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Set in the trees at the head of the Peffery river and overlooked by the mass of Ben Wyvis, Strathpeffer was an important Victorian spa town.


The area has been inhabited for over 5000 years and there is evidence of Neolithic and Bronze age burial sites. Knockfarrel hillfort between Strathpeffer and Dingwall was a vitrified Iron Age fort. The crannog on Loch Kinellan is probably a similar age, although in the C17th or C18th it became the hunting-seat of the Earls of Ross.

The Eagle Stone, on the edge of the village and known in Gaelic as Clach an Tiompain, is a Pictish carved stone dating from around the C7th and is covered with pre-Christian symbols. At the base is an eagle with folded wings set below a decorated arch It was originally located in an old churchyard at Fodderty, between Strathpeffer and Dingwall, but was moved to its current site on the edge of Strathpeffer in 1411. The stone is associated with the prophecies of the C16th Brahan Seer who predicted that if the stone fell three times, the surrounding valley would be flooded, and the stone used as an anchor. It has since fallen twice, and is now set in concrete.

Castle Loed, the seat of the Clan Mackenzie and the Earl of Cromartie and his family, was built on the site of a Pictish fort. A stone tower house was built in the C11th and was extended in the C15th. By the early C19th, the tower house was described as "Quite a ruin... deserted except by crows" and was extensively restored and rebuilt with more modern (and comfortable) Victorian and Edwardian additions behind. It is still lived in by the family who are continuing with the restoration work. It is open for a few days each year and as a wedding venue.

Until the C19th, there were just four main farms at the head of the valley, Kinellan, Park, Kinnettas and Ardival. Sulphur and chalybeate springs were discovered at Strathpeffer in the 1770s and claims of the water's healing powers to help gout, rheumatism, arthritis, skin conditions, digestive disorders and nervous complaints led to the development of the village as a tourist destination in the 19th Century. The White Lodge in the village dates from 1770 and is one of the first houses to be built.


The first pump house was a wooden building erected in 1819 in the village square by Dr Thomas Morrison, an Aberdeen physician who had cured himself of chronic rheumatic affection using the Strathpeffer waters. Dr Morrison recommended a stay of six weeks and three to four tumblerfuls of spa water both morning and afternoon, along with strictly supervised visitors' diets. The waters were described as 'so beastly as to prove there must be some virtue/reality in it’.

Originally there were a few jugs available for drinking, and basic copper baths. Further development was by the Cromartie Estate who invested in the development of Strathpeffer by building a stone pump and bath house in 1861. Also included were road layouts, a Well-Keeper's House, shops, post office and Postmaster's house.

More bath houses followed, including a ‘Ladies' Baths’. These provided massages, cold and hot baths as well as peat baths. The Strathpeffer Pavilion and pump room was built in 1880 to provide entertainment for royalty and other high class visitors.



The Pavilion was designed to be the social focus of the spa and was surrounded by pleasure gardens and had a concert hall with daily evening performances, a refreshment room, reading room, billiard and games room. It also had a band stand and tea garden. There were tennis, croquet and bowling greens as well as a curling pond. Wooden bridges were built over the burn and large numbers of trees planted to provide wooded pleasure grounds with gravelled walks - gentle exercise was part of the ‘regime’.


A pleasure drive was made through nearby Blackmuir Wood.

A planned village around the Market Square was built to create the feel of a continental Spa town with hotels and large villas.


Many of the villas were built by enterprising locals and were let to visitors during the season.




Heatherlie was built in 1897 and was home to a photographer. It later became a bank.


Visitors flocked her from all over the country and even abroad. As well as royalty, there were many famous people including Sir Ernest Shackleton and Robert Louis Stevenson. The poor were not forgotten and were allowed free water and a hospital was built for poor invalids.

