Posts tagged ‘Strathpeffer’

January 4, 2015

The Eagle Stone, the Brahan Seer, Nutwood and the Earl of Cromartie

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This Pictish stone currently sits on a brae at Strathpeffer in Ross and Cromarty. Allegedly this brae is called Nutwood Lane which sounds horribly twee straight out the pages of Enid Blyton so we’ll draw a suitably lacy curtain over that dubious name.

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 The area’s rich Pictish heritage includes many symbol stones  including this one with carvings of an eagle and a horse shoe arc. It is also known as Clach an Tiopain, Gaelic for the stone of the echo, from its hollow ring when struck – a bit like listening to the wit and wisdom of Gordon Brown.

The stone is a greyish blue gneiss and stands 32ins tall by around 24ins broad and 10ins thick. The shape of the stone was presumably selected by the carver but it has not been dressed into a particular shape. It is an example of a carved fallen stone, a feature of early Pictish art, dating from the 5th or 6th centuries, or perhaps it was a rush job. Why it was carved with a horse shoe and eagle is anyone’s guess. Some say it commemorated a battle and others that it signified a marriage – a lucky horseshoe is still associated with weddings and the eagle is the symbol of the Munros – but this is all conjecture.

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The stone was carved at least 1500 years ago and originally stood where Fodderty cemetery is, between Dingwall and Strathpeffer, and was used to mark the burial place of the local Munro clan killed in a battle with the MacDonalds in 1411. The Munros won and the Eagle stone was an appropriate monument to mark where their clansmen fell in battle.

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As the information notice by the Eagle stone explains a century later the Brahan Seer (Coinneach Odhar), Scotland’s equivalent of Nostradamus, fortetold of a great flood across the strath if the Eagle Stone fell three times – when it had fallen twice it was thought advisable to move it higher up the strath from Fodderty to its present position and set it in concrete, just in case.

The predictions of the Brahan Seer are, of course, cobblers and instances of old Brahany hitting the nail on the head are only the ravings of delusional simple folk. The Brahan Seer was dispatched in a horrible manner that involved a barrel of boiling tar at Chanory Point at Rosemarkie. Didn’t see that coming did poor old Coinneach.

And I don’t know if the Brahan Seer predicted the coming of a development of houses close to where the stone now stands that will necessitate the felling of mature trees as well as part of the distinctive beech hedging that lines the entrance to Strathpeffer.

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As far as I know he didn’t mention the Earl of Cromartie and his housing ambitions but maybe he did. Seems like a lot of upheaval for 15 houses but then we know what happens when a few houses get permission – before anyone knows it there’s another 15, then no reason why another 15 shouldn’t be built too. I hope that cement around the Eagle Stone is solid because if one of those diggers gets too close there’s no knowing what might happen.

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As for the beech hedge it may yet be saved, well not saved exactly because it will be dead when howked out, but local planners, we love them all don’t we folks?, have sought to reassure people that a ‘robust replanting plan’ for a replacement hedge is, well – planned. Robust? Can’t argue with robust.

Good luck to the future of the Eagle stone in its present location. I have a feeling it’s going to need it. Hey, the Brahan Seer thing is catching.

August 15, 2012

Strathpeffer, Kinettas Graveyard and piper John ban Mackenzie

Perched between a few houses and one of the hills under which the delightful village of Strathpeffer nestles is a gothic gem of a graveyard.

Kinettas Graveyard has been in use since at least the end of the 18th century but may stretch back to an earlier period. It was sometimes known as Killetash.

Kinettas is one of the earliest Free Kirk burial grounds in the Highlands and was the cemetery for the Free Kirk in nearby Contin.

It is tiny and in a state of glorious disrepair although apparently does receive attention from the council.

Gravestones are apparently set higgledy-piggledy with many little marker stone, some with names and nothing else legible.

Stones are made from local sandstone and some granites, grey and red.

Two of the stones tell an interesting story.

John Mackenzie was a local man, from Auchterneed An Piobaire Ban – the fair-haired piper. He supported the Jacobite cause but was too old to participate. However his son George, also a piper, was involved in the ’45. George had been born at Achility near Strathpeffer in 1796.

Both father and son were highly esteemed pipers. John ban (ban means fair haired in Gaelic) won numerous piping competitions.

The little stone alongside marks the graves of Mackenzie’s infant sons who both died in 1847.

The larger stone was erected to the piper and three of his four surviving sons.

