Helen Rose’s Outdoor Diary: Strathpeffer. October 2019
The Glasgow HF outdoor club organised a weekend of low level walks at Strathpeffer, an enchanting Victorian spa village located only 4 miles from Dingwall in Easter Ross in the north east of Scotland. The spa was based around the Victorian obsession with healing waters but this picturesque village is unlike any other you will find in the Highlands as it is full of Victorian buildings. It is like stepping back in time. In the mid-1700s a sulphurous spring was discovered here and Strathpeffer grew to become the most un-Scottish of Scottish villages, largely thanks to the efforts of Anne, Duchess of Sutherland. She wanted Strathpeffer to resemble the spas she had seen in Europe and much of the look and feel of today’s village is due to her efforts from the 1840s to the 1870s. The result has variously been compared to Harrogate in Yorkshire and to a Bavarian mountain resort. There was once a train to Strathpeffer which brought hundreds of people from all over the UK to the famous spa waters. Dr Thomas Morrison claimed in 1819 that the water was the most “efficacious in Britain.” The very first pump room in Strathpeffer was opened in 1820 and this brought many health-seekers, prompting the construction of several hotels in the village but the sulphurous springs diminished and the station eventually closed in 1951.
Strathpeffer to Dingwall Walk
The walk on the first day started from the hotel in Strathpeffer and took us through Blackmuir Woods. Within the woods there were many wood carvings and I particularly liked the large wooden figure of the wood chopper.
On leaving the woods we made our way towards Knock Farrel passing a concentric stone circle which looked ancient but in fact had only been constructed in 1994 from a variety of ancient Scottish stones. We noticed some from Caithness which were large and some flat ones that could have been coffin stones to rest the coffin on when the bearers needed a break. In ancient times it would have been possible to tell the month of the year from the shadows the stone cast in sunlight and followed the lunar cycle. The stone circle is known as the Touchstone Maze.
Knock Farril was a Pictish hill fort looking to Loch Ussie. The Picts were a confederation of Celtic language speaking peoples who lived in what is today eastern and northern Scotland during the Late British Iron Age and Early Medieval periods. There were stunning views all round and the landscape was green and soft. At lunch time we were lucky to see Red Kites swooping low over our group. They have a wingspan of over two metres. When we reached Dingwall, we went to the local café to enjoy homemade cakes and coffee before catching the bus back to Strathpeffer. The weather had been magnificent all day at 26 Celsius and sunny. Very unusual at this time of year in Scotland!
The walk on the second day was from Strathpeffer to Rogie Falls. We left the village and walked towards Contin where we reached the Contin Forest. Again, there were excellent wood sculptures in the Forest. My favourite was of an old man’s head sculpted directly in to the trunk of a dead tree. After our usual stop for tea, we headed along by the river and up to the top of the Rogie Falls at the Black Water. The falls are spectacular and it is difficult to capture them in a photo. They are particularly spectacular after heavy rainfall and are fed from the slopes of Ben Wyvis. The salmon swim upstream here to spawn but a fish ladder has been built at the side of the falls which is not so steep to give nature a helping hand!
We walked on to have lunch at Loch na Crann and then to Loch Kinellan where there was a crannog (an island) in the middle but difficult to see the break from land with the thick bulrushes and reeds on the water. Two swans gave us a display of synchronised flying.
We walked on through the estate to a monument to commemorate the Scottish soldiers who died in the Korean War. It was near the alpaca farm where the alpacas had just been shorn.
We walked in to Strathpeffer to look at the Eagle Stone The Eagle Stone is what is known as a “Class I” Pictish symbol stone, meaning that the carvings were applied to a natural unshaped stone, and are typically pre-Christian in subject matter. This probably means that the Eagle Stone is a relatively early Pictish symbol stone, dating back perhaps as far as the 400s or 500s.Two symbols have been carved on the smooth south east face of the stone. The upper symbol is a horseshoe carrying various decorations in the form of discs and arcs. The lower symbol, and the one that has given the stone its English name, is an Eagle, shown with its wings folded and with detailed feathers, talons and beak. The Brahan Seer, Scotland’s answer to Nostradamus, is said to have predicted that should the Eagle Stone fall three times then ships would anchor on the spot. The story continues that the stone has fallen twice since being placed here but it is now firmly cemented in place. We walked to the old train station which has been restored and now has a lovely café and craft shops.
It was a perfect weekend and we enjoyed dancing in the evening at the hotel. Thanks to Stephen for organising it and leading the walks.
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Thanks to Maurice Lee for the photo of the Red Kite.
This section: Helen Rose Hillwalking Diary
Filed under: Helen Rose Hillwalking Diary
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