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FINDING OLD FORTROSE

A Walk around the Town (1 hour approx)

 

Welcome to Fortrose, one of the prettiest, oldest and sunniest towns in the north. Come with us on a journey that will take you not only through the neat bright streets of today but also back in time to when Fortrose was called Chanonry - the Place of Canons - and the busy centre of the Diocese of Ross.

Cathedral Square.

Meet in the car-park in Cathedral Square then go through the Lychgate (1) dedicated to local men who fell in the two world wars and enter the peaceful yew-encircled precincts of the old Kirk Green. Imagine the canons as they walked from the cathedral to their wooden manses called after the parishes they served and built in a square around the green. Some would be cassocked, others more colourfully clad perhaps armed with bows, for archery was a popular pastime with the priests.

Close your eyes and perhaps you too may hear - like the blind professor some years back - the Te Deum Laudamus sung exquisitely in plain song by the ghosts of long-gone choristers.

All that remains of the great Cathedral (2) of St Peter and St Boniface is the South Aisle built in the late 14th century from pink-red sandstone quarried on Munlochy Bay. Here you may see on the north wall three canopied table-tombs. The most easterly is thought to be that of Euphemia, Countess of Ross, whose bounty built this aisle. The other two are ascribed to pre-Reformation Bishops John Fraser and Robert Cairncross. The west section is filled with Mackenzie memorials including that of Francis Humberston Mackenzie known as the "last Lord Seaforth" and the four sons who pre-deceased him according to the Brahan Seer prediction.

The bulk of the Cathedral - starting to be built about 1250 AD and now traced out in gravel - fell into disrepair during the troubled period after the Reformation of 1560. The Regent Murray granted his treasurer permission to strip the lead from the roof and the Kintail Mackenzies occupied the tower and camped in the building. The fallen stones were used by towns-folk for their own houses. In your walk through the streets you can easily detect them.

The Chapter House (3), still standing, has had many uses over the centuries as chapel, tolbooth, council chamber, burgh court, school, church, prison and lodge for the Freemasons. It was here allegedly that the fabulous Brahan Seer was accused of witchcraft by Countess Isabella of Seaforth and condemned to be burnt in a spiked tar-barrel on Chanonry Point. Here too in revenge he forecast the downfall of the Seaforth Mackenzies.

Opposite the entrance to the Kirk Green stands the Town House (4), once the Locality Office, which housed Town Council meetings for many years and where the Community Council used to assemble. Fortrose was created a Royal Burgh by James II in 1455 and was served by many distinguished provosts including the Earls of Seaforth and other important Mackenzies for over a century, followed by the leading Munros for some fifty consecutive years.

One of the Council's tasks was to organise the annual fairs. Recently the popular St Boniface Fair has been revived and is held in August on the original site in Cathedral Square. The goods on sale in the colourful booths are traditional crafts and the stall-holders and many of the towns-folk wear 18th century costume.

The Market Cross (5) now stands in the High Street almost opposite the Bank of Scotland.

Academy Street.

Leave Cathedral Square by the west exit into Academy Street. Here once stood the old Cathedral manses of Kirkmichael, Cullicudden, Lemlair and Logie Easter. Later they were to be rebuilt as the town houses mainly of Mackenzie lairds. Flowerburn Cottage opposite Cathedral Square belonged to the Mackenzies of Flowerburn.

Seaforth House (6) in Seaforth Place is thought to have been the town house of the Seaforth Mackenzies after their castle was razed. From 1812 to 1896 it housed the Academy and when finally it fell into disrepair, it was bought by the Town Council and converted into flats.

Opposite Meadowbank (7) - originally the site of Cullicudden Manse - you will find St Andrew's Hall (8). This is thought to have been the first meeting house for Episcopalians until burned down by marauding troops after Culloden. It may have been rebuilt by Sir Alexander Mackenzie of Coull whose marriage stone dated 1788 is now set above the lintel. Some think he turned it into what was to become known as Coull's Chapel. For a while it was allegedly used as a Baptist Church until acquired "as a roofless ruinous tenement" in 1897 by the Rector of St Andrew's Episcopal Church for his Sunday School. Since then it has become the busiest little church hall in the community.

At the turn of the century Meadowbank and Mackenzie Lodge (9) which once stood next to it at the corner of St Andrew's Walk but which was accidentally destroyed by fire during the last war, belonged to two distinguished brothers, General John and General Donald Mclntyre. The little cottage opposite where Mackenzie Lodge once stood housed General Donald's batman Scopes, later to become his coachman.

St Andrew's Church (10) with its lovely view overlooking Fortrose Bay stands on a grassy site gifted in 1790 by Hector Mackenzie of Flowerburn. It was opened in 1827 and described then as a "building far in advance of its time". Considerably improved at the turn of the century during the 37-year ministry of Canon J. Spence Ross, it was consecrated by the Bishop in 1909. One of the most beautiful Episcopal churches in the province, it is always open and welcoming to visitors.

