CCXXXIV – Ardersier to Nairn

Hasteful MammalI AWOKE in Ardersier after an undisturbed night’s sleep. If Georgina, the alleged resident ghost of the Gun Lodge Hotel had sat on the edge of my bed in the night, she had done it considerately enough so as not to wake me. Thus, fully refreshed, I was ready for the day’s challenge, which was not very challenging at all…

Ardersier

The Long Way Round

My plan, such as it was, was to head to Nairn via a roundabout route.  And the route would want to be roundabout because Nairn was just over six miles away, which would be two hours’ walk, tops.  No, if I was going to keep myself occupied, I’d have to take a more interesting route than just taking the B9092 eastwards.

The first obvious diversion was to head north to Fort George.  And then there was also the projecting spit that made up Whiteness Head.  They should add a bit of meandering deviation into my day. As for any other, well, that would depend on what grabbed me…

Gun Lodge Hotel

I set off immediately after breakfast, keen to get going wherever that might be, and bade the Gun Lodge Hotel goodbye.

Gun Lodge Hotel, Ardersier
Georgina didn’t wave me off; she had plumbing to inspect.
High Street

I stepped out onto Ardersier’s High Street, which is also the B9006.  Various editions of Ordnance Survey maps have also labelled this as ‘General Wade’s Military Road,’ although the road is actually attributable to his assistant and successor, Maj William Caulfeild (1698-1767), rather than Gen George Wade (1673-1748) himself.

The road leads up to Fort George, a military base constructed between 1748 and 1769 in response to the Jacobite Rising of 1745.  This, of course, is exactly where I wanted to go. 

Interestingly, the earlier military survey map of Maj Gen William Roy (1726-1790), which was compiled between 1747 and 1752, shows the fort looking fairly complete but the road petering out in Ardersier, one mile short of the fort.

Map showing that my starting point was the Gun Lodge Hotel, Ardersier
This is not Roy’s map but mine. It shows that my start point was Ardersier High Street, outside the Gun Lodge Hotel.
Slipway

I made it about 200 m along the high street before I encountered a side street that led to a slipway on the shore of Moray Firth. I diverted down this mainly to take in the view.

Moray Firth from Ardersier Slipway
Ignoring it would have been a challenge.
Coastal Path

To my delight, I discovered a coastal path running northwards along the shore just above the shingle beach. I immediately decided to treat the B-road as if it had ended in Ardersier as in Roy’s day and to take this path ahead.

Looking north from Ardersier Slipway towards Fort George and Chanonry Point
My walk for the day would at least start properly coastal.
Ardersier Common

The path conveyed me northwards, sandwiched between the firth and Ardersier Common.  The common is apparently a haven for many kinds of butterfly during the summer months including the relatively rare dingy skipper.  Of course, by walking in October, I was well out of season for seeing any of these and, in the case of dingy skippers, which are a dull mottled brown colour, I’d quite possibly not have noticed them anyway unless they flew right into my face. Which they didn’t.

Progress map showing that I had reached Ardersier Common
The common filled much of the distance between Ardersier and the fort
Bottlenose Dolphins

Ardersier Bay is apparently an excellent place to spot dolphins, though I saw no sign of them on my walk. I did see a sign about them though.  It informed me that they are the world’s largest bottlenose dolphins, growing up to four metres long, a third longer than those found in tropical seas. It added that they have a thicker layer of blubber to keep warm and less surface area relative to body weight to cope with cold seas, which makes sense.

One would think that big, fat dolphins would make bigger, easier targets to spot.  Alas, they remained as stubbornly absent from sight as the butterflies had been.

Fort George

As the coast path inched its way around the bay, it began to draw closer to Fort George, revealing the fort’s mighty bastions.  Their low, deep, angled walls are designed to protect against cannon fire, artillery having become quite devastating by the late 18th century.  The bastions project outwards, giving the fort a spiky shape and allowing defensive fire to be directed from multiple points against attackers assaulting any of the walls.

By the time of its completion in 1769, the fort’s construction was 115% over budget with the total cost coming to over £200 k (equivalent to about £28.3 m in 2022). The army has since made sure to extract its money’s worth, though, with it remaining a military barracks to this day. It is currently home to the Black Watch, (which now the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland), although the Ministry of Defence has announced plans to close it in 2032.

