The Hidden History of the Black Isle

16 May 2017


Photo: Mausoleum at Kirkmichael by Felibrilu via CC

The royal opening of the newly restored Kirkmichael Church on the Black Isle last week was a cause for celebration, but it also served to highlight the fascinating history of the area. There are few holiday destinations in the Highlands that can boast of such a huge number of historical sites to visit, from diverse eras, such as Pictish and Medieval, all the way up to Georgian. The Black Isle is a complete, self-contained destination in itself. Travel is straightforward and indeed you could visit all the places mentioned by bike. Here is our selection of some of the most impressive and the best places to stay.

The long neglected Kirkmichael Church is now, after a prolonged period of disrepair being given the attention it deserves. The work here is ongoing, but this magnificent kirk and cemetery is now open to visitors. The long term plan is for the church to house a unique display of medieval ornamental memorials inside as well as having a number of exquisitely restored stone grave slabs outside. Guided tours are available where you can learn about the history of the site and the families associated with it, about symbols of mortality and immortality, and how to read some of our best, but hidden, works of art. The picturesque location on the shores of Udale Bay RSPB Nature Reserve is brilliant for peaceful walks and for spotting birds. Follow the shoreline round and you will, before long get to Jemimaville and The Old Manse. Built in the Regency style this stunning house offers accommodation on three levels and has an amazing garden with easy access to the coast.

Rosemarkie beach is one of the undoubted highlights of the Black Isle. This long sandy spit that extends into the Moray Firth is a delight for dog walkers, golfers and dolphin spotters. At low tide it is possible to walk along the coast from here to view a number of caves that have a fascinating archaeological history. Recent excavations have unearthed evidence of habitation in them as far back as the Pictish period, as well as skeletons that show evidence of ritual killing. Up until the early 20th century some of these caves were still lived in by travellers and although little evidence remains, it doesn’t take much to imagine just how harsh it must have been. For an altogether more comfortable place to stay then Dolphin House is only a few minutes’ walk from the beach. Perfect for families and pets and with a large enclosed garden it makes a great central base for exploring. For those wanting to delve a bit deeper into the early Pictish residents of the area, it’s just a few minutes’ walk to the award winning Groam House Museum.

Cromarty is home to two excellent local museums that focus on different aspects of this historical village. The best of these, Cromarty Courthouse, is free to visit and is located inside a stunning Grade A listed former courthouse. Built in 1773 it now houses fascinating exhibitions about the town and the neighbouring parish of Resolis. You can visit the prison cells and hear a 1770's trial in the courtroom or grab a headset and take a digital audio tour of the old lanes of Cromarty where many buildings have stood relatively unchanged since the 17th century. Seashell Cottage is located on one of these traditional lanes. It is one of the oldest cottages in the village but has been recently modernised to give holidaymakers the best of both worlds, history as well as luxury.

Redcastle, so named due to the distinctive colour of the stone used in its construction was until relatively recently one of the oldest inhabited houses in Scotland with evidence that a castle on this site was first constructed by William the Lion in 1179. This Black Isle landmark is now in a poor state of disrepair but viewed from the outside it still cuts an imposing silhouette into the skyline. In terms of historical grandeur, the only place to stay on The Black Isle that comes close is Poyntzfield House. This Georgian grade A listed mansion was built in 1759 and retains many original features. In terms of atmosphere it exudes a sense of regal charm, and is perfect for extended family get togethers and fans of Downton Abbey. The heated swimming pool makes a brilliant alternative to the beach on cloudy days.