CONTINUED.........

Loch Maree to Cape Wrath / Balnakeil to Noss Head / Wick to North Kessock


Wick


Caithness glassWe paid a visit to the Caithness Glass Visitor Centre and did the factory tour, before visiting the town. Wick’s name is from Old Norse; ‘Vik’ denoting a sheltered bay or creek and it was the Vikings who first used the mouth of the River Wick as a harbour for their longships.

Wick harbourSir John Sinclair of Ulbster built a quay at Wick in 1768 in order to promote the town as a centre for herring fishing. Harbour improvements by Thomas Telford followed in 1810 and he also bridged the River Wick, connecting the town to Pulteneytown on the south bank.

LookoutAn outbreak of cholera in 1832 led many fishermen to move to Peterhead but the fishing industry continued to thrive. The boats directly employed around 6,000 fishermen and provided work for net makers and the women who gutted, salted and layered the herrings.

Wick MuseumThe heritage centre in Pulteneytown is very interesting and has numerous rooms packed with exhibits, including a kippering shed and a fully functioning reconstructed lighthouse. Nearby, is the Pulteney Distillery.

Wick is still mainly arranged to a medieval street plan and was for nearly 500 years the administrative centre of Caithness. Herring was fished out by the early 1900s, but the discovery of North Sea Oil has made Wick a convenient base for offshore supply vessels.

Old Wick CastleOn a peninsula to the south lies Old Wick Castle which is one of Scotland's oldest castles. Not much remains, but it is assumed to be a military outpost originally held by Sir Reginald de Cheyne. It passed by marriage to the Oliphants and Lord Sinclair acquired it after a siege in which it was surrendered due to lack of food and water. It was then passed to Lord Glenorchy and then to the Dunbars of Hempriggs until it was abandoned in the 18th century.



Whaligoe


Whaligoe StepsMy attention was first drawn to the Whaligoe Steps by Billy Conolly in one of his TV programmes. There is a small turn off from the main road that leads to a house and there isn’t much parking. Round the side, you find this amazing flight of 365 flagstone steps that twist their way down to a curious harbour built in a tiny, narrow creek. The walk down is fun, but it is a very long way back!

At the bottom of the stepsEven in good weather, mooring a boat into this narrow inlet would have been tricky and the fish curing station was at the top of the cliff. The boats had to be pulled in stern first and heavy gear and baskets of fish were carried up and down the steps by the women of the village. In 1808, seven boats worked Whaligoe; by 1826 their number had risen to twenty four, but thereafter declined rapidly.

Hill o' Many StanesGrey Cairns of CamsterAbout 3 miles to the south-west, on the Hill o' Many Stanes are hundreds of small Bronze Age standing stones. These form a fan-like formation possibly for astronomical purposes. The Grey Cairns of Camster are also worth the detour, probably the best known of all the Neolithic sites in Caithness.



Lybster


Lybster lighthouseLybster is still an active fishing community with an enormous wide main street and set in a picturesque location. The harbour can be reached by a steep, narrow road and has an octagonal lighthouse at its entrance, boats moored in the harbour and lobster pots piled around it..

Lybster harbourIn 1810, there was only a small wooden pier but this was replaced in the 1830s by an extensive stone harbour as Lybster was at the centre of the herring boom and Scotland's third largest fishing fleet.

WaterlinesBeside the harbour, Waterlines is an exhibition centre housed in the old salmon bothy, with displays about Lybster's past as a herring port.



Latheron


Clan Gunn MuseumJust north of Latheron are two fine Bronze Age standing stones. This is crofting and fishing country and the village's 18th century kirk, set in a magnificent location overlooking the sea, now houses the Clan Gunn Museum. This documents the claim that a Gunn reached the Americas a century before Christopher Columbus.

The Centre has a Clan Shop and is the base of the Clan Gunn Society, which maintains the traditions of the Clan throughout the world. The remains of Castle Gunn, the original seat of the chief's of the Clan, and of Halberry Castle, the later stronghold, are situated on the coast seven miles to the north.
HarbourLobster potsLatheron bridge
Latheronwheel was set up in 1835 by Captain Robert Dunbar. Up to 50 boats used its small harbour at the height of the herring boom. A path leads to a small bridge, built in 1726, that survives from an old road.



