A coming together of two families connected by Tangle Tower.


John Alexander Matheson during war time.

During 2016 a regular visitor to our Facebook page contacted me with a touching story of a lifelong friendship which began during the war years within the walls of Tangle Tower or as it was known then, Aird Villa.

John Alexander Matheson was a New Zealander (died in 1974) he fought for approximately 4 years in the Second World War (Middle East, Greece, Crete & El Alamein, and at one stage the New Zealanders and Australians were fighting against the German general).On his way to the Middle East he was passing through the U.K.   He had concerns he may not return from war and wanted to spend a few days’ leave travelling up to Scotland to visit the Isle of Skye where his parents had come from and where his grand-parents still lived. He made the journey safely but on his return trip was delayed (trains not being as frequent or (ahem) reliable as they are today). He managed to get to Inverness, but had missed his onward boat! A chance encounter bought him to the home of the Shand family, they invited him back to stay at their place, Aird Villa, or Tangle Tower as it is now known. A short time later he was on another boat heading back to war.


Catherine Shand, aged 4 in front of the house. ‘Coastguard Station (Latterly Aird Villa) 1937’

One of the daughters who lived at Aird Villa, Catherine Shand was around 8 years old at that time, the same age as John’s daughter Elaine, and he encouraged them to become pen pals, which they did. A long-lasting friendship blossomed, one that lasted throughout their lives until Catherine died in 2014. Although they spoke on the phone and sent hundreds of letters over the years they never actually met. They both had their first babies, both daughters, around the same time, and Elaine called her daughter Anne Catherine (Catherine after Catherine Shand), whilst Catherine called her first-born Kathleen Ann. A second daughter was born to each of them, again at around the same time (Deborah to Elaine, and Heather to Catherine).

After the death of Catherine just a couple of years ago, her daughter Heather contacted Elaine to tell her the sad news, and she in turn put Heather in touch with her younger daughter Deborah via facebook. They now correspond regularly, and have taken over the long pen-friendship started by their mothers…. albeit through a different medium, facebook. Heather was informed by Deborah recently that her husband Kelvin, who has been in the New Zealand Navy for 37 years, was to attend a conference in Portsmouth in November 2016. Whilst in U.K. they thought it would be a great opportunity to travel up to Inverness and visit Heather and her family. Two generations later the two families finally came face-to-face.

Heather had contacted me to see if it was possible for the group to visit Tangle Tower, to see where the friendship had first begun, of course I was very willing to oblige. A wonderful hour was spent reminiscing, sharing photo’s and stories of past lives lived in Tangle Tower…One of our visitors Irene Henry ( younger sister to Catherine) , who came along with her husband Allie was actually born in the front room of the building, almost exactly where she is standing in the photo.

I felt so honoured to be witness to these two families coming together, piecing together stories that have been passed down through generations. Giving them access to the building must have helped them to make connections with the tales they had been told and will give them some lovely memories and photo’s to take back with them.


From left to right: Husband and wife, Allie Henry and Irene Henry (nee Shand). Heather Swinton –Raven (Catherine’s daughter). Deborah Barrett (Elaine’s daughter) and her husband Kelvin Barrett.

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Exploring Nairn Museum, Community Arts Centre and High Street.

Earlier this week I visited Nairn, primarily to attend a workshop by an illustrator that I admire, she had returned to the area as part of the Nairn Book and Arts festival.

It has been longer than I care to admit since I visited this lovely seaside town, I had high hopes for a lovely day by the sea, with a little retail therapy and a meal before the evening workshop.

The day began nicely, the sun was shining and there was a slight breeze, ideal weather for a leisurely stroll. I and my artist friend Theresa arrived a little after two, we parked up, (free parking at the Community and Arts Centre) and headed off to the museum. The museum is housed in an old town house, a handsome building which has served various purposes over the years, after a modest beginning in two upper rooms; the museum has now grown to encompass the whole building! I had noticed in the Nairn Book and Arts festival brochure there was an Automata – Mechanical Wonders Brought to Life exhibition, it was a show I had missed at several events previously and given my love for history and especially the weird and wonderful a definite on my ‘must-see’ list! Unfortunately the demonstration day fell later on in the festival (Saturday 13th August at 11.30am) but none-the-less we were able to spend a good half an hour milling around, pressing buttons and pulling levers, feeling both in awe and a little unlevered by some of the curiosities on show. After a brief chat with one of the staff  we then explored the rest of the building which is mainly set up to remind or inform visitors of Nairn’s history, from links to the World Wars to imports from foreign climbs to past  school days (pre-computers!). All was taken in with a sense of nostalgia, though we are both too young to recall many of the items on display! The building is full of interesting facts and artefacts and well worth a visit.

