The Harbour



IV10 8TP






Fortrose Harbour today is a quiet backwater leased by Chanonry Sailing Club and supporting leisure craft and activity – but it wasn’t always like this. From its foundation early in the 19th century right through to the outbreak of the Second World War, Fortrose Harbour was a commercial port and a hive of activity. The Harbour has a secret too – during the Second World War it was a ‘hush hush’ combined operations base and had a direct role in the preparations for the D-Day landings in 1944. This is its story.


Part 1 - Introduction, Contents, Timeline & Acknowledgements
Part 2 - Establishing the Harbour
Part 3 - Harbour Industries
Part 4 - The Pier & Ferries
Part 5 - Cargo Ships from Sail to Steam
Part 6 - The Harbour in the World Wars
Part 7 - The Sea Scouts, the Harbour & Leisure Sailing



The Club gratefully acknowledges the grants from the Moray Firth Partnership and the Black Isle Ward of the Highland Council that have funded the production of 4 Interpretation Boards for mounting externally on the Clubhouse as part of project Harbouring Heritage.

The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance or support provided for his research by the following organizations:

The 1st Avoch Sea Scouts

The Fortrose and Rosemarkie Community Council

The Trustees of Groam House Museum

The Landing Craft Association

The Friends of Purton Sands

Scottish Natural Heritage

Am Baile

The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance and advice provided to him in connection with Harbouring Heritage by the following individuals:

Nancy Cameron, Harbourside, St Andrew’s Walk

Chris Hood, great –great grandson of Alec Irving, rigger

David Pocock, Honorary Harbour Master, Fortrose

Susan Seright, Curator Groam House Museum, historian and author

Elizabeth Sutherland, historian and author

George Taylor, Honorary Rear Commodore and founder member, Chanonry Sailing Club, ex Harbour Master Fortrose and waterside character

Rodney Timson, Quay House

Kathleen Armstrong, Marine cottage

Isla Todd (reminiscence recordings)

Ian Basham

And these members of Force S (1943/44)

George Berry

Jean Gadsen

Frederick (Ricky) Peel

Arthur Walter

This is an ongoing project – please contact me via info@chanonry.org.uk if you have some information to contribute.

Richard Jenner


March 2012


Establishing the Harbour & Harbour Industries


There is evidence of shipping from Fortrose before the harbour was built. The Aberdeen Shore Accounts have in August 1668 ‘ane bark going of Chanrie of Ross’ (Chanonry being the old name of Fortrose) with ’40 gades irone’ and ’70 bolls bey salt’. When a customs establishment was created after 1707 the ‘tidesman’, who was the officer in charge, was appointed to ‘Fortrose and Cromarty’ and was paid more because of the size of the district. In 1722-3 the William & Catherine of Fortrose, Hugh Watson, master, traded in the area 1 . Small fishing cobles lined the shore and the fishermen’s cottages still exist on St Andrew’s Walk (formerly Shore Street).

This picture 2 is the earliest known view of Fortrose (labelled as Channery) – on the extreme right you may be able to spot a salmon fishing net and cobble.


In the early 19th century there were no railways or airports and most roads were little more than rough tracks. People and freight moved in preference by sea – harbours and ports had huge significance in everyday life and a town wanting to prosper needed to have one. Nine prominent citizens of Fortrose saw their opportunity in 1813.

The Scottish Highland Roads and Bridges Act 1803, (43rd Parliamentary Session of George III), established a Commission to supervise the expenditure of moneys on the construction of Highland roads and bridges. Some of the money for construction came from the residual funds of the Commissioners of the Forfeited Estates. Estates of Jacobite chiefs were forfeited to the Crown, post the Battle of Culloden in 1746, and placed in the control of Commissioners, who carried out many of the improvements in the Highlands. Money was spent organising surveys and prospecting for coal and minerals; on land reclamation and afforestation; on premiums and bounties for linen and hemp production and on public works programmes aimed at providing roads, bridges and harbours.

In March 1813, the 9 citizens sent a ‘Memorial3 (a statement of facts, especially as the basis of a petition 4 ) to the Commissioners petitioning them for a pier (harbour) to be constructed at Fortrose. The Memorial was sent by the Magistrates of the Royal Burgh of Fortrose on behalf of themselves, the Community, the local laird (Roderick Kilgour Mackenzie of Flowerburn) and ‘other Proprietors and Gentlemen interested in the welfare of the Burgh.’ The case was made that there were no landing places between Munlochy Bay and Cromarty where lime could be unloaded and grain carried away and that this was ‘a circumstance very detrimental to the improvement of the country’. They mention establishing some form of manufacture in the town in the interests of agriculture, the town and commerce. These were seen as ‘desirable ends’ and the ‘Memorialists are exceedingly desirous to have a Pier erected at Fortrose…’. The anticipated in bound cargoes were coal and lime (presumably for fertiliser) with return loads of grain and other produce. Those familiar with making grant applications will realise that a clincher was probably an offer by the Memorialists to foot half the bill – a very generous offer considering no survey had been done. They conclude by asking that ‘some engineer be forthwith directed to make a Survey, Report and Estimate’.

Extract from the 7th Report of the Commissioners for Highland Roads and Bridges 5

The ‘some engineer’ was of course Thomas Telford 6.

Thomas Telford ‘the Colossus of Roads’ was sent in 1801 to survey the rural roads in Scotland which were mainly the military roads constructed by General Wade and Major Caulfeild between 1725 and 1767. In 1803 he was asked to implement his survey proposals and became the civil engineer for the huge government scheme to improve communications in the Highlands. In so doing, Telford built nearly 1000 miles of roads and 120 bridges over the next 20 years. He constructed the Caledonian Canal and he built or improved numerous harbours such as Fortrose. In 1818 he helped to found the Institute of Civil Engineers and became its first president in 1820. Telford was a likeable and convivial man who was always ready with a story or a joke. Telford died on 2nd September, 1834 aged 77 years and was buried in Westminster Abbey. He continued to act as a consultant and engineer to the end of his life. Despite his prodigious output, he left very little in the way of wealth - he had often taken on projects for which he was not paid.

By April 1815 the survey had been completed and the Commissioners noted 7 that they had offered to defray half the costs (estimated to be nearly £3500) to build a substantial pier 170 feet long with a return pier of 60 feet. They noted that the Contributors had undertaken to complete the work by November of the next year (1816).

Extract from page 22 of The 7th Report of the Commissioners for Highland Roads and Bridges 8

In the end the harbour was completed in October 1817 at the cost of £4,016 – around £255,500 in today’s money 9 . The origin of the rose sandstone is thought to be the Munlochy quarry (source of the stone for Fort George).

The Munlochy quarry in 2011.

Entrance to the quarry used by the barges to take stone away by sea.

The 9th Report of the Commissioners (1821) explains the cost overrun (a result of requirements creep) 10:

The Commissioners duly took the money for their share of the harbour expenditure from the ‘Balances arising from the Forfeited Estates’ as shown in Appendix Z to the 1821 report 11

This picture is an engraving dated 1821 12 (drawn and engraved by William Daniell for his voyage around Britain, 1814 – 25) and shows the harbour much as it is today. The building on the right was the Harbour Store or Weigh House (not to be confused with Quay House which was built later).

Present day - March 2012


Harbour Industries

This map 13 was drawn-up for the 1832 Great Reform Act. It is the earliest known map showing the harbour. The accompanying report lists Fortrose as a small place possessing a few fishing boats but having no trade or manufacturers worth noting, concluding that ‘these places [Fortrose & Rosemarkie] have long been stationary.’ The report may have been a bit harsh as it notes the 1821 Burgh & Parish population as 1571 while in 1831 it is 1799 which is a 14.5% increase in 10 years. Similarly the number of houses increases from 325 to 344 (6%). In any case, the situation was about to change. The map shows the distillery – the Eilean Dubh – clearly one of the first harbour industries. While it was legal to distil before 1823, changes in the law that year made the licensing much simpler and from 1824 onwards many more distilleries were registered. The Eilan Dubh was presumably established between 1824 and 1832 and its location must be due in part to the harbour – possibly ease of access to barley being exported via the harbour or perhaps because coal was being imported and was used for the drying process or perhaps because of the ease of transporting the finished whisky? – most likely a combination of all of these factors.


The harbour became the busiest part of the town as everything and nearly everybody travelled by sea. In 1868 the Fortrose Gaslight Company built a gas works to provide gas to the few who could afford it. Unfortunately it went bankrupt after five years although the buildings still appear in photos from the early 1900s. At various times around the harbour there was also a pub – the Shore Inn – a smithy, a piggery, a saw mill, a wheelwright and a mason’s yard, various stores and more recently even a fire station 14. With the establishment of a regular ferry service (see Part 4), tourism became an industry.