Approaching Fort George
263 years of continuous military use is not bad.  HM Govt might not have built it cheaply, but they do seem to have built it to last. Although, in these days of ‘planned obsolescence,’ that probably makes it ‘over-engineered.’
Chanonry Ferry

Right next to the fort but no longer in use is the point from which the Chanonry Ferry used to depart. This was the shortest crossing of the Moray Firth, which comes to a bottleneck between the Ardersier Peninsula and Chanonry Point on the Black Isle, narrowing to about 1.3 km or 1,422 yds.

James IV

The ferry ran from Mediaeval times and often carried pilgrims heading to or from the shrine of St Duthac in Tain.  Probably the most prestigious of these was James IV (1473-1513), who made his first such pilgrimage in 1493 at the age of 21 and would revisit may times during his reign. In 1496, for instance, his treasury records indicate that he paid eighteen shillings for three ferries including at Ardersier. In 1501, he paid another fourteen shillings for a ferry from Inverness to Chanonry.

Robert Forbes

In 1762, Robert Forbes (1708–1775) Bishop of Ross and Caithness, was delayed at the ferry and complained about it in his journal. He recorded that he was ‘long detained’ since the boat was too small and ‘could not take over the passengers that appeared, the horses and chaise all at once.’

Little did he know it, but the bishop got off lightly. His experience could have been much worse…

Ferry Disaster

Pretty much all of the historic ferries that plied Scotland’s firths have some sort of fatal disaster associated with them, as is almost inevitable for small boats on strongly tidal waters in treacherous weather, especially when fully laden with passengers.  The Chanonry Ferry is no exception in this regard, with eleven having drowned in 1811.

As reported by the Inverness Advertiser, which dubbed the incident a ‘melancholy catastrophe,’ the boat ‘with no less than thirteen persons on board, was unfortunately overset.’  The disaster occurred in the middle of the day, with helpless spectators looking on. The Advertiser went on to note that ‘the whole of them were lost except two who were miraculously saved.’

Ferry Pier

Nothing now remains of any slipway or pier on the Ardersier side but a pier of red stone blocks remains at Chanonry Point.  The latter was designed by Thomas Telford (1757-1834) in 1819.

The now-vanished Ardersier pier was still indicated on OS maps as late as the early 1940s by which time regular crossings had ceased, the last regular ferryman – Alex MacLean – having died in an accident in 1939 – he slipped between the pier and boat while landing at night and drowned!

Progress map showing that I had reached Fort George
The ferry ran from right next to the fort, which used it to send dirty laundry across to be cleaned by a launderer in Rosemarkie.
Highlanders’ Museum

While part of Fort George remains in military use, much of it is open to the public.  This includes the Highlanders’ Museum – the official regimental museum of the Queen’s Own Highlanders and Lovat Scouts (the Queen’s Own Highlanders were based there) – a barrack reconstructed to its 18th-century appearance by Historic Environment Scotland and the Seafield Collection of Arms in the Grand Magazine.

An Hour Early

All of this sounded pretty interesting to me so I ambled up to the sign to see how much the entrance fee was.  It wasn’t too bad as such fees go, being £9.50, but the sign also revealed that the fort wouldn’t open for another hour.  How keen was I to see this stuff, I asked myself? Did I want to sit around for an hour and wait? Or did I want to shrug it off and move on…?

Fort George, Ardersier
The walls and bastions are fairly formidable but it’s the late off-season opening time that saw this mammal off.
Heading Eastwards

If I wasn’t going to kill time mooching about the fort’s public exhibitions, I needed to come up with a new plan.

I started by taking a minor unclassified road that headed due east towards the wooded Carse of Ardersier and the Port of Ardersier to its north.

Port of Ardersier

The port is a former North Sea oil and gas rig fabrication yard, opened in the 1970s and closed in 2001. At its height, it employed 4,500 people but had since been left to moulder for 20 years.

In its abandoned state, it was possible to wander into it, but it acquired new owners in mid-2021 who are dredging its channel and hoping to bring it back into business, decommissioning oil rigs and manufacturing offshore wind farm foundations.  Naturally, this means it is now all fenced off again, so that option was out of the window. But I could still potentially go for a walk through the carse…

Kirkton of Ardersier

I ambled generally eastwards for a bout another mile, passing outlying buildings associated with the fort and a self-storage facility on the way.  That mile brought me to Kirkton of Ardersier, which comprises a graveyard and a farmstead and that’s it.  There isn’t even a church.

