The Black Isle: Myth, Legend and Superstition

22 November 2016



The Black Isle is famous for many things, among them beaches, dolphins, fine dining and classic architecture. The villages are a magnet for holidaymakers and day trippers throughout the year but few visitors know the extent of it’s sometimes strange hidden history. Over the course of hundreds of years soothsayers, witches, healers and mystics have gravitated here and if you look closely enough you can still see where they have left their mark.

One of the most well-known personalities in Black Isle History is the Brahan Seer who lived here in the 17th century. He was a self-styled mystic, prophet and psychic who is still quoted and held in high esteem by many people today due to many of his prophecies coming true. The Eagle Stone, stands in nearby Strathpeffer. The Seer said that if it fell down three times, then Loch Ussie would flood the valley below. The stone has fallen down twice:  it is a mark of how seriously locals take him that it is now set in concrete. The seer unfortunately could not help himself poking fun at the gentry of the time and predictions of the demise of the ruling elites (which were to be proved correct) led him to be burned in a tar barrel at Chanonry point. A plaque marks the exact spot. To see for yourself then it’s just a short walk along the beach from Dolphin House.

The Fairy Glen close to Rosemarkie was once known for well-dressing ceremonies, where local children would decorate springs with flowers in the hope that the fairies would keep the water clean. It’s a fantastic walk to see the waterfall and the money tree where hundreds of old coins have been hammered into it as offerings. Westerlea is easily reached from here, it is a renovated farm cottage on the north coast with stunning views across the Cromarty firth to the mountains of both Ross-shire and Sutherland.

The village of Cromarty is situated on the most easterly tip of the Black Isle at the entrance to the firth.  It is protected from the sea by the South Sutor from where you can look across to Nigg and the opposite North Sutor. The name comes from an old Scottish word for shoemaker and according to legend, two giant shoemakers lived on these headlands and would share their tools by throwing them to each other across the firth. Nowadays you can take a ferry, it’s a fantastic way to see the coastline and maybe spot some dolphins. Sandpiper House is conveniently located just out of town, an easy walk to the headland with its majestic views and convenient for the historical attractions of Cromarty.

The Black isle is actually home to two clootie wells, at Craigie near Avoch, where locals would gather to drink the water before sunrise on the first Sunday in May and the more well-known one at Munlochy, made famous after featuring in one of Ian Rankin’s bestselling Rebus novels. The tradition of these wells stretches far back to pre-Christian times, the ritual associated with them involves tying a piece of cloth that has been in contact with a sick person to a nearby tree. As the cloth rotted then so would the sick person be cured. Just remember, modern synthetics are not bio degradable so you would be wasting your time trying to cure your illness with a piece of nylon. For a contrast to such an ancient site then you could enjoy the modern luxury of Mountain View. Who needs holy wells for healing when you can have a hot tub?

Avoch is a traditional fishing village on the south of the Black Isle. The fishermen here would out of necessity leave their boats out in the shallows so as to avoid the rocky waters close to the shoreline. This meant they had to start out their day by wading to their boats and wading back to the shore at the end of the day. Then started the custom of the wives carrying their men to the boats in the morning and meeting them upon their return back home to carry them back. In order to make this chore easier on all, men would look for large strong women to marry and the women would look for small men to court. Since the building of a pier this unique tradition has sadly been consigned to history. The Burrow is a cosy romantic retreat just a few miles away, you can still stroll on the beach with your beloved and wonder at the hardiness of the older generation. It really is quite a long way out to the shallows.

Michael Scott, also known “The wizard of the north” was a 13th century scientist, astronomer, alchemist, sorcerer and tutor to the Pope. He was later immortalised in Dante’s inferno and Sir Walter Scott’s Lay of the Last Minstrel. The curious geography of the Moray Firth where Chanonry point and Fort George seem to reach out in an attempt to embrace is actually as a result of him mobilising an army of fairies. Having constructed the cathedral of Elgin and the Chanonry Kirk of Fortrose he realised that they were each in the wrong location so construction was begun on a bridge so they could be swapped. Interrupted in their work by a man of god in the middle of the night the job was never completed. For an epic house with a fascinating history then how about a stay at Poyntzfield House, a grade A listed mansion house built in 1757 but featuring every modern convenience like swimming pool and games room.