Opposite St Andrew's Church stands The Deanery (11) built on the site of the old Manse of Rosekeen. One of the oldest inhabited houses in Fortrose, it was once the town-house of the son of Sir Alexander Mackenzie of Avoch, discoverer of the Mackenzie River, who is buried in Avoch churchyard. The old Fortrose Bank is said to have been housed in a hut still standing in the garden.

The Pilk (12) next to the church was probably the site of the old Logie Easter Manse. It is mentioned in ancient maps as Pilk's Croft and once supported a piggery. The old road to Chanonry Point used to run on the sea side of these houses and thirty years ago there was still a narrow track, but years of erosion have worn away the path.

Fortrose Academy (13) which stands just beyond the junction of Deans road was formed from the old Grammar School about 1791. Three masters taught a varied curriculum that included the three "rs", classics, navigation, book-keeping and perspective drawing. Always considered to be an excellent school where the sons of crofter and laird sat side by side, its first visitors and patrons included the great names of the Highlands. One of these was the "last Lord Seaforth". The old building with its handsome red sandstone tower was opened in 1896. In 1968 the school was greatly extended but was still too small to house the increasing numbers, so the primary section was moved to Avoch. It was extended again in recent years.

Deans Road.

Turn left before the Academy into this straight and pretty road enjoys panoramic views of Chanonry Light House and Fort George beyond. Pause for a moment at the Greengates (14) opposite the old Church of Scotland manse and look up the length of Castle Street The old Fortrose Castle sometimes called Seaforth Castle is thought to have once stood at the far end of this street possibly built or more probably rebuilt by Bishop John Fraser about 1500. It fell into Mackenzie hands after the Reformation and Cromwell's men are said to have razed it in the 1650s and removed the stones to build a Citadel at Inverness.

As you continue to the end of Deans Road look again at the view. To the east of Ness Road you can clearly see the old Black Isle Combination Poor House (15) opened in 1861 and closed in 1939 to make way for the army.

The previous Parish Quoad Sacra Church of Scotland manse now called Strathallan (16) is the last house on your left. Dr John R. Anderson, a well-loved doctor and Provost during the 1955 Quincentenary celebrations of the Royal Burgh once lived here. R is now an annex of Raddery School which stands on the hill above Rosemarkie's Fairy Glen.

Ness Road.

Turn north (left) into Ness Road which was once called Thornie Clytie and pass the George V Field (17) opened in 1936 in honour of the reign and Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary. Apart from football and swings, this has been the setting for many an outdoor entertainment from cricket matches to dog shows and tugs of war.

High Street.

Turn west (left) at the junction with the road to Rosemarkie into the east end of Fortrose High Street. Between the Church of Scotland (now closed) and the Police Station, the old East Watergate once led to the town clay-pit and the Doupac Well. Although this well, called after St Duthac of Tain, is no longer visible or accessible, it was once one of the two main water supplies to the town.

The East Watergate leads into the steep and narrow road that crosses the Hill of Fortrose to Raddery. The views from this sunny hillside are superb and well worth the climb by day or evening when a myriad of lights across the Firth from Inverness, Culloden and Dalcross to the oil rig installation plant at Ardersier (no longer in existence) provide a nightly celebration.

The Church was built in 1897 to replace the old Free Church which had previously stood on the site of Oakfield across the road beyond Campbell's Garage. With the Union of the Churches in 1929, it became the Church of Scotland. Recently the congregation has had it handsomely restructured and refurbished.

Back to the busy High Street and its shops. At one time Fortrose was famed for its shoemakers - some 30 of them in 1800 - whose businesses were in and about the High Street closes. Now there are none, nor is there a glover or even our own bakery. Gone too are the balls, musical evenings and meetings of the Mutual Improvement Society of the 19th century, but Fortrose is still a busy service centre with enough leisure activities to keep you occupied every night of the week. The shops - though not so many in number - are still as friendly and well stocked as before. Easy access by way of Kessock Bridge to the supermarkets and job opportunities of Inverness has brought many changes including a significant increase in the number of young families settling here. But then - since the hey-day of the cathedral, newcomers have always found Fortrose a delightful place to settle.

Chanonry Castle (18) may have stood at the junction of the High Street and Killen Road and an old wall beside George Brooks, Electrician (now the Coop), is thought to be a surviving fragment. Go right up Killen Road, once known as Rotten Row, and you will pass on your left the attractive blue and white painted Free Church of Scotland (19).

Next to it, the Town Hall (20) was built in 1821 on part of the old Sub-Chanter's manse as a Quoad Sacra Church of Scotland (the Parish Church is in Rosemarkie). With the Union of the Churches in 1929, and the transference of worship to the present Church of Scotland, the Town Council acquired this building for use as a Town Hall.

