Nigg and Shandwick History

Nigg and Shandwick Community Collage


The Parish of Nigg



As chairman of the recently formed Nigg & Shandwick Community Council, I am delighted to welcome the publication of the re-print "The Parish of Nigg" by Barbara Scott and Anne Gordon.

Organising the re-print of this local history book was in response to demand from people wishing, but unable to obtain a copy. It has also provided the basis of our historical exhibition planned for 24th June 1994 and we are indebted to the authors for their assistance and support. One or two small corrections have been inserted at the end of the relevant chapters, and are marked with an asterisk. An up-dating chapter has been added at the end.

Liz Whiteford
January, 1994
Nigg & Shandwick Community Council


This book was compiled for the Village History Competition to mark the Scottish Women's Rural Institutes' Golden Jubilee in 1967, and won first prize. It has been revised for publication. Writing this short history would have been impossible without help from the undermentioned, all of whom I thank most sincerely:

The Misses Adams, Balaphuile; Mr. D. Budge; Mrs. Christie, Culnaha; Mr. A. Cumming, Dunskaith Park; County Librarian; Department of Agriculture for Scotland; Mrs. A. Fraser, Honeysuckle Cottage; Mr. W.H.M. Gill; Mr. R.H.S. Gordon; Mr. Dudley Gordon; Dr. J. Landess Home, Medical Officer of Health;  Mr. Alec Macrae; Mr. MacLintock, Director of Education; Rev. J.
Martin; Rev. K Macleod; Mr. Alec Mackenzie; Miss M. Mackenzie, The Bungalow; Mr. & Mrs. Munro, Rose Cottage; Miss M.A. Macdonald, Elder Cottage; Mr. H. Officer; Mrs. Ross, Broomhill; Mrs. Ross, AnkeIVille; Mr. J. Ross, Rhynie; Mrs. Ricketts; Mr. H. Rutherford; Mr. A. Vass, Shandwick; Mr. N. Vass,  Shandwick; and all members of the W.R.I. who helped.

I would like to offer my thanks for extra special help to:

Miss Rosa Williamson-Ross of Pitcalnie; Mrs. R. Mackenzie, Alderbrae, Tain; Mr. Alec Fraser, Honeysuckle Cottage; and to Mr. Eric Linklater, who by lending us the Statistical Account of 1794
really got us started.

Barbara Scott
W.R.I. President, 1965-66

©   Anne Gordon
      Barbara Scott

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. 

The Parish of Nigg


Introducing Nigg                                        
Geography and Geology                                    
Early Nigg                                                         
Life in Nigg, 1700 - 1841 (Page 2)
Life in Nigg, 1841 - 1900 (Page 2) 
Life in Nigg, 1900 - 1945  (Page 2)                               
The Church (Page 3)                                                     
Fishing (Page 4)
Agriculture (Page 4)                                                      
Fauna and Flora (Page 5)
Folk Lore (Page 5)                                                      
Houses and Buildings (Page 6) 
Royal Visitors (Page 6) 
Modern Nigg (Page 6)                                                   
Nigg in the Nineties (Page 7)
Statistics (Page 7)
References (Page 7)      

Introducing Nigg

Nigg is a parish which is filled, dominated and protected by its hill. On one side cliffs drop steeply in to the Moray Firth while on the other it slopes more gently, in a sweeping curve, to face westwards onto the Cromarty Firth at one end and in a more northerly direction at the other. Unfortunately the west, and some think the best and most healthy, end lies in the full force of the prevailing wind. There is a lot of wind but on the whole the weather is not extreme and is fairly dry.
Although on the east coast, Nigg lies further west than one might imagine and in winter gets very little snow being warmed by the surrounding seas and protected by the hills and the great land masses that jut out to the east.

Nigg Pier, looking towards Cromarty.

Shandwick, on the east side of the parish, was the largest of the fishing villages and is now the only one left with fishing connections. In the early 19th century it was very prosperous and now, after a decline, things are looking brighter and opportunities for jobs are greater, although mostly outside the parish.

Shandwick, which overlooks the Moray Firth, lies apart from the rest of Nigg and nowadays leads a quite separate existence being more akin to its neighbours of Park, Balintore and Hilton. In fact, church activities are the only things that bring the Shandwick people in to Nigg itself. The fishing villages lying down by Nigg Ferry did not prosper like Shandwick and have greatly declined over the last sixty to seventy years leaving only a few scattered cottages in current use while Dunskaithness has completely disappeared. Many of the crofting town-ships have suffered the same fate and an occasional foundation is all that can be seen of a once thriving community. Among these can be included Torran, Culderarie, a town-ship on Castlecraig golf-course and Ankerville village. To-day visitors are puzzled by the finger-post that still bears the name Ankerville. David Ross of Inverchasley, who owned Shandwick and Ankerville, took the title of Lord Ankerville when he became a Law Lord in the late 18th century.