Of course, as the name Kirkton rather give away, there used to be a church there. Occupying the highest point of the graveyard, it existed as far back as 1227 when it was mentioned once but then not again until the Reformation.  The church was rebuilt with in clay in 1776 but fell into disrepair again thereafter, becoming ruinous by 1792. Today, no trace of it remains with graves now occupying its footprint.

Kirkton Cemetery, Ardersier
After spawning, the hungry gravestone infants devour their mother church completely.

The graves in Kirton cemetery date from the 18th and 19th centuries, i.e, from the church’s final century of existence and immediately after its ruination.

Seventy-Five Straight

Opposite the cemetery, behind a locked gate, a long, straight track – Seventy-Five Straight  – led off across Fort George’s firing range towards the beach on the Ardersier Peninsula’s north coast.  The red flags weren’t flying, so no shooting was occurring, but I elected not to go that route. If I were going to take one of these firing range paths, I had the next one along in mind, which ran up the western edge of the Carse of Ardersier.

Progress map showing that I had reached Kirkton of Ardersier
I kept going straight. Not the ‘Seventy-Five’ kind but the regular ‘not turning left’ sort.
Glack

The track in question lay about two thirds of a mile to the east at Glack, where it formed the gated-off northern arm of a crossroads. 

I was just studying my map to decide my route when a local man walking his dog asked me if I was lost.  I explained that no, I knew exactly where I was now, but it was where I was going next that was in doubt. He confirmed for me that big fences around the port would cut off any attempt to go around the shoreline but that I could take the next left and a minor road through the carse.  I thanked him and studied my map for a few moments more before making my decision…

I would do something totally different instead!

Two Highland bullocks
‘Yeah, bullocks to that,’ I thought.
The Manse

I turned my back on the firing range and headed south instead, climbing a short hill on a single-track road flanked by vegetation. The latter soon gave way to open fields, one of which held the pair of shaggy miscreants shown above.  The road passed a small cottage and an old manse (equivalent to an English vicarage). There, I passed Local Man with Dog again, who noted with surprise that I appeared to have a new plan entirely. He wasn’t wrong, there – I was making a five-mile detour inland to Cawdor!

Progress map showing that I had reached the manse at Glack
I’d basically done a big U-turn.
Ardersier Cemetery

About a quarter of mile after the manse, my single-track road came to an end at a T-junction with another. Nestling in the corner of this junction was my second cemetery of the morning, namely Ardersier Cemetery.

Much like the first one, it used to have a church in it. In this case, the church was built in 1802 – presumably to replace the ruined one in Kirkton – and was demolished in 1987.

rARdersier Cemetery
Nah, they ate it, I tell you! The gravestones ate it all up!

The graves are mostly late 19th and 20th century affairs although the cemetery is still in use.

Ardersier Cottage

I turned right at the cemetery and followed the new single-track road past a couple of cottages, continuing for about quarter of a mile until that road also ended a T-junction.  There I turned left and followed yet another narrow country lane as it turned hard right and then spat me out onto the B9092 next to Ardersier Cottage.

I was now a mile by road from the Gun Lodge Hotel but had taken three and a half miles to get there. This ‘roundabout route’ thing was going pretty well.

Progress map showing that I had reached Ardersier Cottage
Returning to my start point and just going around in circles would have probably taken the ‘roundabout’ theme too far.
B9092

The B9092 was a proper road with one lane each way, though traffic was still thankfully light. Not that I had to put up with it for long, anyway – I headed eastwards along it for just under a quarter of a mile. I was rather enjoying this aimless amble.

View from Smithstown towards the Moray Firth
And arguably, it was still coastal. Moray Firth was just about visible peeking out from behind those distant trees.
Road to Gollanfield

I left the B-road at the very next junction although, having since looked at maps that predate road classification in the 1920s, it’s just possible that it was the B9092 that turned off and I kept going straight.  Either way, I was back on a narrow single-track lane for just over the next mile and a half…

The road to Gollanfield
It might look pretty minor now, but this road was on Roy’s map. It was probably a little more important 270 years ago.
Smithstown Wood

The trees on the left, in the photo above were called Smithstown Wood and I passed them about half a mile down the road. The OS Name Book used to help compile the OS first edition maps in 1870 described it thusly:

‘A fir wood containing about eighty acres situated about one fourth of a mile to the west of Lagnagreishach Wood and running along the County Road leading from Campbelltown to Nairn.’

The County Road in question is the B9092, which cuts right through the centre of the wood, whereas I was passing along its southernmost edge. Campbelltown was one of the two parts that made up Ardersier.

