A walk of approximately half-an-hour, excluding the Museum
Welcome to Rosemarkie, whose quiet and peaceful presence hides an old distinguished past. Here Stone Age man once lived and left behind his middens under the High Street. Bronze Age man too enjoyed the sheltered bay, for a stone cist was unearthed near the Manse. The Picts living here in the Dark Ages were evangelised by saints, and raided by Vikings who allegedly fought a great battle at Blackstand above the town. When David I of Scotland established the Diocese of Ross around 1126, the first Cathedral Kirk of Rosemarkie was founded here and lasted for over a century until a new Cathedral was sited in Fortrose.
Meet in the car-park at the bottom of the High Street and then walk west to the Groam House Museum (1) to start our journey of discovery. Inside the museum, you can enjoy the magnificent pink sandstone sculptured cross-slab - the soul of Rosemarkie - which celebrates all the cultures of the late 8th century with its mysterious Pictish symbols of double disc, crescent and rods, its Christian crosses, its ornate bosses and interlace from the Celtic and Anglian tradition.
Here learn how St Moluag, contemporary of St Columba, allegedly was first to evangelise Rosemarkie and found a monastery in the late 6th century; how in the early 8th century St Boniface or Curitan built a church (probably on the site of the present parish church) and enlarged the monastery, how allegedly he retired and was buried here aged 84, and how for centuries his relics were preserved and venerated. The amount of sculptured fragments found in Rosemarkie and on show in Groam House point to its shining significance as an early Christian centre.
Groam House itself has changed hands many times over the years. It has been a dwelling house, a drapery, a tea-shop and a grocery, and was gifted in 1974 to the town by a local businessman, Mr Mario Pagliari. It got its name from a merchant called Maclean and his daughter Annie who came from Groam (meaning 'boggy place') on the far side of the Beauly Firth near Kirkhill.
Leave the Museum and turn west (left) up the High Street, and down Church Lane on the left towards the Parish Church (2). The present building dates from 1821, but the site probably housed the original Cathedral of the Diocese of Ross. Its first Catholic Bishop, Macbeth of Rosemarkie, may have been the last Abbot of the old Celtic monastery founded by St Boniface. It was here in the ancient kirkyard that the great cross-slab is thought to have first stood and where most of the other fragments were found.
The Kirkyard has probably been in use far longer than the oldest dated stone - 1691, in memory of the Millers of Kincurdie set in the west wall - would suggest. Notice another stone built into the west wall dedicated to Provost Alexander Houston in 1766 with the traditional symbols signifying the shortness of life: the hourglass, candle-snuffer, coffin, skull and cross-bones - the latter borrowed by pirates of the period as their own gruesome warning of death.
Nearly opposite the east gable of the church you can see "The Tommy" (tomb) where the Leslies of Raddery were buried. The rear wall was once part of a shelter which hid the watchers who guarded the newly dead from the Resurrectionists. Behind it now lie Major-General D. Macintyre, 2nd KEO Gurkhas V.C. and his descendents including his brother-in-law Dr William Bryden C.B., the only man to escape alive from the massacre of the British Army retreat from Kabul in 1841.
The Parish Church including the tower with its fine stone finials was restored and re-decorated in 1984. Four new bosses were hand carved and on each face of these replacements of the 1821 capping stones you can clearly see the Bishop's crook commemorating the finding of relics of St Boniface on the site.
The church may hold a record in that for 140 years between 1734 and 1874 it was served consecutively by three ministers called Wood - father, son and grandson - and at the same time by several generations of church officers called Clark.
Return to the High Street and turn west (left). The house with pillars (3) and a classical facade nextdoor to the True Kiltmakers shop was built by John Steavenson, a general merchant who rented some of the local salmon fishings and who was Provost of Fortrose in 1837. The building was once a large store selling rifles, furniture and watches and became the village Post Office for many years.
It is thought that Rosemarkie may have been made a Royal Burgh as early as 1216 by Alexander II. The arrangement of the street into parallel contiguous strips or burgh roads either side of the highway, each owned by a burghess who paid a rent of five silver pennies to the king, has not much changed.
The Abbey of Arbroath once possessed a toft or homestead here and the Knights of St John owned what was known as the Temple Croft. The Chapter of Ross consisted only of a Dean and Treasurer who too would have had their manses here, and four Canons who could not afford to reside in the Episcopal seat.
When the Chapter of Ross was enlarged c. 1240, and the site of the new Cathedral planned in Fortrose, Rosemarkie's importance began to decline. By 1455 when it was united to the Royal Burgh of Fortrose it had no trade and until 1552 no market day or market cross, and was described as "utterly decayed". By the end of the 18th century it had begun to recover. The market cross stood opposite the arched pend, once part of Miller's Hotel and now known as Miller's Arch (4), at the foot of Manse Brae. Sadly the cross was knocked down about 1830 by a horse and cart and never replaced. The Rosemarkie market with its stalls of shoes and sweets, china and locally made linen ceased about 1850.
Miller's Hotel was a coaching inn with four horses, wagonettes and a phaeton. The annual "Bools" game used to start here with men from two teams hurling a small iron ball down to the Ness and back for a celebration drink.
Turn south (left) at the arch down Hawkhill Road. Marine House (5) on the left was once a private house called Hawkhill. It became a hotel, then a nursing home, and now private apartments. As a hotel it was popular with golfers, and families used to return year after year to enjoy not only the golf but also the happy family atmosphere which catered for all ages.
The white building opposite Marine House (6) was once a boarding house called Marita.
