AFTER a five-month hiatus during which the weather delivered heatwaves that would have been hell to try to walk in, I returned to Inverness amid cooler autumnal conditions that also threatened to be damper. I was back in Scotland for four days of walking, having finally devised a way to break what would otherwise have been a nine or ten-day trip from Inverness to Aberdeen…
Train or Sprain?
Bending to the Knee
I didn’t want to push my luck by spending that many days walking, lest I incur the wrath of my treacherous knee, which occasionally likes to declare that it has had more than enough via the medium of explanatory pain.
Making the Break
The logistics of breaking the trip were not easy, though – with the loss of various railway branches in the sixties leaving many coastal villages isolated from the rail network, I had struggled to identify a point at which I could escape that was far enough along to feel worth it. I eventually hit upon a solution that I was happy with – or, at least, not actually unhappy – and thus I came to find myself wandering through Inverness on a bright mid-October morning…
I began my day’s journey in Inverness’s High Street, where most of the shops were just preparing to open. One happy exception was a coffee shop, which furnished me with a caffeinated beverage with which to fuel the first part of my walk.
My destination for the day was Ardersier, a village ten miles east of Inverness as the crow flies or a journey of twelve and a half miles if I acted like a serious coaster purist and stuck closely to the coast. Now, I am not a purist about these coastal excursions – my only rule is that ‘it’s meant to be fun’ – but even for me, heading west down the High Street appeared to be going in the opposite direction. Because it was. But I had a plan…
The plan began with turning left into Castle Street, which meant that I was heading south and thus 90° less off course than I had been a minute ago. This climbed a hill past Inverness Castle, which is currently closed and surrounded by bright orange hoardings as it undergoes refurbishment and renovation, with a plan to open it fully to the public in 2025. I didn’t plan on hanging about in Inverness quite that long, so I merrily waved it goodbye and turned east…
I was now heading in roughly the right direction, as I made my way down a series of fairly quiet roads flanked mostly by houses (I was still in Inverness, after all). Together, these various streets ‒ Old Edinburgh, Annfield, Damfield and Culcabock Roads ‒ made up the B853, a cross-city route that led, as that last road name suggests, to the outlying suburb of Culcabock (Cùil na Càbaig), at one time a separate hamlet. Today, Culcabock is most notable for being near to Raigmore Hospital (Ospadal an Rathaig Mhòir), which was built on the Raigmore House Estate, to Culcabock’s north, in 1941.
I wasn’t in need of medical treatment but I was in need of sustenance, so I found Culcabock’s Shell garage far more interesting or, more accurately, the Spar shop it contained. Munching a suitably breakfasty roll, I left the B853 behind me and continued down Old Perth Road, happily oblivious that I had just missed the chance to see a stone allegedly marking King Duncan’s Grave.
King Duncan’s Grave
The stone in question was tucked away behind the very garage in whose shop I’d just bought breakfast in a spot known as King Duncan’s Hollow. Here, Duncan I was supposedly buried after his murder by rival Macbeth in Inverness Castle.
I would be dealing with a pang of regret at missing such a curiosity except that it is improbable that it is what it purports. For one thing, Duncan wasn’t stabbed to death in his sleep in Inverness Castle, as per Shakespeare, but died in the Battle of Pitgaveny near Elgin in 1040. Admittedly, this was being fought against Macbeth and his supporters but unless Duncan had a really bad case of somnambulism, he wasn’t asleep when he was stabbed. For another, he was buried in Elgin and later exhumed and reburied on Iona.
Oh well, never mind. Moving on…
Old Perth Road
Old Perth Road was also the B9006 and pretty much doubled the traffic. This made for a fairly noisy time, but it could have been much worse: Before the A9 Inverness Bypass was built, Old Perth Road was the former route of that A-road, so I was still getting off lightly, traffic-wise.
Bypass or no, what felt like a billion cars was not my ideal walking accompaniment, so I was not too upset when a good third of them abandoned me at the Inshes Roundabout, peeling off onto Sir Walter Scott Drive, which led to the northbound carriageway of the modern A9.