Dunbeath


Laidhay Croft MuseumWe stopped in the large car park in front of the Laidhay Croft Museum. This is a traditional Caithness thatched longhouse, recreating the experience of a crofting life now largely gone. It was used as a croft until 1968 and the building combines living quarters with stables and a byre, packed full of interesting artefacts.

There is a lovely old barn, whose roof incorporates driftwood and old oars and is supported by tree-trunk crucks known locally as 'Highland couples’.

A9 bridgeYou don’t really notice the bridge as you drive along the A9 but it has a curve greater than that at Kylesku and rises significantly as you go south. The old bridge lies beside it.

The harbour is home to small fishing fleet with views of the distant platforms of the Beatrice Oil Field. There is a statue depicting ‘Kenn and the Salmon’, celebrating the life of the novelist Neil Gunn, who was born in Dunbeath in 1891 and played a significant role in the development of nationalism in Scotland.

Dunbeath CastleFrom the harbour, you can see the 15th century Dunbeath Castle perched on the cliffs and another of the strongholds of the Earls of Caithness. It is still inhabited but not open to the public. On the hillside to the south is the Dunbeath Heritage Centre.



Badbea


Berriedale from A9The coast road twists and climbs past the hamlet of Berriedale with lovely views. There were huge roadworks going on that close the road after 10 pm. The diversion would be horrendous!

Badbea Clearance VillageYou need to stop by a lay-by to get to the Badbea Clearance Village, a ruined clifftop settlement that was built by families evicted from their homes during the Highland Clearances. A plaque states that children and animals had to be tethered to stakes to keep them from being blown into the sea! Eventually the occupants gave up and left for New Zealand.

Badbea memorialDavid Sutherland, who was born in New Zealand, visited Badbea in 1901 and instigated the building of a 22 feet high monument incorporating stones from the surrounding houses. This was unveiled in 1912 in the presence of the largest assembly of people at Badbea for years.



Ord Of Caithness


Ord of CaithnessOrd of CaithnessThis amazing coast road rises up to the Ord of Caithness, where a narrow pass crosses a natural bastion of rock. The Ord is well known as a formidable pass between Caithness and Sutherland and is situated at the eastern boundary of the two counties.

The derivation of the term Ord is either from the Gaelic “ard” or the Icelandic “urd” both of which signify a steep hill and from the 750ft summit, the views of the coast in all directions are superb.



Helmsdale


Old BridgeUntil the building of the new bridge, the A9 turned inland and crossed the River Helmsdale at the inland end of the village's main street. The old bridge remains, but the main crossing now lies at the seaward end of the street. This former fishing village is surrounded by crofts and steep-sided hills but there are still fishing vessels based here.

Helmsdale Ice HouseHelmsdale Castle was built in 1488 and was as the location of the poisoning of the 11th Earl of Sutherland, by his aunt, Isobel Sinclair, to clear the way for her own son to become Earl. Unfortunately the son accidentally drank the poison and died and Isobel committed suicide to avoid the gallows.

The castle fell into ruin in the 19th Century at the same time as the area was being cleared of inhabitants to make way for sheep. The Clearances perpetrated by the first Duke of Sutherland in this area were amongst the most notorious. Some were resettled in Helmsdale with the aim of creating a community able to take advantage of the herring boom.

Timespan Visitor CentreThe Timespan Visitor Centre, in the village is well worth a visit. Highland history and lore is brought alive through tableaux and audiovisual presentations and there is information about the gold rush of 1869, which focused on two tributaries of the river in Strath Kildonan. It is still possible to pan for gold at Baile an Or near Kildonan railway station.

The A897 turns north west from here on a spectacular drive to Melvich, through the great expanse of peat bogs known as the Flow Country.



