Cromarty, a childhood by the sea

Cromarty. The place of my childhood and where I still call ‘home’ or ‘where I come from’. If you haven’t been or heard of it, it’s a smallish town on the Black Isle just North of Inverness in the Highlands of Scotland.cromarty

It’s one of those places, which, although it has a fairly small population, as one of my aunties once said to me; it doesn’t matter where you go you will meet someone with a Cromarty connection.

Of course all the opinions expressed in this article are my own and as such completely biased. Perhaps even more so now I no longer live there. Though I visit as often as I can, I see the town through rose tinted glasses and my memories of childhood are only the happy ones.

Nevertheless it was, and still is in the minds of my children, the best place to spend a childhood, especially in the summer holidays. The freedom to wander to the park, the beach or the bakery is something my children cherish as much as I did. Perhaps I took it more for granted than they do. It was an everyday event for me, not the occasional holiday treat it is for them.

So this month I challenged myself to compile a Cards and Gift Wrap box that reflects my memories of childhood summers in my home town of Cromarty.

My Cromarty box

The designs I chose to put in my box have all been inspired by different memories of my Cromarty childhood.

Fishing

I can just about remember my dad helping with the salmon fishing. I certainly remember seeing the huge salmon nets drying on the Links. When I was young the pier was stable enough to fish off the very end of. You could also climb down the steps at low tide and pick muscles off the structure for bait. Or sit underneath the pier at low tide and pick up a star fish or two and watch crabs scuttling about. Perhaps it wasn’t stable enough but there was no health and safety that I remember. Nowadays most of the steps have worn away. I certainly wouldn’t be letting my children climb down them as I did. Is that because they are less safe or because we are more cautious, perhaps a bit of both.

Summer Fruits, picking blaeberries

One of my fondest memories is going for a walk up the Sutor (the hill that sits behind and overlooks Cromarty) with my aunties and picking blaeberries. There was no need to take a picnic as we just stopped half way and ate as many blaeberries as we could. They were all around us. There was no thought of taking any home, it was just free food in the wild. I have taken my children up the same place but they have been more interested in wild raspberries and brambles. Collecting them, at least the ones we didn’t scoff, and taking them home for bramble jam. Oh and that reminds me of another fond memory. Going round to an auntie’s of a Saturday afternoon and being given custard with a dollop of homemade bramble jam. I can still taste it now.

Then there was all the fruit in our garden. My mum is still in the same house, the fruit is still there. Cooking apples, eating apples, plums, rhubarb, strawberries, all growing in abundance. It’s no wonder that rhubarb crumble, closely followed by apple crumble, is my favourite desert even now. Cromarty is known for being a good place to grow fruit, especially fruit trees. The Black Isle is very fertile land. The climate in Cromarty combined with the soil seems to make good for fruit in particular.

Swans

As you drive out the shore road from Cromarty towards Jemimaville (its sister town of Barbaraville is across the Cromarty Firth), you will often see at least one pair of swans swimming or nesting along the beach beside the road. Swans, as you probably know, mate for life. I don’t know what their life expectancy is but it always appeared, even now, to be the same pair nesting each year with a family of Signets in tow.

Lighthouse

Cromarty Lighthouse isn’t stuck out on a promontory away from the town but just at the top of the Links. Built in about 1844, the Lighthouse guided cromarty lighthouseships in from the Moray Firth to the Cromarty Firth for about 160 years until being discontinued in 2006. Most of the buildings now belong to Aberdeen University and form a marine research centre. The Lighthouse was significant to me not because it is so prominent and sits round the corner from our house but it was also right across the road from the ‘family home’ on my father’s side. There is something familiar about it and sight of it reminds me of my father standing in front of it, at the top of the Links looking out to sea. Perhaps looking for dolphins, contemplating what the weather was bringing, watching a tug or oil rig or perhaps just watching.

Dolphins

I forget that not everyone grows up watching dolphins swimming past the end of the street on a regular basis! Porpoises and dolphins were a common sight. It was quite common to see a school leaping in and out of the water in and out of the Firth. I have often stood on the beach and watched one leaping maybe just a few metres in front of me. Locally they are known as tumblers. Since moving to the Outer Hebrides I find that the Gaelic for dolphin, leumadair means jumper. I wonder if the two names are related. Perhaps it is just typical of how we name animals from their behaviour in many cultures. Certainly in Cromarty the dolphins were there long before the Gaelic came but that’s a story for another day.

Fossils

Just along from Cromarty is Eathie Beach. Take a hammer and chisel, find some (loose) grey sandstone and tap away and you’re 99% guaranteed to find fossils. Hugh Miller, a local geologist, was famous for his discoveries and you can visit the place of his birth, Hugh Miller’s cottage. I have fond memories of day trips walking the steep path down to Eathie beach. Less fond memories of lugging a bag full of fossils home. There is still a Salmon fishing bothy there where at one time my father would have worked.

Pirates

Anywhere by the sea must have its pirates. Cromarty is no exception. There is a whole graveyard full of them! In the oldest surviving end of town is the ‘pirate graveyard’. Visit it and you’ll see lots of old tombstones with skull and crossbones on them. Just along the shore again is MacFarquar’s Bed, an old smuggling cove, pirates again right? These are the stories I still tell my children. If you want to spoil your imagination and know the truth then you can find out more here.

Flip flops and the Helter Skelter

For those who buy my subscription box every month there are always a few added extras. This month I added some flip flop stickers. Every year my flip flops hurt my feet. That bit between the toes was never comfortable and yet every year I bought a new pair of flip flops from my auntie’s shop with the dogged hope that this year they’d be better.

Every August is the Black Isle Show, one of the largest agricultural shows in Scotland. All I remember from going as a child is the helter skelter. It’s the only ride I would go on! I’ll be at the Black Isle Show in August in the craft tent. If you’re in the area please come along and say hello.

So what’s Cromarty got to do with cards and gift wrap?

Every month I put together a deluxe subscription box on a theme. The box contains gift wrap, cards, gift bags, tissue, ribbon, tags and other extras. This month I have chosen ‘Cromarty’ as my theme and have picked cards and gift wrap which reflect my childhood memories of Cromarty. It’s been a delight to put together and the hardest thing is knowing where to stop. If you’d like a box you can pre order yours here. I hope it will help me to make sure something of Cromarty is gifted far and wide. I also hope that one day you will have the pleasure of visiting Cromarty and seeing it for yourself.

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