Settler’s Scottish Home the Site of an Archaeological Dig

For the past few years the Clyne Heritage Society under the guidance of Nick Lindsay,  a local archeologist, has been busy excavating and documenting ruins in the long vacant township of Kilpheddermore.

The former township is located on the bank of the River Brora and is located approximately nine miles inland from the town of Brora.  Its name indicates that it may have contained a cell or hut of an early monk by the name of Peter.   For at least a 1000 years, and probably much longer,  it was farmed by generations of crofters.  In May of 1820 the Sutherland Estate cleared the inhabitants to further sheep farming.  Prior to the clearance, the township contained a grist mill and smiddy shop on the bank of the river.

For several years the grist mill was operated by George Ferguson, (b. ca 1780), who seems to have originated in the neighbouring township of Urachyle.  He married Catherine Graham,  (1784-1865),  daughter of William Graham and Isabel MacKay of Urachyle.  Together they settled at Kilpheddermore and leased the mill from the Estate.

Clyne residents had been departing for Nova Scotia as far back as 1813 as a result of some small scale clearances.  It would be a matter of time before Kilpheddermore would suffer the same fate.  George started to make plans to relocate his young family to free lands in the Pictou area.  However he was strickened with cancer and died around 1817.   It was his wish that Catherine would establish their children in Nova Scotia.

In 1820,  Catherine emigrated to Nova Scotia and was directed to Earltown along with a number of families from Rogart.   She was accompanied by her sons William and Robert age 16,  John, age 10 and Donald, age 8 as well as daughters  Christy, age 12 and Georgina age 2.   Although two of the sons were 16,  it must have been a daunting task for the young widow to establish a homestead.   In a very short time,  she had a functioning farm behind the subsequently established Knox Church, in fact she donated the land for a church and cemetery.    William and Robert relocated to Balmoral when they came of age,  John cleared a farm on the Matheson Brook and Donald took over the eastern part of the home grant.  Christy married John Sutherland “MacIan” of Elanan, Clyne, an early settler at The Falls.   Georgina married Red Robert MacKay of Aschoilbeg, Clyne and settled next to her brothers on Back Mountain.

Erosion is threatening the ruins of Kilpheddermore site therefore the Clyne Heritage Society is being proactive in capturing its history before nature does its thing.   Among the interesting finds are fragments of old mill stones of which some may have been used or fashioned by George Ferguson.

For more detailed information on the site,  go to

How Spiddle Hill got its name ????

As children we used to take delight in talking about Spiddle Hill.  It was something about the phoenetics or rhyming that appealed to young people.

The settlement was located on a steep hill that separated the Waugh River settlement, (The Falls),  from the Matheson Brook valley settlement.  In the early 1960’s,  the community was completely devoid of people,  the farms returning to spruce trees and the houses windowless and tilted.  It was a haunting experience to travel the narrow road over the hill  and nightmares usually followed such a trip.

In its heyday,  the settlement contained ten farms which were settled between 1821 and 1845 by families mostly from Clyne.  The steep, stoney fields were a challenge to cultivate so it is not surprising that the homesteads were gradually abandoned in the early 1900’s.

The last settler to arrive was Alexander Murray “Corrigan”.  He emigrated from Strath Halladale in Lord Reay’s Country in the year 1845 at a very advanced age.  He was accompanied by his elderly wife, Christy Sutherland,  sons Robert and Donald, daughters Catherine and Ellen.    They started their married life at Tannachy on the Rogart side of Strathbrora.  Around 1810,  Alexander and a brother William moved their families to a remote croft near Altanduin in Kildonan.  In 1814 they were forcefully evicted by the estate.   They migrated north and found shelter for the winter in an encampment on Slettil Hill near the Caithness border.  They were once again removed and this time they found a permanent home at Craigton in Strath Halladale.   In 1819 two of their daughters settled in Earltown and a third one emigrated in 1832.   By 1845 the remaining family was ready for a change,  with the exception of one son who had married and wished to remain in Craigton with his wife’s people.

