History of Kildermorie

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Old estates abound with myths and legends, but finding primary sources to underpin them is not straightforward. What is documented, for example in the proceedings of scientific and antiquarian societies and in statistical accounts of Scotland is fairly consistent, although the spelling of the land now known as 'Kildermorie' is not.

Until the end of the 18th Century the prevailing language was the Gaelic. Kildermorie is documented as Cille Mhuire, Cille Mhoire and Cille Moire, all derivatives of the name of the Roman Catholic chapel which was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and which gives the glen its name. Within the last two centuries it appears in legal and other documents as Gildermorry, Gildermorrie and Gildermorie.

The ruins of the granite chapel still stand at the western end of Loch Morie, surrounded by a burial ground. The age of the chapel is not known, nor how long it has been in decay. A 1989 geological study showed the date of the stone to be 1510, and historians are certain that it was built before the reformation.

Between the chapel and the loch is a well, Tobar Mhoire or Tobair na Muire, Mary's Well, whose water flows into Loch Morie; sadly the well is obscured by decades of scree sliding from the hill above. A market, Feill Mhoire was held regularly – one account cites twice weekly – to serve the local area, supporting the theory that a thriving community once inhabited the glen, and there is evidence of other buildings on the estate, including the remains of an ice house near the river (ACTIVITIES).

To understand the history of Kildermorie it is also necessary to know that its fate for several centuries was tied into the neighbouring estates of Novar, Ardross and Wyvis, as numerous dispositions of land between the various landowners testify.

Research into Kildermorie's history is on-going; only some of those events which have been substantiated are set out below.

The 16th Century and Black Andrew (d. 1522)

An early reference to Kildermorie can be found in History of the Munros of Fowlis by Alexander Mackenzie. A family cadet branch of the Highland Clan Munro spawned Andrew Munro, 3rd of Milntown .

"He received a crown charter for his lands with the office of chief mair or steward of the Earldom of Ross. In 1512 King James IV of Scotland granted him the ”croft of called the markland of Tulloch” for the annual payment of one pound of wax, payable at midsummer within the Chapel of Delny. In addition to the lands of Milntown, Andrew acquired by grants and purchases extensive possessions in the county of Ross, such as Delny and Newmore in the parish of Rosskeeen, Contullich and Kildermorie in the parish of Alness, Dochcarty in the parish of Dingwall, Allan in the parish of Fearn and Culnauld in the parish of Nigg. He was known amongst the local residents as Black Andrew of the seven castles because he had a castle on each of his seven estates." (from Wikipedia : Munro of Milntown)

The Highland Clearances

John Prebble's Culloden ends 'Once the chiefs lost their powers many of them lost also any parental interest in their clansmen. During the next hundred years they continued the work of Cumberland's battalions. So that they might lease their glens and braes to sheep-farmers from the Lowlands and England, they cleared the crofts of men, women and children, using police and soldiers where necessary.'

In his book The Highland Clearances, Eric Richards covers in detail the establishment of the new sheep farm at Kildermorie in 1791

"The 'Ross-shire Insurrection' started at a place called Kildermorie, immediately south of Strathrusdale. The sequence of events began on the estate of Sir Hector Munro of Novar in 1791. He had leased the greater part of his land to the two natives of Lochaber, the brothers, Captain Allan Cameron and Mr Alexander Cameron, who were, more significantly, sheep farmers. The original small tenants had been superseded but some were given grazing for their cattle on the heights of Strathrusdale at Whitsun 1791. It is likely that many of the people were evicted completely from the district to make the new sheep farm at Kildermorie. Mrs Grant of Laggan commented upon the passive response to such evictions in Ross-shire in a letter of November 1791:
"The poor people have neither language, money nor education, to push their way anywhere else; though they often possess feelings and principles, that might rescue human nature from the reproach which false philosophy and false refinement have brought upon it. Though the poor Ross-shire people were driven to desperation, they even then acted under a sense of rectitude, touched no property, and injured no people."

