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Journeys : Apr May 2011
The Black Isle is a long way from the Apple Isle. In fact, this remote part of Scotland north of Inverness isn’t even an island, but a peninsula bordered by firths. At its far tip sits Cromarty, one of the best- preserved historic towns in Britain – and our home for a year. We ar rive in Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve, or Hogmanay as it is known in Scotland. It is hard to squeeze us and our luggage into the taxi as it is filled almost to the roof with crates of beer and bottles of whisky. Our taxi driver apologises for the squash, but is sure we will understand, as after his shift he is off to a party. No self-respecting Scot would miss a Hogmanay celebration! After a tour of Edinburgh visiting all the sights, we catch the train to Inverness. The further north we go, the more at home we feel. Huge bare w ild mountains and vast open spaces stretch into the distance. We collect our car and travel to Cromarty, a 40-minute drive. Icy air comes pumping out of the heater. Much to our dismay the car has a faulty radiator that requires immediate attention, or our forays into the surrounding countr yside w ill be gr imly cold. Following a mud-map, we soon find Cromarty Mains Farm. Our quaint stone farm-worker’s cottage is 170 years old. Its modern kitchen with huge plate-glass windows has awe-inspiring views over fertile farmland to the snow-covered mountains in the distance. From our upstairs bedroom we gaze over to Cromarty Firth, dotted with the oil rigs of Nigg, which service the North Sea. Locals tell of dolphins sw imming in the firth. The open fire is cosy in the cold winter Scottish highland nights, but next morning, there’s ice on the inside of our bedroom windows. Cromarty is an old fishing village. Most of its buildings were standing before any construction began in Australia. Today, it’s like walking round a movie set – there’s an icehouse from pre-refr igeration days and a huge bar n-like stone building which used to be a hemp factory, making rope for the many fishing ships that sailed from this hub. The herring industry was at its peak in the 19th century but it was the oil boom of the 1970s that funded the restoration of many of the old buildings. And the work continues – my partner scores a casual job applying harling (shell grit and slaked lime) to the external walls of a 300 year- old manse. This keeps him busy while I am driving the country lanes to and from my teaching job at the nearby town of Muir of Ord. Mock trials and an interesting museum with a video depicting Cromarty’s 800- year history can be seen in the courthouse. We take an audio-led walking tour around the sights of the village and visit Hugh Miller’s 17th centur y birthplace cottage. The locals are proud of their famous son, who was a stonemason, writer and geologist w ith an extensive fossil collection. Tea houses, cafes and a couple of pubs ensure we never go hungry. The Royal Hotel immediately becomes our ‘local’. By the water, with a long jetty to walk out on after dinner and delicious home-style cooking, it is an instant favourite. We are encouraged to try haggis, but find it dry and tasteless. We prefer the countr y bake, a delicious chicken and vegetable dish smothered in a creamy cheese sauce. I acquire a fondness for a dram of glayva, while my partner enjoys a variety of whiskies. We look forward to visiting the Talisker distillery on the Isle of Skye. Nearby are Culloden (the scene of the highland battle), Loch Ness and the monster, the ski fields of Aviemore and the eerie Clootie Well, where trees are festooned with rotting cloth. People come to perform a ritual for ill loved ones which includes tying a piece of cloth (cloot) to a nearby tree. As the cloth rots, the sick person is supposed to recover. Locals invite us to a fancy-dress curling match. Sweeping a broom across the ice to ensure the stone has a smooth passage, the figures in garish outfits look particularly quirky. Highland games are also popular with the locals and are not merely a tourist event. With kilts swirling and muscles flexing to toss huge cabers, Scotsmen look particularly virile. I urge my partner, who has Scottish her itage, to invest in a kilt of his clan’s tartan, but he is unpersuaded, especially when we discover the price of a good quality kilt. He has to be content with a ‘Hug a hairy highlander’ t-shirt. Now in our new home of Tasmania, I still have fond memories of our year in Cromarty – the lights of oil rigs sparkling in the night, quaint buildings and winding lanes, dinners by the fire and shovelling snow from our doorstep. The skirl of bagpipes remains stamped on my soul. Opposite: Tarbat Ness Lighthouse in the Ross and Cromarty Highlands. This page: snapshots of Cromarty Destinations April / May 2011 17
Feb March 2011
Jun Jul 2011