Progress map showing that I had reached Smithstown Wood
The whole point of the exercise was not taking a direct route to Nairn.
Whiteford Bridge

A quarter of a mile further on, I crossed a small stream via a narrow stone bridge. This was Whiteford Bridge, of which the OS Name Book says:

‘This name is applied to a county bridge situated about one fourth of a mile to the east of Burnside Cottage and spanning the stream which divide the parishes of Petty and Ardersier.’

The cottage of Burnside is still there today but another cottage, Whiteford, which stood just 134 m from the stream, disappeared from OS maps at some point in the 1920s.  The designation of the bridge as a ‘county bridge’ reinforces that this was once a route of some importance.

Progress map showing that I had reached Whiteford Bridge
The burn was too small to show up on Roy’s map, so I don’t know if it had a bridge circa 1750. Based on its name, we can reasonably assume that, at one point, crossing it meant getting wet feet.

Petty

Gollanfield

 A little less than a mile further along, I crossed a railway line by means of Gollanfield Railway Bridge. This is located in the tiny hamlet of Gollanfield, which comprises a couple of houses facing onto the road and a few more set back from it.

Gollanfield Junction

The railway line was built by the Inverness and Nairn Railway in 1855 and remains in use today.

No longer in use is Gollanfield Junction railway station, which stood almost a mile to the west, beside one of Caulfeild’s military roads, and was where a branch line to Ardersier (to serve Fort George) diverged. The station closed in 1965, yet another victim of the Beeching Axe.

Progress map showing that I had reached Gollanfield railway bridge
The branch line ended in Ardersier, which was still a mile short of reaching the fort.
A96

No sooner had I crossed the railway line by its bridge than I found myself wishing for another such structure. The road I was on (which has been there since Roy’s day) met one of a sort that Roy and Caulfeild could only have dreamt of: the A96!

This was busy, two-way and fast and what had been a simple crossroads up to at least the 1970s, according to OS maps, was now a staggered junction (presumably to stop local traffic from shooting straight across the A-road).

Shooting straight across was not a thing I was likely to do without dying and I had to wait several minutes for a gap in traffic large enough to make it safely across.  On the far side, single-track, near-traffic-free tranquility resumed.

Lochside

Continuing south, I passed two opportunities to divert to Lochside, a hamlet on the shores of Loch Flemington. This is a small ‘kettle-hole’ loch formed by a melting block left behind by a retreating glacier.

I took neither but stuck to my course, climbing a small rise to the giddy elevation of a whole 30 m above sea level.

View back towards Moray Firth from a low rise just past the Lochside turn-offs.
This is the view back from the summit. Once again, the Moray Forth can be glimpsed through the trees, meaning this walk is still coastal – if you can see the sea, you’re at the coast!

Croy & Dalcross

Wester Lochend

The road continued southwards, crossing from Inverness-shire into Nairnshire and passing by the farmstead of Wester Lochend.  This is named for being at the western end of the Loch of the Clans, shown by Roy (as ‘Loch Clanes’) as a substantial body of water but now reduced to a small boggy pond at what used to be its eastern end thanks to drainage operations in the 1820s.

Roy’s Missing Road

Roy showed a road running east-west, south of both Loch Flemington and the Loch of the Clans. Today, there is a road that runs parallel to this north of the lochs but not south of them. While it’s tempting to cast aspersions on Roy’s map – which although amazing for its day isn’t 100% accurate to the topography – I think a surveyor of his calibre would know on which side of a major water feature he meant to draw his road. 

That being so, the road presumably crossed the one I was on somewhere near Wester Lochend, from which a long track extends eastwards.  There was, however, no sign of a former crossroads on the ground.

Progress map showing that I had reached Wester Lochend
Had there been any sign of it, I wouldn’t have described it as ‘missing’.
Anonymous Woodlands

I next passed the farmstead of Newlands – named on the 1905 OS 2nd ed but not the 1870 1st ed – beyond which I plunged into seemingly nameless woodlands on my way towards Easter Balcroy.

I say ‘nameless’ as they are not labelled on the OS maps and did not exist in Roy’s day. But they fall within the bounds of the old Kilravock Estate (pronounced ‘kilrawk’) and a farmstead on their eastern edge is called Woodlands of Kilravock so, if they do have a name, it’s probably along those lines.