Brora


Rich at BroraBrora sunsetWe stayed at a campsite at Brora, overlooking a golf course and the sandy bay that stretches to Kintradwell Broch. This was a coal-mining centre from the 16th century until the early 1970s.

Clynelish distilleryMany crofters settled in Brora after the Clearances and established a whisky distillery in 1819 called Brora Distillery. This was located across the road from the Clynelish distillery, which was built to replace it in the 1960s and which still produces a fine single malt.

The harbour is home to a small fishing fleet, and was also used to export the product of the salt pans that operated here. In 1818, 400 tons of salt were produced annually in Brora, meeting the needs of the herring fleets along the whole of the coast. The harbour helped serve Brora's coal mine until displaced by the railway in the 1870s.



Carn Liath Broch


Carn Liath BrochWe found a parking spot next to the A9 and crossed over to a path leading to this well-preserved Iron Age broch. The ‘Grey Cairn’ stands on a knoll overlooking the shore. It’s walls are 12ft high in places with an entrance passage and lintelled doorway. The interior is deeper than the exterior, and one side is covered by a bank.

Carn Liath BrochThe broch was probably built around the first century AD and some Roman jewellery was discovered in one of the surrounding houses indicating that the site was still in use up to the 4th or 5th century. Opposite the front door a set of steps would have originally led up to a wooden platform forming a second story. Now the steps lead up on to the top of the walls for a fine view of the sea.

It was excavated in the 1800s by the Duke of Sutherland as one of several hundred built around Scotland. This unearthed pottery, stone and bone implements, a silver ornament and an iron knife, indicating it may have been a temporary structures as a defence against raiding parties.



Dunrobin Castle


'Mannie'Towering over the surrounding area is the huge statue of the first Duke of Sutherland, known locally as the 'mannie', on the summit of Beinn a' Bhragaidh. You really can’t miss it.

At the start of the 19th century, the Duke owned the biggest private estate in Europe, but decided that more money could be made from the land if it was grazed by sheep than from the rents of the crofters. This led to the forcible removal of up to 15,000 people from the estates.

Dunrobin CastleDunrobin CastleThe Clearances changed the landscape of northern Scotland, sweeping away settlements and leaving occasional ruins in the largely deserted country seen today. The 100ft statue was erected in 1834, a year after his death, by "a mourning and grateful tenantry" to "a judicious, kind and liberal landlord". It is still a sore point with the locals, but remains to make sure this evil is never forgotten.

TaxidermyThis fairytale castle has been the ancestral home of the Sutherlands since the 13th century. Its original massive keep has been embellished with turrets and pinnacles, first in 1840 by Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament, then by Sir Robert Lorimer after a fire in 1915.

The castle is grand inside and out, with terraced formal gardens and a wonderful museum containing Pictish stones and crammed with every stuffed animal you can imagine – even a giraffe.



Golspie


This town is the administrative centre of Sutherland with some fine buildings and the usual shops and facilities. At the northern end of the village is the 19th century Golspie Mill, once the meal mill for the Dunrobin estate, which is still used for milling flour. There are some pretty cottages and a church near the Sutherland Arms.

Orcadian StoneGolspie also has a long sandy beach and a pretty harbour with a pier and I couldn’t resist shopping at the Orcadian Stone Company workshop, which sells Highland rocks and crystals.



Loch Fleet


Loch FleetThe pretty Loch Fleet was once a wide-open bay until currents gradually dragged shingle across the loch entrance and reduced the mouth to a narrow channel through which tidal currents race in and out. These tides led the Vikings to name the loch 'fljótr', meaning flood.

The road across the estuary, the Mound Causeway, was built by Thomas Telford in 1816. Large sluice gates allow salmon and sea trout to migrate to and from spawning areas upriver. Their main run is in July and when the gates are shut and the salmon gather in a pool until the path upriver is open.

The loch is surrounded by sand dunes and it is now a National Nature Reserve with seals, otters and shore crabs. There are oystercatchers, shelduck, wigeon, bar-tailed godwits, dunlin and Icelandic greylag and pink-footed geese that migrate.

