ANDREW de Moray was a towering figure in Scottish history, so it seems fitting that his memorial should rise high above the surrounding Black Isle landscape. A commemorative cairn, topped by a saltire, stands on the summit of Ormond Hill and can be seen for miles around.
It was from this spot in 1297 that de Moray raised his standard to rally his forces before teaming up with William Wallace to defeat the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. De Moray was hit by an arrow during the battle and succumbed to his wounds a few weeks later.
A new flag is provided every year by the Society of William Wallace to be raised as part of the annual Andrew de Moray march. There are also proposals to erect a statue of de Moray.
I’ve never seen the film Braveheart, but I hope it does justice to this heroic nobleman of Flemish descent who was just 22 when he died.
The hill looks out over the old fishing village of Avoch and is the focal point of a short but rewarding circular walk taking in dense forestry, rolling farmland and fine coastal views.
It was overcast but mild as I set off from the middle of Avoch, making my way along quiet lanes and past picturesque cottages before wandering southwards along the edge of the bay. There seemed to be no-one else about. Just how I like it.
The houses peter out at the end of Ormonde Terrace and here the road turns inland, going gently uphill between a pair of speed-limit signs. I soon reached the driveway to Castleton Farm and a footpath sign pointing left for Ormond Castle.
Close to the farm itself there were a couple of metal gates. I’d read that you should look out for a gate with a blue marker attached, but initially couldn’t see one. Then I noticed it had fallen to the ground. In any case the route is obvious: along a grassy path beside a fence, more or less heading straight for the hill.
There’s a small section of wooden fencing with a gate bearing de Moray’s coat of arms – a blue shield with three white stars. A sign explains that Ormond Castle was one of the largest medieval strongholds in the Highlands; it later passed to the earls of Ross before being forfeited to the Crown, and in the mid-17th century most of the masonry was taken away to provide stone for Oliver Cromwell’s new fort in Inverness.
It was a short stroll to the top. From here the smooth curve of the Avoch waterfront stretches out in the middle distance, with Chanonry Point beyond and the Ardersier coastline across to the right.
I’d brought my evening meal with me (well, a cold snack) on the basis that in summer it’s always better to dine outdoors than in, if you can. I sat there contentedly, near a plaque installed by the Andrew de Moray Project in 1997 to mark the 700th anniversary of the North Rising, gazing across rolling green farmland towards the distant Strathconon hills.
What with eating, and admiring the scenery, and taking photos, and enjoying the solitude and generally not being in much of a hurry, I must have spent more than half an hour up there. The calm of the evening was disturbed only by the gentle rhythm of the flagpole halyard blowing about in the breeze.
Before carrying on my way, I bent over to lay a hand on a fragment of the castle stonework (not that there’s much of it left). At that precise moment there was a flurry of activity in the undergrowth about 10 yards away and a pheasant went squawking off in a panic. It was almost unnerving.
Back down at the wooden gate, I continued south-west where a farm track leads through the tall trees of Wood Hill.
Eventually the trees thinned out enough to give me a clear view down to Munlochy Bay, an important site for wading birds. Pale sunshine was breaking through now and illuminating the steep, wooded hillside on the other side of the water, and I was struck by the lushness of it all.
The track ended at a gate where I turned right along a tarred minor road leading between fields of swaying barley. This joins another back road at a wide junction where there’s a wooden bench, and from here you go past the Castleton entrance and retrace your steps to the edge of the village.
At the harbour I paused to read a series of information panels that had been installed recently as part of a project led by the community council. These give a fascinating summary of Avoch’s history. Well done to all involved in designing and funding them.
Until then I hadn’t realised that the explorer Sir Alexander Mackenzie – of Mackenzie River fame – had an Avoch connection. I was intrigued to find that a character called “Donald the Sailor” had pioneered maritime trading links here by transporting salt and tallow from Caithness in the 1720s. I learned that hardy local fishwives used to carry their husbands out to their boats, so that the menfolk could keep themselves dry (there’s an illustration showing one such fisherman being given a rather undignified piggyback by his long-suffering other half). And of course there’s a panel devoted to de Moray, positioned so that you can read the information while Ormond Hill itself looms in the background.
I’d had a peaceful walk, discovered some lovely countryside, and given myself a history lesson in the process. Not a bad way to spend an evening.
Distance 4 miles / 6.5km
Terrain Minor roads, grassy path and woodland track
Start/finish Avoch harbour
Map OS Explorer 432, Black Isle
A short but interesting circular walk taking in a low hill where there is a memorial to a hero of Scottish history