The Munros who emigrated from Scotland in the nineteenth century followed what might be described as 'the sheep frontier' into various new setttlement territories - where land was cheap but labour and capital were scarce and expensive. There they struggled against 'the tyranny of distance' and the extremes of local conditions to create new beginnings for themselves and their families. They participated in the rough-and-ready social equality of frontier life. By contrast, the Munros who remained behind in Scotland - Sandy and his family at Lochussie and Strathpeffer, and his nephew William and his family in Inverness - were embedded in an older economy, where land was scarce but labour and capital were abundant. They therefore lived in a more stable, but also much more highly stratified, society, and the influences impacting upon their lives were different from those impacting on their brothers' and cousins' families overseas. Instead of epic tales of movement and settlement, the story becomes one of individual and incremental adjustments to a range of new developments in the way that their small corner of the Northern Highlands was integrated into the economic, social and political concerns of a wider British entity.
When, in 1897, the people of Strathpeffer village celebrated the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria, their festivities
reflected two of the more important of these external influences. The first was the growth of tourism in the Highlands, driven by rising real incomes elsewhere in Britain and reduced costs of travel by railway and steamship. Thanks in part to the 'Balmorality' of Queen Victoria, the Highlands became a playground for the more well-to-do members of the English landed and middle classes, and many of the glens and straths formerly cleared for sheep were now transformed into 'sporting estates'. Strathpeffer, the only spa resort in the Highlands, was strongly impacted by these trends. The second element expressed in the festivities was the might of the British Empire. Victoria, as Queen-Empress, now ruled over a quarter of the world's population, the British state was at the apogee of its international power, and the imperial experience suffused the culture and attitudes of the British peoples.
In the year following the Diamond Jubilee celebrations - on 8 July 1898 - Alexander (Sandy) Munro died at Lochussie. The second of the three brothers born to William Munro and Margaret Macdonald at Faebait, he had survived his elder brother, Roderick, by some 27 years. Sandy's oldest son, Murdoch, had no interest in the family croft because he was making a career in the Dingwall Distillery, where he
would eventually become manager. The croft at Northside Lochussie therefore passed to Sandy's second son, Thomas, who had been working around Mid Ross as a shepherd. Thomas used the security of the tenancy to get married to his sweetheart - Mary Ann Cumming of Lochussie - at the Free Church in Strathpeffer in January 1899, following which they had three children - Alexander (b. 1900), Ann (b. 1903) and William (b. 1909). Thomas's mother, Ann (Sandy's widow), lived on with Thomas and his family in the crofthouse, until she too died - in October 1910, aged 75 years. Through Thomas, the Munros kept a foothold in the crofting community of Knockfarrel and Lochussie on which Murdoch had turned his back and from which the younger brothers, Roderick (Roddy) and Colin, would also gradually became divorced.
During the 1890s, the village of Strathpeffer became one of Scotland's more popular tourist resorts. The construction of a spur line from the Dingwall-Skye railway meant relatively easy access from the south of England. A traveller could take the overnight sleeper from London and, with changes at Inverness and Dingwall, reach the little station at Strathpeffer by noon the following day. That transport link,
together with a serving population that spoke English, enabled Strathpeffer to compete with the more fashionable Continental spas, although the number of visitors was never as large as those to the more famous resorts. As the village grew, expanding up the hillsides from the central square, the hotels and the holiday homes for summer residents displayed a large variety of architectural styles, not always typically Scottish in character. This, together with a highly seasonal social calendar, made Strathpeffer resemble nothing more than a Highland version of the hill-stations of India - Simla or Pune (Poona) - to which the families of the rulers of the raj retreated in the hot season. The fact that Strathpeffer also attracted as residents a number of Scots who had retired after service in Asia only added to the similarities.
The seasonal influx of visitors created employment for the locals. Rod Munro, while continuing to work as a forester on the Cromartie Estates during the winter, now began to spend the summer months in the Spa (which was also owned by the Cromartie Estates). He was employed at first in the pump room, where the 'health-giving waters' were drunk, and then in the baths, where people immersed themselves or were hosed down for hydropathic treatment. For Rod it must have been a pleasant change to swap the winter rigours of the axe, the woodman's cart and the sawmill for the softer summer living associated with the Spa.
Isabella MacRae, b. 1871
At the Spa, Rod met and married Isabella (Bella) Macrae who was a pump room girl. Her parents, John and Grace MacRae (no relations of Mary MacRae of the Falklands and Montana) were crofters at Arcan on the Fairburn Estate (across the Orrin to the north of Aultgowrie). After schooling, Bella had gone to Glasgow for a while, to work in a tailoring establishment, before returning north to find employment nearer home. Rod and Bella were married in the Tarradale Hotel in Muir-of-Ord in January 1899 - the venue no doubt reflecting the fact that the MacRaes were adherents of the Free Presbyterian Church that had recently broken away from the Free Church but had not yet established a church building for its Urray congregation. They set up home in the same Balloch Cottage at Knockfarrel as the Falklands Munros had occupied briefly some ten years before.