There are no longer any crofts on the hill and no-one lives on the hill except at Castlecraig farm which is on the North Sutor and, other than Shandwick, is the only place overlooking the Moray Firth.     

Shandwick beach.

There was a great difference to be found between the fishing and farming communities. The fisherfolk were a resident population who lived a very hard life and usually married among themselves. When they went outside the village they spoke of "going into the country," and people who lived on the low ground "went to the highlands," when they travelled into the hills. The farmworkers, on the other hand, moved around frequently, changing their jobs regularly and seeking re-employment at the annual hiring fairs. This caused a lack of tradition and cohesion among the community. The continual movement was brought to a halt during World War II by the labour standstill order and since then the population has remained much more stable. The family with the longest continuous connection with Nigg is Ross of Pitcalnie who received land in the parish in 1587 and still hold a part of it. Now the estate is broken up the name occurs in two places: Strath of Pitcalnie and Pitcalnie (sometimes called Chapelhill) School near Rarichie, and Pitcalnie House and Pitcalnie Holdings at Nigg. Although they are at least two miles apart it can be confusing. There is also the Red House at Ankerville Farm and Red House, the erstwhile fishing hamlet at Nigg Ferry. Shandwick village also has a namesake across the bay in Logie Easter. Another ground for confusion is the changing of some names;  Bayfield was once known as Kindeace but this is not used these days. On the other hand Pitcalzean Farm is still frequently referred to as Westfield.
The church has a long connection with Nigg as the Bishop of Ross had his summer palace there until the Reformation. The monks of Fearn are reputed to have dug the canal which runs along the parish boundary from the Red Bridges to the bay. This canal has been enlarged and deepened since the war, a mechanical digger taking days where the monks must have spent months. The Rev. J. Martin has recently written an account dealing very fully with the history of the Church in Nigg. There is an example of the work of Hugh Miller, the stonemason, in Nigg churchyard in the shape of a horizontal gravestone showing the scalloped edge so typical of his work.

Nigg School Sports at Nigg Ferry, 1966.

The farms of Easter Rarichie, Broomton and Old Shandwick are the nearest to Shandwick and have always shared the postal address of Fearn with it. The other parts of the parish going west, are Nigg Station (although Nigg Railway Station lies in the parish of Logie Easter), Nigg and Nigg Ferry. These form districts which make up the very lengthy parish of Nigg. There is no particular village now but just scattered groups of houses. One group is by the old Post Office which must have been larger than it is now because it contained the shop, cellar, school, shoemaker's shop and smithy. Until the railway was built in 1864, Nigg Ferry was a very real link on the road north. When the Home Fleet came in to Invergordon for their spring and autumn manoeuvres naval personnel used the pier when going to the golf course.

The physical aspect of Nigg has changed a great deal even in the last twenty years. It started with farmers uprooting hedges and was continued by the great gale of 1953 which blew down a great many trees and made it necessary to cut down many more that had been weakened. It is unfortunate that most of the trees in Nigg must have been planted at the same time some hundred years or more ago and that they have not been replaced when they fell. Short term leas have caused great changes in the plant life to be found in the fields and sheep often seem to prefer the edges of the fields where a greater variety of herbage is to be found. Nigg Hill is noted for the number of wild flowers, some quite rare. Larks nest freely in the bents and their singing is a joy to hear, while in winter many flocks of wildfowl and sea birds find shelter in the bay. There has been considerable erosion along the shore of Nigg Bay. Mr. Arthur Skinner remembered when the land extended at least seventy yards out beyond Pleasant Cottage and he said that it disappeared at the rate of a yard a year. A tunnel was built leading from the shore to Bayfield House, possible for claret smuggling. The entrance from the house was blocked some years ago by Mr. Alec Mackenzie, the carpenter, and now only the mouth of the tunnel can be seen.  

Geography and Geology

The parish of Nigg is a peninsula jutting southwards from the main part of Easter Ross. It is bounded on the east by the Moray Firth and on the west by the Cromarty Firth which cuts in forming Nigg Bay, sometimes called Nigg Sands, which is large and only covered at high tide. The parish is dominated by the Hill of Nigg rising to 666 feet. Its southern end, the North Sutor, juts out to face the South Sutor on the Black Isle and together they overlook and guard the narrow entrance to the Cromarty Firth. The hill takes up about half the parish and slopes down towards Nigg Bay on the west and to the boundaries of the parishes of Logie and Fearn on the north side, making a wide fertile plain lying to the west and north of the hill, while the south and east sides have 300 feet cliffs dropping straight to the sea. Seven counties can be seen from the highest part of the hill - Ross-shire, Sutherland, Caithness, Inverness-shire, Nairn, Moray and Banff. The total acreage of the parish is 7,061 acres. (Y)