The loss of the customary grazing land for the cattle of the old tenants who were pushed up to higher ground caused economic ruin for them. There began direct confrontation between the old tenants and the new sheep-farming tenants, precipitating the rebellion, ultimately involving landowners, Church and army. Eric Richards summarises

"Just as the Galloway disturbances of 1722-4 signified the first and last determined resistance to enclosure in southern Scotland, so the Ross-shire rebellion in1792 provided its northern counterpart. The defeat of the resistance to sheep farming was comprehensive; co-ordinated obstruction of the sheep farmers was thoroughly broken and never again was there a chance for the old Highland society to hold back the invasion of sheep. The last stronghold, the northern Highlands, was breached."

The Shoolbred family

In 1885 the neighbouring deer forest of Ben Wyvis was purchased by 'Mr Walter Shoolbred of Tottenham Court Road', who was to play an important role at Kildermorie. James Shoolbred and Company began business in the 1820s in Tottenham Court road as drapers and built up the company to become one of London's first department stores. According to the Pictorial Dictionary of British 19th Century Furniture Design, Tottenham Court Road 'had two large shops, Shoolbreds and Heals which were distinguished for the high quality of their furniture, making much of it themselves and employing professional designers'. Shoolbred's trade extended into other lines, but it was not until about 1870 that they branched out into the furniture trade as cabinet manufacturers.

Shoolbreds were among the royal appointees in the mid-1880s, which perhaps explains why Walter Shoolbred was targeted by 'Mr Punch'

In 1890 Walter Shoolbred purchased the adjoining land of Kildermorie from R. C. Munro Ferguson of Novar. The main house was furnished by his own company, and many items similar to those shown in the company's catalogue of 1876 can still be seen and used in the estate buildings today.


Illustrations from the 1876 catalogue of James Shoolbred & Company

Kildermorie stayed in the Shoolbred family until 1912 when it was sold, except for a small parcel of land which was retained by Rupert Shoolbred. (See later)

Sauce and Poetry

The industrialist and philanthropist Charles William Dyson Perrins owned the neighbouring Ardross Estate and added Kildermorie to his substantial property portfolio in 1912.

In 1920 Perrins (left) employed Christopher Murray Grieve, a journalist in need of a change of occupation.

Alan Bold in his book 'MacDiarmid' explains

"The next move was northwards to a remote shooting lodge in a deer forest ten miles north-west of Alness in Ross and Cromarty. Kildermorie Lodge stands at the head of Loch Morie, the source of the river Alness, and is surrounded by mountains: Carn Chuinneag (the highest,at 2749 ft), Meall Mor (2419 ft), Carn Cas nan Gabhar (1976 ft). It was one of the Scottish properties owned by Charles William Dyson Perrins, the Worcester Sauce millionaire......... In Grieve's opinion, Perrins was 'one of the most delightful and original little good-hearted freaks in Christendom'."

Grieve was employed as caretaker, assisted by his wife during the sporting season, and also as schoolteacher to the two daughters of the head stalker. Between October 1920 and March 1921 Grieve wrote regularly from 'Kildermorie Forest Lodge' to his former teacher in Edinburgh, George Ogilvy.

'The Hugh MacDiarmid – George Ogilvy Letters' (ed. Catherine Kerrigan) opens a window into life at Kildermorie at that time.

In early October 1920 he wrote

"Dear Mr Ogilvie,
A lean week! Nothing of interest to report. My wife returned (after 5 weeks absence) on Thursday: and we are busy entrenching ourselves, in all the ways that one needs must at a distance of 17 miles from the nearest village, against the rigours to come – rigours already most unmistakeably adnumbrated in a terrific and soul-freezing frost. Praise be it is luxuriously comfortable indoors – and I have barely five minutes walk to school."

He goes on to explain that his pupils' former teacher had married, and that he was offered the job because of ".. the practical impossibility of procuring another to sojourn in this fastness ..".

On 22 February 1921 he wrote

"Dear Mr Ogilvie,
Excuse a short scrawl! I am keeping better but not quite myself yet. It is becoming intensely cold here. Spring does not whisper in these latitudes – she roars like a fish-wife."

Grieve's letters to Ogilvie discuss his literary endeavours.

