Fearn Balintore and Hilton Community Collage

Chapter 8 - Harbour and Boats

Until the end of the 19th century boats of whatever size had to land on sandy beaches or natural harbours as there was no alternative.  

There was such a little harbour at Port an Righ; boats came in just east of the present harbour and tied up to an iron ring in a rock which is still visible under certain conditions; Tom and Mary Port ran parallel to the shore a little further east; Hilton had a port in its
sandy bay and Jessie Port lay still farther east.

When a road was built into Balintore in 1819, it had been thought that a harbour would be a logical follow-up but various plans about this over the next twenty years all came to nothing. In 1845 Joseph Mitchell, protege of Thomas Telford and engineer to the
Commissioners for Highland Roads and Bridges, proposed building such a harbour which would have cost £8000, paid in proportions of two to one by the Fisheries Board and the laird, Mr. Rose of Tarlogie. Unfortunately Mr. Rose died and the scheme foundered, which explains why Joseph Mitchell makes no reference to it in his
Reminiscences. Although the petition, already mentioned, which Seaboard fishermen presented to the Napier Commission in 1883 resulted in that body recommending the building of a harbour at last, at a meeting of between 200-300 fishermen at Hilton in 1885, steam trawling seemed to be the main grievance and Mr. Wallace of Tulloch
proposed raising a subscription to buy a large boat so that local fishermen could compete in farther waters. His proposal developed into a plan to buy not one but two boats for £500, a plan which however had to be abandoned as such boats were no use without a suitable harbour and it was not until 1888 that a petition to the Board of Trade to establish a Harbour Turst to build a harbour at last got things moving. (Ret Marinell Ash, p. 264/5 of book on Cromarty Firth.)

But a spirit of self-help developed at the same time and the first attempt to build a proper harbour was at the Port in Hilton. Before 1890 the fishermen began building its wall, planning that Eilean  Mhor should be the breakwater. They carted and carried the large
stones which can still be seen at low water but when they found that the authorities would give no help with this back-breaking task - presumably because they were involved with building Balintore harbour - they become so discouraged that the brave attempt was abandoned.

The decision to build a harbour at Balintore was due to the revival of the herring fishing and the building of the herring yard, already referred to, and because the volume of shipping now amounted to 800 - 1,000 tons, chiefly coal, every year.

The engineers for the harbour were D. and A. Stevenson, Edinburgh, who visited the site during the spring tides and consulted Mr. Finlay the fish-curer, the fisherman and Mr. Jonathan Middleton, Clay of Allan. After doing a marine survey with soundings and
probings they said in 1888, 'We consider the site on the whole exceedingly favourable for a boat harbour and we strongly recommend that the pier be carried to the low water mark.'

Balintore before the harbour was built.
The first recorded meeting of the Trustees, a voluntary body, was on 10th July, 1889, although obviously they must have been in action before that. The members were Jonathan Middleton, Clay of Allan; John Gordon, Balmuchy; Alex. Wallace, Tullich; Robert Ross, Merchant, Hilton; Rev. Mr. Fraser, Established Church, Fearn; with
Wm. Tavish MacTavish as solicitor. At later stages the Board included all the ministers and more people from the villages. The estimated cost of the work was £7,600, the Fishery Board giving a grant of £5,700 and the Harbour Trustees finding the balance
of £1,900. The contract was let to George Pirie, Hopeman, whose figure of £6,625 was accepted. Royal assent for the work was given in 1889 and the construction went on during 1890-96. The school children were given time off school to see the first sod cut and all seemed set fair. But by 1893 the engineers reported on the 'run' in the harbour and practically told the Trustees that little could be done to cure it. In 1898 there was concern about the best means of keeping the harbour clear of silt and at one point a dozen men were engaged to clear it. They built wooden steps and barrowed the sand up and tipped it over the side - from where presumably it just washed in again.