The map above shows the location of the various industries – while many overlapped in time they were not all active at the same time. There was some interaction between the industries. As already speculated the distillery probably benefitted from grain exported from the harbour and the coal that was imported. George Taylor’s grandfather, the wheelwright, would wheel his wooden cart wheels down to Michael Home’s smithy to have iron bands fitted.

This is a map from 1871 (published in 1881). It shows some of the fine villas built since 1832 implying some wealth was in the town. It names the gas works and the saw mill (space presently occupied by post Second World War bungalows). The long building west of the saw mill aligned NNW – SSE was the distillery and this building still exists and is partly converted in to apartments. The water for the distillery came from a dam to the north of the main road in the area occupied now by The Oaks. The mason’s yard was attached to the saw mill. The ‘PH’ is the Shore Inn – now a garden for Marine Cottage. The building nearest to the harbour and with a weighing machine to its rear was the Harbour Store (also known as the Weigh House or Steamer Store) and was the earliest building established at the harbour. ‘MP’ is for mooring posts and ‘WT’ is a water tap.

This is an unusual view of the harbour 15 . As well as providing a good perspective of the pier (opened in 1882 – see Part 4) it also shows a sailing vessel believed to be the Dispatch (see Part 5) so is probably post 1892. The enlargement below shows the gas works with its circular ‘gasometer’ which is butting on to the Harbour Store left of the chimney 16 (today this space is occupied by ‘Harbourside’ built in 1956). The various large metal mooring posts around the harbour today are thought to be part of the gas retorts – reuse is nothing new!

The picture above gives some details of the mason’s yard (left) and saw mill (right). Visible drawn-up on the shore are a number of small open boats – probably used for salmon fishing.

This is the Shore Inn probably taken early in the 20th century 17 . Below is a close-up of the sign above the door which says ‘Shore Inn, John Smith licensed to retail beer, spirits & wines’. The lady may be ‘Frugal Maggie’ – the publican was known as ‘Thrifty John’.

The Shore Inn still appears on the 1905/6 map but had gone by the early 1930s 18 .

From papers regarding the Shore Inn, held by the Mrs Kathleen Armstrong, the current owner of Marine Cottage, whose garage and garden encompasses the space previously occupied by the inn, the title was quite involved. In 1895 Miss Eva Mackenzie of Flowerburn had completed a Feu Charter in favour of ‘Miss Janet Stewart and others’ (equally between 4 other members of the Stewart family!) on a ‘piece of ground at the shore of Fortrose on which a Public House has been erected’. The pub is shown on the 1871 map so up to 1895 it is reasonable to suppose that Miss Mackenzie had tenants running the pub. The 1895 plan shows the property to the west as belonging to John Henderson, Town Clerk of Fortrose, with a passage to the east between the inn and property belonging to Michael Home, blacksmith.

Plan from the 1895 Feu Charter relating to the Shore Inn

On 20th November 1901 the property was sold to ‘Mrs Alice Mary Williamson or Smith residing at the Shore Inn Fortrose widow of John Smith Contractor & Inn Keeper at Fortrose’ for £420 indicating that up to this point the Smiths had been the tenants. Alice Smith then used the Inn as security (via a bond) for a loan of £350 from John David Davidson, Solicitor, Forres. John David Davidson died in 1903 and the bond passed to another group of solicitors acting as trustees. Alice Smith managed a partial discharge (£100) of the bond in 1905 but the solicitors then ‘assigned’ the remaining bond in favour of Mrs Mary Ann Isabella Davidson of Inverness. Alice Smith finally discharged the debt in May 1908 through what appears to have been a sale to ‘John Mackenzie, Ship Captain, recently at Pier House, Kenmore, Perthshire, now proprietor of the Shore Inn’. John Mackenzie paid Ann Davidson £400 and Alice Smith £100. However, other documents show that John Mackenzie had borrowed the £400 from Ann Davidson rather than paid her via an agreement at 5% interest and later documents indicate that he had borrowed the £100 too from Alice Smith.

Unfortunately business did not go well for Captain John Mackenzie and on 13 June 1910 he had to sign a document which began:

I John Mackenzie, Inn Keeper Shore Inn Fortrose considering that my affairs have become embarrassed, and that I am unable to pay the several debts due by me, in consequence of which I have been requested to grant a Trust Disposition and Conveyance for behoof of my Creditors, as aftermentioned; Therefore I the said John Mackenzie do hereby Alienate, Dispone, Assign, Convey, and Make over from me and heirs, executors, and successors, to and in favour of John Reid Sutherland, Solicitor, Inverness.’

This is similar to calling in the Receiver. John Sutherland then put up the Shore Inn for disposal via a public roup on 29 March 1911 with an ‘upset’ price of £520 (effectively the reserve). The articles of roup record the creditors as Arthur Bell & Sons, wine merchants (£200) and Archibald Arrol & Sons, Brewers, (£200) – it would appear that the winner of the roup would also take on these debts. In another strange twist in the story, the purchase, for £525, was made by ‘Mrs Margaret Macdonald or Mackenzie, wife of the said John Mackenzie.’ The £520 then cleared the debt to Ann Davidson (including interest) and to Ann Smith now remarried and also known as Finlayson (who had in the mean time passed on her bond Mrs Susanna Myers or Jeans, wife of Alfred Jeans, Wine Merchant, Forres!). After that, the trail goes cold but at some subsequent point the land becomes part of Marine Cottage’s garden.

This photograph 19 shows the Harbour Store through the masts of the small fishing boat. The Harbour Store stood until around 1949 20 . The gap in the buildings in the foreground is where the Shore Inn stood. The building to the right is the barn now known as Quay House (and referred to as such from here onwards). The origins of Quay House are sometimes mis-reported. In some references it is listed as a granary (grain store) built in 1813 – probably because it has been confused with the Harbour Store. Both building have external steps on their east gable but the Harbour Store steps run-up from the front (south side) of the building whereas the Quay House steps run-up from the rear (north side). Both the Harbour Store and Quay House would have been used to store grain.

Quay House does not appear on the 1871 map and is first seen on the chart with the application to build a pier dated 1878. The deeds show that the use of the land was acquired from the Burgh (common land) by Michael Home, Blacksmith of Rosemarkie, at a public roup (auction) on 17 July 1869. His was the only bid having offered £1 10s per year in Feu Duty. It seems unlikely that Michael Home built on the land although he did operate the smithy to the rear of Quay House. Michael Home passed (assigned) the land to Kenneth Mackenzie, ship owner of Courthill, Rosemarkie on 18 May 1872. Mackenzie held the land until 18 May 1896 so it is highly likely that it was he who built the original structure. Mackenzie passed the land to Andrew Maciver described as ‘sometime Accountant of the Caledonian Bank Limited, Fortrose’, and thereafter Corn and Meal Merchant, Fortrose. Andrew Maciver must have had financial difficulties as his ‘estates’ were sequestrated and Thomas Henderson acquired the title on 3 April 1902. There is a story locally that Lipton’s the grocers acquired the building as a store in anticipation that Fortrose would be used as a naval base and would require supplies – however, this did not happen despite many fleet manoeuvres in the Firth before the First World War. George Taylor recalls seeing a Lipton’s sign on the building but nothing is recorded in the deeds and Thomas Henderson passed title to the Highland Agricultural Company Limited on 13 June 1935 for £400. At some point later, the title was acquired by the Mackay family who also operated the West End Store and they sold the building in 1961 to the factor of Rosehaugh Estate who converted it to a dwelling.

The enormous stacks of wood show how active the saw mill (owned by Wylie’s) was. The mill produced pit props, railway sleepers and wagon beds 21 and worked through to the 1920s although the harbour continued to handle timber cargos until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. For those intimate with the mud in the harbour it is interesting to note that the level 80 to 90 years ago is similar to today’s, judged by the steps in the North West corner.

The map above shows the situation in 1905/6. The gas works is no longer noted although some of the building is still shown. The row of 3 houses on the brae above the shore cottages has been built (Arawa, the middle house, is known to have been built in 1896 22) and there the smithy east of the Shore Inn is also shown. Quay House also appears to the south of the smithy. There is a building south of the old gas works - this was the scaffie’s hut where the ‘bin’ man kept his horse and cart. George Taylor recalls that prior to the Second World War the scaffie was Dan Cameron who was a First World War veteran – George would occasionally feed the horse if Dan Cameron was on holiday. The hut disappeared in the early 1950s 23 and the area around the hut was the town midden – now part of the dinghy park (which was extended seawards in the 1960s)! The ‘M.P’ on the map denotes mooring posts and the ‘W.M’ weighing machines. At the top of Harbour Road there is a W.M outside a building which still exists and is known as the West End Stores (now 2 dwellings). This had been a general merchants store run by J & T Henderson (we will hear more about John Henderson later on – Thomas Henderson has already been mentioned as the owner of Quay House from 1902 to 1935) selling cattle feed, iron mongery, coal and stoves 24 . There were 2 coal chutes in front of the West End Stores (under the windows) that dropped in to 2 large storage areas under the building accessible from the south via large barn doors. The coal was man handled up the hill from the harbour before being fed in to the chutes to drop back to near harbour level. Later on an external storage shed was built behind the building and the base and some retaining walls still exist. The West End Stores carried on until the 1990s owned by the MacKay family before being converted to dwellings. West of these stores was the Taylor family home (Craigwood – built in 1875 by George Taylor’s grandfather) and workshops (originally on the ground floor but later on in a separate shed as the ground floor was need for living space as the family expanded) for wheel making, joinery and funeral services including coffin making.