Culloden Road (1)
I, meanwhile, went straight across the roundabout – I mean, not literally, though I suppose I could have, had I wanted to risk almost certain death – and joined Culloden Road. This, as its name suggests, would lead to Culloden Muir, which was where I was aiming for.
Highland Tourist Route
The road crossed the roaring dual carriageway of the A9 via a bridge. Just beyond it, I espied a brown sign bearing a thistle logo. Brown signs are reserved for tourist information in the UK’s surprisingly systematic and well-regulated road signage system and this one in particular was informing me that I was now following the scenic Highland Tourist Route, which runs 116 miles from Inverness to Aberdeen and mostly represents the old main roads between them.
Inshes Junction (East)
A few steps further on, another third of the traffic went away, peeling off at the eastern part of the Inshes Junction to join the modern A9’s southbound carriageway. This left me with the final third, which stayed resolutely on the B-road. The question now was, would I do likewise?
While the A9 traffic was turning off to right, I was being given the option of mirroring them and heading left to follow National Cycle Network route 1 on what should be a much quieter journey through the village of Culloden (Cùil Lodair, ‘back of the small pond’). This was certainly tempting and I ummed and ahhed over it for a while before deciding to press on forwards instead.
Taking NCN 1 would have taken me through the village, it is true, and that might well have been more interesting than a B-road that didn’t, but it would also have added an annoying there-and-back retracing of steps to the walk, and I like to keep those to a minimum.
Culloden Road remained a two-way single carriageway as it gently climbed up Castlehill. Screened from the road by trees was the early 19th-century Castlehill House. This is pleasant enough but not terribly remarkable except that it sits on the site of the long-vanished tower or keep that gives Castlehill its name.
The tower had completely vanished long before 1845, when the New Statistical Account of Scotland noted that ‘no trace’ remained of it.
As Culloden Road continued eastwards, it swung around, first heading southeast then northeast. It passed through the top of Inshes Wood, which is shown as unwooded bog in the Ordnance Survey’s first edition map of 1874 but had been planted with trees by the second edition in 1904.
Old Road Alignment
An estate of houses has since been built in the wood, but I paid them little heed, being far more distracted by a seemingly insignificant street running parallel to Culloden Road but just north of it. This screamed out to me that it was an old road alignment, with Culloden Road having since been allowed to meander into the wood to smooth its curves. A quick look at the old maps confirms this, with part of what is now Caulfield Road South once being the original alignment of Culloden Road and the northern limit of Inshes Wood.
This is of absolutely no historical significance whatsoever, but I personally love it when I spot an old road alignment. It’s probably an unforgiveable character flaw…
Regaining its old alignment, Culloden Road climbed gently again as it mounted Westhill. It continued to be flanked by trees and houses until suddenly, a low wall and a field gave me an open view back on the city that I had already spent four miles trying to leave.
I really did reach its outer limit moments later, when the houses disappeared, taking the pedestrian pavement with them. I was now back to the familiar fun of dodging traffic on a B-road. This being the slow tourist route out of season, the traffic had dropped off considerably since Inshes Junction, so it was hardly a hardship. I followed the road further eastwards for a mile…
The first indication that I was drawing close to my objective came in the form of a marker stone beside the drive of one of the few houses scattered along this rural stretch. It indicated where the government cavalry had been stationed after their victory in the 1746 Battle of Culloden.
The stone was one of several erected by local landowner Duncan Forbes (1822-1897), tenth laird of Culloden, in 1881, along with a memorial cairn. He was the great-great-grandson of another Duncan Forbes (1685-1747), the fifth laird, who had been a prominent judge and Whig politician and rose to become the senior legal officer in Scotland, the Lord President of the Court of Session.
The earlier Duncan had played a major role in raising loyalist government regiments and funding government actions against the Jacobite rebels, thus helping to ensure the government victory at Culloden. The ungrateful government never reimbursed him, leaving him financially quite ruined. As the standard warning has it: ‘The value of an investment may go down as well as up and you may not get back the money you invested.’
Background to the Battle
The battle fought on Culloden Muir in 1746 was the culmination of the Jacobite Rising of 1745 and the effective end of the Stuart claim to the throne.