Opposite the Town Hall and behind a modern complex of flats stands Platcock House (21) one of the oldest sites in the burgh. In early documents it was described as being within the College of the Chanonry and may have housed and schooled the Cathedral choristers. Before then it may have been the site of a Culdee College of the Celtic Church. It is also believed to have been a chapel-of-ease for pilgrims on their way to the Shrine of St Duthac in Tain.

Station Road.

Turn west (left) behind the Town Hall into Station Road and you will pass Lodge Seaforth 854 and the new Surgery. A lemonade factory once stood here and the site of the present Fire Station was once Fortrose Railway Station (22), the terminus of the Black Isle Branch Line from Muir of Ord. Opened in 1894, the local line was a pleasant and useful means of transport to Inverness especially for the catches of the fishermen of Avoch. By the 1930s bus transport began to make the railway redundant and it was closed for passengers in 1951.

St Boniface Well (23) - the other source of water supply to the town - is still to be found in the corner of a field at the back of the new houses in Station Crescent but at present there is no access.

In Station Road you can see in the gable of an old cottage a weathered stone dormer pediment that bears the initials C.B.S. with a coat-of-arms and coronet. This stone is thought to have survived from the destruction of the castle and the initials are believed to be those of Countess Barbara Seaforth, wife of George the 2nd Earl, who lived there in the first half of the 17th century.

Turn left at the Surgery and continue down the road back to -

High Street.

Directly opposite Station Road stands the handsome Anderson Hotel (24), once the Royal Hotel and earlier still the Royal Station Hotel and scene of many an important function over the years. Built by Andrew Grant in 1879 a panel on the gable bears the Grant arms and motto "Stand Fast". His father-in-law, Andrew Cruickshank was responsible for planting the yew trees round the Cathedral.

Continue westwards down the High Street past the Market Cross. To your left behind a high stone wall lies the wooded area of Palace Gardens (25) which once belonged to the Bishops of Ross. According to one theory the Palace itself was built here by Bishop John Fraser in 1499, but others believe that it stood in Precincts Road at the end of Bishop's Road, close to the West Watergate - now no more - that once led to the St Boniface Well. Old accounts describe it as a splendid L-shaped building covering a full acre of land.

West of Palace Gardens stood the old manse of Obsdale and across the street find the lovely old house Woodside with its attractive crow-stepped gables. Though dated 1740, the back is reckoned to be 17th century.

Harbour Road.

Continue your walk down Canonbury Terrace past some fine houses with pretty borders that has styled Fortrose "garden city by the sea". Turn east (left) into Harbour Road. A distillery once stood below you to the right and in 1868 the Fortrose Gaslight Company survived for about five years.

The harbour built in 1817 by Thomas Telford and repaired in 1881 was at its busiest in those days with many ships carrying cargo and passengers alike until the coming of the railway ended its importance. Today the old Granary is the home of the busy Chanonry Sailing Club (26). Regatta Day when the bay is stitched with colourful craft is one of the prettiest sights of the summer.

Fortrose Beach.

The strip of coarse pink sand makes Fortrose beach popular with all ages on a sunny day even in winter. A tip to sunworshippers - visit this beach which is warm and sheltered when the wind is from the east, but go to Rosemarkie in a westerly!

Rose Street.

Continuing past the harbour, climb St Andrew's Walk with its paintable view of the harbour and the bay and cross Academy Street into Rose Street. Here you will find the oldest house in Fortrose now divided into two dwellings, Rose and Angel Court (27), with its stone arched pend and cobbled forecourt.

This fine example of Scots burgh architecture was once the pre-Reformation Deanery manse and the last Dean to live there, Alexander Urquhart, was deprived of it by the Privvy Council in 1585 for "delapidating the Deanery so that little remains".

Union Street.

Pass Rose Court and turn north (left) into Union Street where you may admire the attractive old mansion of St Katherine's (28), now a Guest House, which was built in the late 18th century. In the front wall of the house you can see two stones containing the inscription M. R. Burnet Ad 1558 and the Burnet arms. Master Robert Burnet was the last pre-Reformation priest of Contin and these stones probably came from the old Contin manse which stood nearby.

Cathedral Square.

At the end of Union Street turn west (left) by the Catholic Church (29). This building was once the Drill Hall erected by the people of Fortrose for the local Volunteers a century ago. It reverted to the Army when the Volunteers were disbanded and was eventually bought by the Church of Scotland when it became known as the Mackerchar Hall. Recently it was acquired by the Catholic Church and dedicated to St Peter and St Boniface in honour of its illustrious neighbour.

We are now back in Cathedral Square. We hope you have enjoyed this guided tour. If you want to know more about the town several books and leaflets are available at the Post Office and the Newsagent in Fortrose and at Groam House Museum in Rosemarkie. copyright Elizabeth Marshall

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