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Strathnairn Heritage Association


Nairnside - Clava - Cawdor


Begin by leaving Inverness through the southern suburb of Hilton along the Old Edinburgh Road, which preceded the present A9 trunk road to Perth and originated as General Wade's Military Road, constructed in 1729: the old roadway climbs to the 800ft. (244m) high ridge of Drumossie Muir. Soon after crossing the town boundary, take farm road on right, leading to Castle Heather house, west of which, on far side of field, is the mounded site of Castle Leather (678426) — the later "Castleheather" is a 19th century affectation. The low sub-rectangular earthwork is of the ''moated homestead" type (early medieval in date); originally a timber stronghold, the water-filled ditch having been fed from the burn in the adjoining glen. Later this became a stone castle, latterly owned by a cadet branch of the Frasers. Higher up the Old Edinburgh Road, on the 400ft. (122m) contour, branch right along another farm track leading to Druidtemple Cairn (685420), a Clava- type passage-grave cairn (excavated 1952); from here there is a splendid view over the lower Ness valley. Continue up the Old Edinburgh Road, diverging to the right amongst scrub and woodland to the ruins of Caisteal Rollach (694408), a roughly 'oval stone enclosure, possibly a dun, surrounded by boggy terrain, about 0.25 of a mile (450m) west of the ruined cottage of Woodend. From this last point the A9 road can be reached at Bogbain by walking across the moorland, where there are several hut-circles. Motorists, on the other hand, will require to return to Inverness to reach the A9 at Culcabock [now Inshes], and thence motor up the Drumossie brae past the hotel and along the straight towards Daviot and Nairnside.

Fork left along minor road, reaching the B851 at entrance gates of Daviot House (built c.1825) — on site of Daviot Castle (729406) — overlooking the steep banks of the Nairn. Only one small circular courtyard tower remains of the once-formidable stone castle built by David, Earl of Crawford, about the year 1380; it was destroyed in 1534 by Hector Mackintosh of Mackintosh.

Northwards about 550 yards (500m) in a field east of the B851 is Daviot Cairn (727412); of this Clava-type ring cairn, two monoliths and the kerbstones remain. Another 1.5 miles (2.8km) along B851, and on past entrance drive to Nairnside House, turn right down minor road, crossing River Nairn to reach Castletown at junction with the road from Craggie and the A9.

Go under the cattle-creep to east side of railway line to site of Castle Mattoch (749427). The surrounding moat and earthwork mound, partially removed during railway construction, are all that remain of a medieval castle.

On a hillock higher up the Allt Ruidhe Mor, east of Castletown, was found slag produced from bog iron by burning peat charcoal — a 16th or 17th century iron-smelting furnace. Also on the hill-brae above Castletown are two hut circles, each about 33ft (10m) diameter.

Take the next unclassified roadway on the left, passing Culdoich, a handsome 19th century stone farmhouse, and, under the railway, descend to the flat haughs of the Clava area. Here, within a one mile (1.6km) stretch of the flood-plain of the Nairn river, are the ruins of at least eight Chambered Cairns of Neolithic (New Stone Age) date. Stop at sharp right-hand bend in road to visit Culdoich Cairn (751438) — a large Clava-type ring cairn (excavated 1952), with one very high (12ft./3.6m) outer stone still standing, although leaning precariously.

Of the North and South Cairns of Miltown of Clava (752439) little remains: the former has only one 8ft. (2.4m) high standing stone and part of a cairn; the site of the latter is occupied by the foundations of what is believed to have been a chapel and burial ground of indefinite date. On the opposite side of the Nairn, west of the B851 roadway, are the very fragmentary remnants of two other probable Clava-type caims; Culchunaig (742442) and Leanach (743444).

At Balnuaran of Clava (757444) in an enclosed glade of tall trees are the three great monuments which give the Clava Cairns their type-name. All are scheduled Ancient Monuments, but motorists are warned that parking facilities are minimal. Balnuaran S.W. is a passage-grave cairn with an outer circle of eleven (originally twelve) monoliths, through which the road actually passes 'on the south side. The central burial chamber, circular in plan, is still 7ft. (2m) high and there are twelve cup-marks on large stone on west of entry to the chamber.

Some 80ft. (24m) north-east is Balnuaran Centre — a ring cairn (no passage) with an outer circle of nine standing stones; the unique feature — found nowhere else in the Clava Cairn distribution area — is the linking of three of the outer stones to the cairnrkcrb by raised cobbled "causeways". West of the Centre Cairn is a small stone circle of 15 boulders.

The third chambered cairn, Balnuaran N.E., is a passage-grave type with eleven outer monoliths. The burial cairn still stands 10ft. (3m) high; the chamber walls slope up inwards to an overhang: half the corbelled domed roof was in place 10U years ago. A kerb stone on the north side of the cairn has a veritable profusion of cup-marks — fifty at least - and a "cup-and-ring". On the south side of the roadway is a hut-circle (758444).

Scrub undergrowth obscures the scanty remains of the Mains of Clava S.E. Cairn (761446), and only a single outer stone stands at Mains N.W. Cairn (759446), in the middle of a field, which has cup-marked stones built into the dykes on the west and south sides. Another fine cup-marked boulder with several cups of various can siill be seen where it is now built into a dyke on north side of road (752450) halfway between Leanach farmhouse and Urchal cross- roads. The purpose of these saucer-like depressions is quite unknown.

Turn right at the T-junction east of the Clava cairns, and continue under the Culloden Viaduct (see Route 2, p. 15), to rejoin minor road, turning left. Continue towards Cantray Doune (789461), a 12th century molehill earthwork, site of a timber tower set up possibly, by Freskyn de Moravia. The 60ft. (8.2m) high mound is near the road on the left, and is a good example of the type of strongpoint erected by the feudalising Anglo-Norman knights who were granted lands in Moray in the early Middle Ages.