Woodlands heading towards Easter Balcroy
That’s Mister Anonymous Woodlands to you, mammal.
Easter Balcroy

The road came to an end at a T-junction with the B9091 and I turned left onto that. The B-road was wider than the single-track road I had been on but not so wide that they’d felt any need to paint a white line down the middle. 

The B-road then carried me past Easter Balcroy, a farmstead whose name differentiated it from the cottage of Wester Balcroy back in 1870 but whose western namesake had vanished by 1905.

Progress map showing that I had reached Easter Balcroy
I don’t know about you, but the former site of Wester Balcroy looks more ‘Souther’ to me.
A Ford Beckons…

Roy just had a singular Balcroy on his map, straddling the road south on its way to the ‘Mill of Kilravok’, where a continuing road and no sign of a bridge strongly suggested a ford across the River Nairn.  All the OS maps concurred and, as I love a ford, I eagerly took the narrow turn-off beside Easter Balcroy that led down to Milton of Kilravock.

While the OS map told me that there was still a ford, not to mention a handy footbridge so that I didn’t need to get my feet wet, a ‘no-through road’ sign plus another warning about unsuitability for HGVs strongly suggested that motor vehicles were strongly discouraged from actually using it.  I couldn’t wait to find out why…

Alien Imposters

The narrow road passed alongside the southern part of the anonymous woodland before breaking out into open fields again. Soon enough, I was approaching Milton of Kilravock – named for the water mill it once used to have – where some terrible stretching accident appeared to have befallen all their sheep:

Alpacas at Milton of Kilravock
They’re obviously alien imposter sheep that haven’t quite mastered the appearance.
Milton of Kilravock

Roy showed Milton as quite a settlement but today it comprises a farm and a couple of cottages and the mill (built in 1733) is long-disused.  One of the farmhouses lent unexpected credence to my alien imposter theory, though:

Farmhouse at Milton of Kilravock
That’s a good crop of Martian red weed. I mean, what else can it be? The chances of anything else are a million to one…
Milton Bridge

If I wanted to make my escape from ravening alien hordes in unconvincing sheep costumes, the obvious escape route was via the handy footbridge that was indeed there, just as my map had promised.

Milton Bridge
It even had a gate to stop them trip-trapping after me.

A plaque informed me that the bridge was erected in 2000 to mark the millennium, replacing a previous one. This isn’t actually all that recent and made me wonder what the lifespan of a wooden bridge actually is.  Wikipedia would have us believe it’s 20 years, making Milton Bridge an obsolete danger, but the truth is that it depends on temperature and climate, and the availability of things that eat wood. In the cold and termite-free climate of Scotland, it’s probably got another few decades in it yet.

River Nairn

Milton Bridge spanned the River Nairn which is, in some places, the traditional boundary between Inverness-shire and Nairnshire but, just as the previous day at Clava Bridge, that wasn’t the case here.

River Nairn, looking upstream from Milton Bridge
This photograph is all Nairnshire.  But all Nairnshire is not in the photograph.
The ford at Milton of Kilravock
I paused on the far side to look back across the ford.
Bog of Cawdor

A similar lane on the far side conveyed me past the wonderfully named farmstead of Bog of Cawdor and then, before I knew it, I was entering Cawdor village.

Progress map showing that I had reached Bog of Cawdor
The road along which I entered was appropriately called the Bog Road.

Cawdor

Shakespearean Spelling

Cawdor (Caladair) is a small and rather pretty village that is probably most famous for its castle.

The village’s name was historically ‘Calder’ but William Shakespeare (1564-1616) rendered it as ‘Cawdor’ – an English approximation of its pronunciation, when he included the castle in Macbeth in 1606. Later, John Campbell, 1st Baron Cawdor (1753-1821) – who lived in England – would change the spelling of village and castle to match its Shakespearean alternative.

Given that Shakespeare spelt his own name half a dozen different ways, I’m not sure that taking his spelling as authoritative was particularly wise.

Cottages in Cawdor
What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as— oh, sorry, wrong play.
Cawdor Castle

Cawdor Castle is built around a tower house fortified by Sir William Calder, 6th Thane of Calder (c. 1403-1468) in 1454. The oldest parts of the original tower have been dated to about 1380, which is impressively old relative to us but still roughly four hundred years too late to have been in any way involved with the historical King Macbeth (c. 1005-1057).

Horrible History

In fairness, Shakespeare never actually explicitly mentions the castle in his play and, while he does take many artistic liberties in his tale, it wasn’t actually him who erroneously labelled pre-regicide Macbeth as ‘Thane of Cawdor’ (a title Macbeth never held). That was the assertion of Hector Boece (1465-1536) a keen but sometimes inaccurate Scottish historian.

