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Publication Account

Date 1995

Event ID 1016658

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


An extraordinary collection of Victorian hotels and villas set among trees on a wooded hillside, this spa settlement has been called 'Scotland's answer to the Bavarian watering place'. Far from being the usual grim granite Victorian edifices, many are enlivened with harled walls and coloured paintwork. The first record of the springs on the Cromartie estate seems to be an account of the 'Castle Leod Waters' given to the Royal Society in London in 1772, and by the end of the century Strathpeffer had become a spa. At first its fortunes fluctuated, but great expansion came after the middle of the century with the arrival of the railway: the main Dingwall-Strome Ferry line in 1869 and then the branch line from Dingwall to Strathpeffer in 1885. These in turn led to the building of some large hotels, including the Highland Hotel with 127 bedrooms, which was built by the Highland Railway as late as 1909-11. In the season there were through carriages from London and a Strathpeffer Express from Aviemore. The lines were lifted in 1948, but the weatherboarded "Railway Station building of 1881, with a glassroofed canopy supported on cast-iron columns and decorative brackets, has been restored for use as a craft centre and Tourist Information Office and also houses a Highland Museum of Childhood.

Of the main Spa buildings the big Pump Room, begun in 1819, was demolished in 1950 when it became unsafe. The existing small Pump Room used to be called the Upper Pump Room and was built in 1839, in part as a place for the poor to have waters dispensed to them. There is said to have been an 'Institution for Poor Spa-Drinkers'. The white and green patterned tiles on the walls date to a 1901 redecoration. Water from several springs with different properties came through labelled taps. This charming building is presently neglected. Next to it stands the Pavilion, a large rather plain rectangular hall of 1879-81, which originally had an open veranda round it. Across the road from the Pump Room is Spa Cottage, a single-storey villa of 1820. The range of shops dating from the 1840s are harled and painted with attractive Dutch gables. There are several Victorian Gothic churches, the Episcopal Church of St Anne having stone, marble and alabaster altar, reredos and pulpit, together with stained glass windows. From small villas to large hotels, the rest of the buildings were designed for the summer tourist trade and the range of ornament includes towers, ornate verandas, rusticated porches, carved bargeboards, twisted columns and cast-iron roof finials.

In a field near the Railway Station is a Pictish symbol stone (no. 71), dating from about one thousand years earlier.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: The Highlands’, (1995).

People and Organisations