It had its roots in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when the Catholic James II (1633-1701) was deposed in favour of his Protestant daughter Mary II (1662-1694) and her husband William of Orange (1650-1702). When Mary died, she was succeeded in turn by her husband and her sister Anne (1665-1714), after which the line of succession ran out of Protestant Stuarts and the crown passed instead to a more distant Protestant relative, George I of Hanover (1660-1727).
James II had never accepted his deposition and fought vainly to regain the crown, losing to William at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Although that crushed his military chances, he never gave up hope, passing the cause onto his son James (1688-1766) – the ‘Old Pretender’ – who led the failed Jacobite Rising of 1715 against George I, and his grandson Charles (1720-1788) – the ‘Young Pretender’ or ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ – who tried again in 1745, attempting to wrest the crown from George II (1683-1760).
Rising of 1745
Charles had some initial successes, capturing Edinburgh and defeating government forces at the Battle of Prestonpans but came a-cropper after then invading England. This also started well, and he took Carlisle and reached as far south as Derby before realising he was now terribly overstretched and vulnerable to a counterattack by government forces led by Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765), the third and youngest son of George II.
The arms of these two opposing princes were each based on the relevant Royal Arms (Scottish versions shown here), differenced by a white label. As son and heir to the Old Pretender – who claimed the title of James III – Charles used a plain label, but Cumberland’s bore a cross of St George on the central point. While both displayed the arms of dominion for Scotland, England, Ireland and France (though marshalled differently), Cumberland’s also displayed a quarter representing Hanover.
Cumberland retook Carlisle and pursued the Jacobites into Scotland, catching up with them at Culloden.
Battle of Culloden
Charles initially hoped to ambush Cumberland’s army but, when it failed to advance and attack the outnumbered Jacobites, the latter resorted to their devastating Highland charge, which had previously proven effective at breaking the ranks of their enemy.
Unfortunately for them, a combination of boggy ground and new government drills specifically designed to counter this gambit (government soldiers had trained to strike the foe to their right to get around the Highlanders’ shields) meant that the charge failed to break the government ranks.
Having cast the dice and lost, their fate was sealed as they could not hope to stand against a British Army force that outnumbered them almost two-to-one. Along with some 1,200-1,500 of the 5,000 Jacobites, all realistic hopes of the Jacobite cause died on that moor, not to mention the Highland clan system.
Until the early 1970s, when the battlefield was acquired by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), the road used to run right through it. This should not be all that surprising, as if you’re going to move an army through boggy moorland, doing it along an established road makes a lot of sense and there was a track leading across it in 1746. This was remade as a proper road, built to Telfordian standards, in 1835 but was rerouted to bypass the battlefield by the NTS and now curves around it to the north.
Missing My Turn
It was my intention to join the old road alignment (because of course it was) but, as it happened, I curved around the realignment without seeing it – fifty years of tree and bush growth will hide an old alignment quite nicely.
I could, I have since realised, have easily joined it by nipping down the driveway of a house that used to sit beside the old road. On the day, however, I didn’t spot that, and so I continued round the bypass until I reached the entrance to the battlefield’s car park.
Field of the English
I immediately realised what had happened and dismissed it with a nonchalant shrug. It was no trouble to enter the site at the far end and then come back along the old road. In doing so, I passed the marker stone for the so-called Field of the English.
Other Nationalities Are Available
That this site is called the Field of the English is a bit of a broad over-generalisation because, while three quarters of the government army were English, the other quarter wasn’t. That comprised a number of government Scottish regiments, including the 43rd and 64th Highlanders (the former also known as the Black Watch), the 21st (Royal North British) Fusiliers and the 1st Regiment of Foot (the Royal Scots). These, of course, were the regiments part-funded by the earlier Duncan Forbes.
There was also an Irish regiment present on both sides. On the government side, this was the 27th Foot (later to become the Inniskilling Fusiliers). On the Jacobite side, this was a regiment of Irish Picquets who formed part of Charles’s Irish Brigade, along with the Garde Écossaise (‘Scottish Guards’), although the latter weren’t Irish at all…
The Garde Écossaise was a French foreign regiment, a regular guard regiment lent to Charles by Louis XV. Raised in 1418, it had originally been composed of Scots volunteers but by 1746, it was mainly composed of Frenchmen. Although this may have made them less invested in the cause, as a force of professional regulars, the Garde Écossaise was one of Charles’s steadier, more reliable units.