We then left the museum and took a short walk down to the high street. Unfortunately many of the shops I remembered from previous visits have gone! As on many high streets across the UK there were many empty units, separated by food outlets, a few charity shops and the odd clothing shop.

My friend had submitted some work for the “Off the PEG” exhibition, which involves unframed works of art being displayed in various shop windows for the length of the festival. We found Theresa’s pieces displayed in a lovely florist, and after a browse inside (and a few pounds lighter) we continued our route towards the beach. Towards the bottom of the High Street we discovered a couple of lovely little boutique style gift shops….Unfortunately both closed on a Monday! So we headed to the beach front.

If you haven’t been to Nairn (and have small children) it is well worth a visit just to experience the beach. You will discover several beach areas all with white sand and clear water, there are many facilities, including a play-area and cafe.

By now the weather had began to turn and a cool breeze was coming in bringing with it darker clouds. We decided to find somewhere nice to eat.

Overlooking the beach you will come across the Bandstand Restaurant, it looked pleasant enough so we ventured in. It was a pretty quiet day therefore we didn’t have to wait to be served, food arrived very quickly, both of us opting for a super food salad with brioche and goats cheese, it was delicious, we finished our meal with a pot of tea for two and headed off with full bellies in the direction of the Nairn Community and Arts Centre.

This bright, modern, adaptable building with excellent conference & art facilities has become a vital part of the community.

Along with the community centre services, this venue also provides information on the local area, things to see and do in Nairn, places to visit, places to eat and other literature as Nairn’s Tourist Information Point. The building itself is modern and easy to navigate around with the manned reception to your right as you walk in the main entrance. Once there all we had to do was wait until the room was prepared, the off we went to meet Kate Leiper, where we spent an enjoyable hour learning and taking participating in the idea processes behind illustration work.

So, maybe Nairn is not the destination for a bit of retail therapy but there are plenty of other attractions to keep you entertained, why not follow our suit and head off to Nairn today!

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Four Hidden Gems in and around Inverness.

Being the only city in the Highlands, Inverness has a number of visitor attractions in and around the area. If you’re tired of the hotspots and are looking for somewhere a little out-of-the-ordinary to visit, perhaps you should give one, or all of these places a try…….

clootieMunlochy, Clootie Well.

The “Clootie Well” a healing well at Munlochy on the Black Isle may bemuse travellers who pass it on their travels along  the A832 from Fortrose to Cromarty, an eerie sight will catch your eye. If you know nothing of this magical place it’ll definitely take you by surprise, it is well worth a stop.

In Scot’s “Cloot” means a rag, strip of material, patch or garment.

Clootie wells are relatively rare, usually only found in Celtic nations. They are wells or springs, usually with a tree growing alongside, you will find an assortment of garments or rags left, tied to the branches of the trees surrounding the well, unmissable as you drive past this particular well.

In pre-Christian times is it said that a goddess or local nature spirit inhabited the well, they possessed special healing powers. Later in Christian times these where replaced by a Saint, in this case the well is dedicated to St Boniface (he is the patron saint of Germany and the first archbishop of Mainz. He was born in the kingdom of Wessex, today Devon, England and was killed in Frisia, Germany in 754).

There are many traditions relating to the rags being tied to the trees surrounding the well, but the most popular belief is that if you or a relative are ill you must tie a piece of rag to one of the trees after dipping it in the water of the well. It is said it will aid the recovery of the ailing individual.

There is an ample sized car park with a short walk up to the well, can be wet underfoot.

