The Story behind the Stone – the families, estates and stories of Kirkmichael, Cullicudden, the Black Isle and beyond

The Cullicudden Quarries and Findon Quarry, and some of the Quarriers – Urquhart, Munro, Forbes and Morrison families

text: Dr Jim Mackay    modern photos by Jim unless otherwise indicated

This is the story of pursuit down through the centuries of hard rock, used in many of the fine buildings we see in the Highlands and further afield.

The Old Red Sandstone of the Black Isle was easily worked and close to surface, and quarries could be located adjacent to the shore for transport by boat. Below the weathered bands of poorer quality sandstone were thick layers of strong, sound consistent rock. It was the material of choice.

The Trust’s Treasurer investigating the Cullicudden Quarries. At one point we were considering if local slabs could be used in the restoration of Kirkmichael

We know which buildings were constructed from the extracted rock only through snippets in old newspapers and the occasional receipt. From the north side of the Black Isle, for instance, Cullicudden stone was used in the building of Coul House, Kilmuir Free Church and Cromarty Free Church, Cromarty stone was used in the construction of the first Resolis Free Church in Jemimaville and Findon stone was used in the building of Cromarty and Fort George Lighthouses. Across on the south side, the most famous use of Redcastle stone was the erection of the great edifice of Fort George itself.

Trust guided tour of Jemimaville taking in the remnants of the Free Church, built with stone from Cromarty Quarry; photo by Andrew Dowsett

Sandstone blockwork on windows, doors and corners of Coul House

The vast volumes of blockwork in the Fort George fortifications

We look in this story more closely at the Cullicudden Quarries and Findon Quarry, and there are linked stories giving some more detail on the families who operated them.


The Cullicudden Quarries

I say Cullicudden “Quarries” rather than “Quarry” as there were so many of them. If you take the footpath down to Castle Craig, travel along the shore and come back up the Alness Ferry track (a great trek, but wear solid footwear!) you will see evidence of at least six quarries.

The giveaway first sign is the spoil heap. It was well recognised that the quality stone lay at depth and hence there was an awful lot of waste material. That spoil, plus additional waste from working the blocks, was shifted by wheelbarrow to the shore side of the quarry where it accumulated as a great mound. Get in past the spoil heap and you will find the rock faces, some of them with excellent seams prepared for cutting out when the quarry was abandoned. In most cases, the quarries have been partially infilled with field clearance stones and an assortment of cars of increasing historic interest.

Watch out when investigating these quarries, by the way – pumps were used to allow the operators to excavate to depth and of course there are now treacherous slimy ponds to avoid in amongst the overgrown vegetation.

A typical sandstone quarry, image courtesy of the British Geological Society. The hard sandstone stands proud of the poor quality layers. A large block is being hoisted by a crane (out of shot), one leg of which is braced by a pile of blocks. This is the former Corsehill Quarry, Annan.

We don’t have (unlike at Findon Quarry, a short distance up the coast) an eye-witness account of activity in the Cullicudden Quarries, but I have picked up bits and pieces out of various primary sources. Particularly valuable are the bankruptcy proceedings of Alexander Munro (c1831–1898) of Cullicudden who operated the Cullicudden Quarry in the 1850s. The paperwork includes a list of quarry equipment such as cranes, wheelbarrows and wedges, and debts owed to quarry workers. Alexander erected a family gravestone in Cullicudden Kirkyard – a sandstone headstone which I would like to think came originally from Cullicudden Quarry!

His Story can be found here.

Well established in local history are the four Urquhart Brothers who operated Cullicudden Quarry. All four of them, Donald (1811–1896), John (c1814–1879), Thomas (1816–1881?) and William (1819–1858), were present on the day of the Jailbreak and Riot in Cromarty in 1843, following the famous Resolis Disruption Riot. Three of them were caught up in the proceedings. Two brothers were tried in Edinburgh, with Donald being acquitted and the other, John, being given a nine month prison sentence. Thomas, the third, had lit out after the Riot but I do think I may have eventually picked up his trail in Canada!

Their Story may be found here.