The majority of Charles’s army were regiments raised under the clan system from Highland clans loyal to the Catholic Stuarts. The later Duncan Forbes raised a number of stones to mark where the dead of various clans had been buried.
Let God Sort Them Out
Sadly, the clan assignations to the graves are probably no more accurate than the ‘English’ one. The concept of specific clan tartans is largely a creation of Victorian romantics and there would have been little to differentiate members of one clan from another apart perhaps from the odd brooch or similar. Thus, there was really no way to reliably identify which dead were which.
With no accurate records and only ‘local knowledge’ to go on, there was probably even less chance that Duncan Forbes could get it completely right some 135 years later. But that didn’t stop him proclaiming on his centrepiece memorial cairn that the graves of the ‘gallant Highlanders’ are marked by ‘the names of their clans’.
The cairn was built in vaguely the middle of the battlefield, situated in what had been no man’s land between the government and Jacobite lines. Back then, it was also right beside the main road for maximum visibility. Today, of course, it is not, the road having been rerouted away from it 90-odd years later.
The government line was to the east of the cairn, the Jacobite to the west. Between them lay an expanse of soft and boggy moorland which probably looked then much as it does now.
This current appearance is due more to the determined efforts of the NTS toward restoring it rather than any reverent preservation of the land since the battle. Indeed, when the NTS acquired the site in the 1970s, they did so from the Forestry Commission, who had planted conifers right across most of it. A programme of deliberate deforestation followed.
The distant trees seen above flank a small side-road that passes by the farmstead of Culchunaig.
That road was already there in 1746 and was recorded by Maj Gen William Roy (1726-1790) in his Military Survey Map of the Highlands compiled between 1747 and 1752 ‒ he labels the farmstead as ‘Culhunnack’.
The purpose of Roy’s map was intrinsically linked to the 1745 Rising as it was created to facilitate the subjugation of the clans after their defeat at Culloden.
In addition to denuding the battlefield of trees and rerouting the road to keep out through traffic, the NTS built a visitor centre back in the 1970s. This was replaced by a bigger, better visitor centre in 2008 and that now beckoned me with its siren call. Not because I wanted to pay the £14 to look at battlefield artefacts and contextual information (though I was sorely tempted) but because it inevitably had a café.
Eschewing the exhibit, I spent my monies on tea and a sandwich and ate them looking out at the moor. This made for a very happy mammal.
When I had been sufficiently lunched, I returned to the road and headed west a whopping 350 m to the crossroads overlooked by the Culloden Moor Inn. This was a crossroads as far back as the OS 2nd ed in 1905 but was only a T-junction in the 1870 1st ed (the northern arm not then existing, although a separate footpath ran parallel to it). Roy’s map showed no junction there at all, the road simply passing by, but not through, the hamlet of Urchal.
A Diverting Distraction
My intention had been to abandon the Highland Tourist Route by taking that new-fangled 20th-century northern arm but now I hesitated. Signs pointed south, through Urchal, to the Clava Cairns.
I had noted this as a possible site to visit when route planning but had dismissed them as an unnecessary there-and-back side-excursion. Now, however, I was changing my mind. I had plenty of time and I felt fed and rested, so why not? The cairns were a mile and a half away but my day’s plan could easily absorb an additional three miles. So, south I went…
I passed through Urchal, which was totally unsigned with no indication anywhere as to the name of the place. The hamlet straddled a second crossroads – this time with the B851, which converged with the B9006 about 325 m east of both – and continued over that. I passed by Leanach Farm (so-named since the OS 2nd ed but also labelled ‘Urchal’ in the 1st) and headed down a narrow country lane to Clava Bridge.
A small stone bridge built in 1890, Clava Bridge straddled the River Nairn (which further downstream would form the traditional boundary between Inverness-shire and Nairnshire, though both are now subsumed into the Highland council area). Prior to its construction, a wooden bridge carried the road obliquely across the Nairn slightly downstream of the current bridge, which was actually built for the convenience of the Highland Railway (HR) as part of its construction of the Culloden Viaduct between 1890 and 1898.
