The Cromarty Firth

     is a natural deep water harbour off the north side of the Moray Firth.    The entrance is guarded by the North and South  "Sutors", both of about 600 feet in elevation. The hills are formed of red sandstone rocks which are well known in the north east of Scotland as a distinctive building stone.    An old quarry exists at the top of the North Soutor.     On either of the Sutors,a good vantage point can be gained to view the passing cruise liners.    

Additionally, you can see the gun emplacements on both hills, guarding the entrance built between 1912 and 1914, and backed up by searchlights.    The gun emplacements replaced the small primitive batteries built there in 1709.

    The Firth was formed, geologically, at the same time that the Great Glen was created, between 1,200 and 800 million years ago, should you wish to know!

    As early at 1653, the Firth was recognised as a place where  "ten thousand ships may within it ride in the greatest tempest.   The waters remain free of ice which makes it a good place of shelter". The Firth was criss-crossed with ferries.  The earliest documented ferry was that from Nigg to Cromarty, which still runs today.

    As late as 1825, depending on the state of the tide, passengers at this ferry were brought ashore in the traditional Highland manner, on the backs of women who waded out to meet the boat   

    It didn't just happen........The Cromarty Firth region was potentially one of the richest agricultural areas in Scotland.   Various land "improvers" came into the area, reclaiming tidal land bordering the Firth, draining that land and creating piers - Thomas Telford in 1818 at Invergordon Ferry,  and someone else in 1828. The law required land owners to plant forestry and penalties were imposed for the unlawful cutting of 'greene timbre'.  Ships of between 400 and 500 tons could lie safely in the harbour.

   The Union of Scotland and England took place in 1707 and now, nearly three hundred years on, Scotland is to have it's own Parliament in Edinburgh.  Only time will tell if this separation is for the better for the people of Scotland.

    In the 1820's the herring fishing was once more enjoying a boom. It was a very unstable industry, with the herring staying away without any apparent reason before returning  to the area many years later.  In 1825 there were 18 fish curers in Cromarty but by 1878 there were none, possibly due to the fact that Avoch, on the south coast of the Black Isle had been established as the main fishing port of the area.  They were using bigger and better boats for the fishing and were using the relatively new steam winches.

    By the 1840's, Fishery Protection vessels were required to police the fleets which included many from France, Germany and Scandinavia.

    Ships which arrived from India and the Baltic Ports were reported to be infected with cholera and, in 1832, the Firth was made an official cholera quarantine station.    This caused all sort of rumour and fear.  Fishermen were unable to sell their fish because the bodies of the cholera victims were thrown overboard and poisoned the fish. 

    In Nigg, a local worthy, Thomas Vass, saw the disease floating in a yellow cloud above the ground.     He captured it in a linen sack and it is now, according to legend, buried under the Cholera Stone in Nigg churchyard. The site of the stone is marked with a white board with black writing.    There is however, and not to be missed, in the church itself, a 9th or 10th century stone carved Pictish cross.  The cross was moved into the Church to prevent further weather deterioration.

    Gaelic was replaced by English.  The speaking of the Gaelic, the wearing of Scots clothing, especially the kilt and the blowing of bagpipes having been banned after the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

    With the improvements of land, roads began to develop and in 1808 the first carrier between Dingwall and  Tain began to operate.  A regular mail service was established.

    For the first time, Britain was linked by public transport from one end to the other.   This state of affairs continued until the arrival of the railways in 1863 when, within a few months, the horse drawn mail coaches running between Dingwall and Tain had disappeared

    In 1848, the first Naval ship came to the Firth to control the Corn Riots.    It took until 1912  before the Royal Navy created a dockyard port in the Firth and an official Naval base.   The Channel Fleet paid a visit to the Cromarty Firth in August, 1863, and visited on a regular basis up to at least 1888.

    Winston S Churchill, yes the one with the fat cigar and the "V" for Victory sign, then the First Sea Lord, visited in 1914 a few weeks before the First World war started and indulged his taste for excitement by making flights in biplanes and monoplanes over the Firth, part of the exercise was to see the new fortifications placed onto the Sutors which were manned by Royal Marines instead of the more normal army gunners. It was about this time that the first of the giant underground oil tanks was installed.  There are now several of these in partly concealed positions.

    Cromarty was the jewel in the crown, providing genteel living whilst Invergordon, Alness Evanton and Nigg were for the working population, the coming of the railway in 1863 made Invergordon become the premier port, instead of Cromarty

    It is said that 50,000 lobsters were caught in one year in the early 1790's around Tarbat Ness and sent south. There was little attempt to exploit this resource and the trade died with the First World War.  The trade was revived in the 1970's when it was said that there were lobster pots every 20 yards from the North Sutor to Tarbat Ness

    Two stone piers were completed at Invergordon in 1928, just in time for the first steamship links.

    The Invergordon Mutiny in 1931 occurred when naval pay was cut to 25% of the normal pay by Ramsay MacDonald's National Government. This coincided with a series of tax increases and cuts in state benefit.  Meetings were held, coinciding with the annual Invergordon Highland Games and the outcome was that a period of passive resistance was started and no ships to were permitted to sail.  The resistance eased and things gradually returned to normal.  Within two years, it appeared that all was forgiven, if not forgotten.  In 1933 the largest Fleet ever seen in the Cromarty Firth arrived with over 20,000 men and this set the pattern for the remaining years of peace.

    In 1937 the Admiralty started to expand Evanton aerodrome and it became a flight and bombing training school.  It continued to share the airfield with the Royal Air Force but had a fenced off area so that the ratings could receive their duty-free tobacco and rum tots.

    In 1938 a Sunderland flying boat training base was established at Alness and by the outbreak of war in 1939, there were three flying boat squadrons stationed at Invergordon. An airfield at Fearn was opened as a satellite for RAF Tain.  Fearn airfield was closed down in 1946. During the second World War, anti=aircraft guns and barrage balloons reinforced the guns and searchlights on the north and south Sutors

    By 1943 the RAF site at Evanton was used for Coastal Command maintenance and in the following year, the Admiralty part of the airfield became a Royal Navy Aircraft maintenance yard with storage for up to 250 aircraft.

    After the war ended amongst much celebrations, there were great plans advocated to make a "new town" in the Alness and Invergordon areas but, like the end of the First World War, no advance was made is this matter and gradually interested parties stopped showing any interest at all.

    Thirty years on after the war, the Invergordon smelter was opened but after only twelve years or so, closed without notice.  One person with whom I spoke told me that he had just come home off night shift, been in bed for a short while, when his wife got a 'phone call to say that the smelter had closed permanently and her husband was not to bother to go back for work. Now the firth is lined with oil rigs, being constructed, being repaired or, indeed, being salvaged.

   The firth teems with seals which can be seen sunning themselves on the rocks at the right time of the tide, especially in the area of Foulis Ferry, now currently home to "Clanland" run on behalf of the Ross family.

  The exhibition is in an 18th century fully restored Grade A listed girnal or rent house, the finest remaining example of a building familiar at one time along the East Ross coast.   Real bottlenose dolphins frequent the area between Cromarty and Nigg.  A stainless steel model of one such creature was created at Nigg's offshore fabrication yard and is now sited in the front garden of Cromarty Primary School.

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Last Update:  26th May, 1999

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