Several members of the Forbes family of Cullicudden operated Cullicudden Quarry from the 1850s through the 1860s. Like many of the operators, they also had crofts on the side. From the early 1800s steam-boats were used to carry the hewn rock away to its destination and you wonder how on earth the small operators could afford the running of such an expense with only a wee croft in the background.

Quarries can be dangerous places, but I have only one record of a serious incident.

Inverness Courier 10 June 1869
Fatal Accident.– A sad accident occurred at Cullicudden Quarry on Friday morning. A young man, Alexander Rhynie, was going with a companion to Dingwall with a boat-load of stones; but a parcel having been forgotten by them, Mcrae, the other boatman, went home for it, leaving Rhynie in charge of the boat. On his return Rhynie could not be seen, and it was only when some quarrymen came to work that he was found lying on a rock in the quarry with a deep wound in the head. He was conveyed to his father’s house, but died while Dr Smith of Cromarty, who was called in, was in the act of examining the wound. It is supposed that the deceased had gone for some purpose to the top of the quarry, and his foot slipping he went over the brink.

The death certificate of the unfortunate boatman gives his name more accurately as Alexander Rennie. The family farmed at Bog of Cullicudden.


The Forbes Family

I’m hoping that a separate Story behind the Stone on the Forbes family will appear, but before that, I include this brief summary. There are several memorials in Cullicudden Kirkyard relating to the family, including a headstone, a tablestone and several slabs.

We have seen that the tenants and quarrymen of Cullicudden Quarry in the 1850s were jointly Alexander Munro and William Forbes, until Munro took it over himself. But after he became bankrupt, the Forbes family took over once again.

In the Valuation Roll of 1864, Alexander Forbes is listed for the first time as the tenant of the Quarry, at an annual rent of £12. It had been £6.10 for Alexander Munro the year before, so this was quite a hike. Alexander Forbes continues as tenant through to at least 1875. I have not seen the Rolls for 1876 and 1877, but in 1878 the tenant has changed to Donald Ross Munro. Alexander Forbes thus had been the Quarry tenant and operator for about 14 years. It is as Quarry tenant that he is described on the birth of his daughter Jane in 1870:

The Forbes headstone in Cullicudden; despite my awful photograph, this is actually quite a handsome stone, and I am hopeful that when it is re-erected I can replace this with a modern photograph!

Resolis Birth Certificate
Jane Forbes born 4 April 1870 at Kinbeachie parents Alexander Forbes tenant of stone quarries Margaret Forbes ms Watson married 28 May 1869 Resolis informant father (present)

I cannot resist for a personal reason including Alexander’s marriage certificate:

28 May 1869 at Free Church, Resolis, After Banns, according to the Forms of the Free Church of Scotland
Alexr. Forbes stone quarrier (bachelor) aged 40 usual residence Kinbeachie Resolis parents Alexander Forbes crofter (d) Catherine Forbes ms Fraser (d)
Margaret Watson domestic servant (spinster) aged 25 usual residence Parish of Avoch parents Thomas Watson crofter (d) Jane Watson ms Sorpe [Thorpe] (d)
James Maclauchlan Free Church Minr. Resolis. James Hanan witness Benjamin Watson witness

The personal reason is that the parents of Margaret Watson were Thomas Watson from Blairfoid, Avoch, and Jane Thorpe from Uppingham in Rutland. They were my own great great grandparents.

There is in Cullicudden kirkyard a substantial red sandstone headstone, currently fallen, but hopefully soon to be re-erected, commemorating the family of the Cullicudden Quarry tenant, Alexander Forbes.

Erected / to the memory of / ALEXANDER FORBES, / Kinbachie, / who died 27th July 1862, / aged 70 years. / Also / his beloved wife, / CATHERINE FRASER, / who died 29th Decr. 1865, / aged 67 years. / ALEXANDER FORBES / who died 4th Febry 1885 / aged 59 years Also / his bloved [sic] wife / MARGARET WATSON who / died 2nd July 1906 aged 62 years / And their children ALEx aged / 2 years CATHERINE aged 3 years.

The headstone was carved by an Invergordon monumental mason, and hence is not likely to have been hewn from Cullicudden Quarry itself!