The main stone is old red sandstone but Hugh Miller, the Cromarty stone-mason, says that the North Sutor itself is of granitic gneiss with a patch of lias and subordinate sandstones. He found a clay-bed (stiff blue clay used in Cromarty for rendering the bottom of ponds water-tight) in the ebb at half-tide under North Sutor. The soil in the west end of the parish is very sandy. If you scratch the surface it is very black below. The sand is said to have performed its destructive work in the 17th century in one night (as happened more recently in the case of Culbin in Morayshire and Morich-more near Tain.) This may have been the storm which buried the village of which Otta F. Swire writes in "The Highlands and their Legends". The wickedness of the laird of Dunskaith is said to have been the cause of this calamity. As one goes north-east into better arable land it becomes a rich loam with a clay bottom. There are few minerals but there is a little iron in the composition of the gneiss in some places. (C) Lime appears as a crystallized carbonate in small veins at Shandwick, as stalactites on the roofs and sides of caves and, when associated with some of the springs, petrifies the mosses over which their waters flow. After a storm at sea garnet is often found finely crushed and spread over the shores of Nigg so thickly that it gives the sands a deep pulple colour. (C) The remains of glacial activity are shown in the moraines at Easter Rarichie where one was considered sufficiently important to become the site of a hill fort. Hugh Miller says that the sandy estuary known as the Sands of Nigg, which are the upheaval of the higher beaches, must have existed at the time of the glacier as a shallow channel, through which the Firth of Cromarty - then a double-mouthed arm of the sea, with the hill of Nigg as a mountainous island in the midst - communicated with the Moray Firth beyond. (Z) Hugh Miller collected fossils on the shores at Nigg with the help of a small boy whom he paid 6d. for each one found.

All along the west coast there is a clearly defined raised beach. At Ankerville in a bank well above sea-level there is a "strata of oyster shell" (W) said by a member of Aberdeen University Survey Team in 1967 to be possibly a Bronze Age kitchen midden.

The sign-post near Meddat pointing across the ford towards Nigg.

The boundary between Nigg and Logie is a small river called the Pot which flows in to Nigg Bay and across acres of sands which are exposed at low tide. In the past digging for fishing bait and for shells to make building lime caused pits and dangerous quicksands and "various individuals have lost their lives in them". (C) One particularly dangerous pit called Poll nan Ron (the seal's pool) proved "fatal to everyone that touched its waters." (C) There is a ford, now unused, running from the foot of Pitcalnie Brae straight across to the corner of Meddat Farm in the parish of Logie. It was in constant use before the arrival of motor transport as it cut four or five miles off the journey. A sign-post is still to be seen on the Logie end and although the approaches at each side are completely obstructed the way is indicated by two huts which were built by the R.N.A.S. during the Second World War. A few years ago these sands were pleasantly dry to cross in summer apart from wading through the Pot but latterly they have become wetter year by year and in 1966 all except a strip on each side of the Pot is covered by shallow water in which a slimy green weed grows prolifically. The sands, which at the Ankerville end are really mud flats with a sandy covering submerged completely at high tide, improve as they run towards the Ferry and after Balnapaling they become a lovely golden beach, delightful for tourists. This beach can be subject to great change and what was a lovely stretch of sand can be obliterated with stones after a storm and magically cleared after the next. Shandwick also has a lovely beach with rocks adding interest and there is a pleasant walk below the cliff to the Well of Health.

There are two lochs on Nigg Hill - Bayfield Loch (formerly called Adam's Dam) and Castlecraig Loch, the latter now drained. There was also a small loch an on Castlecraig which gradually dried up and disappeared. Bayfield Loch has plenty of trout but the recent increase of weeds has spoilt the fishing. This is attributed to lime leaching off the reclaimed land surrounding the loch.

There are several caves in the cliffs which were used by smugglers and fishers, the King's Cave being particularly large although entered by a "rabbit-hole". One of the caves below Castlecraig has five entrances and although it is flooded at high tide there is an island of rock which is never covered. (Q).

Bayfield Loch

The parish is noted for its springs and wells. Some of these listed in W.J. Watson's "Place Names of Ross and Cromarty" are:

Well of Kenneth's hill (Gaelic: Tobar Cnoc Coinnich) above Easter Rarichie.
"The little noisy one" (Glagaig) south of the road at Torran Shuas.
Tobar Cormaig at Shandwick farmhouse.
Sul ba, or Sul na ba, in front of the old curate's house at Easter Rarichie.
Tobar na h'iu at the west of the Danish fort at Easter Rarichie.
Well of the lint pools (Tobar nam puill linn) above Wester Rarichie.
Well of the big leeches (Tobar nan geala mora) between Wester Rarichie and Cullisse.
Jane Sutherland's well (Tobar Sein Sutherlain) at Drumdil.
Eppy Gair's well (Tobar a' bhaistidh) the baptismal well above the old U.P. church at Ankerville.
John the Baptist's well (Tobar Eadhain Bhaist)
Colonel's well (Tobar a Chorneil) at Nigg Farm.
Tobar na coille at Pitcalzean.
Sandy Vass's well (Tobar Alaidh Bhodsa) supplied Westfield House.
Dunskaith well (Tobar Dun Sgath)
Tobar na h-eiteachan was the source of famous water on top of Nigg Hill used by the Nigg smugglers.
Well of Health (Tobar na slainte) was near Shandwick and noted for its healing powers.
Pig's well (Tobar na muc) by the shore west of Shandwick. (M).