Leakey’s Bookshop

If it is a bit miserable outside, or perhaps you fancy a bit of retail therapy or maybe just sometime out to relax, a must to visit is this wonderfully quirky bookshop, I’m sure you wouldn’t be surprised to bump into Harry Potter or one of his companions there; he certainly wouldn’t seem out of place!

Found on Church Street, Inverness, Leakey’s has been housed in the old Gaelic church for the last 20 years. Est. in 1979 it is Scotland’s second largest second-hand bookshop with 100,00 selected volumes. The enviable collection has been built up from all over the Highlands taking over 30 years to accumulate.  It is a building full of atmosphere and character, a great place to lose an afternoon.

The Fairy Glen

The fairy Glen is located in a beautiful wooded area in Rosemarkie, easily found if taking a trip over to the beach.

The glen is wooded with Beech, Rowan, Ash and Oak and is at its prettiest during the spring when you will be met with a carpet of bluebells and primroses.

The walk is a two mile track and is fairly easy underfoot though there are some steep parts. You will take a relaxing trail past an old mill pond which is at least 200 years old and you will view two waterfalls. The trail is maintained by the RSPB so keep a keen eye open for some of the native birdlife, including Grey Wagtails, Dippers and Buzzards.

As with many of the Highlands natural attractions Fairy Glen is steeped in local folklore. An old tradition during the spring was for local children to decorate a pool with flowers – this was said to ensure the fairies kept the water clean. There is also a “money tree” which has a number of coins hammered into it, meant as an offering to the fairies.

From the Inverness direction, proceed through Rosemarkie village, passing the Plough Inn on your right and round the sharp left bend. After approx 150 m, you will see the car park on the right.

Clava Cairns

Clava Cairns was built around 4,000 years ago and were built to house the dead.

Located only a short distance from Culloden battlefield this astounding prehistoric burial site would have once been part of a larger complex, now only three parts remain, only two are accessible to the public and are open all year round.

There little is known about who the cairn builders were, as no documentation was left at the site, it is however clearly Bronze. This is a profoundly atmospheric place that does not receive as much attention as it deserves.

Set within a beautiful spot within a small wood, Balnuaran of Clava comprises:

  • two passage graves
  • a kerb ring cairn
  • a central ring cairn and standing stones
  • Milton of Clava, a short distance to the south-west, includes:
  • the remains of a medieval chapel
  • the remains of another cairn and possible standing stonesFind Clava Cairns 6 miles east of Inverness, signposted from the B9091, approx 300 yards east of Culloden Battlefield.
  • Car park available.
  • The three well preserved cairns at Balnuaran each have a central chamber but only two have entrance passages. Each cairn is surrounded by a ring of standing stones, and look closely at these stones, you may notice many have cup marks on them, suggesting they have been reused, perhaps from another earlier sacred site.

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Tangle Tower. An Epic Project!

Our connection with Tangle Tower began on 2014 when my parents purchased what we now know as Tangle Tower. My father (along with many others) had admired this gem of a property for years, and when it eventually came onto the market he needed no prompting, he placed a bid which was accepted.  The building had been left in a state of disrepair after its elderly owner had sadly died. For years the building stood empty, perhaps it proved too expensive a project during the years of recession that had prevailed, or maybe the immense size of the project put some people off? Whatever the reason it was feared locally that a large company would purchase the space and flatten the old building.


Work began almost immediately, the family (and a few friends) were called in and the work began. After what seemed like months of clearing, demolishing, burning, scrapping and cleaning and endless runs to the local tip and a visit from the local fire brigade along the way! We finally had an empty building and grounds, now the real work could begin. Drawings and plans previously put together could now come to fruition.

Over the coming months builders and tradesmen frequented the building and slowly but surely the property as we know it started to come to life. Local residents would often pop over, offering tea, coffee and nibbles to keep us going (which were much appreciated given the first few weeks we had no heating or proper electricity!) Often they would stand and chat, recalling their memories, many from childhood, of the Tower and its previous owners.