This fine view is taken from a glass plate produced by Valentine’s and is in the Groam House Museum collection. The railway line is visible in the foreground indicating that the picture is 1894 or later. The 3 houses, including Arawa on the southside of the main road have yet to be build which indicates that the picture is before 1896. This is corroborated to some extent because the Rosehaugh Estate Office, later to become Kindeace Lodge which was built sometime before 1904 is also absent from the picture although there does appear to be a mound of rubble or other material close to the area where the office was built. The large house in the middle ground is Craig Dhu owned by Thomas Henderson.

Mound of rubble close to where Kindeace Lodge is today.

The gas works’ chimney is visible centre frame.

There are at least 2 vessels in the harbour. The schooner could be the Annie. The other vessel has a very tall single mast (with top mast). The tide is quite low with Craig an Roan rocks visible. The closest building is Craigwood with the West End Stores to the left; the stepped building is the distillery.

This very good quality picture 25 is as interesting for the information at the peripheries as it is at the centre. It dates from after the Rosehaugh Estate Office (now Kindeace Lodge) was built (circa 1904).

This enlargement gives a rare view of the 2 buildings behind Quay House that are no longer there – the nearer one of these was the smithy operated by Michael Home. The Shore-Inn deeds indicate that the further building (probably thatched) also belonged to Michael Home.The roof line of Marine Cottage can just be seen above Quay House and the end gable of the Shore-Inn is also visible. The hut to the left of Quay House – now part of the area occupied by the Clubhouse - is for a weigh machine. The traverse extension to the smithy has a bicycle in front of a wide door. The traverse extension still exists and has been extended as a garage for Quay House. George Taylor recalls it as the workshop for George MacFarlane who stayed at Fuschia Cottage (in the photo above with the dormer windows). George Taylor remembers that the workshop had a glazed window in the south gable and this is still present but has been blocked off externally. George also believes that at one point around the First World War a bicycle hire business was run from this building.

The blocked off window in the old workshop.

All that remains of the smithy today:

This enlargement shows 2 people sitting on the wall by the scaffie’s hut. The roof is off the building that was the mason’s and there is no sign of the building (saw mill) that had stood immediately behind it. There are piles of timber in front of Quay House so this probably dates to the period when the saw mill had stopped working but timber from a saw mill in Avoch was still being loaded at the harbour.

This photo shows a very quiet scene taken shortly before the Second World War. The Shore Inn has gone and the Harbour Store and Quay House appear to be deserted. The piles of timber are also gone but mooring lines on the left indicate the presence of a vessel. The motor boat (Lizzie) and dinghy belonged to Bob Home 26 . The remains of the wooden posts used to hold vessels off the sloping wall of the mole or Eastern wall are still evident. The car in front of Marine Cottage is a Morris 8 and may be the same car that appears later on with the Jesmond and Fernside (Part 5).



In the mid 1800s Kenneth Mackenzie used to run a small steamer called the Speedwell which traded between Fortrose and Inverness. He had a rival in the Moray Firth Shipping Company whose boat agent, Duncan Macpherson, ran a steamer called the Eilean Dubh. Apparently Macpherson took harbour dues from Mackenzie for a whole year then sued him for landing in the Fortrose harbour area! Fair or not the Moray Firth Shipping Company had the better case in law 27 .

While the harbour was considered to be ‘safe and convenient’, steamers could only enter the harbour near high water. This was acceptable for cargo ships used to waiting for the tide (as they still do today if docking at Inverness) but hopeless for passengers requiring a regular service. Consequently, in 1878, the Fortrose Town Clerk, John Henderson, put up a provisional order to build a wooden landing stage or pier at a cost of £3,500 (around £317,260 in today’s money 28 ). The provisional order map was drawn in 1878 by James Fraser CE, engineer of Inverness, and it would seem that it was amended to include an intermediate landing stage which held-up Board of Trade approval until 26 August 1881 29 . In the meantime the Fortrose Pier & Harbour Order 1879 was raised by John Henderson and granted in the 42nd & 43rd Victoria Session (of Parliament) for a 230 yard pier with a principal landing stage of 22 by 10 yards and an intermediate landing stage of 22 by 8 yards, 103 yards from seaward 30 .

This is the Board of Trade note on the 1878 provisional order chart. It reads:


In exercise of powers vested in them by “The Fortrose Pier and Harbour Order 1879”, the Board of Trade approve of the Intermediate Landing Stage which the Fortrose Harbour Trustees propose to construct at Fortrose Pier, as shown by the plans and Sections upon this drawing and upon the annexed drawing.

And this assent is given so far as the interests of navigation are concerned, and without prejudice to the estate and interest of Her Majesty the Queen or other the Owner or Owners in the soil of the tidal lands to be interfered with, and also upon condition that the said Stage be completed within five years from the date of the Act confirming the above mentioned Order. After the 3rd day of July 1884 this assent shall unless renewed be void and of no effect.’

The above shows the detail of the 1878 pier plan with X against the Intermediate Landing Stage. 31

By 1882, the wooden pier was built and the harbour was also thoroughly repaired. You can still see where the pier joined the stone structure in the gap in the original wall filled by the present sailing club’s starter’s box.

The pier gave steamers access at any state of tide allowing passenger timetables to be established and in 1882 the Black Isle Steam-Ship Company was formed with Mr James Douglas Fletcher of Rosehaugh as chairman. John Henderson had become JD Fletcher’s Factor in 1878 and was clearly his ‘right hand man’ in the local area. J Henderson is also listed as a Manager & Director of the Black Isle Steam-Ship Company; he must have been a very busy man as in addition to his Town Clerk post he was also Depute Clerk to the Justices of the Peace, Clerk & Treasurer to the School Board, Clerk & Treasurer to the Academy, Vice-President of the Mechanics Institution and Secretary & Treasurer to the Fortrose Golf Club and Secretary to the Rosehaugh Rubber Company. John Henderson lived in Canonbury off the main road above the harbour and the Estate Offices were built next door in what is now Kindeace Lodge. John Henderson became the longest serving Town clerk in Scotland having served as such for 75 years dying while still appointed at the age of 96 32 .

The first action of the Black Isle Steam-Ship Company was to try to buy the Speedwell but Captain Mackenzie refused to sell. The new company then bought a second hand steamer, the Rosehaugh which was commanded by Captain Grieve (also listed as the Harbour & Shore-master in 1885). By 1885 the Black Isle Steam-Ship Company's steamer ran between Inverness and Fortrose twice a day on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and once on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, during summer, and once a day in winter; other steamers afforded communication with Inverness 2 or 3 times a week. The service would not have supported regular commuting to Inverness but Fortrose and Rosemarkie were holiday destinations so the steamers would have carried day trippers and holiday makers to the seaside from Inverness. As MJB Baddeley’s Thorough Guide of 1884 says ‘A good steamer has been put on to this route and those who enjoy a pleasant sail in calm water and amid softly beautiful scenery will not repent of devoting a few hours to the excursion. Passengers are allowed about three hours at Fortrose, during which they may visit the charming scenery of St Helena 33, or enjoy a capital bathe on the sands of Rosemarkie, one mile distant.’

This illustration of Fortrose harbour and pier is taken from Angus J Beaton's 'Illustrated Guide to Fortrose and Vicinity, with an appendix on the Antiquities of the Black Isle', published in Inverness in 1885. It shows the pier and a small steamer moored inside the southern wall. The schooner is very probably the Annie.

This ‘tinted’ picture 34 taken some time before the First World War gives a good impression of the length of the pier looking back to the harbour from the outer landing stage. It also shows the various harbour buildings starting with the back of the West End stores on the left. The lad on the bicycle is thought to be Jack Stewart who was a grocer on the High Street 35

This picture also illustrates the length (230 yards) of the pier and the long walk passengers would have experienced to the small steamer tied-up at the outer landing stage.

