Five miles from Beauly and eight miles from Inverness, just off the Inverness road lies the village of Kirkhill. The modern Kirkhill is a vibrant ever growing village with a nice mix of houses and a good primary school serving the surrounding area known as the Aird. The Aird is the high ground to the south of Kirkhill and the valley in
between runs from Bunchrew outside
Inverness down to Cannich in the West. This land first belonged to the Bysset family and later through marriage to the Lovat Frasers. The valley was
fertile and crops were grown to feed the families of the area.
Because the Romans, en masse, did not reach this area which was the crossroads of Pictland, Christianity did not come until the 6th century in the person of St. Columba. He introduced it to Brude, King of the Picts in Inverness. The first records are 1210 and relate to a church which stood near the mouth of the river Beauly called Dunballoch and then translated into Fingasc and Wardlaw.The Lovat castle, which also stood on the south bank of the Beauly river, had its garrison keep watch from the hill behind the castle and thus the hill or law became Wardlaw. After the transfer of the church from Dunballoch, the Bishop of Moray made two parishes - Wardlaw and Fearnua. The latter comprised the area around Bunchrew and the name Fearnua is said to come from the large amounts of Alder trees which grew in the Parish.
Around that time a new church was built on the site of the watch tower on Wardlaw as the Lovat Frasers had by this time built Dounie Castle close to the site of the present Beaufort
Castle. Little now remains of the original church except the foundations and the east gable.
The Lovat mausoleum was built on to the east gable and so it survived until today. In 1632 Simon Lord Lovat was interred at the east end of the church with a pale of curious timber work above his grave. The mausoleum was finished in 1634 by John Ross, master mason, and thanks to a recent refurbishment this building can still be seen in all its former glory. The two parishes were combined in 1618 mainly to avoid paying two stipends and this enlarged parish became known as Kirkhill.
In 1747 over fifty estates of attainted Jacobites were forfeited. Most were sold but 14 were absorbed by the crown forever. The Hanoverian government of the time set up a Forfeited Estates Board and appointed Commissioners to run it. The main function of the board was to improve life in the Highlands and to prevent further disorder. Comprehensive instructions were drawn up as to how to achieve these aims. Towns and villages were to be built as billets for soldiers and as centres of manufacture if they were inland. Coastal settlements were to be built up as fishing villages with harbours for protection from the rough North Sea. Schools were to be built and the transport infrastructure improved by the building of new roads. Housing was to be improved as well as the happiness of the people. Large parishes were to be split up so that Protestantism could be more easily spread The only difference between this and the modern H.I.D.B. is that the political and religious proclivities of the Highlanders are not part of the modern board’s remit. The estates affected by the Forfeited Estates Board included the lands held by Simon, Lord Lovat.
The Board introduced home industry in Kirkhill, mainly spinning and weaving, which was very successful but when the same was tried in Kiltarlity little progress was made as the locals preferred to manufacture whisky in illegal stills,
an activity which was discouraged as much as possible. The first picture shows an ideal location for an illicit still - a hollow and rocks for protection and a burn for water. The bottom picture shows a still being fired - the prized copper condenser would only be fitted when needed as it would be a disaster if it was seized by a revenue officer. These stills could be carried from location to location and were easily hidden from prying eyes.
Around Kilmorack another Board success story was the growing of flax or linseed. After the ‘45 rebellion the average Lowlander considered Highlanders lazy and work-shy. However, it was more than this—it was the losing of the clan way of life and new ideas were resisted.
The growing of crops like flax required constant attention whereas oats could be left more or less to their own devices until harvest time. Nevertheless, 279 pecks of flax were produced annually in Kilmorack until Lord Lovat succeeded in regaining his lands from the crown in 1774 by serving with great merit in the Hanovarian army led by General Wolf.
Note: “4Pecks = 1 Bushel. 1 Bushel of Flax = 60lbs