* (Y) (C) (Z) (W) - see references.

There is also a draw-well in the sand near Dunskaithness. (M). St. Andrew's well is near the district nurse's cottage on the Bayfield side of the road and St. David's well still remains at the roadside between Pitcalnie School and Chapelhill Church. The children used to drink from it before going in to Sunday School. The Eagle well at the top of the Bishop's Walk, so called because an eagle is supposed to have nested nearby, provided excellent water.

Nigg Pier looking towards South Sutor.

Early Nigg

Evidence of settlers from the earliest times is apparent in many ways in the parish of Nigg. At Easter Rarichie there is what is referred to on the Ordnance Survey Map as a Danish fort; but which according to W.J. Watson is a Celtic fort. It is on top of a moraine with its foundations clearly visible and is surrounded by about five smaller moraines reputed to have been hill-forts also.

Two mounds in the Bishop's Walk below Nigg House may be cairns but they have not as yet been opened and investigated. There is a story that they cover the bodies of many men who died fighting. Jars were found in an ancient grave just below Broomhill when the water system was laid in Nigg in 1951 but unfortunately no one in authority heard about it in time to save it from being destroyed.

View of Nigg House showing possible site of the Bishop's Palace.

Pictish settlers left their traces in the names Pitcalnie and Pitcalzean, the prefix "Pit" denoting Pictish origin. (In the surrounding parishes there are a considerable number of "Pit" place names). On Nigg Hill there occurs the name "Annat" and of this name W J. Watson says "Scottish Annats ... are at any rate of great antiquity, indicating doubtless the earliest Christian settlements in their particular districts."

Standing Stone at Nigg Old Church

There are two fine standing stones - one in a field at Shandwick on its original site; the other was first heard of in the graveyard at Nigg Old Church but after being "thrown down by a great wind" in 1725 it was re-erected at the end of the church and has since been roofed over for protection. On one side tile Shandwick stone has figures of animals and hunting scenes and what appears to be the "elephant symbol." The other side has a cross. The decoration on the Nigg stone is supposed to show David pursuing the lion with his harp and a sheep close by. There are also little wriggling beasts whose matted tails form conspicuous bosses. (A) Just over the parish boundary at Hilton of Cadboll there was a third stone which is now in the Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh. Legend has it that in the 11th century when the Vikings were very influential in Easter Ross the Earl of Ross married the Norwegian (or Danish) King's daughter to seal a truce. At first she lived in Balnagown Castle but later, because of her complaints of her husband's ill-treatment she was banished to Ballone Castle near Portmahomack from where she escaped and fled home to her father. Her husband pursued her but was chased back to Scotland by her three enraged brothers. They would have caught up with him had he not led them on to the submerged reef off the shore at Shandwick, now called the "King's Sons" while he sailed safely through a deep channel beyond it. The Princes were drowned and their bodies were washed ashore at Hilton, Shandwick and below Nigg Hill. This last body was carried up the cliff path now known as Ca'an Righ - the King's Path. When they were buried the standing stones are said to have been erected to mark their graves. Mr. Alan Small of Aberdeen University Geography Department states that the Shandwick and Nigg Stones are really Class II Pictish Symbol Stones.

Shandwick Standing Stone showing "elephant symbol".

W.J. Watson gives another legend about the Princes saying that they were buried at Nigg Rocks, below Cadha Neachdain (Nectan's Path) where there is a graveyard now covered with shingle. "Their grave-stones came from Denmark and had iron rings in them to facilitate their landing. This most unlikely spot for a graveyard was not chosen without some good reason, the most probable being that hermits once lived in the caves, whence the place was reckoned holy ground." It might simply have been a more convenient place for burying washed-up bodies. W. J. Watson refers to the reef "The King's Sons" as "The three Kings" or Creag Harail, Harold's Rock, but who is meant by this is not known.

Site of Dunskaith Castle

William the Lion built a castle at Dunskaith in 1179 and another at Cromarty to guard the entrance to the Firth, to enable him to collect shipping dues and "to suppress robbers". The foundations of Dunskaith Castle may still be seen above Castlecraig golf course. There was also a castle at Shandwick* near the site of the old chapel and the mound above Seaside Cottage is shown on an old map as the site of another. About 1512 Andrew Munro III of Milntown, known as Black Andrew, acquired seven properties in Ross-shire and built a castle on each. Culnaha was one of these but no trace of the castle remains. (B).

* This Castle was built about 1460

Life in Nigg, 1700 - 1841

In the early eighteenth century fishing was important and herring were plentiful but by 1788 there was one of the intermittent spells when they failed altogether. Farmers were very poor and did not try to improve their land because they were given no leases, and their workers and the crofters on the hill lived in very poor conditions at that time. Peat was the usual fuel but the poorest used whins and broom. As there was no peat in Nigg it had to be collected from beyond Balnagown in the parish of Logie. This was an awkward matter as the people had to cross the ford when the tide suited, whether day or night. But at the end of the eighteen th century coal began to be brought from England and coal boats unloaded on the shore.