This very atmospheric photo shows the pier looking rather worn. It was taken during an Easterly and shows at the lower level the harbour buildings from left to right as the Scaffie’s hut, the gas works chimney, the Harbour Store, Marine Cottage, the Shore Inn, Quay House and the 4 cottages still standing on St Andrew’s Walk. It probably dates from around 1910.

The opening of the Black Isle Railway (more properly the Fortrose Branch of the Highland Railway) opened in 1894 and brought an end to the Black Isle Steam-Ship Company which went in to voluntary liquidation on 5 April 1898 (John Henderson was elected Liquidator 36 ).

The book Fortrose – a Garden City by the Sea published in 1912 records the fine pier in a ‘ruinous condition’ and the author goes on to suggest that it should be repaired to allow steamers to call again and to provide an alternative to the ‘long, round-about, slow and tedious railway journey’ to Inverness although he did acknowledge that in 1912 an excellent service of motor cars now runs between Cromarty, Fortrose and the Kessock ferry which enables the journey to Inverness to be made in about an hour.

The suggestion to repair the pier was clearly taken seriously – the pictures below 37 show details from a 1912 plan to repair the pier (new timbers in red) – sadly it was not to happen.

In 1927 the most of the wooden pier was swept away in a storm and remnants went in a gale in 1935 or 1936.

The ‘short’ pier sometime after the storm of 1927.

There are still some signs of the old pier on the sea bed as this photo shows taken at low water in March 2011:



While the regular steamer service may have been short lived, general cargo ships used the harbour for many more years in total. A famous Fortrose ship was the schooner the Annie of Inverness owned by John Henderson and skippered by Captain Donald Paterson who lived in Academy Street. A typical load for her would consist of props for the wood merchant, barley and potatoes.Annie of Inverness was built in 1883 by Geddie shipyards on Speyside (Kingston & Garmouth) as a schooner of 116 tons measuring 84' x 21' 6" x 10' 3".

This water colour of the Annie showing her rigging in great detail was given to George Taylor by George MacFarlane (see the story of the Young Fox below).

Detail of the Annie showing the steersman and possibly Captain Paterson.

This illustration of the Annie names the sails.

This is the Groam House Museum painting of the Annie by J Middleton dated 1913. J Middleton is believed to have been a local Policeman 38 . The master’s name is given as Patterson with 2 ‘t’s.

The Annie was wrecked at Swona, Orkney, on June 7th, 1925. All crew were saved.

The Groam House Museum owns another fine painting by J Middleton this time dated 1911 and is of the Maggie. She was another Geddie ship launched in 1875 as a schooner of 100 tons measuring 90’2” x 21’3” x 10’5”. Little else is known of her at present. She is painted carrying 3 square sails on the foremast which sets her apart from the other Geddie ships in the area.


Another local vessel was the Despatch owned from 1892 to 1919 by Donald McLeman, merchant from Avoch. Her story is a long one and her bones still survive.

The Despatch from a water colour by J Middleton dated 1903. The fore lower topsail in this painting does not look ‘right’ for the Despatch (see details below) so was perhaps painted from a stock illustration. Her name is spelt with an e, not an i. Compare this photo of her in the early 1930s 39 .

The Despatch (offical number 95741, code MGQK) was built in 1888 by Geddie’s as a 2 masted wooden topsail schooner of 120 gross tons. She was the penultimate ship that Geddie’s built as steam was taking over from sail and iron and steel from wood (helped by the Bessemer process). She was 90.1 feet long with a 21.5 foot beam and drew 10.3 feet 40 . She was rigged by Alex Irving of Carney Sail & Ropework. She was very sturdy being cross-braced and featured Jonathon Fells patented movable iron knees (adjustable knees to maintain the tension between the hull and decks). She also exhibited an extremely rare example of a British registered topsail schooner utilising the French Roller Reefing design ‘hunier à rouleau’ which enabled her to set her topsails from the deck removing the need to go aloft (by the 1880s it was becoming ever harder to find seamen wanting to serve on tall ships when they could earn similar wages on steamers). This feature which involved a very long cross spar or yard on the foremast helps identify her in photos and separate her from her near relative the Annie. There is some evidence that she was re-rigged at a later date. It is believed that Dispatch made her maiden voyage to Morocco, probably with salted fish from Newfoundland, and spent the first period of her working life running across the Atlantic with salt fish from the Grand Banks in Newfoundland. McLeman was her 3rd owner (buying her when she was still young) and had her converted to a collier.

Despatch in Fortrose Harbour with the crew ‘bending on’ sails. Just visible to the left is the bowsprit of another vessel – probably the Annie. The long spar below the fore lower topsail is clearly visible and from the spacing between the spars you can see that the fore-lower was a comparatively shallow sail (ie short in the leeches).

1919 saw the Despatch leave Scotland and pass into the hands of Welsh owner WA Jenkins who retained her original Inverness registry while employing her to transport Swansea coal. The 1930s saw her shrug off two major collisions and live through a hurricane in open sea without supplies for some five weeks. In 1935 she was de-rigged and converted in to a towed barge (the Lloyd’s Register for 1935 is stamped’ now a lighter’) known as the New Dispatch. Incredibly she continued in service until 1958 – some 70 years after she was built - before being finally beached in 1961 at Purton on the Severn Foreshore (with other hulks to stabilise the shore line) where her bones still remain.

The Young Fox was another vessel which visited Fortrose and the McLeman family had an interest in her too (she was an Avoch ketch 41 under Captain MacIntosh). She was still working as a sailing boat in the 1920s. On a voyage to Northumberland for coal George MacFarlane who lived on the Shore (cottage now called Fuchsia) was co-opted as crew. George MacFarlane features too in parts 6 & 7 of the harbour story. He was a qualified marine engineer who at a later point became the Harbour Master and the janitor for Fortrose Academy. George was not needed on the last part of the Young Fox’s return voyage and found his own way home from Burghead by train – fortunately for him as the Young Fox was lost with all hands on 6 December 1928 – her wreck is believed to have been found off Tarbat Ness in 43 metres of water in 2008.

While not really a ‘fishing harbour’although there is plenty of photographic evidence of small open fishing boats beached East and West of the harbour and of posts on the mole (East wall) used to dry nets, the harbour was occasionally used by larger fishing boats as shown in this photo of around 1919.

The 3 fishing boats ‘rafted’ together appear to be ‘Zulus’ or ‘Fifies’. The wooden posts holding them off the Eastern mole have gone today but it is possible to see where the sockets were in the wall for the braces. On the mole 3 posts for drying nets are quite clear.

The photo below, taken shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, shows the Jesmond (left) and Fernside unloading.

This is the same scene from a different angle:

The Scaffie’s tin shed is in the middle ground.

SS Fernside (official number 144834, code KJFQ) was built in 1921 by R B Harrison of Newcastle for T Rose. She was 117.1 feet long, 22.2 feet in the beam and drew 9.1 feet and was 269 gross registered tons (grt) 42 and was owned by the Rose Line Ltd of Sunderland. She had a compound 2 cylinder steam engine built by the Shields Engine Company Limited and was rated at 57 RHP (‘Register’ horse power). Her last voyage was from Hartlepool for Wick with a cargo of coal on 26 February 1942. The ship was never seen afloat again. A Joint Arbitration Committee considered the vessel lost on 27 February 1942 by ‘War Risks’; she was possibly bombed by German aircraft. All 8 crew and her 2 DEMS (Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships) gunners were lost. 43 . She was found by sports divers in 2007 four miles off Stonehaven. Her bell has been recovered by the Deeside Divers who reported that this armed collier lies on her port side in 58 metres of water and is fairly intact till you reach the bridge area where she is a little more broken up. 44 . A subsequent dive found her hold still to be full of coal. 45

The SS Jesmond (official number 122823, code HDBN) was both older and smaller than the SS Fernside 46 . She was built in 1905 by Smith’s Dock Company Limited of North Shields and was 112.7 feet long with a beam of 20.2 feet and a draught of 9.1 feet with a grt of 192. Her engine was from the same company as SS Fernside but with a power output of 55 RHP. In 1939 her owner was listed as I Milne and her home port as Newcastle. Unlike the SS Fernside, the Jesmond survived the Second World War and is still listed as working in 1945 (by then owned by the Tay Sand Company Limited with a home port of Dundee).

George Taylor recalls that the last vessel to visit the harbour before the outbreak of World War 2 was a Dutch motor barge operated by a live-on-board family that collected a cargo of seed potatoes. Interestingly, ‘Down to the Sea, an account of life in the fishing villages of Hilton, Balintore & Shandwick’ by Jesse Madonald and Anne Gordon, also records that the last vessel to visit the harbour of Balintore before war broke out was a flat bottomed Dutch boat.