Boece’s account of Macbeth was used as source by an English counterpart, Raphael Holinshed (c. 1525-1582), and Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1577) was, in turn, used by Shakespeare for his research.

One Cannot Simply Walk into Cawdor

I also had a minor research failure, in that I had gone to Cawdor hoping to glimpse the famous castle and, upon my arrival, I found that it is not visible from the road. I saw multiple gateways leading to it but not the castle itself.  It didn’t help that the castle was closed to the public, so wandering onto its private grounds was out.

If I found not being able to see it frustrating – and I did – I was still doing better than the three separate drivers who stopped to ask me if I knew where the entrance was. I had, at least, successfully found that. I know one was going to a meeting of some sort because she told me; I hope the other two weren’t just planning on sightseeing as their quest to find the castle gates would have been rather unfulfilling when they turned out to be shut.

Progress map showing that I had reached one of the gates to Cawdor Castle
Having walked around part of the castle grounds’ perimeter to confirm that I couldn’t see it from any direction, I eventually turned about and headed back the way I had just come.
A Sight Unseen

Anyway, in consequence of the castle being closed, I never actually got to see this:

This is a photo from Wikimedia Commons taken by photographer Holger Uwe Schmitt.
The Arms of Campbell and Campbell of Cawdor compared.

Had I got close enough, I’m sure I would have seen the arms of Campbell of Cawdor displayed somewhere in or about the castle. These place the stag’s head of Calder in the prestigious first quarter and the gold cross on red and blue of Lort in the fourth (the Lorts were a family of Pembrokeshire baronets). The second and third quarters show both elements of the main Campbell arms, with the gyronny pattern of Campbell in the second quarter and the black lymphad (boat) of Lorne in the third.

Public Drinking Fountain

I may have been defeated by Cawdor Castle but I did get to wander through a very pretty village and to avail myself of its shop, where I purchased a cold drink. I drank this, appropriately enough, in the vicinity of an old public drinking fountain, which is housed in a red-painted wooden structure:

Public Drinking Fountain (disused), Cawdor.
Doesn’t red mean hot?  Where’s the cold tap?

The fountain was formerly one of a pair – sadly not one hot and one cold – but its twin was removed due to road widening. It no longer dispenses water of any temperature though its internal parts are apparently maintained in working order.

Croy & Dalcross (Again)

Back to Balcroy

My diversion to Cawdor having been something of a perfectly pleasant failure, I felt that it was now time to head back to the coast. I briefly considered taking the B9090 eastwards but decided instead to re-cross the ford and retrace my steps to Easter Balcroy. So, that’s what I did.

B9091

Having returned there, I chose not to retrace my steps any further but to turn right and follow the B9091.  This was already a road when the relevant OS 1st ed sheet was published in 1870 but Roy showed no such road circa 1750 (though several of the farmsteads along it were on his map).

Various Farmsteads

Heading north-eastwards, I passed the turn-offs for Woodlands of Kilravock and Blairnafade and the farmsteads of Knockanbuie and Tomluncart, not to mention an old schoolhouse.

‘Blarnafad’, ‘Knockingbuy’ and Tomluncart were all there on Roy’s map as was Easter Lochend (labelled simply as ‘Lochend’), which I passed next, though the current house there was built between the OS 1st and 2nd editions, replacing that of Roy’s day.

Progress map showing that I had reached Easter Lochend
The original site of Easter Lochend was slightly north of the current one, at the end of a short track.
Roy’s Road

As its name gave away, Easter Lochend marked the eastern end of where the Loch of the Clans used to be. It was also where Roy’s long-vanished road south of the loch met up the B9091 (or, more accurately, rather where the B-road took over its alignment).

Delnies

Meikle Kildrummie

I remained on Roy’s road for just under a mile before taking a minor road north that was not on his map.

This led me to what Roy called ‘Kildrummie House’ but has been called Meikle Kildrummie since at least 1870 to contrast with Little Kildrummie to the south (‘meikle’ means ‘big’).

Fly agaric toadstool
On the way, I spotted this splendid fly agaric toadstool. Well, I say I spotted it; it had its spots already.
Dower House

Meikle Kildrummie was built circa 1675 as the dower house for Kilravock Castle, which is almost four miles to the west – perhaps Hugh Rose, 14th Baron of Kilravock (c. 1640-1687) wanted to avoid familial conflict by keeping future generations well apart?