Skelbo Castle On the southern shore, towards Embo are the ruins of 14th century Skelbo Castle, although this is fenced off as it is dangerous. Embo seemed to be a giant caravan park through which was the only beach access.

 




Dornoch


Dornoch Cathedral Cathedral interiorIn the 6th century, a chapel was founded by St Barr and Dornoch became a Royal Burgh in 1628. The 13th century cathedral is the smallest in Scotland and is well worth a look as it is remarkably cosy inside.

It was badly damaged by fire in 1580, caused by the MacKays of Strathnaver during a clan feud with the Murrays of Dornoch, but was later restored.

Dornoch Castle Hotel Opposite, the original Dornoch Castle was built as a 13th century Bishop's palace, not really a fortress, but a comfortable residence. It still contains an altered 14th century keep with a round 16th century stair tower, which still houses a staircase.Many of the windows have been enlarged for it’s current use as a hotel, but the walls are still pierced with shot holes and gun ports.

Dornoch houses Next to it is the Town jail museum and pretty pink sandstone cottages and town houses make this a very attractive town.

The town trail takes you to the Witch's Stone in a side street just south of the Square. This marks the place where Scotland's last witch was burned alive in a barrel of oil in 1722.

Skibo Castle We drove to the beach beside the Royal Dornoch Links, the most northerly championship golf course in the world. The long, sandy beach is backed by dunes and unfortunately the ubiquitous static caravans.

Dornoch was in the news in 2001, when Madonna had her son's christening in the Cathedral and previously was married at nearby Skibo Castle.



Dornoch Firth


A9 bridgeThe Meikle ferry once crossed the narrows before the long A9 bridge was opened by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 1991, avoiding a long detour inland via Bonar Bridge.

Dornoch Firth The ferry was the scene of a skirmish in 1746 on the eve of the Battle of Culloden and of a tragedy in 1809 when an overcrowded boat capsized with the loss of 70 lives. The sandbanks draw many wintering birds and seals can be seen at low tide.



Edderton


Standing stoneTurning right from the A9 bridge, we followed the ‘Pictish Trail’ to Edderton. In a field on the western edge of the village is a 10ft standing stone, probably Bronze Age and featuring Pictish symbols in disc and Z-shapes.

Edderton Old ChurchEdderton's Old Parish Church was built on a site about a mile to the east of the village in 1743, but unfortunately was only open a couple of days a week. In the graveyard, stands a Pictish cross slab on which is carved the outline of a cross, with engravings of figures on horseback carrying shields and spears, suggesting this was a place of worship long ago.

Blablair Distillery replaced the original distillery, built here in 1870



Morangie


Glenmorangie DistilleryBack on the A9, we arrived at the visitor centre of the famous Glenmorangie Distillery which produces Scotland’s most popular single malt.

visitor centreGlenmorangie is said to mean ‘The Glen of Tranquility’ and local production of spirits goes back to the early 1700s, when a still was recorded at the nearby Morangie Farm. The state of the car park also seems to go back to a similar time!

The visitor centre is quite swish although most of the buildings date from 1887, replacing a brewery that was converted to a legal still in 1843.



Tain


Tain memorialTain is quite a surprise, with a lovely collection of sandy coloured stone buildings. The name probably originates from ‘Thing’, a Norse name signifying a council or parliament. Tain was a place of pilgrimage from about 1000, when Duthac was born here and established a chapel near the Dornoch Firth. When he died in Ireland, his remains were returned to Tain and buried in the chapel.

Tain hotelThis chapel became a place of pilgrimage and sanctuary, but in 1427 a local outlaw pursued an enemy into the chapel and burnt it down. St Duthus's relics were transferred to St Duthus's Church in the centre of Tain but the remains disappeared in 1560. King James IV made a pilgrimage every year for 20 years, although he had conveniently located his mistress close by.

St Duthus's ChurchThe church and lovely heritage centre are located in a precinct called ‘the Pilgrimage’ and now form part of the ‘Tain Through Time’ trail. We were given a portable CD player with headphones to enable us to follow the history as we walked around town.