"I have drafted a book entitled 'Oddman Out: Notes from a Highland Pantry'. Once I can get a start on it I will write it in no time. I am sure that you will enjoy it.", and, reputedly drying dishes one day he wrote a poem called 'The Following Day', set in 'A remote Shooting Lodge beset with antlers of the wild red deer'.

'I nailed him high
'Twixt earth and sky
And heaven shut
Its flaming eye
But
Be nights as hell
I know full well
My way to you, oblivious slut,
Who all my roaring blood shall glut,
Shall glut,
Who all my roaring blood shall glut!' - 'MacDiarmid' Alan Bold

Grieve's last letter to Ogilvie from Kildermorie in March 1921 included nine poems in which the inspiration derived from Kildermorie's beauty and remoteness is palpable. He left Kildermorie the following month to return to journalism, and two years later he adopted a pseudonym, and became famous as the poet Hugh MacDiarmid.

Dyson Perrins, his employer, was extremely generous to the local community, building a local men's club which included a library, a reading room and billiard rooms, and gifting the Alness golf course to the town.

Division and Restitution

In 1924 Kildermorie was sold to The Ardross Estates Company, and in 1937 to William Shearer.

In 1942 a Disposition by Lieut. Col. Rupert Shoolbred states :-

"... [I] DO HEREBY DISPONE to and in favour of the said William Shearer and his heirs and assignees whomsoever heritably and irredeemably ALL and WHOLE that small piece of land containing inter alia an old ruined building situated near the Lodge at Kildermorie and surrounded by a stone wall in which piece of ground repose the ashes of Walter Shoolbred formerly proprietor of the Estate of Kildermorie ..."

The base of the cross bears the inscription 'Walter Shoolbred of Wyvis born June 20 1842 died Nov 18 1904'. So, after thirty years, ownership of Cille Mhuire, the burial ground was returned to Kildermorie.

Following Mr Shearer's death, the Secretary of State for Scotland acquired the land in 1954 from his Trustees to settle Death Duties. In 1956 the bulk of the land passed into private ownership again, though some was retained by the Secretary of State for Scotland for forestry, and remained more or less intact until 1990. Then the incumbent family divided the estate into Kildermorie North and Kildermorie South and sold the southern half, with a minute of agreement essentially allowing the estate to continue to be managed as a whole. That arrangement lasted for only 3 years when the northern part also was offered for sale.

The present owners purchased both parts of Kildermorie simultaneously in 1994, and have systematically purchased small parcels of embedded land from the Forestry Commission in order to create a more private estate.

The Challenge

By 1994 all buildings were either in a poor state of repair or long derelict, and the river, paths, fences and pastures had fared no better.

The exact age of the old lodge is unclear, but the Inverness Advertiser of Tuesday 22 December 1863 ran an advertisement placed by Novar Estate which read "Tenders wanted for extensions to Gildermorie Shooting Lodge". Although presenting its best side for the 1993 sale particulars, it had become by additions over the years a charmless, crumbling rabbit-warren and had serious structural defects.


Click the pictures above for a larger image

It was demolished in 1994 and a new house (above right), set in its own grounds was built as a private residence for the estate owners.

The surrounding estate buildings were deemed salvageable and by various processes of restoration, renovation, extension and relocation have been given new purpose. Materials from the old lodge were painstakingly removed and reused in other buildings; granite blocks, sandstone quoins and lintels, Ballachulish roof slates, light fittings, original Shoolbred furniture , doors – even a staircase – brought their historical associations with them.

The strengthening of river banks, creation of salmon pools, reinstatement of pony paths, removal of derelict post and wire fencing whose purpose was long forgotten can now be seen as the 'tip of the iceberg' in the whole process of rebuilding Kildermorie as a traditional sporting estate. Some of the land was found to be inaccessible to stalkers, so a new road was built, land was drained and flight ponds developed. The estate was being double-grazed; a flock of blackface sheep were still roaming free. At the first opportunity the sheep were taken to market. So, two centuries after the Ross-shire Insurrection Kildermorie was free of sheep, leaving the hills and valleys to the wild grouse and deer.

The construction of a hydro-electric scheme, the harnessing of natural spring water and provision of other essential features of 21st Century life now equip Kildermorie for the next phase of its history.