written by
Andrew Baxter

The ghostly rigs floating in the Cromarty Firth

Blog 1 min read

This photo from the Cromarty Firth is a surprising choice in our 2020 Scotland's Coasts and Waters journey. Who would have thought two oil rigs could look so strangely appealing. I love the reflection their dazzling lights make in the calm waters of the firth.

Whenever I head across the long, low Cromarty bridge heading northwards I look for any rigs anchored in this large natural harbour. And the word 'firth' hints that this has been a safe haven for many centuries. Firth is a Scots word with Old Norse origins, probably brought to Scotland by the marauding Vikings.

What's a firth? And why does Cromarty have a firth?

We know the Vikings had a presence here in Dingwall, at the head of the firth. Dingwall was an important gathering place or the site of a parliament. There is archaeological evidence that supports this and that Dingwall derives from the Norse word 'Thing' meaning meeting place. But hang on a minute I am getting diverted with my Old Norse! Let's get back to firth and what it means. It is simply a narrow sea inlet or estuary, similar to a fjord.

Oil rigs in the Cromarty Firth
Oil rigs in the Cromarty Firth

Long after the Vikings departed Winston Churchill made the Cromarty Firth an important harbour for modern shipping. Churchill ordered the establishment of a naval base here in 1913 as war loomed in Europe. Today, you can still find remnants of our naval history. The warehouses used by Dalmore Distillery to house their maturing whisky once stored mines ready for deployment by US minelayers in the North Sea.

In more peaceful times Invergordon and the firth became an important service base for the oil and gas industry. The rigs come here for refurbishment and refitting. Or they are laid up in the calm waters when there is a downturn in oil and gas prices. In the future, I am sure we will see many arrive as we decommission more and more redundant rigs.

They are a peculiar sight for cruise passengers heading into the Cromarty Firth to dock at Invergordon. Who knows one day we might lead tours to an old rig permanently stationed in the waters here as a lasting reminder of our industrial heritage.