Knockfarrel, and the Falklands (cont)
The Knockfarrel Munros, among whom the new baby arrived, were themselves experiencing changing times. For one thing, their rights to land had been greatly strengthened by the Crofters Act of 1886, which gave small-holders greater security of tenancy and inheritance and created a body, the Crofter Commission, to arbitrate between crofter and landowner on such matters as levels of rent. The crofters of Knockfarrel and Lochussie do not appear to have taken much part in the political agitation leading to the introduction of the legislation, but they were among its grateful beneficiaries. They were also fortunate that they lived relatively close to developing centres of trade and tourism, where part-time or permanent employment might be found for family members. Dingwall, only a few miles away at the end of the Cromarty Firth, was growing as a railway and market town of some local significance.
Murdoch, Sandy's oldest son, took up work there, as a general labourer with the Dingwall Distillery which opened in 1879, and eventually moved into the town to live at Greenhill. There, in 1889, he married Jessie MacLeod, a domestic servant from Resolis on the Black Isle. When Margaret (Maggie) left Fodderty school in 1881, she too found her way into the town, to become a dressmaker.
Another growth-point in the local economy was the Cromartie estate which, thanks to its heiress's marriage to the third Duke of Sutherland, was now linked to one of the greatest conglomerations of landed wealth in Europe. When Sandy's second-youngest son, Roderick (Rod or Roddy), left school, he found employment on the Cromartie estate as a forestry worker. This involved not only cutting existing stands of timber for sale but also planting out new woods - particularly in and around the village of Strathpeffer, which the estate was busy transforming into a spa resort.
The mineral-rich waters that bubbled out of a spring at the top (west) end of the strath had long been touted as a source of regeneration and recuperation, and had attracted a number of visitors over the years. However, it was only in the late 1870s and the 1880s that the estate had the resources to develop what it regarded as a major asset. The Duke of Sutherland envisioned a northern spa to match Bath or Harrogate as a magnet for the English landed and upper-middle classes. The creation of a new pump room, where visitors could take the waters, the estate's investment in a couple of new hotels, the building of summer homes by
more well-to-do visitors, and the opening of a branch railway line from Dingwall to Strathpeffer in 1885 (the Duke had substantial railway interests and influence), all created a little local construction boom which drew in workers from the surrounding crofting communities. The men of Knockfarrel and Lochussie worked as stonemasons in the expanding village, walking over the flank of the hill into the strath in the morning and returning in the evening. Accompanying them, to learn the craft and eventually become a fully-fledged stonemason, was Sandy Munro's youngest son, Colin (who one day would practice his trade in two of the world's greatest cities).
Strathpeffer village and the Cromartie estate were twin focal points in the lives of Roddy and Colin Munro - for recreation as much as for employment. The young men of Knockfarrel and Lochussie formed teams to play the old Celtic game of shinty, both against each other and against teams from the crofting settlements along 'the Heights' on the north side of the strath. In 1888, however, on the initiative of the estate's factor, the best players from each community came together to form a team to play in the emerging national league and cup competitions. The team played its home games in the spacious grounds of Castle Leod (the seat of the Mackenzies of Cromartie), and took the name Caberfeidh, which was the old Mackenzie war-cry. Roddy and Colin were among the new team's first members.
So Roderick and Mary Munro, returning from the Falklands to live with their relatives, found themselves in a little corner of the Highlands that was becoming more prosperous, and more at peace with itself. They might reasonably have been expected to respond by settling down in Mid Ross again. But whatever it was they were seeking - most likely a farm lease - they did not seem to be able to find in Scotland. A year after their arrival at Knockfarrel, they were on the move again - across the North Atlantic - to open a new chapter in the story of the Munros of Glen Orrin.