The End of the Road

cromarty

Nestled in the crook of a peninsula, harboured from the North Sea like a babe lying in the safety of protective arms, is a little fishing town called Cromarty. The guardians against brutal waves and unforgiving winds that howl in from Northern lands are a pair of hills, The Sutors, from the top of which you can stand and look across to five counties with your naked eye. Inverness-shire, Moray, Nairn, Caithness and Sutherland stretch out in purples, golds and greens, so intense they seem to only last for moments before the colour seeps into another.

There is common acceptance by its dwellers that this town does not operate on GMT, as ‘Cromarty time’ is the replacement recognised by locals; ‘The other day’ can be last Tuesday or one day in August 1997. ‘Let’s meet at the pub this evening’ will have folk tumbling into The Royal any time between three in the afternoon and 11pm, just in time for last orders. This pace of life captures even the most frantic bodies – you leave Cromarty with a sense of quiet that in this roaring, racing life is hard to find.

That might give the false impression there is not an awful lot of chatter among the streets. Cromarty has its own fisherfolk dialect. The last fluent native speaker, Bobby Hogg, passed in 2012 so it is down to the loons to practice the native tongue. Walking home from the pub a wee bit moppach is usually where they are brave enough to practice the words of their forebearers.

Cromarty is not just a comfort to its inhabitants: the name familiar to those on far off shores from the shipping forecast, a constant that binds us together when so much divides. ‘Forties Cromarty Forth, 4 or 5, occasionally 6 later. Mainly fair. Good.’ A calm yet deliberate voice wishes the listeners a “peaceful night” in the wee hours when everything else feels fragile and the weight of the world’s worries are forbidding you to sleep.

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What marks this town different from others is hard to say. Its own language? Its own time? But irrefutably, the cross-section of society you find there – and who will give you their time should you stumble upon it – is quite remarkable.

Take a stroll down Bank Street with your eye firmly on the horizon, the harbour is your destination and you can taste salty sea air as it laps at your face. You will pass The Cheese House, which makes use of the bygone police station – once collecting criminals, now Camembert and Caboc. Bounce over the road for a chinwag with Baker Dave, 40 years at the trade and never losing his knack. A packet of his Cromarty oatcakes will pair a treat with your authentic cheese. Now you are certainly on your way, ever closer to the ocean. But there is dear Cath and her dog, Maggie, with her ginger eyebrows and whiskers, you have got to give her a wee treat. Cath is pushing 80, but her daily constitutional is never dreamt of being skipped.

This is barely a glimpse into the lives of those who call Cromarty home, it is a town that pulls folk from every walk of life and once you have encountered it there is no going back. Cromarty weaves its way into your very core and no amount of city life could unravel it.

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