There was a bad harvest in 1740 when Cromarty had a "meal mob" taking meal from a ship which had been loaded by Easter Ross farmers for sale in the south. Cromarty was at this time quite an important port and the people of Nigg were in close touch with it so it is probable that they were also involved in this riot. During the period 1712-60 the proprietors built their "gimals" or storehouses. In 1783 there was the particularly bad harvest - the "Black Year" - when the Session Minutes recorded their gratitude to the Barons of His Majesty's Exchequer for help they sent to them at that time. "There are immediately expected to Cromarty twenty eight bolls and one firlot of meal, sent by the Barons of His Majesty's Exchequer for the use of the poor of this parish (Nigg) to be sold to them at eight shillings and eight pence the eight stone".

The old Storehouse at Ankerville.

Naomi, Lady Pitcalnie, was a great letter writer. She was the third wife of Alexander Ross of Pitcalnie whose family have held land in Nigg from 1587 to this day. She lived in the second half of the eighteenth century an d had many dealings with William Forsyth, a successful Cromarty trader, and his agent, John Mackenzie, Dunskaithness, Nigg. Miss Rosa Williamson-Ross gave an account of these in an article entitled Letters from the Highlands, 1750-90. One of Lady Pitcalnie's letters indicates that emigration had begun before the "Black Year" as in 1773 she writes to John Mackenzie "anent the peoples going to America". The Pitcalnie family had tenants on other estates and she was glad that some of them "asked if they could get what victual they would need for this year as it gives reason to expect they will continue as they are and give over thoughts of going to America at least for some time till they can know more about it". (K)

The "common people" lived frugally and Highland servants mainly ate meal and salt herrings but their employers enjoyed beef, mutton, veal, lamb and goat's flesh and their home-prepared "hames and tongues". These hams were probably mutton as pork is scarcely mentioned in Lady Pitcalnie's letters. In one letter she orders "fifty lbs. of barley for broth, twenty five pounds of powdered sugar, a hundredweight of best single refined sugar and lofe of Double refined". Wine also arrived on a generous scale - 6 dozen Claret with 2 dozen of Port and 1 of Malaga. Claret may not always have been obtained legally as is shown by an account from Miss Ross, Millcraig, Evanton. She has a small green glass disc marked

I. C. 1756

(I. C. refers to James Cuthbert) and this would originally have been incorporated in the side of a claret bottle. It is reasonable to suppose that this claret was bottled at home from supplies smuggled in by the hogshead. This disc was found at Millcraig and a maid of Miss Ross's recognised it as being similar to those she had seen as a child on bottles hidden in the rafters of a house near Cadboll so smuggling was very probably widespread in the area.

Lady Pitcalnie also wrote of gardens (probably not in Nigg) which were remarkably productive with all manner of vegetables - "potatoes, kidney beans, early white turnips, Ice Lettuce, Cucumber, Marrowfat peas, Beets, Colliflower, Spinach, Parsnip and Brocolli". English biscuits were regarded as a "denty" and so was "marmalet." She was very particular about the tea she bought, tea by this time being drunk by both high and low. She obtained many of her supplies from William Forsyth's store in Cromarty. At one point when tea was difficult to procure she wrote, "There is no Course tea here or Expected by any but Fraser ... Starks (the Customs Officer) is such a Divle there is ill bringing anything to this place". (K) This is not the only time there is a reference to the activities of the Customs Officers. The Presbytery had had occasion to complain in 1721 of a "very gross Sabbath profanation committed in the parishes of Fearn and Nigg" when some Custom-house officers and a party of soldiers "pressed horses and carried goods in carts in the time of Divine worship". (L).

From 1750 till 1783 the price of meat was around 3d. per pound which is all the more extraordinary when it is remembered that 1783 was the "Black Year". Another of these letters says "Our meat market Keepes Reasonable 3d. per lb." and goes on "There is nothing so scarce and ill to be got as meal and Flower, and what we get Bad and the Bread so very Bad and the Size so small that it is of no service in a Family and the Cays of the Poore is most Lamentable so that to any feeling heart it is most distressing". Prices of various goods in Lady Pitcalnie's time were: Fine Congo tea 8/- and 8/6 the lb., Cofie 1/6., Starch 6d., Tea 4/6., Loaf sugar 10d., Brimstone 6d., Glew 10d., Carvies 6d., Nutmeg 9d., Mace 1/6, Cloves 1/6, Rock Indigo 6d., Saferon 6d. a drop, 2 ozs. black pepper 4d., 2 ozs. Jamaica pepper 3d. (K).