Tain tolboothTain is dominated by the tower of its tolbooth which was originally built in 1630 as court offices, jail and for collecting tolls and taxes. When Cromwell's troops were quartered in Tain in 1656, they damaged large parts of it and it had to be rebuilt in 1707 but it retained the original curfew bell from 1616. The Court House was built in the 19th century with turrets and crenellations to match the Tolbooth's candle-snuffer pinnacles.

We never did find the Highland Cheese Factory.



Inver


Wartime relicsWe left the A9 for the coast road of the Tarbat Peninsula which divides the Dornoch and Moray Firths. The wide plain is scattered with disused military buildings and was used during World War ll for shooting and tank training practise. Plans to use the area for D-Day practice were abandoned when sand and water channels made this impossible but there is still an active base there and we were witness to some extremely low flying aircraft.



Portmahomack


PortmahomackSt Colmac established a priory here in AD975 and the fishing village grew up beside the shore. A church was built on the site of the priory in 1255. in the 18th century, Lord Tarbat built a pier and now It has become a pleasant resort around a broad sandy bay edged with rock pools much used by windsurfers.

By the 1830s, Portmahomack was home to over 100 fishing boats and today its pretty harbour remains home to a few lobster and crab fishing boats and leisure craft.

Tarbat Discovery CentreOn a small hill above the bay, the Old Tarbat Parish Church with it’s oddly domed roof, was built in 1756. This now houses the Tarbat Discovery Centre which provides visitors with the history of area's pictish past:. There is even a life-size bronze of a Pictish Queen outside.

Nearby, in the village of Rockfield, Ballone Castle is a 16th Century Z-plan tower house built by the Dunbars of Easter Tarbat. It lay in ruins for many years before being restored by a local architect as a family home.



Tarbat Ness


lighthouseWe followed the road for three miles to the tip of the peninsula, Tarbat Ness, where an impressive 40m high, red and white lighthouses perches on the cliffs. This was built to guide ships past the sandbar of Gizzen Briggs in the Dornoch Firth.

Tarbat Ness It is one of the tallest lighthouses in Britain and Tarbat Ness is an important landfall for migrating birds from Scandinavia. A wire fence at the end of the car park had been broken, and we joined several people taking photographs.



Shandwick, Balintore and Hilton


Seaboard foreshoreOn the south eastern shore of the peninsula these three villages are often collectively referred to as ‘Seaboard’. They merge into one another along a rocky foreshore that turns into a sandy beach at Shandwick Bay and with Balintore, the middle of the three with the main harbour.

At Hilton of Cadboll are the remains of the ancient Our Lady's Chapel, now covered by turf. The Pictish stone which originally stood next to it has been removed to Edinburgh's Royal Museum of Scotland and the surrounding fields may contain the deserted medieval fishing village of Cadboll-Fisher.

Balintore harbourFishing has always been at the centre of the community and the name Shandwick comes from the Norse ‘Sand-Vik’ that means sand bay. Fishing boats were pulled up on the beach right up to the 1890s, when a massive harbour wall was built at Balintore and you can get fishing and sea bird viewing trips here.

Clach a' CharridhOn the hillside above Shandwick, stands the magnificent Clach a' Charridh - a tall-Pictish cross-slab with carvings of angels, huntsmen, animals, and abstract patterns.

Clach a' CharridhThis 2.7m high cross slab dates back to 780AD and stands in its original position, although it blew down and broke in half in 1846. Now, having been restored, it is well protected in a large glass box that looks rather odd in the middle of a field.

Fearn AbbeyA couple of miles inland is Fearn Abbey, founded by the Earl of Ross in 1225 on the Dornoch Firth, but moved here in 1238.

After the Reformation of 1560 it became the Parish Church but was struck by lightning in 1742 when the stone-flagged roof collapsed on to the congregation. The church was reconstructed but roofless mausoleums still project from both sides.