There were many delays and quarrels between the engineers, the inspectors and the contractor, and when the pier was at last finished Finlay the fish-curer raised a claim saying that so much material for the pier had been taken from the edge of the curing yard wall that it was in danger from the sea. The contractors resisted this, saying that
they had not gone within twelve feet of the wall of Mr. Finlay's buildings. It is said that most of the stone used came from Balintore quarry. No sooner was the harbour completed than the Trustees had to report to the Public Works Loan Board that fish curing had been discontinued in Balintore, although in fact it went on for a few years

In 1898 Balintore appears in the Mariners' Nautical Almanac's list of lighthouses as having a fixed white light at the outer end of the breakwater. In 1915 the Almanac described the harbour thus: 'Depth of water - spring tides, 11 to 12 feet; neap tides 8 - 9 feet. Dues - small boats 15/ - for season; each visit 6d; vessels 4d. per registered ton; pilotage 3d. per registered ton; large boats 1/6 each visit. Ballast -1/2 1oading, discharging 1/-. Laying out kedge and warp 5/-.' Of the light it says, 'A fixed white flash, but cannot be put on pierhead some nights with heavy sea.'

The harbour was a busy bustling place, handling fish, coal and produce from the farms. The last wooden ship to come in was about 1910. It was a salt boat, 'Leader,' which was washed in sideways and damaged so that the salt loose in the hold became wet. During the First World War, however, trade was greatly reduced and the financial situation became so desperate that in 1922 the Trustees resigned in a body.

Sail and steam in competition, Balintore.

On 9th December 1925 the Board of Agriculture offered a grant of three-quarters of the cost of repairing the harbour which the Trustees accepted. In 1930 the Public Works Loan Commission rescinded their claim to principal outstanding amounting to £2,000 plus interest, and the Trustees were just finding their feet when the Second World War
broke out. In 1940 the harbour was completely closed to all shipping and vehicular traffic by firstly the military and secondly the naval authorities. The last boat in was a flat-bottomed Dutch one, after which the boom was put across and the harbour protected by a flame-thrower on the pier.

Disuse during the war led to even more silting up and at the end of the war a complicated and involved correspondence began between the Clerk to the Trustees, the War Office, the Admiralty and the Ministry of Transport, each denying responsibility and passing it on to the next. Meanwhile the harbour structure was deteriorating and the basin silting up even more.

With the end of white fishing and the competition of road transport the Trustees must have found the harbour a disheartening business, and in the 1960's the County Council took it over with high hopes of a revival of fishing and possible sea-angling as a tourist attraction, but neither has materialized.

After Hilton's earlier disappointment about their harbour, they finally got a stone jetty about 1898 or 1899. It was built by George Ross, contractor, Rhynie, though it not known who instructed the work to be done.  (The information on the building of the harbour and Harbour Trustees comes from an account written by Mr. Ian Ross, Rhynie.)
The Mariners' Nautical Almanac for 1898 lists the following Inverness-registered boats in the villages:

INS         Name                                       Owner                                                           Keel
87           Emily                                        John Skinner                                              34 feet
207         Band of Hope                         Wm. Morrison                                             34
272         Catherine                                D. Vass                                                        35
395         Freuchny                                 Andrew McKay                                           34
401         New Exhibition                       J. Ross                                                         34
571         Rechabite                                Andrew Morrison                                       36
580         Guiding Star                            A. Vass.                                                       34
731         M ' Intosh                                 Geo. Mackenzie                                         32
782         Blooming Bunch of Roses    Thomas Vass                                             34
820         Day Star                                    Donald Skinner                                         34
856         Ruby                                          David Skinner                                            33
875         Active                                        John Vass                                                   36
878         Brothers                                    Donald Mackenzie                                    34
1372       Prime                                        Finlay Skinner                                            33
1415       Break of day                            A. Skinner                                                   35
1539      Jean                                           Alex. McKenzie                                         48
3331      Grocer                                       J Vass                                                          35


