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The Bonnie Black Isle

EDITOR : When I used a little piece about Audrey Bailey’s ancestors in a newsletter I said that Audrey had also prepared a piece about the Black Isle that I found quite fascinating. Please note that this piece was prepared for a family gathering of the descendants of Donald and Ann Cameron and is therefore as delivered and relevant to that gathering.

Donald & Ann Munro were natives of Findon, a tiny village in the Ferintosh area of the Parish of Urquhart & Logie Wester, so our roots lie in this small corner of The Black Isle. The name is somewhat confusing, as it is not an island but rather a peninsula lying between the Cromarty Firth to the North and Beauly & Moray Firths to the South, with the gentle slopes of the Milbuie Ridge between. In former times, this was the source of peats and wood for the inhabitants but now much of this is covered with some of the many forestry plantations planted throughout Scotland. In general, the scenery composed of mountain, sea, farmland and forest is very pleasant but the view from the southern shore of the Cromarty Firth is one of exceptional beauty. Here is an excerpt from Elizabeth Marshall’s booklet “The Black Isle – Portrait of the Past”

“From almost any part of the Parish, look up and hold your breath. There in the foreground lies the Cromarty Firth, a sheet of glass on a calm day that reflects the splendour of what lies beyond. In the middle distance there is Dingwall and an elegance of stately homes including Tulloch Castle, Mountgerald House, Foulis Castle and Novar House. To the west you can see the Strathpeffer Glen with Knockfarrel crouched like a cat’s back. Beyond, the Urray Hills give way to mountains piled in majestic profusion as far as the eye can see. East lie the Ardross Hills, with Sir Hector Munro’s dramatic replica of the gates of Negapatam crowning Cnoc Fyrish. And above all towers Ben Wyvis, cloud wreathed and snow creviced, changeless and yet never the same in the changing light”

The history of the Black Isle goes far back into the mists of time. There are about sixty prehistoric sites, all of them in a ruinous condition due to farm building over the centuries. Following Neolithic man came the Druids, the Picts, the Celtic monks to spread the Gospel and the bloodthirsty Danes, one of whom murdered St Maelrubha, a Celtic monk, on the site of the old Urquhart Parish Church in 722 A.D.

An oak chapel was erected on this spot on the shore and was replaced later by a stone building thatched with heather. It was repaired and added to over the centuries, rebuilt for the last time about 1750 and forty years later struck by lightning and burnt to the ground. It is now an ivy covered ruin, surrounded by the old graveyard where many Camerons lie sleeping, among them the Rev Murdo Cameron who married Donald and Ann in 1830. The present church stands about half a mile inland from the old site beside the firth and this is where Donald was baptised by the Rev Charles Calder.

A mile or so away is the Free Church and manse, built during the ministry of the Rev Dr MacDonald, “The Apostle of the North” as he was known, who left the parish church at the time of The Disruption in 1843, along with most of his congregation. They worshipped in the open field beside the Ferintosh burn until the church was built. This building was repaired and reduced in size earlier this century, due to a dwindling population. The manse is a gracious home, across the road from the church and approached along a long avenue of trees, glorious in glowing autumn colours when we saw them. From a room in this manse was written the letter of introduction for Donald and Ann when they left for Van Diemen’s Land.

A glimpse of life in the district can be obtained from the following account by Hugh Miller, of the nearby Merkat or fair of 1760. These fairs were held as often as four times a year and would be as familiar to Donald and Ann as this one was to their grandparents.  MORE>>