The ‘Pirate’s Graveyard’ is an ancient and fascinating graveyard sitting on a hill in the quaint village of Cromarty. The locals gave the graveyard this nickname due to the skull and cross bone decorations. Its real name is St Regulus’ Graveyard.
History of The Pirate’s Graveyard
The Pirate’s Graveyard has a variety of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century grave slabs decorated in the ‘memento mori’ style. Memento mori is Latin for ‘remember you will die’. The gravestone adornments include skull and crossbones, bells, hourglasses, shovels, and spectres. A symbolic reminder of the inevitability of death.
The hourglass, bells, and skull and crossbones were common funeral art for gravestones in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Lifespans were often short, and the hourglass symbolised the quick passage of time. The hourglass on its side means that the deceased life was cut short unexpectedly. The bell was a representation of the church bell that rings to call people to the funeral. The shovel (digging of the grave) stood for mortality. The skull served as a stark reminder of death.
A private chapel once stood in the centre of this graveyard. Now only the crypt below the chapel remains. It is possible to access the crypt by going down a slope and through a stone doorway. The Urquhart clan crest sits proudly above the entrance. The crypt is suitably dark and eerie inside and has 4 tiny gravestones. The air immediately cools as you enter the lifeless crypt. Maybe from the lack of sun. Perhaps due to something else.
The Oldest Stone
We spent an afternoon rubbing moss from the gravestones in an attempt to find the oldest one. It could be argued that the oldest stone, ‘Swan Stone’, is the most spectacular slab of them all. This table-top stone lies tilted on its side under a covering of green moss. The stone’s secrets were revealed as we scraped away the moss. The earliest inscription reads JO SWAN departed1675. The Swan Stone provides a great example of the memento mori carvings of skull and crossbones, hourglass and a shovel. There is also the unusual addition of a ship. Perhaps there are pirates are buried in the graveyard after all!
Hugh Miller (1802-1856)
The Pirate’s Graveyard also has great significance to renowned Cromarty geologist, Hugh Miller. He started his career as a stonemason and the ‘Pirates Graveyard’ contains the last headstone that he carved. Tragically this gravestone was for his first-born child Eliza, who died aged only seventeen months. Her small headstone is close to the Urquhart crypt.
How to get to the Pirate’s Graveyard
To reach the Pirate’s Graveyard you should park near the Cromarty Bowling Club and walk up the steep hill. As the road curves to the left, you will see Cromarty House’s old servant tunnel behind foreboding iron gates. The disused tunnel is rumoured to be haunted. There are many ghost stories connected to the castle that once stood near the site of Cromarty House. Those are for another day.
The entrance to the Pirate’s Graveyard is just opposite the tunnel. A thin grassy path will lead you to the graveyard. The graveyard is not signposted but should be easy enough to find if you follow the above directions.
Watch our short video on The Pirates Graveyard
When visiting the Pirate’s Graveyard, I would recommend spending at least a few hours in the area. It is worth wandering around the quaint village of Cromarty which boasts a lovely mix of grand houses and old fisherman cottages. If you have time to spare you could extend your walk further by incorporating a fantastic coastal walk which includes McFarquhar’s bed and cave. The Pirate’s Graveyard it at the end of this route. The Pirate’s Graveyard is a magical slice of history that deserves to be visited, understood, and respected. Please let us know if you make the journey!