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.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
tech

Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download

Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff
tv

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Arts and Entertainment
tv

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
Life and Style
i100

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
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

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week