Larger houses as well as humble cottages were thatched in these days, sometimes with heather as was the church in 1706. New methods were being introduced as was shown when William Forsyth wrote to Lady Pitcalnie in 1764 saying "I am of oppinion you should employ John Paterson Slatter to thatch your house with Tyles". Cattle hair "available at a shilling a Ston from any Shoemaker" was to be mixed with the lime for the tyles. Cottages had caber and mott partitions and clay floors while bigger houses such as Nigg House were being built of red sandstone. Cabers were saplings placed side by side to form a wall and mott was a mixture of clay, stones, chopped bent grass, hair etc. used to fill the gaps between the cabers.

House at Balnapaling showing cabers and mott.

House at Balnapaling showing use of turf in walls.

An aunt of Mr. Alec Fraser could remember as a small girl at the time of the Clearances seeing a smack being loaded just below Pleasant Cottage with people evicted from Bonar Bridge and Ardgay. They were taken to a schooner off Cromarty and thence via the Pentland Firth to an ocean-going vessel en route for America.

There were partial crop failures in 1808 and 1818 and a bad cholera epidemic in 1832 followed by another crop failure in 1836-7. In 1832 the Cromarty Firth was made a quarantine port for ships which had been in touch with the infection in the Baltic but the outbreak in this area is said to have been started by some fishermen in Wick in July 1832 and to have spread to Easter Ross by that August. (J) When a man died of the disease in Shandwick the Nigg Health Board was formed and isolated the area and arranged that no-one might enter the parish without a clean bill of health. They had a quarantine house at Nigg Ferry for any who were suspect which caused the people living near it to organize a petition asking for its removal. The storehouse, now the hotel, was designated as a hospital. The worst outbreaks were at Culnauld and Whins of Nigg where there were dung-heaps right beside the cottage doors. The bodies of cholera victims are said to have been buried under the sand at Dunskaithness but this is doubtful as Clach Caraidh was the official burying ground for the east end of the parish and the hollow below Briar Cottage that for the west end. Nigg people were confined to their infected area and obtained supplies by placing money in a basin containing an antiseptic solution of vinegar and water and retiring some way while the people of Tain came and left food in exchange.

Pointing to the Cholera Stone.  Note that there are no graves nearby.

Jasper Vass, the Church Officer, saw the cholera floating round Nigg as a small yellow cloud and with great courage caught it in a vast bag of linen and buried it under a stone in Nigg Old Churchyard. This is known as the Cholera Stone and it must never be disturbed lest the cholera be released and it is notable that there are no graves nearby. Miss C. Ross remembers as a child going with her playmates to jump on the stone. If it squeaked they spat, presumably spitting out evil, but one does not hear of this being done nowadays.

Life in Nigg, 1841 - 1900

By 1841 the greater part of Nigg Hill had been planted with fir trees and only twelve families remained actually living on the hill. Miss I. Ross's father remembered about a hundred years ago when ninety-nine families lived around the base of the hill from Easter Rarichie to Castlecraig and "Danny the Shoemaker" used to speak of seventy people coming off the hill regularly to go to church. One of them, Tom Macandye, gave his name to a path leading down the cliff, Tom Macandye's Caw. A map of Westfield in 1864 shows the little strips of land that went with each house in the village of Balnabruach which belonged to the Pitcalzean Estate. Between each strip there was a narrow "clayton" about a foot wide to enable people to have access to their crops. These claytons were a source of great friction. The greater part of each person's strip lay to the front of their houses with just "the width of a ladder" at the back to enable them to put a ladder up for thatching. Fael dykes can still be seen in Balnapaling where there used to be cultivation.

There was still a village at Ankerville and about this time there were the following working in the parish. The 1794 figures are given for comparison.

1794       1841-1900
  9            2 Tailors - at Broomton and Bayfield
12           5 Shoemakers - at Ankerville, Chapelhill, Wester Rarichie, Easter Rarichie and                 Torran
  7            2 Millers - at Bayfield and Balaphuile
 4            3 Blacksmiths - Rob Allan at Ankerville, John Matheson at Wester Rarichie, and                   D. Holm
 8             2 Cartwrights - Mackelvery at Ankerville, Jo. Ross and Culnaha
 ?            1 Boatbuilder - David Macleod, Broomhill
 ?            1 Forester - Adams, who was also a carpenter and cartwright working on the hill                 and he had five apprentices.
  2            Coopers - none
12            Weavers - none
  1            Flax dresser - none

There were six shops, at Nigg Ferry, Balnabruach, Bayfield, Burnside, Ankerville and Easter Rarichie.

Smugglers, as illegal whisky distillers were locally known, were very active in Nigg and the older residents of the parish can remember them while not admitting to knowledge of their precise whereabouts! They set up in many hidey-holes such as under floors and in caves. There are said to have been stills at the Smugglers' Tunnel and at the last three crofts on the hill, Cummings, Adams's, and Francis Hendry's, and the King's Cave was also reputed to have had one and was thought to be very suitable as it had a large bank of sand at the mouth of the cave which prevented the customs officers, who largely worked by sea, from seeing what went on. A still was certainly found under Honeysuckle Cottage along with its "crocken stone" which unfortunately was given away. The blacksmith, John Matheson, mentioned above, was the leader of some smugglers and on one occasion when the customs men paid him a visit he quickly thrust his wife into bed with the cask and explained to the officers that she was great with child. Another woman is supposed to have helped by carrying the casks up the cliff on her back. The local barley-growers felt the pinch when the smugglers were eventually caught.