The Newhall Estate Family

The value of the Cullicudden Quarries was recognised by the Newhall Estate, whose proprietors had a long history of making a feature of the resource when portions of the estate were being sold or rented out. Here, for example, is an advertisement repeated at several times from 1764 (later advertisements correcting the spelling of Cullicudden!):

Caledonian Mercury 25 January 1764
To be SOLD, The lands and baronies of NEWHALL and ST. MARTINES, and whole other estate, which belonged to the deceased Charles Hamilton Gordon, Esq; lying contiguous, within the united parishes of Kirkmichael and Killicudden, and counties of Ross and Cromarty.
This estates consists of some thousand acres of arable land, besides large tracts of moor or heath ground, great part whereof is of a good rich soil, and very capable of improvement, at a small expence, as there are great quantities of sea-ware, and shells on the shore, and marle has been discovered on several parts of the estate. The proprietor will also be intitled to a very considerable share of the large and extensive common of Milbowie, now under division.– There is likewise a large free-stone quarry near the shore.

In the Abstract Rental of the Estate of Newhall from that same year of 1764 (RH15/44/199(v)) the quarry is described as:

A large freestone quarry lying on the shore of a good quality and Colour.

There is no mention of a coastal quarry in the First Statistical Account of the parish of Resolis, written in 1792 by the Reverend Robert Arthur. I don’t understand why not, given there are many earlier references to such operations. Given that he does mention potential mining opportunities I can only conclude that there was no quarry operational at time of writing. He does say (and note that by freestone, all that is meant is sandstone):

In searching for limestone, in 1786, several specks of rich lead ore were found in a free-stone rock, to the S. of the mill of St. Martin’s, by the late Mr. Gordon of Newhall, whose classical knowledge, philanthropy, and engaging manners endeared him to all who knew him: Appearances were so favourable, that workmen had proceeded a good way in cutting through the rock, under ground, in 2 different directions, in hopes of meeting a vein of ore; when his sudden and much lamented death, in January 1778, put an end to the attempt. Some spar, lime-stone, and stone-marl were found in digging through the above rock, in which a number of specks of ore were found embedded.

I note that Elizabeth Beaton in her excellent Ross & Cromarty An Illustrated Architectural Guide states with reference to Coul House (Contin), constructed 1819–1821, architects Richard and Robert Dickson:

Some of the building stone came from Cullicudden on the Black Isle, and was transported up the Dingwall canal and then by road to Coul.

Fifty years after the First Statistical Account, in 1836, the Reverend Donald Sage wrote the New Statistical Account of Kirkmichael and Cullicudden, and brought us up to date on the investigations which Robert Arthur had mentioned:

The lead ore found in the freestone rock to the south of the mill of St Martin's, by the late Mr Gordon of Newhall, in 1786, has ever since been unnoticed. Some indications of coal were a few years ago observed near the freestone quarry at Cullicudden; but a closer investigation has never been attempted. It is highly probable that coal exists in the parish; but the expensive, though ultimately unsuccessful, efforts of the late Marquis of Stafford at Brora, in the neighbouring county of Sutherland, pretty clearly prove that both the quality of the coals, and the enormous expense of mining, are insuperable obstacles to any thing like a profitable coal trade so far north, and probably even north of the county of Fife. At Cullicudden, a freestone quarry has been opened, and in operation for many years. The materials of many public buildings and of stone piers have been taken from this quarry. The freestone varies both in quality and colour; in colour, from red to a deep yellow. The quality of the red freestone is seldom good. If taken, as too often it has been, near the surface, it blasts, and, by the action of the weather, it very soon crumbles down. The yellow is rather better, but is often almost equally friable under the action of a northern climate. To secure the good materials which this quarry affords, the only way is to quarry at a considerable depth, – perhaps nine or twelve feet.

Sage had an eye for detail. In the 1840s the quarrymen were the Urquhart brothers. Signalling a new era, a curious advertisement appeared in the Inverness Courier of 1 July 1858:

Quarry. / A Quarry now opened at Cullicudden, producing a desirable Stone of Covesea Colour. Rubles, Corners, Soles, and Lintels of all sizes supplied. / Apply to A. Munro, Cullicudden, or to John Forbes, Kinbeachie. / Kinbeachie, 30th June 1858.

