in Balintore - nigh 200 modern houses were built to a Scandinavian design, roomy and comfortable with all mod-cons. The main street through the scheme was named Abbotshaven thus reviving the old name for Balintore, which was the 'port' of the Abbey at Fearn many centuries ago. (see Chap. on Growth of Communities).

During the oil boom in the 1970s the prosperity of the Seaboard flourished. This was seen in the erection of many private houses, and also in extensions made to many existing houses, thereby adding to the attractive appearance of the villages as the years passed.  The re-surfacing and the widening of the road through the three villages which comprised the Seaboard proved a much-needed facility in time to meet the increase in population, and all that that entailed. 

Hence some of the village shops were enlarged and modernised to keep pace with the times. Unfortunately as time passed the Shandwick shop closed down, also the shop in Hilton which latter closure was a bitter blow to the old folks as the Hilton sub-post-office had been closed some years earlier.

School photograph 1988, Hilton Primary.
The new well equipped school which had been built in 1960 was now well able to accommodate the growing school population and by 1977 had increased to 197 pupils. Today a decade later the total stands at 188, as there is no Junior Secondary department and all past Primary pupils proceed to Tain Royal Academy for their secondary education for the next 3-6 years. They travel by school bus each possessing his and her pass ticket. (see Chapter on Education)

Following on the drop in oil prices (1975) world-wide, there were unfortunate repercussions here in Easter Ross. The labour market became unsteady resulting in much unemployment. This set-back followed in the heels of the closure of the Aluminium Smelter at Invergordon, itself a bitter blow to the Highlands when hundreds of workers were made redundant. The uncertainty of work at Hi-Fab remains, and the future does not appear too rosy at the moment, February, 1988.

In the early 1980s oil was discovered in the outer Moray Firth (the Beatrice Field) and a pipeline leading to Nigg from it was laid through the inner Moray Firth making land-fall at Shandwick Bay.  Oil tanks to receive the oil had been built near the oil-rig building base.

All this activity eased the labour situation for a time together with important improvements within the Seaboard - e.g. a new Fire Station, an improved Sewerage System and a Football pitch and Pavilion.

The greatly increased traffic to Nigg made it inevitable that something be done to the roads. Now we have a splendid modern road leading to Nigg from the villages, and the familiar but dangerous 'cross-roads' above Balintore has vanished for ever.

From time to time one hears of new enterprises being started with Government help thus providing hopeful opportunities for young people and so present a challenge to the rising generation on the Seaboard. A ship-chandler's business has opened near the harbour in Balintore called King's Marine. The ever-expanding firm of W. H. MacKay & Son, Structural Engineers, Balmuchy also benefits the area.

Hilton-Fearn Free Church of Scotland.
During this prosperous and busy decade an interesting development worthy of mention took place in Hilton. The Fearn Free Church congregation, led and encouraged by their minister Rev. N. MacDonald MA decided that they needed a new church building.  This was to be situated in Hilton village where the bulk of the congregation live, more convenient in every way for an ageing people than the original church, some distance away in the middle of the Parish of Fearn. An attractive church was built, furnished and dedicated in 1979.

On 30th May last year (1987) a very unusual Service of Thanksgiving was held in  Chapelhill Parish Church. The occasion was to mark the centenary of a distinguished scholar born near Balintore in 1842, the Rev. John Ross DD and missionary to N. China and Korea and 100 years of organised Bible work in Korea. The Rev. K. MacFarlane, minister of the Abbey and Chapelhill united charge pays tribute to the great man and describes him as Missionary and Translator and founder of both the Protestant Church in N.Manchuria and Korea. Among much else he completed the translation of the New Testament Scriptures into Korean in 1887. At the memorial service in Chapelhill a number of Korean Christians were present and participated in the Service, living witnesses to the influence of the Gospel which Dr.Ross's missionary labours in N. China and Korea had stimulated.

An interesting point in connection with this distinguished family is that two streets in Balintore are named John Street and Hugh Street respectively after Dr. John Ross and his father/brother Hugh.  Rev. T. Patterson of the United Free Church in Balintore became Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Free Church in 1987 and was gifted with his robes at a ceremony in the church.

On the social side there have been several important developments to date. In 1985 an 'Over-60's Club' was formed - which has given great pleasure and meets fortnightly in the Seaboard Hall. Two years later a Community House was opened in the Abbotshaven Housing Scheme, rent free by the District Council and funded by the then Manpower Services Commission. Adult classes in various subjects held during the week are proving very worth-while and most enjoyable as well as practical. It has become a focal point in the Community and reflects great credit on the young people who run it.

The Seaboard Improvements Association formed more than twenty years ago still carries on going from strength to strength and welcomes women of all ages. Among its activities, it helps to run the Meals-on-Wheels Service throughout the Seaboard, Fearn and Nigg.