We planned to keep many of the older features and incorporate them within our new interior. This included the original stairway and handrail (up to the first floor),the red sandstone wall in the living area and bathroom and the flagstone flooring in the stairwell / hall area, we even (eventually) re-used bricks that originally created the floor in the ground level to make a path in the garden! Unfortunately lots of pieces were past saving, our biggest disappointment was the old Victorian train carriage that had sat in the garden for almost a century…Initially we had hoped to save at least part of it to use as a sheltered seating area in the garden, this was however not to be, despite our best efforts it was too dilapidated to save. After it had been demolished a resident contacted us with this picture and short piece of info:

Tangle Tower oldie” My mother was born here in 1933… well, she was born in the railway carriage which was still in the garden until fairly recently. At that time it was called Aird Villa. Her family (my grandparents) lived in the railway carriage, but moved into the house when the previous tenants vacated it. My mother died in August 2014, and just days later the old railway carriage was dismantled and disposed of. The new owner has made a lovely job of the house, my mother would have loved it. The carriage is in the background of this photo. My maternal grandmother is on the left, with her parents, and two of her four daughters (my aunts) in the foreground.”

Mid 2015 the new interior was gradually coming together, we had new walls, windows, under floor heating and oak flooring through-out. The kitchen had been fitted, along with the major appliances, new windows, new cladding and a wonderful zinc roof! The stonework had been re-pointed, the garden weeded, with a high fence now gave privacy to a large sized garden. The triple garage was up and usable (despite it showing on Google Earth as two builders standing in the foundations!).

It was now time to begin painting and dressing the rooms. This was where I came in. We all agreed to incorporate the seaside theme, therefore, calming tones, with textural elements and one or two quirky nods to the history of Tangle Tower in the form of antique collectables.


Six months later and we were ready to go! The transformation was amazing, looking back at photo’s now I find it hard to imagine how it evolved, but it did and we are certainly very pleased with our hard work.   The top floor now has uninterrupted panoramic views and doubles as a third bedroom with a large sofa-bed, therefore sleeping up to 6. Dolphins and seals as well as a multitude of birdlife can be viewed from the top floor, and there is plenty to see given the Merkinch Nature Reserve being at the end of the street!

The second floor boasts a double bedroom with beautiful antique furniture, painted in cool calming tones and crisp white luxurious bedding.

On the ground floor you will find a large bathroom kitted out with a huge shower, roll-top bath and luxurious towels. Alongside an airy living area with BT television and WIFI which leads onto a large kitchen diner, boasting all the mod-cons, including a dishwasher, fridge, washing machine, coffee machine and much more. Leading from this you will discover a large double bedroom with a king-size bed, again furnished with antique furniture. You can exit the exterior of the building via both lower floor bi-fold doors onto a patio area which overlooks the beach and the Moray Firth and with a private garden either side it is ideal for barbecues.



Kitchen Diner

There is parking for one just by the front door with additional parking in the triple garage, where you will also find a barbecue and garden furniture if the weather warrants it.

Needless to say, this project was epic, and had a few pitfalls, one of which landed my father in hospital! But it has not deterred us and we are currently searching for our next “family” project! So watch this space! For now we proudly introduce you to our Tangle Tower and trust you will enjoy your stay.

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Our top 3 beaches

Well seeing as the weather has been playing ball recently(well at least some of the time) I thought it would be quite a nice idea to talk about our top three recommended beaches in the Scottish Highlands. Each place has a wonderful charm of its own bringing differing qualities dependant on what you’re looking for. All are within a 30 minute drive from Tangle Tower, and there is plenty of wonderful scenery on the way, so happy adventures and don’t forget your beach towel and sunscreen!

1: Nairn Beach, proof that Scotland does have beautiful sandy award winning beaches. This is a great beach in the traditional sense. Situated in the centre of Nairn it is backed by low sand dunes, a promenade and attractive well maintained links. It is home to Nairn Cricket Club. Close by you will find a paddling pool, playground, swimming pool tea-room and cafe. There are also public toilets and parking nearby.

2: Chanory Point, a wonderful pebble beach and a hotspot for viewing dolphins. Chanory Point lies at the end of Chanory Ness, a spit of land extending into the Moray Firth between Fortrose and Rosemarkie on the Black Isle. There is an active lighthouse operated by the Northern Lighthouse Board situated at the tip.
The beach extends for a lovely long walk, sea-glass, shells and attractive pebbles are easy to discover along this stretch of coast. Dolphins, seals and plenty of birdlife frequent the area (be sure to check the tides for ideal spotting times). The car-park has been recently re-modelled but parking is limited and maybe difficult on good weather days. Access is via a single track that takes you through a local golf course. Well signposted with a scenic journey from Inverness.