The pier at Cullicudden Quarry

The wording of this advertisement suggests the opening of a new quarry. Was this the moment when the last coastal quarry in Resolis, the one outlined in red by the Newhall Estate in the copy of their plans below, came into operation? This timing coincides with the commencement of the annual Valuation Rolls, which regularly featured Cullicudden Quarry.

I note from those Valuation Records that from 1858 through to 1863 the annual rental of the Cullicudden Quarry was £6.10.0 Sterling. At the end of this period the operator, Alexander Munro, went bankrupt. Despite this, with the new operators, the rental rose sharply as I see it was £12.0.0 from 1864 through to 1888, with a brief period around 1878 when it was elevated to £14.0.0 – presumably nobody was willing to take it on at this elevated rental and the Newhall Estate acknowledged this as the sum reverted to the previous value.

From 1895 onwards the Valuation Rolls simply say “Unworked and unlet” so it clearly became inactive at some point between 1888 and 1895. In the Sale Particulars of the Newhall Estate, published in 1918 (Second Edition 1919), it was offered for sale: “The Building Stone Quarry at Cullicudden presently in the Proprietor’s hands, of an estimated rental value of £12, with foreshore adjoining. Note.– This quarry is locally situated in the Western Division of the Estate, but will be reserved therefrom and sold along with Division I.” However, the Quarry had in reality quietly ceased operating 30 years earlier. Quarrying had been a feature of the parish for hundreds of years, and had employed numerous workers, but it slipped away without notice.


The Quarries from Castle Craig to Alness Ferry

These are images of the six easily identified quarries. All these images are taken in the depths of winter as during the growing season virtually nothing can be seen due to the rank vegetation! I include early Ordnance Survey mapping to allow location of these quarries – on these maps look for the symbol for cliffs or very steep inclines to find the working faces of the quarries.

You can see why quarrying sandstone in Cullicudden was so tempting – the rock is exposed right beside the beach!

The beach beside Cullicudden Quarry is covered in chunks of sandstone

Quarry to west of Castle Craig NH 62942 63637
The first quarry is about 300 yards west of Castle Craig itself, and it would be interesting to explore it in more detail – could it even be the source of the stone in the Castle?

Our first quarry lies west of Castle Craig

Old and overgrown, a spoil heap and rock face can still be made out

Castle Craig rises out of the sandstone rock on shore

Behind the spoil heap, the quarry has been much infilled, including with the occasional car!

Quarry 1 east of Castle Craig NH 63624 64069
On the Ordnance Survey 1880 publication (1872 survey) map, this large quarry is shown to have three piers, a small building and a water-filled excavation. By the Ordnance Survey 1907 publication date map, most of these features have been lost. However, on the ground, the remnants of at least one pier can (2019) still be seen. Faces of good quality rock are also apparent, but difficulties in quarrying the material must have led to the opening of the new and final quarry a few hundred yards to the east.

I have to say that this OS mapping of 1872 would suggest that Quarry 2 was not open at time of survey whilst Quarry 1 looks operational, and further documentary evidence of the relationship between these two quarries would be useful.

Pier, spoil heap and quarryface of the first quarry east of Castle Craig

The piers are shown clearly on the 1872-surveyed OS map

but on the ground the piers are now getting steadily more difficult to pick out

Looking over the spoil heap…

to the rockfaces behind

Quarry 2 east of Castle Craig NH 64113 64465
This was the last coastal quarry to operate in the parish, utilising steam-boats (serviced by smaller boats which went from ship to shore) and cranes. One of the quarry boatmen fell to his death from the top of this quarry in 1869. This quarry is the one outlined in red on the Newhall Estate sale plan of 1918. Note the earlier quarry (Quarry 1 east of Castle Craig) to the west of the red outline – the previous OS edition map clearly depicted that quarry as having piers, but by this time had largely deteriorated.

On the ground, a pier of good quality squared sandstone is still partly visible, although steadily deteriorating with time.