Nigg


Nigg from CromartyNigg Old Church has been restored and houses the Nigg Stone, another Pictish cross-slab which once stood in the churchyard. At Nigg Ferry, there are giant cranes in the yards that serve North Sea oilfields. And a two-car ferry crosses the Cromarty Firth to Cromarty.

Ferry signOn the Sands of Nigg there is an RSPB haven for a wide range of sea birds and the southern shore eventually climbs the cliffs of North Suter and the ruins of 12th century Dunskeath Castle.



Invergordon and Alness


Invergordon We left the peninsula but not the oil rigs. In the 1970s and 80s Invergordon prospered from rig-fitting and aluminium smelting. Although the aluminium works are now closed, the rigs retain their presence like sentinals strung out along the Cromarty Firth whilst welders worked on one enormous structure close to the road.

Welding in progressThe harbour now has a yacht club and the stony foreshore with its long pier is part of the Nigg Bay RSPB Reserve.

Alness has also expanded with industrial growth from the oil business and has two distilleries, one of which, Dalmore Distillery, is open to the public.



Dingwall


MacDonald's Tower For much of the 1900s Dingwall's traffic congestion was caused by the A9 passing through from Inverness to Wick, but this changed with the building of the Cromarty Firth Bridge. Now it is a large market town.

The name Dingwall comes from the Norse ‘Thing vollr’, meaning ‘parliament field’ and the town was important as far back as the Viking era. Dingwall then became the administrative centre of the vast area of Ross & Cromarty which until 1975, extended from the Black Isle in the east to the west coast, including Lewis in the Western Isles.

Dingwall stationMuch of the early development focused on a castle built in the 1200s that later fell into ruin. In 1814 the Rivers Conon and Beauly were bridged and the town became the focus of communications within northern Scotland with the railway arriving in 1862 and with an attractive railway station complete with a green-painted pub on the main platform. It also became a significant port with a harbour built by Thomas Telford in about 1820.

tolboothThe tolbooth has a tower that dates back to 1730 and now houses the Dingwall Museum. It also includes information on General Sir Hector MacDonald, born locally in 1853 with a considerable military career, which began in the Gordon Highlanders.

As you drive into the town, you are struck by a tower erected in MacDonald's name standing on top of Mitchell Hill.



Strathpeffer


Spa PavilionThis was a real surprise, a beautiful little 19th century town, built for its spa and more resembling an English resort. In the 1700s, the discovery of sulphurous springs led to a steady stream of visitors from around Europe that grew dramatically with the coming of the railway, built specifically to service the spa.

Pump roomThe buildings, with their Victorian origins, show how wealthy the town was at the time it was built. Large hotels are interspersed with attractive houses and churches. The original Spa Pavilion has been restored and now serves as a function suite.

exhibitionThe original Pump Room now houses the tourist information and is beautifully displayed with an exhibition, set off by the green and white tiled interior. We had to sample the water which smelt and tasted of rotten eggs. In it’s heyday, punters dranks pints of the stuff and immersed themselves in mud baths.

Old stationThe trains are long gone, but the pretty station has been restored to house craft shops and the Highland Museum of Childhood which we thought was rather overpriced.

Eagle StoneWe went in search of the Eagle Stone, carved with Pictish insignia and dating back to around 600AD. The Brahan Seer said that should the stone fall three times then ships would anchor on the spot. And so far this has happened twice! He died in 1660, but many of his prophesies are believed to have come true, so the Eagle Stone is now cemented in position.



Beauly


Glen Ord Distillery We drove through Muir of Ord and past the distinctive pagodas of the the Glen Ord Distillery that had been in operation since 1838.

BeaulyBeauly is at the head of the Beauly Estuary and grew around the 13th century Priory. This was one of three priories founded in Scotland by monks from the Burgundy region of France around 1230.

Beauly PrioryAfter the reformation, the priory fell into disuse and much of its stone was used for other buildings in the town. Mary Queen of Scots and her retinue stayed at the priory and was charmed by the place, ordering outfits in tartan for her entire court.