Warships were frequently seen in the Firth in the years immediately prior to World War One although the main base was at Invergordon on the Cromarty Firth. The Inverness Firth was too shallow for the ‘capital’ ships so the visiting warships were the smaller destroyers, frigates, corvettes, sloops or gunboats.

The fleet circa 1910 off Fortrose

This photo shows a small launch, possibly a ‘jolly boat’ approaching the outer landing stage. Within the flotilla there are two tall masts and even at the outbreak of World War One, many older and smaller naval vessels still carried sails. The vessel berthed at the intermediate landing stage appears to be the Dispatch.

It is now clear that the growth of German sea power was a major concern to the Admiralty in the years leading up to 1914 and the outbreak of World War One. The 1889 naval defence act aimed to build 70 new warships and maintain the ‘2 power’ standard (ie the strength of the Royal Navy would equal the combined strength of the 2nd & 3rd largest navies in the world). Clearly from these photos the navy was ‘showing the flag’ in the area and some idea of the naval activity can be gleaned from the record of Charles Lewin who was in the Royal Marines Light Infantry (RMLI) from 1905 to 1922. His 3rd ship was HMS Ringdove, a gunboat of 805 tons and 165 feet long. In June 1910 she visited Aberdeen, Invergordon and ‘Fort Rose’.

On 9th June, Ringdove left ‘Fort Rose’ for the Shetland Isles where she stayed until the end of the summer. In September, Ringdove left Lerwick for Fair Isle and proceeded to Wick and Aberdeen. The next month, she went north again, to Helmsdale, then back to Cromarty, Invergordon and ‘Fort Rose’ and across the Moray Firth to Fort George. Between November and January (1911), Ringdove cruised between Fort George, Inverness, Invergordon, ‘Fort Rose’, Aberdour, Aberdeen, Helmsdale, Macduff and Buckie. Ringdove continued about ‘Fort Rose’, Golspie, Inverness, Invergordon, Peterhead and Aberdeen before returning to Devonport in March. HMS Ringdove was a Redbreast Class of gunboat and was composite in that she was built of iron and wood. The class dates from 1888 and was barquentine rigged but with a steam engine capable of driving her at 13 Knots. Ringdove became a salvage vessel on 7th December 1915, renamed Melita. She was sold to the Ship Salvage Corporation on 22nd January 1920 and renamed Telima; she was broken up in the second quarter of 1926.

HMS Sparrow – a sister ship to HMS Ringdove


Mine Squadron One, United States Navy, based in Inverness in 1918 (US Naval Base 18). Mine Squadron One began operations in June 1918 to lay a barrage of mines 200 miles long and 30 miles wide across the North Sea (the Northern Barrage) from Orkney to Norway aimed at sinking German submarines. While the mine laying force was US Navy (capable of laying 6000 mines at one ‘planting’ – each mine containing 300 lbs of TNT) it was directly protected by a flotilla of British destroyers (the 14th Destroyer Flotilla) and screened by battleships and cruisers of the Grand Fleet. Operations were completed in late October 1918 just in time for the Armistice (11 November 1918). Much of 1919 was taken-up with a joint sweeping operation to remove the mines. The following two pictures are taken from ‘the Northern Barrage’ published by the US Naval Institute in 1919.

USS Shawmut

The ‘Yankee Channel’ is attributed locally to the US Navy in World War One. It was a dredged channel from close to Munlochy Bay to the Meikle Mee starboard hand marker (the present day green buoy visible to the East from the Kessock Bridge) effectively extending the natural northern channel that runs from Chanonry Point past Fortrose and Avoch to close to Kilmuir where it becomes shallower and indistinct over sandbanks. The dredged depth gave 2.5 metres depth at low water 47 . Various on-line sources suggest that the channel was dredged by US engineers in 1917 to allow for the use of the Caledonian Canal but it seems more likely that it was dredged to support Mine Force One entering the River Ness and the main anchorage off North Kessock. While there is no marked channel now, careful navigation does still permit passage for small vessels between Kilmuir and the Meikle Mee green at low water.

While the Mine Squadron One would have needed to anchor close to Inverness to permit the loading of mines, the escorts could have anchored elsewhere in the Firth and it would seem likely that the pre-war anchorage off Fortrose would have been used by the Royal Navy. This is corroborated by George Taylor’s recollections of his mother, Catherine Gordon, who was a Post Office Telegraphist working in the Fortrose Post office from 1916. George recalls her telling him that the sailors would call in for the Fleet Mail. One of the ship’s names, HMS Curacao, has stuck in George’s memory because his mother told him that the sailors had trouble pronouncing it. HMS Curacao was a Ceres Class cruiser of 4300 tons built by HM Dockyard Pembroke and launched on 5th May 1917. After completion on 18th February 1918 she served with the 5th Light Cruiser Squadron, Harwich Force. While this is yet to be confirmed, it is possible that she served as an escort during 1918 for the mine layers.

HMS Curacao


This is an intriguing picture. The nearest vessel is probably post the First World War. Is the structure in the water (with the hand drawn arrow) the outer landing stage – minus the rest of the pier? If so this picture could date from 1927. For comparison:

The picture 48 below is also a bit of a mystery. The pier is visible in the background. Could the vessel be a naval pinnace?


George Taylor, living close to the harbour at Craigwood, was 9 years old when war was declared in September 1939 and remembers listening to the Prime Minister’s broadcast on the wireless 49 informing the nation that yet again we were at war with Germany. He recalls the town soon filling with troops and empty houses and hotels were requisitioned as accommodation. However, it was 1943 before the harbour was to have an active role.

From March 1943 to August 1944 the harbour was part of HMS Monster supporting secretive combined operations training for the D-Day Landings. The Captain of HMS Monster and Captain Landing Craft Bases, North, is listed as John Ignatius Hallett CBE DSO (1886 – 1969). Captain Hallett had joined the RN in 1905 and was awarded the DSO in 1917 for action against enemy submarines. He retired in 1932 but was recalled in 1939. After command of an armed cruiser which had to be abandoned on fire in heavy weather in the North Atlantic, he served in Singapore before becoming The Naval Officer In-Charge at Chittagong (Ceylon, now Sri Lanka) where he earned a Mention in Despatches for bravery followed by the CBE ‘for zealous and valuable service.

HMS Monster was supporting ‘Force S’ destined to land on SWORD beach in Normandy in June 1944. Force S was headquartered in this period in Cameron Barracks, Inverness and was commanded by Rear Admiral Arthur George Talbot 50 . The 3rd Infantry Division was the main force destined to land on SWORD beach and trained extensively in the Beauly, Inverness, Cromarty and Moray Firths.

There were several different types of landing craft used but the main stay was the Landing Craft Tank Mk IV and 12 of these were moored in Fortrose Bay. This is a description of the LCT Mk IV from the Combined Operations web-site 51 .

Approximately 730 Mark IV vessels were constructed in the UK. These landing craft had a hull length of 187 ft 3 in and a beam (width) of 38 ft 9 in and their displacement was 586 tons. The forward draught was 42 inches and they could carry a maximum load of 350 tons made up of five large tanks, seven medium tanks, or any other combination of military vehicles. The vessel was operated by a crew of twelve including two officers. The engines were two Paxman Ricardo diesels, each driving a 21-inch propeller. They could drive the craft at eight knots over a range of 1,100 miles. Twin rudders were provided for steering. The armament consisted of two 20 mm Oerliken guns, two Parachute and Cables (PACs) and two Fast Aerial Mines (FAMs). All of this was intended to be used defensively against aircraft attacks.

This account evokes the team work need to operate these ungainly but highly effective vessels 52 .

The Mk IV LCT, reverberating like a biscuit box, with five Sherman tanks jammed into her hold, their engines roaring for a sprint start, their guns, together with the oerlikons from the wings of the bridge, firing at the beach ahead. The discipline and teamwork required to deposit those five tanks on the beach, in the two or three minutes which elapsed, after the kedge anchor had been dropped, was breath-taking. The first tank was moving before the door was down, the last tank was leaving the door as it came up, and the LCT was sliding astern into deeper water

This is the account of a LCT Squadron Commander, Lieutenant Commander Maxwell Miller RN who commanded T Squadron on D-Day which had been based at Inverness 53 . It will strike a chord with Chanonry cruising sailors who have struggled to pick-up their mooring in strong winds or who have mis-timed the tide through the Kessock Narrows.

I was a bit shaken, in the March of 1943, when I found myself appointed in command of a squadron of Tank Landing Craft. I was still more shaken when I saw my first vessel. It is usual for the sailor to tell the enquiring landlubber that the sharp end of a ship is the ‘bows’ and the blunt end the ‘stern’, but in the Tank Landing Craft, or LCT, you had to reverse your ideas. The stern drew in to a very narrow counter and the bows broadened out to allow for a door, hinged at the bottom edge that lowered down onto the beach and was wide enough to allow a large tank – of which the craft carried seven – to waddle out onto the beach. When I had cleared up that rather important point, I tried to take one to sea and very quickly found it wise to discover some other urgent business that forced me, reluctantly(!), to hand her over to her proper captain.

