The 3 Monuments of Fyrish - Cnoc Fyrish, Creag Ruadh, and Meann Chnoc
I have driven past Fyrish Monument many times over the last 2 years. The first was on my way up to Caithness for the first time in 2016. I first met my friend Pauline in a layby along the A9. We had met in a Scottish group on Facebook before my trip and wanted to meet in person. We went on to take her 3 wolfhounds on a walk in the woods near the Fyrish trailhead. Since then Fyrish has beckoned me every time I head north, and every time Pauline and I drive by on one of our adventures. (I suspect many of you have seen it up on the hill above Evanton/Allness.)
I’ve been helping out my friend Clare at Prickly Thistle this past week, and her mill is in the shadow of Fyrish. So I decided this was to be the week for Fyrish. Pauline asked if I would try to track down “Little Fyrish,” which she had heard was a smaller version of the monument somewhere in the woods. I of course accepted the challenge but when I started researching I saw that there was a third monument. The plot thickens! When I questioned locals, the replies ranged from “I never knew there were 3 up there!” to “good luck finding them, they aren’t accessible.”
So what is the story behind these monuments? They were built in the 1780’s by General Sir Hector Munro of Novar who served under the British East India Company in India. Its believed that the major monument on Fyrish was intended to represent the Gates of Negapatam, a Dutch settlement in India, where he won a military victory in 1781. Most accounts say that Sir Hector had the monument built as a way to provide local jobs in the aftermath of the Highland Clearances. A popular legend says that he would personally push stones down the hill to make the project last longer. A passing poet noted that the monument was painted white, along with some other comments about the randomness of the structure. It is no longer white, but it still has a sense of randomness to it!
While the first monument, on Cnoc Fyrish, is well known and straightforward to find, the other 2 are well hidden in the forest. I wouldn’t have found them without my OS Map. For me that is huge part of the allure! Gather clues through research, devise a general plan beforehand, and then strike out into the unknown. I had both the physical OS Map and the OS app on my phone which is lovely because it shows you where you are via GPS. Not something you should depend on but fun to use when you just know you're almost on top of a structure but can't see it!
I started off at the Jubilee Car Park off the B9176. The walk up to Fyrish Monument was a hard earned one. 2 miles of steep wooded trails, sprinkled with rewarding views and calming forest paths where towering evergreens enveloped me. The larches, (one of the few deciduous conifers), were changing color and dropping their needles. I was walking on a soft carpet of orange and yellow . Because of the steepness of the hill, the monument didn’t come into view until I was almost there. It was as impressive and unique as I expected it to be, rising up off a flat hilltop with the Cromarty Firth snaking out towards the North Sea on one side, and Ben Wyvis on the other. I’d become quite warm on the climb up but as soon as the winds hit me on the exposed hilltop I was wrapped up in my new wool scarf (woven in the Prickly Thisle mill!). I had a short break to snack on a Spanish omelette I had grabbed from Morrisons in Evanton. (My friend Bob got me hooked on Spanish omelettes. They are made of potatoes, are great cold, and are very tasty!)
I was eager to continue on, knowing it would be getting dark by 5 and I didn’t know how long the hunt would take for the other monuments. So I continued past the Fyrish Monument down the other side of Cnoc Fyrish. There are a lot of splits in the trails so unless you have a really good memory, a map is essential. I knew as soon as I started down the other side of Fyrish that coming back up was going to be brutal - it is a steep climb on both sides, especially after wandering the hills beyond and then coming back. But the fresh air in my lungs and stunning views drowned out all other thoughts.
The second monument is on Creag Ruadh. I was using my digital OS map so I could tell when I was in the general vicinity of a straight shot to the summit, and from there I just needed to find the best place to strike out into the forest. As I was looking for the least prickly route up, my eye caught a tiny blue ribbon tied to a low bush. It led to a narrow mountain bike path - thank you to whoever put that ribbon there, you spared me some bushwhacking! After a few minutes of walking I caught a glimpse of stonework through the tree and gave myself a mental pat on the back. This monument is the smallest of the 3, and has a tree growing out of the top. While this is visually appealing, it is bad news when structures have plants growing in them. I hope that Novar Estates will do something about it before it breaks the stones apart.
I continued on to find the next hilltop, which involved a significant stretch of downhill walking - I knew I was going to be cursing my wandering spirit when it came time to tackle all this uphill climbing back across to Fyrish!
The third monument is on Meann Chnoc. This one was a much more obvious hilltop, so even though I couldn’t see the structure until I was at the top, I could still tell where I needed to head. It was also on mountain bike trails but the trees were much larger and spread apart so it was easy to find the direct trail. It was a steep little hilltop and the monument was well hidden until I came out into a clearing and there it was. Based on a few photos I have seen, this is the one known as “Little Fyrish.” It seems in better shape than the one on Creag Ruadh. No trees growing out of it that I could see. It was a bit tricky walking around the area as there seemed to be a lot of stones under a thin layer of grass. Its the perfect place to roll an ankle so do take care.
The setting sun is what got me back up to the first Fyrish monument - my legs were burning, not used to such prolonged steep walking, but I kept thinking of the potential colorful sunset photos at the monument. As I gave myself a mental pep talk to dig deep and get up that last steep bit, a couple passed me with a tiny friendly little yorkie. Pro tip: use doggies on the trail as an excuse to take a break ;) Turns out there wasn’t much for sunset colors so I got a couple shots and started the last 2 miles back to the carpark. I wanted to checkout some cairns I had seen on the map not far from the carpark but there was very little light left so I left it for another day. I got a message from Pauline that she would have dinner ready in an hour. Perfect timing - I was only a mile out from the carpark.
That last mile in the dim light of nightfall was like being in a different realm. The mossy dense forest floors changed from inviting fresh and green to dark and looming. Shadows in the towering evergreens hinted at otherworldy creatures shifting about in between worlds, waiting to claim the dead of night. Spend some time in the forest at dusk and you'll quickly understand why people believe in fairies.
I'm really disappointed that my phone camera is on its way out of commission but these photos still give you idea of the structures. If you need any pointers on doing the full hike feel free to send me a message and I’m happy to answer any questions.
It was a great afternoon out. If the weather holds and my legs can find a way to forgive me, I’ll tackle Ben Wyvis on Thursday.