The quarry and its pier are outlined in red on the Newhall Estate plan of 1918

The pier servicing the final quarry to be worked in Cullicudden

The quarry face behind the spoil heap

A pond now fills the excavation from which blocks of sandstone were lifted

Quarry 3 east of Castle Craig NH 64599 64866
I can reach this one in a few minutes by strolling down my road to Dell Farmhouse and cutting down by the fences to the beach. It must have been a substantial quarry in its day, extending for a great distance along the shore, but the size of trees growing around it (including one in the rock face itself) suggests it has not operated for a long, long time. It has been much infilled. At its further eastern extremity, on the natural point, there is what I think must have once been a quay.

The third quarry east of Castle Craig is just below Cullicudden Churchyard.

The now familiar spoil heap signals another quarry

This quarry is virtually impenetrable due to the dense undergrowth

A tree grows out between slabs of sandstone on the quarry face

And on the braes above the quarry stands the house where the Urquharts, quarrymen, lived

Quarry 4 east of Castle Craig NH 65137 65384
Quarries 4 (red-spotted on the map) and 5 (blue-spotted on the map) east of Castle Craig are small, being each only about 100 yards from one end to the other. The spoil removed to access the rock face in each case has been moved just a few yards. The quarry face is still partly visible on Quarry 4. It undoubtedly was much smaller than the big quarries to the west.

The fourth and fifth quarries east of Castle Craig can be seen on early OS mapping.

Fourth Qyarry: A quarry in miniature: the familiar layout of spoil heap with quarry face behind, but on a small-scale

Part of the quarry-face

Quarry 5 east of Castle Craig NH 65527 65699
This small quarry is the most eastern of all the excavations recorded here, and in fact is not far from the Alness Ferry track. It has been smothered with field clearance stones and other materials but is still identifiable as a former quarry. When I was young, we used to walk along the beach from Alness Ferry, and in passing what we called “Macfarquhar’s Quarry” (because the farm of Easter Cullicudden above it was farmed by Ian Macfarquhar and generations of Macfarquhars before him), we would always peer in with interest. That interest was partly in the history revealed by the rock faces and partly in the wonderful amount of junk that found its way down into the quarry! It has now practically disappeared through infilling.

The fifth quarry east of Castle Craig, from the west. Small and infilled.

This small quarry is not far west of the Alness Ferry track


Findon Quarry, Parish of Urquhart and Ferintosh and the Morrison family

Findon Quarry is very close geographically to the Cullicudden quarries but was a much larger and more profitable concern. And we have a wonderful eye description of quarry operations to which we will come!

The loch here now covers the deep quarry faces of Findon Quarry

Quarrying in Findon is of long standing. I see in McGill’s Old Ross-shire a letter from 1720. Charles Ross of Ey writes to the Laird of Balnagown about sources of slate “skleat” or flagstone, used for roofing prestigious buildings:

… I was speaking to M’Kinay about winning skleat at Ulladeall, but he says there’s few … and ill winning of them and are all flags … his bargain with Culraine was ten merk and ten pecks of meal ye 1000 skleats … There’s a skleat quarry near Skatwell’s house at Little ffindon

The Scatwell Rentals (Highland Archive HA/D/393/1) gives the rental for the quarry:

John Fraser and Kenneth Roy masons in Culbokie are to pay yearly for the Liberty of quarrying hewen Stones from Candlemass 1765 to Do. 1766 years … £ 1.0.0

I came across when hunting material in the National Archives on the work of the Commissioners of the Annexed Estates a fascinating voucher from 1782. It itemised and signed off work carried out in 1781 on the former Councilhouse in Milntown (nowadays Milton), Kilmuir Easter. The document provides evidence of rock from Findon Quarry being used at that time as building materials on the other side of the Firth. It is found within the papers of the Commissioners, collection E746/194.

Mr Colin McKinzie writer in Dingwall, Factor on the Anexed Estate of Cromarty, Dbr. To John Grant wright in Pollnical For finishing the house at Millintown comanly called the Councilhouse But now intended for a Publick House.
To cash pd. for six hearth stons @ 3/ each -.18/-
To cash pd. for 290 Feet Pavement @3d the foot 3.12.6
To cash pd a boat for carring said stons from the quary of Killbokie to Portleich -.15.-
To cash pd. for a Spoutstone for convying the dirty water through the wall of the Kitchen wall -.3.6
To Carring said Stones from Portleich to Millintown -.15.8

… and much more. The Annexed Estates records are a greatly under-utilised resource.

