Strathpeffer History

Strathpeffer Community Collage

The Square, Strathpeffer.

Strathpeffer as a spa village, with pumproom in the foreground, the Square on the right and the spire of the Free Church of Scotland in the background.  [Photo RCHS]

Another photograph of the Spa buildings (source unknown).  Is this before the Highland Hotel was built?  

Strathpeffer as a Spa

What makes Strathpeffer unique among British holiday resorts is, of course, its Spa, the curative properties of the mineral waters of which are known all over the world. The history of the Spa dates back to the end of the eighteenth century, when in 1777, after the waters had enjoyed a great local repute for healing, the factor of the then forfeited Cromartie Estates persuaded the Royal Commision to make a geological examination, with the result that several powerful springs of chalybeate and sulphur water were discovered. But it was not until the beginning of the last century that the Spa began to develop on modern lines. Dr. Thomas Morrison, an Aberdeenshire physician, who had cured himself of a chronic rheumatic affection by the Strathpeffer waters, and knew of cases similar to his own which had benefited by the same treatment, decided to make known the health virtues of the resort. He took up residence at Elsick Cottage, now Elsick House. In 1819, he built the first Pumproom, a modest building over "the Strong Well," on the site of the present Bathing Establishment. Subsequently the Cromartie family bought back the forfeited estates and had restored the Earldom attained when the family went out in the '45, and steps were taken to develop the Spa. In 1861 a stone and lime building for both Wells and Baths was erected on the site of the old wooden Pumproom. In 1871 an upper storey and new bathrooms were added: in 1881 another suite of baths was erected, and the whole system for conserving the waters was completely revolutionised. Since then, however, the Spa has been completely transformed. In 1907 the Countess of Cromartie sold the wells and baths to a London syndicate, which has not only developed the Spa on the most efficent and up-to-date methods, but has done so with an admirable sense of artistic values.

The result is that Strathpeffer Spa now combines all the best features of continental Spas and is second to none in Britain. The system adopted is the best known to conserve and preserve the natural gases, which gave the Strathpeffer waters a distinctive value over those of all other Spas. The various wells are grouped together in a new and beautiful Pumproom. The Bath Establishment is a large two-storeyed building with modern bathrooms and well-appointed, comfortable dressing-rooms, and a fine suite of cooling rooms, lounges and waiting rooms, richly appointed and hansomly decorated. The Establishment provides Sulphuric and Pine baths, Douche baths, Nauheim baths, and the famous peat bath, the most perfect of its kind either in Great Britain or the Continent. Strathpeffer was indeed the first Spa in Britain to introduce this type of bath, and which is of distinct value in gouty or rheumatic cases. A complete system of electric treatment is also on operation, and massage is given by skilled staff.

The waters of Strathpeffer Spa are of two kinds - sulphurous and chalybeate. The special feature of the former is due to the large amount of sulphur, particularly in the form of sulphured hydrogen gas. They are slightly aperient and therefore may be freely used. Owing to the absence of chlorides they are not unpleasantly bitter, while the exceptionally large amount of carbonic acid gas makes them easily absorbed and digested. The waters as they come from the five springs are cold, but are heated both for drinking and bathing. The four sulphur and one iron springs, with their various properties, are in strength and potency as follows :-

No.1 - The Old or Castle Leod well. Chiefly taken by those who suffer from indigestion or who cannot take the strongest waters. The water is clearer than that of the others.

No.2 - Upper or Sutherland well. This decidedly the favourite spring, especially for the early morning drink. Though the sulphur flavour is stronger than No.1, the water which acts as a mild aperient, is not unpleasant.

No.3 - The Strong or Morrison Well. The water is clearer in apperance than that of No.2 well, but is rather more unpleasant to take, and two or three days are required to become accustomed to it. In its natural condition it has an astringent action, which is counteracted if taken very hot and with the addition of Epsom salts.

No.4 - The Cromartie Well. A most powerful sulphur spring. It has a large amount of laxative salts and therefore must be taken in smaller quantities than the others. It is useful to those who require the sulphur treatment, but are unable to drink much fluid.

