Welcome to Strathpeffer
Strathpeffer is a village about 15 miles north-west of Inverness and 4 miles due west of Dingwall. It is beautifully located at the head of the River Peffery Valley in the Scottish Highlands, with the wooded Fannich Hills to the west and Ben Wyvis, at 3429 ft, to the north. The shelter offered by the hills to the west and the mountains to the north gives the town a relatively dry and mild climate. The area around the town offers many scenic walks and a wide variety of golf courses. The local course, as well as offering some spectacular views of the nearby hills and down to the Black Isle, has the claim to fame that its first hole has the biggest drop from tea to pin of any in Scotland. The village itself is an unusual one: with a grand layout, wide streets and an architecture which has been suggested would be more fitting of a Bavarian mountain resort. As we shall see, Strathpeffer’s unique character owes its origin to its development in the Victorian era.
However, the story of human settlement in Strathpeffer begins much earlier. Taking the forest track west out of the village one winds one’s way up to a ‘knife-edged’ ridge known as Knock Farril, overlooking the River Peffery valley. Around the edge of the summit one will see the bulky disarrayed stones from the walls of an Iron Age fort, built sometime between 700 BC to 500 BC. These ruins come from a time when the gradual settlement of Scotland, over six or seven thousand years, had resulted in ever increasing territorial dispute. The stunning views the ridge affords of the nearby mountains, Loch Ussie and the Cromarty Firth, and the occasional sightings of rare species such as golden eagles, provide a haunting setting for the contemplation of this murky and violent past.
At the eastern extremity of the village, in a field off Nutwood Lane, lies another reminder of the Strathpeffer’s ancient past. The Eagle Stone (Clach an Tiompain) is a solitary standing stone dating from at least as early as the 7th century. It was carved with two symbols: an eagle (from which it takes its name) and a horseshoe. This has led some to suggest that it was been originally used in marriage ceremonies. The Eagle Stone once lay at a spot farther down the valley but was moved in 1411 AD to commemorate the victory of the Munros over the Macdonalds in battle fought on the site of today’s town. There are a number of myths and legends associated with it, the most famous of which involve Coinneach Odhar, better known as the Brahan Seer (d.1660).
Odhar was born on the Isle of Lewis where he became famed for possessing the ‘second sight’, the ability to predict the future. As a young man he moved to the neighbourhood of Loch Ussie where he began work as a labourer. He was eventually murdered by his employers, the Seaforth family, when he predicted that their line would come to an end when a deaf and dumb laird claimed the title (which happened shortly afterwards). Mackenzie is credited with making a great many predictions which have come to pass: the battle of Culloden, the advent of the steam train, the discovery of north sea oil and the return of the Scottish Parliament “when man could walk dry shod from England to France” - when the channel tunnel made this possible the parliament followed shortly.
As a result, the two commonly known predictions concerning Strathpeffer have been taken seriously. The first prediction was that should five spires rise here ships would sail over the village and anchor to them. Despite local petitions, St Anne’s Church was completed in the early 1900s adding a fifth spire to Strathpeffer. Not long afterward an airship passing over the village dropped its grapnel, which then became caught (‘anchored’) on one of the spires. The second prediction is similar, but involves the Eagle Stone. Odhar is said to have foreseen that if the stone fell 3 times ships would anchor by it. The local authority was not willing to assume that these would be mere airships this time so after a second fall it was solidly cemented in place.
Strathpeffer Village came of age in the 1800s after the discovery of sulphur springs led to the establishment of a spa. Being considered the most healthy in Europe, people arrived from far and wide to seek respite from complaints such as rheumatism, gout, skin diseases and liver and complaints. In 1862 the railway arrived and the construction of today’s village, to a grand ‘European’ design, got underway. 1880 the Spa Pavilion was constructed to provide entertainments for the many visitors and today, beautifully restored, it operates as a function suite. While the popularity of the treatment declined during the Second World War, people have continued to come to sample the waters and use the town as a base for exploring this fascinating part of the country, as well as to appreciate the charms of this unique Scottish village.