As in Cullicudden, there appears in the parish as a whole to have been several quarries. The Old Statistical Account (c1792) states that:

quarries of freestone abound, which supply the country around in millstones, and from whence other hewn work is occasionally sent by boats across the firth.

The John o’ Groat Journal of 18 February 1853 contains an excellent description of Findon Quarry:

The Barony of Findon is doubly valuable, from the stones of its quarry being now considered among the best and most durable of our Scotch quarries, consequently cargoes are being weekly shipped from it to various parts in the south — even to London. To the latter place specimens were lately forwarded to those gentlemen who have the superintendence of the Wellington monument that is to be erected there. Those used in the erection of Fort-George and Cromarty lighthouses have been brought from Findon quarry, as also a great portion of the stones to be used in the erection of the new bridge over the river Ness.

The newspaper advertisements promoting Findon Quarry always emphasised the quality of the stone.


The Morrison Family

We are lucky that a lively description of the busy working life of the quarry has survived. This is from a letter by young William Borwick Morrison to his family, first published in the Highland Fabricators journal HiFab News in 1980.

Findon Quarry Agt 12th, 1847
Dear Mother, Sisters and Brothers,
… There is six ships here just now … and four on the way coming. Father is continual putting ships out and taking them in. There is 17 masons, 22 quarriers & 39 labourers, and the smith all working in the quarry, and 3 carpenters repairing the lighters, and we are all very busy just now. The people of Findon farm are begun to shear… There is four cranes in the quarry continual hauling up stone and two pumps pumping water when the tide is back. We have a splendid coble, Father has got a mast and a sail to it. It is not a high mast nor a big sail so there is no danger. We are expecting a boat of our own up tomorrow – a ten-ton boat to carry stones to different places of the Firth. We have not got begun to the house yet as we are so throng. We cannot get a mason spare. I was in Balachrach and got a bottle of milk and some crowdy. We got some butter from Balmeanach. We got two stones of flour @ 3/3 per stone. It is very good, but father thinks it is very dear. We get potatoes at Findon 3d per Lippie. I whiles get a sail in the coble and gets leave to steer.
We have got out supper and Janet is snoding up her hair. Father and I was in Findon Garden and their is plenty of gooseberries and apples in it. … There is three of the skippers that goes up to Cullbockie sober and comes back drunk three or four times a day. They are Englishmen, & that is there regular work, but one of them is away today. …
Friday morning, six o’clock. It is a beautiful morning and all the men are begun to work, some of them pumping water, some of them pecking stones, some of them pulling the Hurrly [a wheelbarrow; probably a waggon on tracks to take stone out to the pier] and some of them hurrling rubish [shifting the quarry spoil by wheelbarrow], and my father is going away to measure and I to mark. It is now breakfast time and all the wives in the highland mutches and the lassies with their white napkins about their heads are come with their men’s porrages. …
Give a brother’s love to Bobby, Mary, Cathrine, David, Nanzy & Jean. No more at present — but remain / Yours / Truly / William B. Morrison

What a wonderfully descriptive letter, from a child, at that.

The route from quarry to pub which the sea captains followed several times a day

Their destination: the Culbokie Inn

Kirkmichael friends and volunteers at their annual event 180 years after the sea captains were in!

The full letter can be found on the Culbokie Community website at HiFab News stated that William was 14 when he wrote that letter but in fact he was only 11. This is his entry in the Dundee baptism register:

1835 [born] [Oct] 28 [baptised] Nov 16 [parents] William Morrison mason Catharine Barclay [child] William Borwick

The letter was dated 13 August 1847 and hence William was not yet 12 when he wrote that charming letter – and was actually helping in the quarry by marking the rock as his father measured! Changed days.

So who were the Morrison family? William Morrison senior had married Catharine Barclay in Dundee back in 1829. She was a Dundee lass, although William himself had been born in Blairgowrie. Their children were born mostly in the parish of Murroes, just outside Dundee. In 1841, they were still in the parish of Murroes, William described as “Quarrier & Builder”, with the five year old William Borwick one of six children in the household.

