Local History & Heritage
For those interested in Gaelic - Craigmonie Centre translates as: Ionad Chreag Mhonaidh!
- Glen Urquhart & Thereabouts
- Loch End & Local Legends
- Old Kilmore Cemetery
- The Cover / Urquhart Bay Wood
- George Bain
- Urquhart Castle
- Craig Monie & Balmacaan Woodland
The following includes an extract from a report from the Inverness Field Club written by Sandy Davidson. (2003)
On 20th September, 2003 the Inverness Field Club made an excursion to Glenurquhart, to some extent retracing the route taken by the Club on an excursion in 1885. On that occasion, the Club travelled by two large three-horse brakes and was led by the President, Mr William Mackay, who was a native of the Glen and subsequently wrote an historical account titled, 'Urquhart and Glenmoriston'.
A brochure produced by the Drumnadrochit Chamber of Commerce reveals that there is more to Glenurquhart than just a convenient base for Nessie-hunting. The little map in the brochure shows that here indeed is the hub of the Highlands. The Club learnt that there is more to the Glen than its history, although it has produced a fair number of colourful heroes and rogues. As Mackay puts it, 'The Urquhart and Glenmoriston men have always been a fighting race. When they were not engaged against a common foe they fought among themselves - Urquhart fought with Glenmoriston, the Braes of Urquhart with the Strath, the upper district of Glenmoriston with the lower, and the Grants with such as were not of that name'. The Club members were able to consider the historical context and see for themselves that Drumnadrochit and the surrounding parish is a forward-looking, dynamic community.
About seven miles after leaving Inverness, we came to Lochend, where Urquhart lands formerly ended. At the outflow of the River Ness from the Loch was the site of the ancient Castle of Bona. In the mid-fifteenth century, Hector Maclean held Urquhart and Glenmoriston on behalf of the Lord of the Isles. He engaged in warfare with the cattle-reivers of the west and, after a foray into Cameron territory, he retreated to the Castle of Bona with various Cameron hostages. Lochiel and his men besieged the castle, whereupon Maclean killed the hostages. Then Lochiel hanged his hostages, who included Maclean's sons and other Glenurquhart men. The castle had the reputation of being haunted by the spirits of these victims so was known as Caisteal Spioradan - the 'castle of the spirits'.
The old Highland custom of reiving has another event linking Lochend with Urquhart. A notorious Lochaber cattle-thief, Donald MacDonald alias Domhull Donn, made his abode in the hilly wilderness that lies to the south of Mealfuarvonie, whence he harried the neighbourhood with apparent impunity. One winter's day, on his way to Inverness, our hero 'lifted' a cow from a farm at Lochend. Finding the cow reluctant to go with him, he called at the farmhouse to ask the loan of a rope halter, first disguising the cow by sticking a snowball in the centre of her forehead. The farmer duly obliged! Donald eventually got his comeuppance after being captured at the orders of Grant of Seafield, who had sworn to see him hanged. Sent to trial at Inverness, he was sentenced to death but asked to be beheaded rather than hanged. The Inverness Baillies magnanimously granted his request, so enabling him to get the better of the Grant one last time.
About a mile before we enter Drumnadrochit there is an area called Temple, supposedly the site of a settlement of the medieval Knights Templar. The place may have even earlier mystic associations; a well there was observed as a 'clootie well' until the late nineteenth century. The location of that well can be seen in a rectangular recess in the wall on the north side of the A82.
On the Loch shore at Temple was Temple Pier, landing stage for the steamers that used to ply on Loch Ness and the Caledonian Canal. It was built in 1857, from piles from logs of the Urquhart forests. From Temple Pier John Cobb launched his ill-fated attempt on the world water speed record in September 1952.
To find out more about John Cobb click HERE
In Drumnadrochit the Club visited the new Glenurquhart High School & Craigmonie Centre, opened one year ago, and were able to enjoy and admire the facilities of the building's dual functions as school and community centre. In the lecture theatre, with its fully state-of-the-art projection equipment, the group listened appreciatively to a detailed talk by local historian Duncan MacDonald. His theme was life in Glenurquhart two centuries ago. Even then, Glenurquhart folk were well ahead of their time. They built bridges to give access to the estates of local gentry, distilled whisky, harvested natural resources for export - timber, tanbark and hazelnuts - and operated inns and hotels to cater for the embryo tourist industry. (This was nineteen years before Sir Walter Scott's public relations coup with George IV that romanticized Scotland as a tourist destination.) At the same time, the population of the Glen was experiencing less welcome visitations - an unpleasant skin disease called 'sivvans', persuasive salesmen of emigration schemes and even an exercise in town planning by 'the good Sir James Grant', which led to the construction of Lewiston. After the talk, the group enjoyed tea, coffee and excellent locally baked scones.