In spite of Lady Pitcalnie's "slatter" most of the bigger houses were still thatched. Some of the cottages were built with stone walls and thatched roofs while others had the upper part of the walls made of turfs piled upon each other and then thatched. There was a clay hole near the Whins of Nigg and almost all the cottages at Balnabruach had one too. This clay was mixed with bent grass, straw or rushes for thatching; was used for lining fireplaces; and to make floors which were kept clean by sprinkling with water and brushing. A strip of whitening was run round the edge for smartness's sake and can still be seen in one unoccupied cottage at Balnabruach. The cottages were very small and to save space one woman is known to have hung her weekly baking in a cloth from the ceiling which also kept it out of the way of the children. Sometimes it was even necessary to keep barrels of herring under the bed. Some very elementary dwellings were made with pliable saplings placed in two rows, bent towards each other, joined at the top and then covered with turf and thatched. These were known as "boogerie couples". This name probably comes from the term "bougars" referred to in an article in The Scotsman of 23rd March, 1967, as arched timbers in the shape of whales' jawbones. There was a "boogerie couple" just behind the White House much to the annoyance of the owner who wanted to build a bakehouse in its place. He had the old woman who lived in it removed to the Poor House in Tain whereupon she cursed him saying that nothing would ever be baked in his bakehouse but that pigs would be kept there instead. His bakehouse was never finished and later a Dunskaith gardener's wife reared pigs at that spot.

A resident of the parish remembers an old woman who had once practised witchcraft. She tells of a girl going to the witch's cottage and finding her baking stones on a girdle. "This is not for you, my dear," said the witch. "Don't turn round but go out the door backwards and it will do you no harm."

Coal was still being unloaded on the sands below Pleasant Cottage, at the Ferry and near Shandwick. Sledges were often used on the sands for the loading and unloading of ships. At Red House Nigg already had a "traffic system" as the carts went down by Honeysuckle Cottage and came up by Pleasant Cottage where the rise was less steep. Any crofter who had enough land to keep a cow would sell milk to his neighbours, otherwise the children had to fetch it from the farms before school. Sometimes this meant quite a long walk. Two mills operated in Nigg, one at Balaphuile which closed down in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the other at Bayfield which continued till 1912. People tell of a "kiln at Culnauld" but no-one remembers it working.

Hugh's Fair was still being held in the parish in 1841. It was originally held at Wester Rarichie and latterly at Ankerville on the third Tuesday of November and was called after the Hugh Rose who started it. By this time it was dying out but Mr Alec Mackenzie's father remembered going to it and seeing there a woman who made toffee by working sugar with her hands.

Most of the people were Gaelic-speaking although, according to the New Statistical Account, English was on the increase. By the turn of the century it had become the main language although Shandwick resisted the change longer and Mr. Watt, the school-master, found it very difficult to keep order with children who persisted in speaking a different language. Even in 1967 eight copies of the church magazine Life and Work in Gaelic are taken in Shandwick and Balintore.

The Romanes family were much loved and are remembered for their philanthropy within the parish. Although most houses had their own wells they provided a piped water supply to Balnabruach, thoughtfully placing taps at strategic points near any cottage with a large family. There is one below Elder Cottage, one at Balnapaling, another at a cottage near the White House and two near Dunskaith.

The New Statistical Account refers to three inns in the parish. The whereabouts of one is unknown but one was at Lower Pitcalnie and the third is still going strong at Nigg Ferry. There was a "cellar" beside the shop at Burnside where alcohol was sold for consumption off the premises.

In 1841 the Post Offices were Parkhill (Kildary) and Cromarty. Mr. Alec Fraser remembers when telegrams were delivered from Cromarty by sailing-boat which did not stop and the telegram was flung ashore wrapped round a stone. Someone was sure to be watching and they would pick it up and deliver it. When the doctor was needed he also came from Cromarty in a sailing boat. Mail from Parkhill was carried by a man across the ford but if the tide was high he used a plank over the canal.

Miss Ross, Millcraig, tells of how her mother at the age of seven travelled from Cromarty to near Dingwall. She crossed the ferry to Nigg, had breakfast at Mulloine, crossed the ford by trap or cart when the tide was right, had lunch at Invergordon and then went on to her destination. Her grandmother travelled on the coaster which plied regularly between Cromarty and London carrying passengers as well as goods but the opening of the Highland Railway Line in 1864 introduced a much quicker method of travel.