The ruins dominate the wide village square, laid out by Baron Lovat in the 1840s and now full of splendid floral displays. Nearby is the Beauly Centre with exhibitions and a shop.



Cromarty Firth


A9 over Cromarty FirthThe A9 crosses the Cromarty Firth via a spectacular bridge that was completed in 1982. This is a deep narrow inlet of the Moray Firth that provides excellent anchorage, its narrow entrance being protected by the headlands of the Sutor rocks, more than 400 ft high.

Oil RigCromarty Firth has long been recognised as an important haven, being sheltered, deep, easily defended and very large. The Royal Navy used it through both world wars, but more recently it has been associated with the North Sea oil boom. Nigg and Invergordon are used as service and construction yards and a string of drilling rigs are moored along the length of the Firth.

Udale BayWe set out across the Black Isle which is actually a peninsula rather than an island and is an area of rolling hills and fertile farmland. The northern road passes Udale Bay with its national nature reserve, an important resting point for migrating birds. There is an RSPB hide in a lay-by to the west of Jemimaville, from which large numbers of waders, ducks and geese can often be seen.



Cromarty


Cromarty CourthouseYou need a whole day to see everything in Cromarty. It used to be the administrative centre of the Black Isle, so named according to one theory because it is seldom whitened by snow. Cromarty’s major phase of development followed its purchase by George Ross in 1772. He built the harbour as well as cloth, rope and ironware factories and imported raw materials from the Baltic.

Hugh Miller's CottageWe spent some time in the Cromarty Courthouse, which was built in 1773, and is now a fascinating museum. There are prison cells, a trial room with an audio presentation and exhibits detailing the history of the town.

Next door, Hugh Miller's Cottage is the only thatched cottage left in Cromarty and the interior has been restored as it would have been during his life between 1802 and 1856. He was a stonemason who became interested in geology and fossils; and who also became a notable author and church reformer. There is also a memorial to him a short distance south of the cottage.

East ChurchThe East Church dates back to at least the 17th century and features a plaque commemorating the eccentric Sir Thomas Urquhart, who claimed to have traced his ancestry back to Adam and Eve. It is regarded as one of the best preserved Presbyterian churches in Scotland and after the Reformation, preaching became central to the the church service and a pulpit was placed mid way down the south wall.View to Sutor Headland

By the early 1700s the roof was raised to allow a gallery to be inserted in the west end and a new wing and two more galleries added later. It is unusual and fascinating and still used for occasional Sunday services, weddings and funerals.

Cromarty FerryCromarty LighthouseThere is a nice walk to South Sutor headland, where there are still gun emplacements on both hills that replaced the small batteries built there in 1709.

Down at the harbour there is a lighthouse and the smallest car ferry in Scotland still operates to Nigg. We took one look at the waves and decided we'd drive the long way round!



Rosemarkie


RosemarkieRosemarkie Cross SlabThis little resort comprises a collection of small cottages and two-storey houses by a sandy beach. It is an extremely ancient village that was certainly settled by the Picts and these roots are celebrated in the Groam House Museum. Amongst other exhibits is the ornately carved Rosemarkie Cross Slab.

We had an early morning walk through Fairy Glen Nature Reserve, a wooded area that extends inland along the Rosemarkie Burn and features many varieties of woodland plant, and birds such as buzzards and willow warblers.

St Moluag founded a chapel in the mid 500s, which was replaced by a monastery founded by St Boniface and in 1125 King David I founded the first Cathedral of Ross here. The Cathedral moved to Fortrose in the late 1200s but a series of churches were built on the same site over the following centuries.



Chanonry Point


Towards Chanonry PointMoray Firth & Fort GeorgeChanonry Point lies at the end of Chanonry Ness, a spit of land extending over a mile south east into the Moray Firth from Rosemarkie and we were staying on the caravan sites at the other end of the beach.

People come to Chanonry Point to enjoy the superb coastal scenery, the views across the Moray Firth to the vast Fort George. The crossing here is the shortest in the Moray Firth east of Inverness and a passenger ferry operated until 1953. The ferry pier at Chanonry Point dates back to the mid 1700s, when the nearby Ferry House was also built.