The ancient Celtic sport of camanachd was long practised in the Highlands as a convenient - and slightly less bloody - substitute for clan warfare. Here in Glenurquhart there are records of the game being played in the seventeenth century, but it was not until 1884 that the first official Glen Urquhart Shinty Club came into being. Priority in the standardization and codification of the traditional stramash is disputed between Glenurquhart and our archrivals, Strathglass. On its way into the new Glenurquhart High School, the group passed the field of Blairbeg that has been the scene of many a hard-fought shinty match. (Aficionados of politics may note that 'blàr' or 'blair' means 'battlefield' in the Gaelic.)
To find out more about Shinty click HERE
The remains of Old Kilmore church and the cemetery that surrounds them are situated east of Drumnadrochit village on level ground between the rivers Enrick and Coiltie, above their confluence at Urquhart Bay. A geological map shows their site to be at the eastern end of a fault that follows the line of Glen Urquhart.
A church seems to have been at this site since the Middle Ages. About 1620 a minister named Alexander Grant 'was elected during the existence of that hybrid Episcopacy which was established by James the Sixth in the year 1612.' Grant set about repairing the old church so that we now find, set into the old wall, a stone bearing his initials, the date 1630 and the words 'DOMUS DEI'. The cemetery contains several old grave slabs, mainly illegible, which may have been intended traditionally to protect the occupants from the attentions of wolves. A much more recent grave contained the remains of Pte Roderick MacGregor, V.C. who seems to have had a touch of Rambo about him, apparently fighting (and winning!) the Crimean War single-handed. An Inverness man, he settled at Bunloit, Glenurquhart, after his Crimean exploits. His grave bears poppy wreaths placed there by the British Legion. The cemetery also contained an example of the Celtic art of George Bain on a headstone he designed for the grave of his sister-in-law, Georgina MacKintosh.
Below Old Kilmore lies Urquhart Bay wood, locally known as 'the Cover', now managed by Scottish Woodland Trust. It is a designated SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). Because it lies between the two rivers, it is liable to be flooded occasionally. It is clad in trees of various kinds - alders, willows, ash, bird cherry and even some elms, accompanied by a flourishing growth of wildflowers and other herbage. A path leads through the woods across a new suspension bridge (opened on 16th September - please note that this bridge was removed due to erosion- there are plans afoot to reinstate it - Ed. 2013 ) to the very shore of Loch Ness at Urquhart Bay.
The wood is designated as an SSSI because it is an unique example of ash/alder floodplain woodland. It is also the habitat of some unusual species of lichens and flies. Some interesting bird life also occurs. Part of the work of Woodland Trust in conserving this wood has been the elimination of non-native species such as sycamores, snowberries and Japanese knotweed. The paths through the wood may be a little rough in places but they presented no obstacle to the members of the Field Club.
After lunch at the picnic tables on Drumnadrochit Green, or in the several excellent restaurants that surround it, the group set off again up Glenurquhart. On passing Loch Meikle, the Club could observe the bridge to Lochletter that had been described by Duncan MacDonald in his talk. The group passed the Episcopal church of St Ninians, which is well worth a private visit. About a mile further on, the group could observe the site of the battle of Corriebuy on the hills that form the southern wall of the Glen. This conflict, in 1692, arose from a confrontation between Urquhart men and cattle-reivers from Lochaber. Once the raiders had agreed to yield up their booty and both parties had turned homeward, a hare sprang up on the moor between them. Legend has it that the hare was a local witch indulging in the Celtic magical practice of 'shape-changing'. One of the Urquhart men levelled his firelock and shot at the hare. The reivers, believing themselves under attack, returned fire and soon the heather was littered with dead of both sides. The Glenurquhart people built small cairns to mark where each of their men had fallen; in recent years, the local community has restored these cairns.
