People & Places
THE LOVAT SCOUTS: In 1757 General Simon Fraser of Lovat raised the 78th. Fraser Highlanders, including 200 volunteers from Strathfarrar, for service in Canada. In 1759 they were under General Wolfe’s command at the capture of Quebec, when they led the assault on the Heights of Abraham. In 1776 he raised two more regiments, for which he was rewarded by the return of the Fraser estates, lost after the ‘45. The ‘Lovat Scouts,’ who were distinguished in the Boer war and World Wars. Many of the Scouts were Gaelic speakers, which gave them a key role as radio operators - Gaelic became the ‘secret language’ which the Germans and their allies did not speak!
MARY CHISHOLM - HEROINE OF THE CLEARANCES: When Alexander, The Chisholm, died in 1793, he left his widow, Elisabeth the rental of a number of crofting settlements - ‘townships’ as they were called. She and her only child, Mary, kept the tenantry intact for 33 years, never turning anyone off their land. Soon after Alexander’s death, the new chief came over to see Elizabeth at Comar, to arrange a deal for the best parts of the Glen to be turned over to sheep. Mary, a teenager, objected, and was sent to bed in disgrace. She crept down to the kitchen and told the servants what was afoot. By early next morning about a 1,000 men had gathered outside Comar House, and the southerners avoided trouble by slipping out of the back. When they looked back they saw the chief, carried on the shoulders of his clansmen being piped back from Comar to Invercannich House.
ROMANS AT VARARUM - GLEN STRATHFARRER: The name ‘Farrar’ comes from the Roman Vararum - the name given to the whole of the Beauly River and estuary system on Ptolemy’s map of 2nd. century Britain. During feudal times the glen was granted to the Bissets and De L’Airds, passing to the Frasers in the 16th. century. The route through Glen Strathfarrer became a regular drove road to Beauly, famed for it’s black cattle market - the value of the cattle made it a prime target for raiders! On the back of the cattle trade a flourishing corn and whiskey trade developed with nearly 60 houses, a mill and four shielings at Culligran, the largest settlement.
A NEST OF JACOBITES - STRATHGLASS AFTER THE ‘45: Bonnie Prince Charlie’s journey through Strathglass is part of the journey undertaken by the ‘eight men of Coire-Gaoth in Glen Moriston,’ three of whom were Chisholms. They swore a pact to protect the Prince which started ‘That their backs should be to God and their face to the Devil’ if they did not protect him. By early August 1746, they had arrived on the north side of Glen Affric, and spent ten days in the area around Glen Cannich, and in Glen Strathfarrer. They missed the troops by six miles, passing by Comar at 2am on the 9th of August, and hid in the Fasnakyle woods three days before moving on past Guisachan to Glengarry. Lord Lovat hid on the island in Loch a’Mhuillidh in Strathfarrar before being captured and beheaded at the Tower of London (1747) Afterwards Captain Campbell destroyed every building in Glen Strathfarrar and carried away all the livestock.
ST. BEAN & CLACHAN COMAR: According to Adamnan’s ‘Life of Columba,’ Saint Columba and some of his monks travelled from Iona up the Great Glen, to negotiate with the Pictish King, Brude, in his hill fort at Inverness. According to a local tradition, he sent his cousin, St. Bean ( Beathain, Ban) to Strathglass, where he had a monk’s cell at the present Clachan Comar, then known as Kilbean (or Kilbeathain). ‘Kil,’ later used to designate a church, originally designated a ‘cell’ (in Greek, the word kellia, a collection of monks cells appears to derive from the same root). During the mediaeval period, Kilbean was attached to the church at Inverness, and judging by the thickness of one wall of the burial ground, a good size church was there. After the Reformation the mortuary chapel and burial ground remained in use.
WHISKEY STILLS IN UPPER STRATHGLASS: One of the last legal stills before the making of whiskey was proscribed was at Laitrie, about six miles up from Cannich and one of the last illegal stills in the area was up Glen Cannich. It is believed the working parts are still concealed there and that some barrels of very fine whisky are still to be found in the peat bogs! Instructions on how to find them were handed down from father to son. One small boy inadvertently gave a way the secret of a whiskey still hidden behind a waterfall, when he was found by his father - an excise man - playing with a strangely shaped piece of wood in the vicinity.