Progress map showing that I had reached Meikle Kildrummie
As if banishing your widowed mum to the far edge of the estate isn’t going to immediately start an argument.
Robert Burns

In 1787, Scotland’s favourite poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) visited Meikle Kildrummie during his tour of the Highlands, having been extended the offer to stay by its resident, Elizabeth Rose (1747-1815).

She was sister to the late Hugh Rose, 18th Baron of Kilravock (d. 1782) and locked in a legal battle over his succession which she won in 1788, coming the 19th Baroness of Kilravock and moving into the castle. 

Elizabeth had a substantial private library, which Burns was apparently much taken with.

Arms of Rose of Kilravock (pre and post-1364) and Chisholm.
The arms of Rose of Kilravock featured a red boar’s head between three black water-bougets (water bags suspended from a yoke), all on a gold field. The boar’s head alluded to the arms of Chisholm and was added after Hugh Rose, 4th Baron of Kilravock (1340-1388) married Janet Chisholm in 1364. Although she had a brother who would inherit the bulk of her father’s estate, her dowry still included extensive lands and the Roses amended their arms to signify this Chisholm inheritance.
Delnies Wood

Heading north from Meikle Kildrummie (which I totally forgot to photograph), I crossed the Alton Burn, passed back over the railway and ambled through a small and seemingly nameless hamlet where Kildrummie Smithy once stood.  Beyond this, I entered part of Delnies Wood, though that lasted less than a quarter of a mile.

The north edge of the wood was bounded by the A96, requiring me to once again take my life in my hands and dash dangerously across it. Obviously, I made it.

Progress map showing that I had reached the A96 in Delnies Wood
Reaching this point brought me level with Ardersier; my walk so far had been shaped like a badly scrawled capital ‘N’.
South Roadside Cottage

The A96 junction where I had crossed was technically a crossroads but the road layout on the ground made it clear that the northern arm was little more than an access track. This was fine by me and I followed it north, until it spilled out onto the B9092 next to South Roadside Cottage.

Road to Nairn

I was now on what Roy labelled the ‘Road from Fort George to Nairn.’  The obvious thing to do now was turn right and head eastwards along that road towards Nairn.  So that’s what I did. For all of a third of a mile.

Hilton of Delnies

About seven minutes after joining the B9092, I left it again, taking a left turn up an access track to the farm of Hilton of Delnies.  Despite its name, you’d have needed a spirit level to confirm if it was on a hill, the elevation being no more than 20 m and very gentle.

Progress map showing that I had reached Hilton of Delnies
I could tell it was higher than sea level on account of it not being underwater.
Secret Beach

The road didn’t end at Hilton of Delnies, nor did I expect it to. It instead continued a short distance north to a car park, from where I could access Whiteness Beach, also popularly known as Secret Beach on account of not being signposted.

Secret Beach. And, inset, a heavy lift ship carrying wind turbine legs.
I mean, why would you want to share this? In fact, forget I even mentioned it. Ignore the beach and focus on that heavy lift ship instead – it’s carrying wind turbine legs!
Whiteness Head

In theory, all I needed to do now was turn right and head along the beach to Nairn. But, ever the contrarian, I turned left instead and followed the beach in the direction of Whiteness Head.  This is a sand and shingle spit separated from the Ardersier Peninsula by the tidal creek that became the deepwater channel of the Port Ardersier.  That would throw up some complications shortly but, for now, I was happily striding along the acres of sand exposed at low tide

Ardersier (Again)

Fisherman’s Bothy

In my wander westwards, I was mostly looking for this:

Fisherman's Bothy, Whiteness Head
Well, whatever it is, it’s closed.

It is an old salmon fishing bothy, a westwardly outlying survivor of numerous such buildings in the area. I had read that in recent years it served as holiday accommodation but, as you can see, it was quite shuttered up when I reached it.

Unexpected Fence

Having reached the bothy by beach, I decided to returned eastwards via the path that leads out to it from Hilton of Delnies.  This started well but came to a halt when I found a padlocked tall gate and fence completely blocking the path. A sign on the other side probably told me to ‘go away’ but I didn’t know as I was on the wrong side of it.

I quickly reasoned that, as I had encountered no such fence on my way to the bothy, the fence could not extend far below the tideline.  I thus followed it seaward until I rounded its end, where I discovered that Whiteness Head was claimed by the Port of Ardersier.