Mr. Alec Mackenzie has an account book of 1870 but its origin is uncertain. It appears to be that of a merchant buying supplies in London, Cardiff, Liverpool, Bristol, Hull, Glasgow, Leeds and Dundee. Some of the goods and prices at that time were:

5 yards doeskin @ 5/6.
20 yards black silk @ 3/6.
12 yards velvet @ 11/-.
15 yards linen @ 2/6.
12 pieces French merino @ 5/6 per yard.
10 pieces mouse de laine @ 1/3 per yard.
2 pieces satin ribbon (50 yards) @ 1/9 per yard.
10 pieces Welsh flannel (480 yards) @ 1/10 per yard.
24 pairs blankets @ 18/- per pair.
5 pieces German lawn @ 3/3 per yard.
12 pieces gingham @ 1/6 per yard.
10 pieces twilled cotton @ 8Vzd. per yard.
6 reams Demy printing paper 16/-.
2 reams wove foolscap @ 13/-.
60 yards carpeting @ 2/9.
10 lbs. Black tea @ 3/-.
1 lb. green tea @ 6/-.
7 lbs. loaf sugar @ 8d.
2 lbs. coffee @ 2/-.
1 box raisins 56 lbs. @ 6.5d. per lb.
6 lbs. currants @ 7d.
2 cwts. white soap @ 54/-.
1 dozen port wine - £1. 16. 0.
1 dozen sherry - £2. 2. 0.
6 silk hats @ 11/-.

Mr. Dudley Gordon, Elmbank, Fearn, has several account books of Gordon's Stores which operated in Fearn during the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. They sent a van round Nigg and some of the prices and goods shown in the books are given below. The main items bought were tea, sugar, bread and butter. A fairly typical account is that of John Macleod, Meddat:

1884:  May 15th. Sugar 1/-, tea 9d., bread 3d.
             May 19th. Bread 3d., soda 1.5d.
             May 22nd. Tea 9d., sugar 6d., bread 6d., flour 1/6d.
             May 26th. Tea 9d., sugar 6d.

1876                                     1879
1 lb sugar 5d                       1 lb sugar 3.5d
1 lb barley 2d                      1 lb butter 1/1
1 lb butter 1/4                      1 firlot flour 4/6
Quarter lb tea 9d                1 st. meal 2/-
1 lb raisins 8d                     1 doz. eggs 6.5d
1 loaf 4d                               1 lb lozenges 6.5d
1 lb onions 2.5d                  Soda 4d
Half st. fine flour 1/3d         1 currant loaf 1/-
Half st. fine meal 1/2½d     Oranges 1/-
1 doz eggs 9d                      1 pkt. candles 2/-
1 lb mutton 9d                      Blacking 6d
1 oz tobacco 3d                   Starch 6d
Candles 4d                          1 sheet 3/10
Herring 6d                            Jacket 7/9
                                                Braces 1/-

Half boll flour 6/- to 8/-        1 lb mutton 8d, 11d
Half boll meal 10/-               Herring 6d
1 firlot meal 4/3                    Codfish 1/1
1 st. feeding meal 1/-          1 bar soap 8d, 1/8
1 st. bran 1/-, oil cake 10d. Soft soap 8d
1 doz eggs 7d, 8d                1 oz. tobacco 3d
1 lb sugar, 3d, 4d                 A roll tobacco 4/4
1 lb barley 2d                        Syrup
1 lb cheese 8d                      Coffee
1 lb butter 1/3                        Starch
1 lb tea 2/9                             Kettle 3/4
1 lb raisins 8d                        Frying pan 1/6
1 lb currants 6d                     Pans 2/-, 3/3
7 lbs marmalade 3/3            Pail 1/10
Half st. rice 1/-                       Teapot 8d
Biscuits 1.5d, 2d                   Ladle 6d
Rolls 2d                                  Knife 1/-, 1/6
Cornflour 3d                           Brush 9d
Cream of tartar 5d                Girdle 19/-
Jelly 6d                                   Basket 3/3
Treacle 5d                             1 pr.carpets 2/4
Crowdie 2.5d                        1 cwt. Alloa coal 9d
Suet 6d                                   Boots soled 2/-
Salt 6d                                    Boots soled and heeled 3/6
Tin beef                                  Suit Clothes £1. 5. 6, £1. 11/-
Pair boots 3/-, 4/-, 4/3, 7/9   Pair Moleskin trousers 9/-
Pair shoes 2/4, 6/6                Leggings 6/-
Pair slippers 3/6                    Blanket 10/-, 11/6
Hat 1/-, 2/9                             1 yd canvas 6d
Felt hat 2/6                             1 yd print 6d
Cap 2/-                                   1 yd shirting 1/-
Stays 4/-                                 1 yd flannel 1/-, 1/3
Stay fasteners 6d                 1 yd mole 2/4

(4 firlots = 1 boll)                                                  

The Bayfield shepherd's house, showing Danny the Shoemaker's workshop, and Burnside, formerly the shop and cellar.

Continued on Page 2
Terms & Conditions     © Ross and Cromarty Heritage