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Cromarty Image Library

The Coalheugh Well
The Cromarty Archive
The Coalheugh Well

Picture added on 16 April 2006
I have never seen the name of the well written down before, we used to call it the culliesheogh, no idea how it was spelled. what does the gaelic name mean, Calum??
Added by Ian Jack on 17 April 2006
Ian, I'm not sure the word is Gaelic. I may be wrong, but "coalheugh" used to be used in the south of Scotland to describe a place where people came to collect coal, in other words, there was a coal seam there. I seem to remember my father telling me there was a small coal seam there at one time. I might be wrong though!
Added by Campbell Ross on 17 April 2006
As far as I recall that was the spelling used by Hugh Miller. In Schools and Schoolmasters (I think - it's been 20 years since I last read it) he records that in the early 19th Century, a trial bore was drilled looking for Coal, which was not found, but the drilling released the spring mineral water. The concrete structure was built later I understand. The water used to come out a pipe, but this disappeared about 10 years ago.
Added by Calum Davidson on 18 April 2006
You are probably right, Calum. A "heugh" is listed in the dictionary as a shaft in a coal pit or a hollow in a quarry. So probably a shaft was dug and the water discovered instead. The quarry bit is interesting, though, because there was supposedly a small sandstone quarry somewhere around there too. It's a pity the well can't be restored - I can't remember many people who didn't drink from it at one time or another and it didn't do anyone any harm! That was before Health and Safety days though!
Added by Campbell Ross on 18 April 2006
Calum, there was a tap with the same kind of water at Lady Ross's house, tasted strongly of iron, I just can't remember the name we called it (the tap that is). Maybe if Iris is looking in she will recall it.

Added by Ian Jack on 18 April 2006
Campbell - I'm not sure the well needs to be restored - the water is very drinkable, albeit strong tasting!
Added by Calum Davidson on 19 April 2006
I remember the tap Ian but I don`t remember what it was called sorry, , , we used it a lot when we went to tennis, remember?
Added by Iris Winton on 20 April 2006
I know some older folk still go along and fill there bottles with the water (maybe it is good in there whiskey ha ha)
Added by Nora Watson on 21 April 2006
Ian, I remember the pronounciation of your spelling of 'culliesheogh' which would be more Gaelic in origin,
Could it be 'Coirehaugh' originally? It's position, associated with water, would suggest this. Although there are very few names of Gaelic root in Cromarty, with the exception of Clach Mhallaichte, which was pronounced ''Malloch'', although in Gaelic 'Mh' is pronounced ''V'' at the beginning of a word. O.S.
spelling derived from early Miltary mapmaking, was anglicised to a degree, to make it paletable to
our masters in the South. e.g. Why is a 'FANK' always a 'Sheep wash' on OS Maps?
Added by Clem Watson on 22 April 2006
Calum, I have just been reading the 1834-45 statistical account of cromarty and it backs up what you say, in that "rather more than a century ago a hole was drilled to a considerable depth looking for coal, on withdrawing the auger a bolt of water came rushing out like a fountain, about twenty years ago(1815+/-) the well still continued to flow about a hogshead per minute. a dome of hewn stone has been raised over it, it is still known to the townpeople as "the well of the coalheugh"

Added by Ian Jack on 22 April 2006
A fine piece of further research Ian, and Calum. It doesn't make the water taste better though!, and it would be dreadful with whisky!!
Added by Clem Watson on 23 April 2006
clem, there is enough water in the whisky as it is without adding more, you should know by now that the only thing you add to whisky is more whisky
Added by Ian Jack on 23 April 2006
Today we may think it bizarre that anyone would dig for coal in the Highlands, but remember that the original "black gold" had been mined at Brora since the mid 16th Century, originally in inverted bell type mines, then with the first deep mine being sunk in 1810. To be honest the coal - which is Jurassic rather than Carboniferous (ie only 160 M years old rather than 300M) was poor stuff compared to coal from the Central Belt, but would have a common fuel in Cromarty right through the 19th C.

