A Coastal Walk on the Moray Firth: Castle Stuart and Alturlie

by Anne Coombs

I don’t like the A96.  It’s a very busy road and the archaeology is not particularly exciting; crop marks and just the occasional cairn.  But here I was driving along from Inverness to Castle Stuart to meet the people from ScAPE, beginning their new recording project along the northeast coast.  The plan was to walk from Castle Stuart round towards Ardersier, with expectations of good company and a nice day out with a little bit of archaeology.

Aerial photo of the tide mill near Castle Stuart.

We walked past the old church and motte of Castle Stuart to the outfall of the Rough Burn where it flows into the Moray Firth.  It is a cliché to say it felt like we were stepping back in time, but looking out across to the Black Isle we could have been in a medieval landscape.  Salt marsh, an occasional seabird and nothing else.  Apart from, of course, a large bank across the edge of the salt marsh.  Not just any bank but one belonging to a tide mill (HER MHG36425).

So, let’s go back to the scene…… salt marshes, a substantial burn, an old church, motte and later castle.  Obviously, there must be a mill somewhere as part of this old settlement.  Tide mills don’t immediately come to mind in the Highlands, however if you have read Marion’s blog on Petty parish you would be expecting it.  They work on the same basic principle as any mill. A head of water drives a wheel, which turns the mill stones and grinds the corn.  A tide mill uses the sea water as its water source, as the tide comes in it fills the area behind the bank and once the tide turns, the water is kept behind the bank by the bank and a sluice gate until it is needed.  The site was duly recorded and on we went to a small wooden jetty, in disrepair but possibly not very old.  Next, we found a boat…..or rather the remains of a boat barely visible in the silt but definitely there.  Then out to the edge of the bay where the stones of a fish trap were being revealed by the outgoing tide. 

Fish Traps near Alturlie Point

What a day!  Needless to say, I was back on the A96 the next day.  To Alturlie and more fish traps, clearly visible from the aerial views.  This time being aware of Marion’s research I knew there should be a pier belonging to the Culloden Tile and Brick Works at Brecknish (HER MHG14260).  What I didn’t expect was a line of slightly strange bricks laid on massive timber sleepers leading out to sea.  Or a possible house on the shore plus two and possibly three fish traps. 

Above: Aerial photo of the remains of the pier of the Culloden Tile and Brick Works at Brecknish Below: One of the cored bricks there, used in the pier’s construction. According to Scottish Brickmarks Fb page, “this type of cored brick is unusual, the ones cored through the bed faces are far more common. Those holes have several functions. They aren’t for drainage. They save on the amount of clay needed, make the firing more even and reduce the weight of the brick. They look unusually long too”.

The day was warm, the company great and the archaeology amazing.  There is more information about both sites on Marion’s blog as mentioned and on the brick works at https://www.scottishbrickhistory.co.uk/culloden-brick-and-tile-works-aberdeen-road-lower-cullernie-culloden-inverness-shire/ 

Always take care if you are visiting these sites, the tide comes in quickly and there is plenty of sticky mud.

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