William senior took over managing Findon Quarry later in the 1840s. You can gather from William’s letter of 1847 that the family had not moved up to the Black Isle by that time, although William senior was looking to build a house when he had an opportunity. However, the family were well settled at the Quarry by the time of the 1851 Census.

William Morrison’s name was still on advertisements in early 1854 as Quarry Manager, but the Quarry was being offered for let in November of that year, which is when, I think, Morrison would have departed for his next post.

His son, the letter-writer, William Borwick Morrison, became a merchant, married Eliza Spence Halley in Dundee in 1864, and died as recently as 1921, in Newport in Fife, just across the Tay Bridge from Dundee.

The quarry is now a peaceful spot, despite the hum of the A9 traffic passing on the west

Findon Quarry continued operating for many years after William Morrison departed. I have a newspaper cutting from 1890 which tells a sad tale:

Aberdeen Journal, 19 March 1890
Loss of an Inverness Boat and Two Lives.– All hope has been given up as to the safety of the trading boat belonging to Mr Grainger, which left Inverness on Monday week for Findon, on the Cromarty Firth, and which has not since been heard of. The boat, which was light, was proceeding to Findon quarry to load stones, and was manned by two men, Smith, the skipper, and John Fraser. The afternoon was very squally, and it is supposed that in one of these squalls the craft went down. Inquiries at the fishing villages have failed to elicit any information with regard to the missing boat.

I don’t know when precisely the quarry ceased operation. The pier from which stone blocks were loaded onto ships was well used for other purposes, including unloading coal. There was a coal depot on site. An engine pulled wagons out a track on the pier, and there are photographs local men arriving with horse and cart to pick up their stocks of coal in the 1920s. It was more than just a quarry.

The site of Findon Quarry is now overgrown. It includes the Scottish Water wastewater treatment works for Culbokie within its boundaries, and the A9 approach to the Cromarty Firth bridge sweeps just by it. But within the wonderfully secluded former quarry there are mature trees, wildlife and a deep loch where once vast blocks were hoisted up by cranes. And there is the occasional rockface to show off the smooth, pale sandstone for which Findon Quarry was once famous.


Appendix: LIDAR and aerial photography

Good Friend of Kirkmichael Andy Hickie in spring 2020 used a combination of drone and LIDAR imagery to give a completely new perspective to the piers and working areas of the Cullicudden Quarries. The results are quite spectacular. Andy’s LIDAR images show just the full extent of the quarrying that once went on along the north side of the Black Isle!

The LIDAR image above from Andy Hickie shows not only three piers associated with this particular Cullicudden quarry, but also some of the rock faces worked in the quarry itself. You struggle to get into these quarries due to the rampant vegetation so these images are a revelation.

photo by Jim Mackay

image by Andy Hickie

On left above, most of the piers picked out so clearly on Andy’s LIDAR images are when viewed from the beach virtually indistinguishable from rubble. This is the end of one of these old piers, with Ben the faithful hound to give scale. Most piers in those days would have been wooden, of course, but when you are a quarry operator there is a more plentiful source material! On right above, this image shows just how many piers there were on the shore, and just how much of the shoreline was worked by the quarrymen. The inset map is from the 1918 sale particulars of the Newhall Estate, where the former quarry was kept separate in the hope it might be re-opened sometime. You can see the pier shown on the map is exactly represented by Andy’s LIDAR image.

photo by Jim Mackay

photo by Jim Mackay

On left above, this particular quarry pier is the only one that still resembles anything like a pier. On right above, it can be seen that the walls of the pier were built with shaped rock, but there was plenty of spoil to fill in between.

photo by Jim Mackay

image by Andy Hickie

On left above, looking up the Firth to Castle Craig and Findon from Cullicudden – and those boulders on the beach are the remnants of piers to service the Cullicudden Quarries. On right above, I’ve saved this striking image to the last. I’ve colour-spotted the piers shown on an early Ordnance Survey map (they were old and abandoned even then) and colour-spotted the same piers now shown on Andy’s LIDAR imagery. But just look at the worked rock in the quarry itself. Wonderful photography, and thanks to Andy Hickie for bringing our quarrying heritage to life.


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