National Geographic : 1956 Jul
A Stroll to John o' Groat's memorials to this great Scotsman, who was born at Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis in 1764 and spent his last years on the Black Isle. There he married and settled down in 1812, purchasing Avoch House from his wife's trustees. He died suddenly in 1820, taking ill on his way home from Edinburgh. Blaze Destroyed Mackenzie's Souvenirs Fire ravaged Avoch House in 1832, destroy ing many of the explorer's treasures, but two wings of the "burnt house" (as it is called) are still occupied. To Canadian lumberjacks who worked on the Black Isle during World War II it was a resort of supreme interest. Old customs die hard on the remote penin sulas and islands of Scotland. Not far from Avoch I saw a "holy well," which is still hung "for luck" with ribbons or bits of bright cloth, particularly on the first Sunday in May, just before my visit. Hundreds of such tributes, old and new, festooned the fence for many yards on either side of the wayside trough into which the water falls. I spent the night at Fortrose, principal town on the Black Isle and once the seat of the Bishops of Ross. The ruins of their rose-red cathedral stand on a green lawn opposite the pleasant hotel in which I stayed. Later I walked along the peninsula's high ridge to the charming village of Cromarty, made famous by Hugh Miller, one of the fore most geologists of the 19th century. His effigy on a tall pillar surmounts the town and overlooks the thatched cottage of his birth. In the fine old parish church a tablet com memorates another Cromarty celebrity, the translator of Rabelais, Sir Thomas Urquhart. His epitaph is surely unique, for he died of laughing, delighted at the news that Charles II had been restored to his throne (page 29). Page 34 E- Leaning into the Stroke, Helmsdale Fishermen Pull for Home Scotland's fisheries have ranked among the world's finest since the Middle Ages. In 1493, King James IV spoke of the riches of the sea, declaring that men must work at fishing for the "eschewing of vices and idleness and for the common proffeit and universall weil of the Realme." Quality table fish and shellfish still abound, though the supply fluctuates. These men had only to row down the tidal waters of the River Helmsdale for salmon, but their catch was small compared with the abundant harvest of King James's day. Lower: Fishermen draw their net near Helmsdale pier, here being reinforced against strong tides. © National Geographic Photographer B. Anthony Stewart Though Cromarty's fishing trade seems dead, I found its ferries still working and crossed to Nigg. By pleasant backwaters I reached the royal burgh of Tain, which ap parently can supply all wants at the hardware store of Messrs. Wallace and Fraser, from a coffin to a load of ice or a donkey. All three of these, in fact, were ordered at the shop one Monday. Tain stands on the shores of the Dornoch Firth, which, cutting deep into the country, divides Sutherland from Ross and Cromarty (page 31). A few miles out of Tain I crossed the firth, saving 20 miles on the road to Dornoch. It was a near go, for "Sandy the ferry" had his house on the far side, and for two hours I flew the white flag in vain to signal him. I learned later that his boat was under repair. At last two men working at a garage on the Tain side obligingly got out their motorboat and took me across. Few Old Ferries Remain Sandy the ferry is one of the last of his trade left in the north. He seems doubtful that anyone will take on his job if he goes. If not, romance goes with Sandy, as it has already gone from Littleferry across Loch Fleet some miles farther on. When I reached it, there was no boat at all. When I crossed Dornoch Firth I had en tered Sutherland, to me the loveliest and lone liest of Scottish counties, whose vast moors and fantastic mountains range from the east ern to the western seaboard. I stayed the night at Dornoch in a hotel that was once the castle of the Bishops of Caithness and has served as a county court house and prison in its time too (page 42). Its narrow windows in the tower look across to the seven-centuries-old cathedral squatting over the pleasant town with outspread wings like a mother bird on her nest. The cathe dral's beautiful stained windows commemorate Andrew Carnegie, who once owned near-by Skibo Castle, as well as members of the ducal house of Sutherland, whose great castle of Dunrobin is a landmark for miles. The county town of Sutherland is Dornoch, but Brora, 15 miles north along the coast, is often called its industrial capital, for it has a woolen mill, a coal mine, and a distillery. I visited the first two but did not venture into the last, for I had been told that its product was irresistible!