Look west (right) at the bottom of Hawkhill Road along Marine Terrace (7). A boat-building yard once stood on a site close to Tigh-na-mara, the stone villa on the right side of the road. Here the schooner LOUISA built of larch from Raddery woods and named after Mrs Louisa Fowler of Raddery was launched in 1852. There was also a ropery operating at about the same time from a site close by. Further to the east just above the shore once stood a large black boat house where many fine yachts were built and launched from a mobile wooden jetty.
Salmon fishing has flourished along the shore with intermittent gaps over the years. In the last century an Aberdeen firm called Hogarth held and operated the leases for over 50 years giving employment to many local men. Mr Hogarth owned the estate of Drumarkie above the Fairy Glen which he turned into a show place with beautiful walks, shrubberies and trees. He called it St Helena after planting a cutting allegedly taken from a willow by Napoleon's grave.
Having turned east (left) along Marine Terrace, the Mill House (8) was one of Rosemarkie's two mills owned by George Sutherland, Provost of Fortrose in 1895. It was subsequently sold to John Robb the Publican at the Plough Inn who used it as a laundry for the army stationed at Cromarty and Fort George during the First World War. The blankets got a shake while the sheets went through the water wheel and when dry were transported in bales by a four-wheeled wagonette back to the ferry at Chanonry Point.
Turn north (left) into Mill Road and at its junction with the High Street find the Plough Inn (9) on your right, the only pub still remaining out of many taverns that catered for drovers and travellers on the road to Cromarty in the past. A plaque over the entrance tells us that it was established in 1691 and rebuilt in 1907 by John Robb, who also owned the laundry and who was allegedly the first to own a motor car in the village. A stone inside the Inn has the initials J.M. and J.A. and the date 1691. This is thought to be the marriage stone of John Millar and Janet Anderson of Kincurdie whose tomb is in the kirkyard.
Continue north up Bridge Street and pass on your right the entrance to Kincurdie (10). The name suggests that this may have been the site of the original church and monastery built by St Boniface (Curitan). 17th century records mention a chapel and chapel-yard standing there, and some land east of the drive is still known as Chapel Field.
On the road up to Kincurdie above the playing field you can see one of the ice-houses (11) built to preserve salmon in the winter months. The ice was formed in man-made ponds up the Fairy Glen, and lasted for months in these deep dark cellars.
At the far end of Bridge Street you can find Rosemarkie's other mill which was in operation up until the 1940s. You can still trace out the old mill lade and, in front of Fairy Glen House, the circular man-made pond, now empty, known as The Pows (12) where weavers soaked their lint before spinning it into thread. During the early years of the last century there were some 20 linen weavers in the village working in their own homes from flax grown locally, and imported from Aberdeen. The hand-made linen industry was spoiled by heavy taxes imposed to placate the wool merchants about 1830.
The Fairy Glen (13) is a walk not to be missed for its beauty - botanical, ornithological and geological. Hugh Miller, the Cromarty geologist, wrote of it "I am acquainted with no other locality in the kingdom where this deposit (boulder-clay) is hollowed into ravines so profound or presents precipices so imposing and lofty". Here the Horse Burn from which Rosemarkie takes its name (the 'point on the Horse Burn') tumbles down waterfalls, rushes through rapids and glides reflectively under flowering geans. Here celandine and wood anemone, bluebell and primrose herald the sping. Folk-tales tell of the Fairy Well surrounded by white pebbles and rustic seats and decorated with flowers by village children; or of the old witch who made a clay image of her enemy and every day held it under a waterfall until - like her victim - it wasted away.
Back towards the Plough Inn, turn up onto Courthill Road. As you climb this steep hill look back at the impressive perpendicular Kaes Craig (14). Hugh Miller says of it, "The numerous bands of sand by which the cliff is horizontally streaked from top to bottom we find hollowed as we approach into a multitude of circular openings like shot holes in an old tower, which form breeding places for the claw and sand martin".
On your right pass the Gordon Memorial Hall (15). This was built in 1904 by two sisters called Miller from Miller's Hotel who married brothers called Gordon, in memory of their husbands. It has long been the pride of Rosemarkie folk. During the war it was open day and night for canteen and recreational purposes.
Further up the hill, just below Courthill House, you can see the site of the Old Smiddy (16). Courthill takes its name from the partly-artificial circular mound which is thought to have been the seat of justice during Norse occupation of the Black Isle. Later it was probably the site of a motehill castle, a defensive site occupied by the first Bishops of Ross.
The road now straightens and to your right find the old Rosemarkie School (17) opened in the late 19th century and in spite of heartfelt protests closed in 1932 owing to lack of numbers. Local children went first to Fortrose Academy and now are bussed to Avoch Primary School.
Towards the end of this road past Greenside Farm on the right (18), there used to be a large loch three to four acres wide and four foot deep. Owing to its stagnation in summer, the stench of steeping lint and its proneness to flooding in winter, the minister had it drained 200 years ago. A modern housing estate now occupies this site. Significant prehistoric remains, including pottery and coarse stone tools, and medieval pottery were found on the site during construction.
Above the site of the old loch there is a curiously shaped field still called Monies Creek (19). This is thought to refer to St Monan's Crozier, and may have been part of the church lands at Kincurdie.
Turn east (left) and downhill into Manse Brae. The large house south of the main road was once the Parish Church Manse (20) when Rosemarkie had its own minister. Built in 1833 on the site of the previous manse the glebe was then about four acres. It was here that a Bronze Age stone cist was discovered with a decorated beaker.
Return to Groam House down the High Street. Once this road was busy with shops including a dress-maker and glover, draper and haberdasher, newsagent and general store, a bakery and a tea-shop, shoe-maker and sweetie shop.
We hope you have enjoyed exploring old Rosemarkie. If you want to know more about the area there are some publications available in Groam House Museum.
Copyright Elizabeth Marshall (amended and updated by FRCC in 2023).