Fearn, Balintore and Hilton Heritage

Fearn Balintore and Hilton Community Collage

"Down to the Sea"

An account of life in the fishing villages of Hilton, Balintore and Shandwick by Jessie Macdonald and Anne Gordon.  [Written in 1971]

Anne Gordon died on 29 September 2015 and RCHS wishes to reiterate appreciation of her willingness to share her work, which is a wonderful legacy to leave behind. 

Fearn, Balintore and Hilton History


Cover Page 
Title Page
Chapter 1 - Growth of the Communities
Chapter 2 - Sidelights
Chapter 3 - Whitefishing 1
Chapter 4 - Whitefishing 2
Chapter 5 - Herring fishing
Chapter 6 - Salmon fishing 
Chapter 7 - Shellfish
Chapter 8 - Harbour and Boats
Chapter 9 - Disasters at Sea
Chapter 10 - Village Life
Chapter 11 - Houses and Furniture
Chapter 12 - Clothing 
Chapter 13 - Food
Chapter 14 - Home Life
Chapter 15 - The Cholera Epidemic
Chapter 16 - Home Medicine
Chapter 17 - Customs
Chapter 18 - Folklore
Chapter 19 - Education
Chapter 20 - Recreation
Chapter 21 - The Present Day
Chapter 22 - The Present Day - Further Changes

Copyright @ Jessie Macdonald and Anne Gordon
Illustrations by Johan Sutherland

Printed by Nevisprint Limited, Fort William, Scotland 

Ross and Cromarty Heritage Society would like to acknowledge thanks to Anne Gordon for permission to present the contents of this book on our website.

With the passing of the years and the many changes which have taken place, a way of life which the Easter Ross Seaboard villages knew of old is almost forgotten. For that reason we wished to record so far as we could that way of life, in order to preserve something which we consider most valuable.

We believe that an interest in local history is not a matter of looking backwards but something that can give great pleasure in the future. A knowledge of one's home area greatly increases one's pride in it, and we hope therefore that this book will give enjoyment to both residents and newcomers.

The information comes almost entirely from men and women in the three villages who have told us of their own memories and of what their parents and grandparents used to tell them. They have shown the greatest kindness in giving information, lending photographs, books and documents, and without their help this book would never have been compiled. Several people from outside the villages have helped as well and we remember with gratitude the efforts of a former headmaster of Hilton School, Mr. G. Crawford, M.A., to launch a previous project.

We therefore acknowledge most gratefully the help of all the following:
Mrs. Allan and Mr. W. Allan, 1 Port Street, Balintore.
Mr. W. Balfour, Seaview Cottage, Hilton.
Mr. W. J. Balfour, King Street, Hilton.
Mrs. Currie, Balnabruach, John Street, Balintore.
Mr. W. H. Cormack, Tain.
Miss D. Colquhitt, Braefoot, Hilton.
Mrs. Erskine, Balnabruach, John Street, Balintore.
Mr. J. Fraser, Ashgrove, Hilton.
Mr. Dudley Gordon, Fearn.
Mrs. Hendry, Easter Rarichie, Fearn.                                          
'Inverness Courier' staff.
Mr. James Johnstone and Mrs. Johnstone sen., Main Street, Balintore.
Mr. Eric Linklater, Pitcalzean House, Nigg.
Mr. D. Mackay, Lady Street, Hilton.
Mr. John Mackay and Mr. Alastair Mackay, 18 Titwood Road, Glasgow.
Rev. K. Macfarlane, The Manse, Fearn.
Mr. Morrison, 60 Carleith Quadrant, Glasgow.
Mrs. Mackenzie, 9 Ross Crescent, Balintore.
Mrs. Rosemary Mackenzie, Alderbrae, Tain.
Mrs. Mackenzie, Balnabruach, John Street, Balintore.
Miss. M. J. Mackay, Shore Street, Balintore.
Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Mackay, Back Street, Hilton.
Mr. W. Macdonald, Shore Street, Balintore.
Mr. and Mrs. Macgregor, New Street, Shandwick.
Mrs. A. Miller, Castro Valley, Cal., U.S.A.
Mr. J. Patience, 12 Ormond Terrace, Avoch.
Mr. and Mrs. C. Paterson, The Neuk, Hilton.
Mr. J. Paterson, Lower Kincraig, Invergordon.
Mr. Alan Robertson, Tain.
Miss J. Ross, Millbank, Evanton.
The late Mrs. W. Ross, Rosslyn, Hilton.
Mrs. J. Ross, 10 Shore Street, Shandwick.
Mr. Hugh Ross, The Shop, Shandwick.
. Mr. John and Miss Daisy Ross, New Street, Shandwick.
Mrs. Ross, 9 Bank Street, Balintore.
Mr. and Mrs. John Ross, Park Street, Balintore.
Miss M. Ross, 1 Bank Street, Balintore.
Mr. Nicholas Ross and the late Miss Janet Ross, 2 Main Street, Balintore.
Mr. Ian Ross, Rhynie, Fearn.
Mr. U. Ross, District Clerk, Tain.
Mr. and Mrs. Dan Ross, Shore Street, Hilton.
Mr. G. M. Ross, Hilton School.
Mr. William Skinner, Shore Street, Shandwick.
Mr. Alastair Skinner, Shore Street, Balintore.
Mr. John Scott, Fearn.
Mr. Tom Skinner ~nd Miss R. Skinner, 6 Auldcastle Road, Inverness.
Miss Katy Skinner, New Street, Shandwick.
Mr. and Mrs. Sutherland, Gordon Terrace, Invergordon.
Mrs. Taylor, Braefoot, Hilton.Miss Tarrel, The Haven, Hilton.
Mr. Roddy Vass, Bank Street, Balintore.
Miss C. Vass, 18 New Street, Shandwick.
The late Mr. and Mrs. A. Vass, Shore Street, Shandwick.
The Misses J. and B. Vass, Shore Street, Balintore.
Mrs. Vass, II Bank Street, Balintore.
Miss C. B. Vass, Main Street,- Balintore.
Mr. and Mrs. H. Vass, Eastlyn, Balintore.
Mr. Vass, 7 New Street, Shandwick.
Mr. Vass, I Shore Street, Shandwick.
Mrs. Vass and Miss I. Vass, 2 Ross Street, Balintore.
Mrs. Kennedy Vass, New Street, Shandwick.
Mrs. Jessie Vass, Shore Street, Shandwick.
Mrs. Vass, 3a Park Street, Balintore.
Mrs. White, Mountcanisp, Nigg.
Mrs. Wood, Lady Street, Hilton.
Mrs. Wallace, Back Street, Hilton.
Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Wood, Willina Ville, Park Street, Balintore.
We are also most grateful to Mr. F. J. Foster of Foster Bros., Invergordon, for the enthusiasm and interest he has shown when giving professional help.