Brahan Seer StoneIn 1660 the point was where Kenneth Mackenzie, better known as the Brahan Seer met his end. The Brahan Seer can be thought of as a Highland Nostradamus. When asked by Isabella, 3rd Countess of Seaforth, why her husband was late returning home, he told her that her husband was dallying in Paris with an attractive lady. Chanonry LighthouseHis reward was to be burned to death in a barrel of tar for witchcraft. His passing is marked by a stone memorial as he overlooked the golden rule of seers - first find out what the client wants to hear.

The lighthouse, first lit in 1846, was designed by Alan Stevenson and has Egyptian styled keepers cottages. We arrived at high tide as it was getting dusk and the sunset behind the lighthouse was stunning. The waters are turbulent waters off the point and the dolphins were very active. We spent quite a while trying to catch them on video.



Fortrose


Fortrose Cathedral Fortrose was once famed for its shoemakers whose business premises were around the High Street closes. We parked in the Cathedral Square and walked over to see the ruins that were chained off because of vandalism. This used to be the local centre of religion, and pilgrims came from all over the country to visit St. Boniface's shrine. The building of the beautiful red sandstone Cathedral happened around 1250 with the choir, chancel and chapter house completed by 1290.

Cathedral ruinsThe Cathedral fell into disrepair after the Reformation and Cromwell's troops removed much of the stone in the 1650s, although it was mainly the townsfolk who pilfered the crumbling stones to rebuild their own houses.

After this, Fortrose went in to a period of decline but by 1850, the town had a daily steamer service to Inverness and the old houses on Cathedral Square were redeveloped into Victorian Villas. The opening of the Black Isle Railway in 1894 brought an abrupt end to the Black Isle Steamship Company and in 1927 the last of the wooden jetty was swept away in a storm. Now the harbour of this former fishing village is often busy with pleasure craft

This railway was closed in the 1950s along with all the other useful branch lines making cars an essential mode of transport all over the UK. A pretty awful lack of forethought!



Avoch


Avoch Avoch means ‘mouth of the stream’and is pronounced locally -'Ock'.. Cottages in the Fishertown area run at right angles to the shore and were built by Thomas Telford in 1814. An area known as the ‘Dock’ was a maze of thatched dwellings know as 'but and bens' .

Unfortunately my photographs of the pretty harbour were ruined by a massive cloud burst.



Munlochy

Munlochy
This quiet village's early growth was to house workers quarrying stone nearby for the building of Fort George on the far side of the Moray Firth in the 1760s.

It is set on high ground at the head of Munlochy Bay, whose mud flats and tidal sands attract large numbers of birds and large numbers of bird watchers.



Clootie Well



We stopped at a strange place on the A832 where the trees are festooned with bits of cloth tied in the branches. This is the ‘Clootie Well’ and is said to be the site of an ancient chapel dedicated to St Boniface. It was supposed to have once been the home of a fairy, who granted health and luck to anyone drinking the well water in return for a gift of cloth.

Clootie WellClootie WellClootie Well

The legend is that to achieve a cure you had to spill some water from the well on the ground in three places, rip off part of your clothing, tie it to a nearby branch, make a sign of the cross and drink from the well. The waters of the well apparently healed sick children, who were often brought here and left overnight. All a bit weird but obviously still believable.



North Kessock


At North Kessock The small village marks the entrance to the Beauly Firth. We parked at the visitor centre just north of the Kessock Bridge, where there is a lovely view towards Inverness. There are some steps down to the village and you can walk below the bridge.

North KessockThe road bridge carries the A9 across the narrow strait between the Moray and Beauly Firths and has a span of 1150 yards. It was modelled on a bridge over the River Rhine and was opened in 1982 after 6 years construction.Kessock Bridge It’s four columns are hollow with a ladder inside to allow access to the aircraft warning lights at the top.

It is always sad to cross to the south and leave the Highlands behind.


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