As for Spiddle Hill, it was always accepted that it was named after a place in Sutherlandshire.   Research on old maps and other Sutherland records have not yielded any clues for a place named  “Spiddle”.   There is a reference in the Earltown Presbyterian records to a Cnoc Na Spidail.  This did not help in the quest.  The only place close to Spiddle is Slettil Hill, one time home of Alexander Murray, Corrigan.

Alexander’s old home on Spiddle Hill is now owned by his descendent,  Edwin Cameron of The Falls.

Sandy “Salt” MacDonald, North Earltown

Among the arrivals in the great migration of 1831/32 was an Alexander MacDonald,  his wife Annie MacLeod and their young family.

Alexander, or Sandy,  was born in 1791 at Altindown in the Parish of Clyne and was the son of John MacDonald and Janet Fraser.   Altindown no longer exists but seems to have been a pre- clearance settlement on the coastal plains near the Clyne church.   Annie was the daughter of Hugh MacLeod and Janet Sutherland of Urachyle,  a settlement in mid Strathbrora from whence came several families to Earltown.

Subsequent to their marriage,  the couple settled in the village of Brora.   According to the Old Parish Register,  he was a saltmaker.  Saltmakers of that era trapped tidal water in the mud flats and allowed the water to naturally evaporate for a short period before finishing the process by boiling it down.   The finished product would be shipped off to the cities in the south.

Annie’s siblings, who may have been crofting at the time,  chose to emigrate to Nova Scotia in 1831.  Like many before, they decided to go to Pictou rather than the preferred destination of Oxford County, Ontario.   Her brother John settled at Braeshore near Pictou while the rest ventured to Earltown to join former friends and acquaintances.   Annie’s sister Ellen,  (George MacKenzie),  settled on the ridge beside the MacKenzie Cemetery, and Mary, (Hector Sutherland),  bought a farm at Balfron.

Annie and Alexander cleared a farm on the Church Road near its junction with the Matheson Brook Road.  It had been a popular winter campground of the Mi’kmaw for generations and the tradition continued well after European settlement.   Alex did not last long in the new world.  He died in the spring of 1837 at the age of 46.   Of their seven known children,   Margaret married John MacLeod of Urachyle and The Falls,  Janet married John MacKay “Black” at Balfron,  Hugh married Christena Sutherland “Square” and settled at Balmoral,  Alex died in the Klondike,  John married first to Eliza Campbell and secondly to Christena MacKay “Marroch” at Balfron,  Betsy married a Grant at Scotch Hill and George remained on the home farm.  He married Betsy Murray “Bonesetter” from The Falls.

MacKenzie Cemetery Tour

The weather cooperated for today’s, (August 4th),  tour of the MacKenzie Cemetery at Earltown.  We had about 17 people in attendance for the one hour presentation.

Although there are only 25 stones still in existence,  there are many stories connected with those people documented on the stones.  The majority pertain to people who were born in the eastern parishes of Sutherlandshire with the remainder being first generation natives of the surrounding hills.

The site for this cemetery was chosen around 1822.  Donated by William Baillie, “Croshucan”, it is located on the ridge beside a lane running to the old MacKenzie farm.  This was once the main route between East Earltown and Earltown Village.  The route was favoured by the early road surveyors as there was no need for bridges as any stream encountered was of an insignificant size.  It was intended that this would become the site of an eventual Kirk together with an adjoining cemetery, much like one finds in a typical Highland parish.    As it turned out,  the main route shifted to valley floor to adjoin more farmsteads.  Consequently the first church was constructed on the new road near the former Knox Church.

However some families had already started to use the upper site as early as 1825, sadly for the internment of infants and young children.  It was favoured by a grouping of families from the townships immediately west of Loch Brora in Clyne,  namely some Baillie and Sutherland families.  As time went on,  later generations of these same families either went to the Church Cemetery in Earltown or to Murray’s Cemetery at The Falls.  The last documented burials were in 1901 after which the graveyard became derelict.   In the early 1960’s,  some descendants raised money through an annual piper’s picnic to restore the site.   The project was completed and cemetery remains in excellent condition today.   Unfortunately time and nature has not been kind to the stones and some have become almost illegible.  However there are several transcriptions on file in public and private archives.