John Mackenzie had been piper to the Marquis of Breadalbane for 28 years before retiring to Munlochy where he died on 24th April 1864 at the age of 68 years.


The stone erected by his ‘sorrowing widow’ reads:
He was a real specimen of the true hearted Highlander esteemed and respected by all who knew him. He was known as chief and father of all the Highland pipers and had taught upwards of forty young men.

After a long and painful illness which he bore with Christian resignation he fell asleep in Jesus.

Also to the memory of her beloved son Donald, late pipe major 25th regt. Who died at Greenhill Cottage on the 13th of April 1863 aged 30. Universally regretted by all who knew him.

George had died from smallpox.

The story of John Ban Mackenzie goes something like this.

Mackenzie was taken on as the piper to the Davidson family of Tulloch around 1820. A few years later the laird turned his attention to a beautiful young heiress from Applecross called Maria Mackenzie. As Davidson was already married he got his piper, Mackenzie, to act as postman carrying letters between the two lovers.


Plans were arranged for Davidson and the young woman to elope but there was a dramatic twist to the tale.

John ban was tall, well built and one of the most handsome men in the area and his role as an intermediary meant frequent contact with Maria. And so instead of Davidson committing bigamy with the lovely Maria, the piper, John ban Mackenzie and she eloped, crossing the hills from Applecross on ponies they made their way through Strathconnon and down to Crief where they married in secret.

Mackenzie had gained a wife but lost his job – however such was his reputation that he was employed by the Marquis of Breadalbane and there he stayed until his retirement almost 30 years later.

July 10, 2012

There’s a 96 year old woman living in Aberdeen who has played tennis with Fred Perry


A lot has been spoken about Fred Perry recently when expectation of a British winner of the men’s singles at Wimbledon, the first since 1936,  fell on the shoulders of Andy Murray. To hear the tributes to Perry you might have thought he’d always been held in high regard. In that you’d be wrong. But let’s start with an interesting little anecdote.

We’re back in the 1930s at the point when Fred Perry was becoming famous as the winner of tennis majors.

It was a summer afternoon in the early 1930s when teenager Marnie Munro, her younger sister and a girlfriend strapped their wooden tennis racquets to their bicycles and cycled the steep hill to Strathpeffer . As they made their way into the Pavilion tennis courts a tall, good natured young man approached and asked if they’d like a fourth person to make up a game of doubles. That man was Fred Perry visiting the famous Highland spa and that’s how a group of teenage girls got to play with a Wimbledon champion one fine day 80 years ago.

There are similarities between Fred Perry and Andy Murray. Perry was a working class Englishman, the son of a cotton spinner, who was snubbed by the snooty, class-ridden tennis set at the All England Club for he was not regarded as being one of them despite his making British tennis hugely successful. He had consecutive wins at Wimbledon during the 1930s and won all four grand slams in the US, France, Australia as well as Britain. He also led the British Davis Cup to wins during the same decade. But Perry’s achievements were not valued.

He later recalled in his autobiography, ‘It shows how we have all mellowed over the years from the days when some elements in the All England Club and the Lawn Tennis Association looked down on me as a hot-headed, outspoken tearaway rebel, not quite the class of the chap they really wanted to see winning Wimbledon, even if he was English.

I’ve mellowed too. I think I’m very much a leopard who has changed his spots. Looking back, I have to concede that I was sometimes a little brash and aggressive about what I regarded as the class-ridden set-up there. But at the time, a young man with my background was bound to feel that snobbery very keenly, and I still get angry about the shabby way I was treated when I won Wimbledon in 1934, the first Englishman to do it for 20 years.’

After winning his first Wimbledon championship, Perry overheard a member of the All England Club congratulating his losing opponent, the Australian Jack Crawford with the words, ‘This was one day when the best man didn’t win.’ And they presented Crawford with a bottle of champagne.

There was no champagne for Perry. It handed him a club tie and a voucher for Mappin & Webb but failed to add their congratulations.

‘Instead of Fred J Perry, the champ,’ he wrote, ‘I felt like Fred J Muggs the chimp. I’ve never been so angry in my whole life. It really hurt. All my paranoia about the old-school brigade surfaced with a vengeance.’

Perry preferred the unstuffy life he found in the US and became an American citizen. He became an international tennis ambassador and reported widely on the game but still the British tennis set largely ignored him until relatively recently when 50 years after his first Wimbledon championship the Club commissioned a statue of him.

The memory of that afternoon’s tennis game with the best player in the world is still fresh in the memory of Marnie 80 years later.