This 3rd edition of 'Down to the Sea' has at last made its appearance in formal book form. The demand has been such that I felt that this edition was needed to complete the history of the Seaboard up to the present day, highlighting the changes which resulted in the discovery of oil in the North Sea.

The cover picture is of one who represented her calling in the lean years between the two World Wars when the line fishing was in decline. Her drive and tenacity of purpose helped to keep the economy of the Seaboard on an even keel. Many families were indebted to the fishwives for a living.

                                                              Jessie Macdonald Anne Gordon

The Easter Ross Seaboard is the stretch of coastline running roughly north-east by south-west from the North Sutor of Cromarty to the tip of the peninsula at Tarbat Ness. It is about fourteen miles in extent and the Seaboard villages - Shandwick, Balintore and
Hilton - are admirably situated about half-way along this coast.  They are often referred to as 'the villages' or 'the Seaboard'.  Hilton and Balintore were on the Cadboll Estate which belonged for many years to the Macleods of Cadboll. When the Estate was sold in 1918, Hilton was bought by Donald Sinclair, Tain, and the feu duties belong to his descendants. Rev. John Ross bought Balintore and his descendants hold the land where there are no buildings and the feu duties. Shandwick Estate belonged to the Misses Ross and passed after their death to the Reids and Duncans. The Duncans' share included Old Shandwick farm and the village, which went then to Mrs. Alice Ross. The farm, those parts of the village not built on and the right to the feu duties now belong to the Gallie family. 

A marked characteristic is the raised beach below which the villages are built, flanked on either side by cliffs. To the south-west these cliffs begin at Shandwick Hill (a fine area for botanists) and rise to four hundred feet below the Hill of Nigg. The cliffs running north-east to Tarbat Ness are much less imposing.  

Behind the villages lies the rich arable plain of Easter Ross which yields heavy crops of corn and potatoes. Old plans show many lochs in natural hollows in this area, later used as drainage sumps, and one of these appears behind Hilton Farm on the map of 1813. Many fishermen worked on the farms when fishing was out of season or they could not follow their natural calling for any reason.

The climate is very mild for most of the year and the Seaboard is one of the driest parts of Britain. The prevailing wind is south-westerly but a biting east wind can blow during the winter. Sometimes during a dead calm great rolling waves come in, the aftermath of
stormy weather in the North Sea, and pound on the sandy beach of Shandwick with great force, sending up fountains of spray on the harbour breakwater, filling the air with noise and a misty vapour.  This happened last August 1969 when many holiday-makers stood, fascinated by such a scene, never to be forgotten.

Shandwick lies in the parish of Nigg. It has a particularly fine bay which is very popular with residents and visitors. Just within the parish boundary of Fearn is the Park of Balintore, which was an open space with just one street, Park Street. New building is now joining it to the rest of Balintore which, with Hilton, lies in the Parish of Fearn. Hilton also has a little bay which is not so well known as that at Shandwick.

Prior to the First World War the main occupation of the villages was fishing - herring fishing in season and line fishing during the rest of the year. Between the wars the villages suffered a sea-change in that herring fishing was largely discontinued and white fishing became the mainstay, along with salmon-fishing.  But with the coming of the seine-net boat in the 1930's the spawn was removed and the death-knell sounded for white fishing in the Moray Firth and the industry of generations faded away. Lobster
and crab fishing are at the moment experiencing a revival but while an occasional small boat fishes in the Firth for herring and haddock in the summer this is more for pleasure than for profit.

Until the turn of this century Gaelic was the general language, persisting longest of all in Shandwick. A number of people speak it still, and many more understand it and use a few words and phrases.  In the text a number of Gaelic words have been used but they have had to be spelt phoenetically.

Continued in Chapter 1
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