7 Days on The Black Isle
The Black Isle is like the Highlands in miniature, a self-contained destination that has enough attractions that you need not leave for the duration of your stay. It’s easy to get around, with a unique history, great entertainment and stunning natural beauty. Instead of a holiday spent driving, consider a week of staying put, eating, drinking and relaxing.
Picnic on the beach
The beach at Rosemarkie is perfect for building sandcastles, taking the dog for a walk and having a picnic. It’s long enough and rarely crowded so easy to find a quiet spot. The perfect picnic should provide sustenance for the day’s exertions so swing by the Cromarty Bakery first thing for some freshly baked bread and The Cheese House for some accompaniment. It is maybe not what you would expect to find in a small fishing village but this Dutch cheese shop located in the old Police Station was named as Independent Retailer of the Year at the recent Highland Food Awards. Sandpiper House is located just above Cromarty, sleeps 10 people and welcomes two dogs.
Although located not far from the route of the North Coast 500, The Black Isle has not seen the large increases in traffic that the popularity of the route has brought. The abundance of scenic and quiet paths suitable for families and the mountain bike trails at Learnie mean there is something here for everyone. It is in fact easy to have a car free holiday as most of the attractions of the Black Isle are close enough to ride to and Black Isle Bikes, which also rents out electric bikes will even deliver to your holiday cottage. Cotterton has a lockable bike store and is close to the national cycle network if you wanted to take the designated cycle route all the way into Inverness.
The Black Isle has two micro-breweries, both of which welcome visitors. The Black Isle Brewery organises tours and the well-stocked shop at Cromarty Brewery offers tastings and a great selection of limited edition and special brews not available anywhere else. For those more interested in a dram, the award winning whisky bar at The Anderson is the best place to relax and revel in the depth of choice available – 254 malts at the last check! Westerlea offers the perfect location to sip a single malt as the sun goes down. It offers decking outside with views over Ben Wyvis for the summer and a lovely wood burning stove to cosy up beside with a dram in the winter.
A day of culture
The Black Isle is steeped in history and is blessed with three top class museums. The Cromarty Courthouse, Groam House Museum and Hugh Miller’s Cottage are all fascinating in their own way, are child friendly and make a great way to spend a rainy day. Seashell Cottage is a traditional stone built cottage right in the centre of Cromarty and is walking distance to all the attractions in the village.
For the visiting foodie then it is possible to have a day on The Black Isle completely devoted to culinary indulgence. Start with an alfresco breakfast at Crofter’s Bistro and a full Scottish while overlooking the beach. A quick stroll is enough to work up an appetite so pop in to The Beach Café for a mid-morning coffee and some home baking. At lunch amble over to Cromarty and Sutor Creek for fresh seafood or the best pizza in the Highlands, Italian style, baked in a traditional wood fired oven and prepared with local ingredients. Leave some space for afternoon tea at Chanterelle Kinkell accompanied by homemade sausage rolls and choux buns stuffed with herb cream cheese, cakes, scones and pastries. In the evening then The Anderson has forged a reputation for excellence based on traditional Scottish cooking using locally sourced produce. For a truly special way to round off your culinary day out, try a flame grilled 6 oz. Black Isle Beef Filet Steak with all the trimmings. Dolphin House is walking distance away but after a day like this you may prefer a taxi.
Chanonry Point is the best location in the UK for watching dolphins from the shore. As the tides change and the dolphins feed, the spectacular displays have enchanted visitors time and time again. To maximise your chances of spotting these elusive creatures you can take a boat trip with Ecoventures, the added bonus is that you may also get to see a Harbour Porpoise, Pilot Whale or Basking Sharks. The RSPB reserve at Udale Bay is one of the best in the area, a vast and beautiful expanse of estuary, feeding grounds for thousands of birds. The Old Manse overlooks this and you can spot Ospreys here in the summer.
A Supernatural Day Out
No stay on The Black Isle would be complete without a trip to the eerily atmospheric Clootie Well. On the site of a traditional healing well, visitors have left strips of cloth or rags as offerings. The ancient ritual dictates that as the cloth decays then the pilgrim will heal. Another reminder of the ancient traditions of the area and a fine excuse for a walk is the Fairy Glen near Rosemarkie. A beautiful woodland path leads to a waterfall which local children would traditionally decorate in the hope that the fairies would keep the water clean. Another fantastic walk, but with more of a conventional spiritual background, is the hike to the preaching dell near Ferintosh. This natural hollow was where outdoor church services were once held with attendances reported of up to 10,000. The tradition has been kept alive with at least two services now taking place here every summer. The Burrow is a stylish retreat for two, just a short walk from here.