No.5 - The Chalybeate or Iron Well, the waters of which come from Ben Wyvis, contains iron in solution in its most digestible form - the carbonate - and carbonic acid gas, which aerates the water and gently aids its absorption. It acts most beneficially conditions may be used as a tonic after a course of the sulphur water.

The waters, either hot or cold, come direct from the springs to the Pumproom, which is open daily from 7.30 until 9.00 a.m. and from 12 to 1.00.

Taken from 'Strathpeffer Spa' Printed by McCorquodale & Co Ltd. Caxton Works, Glasgow.

History of the Old Station, Strathpeffer

To view other photographs of the station visit

The Station, functioning.

The station when used as a coal yard c.1950s.  [Photo courtesy of the Highland Museum of Childhood.]

Strathpeffer station building, restored from a dilapidated state in 1986.  

Newspaper photograph (source unknown) showing Station in 1937 with goods train.

Highland Railways Company had proposed that the line from Dingwall to Kyle of Lochalsh should pass through Strathpeffer but, due to objections from a local landowner, Sir William Mackenzie of Coul, the line ran to nearby Achterneed and so, from 1870 when a station opened there, visitors to Strathpeffer had to travel two miles by horse and trap from Achterneed to the Spa village.  

Achterneed station ....

.... just before the railway would pass through Raven's Rock.

"The Strathie" at Strathpeffer Station.  [Photo courtesy of The Highland Railway Society]

As above but from photograph acquired by RCHS, now gifted to The Pump Room.

Photo [courtesy of the F W Urquhart collection] of a later version of the "Strathie" taken at Dingwall Station.  In 1897 the Highland Railway Company ran five trains a day on the branch line from Dingwall to Strathpeffer [see Strathpeffer/Environment/The Peffery Way]. The first train, at 7.40 am, was a mixed/mail passenger train.  The journey took ten minutes.  As the train has been decorated, could this be to celebrate Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee in 1897?

After the death of Sir William these objections were removed and the ever-increasing popularity of the Spa meant an alternative site for a station was sought. The Station in its present central position in the village was built for the Highland Railway and opened in 1885, when the old station was renamed Achterneed. Until the first World War Strathpeffer Station served visitors to the popular holiday village in the heyday of the "Strathpeffer Spa Express", but wartime occupation of the hotels and changes in travel habits meant that Strathpfeffer never fully regained its former glory. Mounting debts and lack of patronage brought about the closure to passengers in 1946 and to freight in March 1951. The Old Station was renovated in 1986 and now houses the Highland Museum of Childhood and various other craft outlets. 

The Highland Museum of Childhood has produced a timeline of the station based on photographs, archives and memories, and the information below is quoted courtesy of their leaflet The Old Station Strathpeffer.

1884-1914  The Station's Heyday
The branch line and station were built in 1884, opening June 1885.  Murdoch Paterson, well-known architect and civil engineer was responsible for the design.  The building included a stationmaster's office, ticket office, waiting room, and offices/stores.

1914-1918  World War I  The station was in use for wartime activity including bringing casualties by train to one of the four US Navy hospitals in the village (see Strathpeffer home page).

1918-1940  The Decline of the Station
The Highland Railway was absorbed into London, Midland and Scottish (LMS) Railways in 1923.  In the 1930s a platform was built at the east end extending away friom the tracks towards the Goods Shed.

1940-1944  World War II
The station was in use for wartime activity.

1951-1980  After Railway Closure
After closure the station became mainly a coal depot until the early 1970s (see photo above).  There was also an upholsterer's workshop in the building.

The building included a cinema, toilets and a number of craft shops, including a cafĂȘ from the mid 1980s.

The Highland Museum of Childhood was established.  The cafĂȘ continued to be popular.  The basement under the entire station was filled in.  Gents and Ladies toilets were available.  Renovations took place in 1980 and the Goods Shed was built in 2010.  The latter is an educational unit established by the Museum of Childhood.

Strathpeffer Spa booklet    


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