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BILL MCALLISTER: Disappearance of sister river of the Ness which played a key part in history of Inverness

By Bill McAllister

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The River Ness is iconic – but how many people know about its long-gone sister waterway?
The River Ness is iconic – but how many people know about its long-gone sister waterway?

The Ness is our gleaming, timeless artery – but it once had a sister river which vanished some 150 years ago, having played a key part in Inverness becoming an organised community.

The Ness estuary’s ancient delta saw it divide into different directions, one being primarily the path of today’s river, the other splitting off near the Wells Street area. This “lost river” was the Nabon, or Abban, which flowed to a Loch Nabon, which was actually an inlet of the Beauly Firth.

The existence of this “other river” meant Merkinch was an island from medieval times. The mouth of the river has changed considerably over centuries, but at that time it was so wide it stretched from Clachnaharry, across part of the Carse, to the South Kessock pier.

A key part of Inverness’s heritage disappeared with the Nabon and its only remaining trace is in 18th-century sketches which show water flowing between the Merkinch and the “mainland” riverbank.

Where is that saltwater Loch Nabon now? Muirtown Basin and the Clachnaharry sea-locks were built over it.

A 1770 map shows stepping stones, called Bow Bridge, near today’s Waterfront Bar, and it was the access across the Nabon to Merkinch until a footbridge was built. On the opposite bank was the Maggot, named after

St Margaret, which was also an island 500 years ago.

The Nabon’s route eventually became silted, slackening its flow over time, and in the 1870s its bed was completely filled in to enable a new street and housing project.

Abban Street was created in this development – its name meaning a disused, silted up channel. Dunabban Street nearby stems from the same derivative. Today, the nearest property to the river is named Nabon House.

The ford across the Nabon, and another near today’s Waterloo Bridge, used to connect the burgh with Merkinch – and the end of the Nabon meant Merkinch became absorbed into Inverness.

The historian Wordsworth analysed that the level ground on the Merkinch side of those fords is likely to have been where Inverness originally evolved into a substantial settlement. This is because the Nabon and Maggot islands provided valuable shelter for boats in addition to easy access to the anchorage and trade routes at the Kessock narrows, long before our present harbour was created.

Abban Street in turn was to give its name to St Abbans soft drinks factory, run by Mackintosh and Co, then owned by the Chisholm family, from 1904 until production ceased in the late 1970s. The building had previously been used as a snuff mill.

The site at 14 Abban Street had an artesian well, over 100 feet deep, alongside a bottling facility which could fill more than 1000 bottles an hour. A Liverpool College of Chemistry expert analysed the well’s output and found it contamination-free, pure and of high quality.

After St Abbans closed, a manufacturer in Nairn, AW Mackintosh, acquired the recipes for its range, but could not produce an acceptable version because theirs lacked the water quality of the original well.

St Abbans also gave its name to a talented and successful Inverness Youth League football team of the 1960s and 1970s.

There is no recorded Inverness connection to Saint Abban, son of Cormac, King of Leinster, who is commemorated on Jura, but his name somehow became linked to that of the street in the soft drinks name.

The Nabon, or Abban, has long since run dry, but it was the “missing link” in an important part of our city’s story.

Read more from Bill McAllister

Sponsored by Ness Castle Lodges.

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