To find out more about Urquhart Bay Wood click HERE
The ancient chambered cairn at Corrimony is situated close to a convenient parking area from which the group walked to inspect the cairn and its enclosing stone circle. The site has much in common with the cairns at Clava, except that the cupmarks on the capstone of the Corrimony cairn are much more easily discernible than those at Clava.
About half a mile beyond the cairn lies Corrimony cemetery. Preparatory research for this year's excursion resolved a sad little mystery there. A headstone with the name 'Annie Fanny Stokes' stands out among the MacDonalds, Grants and Frasers like an exotic flower in the heather. A reference in the Inverness Courier of 1871 explains how a young Englishwoman came to be buried there, having 'drowned by Corrimony'.
To find out more about Corrimony click HERE
One of the lesser-known facts about Glenurquhart is that George Bain, the expert on Celtic art, resided and taught there. Specimens of his work can be seen in Old Kilmore cemetery, the memorial to John Cobb at Lenie and on the cover of the souvenir programme of the annual Glenurquhart Highland Gathering and Games. He established a college of Celtic culture at Kilmore Old Manse, now the Benleva Hotel. On his death in 1968, his ashes were scattered on the hillside at Upper Drumbuie, a site that overlooks all of Drumnadrochit and lower Glenurquhart.
To find out more about George Bain click HERE
The Field Club ended its excursion to Glenurquhart by visiting Urquhart Castle. En route, the Club noted the numerous vehicles in the Drumnadrochit car park and the many visitors walking along the footpath to the Castle as well as patronizing the village's amenities. It seems, therefore, that the Castle's visitor centre is making a positive contribution to Glenurquhart's economy. The members enjoyed the comfortable facilities of the new visitor centre, especially the audio-visual presentation of the Castle's history with its dramatic finale of the Castle silhouetted against the Loch in the evening light.
To find out more about Urquhart Castle click HERE
Some time in the 11th century, a Viking prince called Monie landed in Argyll, accompanied by an army of men and his sister. The Scots were having none of it, and he was pursued northwards until he finally reached a rocky crag near Loch Ness, visible for miles around. Though he and his companions bravely held their own, they were eventually defeated and Monie was killed.
Craig Monie, as that rocky crag is called, is a local landmark still – so prominent that a gibbet once stood there as a sombre warning for wrongdoers. It is in the north of Balmacaan Wood and at the beginning of the 20th century, the heyday of the Balmacaan estate, its summit was a popular destination for visitors staying in the big house, refurbished and extended in the Victorian era. At this time also exotic trees such as giant redwood or wellingtonia, Douglas fir, Lawson cypress and rhododendron were introduced to the wood. A grand fir measuring 55 metres (180 feet) in height and 8 metres (25 feet) in girth is one of the largest of its type in .
From the second half of the 18th century, the Balmacaan estate had been managed for sporting and ornamental purposes by the Grant lairds, the most famous of whom was ‘the Good Sir James’, so called because of his efforts to improve the living standards of his tenants. He built roads and villages, engineered riverbanks to control flooding and greatly boosted the agricultural economy. He was also passionate about his woods. Trees such as oak, ash, elm, chestnut, hazel, alder, lime, maple, beech and larch were planted and put to a variety of uses, including the production of hoops, spokes and staves. Birch was the main source of charcoal for the manufacture of iron, and the bark of oak and birch was used for tanning leather and making bobbins for the weaving industry.
In the years following the First World War, the estate went into decline and the mansion was first abandoned and then demolished (you can still see two ice houses, though, and an old garden hothouse). Nowadays, animals such as roe deer, red squirrel, pine marten and badger find shelter in the wood, and there is a rich bird life, including great spotted woodpecker, redstart, crossbill and tawny owl. Bluebell and dog’s mercury bloom in spring, both indicators of the woodland’s ancient origins.
With its network of paths now extended to link with those in neighbouring Craigmonie Wood, owned by the Forestry Commission Scotland and maintained by a local community group, Balmacaan Wood has come a long way since the Woodland Trust purchased it in 1984. At the time, it was the Trust’s first acquisition in . Twenty-one years later, the Woodland Trust has been transformed from one
To find out more about the woodland trust click HERE
GLENMORISTON Stories, Photographs, History & Census information, click HERE