The 2nd Statistical Account

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Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness (Image taken from Raeburn painting) with background of west coast outline

Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness standing in front of map of Ross and Cromarty



The ancient history of this parish is involved in much obscurity. Though locally situated in the county of Ross, it has belonged to that of Cromarty, since the time of George Viscount of Tarbat. The founder of his family was Roderick M’Kenzie, second son to Colin of Kintail. Roderick was knighted by James VI., and left two sons, John and Kenneth, the former of whom was created a baronet in the following reign, and at his death bequeathed his lands to his son George. He was the original purchaser of the lands of Cromarty, and in the reign of Queen Anne was made Secretary of State and Earl of Cromarty. An act was procured by him, in 1698, which annexed the barony of Tarbat and his
other lands in Ross-shire to the shire of Cromarty “in all time coming, and to all effects;”-among these, was a large proportion of the parish of Fodderty, whence its anomalous connexion with the neigbbouring county.

The parish was formerly divided into three, viz. Fodderty, Kinnettas, and Tollie, in Brahan. In the first two, there are burying grounds still in use, and in which the older inhabitants remember to have seen the remains of chapels. Traces of a burying ground are also to be met with on a small island below the Castle of Brahan; to the place of worship which the Tollie district would seem to have been formerly attached.

North of the burying-ground at Fodderty, lies Croich-an-Team puil or Temple-croft, in which several stone-coffins have been found. One, containing two skeletons, was dug up within the last four years. – Coffins Of the same kind have been met with near Keppoch Lodge, and in the heights of the property of Hilton. The name usually given to them is Kistvaen, from cist, a chest, and maen changed to vaen, a stone. Sometimes an urn has been found in them; but those discovered in this parish contained only bones and ashes.

Of those sepulchral remains called cairns, there is an excellent specimen on the heights of the property of Hilton, which measures 260 feet by 20 feet. It is situated on a little rising ground, having at the east end a standing-stone. Its height has, of late years, been much diminished by the removal of the stones for the building of enclosures or fences. A number of bones have been discovered in it.

In the same neighbourhood are the remains of two Druidical circles. Of the one, which lies due north of the cairn, there are only three stones remaining, the rest baving been blasted and used in building. The other, which is situated in the march line between the properties of Cromartie and Hilton, presents a singular and interesting appearance. In the centre, the stones are from five feet to six feet above ground, one foot apart from each other, and inclose a space of nine feet diameter. On each side, are the appearances of two spaces of smaller dimensions, one having only two stones placed at right angles, and the other only one, which measures seven and a-half feet by four and a-half feet, and at the height of two-thirds has an indentation slightly angular in the centre, and cut more deep towards the edges. Surroundin the whole are the appearances of several concentric circles of considerable dimensions, but most of the stones have been carried away. It is proper to notice, that, while the proprietor resided in the vicinity, the people were prevented from interfering with these interesting remains of the religion of our Celtic ancestors, who held it as a principle, that no temple or covered building should be erected for public worship, but that their devotions should be performed under the open canopy of Heaven. The object of the smaller spaces observed in one of the remains can only be matter of conjecture. It is not unlikely that they were a kind of Holy of Holies in which the Druids met, apart from the vulgar, to perform their more sacred rites, or to sit in Council for the purpose of determining controversies. Some assign a Scandinavian origin to these remains, believing that the Druids never visited Scotland. However this may have been, previous to the invasion, it is by no means improbable that after it they were induced to flee thither by the system of extermination exercised towards them by the Romans. Of their religion, little is known, and their circles have long since become a mere theme for the antiquary.

On each side of the church, are two standing-stones. The vulgar tradition respecting them, is, that Knock-Farril, which lies directly opposite, was often resorted to b Fin Mac Coul, the Fingal of Ossian; whence, by his immense strength, be threw them down upon his enemies. In confirmation of this, the marks of a gigantic finger and thumb are still pointed out on one of them. Some are of opinion that they were used for offering up sacrifices in the time of the Druids, as the larger of the two has the appearance of being burnt from top to bottom ; but others, that they were erected as memorials to perpetuate some events which, as the stones are in their natural shape, and without inscription, have not been transmitted to posterity; and a third party, that they were intended to mark the neutral ground between the Mackenzies of Seaforth, and the Mackenzies of Dochmaluack.

There is another stone halfway between Castle-Leod and the Spa with an eagle cut upon it, and called in Gaelic Clack-an-tiom-pan. It stands close to the old line of road, and is supposed to mark the place where a number of the Munroes fell in an affray with the Mackenzies of Seaforth. The tradition is as follows: The Lady of Seaforth dwelt at that time in a wicker or wattled-house at Kinellan. A party of the Munroes came upon her by surprise, and carried off the Lady, house, and all that it contained. They were overtaken near Castle-Leod, defeated with great slaughter, and the Lady of Seaforth rescued. Clach-an tiompan was set up by the Munroes over the remains of their fellow clansmen. Kenneth Oure is said to have prophesied that in course of time ships should be seen moored to this stone.