At crossroads beyond Wester Galcantray, turn right, continuing uphill through Assich Forest. The rocky hill-top (680ft./207m high) on the left, over- looking the one-arched bridge carrying the road over the Allt Dearg, is Dun Evan 'or Doune of Cawdor (828476). On the summit are the ruined walls of a timber-laced masonry fort, possibly Bronze Age in date, with traces of vitrified stonework.

Continue to Kirkton on left of road, and visit Barevan Church (837472) in its old churchyard. The site is believed to be that of an early Christian church dedicated to St. Adomnan or Evan — his Celtic bell of bronze is now at Cawdor Castle. The church, in ruins, is about 70ft. (21.3m) long by 20ft. (6m)' wide; the Gothic architectural features of the pointed arched windows and doors indicate an early 14lh century date. Barevan was a typical Soots medieval parish church — a simple oblong building without transepts or side aisles. About nine grave- stones, in or near the church, have cup-markings. Near the precincts, two fine bronze axes (now in the National Museum of Antiquities, Edinburgh) were found, when a cist burial was uncovered about 1833.

Beyond Barevan, the road joins the 1754 Military Road (not a Wade road) which comes in from the right, and after the picturesque den past Achindoun, branches off to the left towards Budgate and the White Bridge over the Nairn. The field west of Auchindoun farm-steading yielded, in 1878, three Beakers, a Cinerary Urn and a Food Vessel from short cist burials found during ploughing. The road to the attractive village of Cawdor continues along the west bank of the wooded burn, turning right to join the B9090, a short distance along which, on the right, visit Cawdor Parish Church (844490). With its T-shaped plan and battlemented belfry, it dates from 1619 having been built by Sir John Campbell of Cawdor in thanksgiving for his survival of a storm near Islay: he also gifted two Communion cups. At the church doorway hang the old parish '"jougs" — used in the 17th century to secure offenders by the neck.

East of the bridge over the Cawdor Burn, a farm road turning left at the crossroads leads to the site of Old Cawdor, or Calder. Here, on low ground, east of the burn just before it joins the Nairn, and near the present Newton, is the probable location of the early "moat stead" — timber stronghold — of the 13th century Dorwards and, later, the Calders, before the 15th century stone towerhouse was built 1 mile (800m) to the south.

From the crossroads on the B9090, opposite the parish war memorial, a private driveway leads to Cawdor Castle (847499). The central towerhouse of Cawdor is the castle built under Royal Licence in 1454 by William Calder of Calder, Constable of Nairn: the later additions are buildings of the 16th and 17th centuries. The original rectangular tower is the best example of such in North Scotland; the battlemented roof parapets, sentry-walk, and open round corner turrets are splendid castellated features and command extensive views. Muriel, heiress of Cawdor, abducted in 1499 and forced to accept Sir John Campbell as her husband, brought that family into ownership of estate and castle, still today the residence of the Earl of Cawdor.

Continue northwards along the B9090; turn right at the second minor road on the right, and the standing stone (857508) in field to left is the solitary remnant of the burial cairn and circle of Balnaroid, cleared away about 1840. Carry on along minor road beyond crossroads at Culcharry, through the wood- lands to another crossroads at Newlands: turn left here along minor road leading east. On the right, in the corner of a field are the foundations of an oblong chapel, in _a square low-walled enclosure (864488), believed to be an early Christian site. In the next field to the south stand the remaining stones of the Clava-type cairn of Little Urchany (866486) — just adjacent, to the north-east, is the site of another, smaller, cairn, destroyed about 1840.

Continue eastwards beyond crossroads at Little Urchany farm and fork left beyond Lyne of Urchany in a northerly direction along west side of the wooded hills of Ord and Urchany. At Righoul, a footpath to the right along the banks of the Geddes Burn, here very boggy, leads, after 500 yards (460m), to Castle Finlay (888514), ruins of a timber-laced stone-walled oval fort with traces of vitrified material: although not a hill-top site, the fort is strongly defended by an outer ditch and by marshy burns on three sides. On the summit of Urchany Hill, about i mile (800m) north-east of Castle Finlay, are the ruins of a dun (895517), very denuded of stone defences.

Beyond Righoul, fork right at cottages of Burnside of Geddes and follow very narrow road to Geddes Churchyard (888528). The nearly circular stoner dyked enclosure indicates an early Christian church site; within is the burial-place of the Roses of Kilravock, and here stood the church of St Mary of the old parish of Geddes, now part of Nairn parish. An old fair, called Geddes Market, was held in the precincts of the churchyard on or about the 5th April.

South-east of the churchyard, but more easily reached by coining the B9101 an4 then taking the next farm track on the right (leading past Raitcastle Farm), is Rait Castle (894525). Standing where the farm fields meet the northern edge of wooded Urchany Hill, this ruined castle (a scheduled Ancient Monument) — unique in North Scotland — consists of a rectangular block with round corner tower. Arched doorways, pointed windows and mouldings date the architectural design (which has similarities to Barevan chnrch — see p. 20) to the early 14th century, when the Castle was in the hands of the De Rait family — pro-English adherents during the Scottish Wars of Independence. Extensive ruined walls and foundations indicate an earlier 13th century enclosure castle.

To return to Inverness, either turn back along B9101 and B9090 as far as Gollanfield crossroads, thence by A96; or, continue farther along B9101 to turn left at next crossroads, taking A939 to Nairn, thence by A96 to Inverness.