End of the Ardersier Port fence at Whiteness Head
Ah. Oh. Whoops.
Local Outrage

If I thought that this fence was a nasty surprise, so did a significant number of locals who had become accustomed to strolling down that way over the last twenty years or so.  The fence popped up overnight in February of this year, prompting an angry response from locals and an ongoing dispute with the Highland Council.

The Dispute

The port’s position is that, as a statutory port, it is legally bound to restrict access to Whiteness Head in line with the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code, because the tip of it was included in the order setting out its boundaries.

Highland Council’s initial objections were twofold. Firstly, that the fence required planning permission, which the port failed to apply for, and, secondly, that it breaches public access rights to the peninsula, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Premature Pretension

The port’s response to the council’s objections was essentially ‘so sue us’ and, as of last May, the council was considering doing exactly that, having first confirmed with the Department of Transport that Ardersier had not yet been officially designated a port and so was prematurely using its claimed port authority powers.

Current Status

I can find no more recent information, so I assume the dispute is ongoing. Obviously, the fence was still in place in mid-October.

Progress map showing that I had reached the Fisherman's Bothy and was returning eastwards.
Not only was the fence still there but it had been repaired after angry locals cut a hole in it.

Nairn

Nearing Nairn

From the fence, I returned to where I had first joined Whiteness Beach and headed east.

Nairn from Whiteness Beach.
Nairn awaits!
Nairn Golf Course

I followed the beach eastwards for about a mile, during which the sandy dunes that bordered it gave way to banks of rocks piled up as riprap.  The tide had turned by now and was coming in again so, since I didn’t much fancy climbing the riprap to escape it, I took the first access point presented to me and completed my Nairnward journey along the edge of Nairn Golf Course. This brought me to the western edge of Nairn, which was as far as I needed to go for now, as that was where my hotel was.

Progress map showing that I had reached Nairn Gold Course
I’ve said many times that I don’t like golf courses. This remains true but I like being caught by the incoming tide even less.
Newton Hotel

The hotel in question – the Newton Hotel – started out as a house built for a cadet branch of the Rose family of Kilravock and its earliest mention is in 1607, in a record pertaining to a contract signed by Sir William Rose, 11th Baron of Kilravock (1551-1611).

Shown as ‘Newtown’ on Roy’s map, the estate would pass to the descendants of Sir William’s fourth son, John Rose, until they ran out male heirs around 1776. It was then inherited by Jean Rose of Broadley, who married Hugh Rose, 16th Baron of Kilravock (1684-1755), returning it to the main Rose lineage.

The 16th baron decided that he didn’t actually want Newton, however, and sold it to a man named Hugh Falconer, whose family then built the oldest parts of the building that stands today. Hugh’s grandson – another Hugh Falconer – sold it again in 1823 and it passed through several owners before becoming a hotel in 1951.

Newton Hotel, Nairn
And handy for me that it did. I’m ready to sit down and rest, now…
Nairn Still Awaits!

In the morning I would head into Nairn proper. But that was tomorrow and could wait. I had managed to turn a short distance of six miles into twenty-two and a half miles and I reckoned that that was more than enough for one day.

Map showing that I had reached my destination - the Newton Hotel, Nairn
Yay, made it! I reckon I’ve earned myself a drink…

Distance Summary

Hasteful MammalThis time: 22½ miles
Total since Gravesend: 4,173 miles


Combined map showing the whole route

2 thoughts on “CCXXXIV – Ardersier to Nairn”

  1. Another lovely right up. A shame about the access at the port, this “ISPSS Code” or whatever seems to be used a lot to restrict access. When you get to Dundee there is a supposedly shared used foot and cycle path (it was certainly signed as that), but you are not allowed to walk along anymore. The port put a gate across it with a buzzer and they refused to let walkers in, only cyclists. Quite why they think cyclists don’t prevent a security threat but pedestrians do, they never explained. You have to divert onto the road instead and this is despite the Council paying a lot of money to the port in order to build the path in the first place.

    I hope the port does get sued and the fence removed.

    1. Thanks!

      While all such access cases are frustrating, this one is interesting because the port appears to have jumped the gun and exercised powers it doesn’t have yet. From what I’ve read, it looks like they’re hoping that the council will shy away from the cost of litigation for long enough for them to receive those powers. I get that shipping needs to be protected while its sitting in port, but here there seems to be little reason for it beyond a generic ‘get off my land!’ which no longer plays well in Scotland. It will be interesting to see how it plays out…

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