795         Prosperity                                 Andrew Vass                                             36
1499      Archibald Duff                          John Gordon and David Macdonald     35
2102      Anns                                           Hugh Ross                                                 35


285         Jane Margaret                         W. Ross                                                      32
554         Fairy                                           Finlay Tarrel                                              35
893         Gem                                            Donald Sutherland                                  32
1003       Helens                                       Donald Ross                                             33
1199       Again                                         Donald Patience                                      35
1396       Ellen                                          Alex. Sutherland                                       34
1721       Alert                                           H. Macdonald                                           35
1835       Countess of  Seafield             D. M'Kenzie                                              33
3333       Nelly and Margaret                 Hugh M'Angus                                         36
3338       Salim                                         W. M'Kenzie                                              32

In 1935 the numbers of boats had greatly decreased and were as follows in the Nautical Almanac:

1976        Elsie                                          William Vass                                      2½ tons

109           Dolina                                       D. Skinner                                          1 ton           
162           Elsie                                         Alex. M'Angus and W. Skinner        1½ tons

73             Janet                                         Wm. Mackay                                       1.99 tons
230           First                                           Samuel R. Wood                                7.56 tons
269           A. M. Euphemia                      A. Sutherland                                      1.66 tons
281           A. M. Catherine Cowie          D. Ross Son                                        1.51 tons
295           Happy Return                         M. Macdonald                                     1.83 tons
358           Maggie  (Motor)                     A. Sutherland                                       3.28 tons
428           The Rockfield                         A. Ross and others                             1.99 tons
431           Fern                                         J. McKenzie and others                      3.75 tons
445           P. Pilot                                     Finlay Ross                                           3.13 tons
448           A. M. Comfort                         John M'Angus                                       4.57 tons
543           Ivy                                             W. Macdonald                                      3.53 tons
554          Jeannie (Motor)                      Samuel S. R. Wood                             1.59 tons
573          A. M. Fern                                Wm. Patience                                        3.86 tons

Balintore Harbour

These boats were Scottish fishing boats, classed as sailing boats except where indicated.
Apart from the boats listed here and mentioned in other chapters, there were other boats of which people still speak: Una, Complacent, Martha and May, Helen, Robertson Lizzie, Brilliant, Rebecca, Isabel, Maid of Morveth, Tribe, Mina Sutherland, Majestic, Swiftsure, Delilah, Mabel Macgregor, Betsy Patience, Lydia. 

Among the trading schooners calling at Balintore about 1900 were:

Name                                Owners/Captains                              Port

Columbine                       Captain Vass                                     Inverness
Tollo                                  Captain Main                                     Findhorn
Bella                                  Captain Main                                     Findhorn
C. W. M. Avon                  Captain Bremner                              Findhorn
Elizabeth                          Captain Main                                     Findhorn
North Star                          ---                                                        ? Findhorn
Annie                                 ---                                                         Fortrose
Despatch                          ---                                                         Avoch
Young Fox (ketch)           Captain MacIntosh                          Avoch
St Duthus                          Captain Merson                               Tain
Gem                                   --                                                          Bonar Bridge
Nairnshire                         ---                                                        Nairn
Caberfeidh                       ---                                                         Findhorn
Merinish                            --                                                         Thurso
Leoramundo (lost           Captain Taylor                                   Inverness
on King's Sons, about 1896)
Fiona (ketch)                     ---                                                        Balintore
Rival  (ketch)                     ---                                                        Portmahomack
Alert  (ketch)                      ---                                                        Findhorn
Lily                                      ---                                                        Cromarty
Bonny Lass                       ---                                                        Cromarty
Cambridge                        ---                                                        Findhorn or Nairn
Alice                                   ---                                                        Banff
Pomona                            Munro, Rockfield and others 
Loch Ransa Castle        Ross and Young                               Balintore

Continue in Chapter 9

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