There were other peculiarities. In an ordinary ship, the propellers are large and do from thirty to one hundred and fifty revolutions a minute; moreover, if there are two of them, they turn in opposite directions to make for ease of handling. In an LCT, the propellers were small, turned at seven fifty to twelve hundred revolutions a minute and they both turned the same way! This was to help the manufacturers, but it considerably complicated the job of the captain.

If you add to this the facts that the craft was of very shallow draught and flat-bottomed so that she had very little hold on the water and sailed in a wind like a yacht and that her rudder was so small that it had no effect at all unless the propellers were turning and turning fast, it will be easy to see that taking a landing craft out of a congested harbour was no job for an orthodox naval officer. Fortunately, command of individual craft during the war was the exclusive preserve of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) and, as a very experienced salvage officer once said to me, ‘The first thing I do when I get to a wreck is to send for a ship commanded by an RNVR. You can tell them to do anything you like and they don’t know enough to know that it’s impossible, so they go ahead and do it!’ And, by Jove, if they did not do it, they were in for trouble.

In the late autumn of ’43, the Admiralty started to form the three forces for the invasion of Normandy and I went to Inverness at the beginning of December to take over command of a squadron of LCT that had begun to form there. I arrived in a thick fog and drove over icebound roads to Kessock, the suburb of Inverness and there I installed my staff and myself in a group of uncompleted council houses. I suppose shells of council houses would be a more accurate description because the lack of window frames and fireplaces made rather a mockery, during that bitter winter, of the traditional staff luxury in which we were accused of indulging by the crews of my LCT moored out on the water.

In the Beauly Firth, a trot of buoys had been laid where the LCTs, about fifty of them, moored up in pairs with the bows of one pair touching the stern of the next, and whenever I had any time and energy left over from obtaining stores and fuel, organising repairs and attending planning conferences, I used to take them to sea to practise manoeuvres and station-keeping. On Christmas Eve, having about a dozen craft available, I boarded the nearest one and, slipping at about six pm, led them out to the Moray Firth for a night’s exercises.

It was not a very wise move as the rising wind and the falling glass (barometer) should have warned me of the North-Easter and it made me turn back at midnight. However, it blew us home through the Inverness Firth and at about 2am we arrived at the Kessock Narrows on a full ebb tide. We had a maximum speed of some seven knots, so it took us the best part of an hour to clear the Narrows against a five and a half knot stream and then we found ourselves in Beauly Firth with the buoys somewhere away on our port bow. The night was pitch black, we were not allowed to show any lights, there was nearly a full gale blowing and a three knot tide running down the trot that had half-submerged the buoys. My own job was easy. All I had to do was to flash a signal down the line ‘Secure in your previous berths’, and then sit back and watch the fun, or rather, listen for the crashes because I could not see a thing. They all got there, of course. They always did. My own captain had three shots at picking up his head buoy and took the best part of two hours over it, so next day, as a Christmas present; I relieved him of his command on the grounds of inefficiency.’

Lieutenant Commander Maxwell Miller RN again on some of the peculiarities of the Mk IV LCT resulting from the need to reduce draught following the Dieppe Raid when the Mk IIIs could not get close enough in to shore:

‘…it is scarcely too much to say that, if it had not been for the Mark IV LCT, the Allies would not have been in Berlin yet. Unhappily, it was the very qualities that made her such an ideal landing craft for the army that led to her dislike by the Navy. The essential thing, of course, was that she should carry the same load as her predecessors on a shallower draught and the only way to do this was to increase her beam and make her scantlings (beams/struts) lighter. The increased beam and shallower draught made her practically unmanageable in a wind and the lighter scantlings made her waggle.

That waggle was the most extraordinary thing that I have ever seen in a ship. The craft was built rather on the lines of an oil tanker. The bridges and superstructure were right aft and the tank hold stretched away forward with a narrow catwalk, about 5 feet wide, running either side as far as the forecastle which rose a few feet to make room for the heavy winches that raised and lowered the tank door. The result was that the hold formed a sort of beam with heavy weights at either end and the rigidity of the craft depended on the strength of the beam. In the Mark IV LCT, the beam was pretty weak, and when you steamed into a head sea, the fo’c’sle waggled at you. There was no other word for it. You could stand on the bridge and watch a ripple start at the after end of the catwalk and move forward until the whole fo’c’sle waggled. It was a most terrifying sight to anyone unfamiliar with ships and still more terrifying to someone who was familiar with them.

Of course, if you drove a craft into a head sea too hard or for too long, something had to give. What did give was the catwalk. Luckily, at the after end of the hold, there was a watertight bulkhead that stretched the whole breadth and depth of the craft because, when the catwalk split, the bows were inclined to drop off!

However, it took more than a little contretemps like that to disturb the equanimity of the RNVR. After all, as far as the crew was concerned, they were still left with a watertight bit of ship, complete with engines, propellers and rudders, and all they had to do was shore up the bulkhead and steam home, towing their bows astern of them if the weather permitted. Brought up in Harry Tate’s Navy, as they had been, the crews used to view this proceeding as just one of those things that happened at sea, but the Army complained bitterly about it. Quite rightly, too, since it was their end of the ship that used to drop off.’

Model of an LCT Mk IV

A Mk IV unloading 54

Landing craft based at Fortrose were used to land troops and equipment for training on the beaches on Chanonry Ness and troops and tanks were embarked at Chanonry Point to be landed at Fort George and all along the coast to Burghead. Valentine tanks were modified to have a wading capability and disembarked from the LCTs would wade the last bit to the beach; this was very hazardous and several tanks remain underwater off the beach between Findhorn and Burghead with one of them listed as a war grave.

Arthur Walter was the First Lieutenant of an LCT based at Fortrose; this is his recollection 55

Regarding Fortrose Harbour, the 47th LCT Flotilla was based there from 17th February to 13th April 1944. I was a young midshipman, the first lieutenant of LCT 627, and Lieutenant John Pointon RNZNVR, was skipper. LCT 627 was the leader of the 12 craft in the flotilla and Lt Cdr Basil Cooke was the flotilla officer.

We spent a hectic two months here in intensive training, involving beaching and unbeaching, embarking and landing troops and vehicles, around the Inverness/ Cromarty / Burghead area, working up for D Day. Although based at Fortrose for two months, I remember very little of the town/village, rarely going ashore except for visits to the shore base by the jetty. I don't even remember the pubs, but of course we did carry our own plentiful supply of suitable refreshment - duty free!’

The military constructed a scaffolding pier (the jetty referred to above) during this period along the line of the original wooden pier and destroyers, between Russian convoy duties, were able to tie-up to allow the crew ‘liberty’.

This is the only known photo of the World War Two scaffolding pier. The pier (known as pier 2) was removed in 1949 by William Tawse Limited who acknowledged the receipt of £1251 from the Fortrose Burgh Council on 29th October 1949 for carrying out the work involved 56 .

However, a few bits still remain on the sea bed (March 2011):

George Berry also served on LCTs at Fortrose. He joined the RN aged 17 ½ and was too young to be an Able Seaman so was rated as an Ordinary Seaman. After his seaman’s course he completed a commando course in Plymouth before being sent to Scotland for Combined Operations arriving in Invergordon in February 1944 to join LCT 1067. The only problem was that no one seemed to know where LCT 1067 was and it was 2 weeks before he joined her at Fortrose. He remembers that they carried out highly secretive trials with DUKWs (‘Ducks’ – a Sparkman & Stephens design – more famous for America’s Cup yachts) which were amphibious trucks destined to be used for the Rhine Crossings. He was billeted on board the LCT and they used the DUKW as a tender. His LCT was in the first wave to land on SWORD beach on 6 June 1944 (D-day) and he made 26 crossings with her. She was one of the LCTs to break her back – in her case off Lowestoft 57 .

This recent photo (2011) shows a brick repair to the inside of the harbour mole. Apparently a small landing craft, in the harbour for mechanical repairs had been started ‘in gear’ and struck the wall which was then repaired with brick. Allegedly George MacFarlane had been assisting with the work and was not allowed to forget the incident!

There was insufficient accommodation for LCT crews ashore so they lived on the craft even though they had not been designed for this. A lack of heating was a serious issue. Lieutenant Commander Maxwell Miller RN again:

During that bitter winter at Inverness, this [lack of heating] became such a menace to the health and comfort of the crew that stronger and stronger representations eventually persuaded the Admiralty to authorise the installation of coal-burning stoves on landing craft mess decks. I can still remember months after D-day the pleasure with which I read in Fleet Orders that these stoves were now available and would be supplied on demand. However, as the order reached me when I was sweltering in more than a hundred degrees of moist heat in the Southern India en route for Japan, I had to discourage my stores offer’s enthusiasm for demanding stoves, as he said, ‘just to teach the Admiralty a lesson’.