This record would be incomplete without some further mention of the Shandwick Stone. It was good news to learn last year (1987) that a Trust had been formed for the future preservation of the monument.  The Trust is called the Shandwick Stone (Clach a Charridh Slab) Trust, and its aim is to raise £10,000 for that purpose. The stone is to be provided with a glazed shelter and remain in its original position and so will remain a visible landmark as always. The work of restoration will be carried out by the Historic Buildings and Monuments Department of the Scottish Development Department (SDD) at Edinburgh. About £6,000 has been collected up to date in various ways, and much of the credit is due to the tireless energy of the Trust team: Chairwoman, Miss L. Ewart; Mrs. I. Mackenzie; Mr. R. Mackenzie; Mrs. M. McRailt; Mr. I. Macpherson.

Turning to housing we find that the face of the Seaboard like Topsy 'has growed out o'knowledge'. The three villages have expanded on all sides both in the public and private domain. A Sheltered Housing Scheme has been built in Balintore on the sea side of the main road over-looking part of the harbour and the Bay - a very pleasing lay-out. The open ground between the villages has been developed, and no longer are they distinct and separate communities as of old.

The Seaboard is well-served by its medical team now centered in Tain Health Centre, and facilities are available to meet the needs of old and young when called upon.

Near the new Fire Station already mentioned above Balintore, a Football Playing-field was laid and a Pavilion built (1981). Football and hockey continue to absorb the energies of both sexes with considerable credit while smaller boys and girls have their own particular groups of Scouts, Guides, Cubs and Brownies. Public-spirited men and women meet and train their respective groups, not forgetting the encouragement of Fellowship meetings as well.

Seaboard 1st Majorettes.

A troop of girls aged between 3-12 years called the Seaboard 1st Majorettes was formed in 1985. They are being trained to give displays during the Summer season at galas, and so far have met with great success.  They look very smart in their red, gold and blue uniforms, and complete with baton look very professional.

Amid all the forgone activity of one kind or another on the Seaboard the promotion of tourism has not been over-looked. Natural attractions are on the whole limited but there is a very fine sandy beach at Shandwick Bay, very popular during the holiday season. The harbour has always been a magnet to youthful fishermen of the villages and now that exciting developments are taking place at the harbour there will be additional mooring space in the centre by means of a floating pontoon structure which should appeal to locally based fishing boats. Already this newly developed structure is giving great satisfaction and further developments will be all the more welcome as more and larger vessels put the new facilities to good use.

A group called the Balintore Harbour User's Association is the controlling body in charge of these exciting developments in our area.  The proprietors of the Commercial Inn and Balintore Hotel respectively are interested in the well being of the Seaboard, and we wish them every success.

Balintore Green has been the subject of much discussion over the years. It is sadly in need of a face-lift and plans have been drawn up by the District Council to do just that. In the old days this was the area where children of all ages gathered to welcome the arrival of the 'shows' as the long nights drew in, (see chapter on Recreation). The old village pump will be retained, re-furbished and set in a secure base in the Green. The Green has now been given its face-life (1988) and welcomed as a great success, enhancing its surroundings.

The year 1988 must be regarded by the Fearn Abbey congregation and its minister Rev. K. MacFarlane and his lady as an outstanding year. Quite recently the congregation celebrated their double 25th Anniversary, as Mrs. MacFarlane had been President of the Abbey Guild during that time. They were presented with a handsome painting of the Abbey done by a talented artist from the Seaboard. A fair number of the villagers are members and adherents of the Abbey.  This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the union of Chapelhill and Abbey congregations.

Finally last but by no means least, 1988 marks the 750th anniversary of the founding of Fearn Abbey. To mark the auspicious occasion the Hydro-Electric Company have arranged to floodlight the Abbey for a year. Various fund-raising activities are being engaged in by the congregations for the benefit of the Abbey during this special anniversary year.

Before finally closing this record of the many great and small changes which have occurred during the last decade we, the joint authors would like to take this opportunity of thanking the general public for their loyal and continuing support during its first and second editions. This third-edition will, we hope, make its appearance in the not-too-distant future and meet with an equally enthusiastic response. Our special thanks go to three young people, Jean MacKenzie, Maureen Ross, both of Balintore and Alison MacKenzie of Tain who readily helped with information and thus we completed the record more easily and quickly.

We end on a note of high hope for the Seaboard. The oil industry at Nigg has taken on a new lease of life after a period of decline and so the hope of full employment is once more becoming a reality.  The Shandwick Stone has just been removed to Edinburgh for
.restoration and the Trust Committee has to be congratulated on reaching that important stage in its maintenance. Thereafter it will be returned to its original site and protected from the elements by a glazed shelter.

Thus, in conclusion we can only sum up by showing from our survey how - 'Chance and change are busy ever'.

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