3: Rosemarkie Beach, just on a little from Charnory Point. This wonderfully wild sandy family beach has an enclosed play area for the smaller children, plenty of seating in the form of benches for those who like to picnic and is an ideal beach for dogs. When the tide is out there is a superb long walk around the cliff edges and is a rock pool enthusiasts dream! Nearby you will find a woodland walk, a cafe, public toilets and a lovely bistro.

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Wardlaw Mausoleum, The Burial Place of the ‘Old Fox’ (Outlander).



It was built in 1634 as the burial place for the Lovat Frasers on the end of the original parish church. The roof of the mausoleum was raised and a tower added in 1722 by the then Lord Lovat, the ‘Old Fox’ of the Jacobite Rebellion who was later buried in the crypt. It was used by the Lovats until the early 19th century. The building then fell into disrepair until the 1990’s when the Wardlaw Mausoleum Trust was formed to rescue it. This led to a restoration project with Historic Scotland and Lottery funding. The mausoleum is listed as Grade ‘A’ by Historic Scotland, the highest level of importance.

Recently interest has grown in this wonderful old building as it has links with the Outlander books and TV series, being the last resting place of ‘The Old Fox’, the main characters Grandfather.

The Wardlaw Mausoleum is open 10.00-4.00 on Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th September as part of the annual Doors Open Day scheme, with a special play at 3.00 on Saturday! Entrance Free.

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Inverness Highland Games

The Inverness Highland Games will take place at Bught Park, Inverness on Saturday 16 July 2016 commencing at 11am.

Founded in 1822 the Inverness Highland Games is one of the most spectacular traditional gatherings staged in Scotland and is one of the highlights of any visit to the Highland capital city of Inverness.

The 2016 Inverness Highland Games looks set to be one of the most memorable ever seen in the Highlands as Inverness celebrates the very best of Scotland’s traditional heritage at Bught Park in the middle of the biggest party of the year in the Highland Capital.

Situated at the west end of our city, our huge Bught Park field is an enjoyable 15 minute walk from Inverness City Centre; and will be packed with so much for you to enjoy during your visit as part of our City’s exciting Gala weekend.

The list of new activities for this year’s event guarantees visitors of all ages an interesting visit; so without further ado we are pleased to announce that 2016 will see the Gala expand to include TruckNess (Saturday and Sunday Morning);Boxing Tournament and Traditional Music Show (Saturday Night) Inverness Wheelbarrow Grand Prix (Sunday afternoon); Inverness Gala Shinty Sixes (Sunday), Highlands Strongest Man & Highlands Strongest Women(Sunday) and the first Inverness Women’s Aid Tipsy Tea Party(Sunday Afternoon Sold out fundraising show). We will also have a Funfair, Traders Village and Craft Fair as well as loads of community stall for you to explore on both days.

More details and ticket information here: https://www.invernesshighlandgames.com/

The Black Isle Show , Wednesday 3rd August – Evening Preview from 4pm and all-day Thursday 4th August 2016.

The Black Isle Farmers’ Society was formed at a meeting in Avoch on 22nd March 1836 and the first Black Isle Show was held at Fortrose on 6th October of the same year.

The Society exists to promote the Interests of Agriculture and meets regularly throughout the year. In addition, the Society holds its Presentation of Show Trophies in November, a Bonspiel in January, a Ploughing Match in February and as the Main Event of the year, The Annual Black Isle Show on the first Thursday in August.

The show is a grand family day out with lots to see and do. Livestock make up a huge amount of the visitor experience with competitions taking place through-out the day. An abundance of art and craft and local produce stalls will keep you milling around the grounds and with an education area, vintage tractors and implements and a fun fair there really is something for everyone.

Visit their website for more information: https://www.blackisleshow.info/index.asp?PageID=13

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  • To book call 07501 402659 or email Tangle-Tower@outlook.com