Round Britain: Cromarty to the Dornoch Firth


On another sunny day we set off from Rosemarkie up the Fairy Glen to join the road to Cromarty. It is a village sited between the Sutors, the two headlands one mile apart at the entrance to the bay. We parked by the shore where dozens of kayakers were arriving and getting ready to enter the water. The Stevenson lighthouse built in 1846 is now a Field Station for Aberdeen University marine biologists.

A small ferry runs across to Nigg on the other side during the summer months.

A monument on the shoreline is a memorial to all those who emigrated to North America after the clearances. It lists the names of the ships. Most of the buildings in Cromarty are 18th or 19th century. 13 sites have connections to slave plantations, mostly in Guyana and many of the merchants are buried in the cemetery here. Slavery is something Scotland has been late to acknowledge. There is no Museum of Slavery in Scotland while several English cities have one. In 2018 the University of Glasgow announced it was paying £20 million in reparation for donations derived from slavery merchants. George Ross, a businessman, bought Cromarty in 1772 investing in a harbour, hemp works, brewery, nail works, a lace-making school, stable and a hog yard for pigs. The hemp was imported from St Petersburg and the factory produced bags and sacks for West Indian goods. He built the Gaelic chapel in 1784 for the influx of Gaelic speakers into the town. Cromarty was one of the towns that made so much money from the slave trade that it petitioned against abolition. Perhaps the most famous son of Cromarty was Hugh Miller, a self-taught geologist, naturalist, writer and florist born in 1802. The house he was born in and the one he lived in are now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland but were closed at the time we visited.

He died in Edinburgh in 1856. There is a trail around the important places in the town, including his statue. The oldest building in the town still standing is Townslands Barn built in 1690 for Bernard Mckenzie. In the early 19th century it was converted to a threshing barn and latterly for agricultural storage. It is Grade A listed and was acquired by the community in 2018 who hope to be able to raise funds and restore it for some future use.

We had coffee at the Emporium which in addition to having a small café, sells new and used books, gifts and postcards.

Afterwards we continued along the north shore of the Black Isle, passing through Jemimaville and then stopping at the RSPB Udale Bay Reserve. Many migrating birds stop here to feed. We saw Canada and Pink-footed Geese and other birds in the distance. In the logbook someone in earlier in the day had seen an osprey feeding.

After crossing the Cromarty Firth, we stopped at Tain for supplies and as we were too early to check in to the campsite, had a look at the first item on the Pictish Trail. The Edderton Cross-Slab is a stone dating from the 9th century with a Celtic Cross and three horsemen: it is not certain who they are. Other fragments of stone are inside the old church which is only open at certain times. The Pictish Trail runs from Edderton to Altnaharra and visits 13 sites.

After checking in we needed a walk. The site sits between the A9 near the Dornoch Firth Bridge, the train line (and former station now a house) and just beside it runs a minor road down to Meikle Ferry Point. Cattle were grazing in the fields around the bay and looked at us curiously wondering who we were.

The passenger ferry ceased to run when the bridge opened in 1991. Prior to this vehicles had to drive to Bonar Bridge to cross the Firth. There are now houses at the tip of the point but the old piers on the south and north shore are still visible.

We have to be off the site by 10am tomorrow to continue our journey north.

Blue skies in the Highlands

On Friday we had lunch with a friend in the Scottish Arts Club and then left Edinburgh to drive to Inverness. As expected it took a while to get out of the city but we were soon at the Forth where the new crossing is being built. There are no longer any tolls on the road bridge and the rail bridge was looking great in the sunshine. Most of the leaves have gone from the trees but the colours in Perthshire were fabulous. The new average speed restrictions are now in operation on the A9 and many people had predicted problems but we found none. North of Dunkeld there was a lot of flooding in the fields and all the rivers were in full spate. There was, for the time of year, very little snow on the top of the Cairngorms and we descended the Slochd as the sun set and drove into Inverness. After a couple of drinks at the Heathmount we had a great dinner cooked by our friends as we plotted the next day’s walk. On Saturday we were up early and off the the Black Isle to walk near Cromarty. The sun was shining and the sea and the sky blue so we had a very pleasant walk along the shore and up into deciduous woodland with views across the Firth from the top of the hill.
Installation on shore Cromarty 8 Nov 2014 (1 of 1)
We descended across some fields to a minor road and then sat by the harbour with coffee and some great cakes from the local bakery, watched closely by a pair of juvenile gulls who were begging for titbits. Now we are resting back at the house (the boys watching the rugby) before going to Scottish Opera’s production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola this evening.
Cromarty from the South Sutor 8 Nov 2014 (1 of 1)