Seaboard Villages of Shandwick, Balintore & Hilton
The seacoast of the Fearn peninsula may have been part of the Alta Ripa – the ‘High Bank’ of cliffs and rocky shoreline which Roman seamen saw as they sailed around the north coast of Britain. The Old Red Sandstone cliffs, rich in plant life and home to colonies of sea birds, are the result of post-glacial changes in sea level.
By 300 AD local tribes had come together to create the kingdom of the northern Picts and the cultural importance of the Fearn Peninsula, within the kingdom, is shown by its magnificent early Christian monuments. Great cross-slabs were erected at Nigg, Shandwick, Hilton and Tarbat, all carved in the late eighth or early ninth centuries. The Tarbat cross-slab was reduced to fragments but the others survive – in Nigg Old Church, above Shandwick (now protected by a glass case) and at Hilton (the original cross-slab is in the Museum of Scotland, a replica on the site).
Later, Norse settlers or seamen named this sand-vík (now Shandwick) – the sandy bay.
The three seaboard villages, along the shore, were established as fishing communities. Balintore, once known as Abbotshaven, was the fisher settlement of the Abbey of Fearn. They were at their most prosperous in the first half of the nineteenth century, as the effects of the great Caithness herring industry spread south. In 1841 the villages, which had each begun as a small settlement with a single boat, were home to almost 130 fishermen and their families – but it was the 1890s before Balintore’s harbour was finally built to provide a safe landing place. "The Fisheris 8 acres of land which never payed a penny but given to them to dwell upon for the furnishing of fishe to the place and the country upon the country’s expense."Rental of Fearn Abbey, 1561.
For centuries salmon were caught in large fixed traps in the Cromarty and Dornoch Firths. However, during the nineteenth century, when the efficiency of these traps improved, they were declared illegal. It was still possible to use ‘sweep nets’, which were not fixed, but large-scale commercial netting of salmon moved to coastal fishing stations outside the firths. By 1870 there were salmon netting stations at Cadboll, Hilton, Balintore and Shandwick. The fish were kept fresh on ice – for a journey which began by cart to the railway station at Fearn.
By 1904 George Paterson & Sons had established themselves as salmon fishers on the Seaboard coast. One of the family, John Paterson, painted oil portraits of men, women and youngsters – one of the earliest visual records of the fisher communities.
In the 1980s many of the netting stations on the Moray Firth were bought by the Atlantic Salmon Trust, whose aim was to promote angling by allowing salmon to run up to the rivers. The Paterson family, however, continued salmon fishing, maintaining a tradition and a family business which stretches back to the mid-nineteenth century.
Places of Interest
Anta Ceramics (Tullich)
The famous local pottery and weavers. Making Scottish tartan style pottery and top quality weaving. Tours of both the pottery and the weaving factory by one of the owners. A shop is also on site with the opportunity to purchase pottery and cloth as well as ordering some finished products, which can be sent overseas.
Hilton Of Cadboll Replica Stone Site
The Chapel Site at Hilton, gifted by Glenmorangie plc to the Historic Hilton Trust in 2002, is home to the reconstruction of the Pictish stone, the original of which dates back to around 800 AD and is housed at the New Museum of Scotland. The stone is one of Scotland's most significant Pictish stones and is a key part of Scottish history. The carving of the Hilton of Cadboll stone also completes the Pictish Trail in the Seaboard peninsula taking in Nigg, Shandwick, Hilton of Cadboll and the Tarbat Discovery Centre in nearby Portmahomack.
Hilton of Cadboll St Mary's Chapel Site & Hilton of Cadboll original Stone Base Site
The foundations of a small rectangular chapel and, nearby, a modern carved reconstruction of the famous Pictish cross-slab found on the site and now in the National Museums of Scotland.
Shandwick Pictish Stone
From the A9 take a turn off on the left after Tain for the coastal villages and follow signs for Balintore on the B9165. Turn right near the coast for Shandwick and go through the little village. As you go uphill beyond the village you will see the stone on a hilltop ahead. Park in the space provided and go over the stile. The stone is in a transparent case and if it is raining it might be hard to see. It is over 10ft (3m) tall and is an impressive slab. One side is decorated with a cross and lavish designs and the other is divided into 5 panels. The stone blew down in a gale in 1846 but has been restored.
Various walkways constructed through the 3 villages taking you on a beautiful tranquil walk along the shoreline of the Moray Firth.
Shandwick Award Winning Beach 2003
This beautiful expanse of golden sand is located within the seaboard villages of Shandwick and Balintore. There are plenty of parking spaces and easy access to many local historical sites. The extensive sandy beach has a rocky area to the North and the South with a charming harbour in Balintore to the North. There are extensive coastal paths.
Consists of Old and New Cemeteries - Vast source of information for genealogical studies.