HR constructed the 549 m-long Culloden Viaduct (also known as the Nairn Viaduct) as part of the Inverness and Aviemore Direct Railway, in order to provide a more direct route for its main line services.
The longest masonry viaduct in Scotland, the Culloden Viaduct needed a lot of stone and this was sourced from the nearby Leanach Quarry, which sits beside what is now the B851, southwest of Urchal.
As was often the case with building what the railways call a ‘permanent way’ (i.e., a fixed alignment of track), they first constructed a ‘temporary way’ (i.e., a track they’d lift when they were done with it) to carry the stone from the quarry to the viaduct.
Clava Bridge was constructed to get that temporary way across the river and was used thereafter by the road, it being a much better bridge than the old wooden one.
On the far side of the river sat Clava Lodge, a Victorian hunting lodge turned holiday accommodation, that was built in 1899. Beside it stood the original farmstead of Clava, as shown on earlier maps including Roy’s (though he shows no bridge across the Nairn) and a number of cottages. These faced onto a short cul-de-sac from which a mostly clearer view of the viaduct was visible.
Balnuaran of Clava
I turned right just after Clava Lodge and soon came to the cairns at Balnuaran of Clava. Balnuaran (or ‘Balnuran’ according to the sign at its gate) is a farmstead close by the banks of the Nairn that has been there since at least Roy’s day (he spelt it ‘Balneuran’ with an ‘e’).
There are four chambered cairns at Balnuaran, next door to the farmstead and open to the public (several others nearby are on private land and not accessible). These were built by the farmers of the Nairn Valley some 4,000 years ago to entomb their most important dead.
I found the cairns to be a delightfully restful environment, shaded and sun-dappled by its screen of trees. So much so that I was only mildly dismayed to discover that this was a design of Victorian misty-eyed romanticism.
In 1870-1, the landowner planted those same trees with the intent of creating a ‘druidic grove’. Job well done, I suppose, but in the process, he also moved two standing stones to make way for the road and built a surrounding wall using stones taken from the cairns.
It turns out that the cairns were liberally plundered by Victorian antiquaries and sightseers to the extent that one picnic party showed up and just dug out the heart of a cairn for a day’s amusement.
Culloden Muir Revisited
The Cumberland Stone
I dithered for a while at Balnuaran of Clava because the ‘druidic grove’ environment, while arrant fantasy, was lovely.
Eventually, though, I dragged myself away and returned to the crossroads north of Urchal where I once again hesitated before taking that northern arm. This time, I was distracted by something on the eastern arm, although it was only 60 m away rather than a mile and a half. The object distracting me was this:
A Tall Order
According to local tradition, the Cumberland Stone marks the spot where the Duke of Cumberland took breakfast on the morning of the battle, using it as his table. If he truly did, then this is more impressive than William I of England’s similar repast using the Conqueror’s Stone as the Cumberland Stone is 5′ 3″ (1.6 m) in height. To comfortably use the stone as a table, he’d want to be about ten feet tall!
Funnily enough, there is no record of Cumberland either being a giant or habitually breakfasting on stilts, so I’m inclined to disbelieve this particular claim. It’s also said that he stood on the stone later to survey the battlefield, which is possible – the surrounding trees were all planted in the 1920s – although he’d still not have seen all that much from that vantage point.
Culloden Road (2)
Turning about, I embarked upon the epic, exhausting, 60 m trek back to the crossroads (it took mere moments) and finally took that patiently waiting northern arm.
Imaginatively named Culloden Road, this was an unclassified road leading to Balloch and had very light traffic. Even so, when I espied a footpath through the woods running parallel to it, I eagerly took that and I’m glad I did. To judge from the noise, every motorbike in Scotland raced up that road just moments later. Either that, or there were some really massive bees.
I was only ever planning to head up this new Culloden Road for about a quarter of mile and so I soon reached the point where I was going to leave it anyway. A forest track ran off from it at right-angles, heading eastwards deep into part of Culloden Forest. I love a good forest walk, especially when it’s all sun-dappled.
