Tucked away in the top right hand corner of the Black Isle at the mouth of the Cromarty Firth is the town of Cromarty, a royal burgh no less. It was about lunch time by the time we arrived and it was a bit wet and windy out, so the first port of call was The Pantry - their carrot and pepper soup was lovely, just the starter for a bacon roll and a cuppa.
They had three trophies on display in the cafe which all relate to a lunatic event which happens in the town every new year's day called the Splash and Dash. The Splash and Mad Dash involves a dip in the sea and a 6km run, there's a Splash and Mini Dash which just involves a 3km run, but it seems a lot of people just opt for the splash. Last January there were 130 splashers and 83 splashers and dashers and all of them mad I'm sure. When I spoke to the cafe staff they emphasised the importance of hot toddy before, after and during the event. There's a pile of photos here and a bit of film of this years goings on here - I feel cold just watching it.
A plaque on the wall opposite the cafe which I shall leave you to read yourself as I am unable to add to it.
Outside a graveyard just outside the town stands this monument to Hugh Miller (1802 - 1856) who was born and lived much of his life in the town. He was, by trade, a stonemason and accountant but, despite leaving school early after falling out with a teacher over the spelling of a word, he went on to become a well known geologist - he caught the geology bug when he started finding fossils on a local beach. Not content with this he wrote on local folklore and was heavily involved in the crisis in the Church of Scotland which led to the formation of the break away church, the Free Church of Scotland, in 1843 (from 1840 he lived in Edinburgh editing the newspaper, The Witness, which put forward many of the ideas of the Free Church). Unwell, Miller shot himself in 1854 - he was well enough thought of during his lifetime that he was buried with due ceremony in Edinburgh despite his suicide.
In the latter half of the 18th century, George Ross had become quite affluent in the town, building a hemp and rope factory. Much of his workforce were Gaelic speakers who had been brought into the mainly English speaking town. In 1783 he built this church, known as the Gaelic Chapel, for them. It has since fallen into disuse and then disrepair which appears to continue unabated. The roof fell in sometime in the 1950s or 60s (depending on who's account you read).
Inside the church.
Back in the town we visited Hugh Miller's birthplace, the only thatched cottage in the town. The cream house next to it was built by his father but it had to be rented out after one of his father's ships was lost at sea. Hugh Miller lived in it after he was first married. Both houses are looked after by the National Trust for Scotland.
Since not all the objects in the house belong to the National Trust for Scotland, we were not allowed to take pictures in the house. We took some out in the garden though.
The centrepiece of the garden is this ammonite sculpture by Helen Denerley. For those familiar with Edinburgh, Helen is responsible for the giraffes at the top of Leith walk (seen near the bottom here)
Her sculptures are normally made out of pieces of scrap metal welded together.
A carving of Millers winged fish, Pterichthys Milleri, an ancient type of fish named after him.
Some advice from the man himself, recently carved with a peregrine falcon in the background.
This sundial stand was carved by Hugh Miller in his days as a stone mason.
Asking nicely, I was allowed to photograph this fireplace in the cottage.
It's unusual because round the side of it there is a hatch into the lum where fish could be hung to smoke them over the fire. Known as a hanging lum it's not something I had ever seen before. You can see by the absence of soot in there that it's been a long time since a fire has been lit there. You can also see the use of straw in the mortar of the walls.
At the bottom of the street stands the East Church. It became something of a victim of the 1843 split in the Church of Scotland, which resulted in the town having two large churches. When the town's Free Church rejoined the Church of Scotland 1929 services were held in both churches but in the long run the town was unable to support two churches and in the 1990s the church declared it surplus to requirements. In 1996 The Scottish Redundant Churches trust was set up, which cares for this and several other churches in a similar situation.
There has been a church on the site since medieval times and James IV was recorded as staying in the parish priest's house in 1499.
The exact date of this building I don't know but it must have been here before the Scottish Reformation of 1560 when the pulpit was moved to the centre of the church. The lofts at either end were added shortly after that.
Due to overcrowding a third wing and loft was added in 1739. I don't think I've seen so much seating in such a small place in a church before.
Painted on the front of the new wing, the initials of some of the people who would have occupied the pews.
Also in that wing some of the pews have coats of arms painted on them.
Displayed in the back of the church are some panes from the painted coat of arms of Sir Kenneth MacKenzie, who was the Laird of the Cromarty estate from 1695 to 1729, and his wife lady Anne Campbell. It's not known where they were displayed but after Sir Kenneth's death, they were broken up and used as the backs of pews.
After all those unused churches, here's one still up and running in Cromarty. It's the Scottish Episcopal church of St Regulus only a few doors up from Hugh Millar's house. Here the congregation normally gather round a free standing alter in the middle of the church (although I read on the net that the main alter is often used too).
St Regulus himself was a 4th century monk from Patras in Greece. He dreamt that an angel told him that the Emperor Constantine was about to take St Andrew's bones off to Constantine and that he had to rescue as many of them as possible and take them far away. Not wanting to ignore dreams of angels, he did so and was eventually shipwrecked in Scotland at Kilrymont in Fife, which is now St. Andrews.
The church features two windows by Sir Ninian Comper, described by Wikipedia as the last of the great gothic revival architects. The one below features St. Francis of Assisi. Sir Ninian marked each of his windows with a strawberry in the corner - I have inserted it on a bigger scale in the corner of this picture.
You don't often see stained glass windows with West Highland Terriers on them.
At the end of the church is the Lady Chapel. It was originally intended that this would have been the base of a tower but there was no money to build it.
There are four little stained glass windows in this chapel depicting the seasons, each with a rainbow. Here they are, gathered together in one picture.
A plain window, but pleasantly edged in red glass.
The wee blue boat is the ferry from Cromarty to Nigg across the other side of the mouth of the Cromarty Firth. It really was making very slow progress in a rather choppy sea - glad to be viewing it from solid ground.
Nigg is the site of an oil storage terminal and this tanker was offloading while we were there. Observant colleagues may notice something familiar about the logo on the funnel.
One last look out across the Firth.