THE LEAD MINES OF STRUY: Three veins carrying lead and zinc occur south-south-west of Struy bridge. The veins were on the Lovat (Fraser) estates and were mined on a small scale during the first half of the 19th. century, together with a graphite seam at Loch a’ Mhuillidh in Glen Strathfarrer. The vein near Struy Lodge is about twenty inches thick, but the largest working was at the west end of Loch na Meine (Loch of the Ore) and the old shaft and surface workings, together with the remains of the engine houses and sluices can still be made out.
LORD & LADY TWEEDMOUTH and TOMICH, THE MODEL VILLAGE: Lord Tweedmouth who purchased the sporting estate of Guisachan also pioneered the sporting dog breed, the Golden Retriever. The estate included the old village of Tomich and he not only cleared the crofts but re-sited the crofters in a new ‘model village’- the present Tomich. The house known as “The Brewery", which he rebuilt gets its name because it was previously a base for whiskey smuggling. Lord Tweedmouth built a new large mansion house with a golf course, upgraded roads and paths, planted trees and improved farming practises. The large trees on the estate drive mark the burial sites of favoured coach horses. Winston Churchill was a frequent visitor and learnt to drive around Tomich!
“THE FAIR BISHOPS - na h Easbuigean Bana”: John (1752-1814) and Aeneas Chisholm (d.1818) were the sons of Valentine Chisholm of the Knockfin branch of the family. Father John was a collateral descendent of the Chisholm chiefs and could count kin with most of the old established families in the Strath. Father John was priest at Fasnakyle, for seventeen years. His younger brother joined him in a joint mission in 1789. Fr. John was appointed Bishop in the Highland region in 1792. It was from the joint mission of the two brothers that Fr. Aeneas established the church in lower Strathglass, then based at Aigas but now at Eskadale, in 1793. The younger brother, in his turn became Bishop of the Highland region in 1814.
THE PICTS OF STRATHGLASS: Innumerable hut circles and tumuli litter Strathglass and among them are some well sited hill forts with fine views. Camp Aig Fionn - Fingal’s Camp - is a very fine large hill fort near Knockfin, on a projecting spur of the high ridge between Glen Affric and the valley of the Deaug, is the place to go for an unsurpassed view of Strathglass. Craig-na- Fannaig castle, on an eminence due North of Comar house, overlooks Glen Cannich and Strathglass. Dun Sruy Bheg, a small fort, sits on a pointed hill above Struy school. A little hill fort overlooks the parish church at Erchless and a very fine vitrified hill fort (deliberately fired to harden the stone), Dun Fhionn - Fingal’s Dun, sits on a circular hillock near Teanassie.
THE MILLIONAIRE STALKER: Walter Winans, the American millionaire, who rented nearly 250,000 acres in Glen Strathfarrar, was it’s most famous and most notorious sporting tenant. He also rented land at Fasnakyle, Knockfin and Glens Cannich and Affric. Before stalking was established, deer were driven to the hunters. Winans had gigantic drives, culminating between Lochs Beannacharan and a’ Mhuillidh, which local stalkers considered wholesale slaughter, compared with the skill of stalking. Winans could bring down stags galloping at 100 yards, and once went so far as to paint a white horse dapple-grey - the colour lasted ten weeks and the chemicals kept the midges off!
THE DROVE ROAD AT CANNICH & THE ‘FOOTSTEP TO HEAVEN’: Cannich was one of the recognised “stances” for drovers from Skye and Kintail, to rest their sheep and cattle overnight, on their way to the market at the Muir of Ord. One of these drovers, who had a reputation for sampling the local liquor - porter and ale - which were not proscribed and having an eye for a pretty girl, made his peace with the Almighty by contributing largely to the building fund for the Church of Scotland, built on the climb up to Cannich Glen - hence it’s nickname - the “footstep to heaven.”