Lieutenant Frederick (Ricky) Peel RNVR, Captain of LCT 462 based at Fortrose remembers that winter well and the training which involved loading tanks at Fort George in the evening then steaming around the Moray Firth in the dark to simulate a long channel crossing before landing the tanks between Culbin and Burghead. Generally he would be on the open bridge for 16 hours at a time. He remembers little about the town though. As he said: ‘Spent months at the Trots, 1944. Hardly ever ashore at Fort Rose. Too much work and what little free time was spent in Invergordon.’ 58

George Taylor alsorecalls a large ex-French liner called ‘La Largs’ anchored off Fortrose during the D-Day work up with a communication cable and power cable laid to it from the army HQ in St Anne’s (a requisitioned house on Canonbury Terrace) 59 . Research has confirmed her to be HMS Largs. HMS Largs was built in France in 1938 as the MV Charles Plumier, a 4,504 ton fruit carrier. The French Navy requisitioned her in 1939 and converted her to an armed cruiser. She briefly returned to fruit carrying trade in 1940 after the fall of France before being appropriated by the Royal Navy in Gibraltar. She then served with the Royal Navy as HMS Largs until 1945. Initially she was employed as an Ocean Boarding Vessel before being redesignated as a Landing Ship Headquarters (Large) (LSH(L)) in 1942 to provide a combined operations communications headquarters for the army, navy and air forces during landing operations until suitable alternative facilities could be established on shore. She served at most amphibious landings during World War Two and was the command vessel for SWORD beach on D-Day 60 .

Archive picture of HMS Largs 61

HMS Largs is confirmed to have been off Fortrose on 3 occasions: 11.2.44 - 15.3.44, 16.3.44 - 22.3.44 and 24.3.44 - 28.3.44 62 . After the war she was returned to France and operated under her original name until 1964 when she was sold to a Greek company as a cruise ship, renamed MV Pleias before retirement and the breaker’s yard in 1968.

HMS Largs off Largs 63

To accommodate HMS Monster and to provide some shore facilities for sailors serving on the LCTs, Nissen Huts were constructed around the harbour and the footings of several of them are still visible in the car park. There is part of a rib built in to the present club house but you would have to be a ‘Gent’ to find it! The huts continued along the shore-line towards Avoch and covered the ground where Meikle Mee stands now.

The war surplus motor torpedo boat in the harbour belonged to Raymond Graves. She was a Fairmile ‘D’ type (with a length of 115 feet) and had no engines; he hoped to convert her in to a house boat. She was removed from the harbour around 1956 when the present sailing club formed. This photo 64 dates between 1949 when the harbour store was demolished and 1956 when the first bungalow was built. If you look carefully at the Club car park today you can see the brick and concrete bases for the 3 Nissen huts in the picture.

After the war the large Nissen hut closest to the harbour wall was used a fire station from 1948 to 1968.

Harbour with a Nissen hut used by the Fire Service.




This picture 65 was taken in either 1950 or 1955 (opinions vary) on the occasion of the visit of the Chief Scout, Lord Rowallan (he was Chief Scout of the British Commonwealth and Empire from 1945 to 1959). The foredeck in the picture is the war surplus Fairmile D Class that belonged to Raymond Graves (see Part 6 for more photos).

This information from Ian Basham:

The year of Lord Rowallan's visit was in the summer of 1950 - not 1955, the Quincentenary year. Although I was not in the cubs myself, I joined the scouts later that year and I have checked with my classmates that 1950 is the correct year. One tells me that he remembers Lord Rowallan being rowed round from Avoch in the scout boat. It was sold shortly after and I had only one trip out in it myself. The scouts were the 1st Chanonry Troop and at the time of the photo the Scoutmaster was Mr Coutts (to Rowallan's left) and by that time Rev W Craig was Group Scoutmaster. He is second right next to the Troop Leader, Alastair Geddes, at the far right. Both Scouts and Cubs (Guides and Brownies) met in the Scout Hut (now the Cadet Hut) in Cathedral Square, although I think it was properly the Guide Hut!

The Sea Scouts formed nationally in 1909 as scouts whose main interest was in ‘scouting afloat’. By 1911 the Admiralty had agreed to sea scouts acting as coast watchers and many of their leaders came from the Coastguard. During the Second World War the Admiralty asked the sea scouts to help their communities by coast watching, delivering messages and learning first aid and seamanship – skills considered important to the war effort.

Over the years sea scout groups have come and gone on the Black Isle with groups at Fortrose, Cromarty and Avoch. The 11th Ross-shire (1st Chanonry Sea Scouts) based at Fortrose would appear to have been first registered on 14th June 1922 with a strength of 1 officer (D B McMonnies of Roseville, Fortrose) and 11 scouts based at the Drill Hall (now the Roman Catholic church). By 1928 the numbers had increased to 27 scouts and the scoutmaster was Lieutenant Commander V C Smith RN assisted by the Reverend W Craig BD. The 1946 registration showed Reverend W Craig as the Scoutmaster with 24 scouts total and now operating from the Scout Hut, Fortrose. The last registration found for this group is dated 1969 when the group consisted mainly of cubs.

Gasóga Mara Abhaich

The 10th Ross-shire (1st Avoch Sea Scouts) registered in 1943 with the Reverend John Lees as Scoutmaster and with 30 sea scouts on strength. Their headquarters was the Village Hall. This group went in to abeyance and was next active in 1961/2 as the 12th Ross-shire but went in to abeyance again before being reformed in 2004 under Mr Derek Martin. The 1st Avoch Sea Scouts are now a very successful group and the only sea scout group in Ross & Sutherland. They have a number of distinctions. First, the Avoch Sea Scouts operate alongside their Explorer Sea Scouts (who would normally be organised at District level); secondly, they are one of only 3 sea scout groups in Scotland to be recognised by the Royal Navy (this is why they fly a defaced red ensign on their boats) and, lastly, they are the only scout group in the World to use drill commands in Gaelic. The group, while based in Avoch, has close ties with Chanonry Sailing Club which is an official sponsor.

1st Avoch Sea Scouts today (2011) at Chanonry Sailing Club


In the latter 19th century an annual regatta was held in Fortrose Bay during the month of August with sailing, swimming and rowing competitions. The Directory of Fortrose and Rosemarkie records in 1885 that the Commodore was R G Mackenzie of Flowerburn at that the Regatta would be held on the 15th August.

This picture 66 shows an early regatta – probably in the late Victorian or early Edwardian period. There are swimmers in the rowing boat on the left.

Chanonry Boating Club developed from the regattas but was suspended at the outbreak of World War One. In 1928 its remaining assets were donated to other clubs in Fortrose and Avoch.


The present sailing club – Chanonry Sailing Club – was formed on 29 th March 1956 67 after 20 people agreed, at a public meeting, to revive the Chanonry (or Fortrose Boating) Club. The revived Club was to be known as the Chanonry Sailing Club, and would be based at Fortrose Harbour. The annual subscription was set at £1:1:0 (£1.05) for boat owners and 10/6 (53 pence) for non boat owners and juniors. The first Commodore elected was W A H Rowat. The committee visited Mr Frank Gale’s boat yard in Inverness where they inspected his 14 foot GP sailing dinghy. They then visited Mr A J MacKenzie’s Mouldacraft Ltd where they were able to view fibre glass boats. The committee recommended that ‘the Yachting World 14 ft General Purpose Sailing Dinghy was suitable for a one class design for this club; and that boats can be obtained for approx £140 from various sources.’ There follows in the minutes ‘The committee while realising that fibre glass would probably be the material for future boats, considered that it had not been sufficiently tried out for them to recommend it.’

This photo from the club scrap book taken in the late 1950s shows Frank Gale crewing a Junior Redwing he built being helmed by the designer, the famous Uffa Fox

By 11th April 1956 the Fortrose Town Council had agreed to rent the Nissen hut at Fortrose Harbour to the Club for £5 per annum (the Town Clerk having already intimated that the Club might have the use of the Fortrose Harbour for mooring their craft). By 26th April 1956, the committee was meeting in the Nissen hut, had plans for its renovation, had written to the Council to ask to have the sandbank at the harbour mouth removed and had been gifted a 40 foot ‘stick of sitka spruce’ for a flag pole; a racing sub-committee had been elected and a first race set for Saturday, 16th June at 4.45 p.m. (modified to a practice race at a later meeting – the first proper race was held on 30th< June – interestingly with a dinghy race, a motor boat race and finally a rowing boat race) with a midnight regatta on Friday 22 June at 10 p.m.’ !). Membership then stood at 33. The pace of early meetings was rapid and a general meeting was held on 3 May 1956 at which the constitution was approved and the club decided to apply for affiliation to the Royal Yachting Association. The ‘Object’ of the Club (from the Constitution of 1956) was ‘to encourage seamanship, both under sail and power, and to foster the social side of sailing.’