I spent just under a mile engaged in this wonderful woodland wander. For much of that, the track wriggled east before hitting a T-junction, where I turned north. I then followed a side track, which meandered a lot more than I had expected, so that I wasn’t entirely sure I was where I wanted to be, when it spat me out onto the gorse-flanked access track of a house. If there was a railway bridge at the track’s far end, then the house was Millstone and I knew where I was. Otherwise, I’d be lost. For a certain value of ‘lost’, anyway.
Feabuie Railway Bridge
Feabuie Railway Bridge was a lot smaller and less impressive than Culloden Viaduct but dated to the same time and carries the same line, in this case over the single-track road that passed through the scattered hamlet of Feabuie. I passed under it and followed that road eastwards for about a quarter of a mile, where a path to my left enabled me to plunge back into Culloden Forest…
The part of Culloden Forest that I was now entering was the High Wood. As I followed the pathway into the trees I found myself also following a young woman out walking her dog. I slowed my pace, so as not to catch up with her, and was mildly relieved and yet slightly perturbed when she peeled off into a turning on the left. I was relieved because now I could charge forwards with my usual stride. And I was perturbed because the turning she took didn’t exist on my map. Still, I thought, it’s a good job I’d slowed down before – if she could spontaneously manifest paths as needed, she was not someone I wanted to accidentally spook!
As I made my way through the High Wood, I started to see other tracks that I wasn’t expecting – clearly this mysterious dog-walking wood-witch had been busy! But then I saw evidence of other forest activity that offered a far more likely but infinitely more boring explanation:
New Forestry Roads
This wasn’t the first time I’ve encountered brand spanking new forestry roads that upset my map, so I was kinda expecting that to be the answer. In general, it’s not too problematic, but it does mean that navigating on the basis of, say, ‘take the third turn on the left’ becomes dangerous as new junctions might have been interposed. I made sure to keep an eye of the placements of streams and other landmarks to the junctions, just in case.
Exit This Way
The intersection I was looking for was a T-junction at which the turnoff I wanted headed off to the left. When I found it, it had become a crossroads but I wasn’t fooled. One arm of it looked far too new, while the one I was after looked old, so I followed it with confidence. I’m pleased to say that that confidence proved well-founded too, as the trail emerged from the forest and became a green farm lane…
Sat casually across the lane were several sheep who were very surprised and alarmed to see someone walking towards them out of the forest. Given that the lane doesn’t really go anywhere other than a roaring A-road, I don’t imagine there are many pedestrians headed that way. The sheep took off at speed, trotting ahead of me as fast as their little hooves could carry them.
I never caught up with them.
I’m still not exactly sure where they went. They didn’t run out across the A-road, else there would have been a lot of vehicular noise and an appalling pile-up. I didn’t see them in any of the fields on either side. I didn’t even see, where they might have got off the lane into those fields. My best guess is that they squeezed through some gap I didn’t notice and hid from me behind a hedge. Or else they just spontaneously disintegrated. One of the two.
As I said above, the green lane terminated rudely at an A-road, specifically the A96. This was a terrifyingly busy road with heavy traffic roaring past in both directions. It was only standard two-way single carriageway but busy enough that there had plans to make it a dual carriageway back in 2013 (all prospective plans for so doing involved carving chunks out of the property of adjacent landowners and they put up stiff resistance to the plan).
While I don’t mind road-walking with light-to-moderate traffic, I would have ruled out the A96 completely were it not for two things:
- There was a broad grass verge on one side, which meant I did not have to share the roadway, and:
- I only needed to be on it for just over half a mile.
I did that half mile as quickly as I dared and risked my life crossing the A-road at the end of it. Taking a quiet, single-track road north I resolved to forget the A-road and count my blessings. The sun was out, the sky was blue etc…
The factory in the photo is actually Morayhill Mill and occupies the site of an old farmstead of that name. It belongs to Norbord Europe Ltd ‒ a subsidiary of Canadian timber company West Fraser, which bills itself as ‘one of the world’s leading manufacturers of engineered wood-based panel products’ and which owns three mills in the UK and another in Belgium.
