A 90-year-old retired teacher has written a book about the parish where he grew up amid concerns rural life across the country may soon be changed forever.
When Ross Napier was young Ardclach, south of Nairn, had four primary schools, two post offices, two shops and two churches.
All have now gone with only houses and forgotten memories left of the community’s past.
However, after thorough research Mr Napier has written down centuries-old tales to remember what the parish was once like.
‘Unless someone writes these stories, they’ll be forgotten forever’
Ardclach was predominantly a farming community while a powder works also sustained jobs in the area south of Nairn.
Stories unearthed from centuries ago include the origins of the local “hanging tree”, where a visiting sheep rustler is fabled to have been hung after being confronted by locals, a dwarf who shunned a life in the spotlight at the circus to be the local barber and the reality of life for those with disabilities in the 1790s.
Mr Napier, who now lives in Insch in Aberdeenshire, believes countless similar stories exist across the Highlands and north-east but may soon be lost forever unless they are preserved.
He said: “All the schools, shops and churches I remember in Ardclach are now going, there’s nothing at all there now.
“The churches have been merged with other churches so the parish, as it was, no longer exists now.
“Unless someone writes these stories down, they’ll be gone forever.”
Bloody battle led to naming of ‘hanging tree’
While Ardclach may appear to be a quiet rural community, it has been home to some extraordinary events in the past.
For generations, a dead tree at the roadside has been known as the “hanging tree”.
Local legend has it that the gnarly black tree got its name after farmers confronted incomers who had been stealing sheep and cattle.
Mr Napier: “It is said that one of the visitors was hung from one of the branches, which is still there.
“I’ve imagined what the bloody battle might have been like from what is written.”
But the book also explores the life of remarkable local characters, including Jamie Mitchell, who was born in 1795 with multiple disabilities.
Despite being born deaf, dumb and blind he lived to old age after being cared for by family – but the descriptions of the grisly experimental surgery he had to endure is not for the faint hearted.
And the stories include the popular dwarf Duncan Rose, who resisted the spotlight to stay at home and work as a barber.
Mr Napier said: “At the time there were a lot of tinkers and other travelling folk going about.
“And somebody from the circus invited him to join the act, I suppose as some kind of showing showing various remarkable oddities.
“He didn’t want anything like that, he was just quite happy staying at home, which was probably an attitude ahead of its time.”
Ardlach, The Parish of Beauty costs £15 and is available from Nairn Bookshop, Nairn Museum and Logie or by e-mailing the author at email@example.com