South east of Nairn the A939 to Grantown on Spey passes through a remote upland area which is crossed by the valley of the River Findhorn as it makes its way from the Monadhliath Mountains to the Moray Firth. Minor single track roads west and south of the A939 lead to Ardclach, best known for its highly unusual bell tower.
It is possible to park without causing an obstruction on the side of the minor road near a sign directing pedestrians up a track towards the tower. This is just after the road begins its steep descent into the valley of the River Findhorn. If you find yourself negotiating tight hairpins lower down in the side of the valley, you have gone too far.
Having parked, you make your way on foot along a track that passes a white painted memorial to the Reverend Donald Mitchell, Scotland's first missionary to India.
Not far beyond the memorial a sign directs you up a set of steps that climb steeply to the left of the track. This reaches the brow of a ridge, then turns left to climb more steps up to the tower itself.
What you find at the top of the climb is a tiny two storey stone tower, beautifully harled following restoration. It occupies the equally diminutive summit of a hill which offers remarkable views out over the complex topography of the valley of the River Findhorn. The summit is so small that it has been terraced on one side, simply to accommodate the footprint of the tower. Externally the tower is very plain, with a door on the front wall, tiny windows in the front and rear walls at first floor level, and shot holes on the end gables. One gable has a chimney, while the other, which carries a date stone for 1655, is topped off with a belfry and bell.
Internally there are two rooms. The ground floor room is vaulted and windowless. The first floor room is slightly more appealing, benefitting from the small windows and a fireplace, above which is a stone carved with the monogram "MGB."
Ardclach Bell Tower seems to have been built by the local laird, Alexander Brodie of Lethen, presumably in 1655. He was a Covenanter, a man whose religious beliefs had a decade earlier made him, in the eyes of many, a traitor to King Charles I. As a result his home and lands were attacked several times in 1645, once by James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose en route to victory at the Battle of Auldearn. In July 1654 there was another Royalist uprising in the Highlands. This was swiftly defeated, but it seems likely that it brought back unhappy memories of a decade earlier and prompted Alexander Brodie to build a small bolt hole to ensure that in the event of future trouble, he and his immediate family would have a safe retreat. "MGB" records the initials of Brodie's second wife, Margaret Grant Brodie.
The tower was never used for its intended purpose. In 1765 Ardclach Old Parish Church, as it is now known, was built on land next to the River Findhorn in the valley below. The tower on the hill was adapted to be used as a detached bell tower for the new church, presumably because a bell rung on its hilltop location could be heard over a much wider area than one rung at the church in the valley. The church was reconstructed in 1838, and the tower continued to serve as its belfry. Today the Old Parish Church stands derelict and forlorn, but its spectacular valley setting remains as beautiful as ever.