The Nicolson Mackenzie Memorial Hospital was built on the slopes above the town on a site gifted by the Earl of Cromartie. In 1894, Miss Morison Duncan gave £1000, on behalf of her mother, Mrs Morison Duncan of Naughton House, Fife, if the hospital was named after her uncle, Dr Nicolson Colin MacKenzie. He had been born in Strathpeffer, but had lost his life in rescuing his fellow passengers from the wreck of the Fairy Queen off the coast of Nova Scotia. Opening in 1896, it was established as a mineral water hospital, a partly charitable and partly self-funding small enterprise to treat those of limited means seeking treatment for rheumatism and other joint pains.

The arrival of the railway in Dingwall in 1862 brought more visitors to the town. The Highland Railway responsible for building the Kyle of Lochalsh Line wanted to run it through Strathpeffer but this was opposed by a local landowner, Sir William Mackenzie of Coul House. The line bypassed the village and the nearest station was at Achterneed. Visitors had to travel the two miles by horse and trap. A branch line didn’t arrive in Strathpeffer until 1885. This proved such a success that there were six trains a day and sleeping carriage for Strathpeffer was attached to the overnight train. The station also had a cattle shed for local crofters and commuters and school children used the train to get to Dingwall.




In 1911, the Highland Railway built the Highland Hotel, a luxury hotel for visitors to the spa. 
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Other hotels soon followed.


Churches were built for the influx of visitors. The original Church of Scotland building was in Fodderty between Strathpeffer and Dingwall and by the end end of the C19th the congregation were petitioning for a more convenient church in Strathpeffer. A new church was built on the main road for the congregation.


St Anne’s Episcopal Church across the road from it was built at the same time on land given by Anne, Duchess of Sutherland and Countess of Cromartie, using stone was quarried on the estate. The bells are a ‘carillon’ comprising 8 tubular bells struck by wooden headed hammers, and can be operated by one person. They were restored for the millennium by a member of the congregation.


Strathpeffer Free Church set above the town was sold after the congregation dwindled.


In 1908 the Spa Syndicate Limited acquired the rights to the Spa wells. The Spa facilities were run on more commercial lines. The gardens were enclosed and an entrance fee charged. The curling rink was converted into tennis courts and curling moved to the Jubilee Pond.

During the First World War, many of the buildings in Strathpeffer were taken over. The Pavilion became an American Naval Hospital, with casualties being brought by train. The Highland Hotel was also used as a hospital. Other buildings were used as convalescent homes for troops or to provide accommodation for nurses.

There was a decline in the fortunes of the Spa following the war. The village was again used by the military during World War Two. Norwegian forces were based here as well as the Canadian Forestry Corps. The Spa Hotel was used as an infectious disease hospital but was destroyed by fire in 1942. It was never rebuilt.

The branch line closed to passengers in February 1946 and to freight in 1951. The station buildings were used as a coal depot and also as an upholsterers workshop.

There were fewer visitors to Strathpeffer. Many of the Spa buildings did not reopen and were demolished. The pavilion gardens were sold to the owner of the Ben Wyvis hotel. The Nicholson MacKenzie Memorial Hospital that provided treatment for poor invalids was given to the NHS in 1948 but was closed in 1997.

The main source of employment was from hydro-electric projects and forestry.

Strathpeffer was made a conservation area in 1972 to protection to the village's architecture. It also re-established itself as a tourist centre and is popular with coach tours. The attractive surroundings and housing make it a popular dormitory centre for the area.

There is a walking trail around the town.

The trackbed of the railway line is being restored as a foot/cycle path between Strathpeffer and Dingwall.

The station buildings have been carefully restored and house the Highland Museum of Childhood.

The Pavilion is now owned by a trust and has reopened as a venue for live music and entertainment, arts events and weddings. Near it is the stone pump house built in 1909. This is also owned by the Strathpeffer Pavilion Community Trust who have plans to bring it back into use.

The Spa Gardens are now in the care of Highland Council. A drive leads up between two Wellingtonias, with a network of paths and bridges along the hillside.



Blackmuir Wood is an area of mature coniferous woodland with a couple of walking trails. The Touchstone maze is constructed from 81 large rocks from across the Scottish Highlands and Islands that form 5 concentric circles aligned to the different positions of sun and moon.
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