The Morayhill site faces onto the A96 almost exactly halfway between where I joined the A-road and where I left it, so I had actually just walked right past its front door.
Castle Stuart Halt
Continuing north up the narrow country road, I crossed a single-track railway line. This line was opened by the Inverness & Nairn Railway in 1855 but became part of the HR in 1866. The stone overbridge carrying the road over the line presumably dates to the line’s opening but, at an unknown date, a private halt was added beside it to serve the nearby Castle Stuart. The halt was definitely there in 1938, when the Railway Clearing House handbook mentioned it, but was closed at some uncertain time thereafter.
The castle served by the halt lay a little further north, by which time my single-track lane had joined the two-way B9039.
Originally known as Hallhill Castle when it was owned by the Mackintosh family, it was granted to James Stewart (1531-1570), 1st Earl of Moray, by his half-sister, Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587), in 1561.
James’s attempt to rebuild the castle was rudely interrupted by his murder (he was killed by one of Mary’s supporters, having become opposed to her in a developing civil war). James was succeeded by his daughter, Elizabeth (1565-1591) whose husband and distant relative James Stewart (1565-1592) became the 2nd Earl of Moray, made some bad choices and also got murdered.
The remodelling of the castle had to wait until his son, James Stuart (1581-1638), 3rd Earl of Moray, was old enough to attend to it. The 3rd earl not only managed to finish completely remodelling the castle but also successfully failed to uphold the family tradition of being horribly murdered. Some people just have no respect for the past.
Decline & Restoration(s)
The Civil War brought about something of a decline in Stuart fortunes, what with Charles I (1600-1649) being executed and all. They went into exile abroad with Charles II (1630-1685) and the castle fell into disrepair. When they returned with the Restoration in 1660, the Earls of Moray didn’t reoccupy Castle Stuart and it was left to moulder for generations until George Stuart (1810-1872), 13th Earl of Moray came to the rescue and had it restored. It was restored again in 1977, after Douglas Stuart (1928-2011), 20th Earl of Moray, leased it to tenants who paid for its restoration themselves while paying a peppercorn rent.
The castle was subsequently opened as a luxury hotel but appears to be closed now.
Arms of Moray
The shield upon the gate is a much-simplified black-and-gold version of the arms of the later earls of Moray, which looks like this:
The first and fourth quarters show the Royal Arms of Scotland with a blue and white bordure, representing Moray (the 1st earl was the illegitimate son of James V).
The second quarter is the chequered fesse of the Stuarts (inherited from the 2nd earl) and the third quarter is the arms of the Randolph family, who were the original Earls of Moray long before the Stuarts but whose line died out leading to the title being created anew for James in 1561.
Castle Stuart Golf Links
To the north-west of the castle are the Castle Stuart Golf Links, designed by American golf course designer Mark Parsinen (1949-2019) and opened in 2009. These are apparently very well-regarded and were acquired by Canada-based golf resort developer Cabot in June of this year.
I have no interest whatsoever in golf and find golf courses irrationally irritating, so I was glad to be insulated from the links by intervening fields as I made way eastwards along the B9039.
Old Military Road
According to my modern OS map, part of the B9039 was an ‘Old Military Road’ and it certainly seemed straight enough for that to be the case. A little research suggests it was probably built by Maj William Caulfeild (1698-1767), who was appointed Inspector of Roads for Scotland in 1732 by Gen George Wade (1673-1748).
Wade and Caulfeild’s remit was to build military roads in the aftermath of the Jacobite Rising of 1715 to better enable the British Army to put down any future rebellions.
Today’s B9039 is definitely there in part on Roy’s map of circa 1750, passing by ‘Castle Stewart’ and heading into Ardersier but the stretch of the B-road immediately east of the castle follows a more southerly alignment. Roy has his road heading past the settlements of ‘Easter Fishertown’ and ‘Easter Carragair’.
Easter Fisherton is definitely north of the current road and was so by as early as the 1st ed OS map in 1870, with Caulfeild’s road through it reduced to a footpath by then. It still forms part of the access road but is now a dead end. That being so, I resisted the urge to go and pointlessly walk Caulfeild’s route to nowhere and stayed on the modern road alignment. There was a lot to like about with it, with a glorious view across flat fields to Morayhill Mill and Culloden Forest in the distance.
