The Storehouse of Foulis
The Storehouse of Foulis, situated on the A9 north of the Cromarty Firth road bridge and approximately two miles from the village of Evanton, comprises a replica of the original ferryman’s cottage (now a restaurant and farm shop) and the adjacent girnal, or grain store, where tenants of the surrounding estates brought their grain for storage prior to shipment to ports such as Leith. The girnal now houses a multi-media exhibition about Clan Munro, its people and its lands – an appropriate location since Foulis Castle, the historic private home of successive Chiefs of Clan Munro, is nearby.
The restaurant, which seats 80 and is licensed, serves a full range of excellent value, high quality home-made meals and snacks, specialising in local produce. An associated picnic area affords the visitor an opportunity to dine beside the Firth while watching the seals for which the place is famous.
Also within the girnal a business facility is available for up to 30 persons.
Completely private, the dedicated meeting room is housed within this historic 18th century building and is available for half day or full day hire.
Wireless internet access is available throughout the property which means groups or individuals can access the net anywhere in the building, or perhaps from the picnic tables adjacent to the restaurant and overlooking the firth.
Lunch and snacks can be served either privately in the meeting room or at a table reserved within the restaurant.
Evening functions for up to 80 guests can also be catered for.
For further details contact Quintin Stevens at The Storehouse on 01349 830038.
The big, long building is the Renthouse, or, to use a Scots word, the Girnal, which means a granary or place to store grain. It was built around 1730, the exterior looking just as it does today with its magnificent roof of slates . Its stone walls are covered with cream coloured “harling”, the typically Scottish finish that protects the stonework from the wind and rain that can drive down the Cromarty Firth. In places, such as round the windows, you can see the stone itself, the famous Old Red Sandstone which is the characteristic building material of Easter Ross. If you visit the exhibition, you will be seeing by far the finest surviving example of the dozen or so renthouses that once played a key role in the economy of this part of Scotland.
Inside – What was the Renthouse for?
Turn left as you enter the building and go through the door marked “The Renthouse of Foulis”. You will hear an explanation of the building’s historic function, illustrated by the displays showing how the interior would have looked two centuries ago. The Renthouse was the place where the local landlord, in this case the Chief of the Clan Munro, collected and stored the grain which came to him instead of money rent from his tenants and clansmen. The grain was oats and barley, the two crops suited then to the local climate and soil and which were the staple diet of the people.
Some of the grain would be used by the Chief for his household at nearby Foulis Castle, and some to pay the local church minister and schoolmaster, but most would go for sale to Edinburgh or London. Small sailing ships would be drawn up on the shore beside the Renthouse to load the grain in sacks, and also to unload cargo for local consumption, such as coal, tiles, and lime for the fields. By the 19th century this trade was declining as the agricultural economy of the Scottish Highlands shifted away from cereal production to the raising of sheep and cattle. The Renthouse fell into disuse until its restoration in 1998.
Foulis Castle - The Munros of Foulis
Now go into the second room entitled “Clanland” for a commentary and exhibition about the story of one Scottish clan and its relationship with the land. The Munro territory is Ferindonald, in Gaelic Fearandonuill, meaning “land of Donald”, who was the clan’s progenitor, reputedly living in the 11th century – at the start of the last Millennium. Typically of Scottish clans, the Munros have tenaciously held their ground through the centuries against powerful rival clans like the Mackenzies and the Rosses. Even today Munro is the characteristic surname in the area and much of land is still held by Munros.
The clan lands are dominated from the north by the great bulk of Ben Wyvis, the mountain which faces visitors as they drive north from Inverness. It is said that the clan held the mountain from the King in return for snow from its summit to cool his wine in the summer. But it is the fertile coastal lowlands, and at one time the rich seas, that provided the clan with its modest living. The displays show how the pattern of land use has evolved over time to the position today, where the growing of cereals once again dominates the low country; and where forests again cover the lower slopes of the hills as they did at the start of historic times.
What is a Clan?
This is the title of the next room which illustrates that most characteristic Highland social unit called “the clan”. Its literal meaning in Gaelic is “children”, for the idea of kinship, with chief as father of the family, lay at the heart of clan life. Clan society, with its web of mutual obligations between chief, his close relatives and clansmen, reached its peak in the 16th century. A degree of lawlessness, which the Scottish kings sought unsuccessfully to check, was always present. But clan life had its more attractive features, notably its musical traditions and love of storytelling. The music of the bagpipes and the clarsach (the gaelic harp) and the tradition of wearing a distinctive local pattern of cloth and dress – the tartan and the kilt – have become indelible parts of the Scottish identity today.
By the 18th century clan society was in decline, as the pressures of union with England and of economic change in the rest of Scotland overwhelmed the relatively backward Highlands. The traditional ties of supposed kinship between chief and clansmen – the chief bound to protect the clansman and the clansman bound to support the chief in war – were replaced by a commercial relationship between landlord and tenant farmer. Today the clan provides an important focus for the many people of Scots descent around the world, who value their ancestral connection with this land.
Be of this Land
Now you enter the audio-visual theatre. If you have time, sit down to watch the film lasting 20 minutes, which captures the feelings of clanship and attachment to the homeland that unites all those with Scottish blood. The film hinges around a young woman who visits Ferindonald, her ancestral country, for the first time, and around the “seannachie” or clan storyteller who recounts tales of the past. The story is of the Munros, but the theme is one that holds for all Scottish clans – the love of the native country and its traditions, a rock of continuity in an uncertain and changing modern world.
When the film ends, stay a few minutes to see the display about famous (and infamous) clansmen of the past. One such was the Munros most distinguished chief, Sir Robert Munro, a gallant soldier who was the commander of the Black Watch, the earlist Highland regiment of the British Army, and who was killed by the Jacobites under Prince Charlie shortly before the battle of Culloden. Others include five succeeding generations of distinguished 18th and 19th century Edinburgh doctors during a period when medical science in the Scottish capital led the world. The displays also highlight the prominent role of Highlanders who left their often impoverished native country, where opportunities for advancement were few, and dispersed across the world to win fame and glory. Of these the most celebrated is of course the Fifth President of the United States of America, James Monroe.
Now retrace your footsteps through the exhibition to visit the final room, of special interest to children as well as adults, where you can learn more about the rich wildlife in the Cromarty Firth, outside the Renthouse. Seals are often the most visible creatures, resting on the rocks offshore; both Common and Grey seals can be seen, especially from the hide at the Western end of the Storehouse site. The Cromarty Firth is one of the richest areas in Britain for sea and wading birds, especially in winter. The displays illustrate the main species to be seen . Look out in particular for one of the most characteristic, the oystercatcher, with its distinctive black and white plumage and red bill and legs. If you are very lucky, you may spot an osprey fishing in the firth.
Before you leave this final room, glance above you to see the upper floor of the Renthouse, laid out to show how it would have looked two centuries ago when it served its original purpose as a grain store.