I remember the universal dismay in the Highlands when the mine went on fire in 1974, and had to be flooded and then the shafts filled. Interestlingly most of the miners went to work at Nigg. If you visit Brora today there is almost no evidence of the industry. At least Cromarty has the Coalheugh Well!
Added by Calum Davidson on 23 April 2006
I think, around this time, there used to be a heavy tax on coal brought into scotland by sea, this would make the local drilling for coal make sense and if found would be a valuable business, I have never heard why they drilled where they did, anyone know, ??
Added by Ian Jack on 25 April 2006
Hugh Miller reported that at the time Cromarty was desperate for fuel as it had no peat, no wood and no coal. So well known was this problem that, he writes, throughout Scotland a fire which had just gone out was known as a 'Cromarty fire'!
Added by Garve on 25 April 2006
talking of 'Cromarty Fire' reminded me of a story that Cromarty Granny used to tell us about 2 brothers who lived together in Fishertown. I don't remember their names, but only that they did not get along and one day one said to the other "Pit oot thy fire til I light mine!" Clem, Ian, anyone - can you add to this please?

Aye yours,
Added by Margaret Tong on 26 April 2006
One other story is that one brother was making stew when his brother tried to get a sly dip with a bit of bread, and was told "keep thy foosum loaf oot o my clean gravy"
they supposedley shared the same fire for cooking, what truth there is in this is anyones guess. (maybe it was them who started digging for coal)
Added by Ian Jack on 26 April 2006
This is great, Ian! Those are indeed the same brothers. I had actually forgotten that they only had the one fire between them.
Aye yours,
Added by Margaret Tong on 26 April 2006
i seem to remember a story of another two old croms passing the royal when one fell down in a faint, someone brought a glass of brandy out to him as he was lying there, he managed a wee gulp of it and his mate whispered, "ut aboot a wee suppie for me", and was told indignantly " gwa thee and faint for theesel" true?? course it is.
Added by Ian Jack on 27 April 2006
I have no idea of the name of the brothers but from what my mother told me they lived in one of the wee cottages on the east side of the Big Vennel along with their sister. Both were Elders of the East Kirk in their day but that didn't stop them falling out. As there was only one fire place any fire that was lit had to be put out before the other could relight and get on with their cooking.
Added by Dennis Manson on 27 April 2006
You might find this site, Dictionary of the Scots Language, interesting. Click here for it's definition of a Cromarty Fire.
Added by Garve on 27 April 2006
This is indeed interesting, Garve. I checked my "Concise Scots Dictionary, " but it's not in there. I need to order myself a Dictionary of the Scots Language!
Very cute tale, Ian. Using the Cromarty dialect reminds me of Granny.
Great to have more info on the brothers, Denis. They sure sound like the "Brothers Grim..."
Aye yours,

Added by Margaret Tong on 27 April 2006
Quite near to the former Eathie salmon fishers bothy there is, what was reputed to be, a mine shaft, which was just a 12'-0'' (4.00m).wide circular pool to look at. Local fokelore had it that it produced a shale that burned? Any others in the Cromarty area ever heard this spoken about?
Added by Clem Watson on 28 April 2006
Thomas Telford noted in 1802 that the shaft was sunk by George Ross of Cromarty in the mid-eighteenth century. The North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers' records of 'borings and sinkings' confirms activity in Aug 1768, just after Ross acquired control of the estate.

On Eathie, the Inverness Advertiser 5 May 1857 notes that when ploughing Eathie shore two horses fell into the pit 'opened some time ago' in a search for coal. The plough caught on the entrance, the horses were strangled in their harnesses and finally fell 30 or 40 feet to the bottom.
Added by David Alston on 29 April 2006
Thanks David - as always some proper referenced research gives us a clear historical answer.
Added by Calum Davidson on 29 April 2006
Re the stories about the 2 brothers who lived with their sister in Big Vennel.
Could they be my great uncles Donald and George Watson who lived with their sister Annie Fraser nee Watson? They lived at 70, Big Vennel. I remember them as being very dour old men.
Added by Min Walker nee Davidson on 12 January 2007
The Scottish Mining website (www.scottishmining.co.uk/492.html) reports a ship (or ships) from Inverness landing 58 tonnes of coal in London in 1764. From the pits at Eathie??
Added by Ross Couper on 13 January 2014
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