On the north-west side of Knock-farril is a circular enclosure or ring, formed of small stones, having the earth somewhat scooped out in the interior. There is a similar one near the march line between the properties of Cromartie and Hilton, and within sight of the former. They are not unlike the pond-barrows of Wales, and are supposed to have been used either for the performance of religious rites around them, or for games and combats which took place within them. The common people call them fairy-folds.

On a small eminence at the west end of Park is a number of standing stones, placed in a circular form, and enclosing a space of about 15 feet in diameter, from which two rows run eastward, and make a rectangle of 9 feet by 6 feet. They are supposed to Commemorate a bloody battle which took place towards the end of the fifteenth century, between the M’Kenzies and the M’Donalds, headed by Gillespie, cousin of the Lord of the Isles. The chief of the M’Kenzies bad married a sister of the latter; but for some slight reason repudiated her, and is said to have sent her back, by way of insult, with a man and horse each blind of an eye, as she herself had a similar defect. Some time thereafter, a predecessor of the Laird of Brodie happened to be on a visit at Kinellan, and on departing received from M’Kenzie a present of several heads of cattle. As he and his followers were driving these across the low grounds to the west of Druim-chatt, they observed the M’Donalds approaching to avenge the insult which bad been offered to the sister of their lord, and immediately returned to assist the M’Kenzies. The remains of the Brodies who fell on the occasion are said to have been buried under these stones. Tradition attributes the victory which the M’Kenzies gained chiefly to the aid which they received from a little man with a red night-cap, who appeared suddenly among them. Having knocked down one of the M’Donalds, be sat upon the lifeless body, and, when asked the reason, replied, “I have killed only one man, as I am to get the reward only of one man.” He was told to kill another, and he would receive double-he did so, and sat on him likewise. The chief of the M’Kenzies on learning the circumstance came hastily to him, and said, “Na cunnte ruim. ‘s cha chunnte mi ruit,” meaning, Don’t reckon with me, and I’ll not stint thee-whereupon the little man arose, and with every blow knocked down a M’Donald, always saying, ” ‘O nach cunntair ruim cha chunnte mi ruit.” He helped the M’Kenzie to gain a decisive battle, and then disappeared into Loch Kinellan. Gillespie lost his head on the occasion, which is said to have rolled down into a well, where it was afterwards found. This conflict is commonly called the battle of Blar-na-pairc, from the district of this parish in which it was chiefly fought. The beheading of Gillespie and many of his followers renders it not improbable that it was the same with that of Blar-na-ceaun, or the battle of the heads.

Castle-Leod, said to have been built by Sir Roderick M’Kenzie, tutor of Kintail, and which was one of the principal seats of the ancient Earls of Cromarty, is situated on the west side of Strathpeffer, near the base of a beautifully rounded topped hill. It is five stories in height, exclusive of the attics. Around the eaves are three bartizans, one on the south or front, measuring 42 feet by 3½ feet, and the others on the east and west sides, 18 feet by 3 feet each. There are four turrets, and numerous loopholes which rise from the lowest to six different heights. Over the principal entry are two stones having the arms beautifully cut on them in high relief ; and above two of the windows to the north, are on one, R. M. K. 3. Agus. and on the other, M. M. C. 1616. The walls in many parts of the building are from seven to eight foot thick, and the dining-room or ball, which is of considerable height, and measures 32 feet by 21 feet, exclusive of the rececesses, has a fire-place in it upwards of 10 feet long by 5 feet high, with stone seats at each end. Below is a cell, which was formerly used as a prison, with a strongly chained oaken door. The castle is built of red sandstone, and presents a remarkable and truly baronial appearance. It is surrounded with large parks and tall ancestral trees among which are the oak, ash, sycamore or plane-tree, elm, lime, arbor vitae, laburnum, and chestnut. One of the last kind is a splendid tree, measuring in circumference at the ground, 24 feet, and breast high, 18 feet. Its branches spread to the extent of about 90 feet in diameter.

The land-owners, none of whom are resident in the parish, are, in the order of their valuation, John Hay M’Kenzie, Esq. of Cromartie; James Alexander Stewart M’Kenzie, Esq. of Seaforth, M.P.; Alexander M’Kenzie, Esq. of Hilton; Duncan Davidson, Esq. of Tulloch; The Proprietor of Strathconon; Sir George Stewart Mackenzie of Coul, Bart.; and Sir Colin M’Kenzie of Kilcoy, Bart.

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