Easter Kerrowgair was still showing on OS maps up until 1948 but then vanished and today appears to be a square copse of trees potentially hiding the farmstead’s ruins. Although the road passed north of the farmstead and not right through a settlement as Roy showed, I’m still pretty sure that that was roughly where the B-road re-joined Caulfeild’s road alignment.
I now found myself walking beside Inverness Airport (Port-adhair Inbhir Nis) and parallel to its runway. The airport was built in 1940 as RAF Dalcross and obliterated most of Mid Kerrowgair farm in the process (although the farmhouse remains).
Opened for civil operations in 1947, the airport today operates a small number of domestic and international flights with carriers such as British Airways, EasyJet, KLM, Loganair and TUI Airways.
Why I Don’t Fly
The airport is about eight miles from Inverness, which isn’t that much in the scheme of things but reminds me one of the reasons why I don’t fly up to Scotland for these trips. It would be both faster and – amazingly – cheaper than going by train but I’d have the hassle of getting to or from the airport at either end.
The other, and far more dominant reason, is that I like to sit and look out of the train window, watching the countryside go by. I actually enjoy the journey, so why would I want to skip it?
Passing the airport meant that I was drawing close to my destination and soon the road (and the coast) began to veer round towards north.
The road was very close to the shore now, affording me a clear view ahead to the village on the shore of Moray Firth.
The road curved around some more to head fully north and I found myself right on the edge of the village. One of the first buildings I encountered was the old toll house, associated with the Parliamentary road network established on the early 1800s.
Ardersier already had two good roads leading south by then, thanks to Caulfeild, but the British Army was initially quite iffy about letting others mess up its lovely roads by using them. By the early 1800s, with the Jacobite threat long-defeated, they lightened up considerably and many stretches of military road were worked into the new Parliamentary road network under the aegis of Thomas Telford (1757-1834).
Tolls were administered by turnpike trusts, which were statutory bodies established to levy tolls for road use and to use those revenues for maintenance and repair.
Ardersier (Àird nan Saor, ‘headland of the carpenter’) is a former fishing village that also had a strong sideline in catering to the nearby military fort to its north (Fort George). The fort was built in consequence of the 1745 Rising.
Villagers from Blacktown, a settlement displaced by the fort, swelled Ardersier’s numbers although, due to weird parish boundary issues, the village was actually two communities – Stewart-town and Campbell-town – collectively forming Ardersier.
Ardersier might be tucked out of the way from everything now, but from the 13th through to 18th centuries, it sat on a significant transport route. At the tip of its peninsula, where Fort George is now, a ferry made the short trip across to Chanonry Point on the far side.
At one time, this was one of the busiest and most important ferry crossings of the Moray Firth and carried pilgrims, including James IV (1473-1513), on their way to St Duthac’s Shrine at Tain. Regular crossings continued right up until 1939, when the last regular ferryman died.
As I made my way through the village, I passed this:
Ardersier’s memorial fountain was built by public subscription in 1901 to commemorate Queen Victoria (1819–1901). It was built as a drinking fountain, with for cups attached by chains. Today it’s unlikely to satisfy any thirst unless you’re secretly a bee. Or possibly a hummingbird.
Gun Lodge Hotel
My day’s walk ended at the Gun Lodge Hotel, which was built by a retired army officer in 1769 as his private house with the name ‘Cromal Lodge’.
The hotel is allegedly haunted by the ghost of Georgina, a love-crossed girl – possibly a jilted war mistress – who sometimes comes in the night to sit on the end of your bed! However, information about this supposed Georgina is negligible and the only claim that that the hotel itself is making about her is that she will know if you flush anything down the loo that might block the plumbing! A dire warning indeed!
Having arrived and performed the usual change of clothes and ablutions, I enjoyed a leisurely meal, had a couple of drinks and chatted to a couple of other guests. Then it was off to bed. Would I have a ghostly visitor? And would I even notice if I did? Only one way to find out…
This time: 19½ miles
Total since Gravesend: 4,150½ miles