For those on the committee who have wrestled over the years with the issues of Harbour Dues and whether or not to charge for boat space taken ashore, the 13th November 1956 minute may be of interest when a letter from the Town Clerk was discussed. The Trustees had resolved that the present system of charging boats laid up in the basin (harbour)must be extended also to boats laid up on the beach (based on the 1879 Harbour Order defining the limits of the Harbour extending to 200 yards from any part of the walls over the shore below the high water mark). The charge was set as one shilling (5 pence) per foot length, with a minimum of ten shillings (50 pence).

The committee meeting of 19th April 1957 was attended by the Harbourmaster (retained by the Town Council) who was none other than George MacFarlane who had been fortunate to avoid being lost when The Young Fox sank in December 1928 (see Part 5). Mr MacFarlane attended the meeting to discuss methods to moor as many craft as possible in the harbour (the suggestion was to lay chains in the harbour with rope risers on buoys for mooring and with stern lines taken ashore). On 20th July 1957 alongside the Club’s Regatta, the Inverness Swimming Club arranged for ‘Open and Local Swimming Races, a Swimming and Diving Demonstration and a Water Polo Match’ – all held in the harbour. The scouts took a collection. A special meeting was convened in July 1957 to consider a proposal for a ‘DANCE’. This was carried with George Taylor appointed as Dance Convenor and a member (Mr Mackay, owner of the West End Stores) offered a suitable barn – in fact this was the top floor of what is now Quay House.

The provision of a suitable ‘guard boat’ (safety boat) greatly exercised the committee in its early days. Various members allowed the use of their motor boats but by 1959 the committee was looking to purchase a suitable boat for the Club and in July ‘Miss Pat’ arrived. She must have been a considerable boat as she could take up to 15 persons. Also in 1959 the committee agreed the use of Terylene (better known today by the US name ‘Dacron’) sails but NOT in open races.

This picture from the club scrap book and entitled ‘Rave-up gear circa 1958’ shows left to right: Frank & Evelyn Gale, George & Sandy Taylor, Martin Wylie

The Annual General Meeting of 1960 (held pre-season in those days) saw the retirement of the founding commodore, W A H Rowat, who was presented with a chromium car badge embossed with the commodore’s club burgee. Sailing instruction also featured at this meeting with the new commodore, R A Taylor, stressing that ‘he would like to see more opportunities being made available for members who did not own boats to get afloat and for sailing instruction to be given to younger members.’ The minutes recorded some concerns that damage has occurred to craft in the harbour through an apparent lack of supervision; the club considered taking a lease for the harbour and appointing its own Harbour Master. There was also a proposal to erect a Starter’s Box at the end of the harbour – one which could be dismantled for the winter. This application was approved by the Town Council and a Minor Warrant was issued by the Burgh Surveyor.

A sensible proposal to resolve the Harbour Master situation was put forward in May 1960 when it was proposed by the Club that if ‘the Town Council appointed Mr George Taylor as their Harbour Master that the Chanonry Sailing Club should appoint Mr G Taylor as their Harbour Master.’ The outcome was that George Taylor worked alongside George MacFarlane for a transition period before agreement was reached in early 1963 for the Club to take over the administration of the harbour and to commute harbour dues by a capital payment of £10 per year. George Taylor was then appointed as the (sole) Harbour Master – an appointment he held for a further 44 years before his retirement in late 2007.

George Taylor on retirement at Harbour Master in 2007

1961 was a relatively quiet year for the committee but it did see a decision to try to negotiate the purchase of ‘the barn’ (Quay House today) for the club as the future clubhouse given the state of the Nissen hut.

This is John Mackenzie’s TR3 at the harbour in 1963. In the background is the original wooden Starter’s Box. In the foreground is the heavy block with a hole through it still in use today to anchor the mast of a boat alongside to prevent it tipping away from the wall when taking the ground.

1. Information from Dr David Alston, Cromarty

2. D Pocock collection

3. Appendix L to the 7th Report of the Commissioners for Highland Roads and Bridges

4. Concise Oxford Dictionary

5. Courtesy of Highland Libraries and Am Baile website

6. From the cover of the Atlas to the Life of Thomas Telford Civil Engineer in 1838 engraved by W Raddon from a painting by S Lane

7. The 7th Report of the Commissioners for Highland Roads and Bridges

8. Courtesy of Highland Libraries and Am Baile website

9. In 2009 from the Bank of England’s Inflation Calculator for Goods & Services

10. Courtesy of Highland Libraries and Am Baile website

11. Courtesy of Highland Libraries and Am Baile website

12. D Pocock collection

13. D Pocock Collection

14. Information from Elizabeth Sutherland

15. Groam House Museum Collection

16. Groam House Museum Collection

17. Groam House Museum Collection

18. Information from George Taylor

19. Groam House Museum Collection

20. Information from George Taylor

21. Information from George Taylor

22. Information from David Pocock

23. Information from George Taylor

24. Information from George Taylor

25. D Pocock collection

26. Information from George Taylor

27. Information from Elizabeth Sutherland

28. In 2009 from the Bank of England’s Inflation Calculator for Goods & Services

29. Groam House Museum Collection

30. Groam House Museum Collection

31. Groam House Museum Collection

32. Rosehaugh – A House of its Times published by the Avoch Heritage Society

33. St Helena refers to a small house and grounds south of the Rosemarkie Burn built in 1815. In 1877 George Dunlop bought land along the burn and erected the villa ‘Fairy Glen’. Dunlop was a shareholder in the Black Isle Steam-Ship Company and the owner of the Royal Hotel in Fortrose (now the Anderson) – Historic Scotland

34. D. Pocock collection

35. From George Taylor

36. Edinburgh Gazette 12th April 1898

37. Groam House Museum collection

38. This information from Chris Hood: ‘as to J. Middleton, I was in correspondence twenty odd years ago with Alistair Melville from Strichen, who told me that J. Middleton (I don't know what the 'J' stood for) had been a policeman (he wasn't sure where), and that he (Alistair Melville) had traced eleven ship paintings by Middleton in N E Scotland dating from 1893 to 1912. He also told me that Middleton's painting of the ketch Annie of Fortrose was in Findhorn at that time. Melville told me he had seen two ship paintings by Middleton at an exhibition in Peterhead and one in Aberdeen Art Gallery, and knew of two more in the Fishertown Museum in Nairn, all painted between 1907 and 1912. He himself had an 1893 Middleton painting of the (early) steamer Strathbeg (built at Kinghorn in 1877), which had been in his family since it was originally painted.’

39. Courtesy of Chris Hood great-great grandson of Alex Irving who rigged many of Geddie’s ships

40. Lloyd’s Register of Shipping via plimsollshipdata.org

41. From ‘Down to the Sea, an account of life in the fishing villages of Hilton, Balintore & Shandwick’ by Jesse Madonald and Anne Gordon

42. Lloyd’s Register of Shipping via plimsollshipdata.org

43. From a post by Bill McGee Mercantile Marine (mercantilemarine.org)

44. From the Deeside Sub Aqua Club

45. Post by Rod Macdonald

46. Lloyd’s Register of Shipping via plimsollshipdata.org

47. According to Gwyn Tanner, Harbour Master, Avoch

48. D Pocock Collection

49. Recalled during reminiscence recording on 6 December 2011

50. From telecon R Jenner with ex WREN Jean Gadsen October 2010

51. http://www.combinedops.com/LCT_980.htm

52. WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar. From: The Sixtieth Anniversary of D-Day: Memories of Landing Craft by friendlyjohnrushton

53. From ‘the Miller Report’ passed to Chanonry SC by Lt Ricky Peel RNVR Ret’d

54. Photo from Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

55. Email Arthur Walters – R Jenner 12 October 2010

56. Original photo and provisional order to remove the jetty with the receipt are in the Groam House Museum archives

57. Telecon George Berry – R Jenner October 2010

58. Telecon Ricky Peel – R Jenner October 2010

59. Recalled during reminiscence recording on 6 December 2011

60. From Mike MacKenzie, Largs and District Historical Society

61. Largs and District Historical Society

62. From Mike MacKenzie, Largs and District Historical Society

63. Largs and District Historical Society

64. Groam House Museum Collection

65. Groam House Museum Collection

66. Groam House Museum collection

67. The details of the Club history from 1956 onwards are taken from the Club Archives held in the Clubroom

To be continued in 2012

Updated 5 April 2012