Inchberry Farm and Steading, near Beauly – A Relationship with Serendipity

by Roland Spencer-Jones

A new report entitled Inchberry – a settlement, a farm, a steading and a family has just been posted to the NOSAS website. It describes the history of a farm and steading at Inchberry, on the south side of the Beauly Firth. What was remarkable about the work that went into the report was that serendipity provided most of the information, rather than systematic archival research. That serendipity was in turn a product of relationships built up over many years. How often a chance encounter or a chance remark opens a door into new understanding or knowledge. Let’s see how it happened with Inchberry….

Serendipity One

The Lovat Estate Office in Beauly (c. NOSAS)

Out of the blue, on 8th March 2021 the Director of the Lovat Highlands Estate, Iain Shepherd, emailed me to say that there were some interesting graffiti on the walls of a steading at Inchberry and would I like to see them. I had got to know Iain well in 2018 when I was able to work on the Lovat map archive, at that time housed in the Estate Office in the middle of Beauly. The Estate then generously funded the digital scanning of all the maps in the archive, which were subsequently uploaded to the National Library of Scotland website. A relationship was born, which we had both appreciated since.

Graffiti of HMS Hood (c. Lovat Highland Estates)
Graffiti of a Spitfire (c. Lovat Highland Estates)

I went to see the graffiti in the company of two other NOSAS members. We were all impressed with the images on the walls, and even more impressed by the quality and size of the building in which they were housed. We decided to investigate further, particularly as this large and magnificent building was about to be lost to future research. It was about to be converted to a secure whisky store.

Inchberry Steading from the SE (c. Alasdair Cameron)

Serendipity Two

One of the NOSAS companions was Anne MacInnes, someone who has had extensive experience in field surveying and recording. She undertook to do the measuring required to then draw an accurate plan of the steading complex. It was a tedious amount of measuring, and the drawing proved tricky, but the eventual result was an impressive and accurate plan of that large building.

Plan of Inchberry Steading (c. NOSAS)

Serendipity Three

The “Opening” of Carn Glas, Oct 2015 (c. Alasdair Cameron)

A walk organised by Susan Kruse of ARCH in October 2013 brought together three people who subsequently worked together on a variety of projects. The field trip visited, among other sites, a very neglected and overgrown neolithic monument called Carn Glas. Those three people were Graham Clark of ARCH, Alasdair Cameron from another local heritage organisation, and the author from NOSAS. We looked at this neglected monument and thought that we could work together to “do it up”. And so we did, as the subsequent report shows.

Alasdair proved to be an extraordinary fount of information about farm equipment and practices. Just the sort of person to show an unknown tool to and receive a detailed response, usually with online references and links. Alasdair, my second NOSAS companion, therefore walked round the Inchberry steading looking at the equipment remaining in situ, described its function and manufacture, and explained the use of the various components of the building. It all helped to produce an overall understanding of the vision in the mind of the building’s creator, James Reid.

The Threshing Machine, dated 1887 (c. NOSAS)
One of the cattle courts (c. NOSAS)

Serendipity Four

In summer 2014 I was walking my dog past a remote house in Upper Farley, west of Beauly. A man sitting in the garden said hallo and asked after the dog. We started chatting. He invited me in for a cup of tea. This was Harry Harrison, one of the leading authors and investigators for the remarkable series of 21 reference books compiled over twelve years by the Kilmorack Heritage Association. Harry was a government architect who lived in Hertfordshire but owned a holiday house in Farley, together with his brother. He and colleagues in the Beauly area formed the Kilmorack Heritage Association in 2000. One of the books they produced – A History of the Parish of Kiltarlity – Vol 2: The Townships – detailed the townships and settlements to the east of Kiltarlity parish. Harry had given me a digital copy of this book, which I then used to mine information about Inchberry.

Serendipity Five

NOSAS is an organisation of people who know much about the history and archaeology of the Highlands, a rich vein to be tapped. I sent out an email asking if anyone knew anything of this steading or the graffiti within. A response soon came back from Malcolm Bangor-Jones, local historian, who attached an article from a newspaper, The North British Agriculturalist, dated 20th November 1878. The article detailed the background to the building of the steading, and the man who initiated it. The founding stone for the steading was laid in April 1878 and the building was finished by November. An impressive timescale!

A double page spread of the November 1878 edition of the North British Agriculturist (c. The British Library)

Serendipity Six

The previous farmhouse at Inchberry, just next to the steading, is now owned and lived in by Mr & Mrs Andrew Kent and their family. Some years previously, out of the blue, a man knocked on their door and said that his grandfather William Reid was brought up, and farmed, at Inchberry. This was Bill Wright, the great grandson of James Reid who built the steading. Following the unexpected visit, Bill subsequently forwarded some information and photographs about the family and buildings to Andrew Kent. So, when I also knocked (metaphorically) on Andrew Kent’s door, he was able to put me in touch with Bill Wright. Bill in turn put me in touch with his sister, Hilary Clare, who lives in England. And…. serendipity… she has a history degree, is a professional genealogist, and has spent fifty years researching her family’s history! How fortuitous.

James Reid and Isobel Walker (courtesy of Hilary Clare)
The widowed Isobel Reid & her family (courtesy of Hilary Clare)

In summary

Is there a moral to this serendipitous story? Maybe…. to value and cultivate friends, be open to opportunities, and be grateful when those opportunities arise.

Inchberry Farm & Steading from the hill to the south (c. NOSAS)

1 thought on “Inchberry Farm and Steading, near Beauly – A Relationship with Serendipity

  1. Pingback: Historic Scottish Highlands! - The Officially Original Loch Ness Monster Blog

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