Small World: The Black Isle

Years ago, we haunted this place. When we lived near Inverness, it became our stamping-ground. A landscape both bracing and charming, with gentle coastal walks and vistas north and west towards Ben Wyvis and Dingwall, across the peaks of the proper Highlands.

Since moving to Ireland, we keep coming back. We come for the birdlife, for the skies and beaches, the pub grub, the spaciousness, the friendliness of strangers. We come in hope of catching sight of the dolphins that swim and canoodle near Rosemarkie. Now, conversely, the Black Isle haunts us.

Despite its name, the Black Isle isn't an island. Nor is it black. It is a peninsula hedging its bets, stretching away towards the easternmost tip of Easter Ross, towards the little pip of population known as Cromarty. Visitors heading for the Highlands, even those chasing Nessie, and staying over in Inverness are prone to miss it.

Local buses are so infrequent, you'll need a car to ensure a day, or even two, of duly rewarding exploration. A good Ordnance Survey map bought in Inverness will spill the landscape's secrets, its sprinkling of duns and chambered cairns.

Last month we returned to walk favourite tracks. By foot, you can easily follow the beach from Rosemarkie eastwards, towards the base of the fossil-filled cliffs where, in his youth, the writer-geologist Hugh Miller, a pre-Darwinian evolutionist, made countless finds. But we'd been there so often, we opted instead for the Fairy Glen, parking our car near Rosemarkie's old Plough Inn. This two-mile stroll through deciduous woodland leads to a thunder rush of waterfalls and birdsong. We drank the cold water, then walked briskly back, intent on making it to Cromarty, the jewel of the peninsula.

Miller is celebrated in triplicate here. In his honour stands the imposing Hugh Miller Institute, plus a column bearing his figure; that, and the cottage in which he was raised.

The town has a higgledy-piggledy charm, an end-of-the-world feel, although it's just 40 minutes from Inverness.

You can avail yourself of an audio-guided walk around the town, or simply amble, hoofing it up the grassy slope to Hugh Miller's column, a magnet for madcap seagulls. Sometimes, late in the afternoon, you can take a dolphin tour of the coast from Cromarty harbour. Don't expect to see any dolphins. You may be lucky. But in any case, the seaborne views of the town and the Black Isle coast are worth forking out for. Miller once wrote that his native place was "worth an Englishman's while coming all the way from London to see". He was right.

We rambled the graveyard of the East Church, then went inside where someone had written in the visitors' book: "Felt the presence of a spectre in the Poor Loft." My wife tugged my sleeve.

After a feast in the Royal Hotel, we walked off the calories at Eathie, one of Miller's favourite walks (his other favourite tracks the headland past Cromarty's foreshore). All it took was a sharp left turn at the Eathie signpost south of the town and parking at Mains Farm. From there, we walked seaward down a mud path through a zigzag of gorse, and stood agog at the cliffs, as maybe 50 dolphins scrawled their wakes down the Moray Firth towards Inverness.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Day In a Page

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada