Known as The King’s Ferry as there has been a ferry running between Cromarty and Nigg at least since the 1100s and probably earlier, for it would have been a natural route from the south and west of Scotland at all periods, including that of the Picts. Pictish royal connections have been claimed as being present in place-names on the Hill. Cadha Neachdain,
(Nechtan’s Path) a steep path leading down the Nigg cliffs to Uamh an Righ (the King’s Cave) have been associated with the eighth-century Pictish King Nechtan who secured the independence of the Pictish church from Irish domination – a move supported by a saint whose career is linked with Rosemarkie on the Black Isle. Nechtan was a devout king and is known to have retreated into clerical life. So it is not impossible that, when in the district, he crossed on the ferry to secure at Nigg a place of retreat from the world, facing the ocean. More certain is the royal association of the ferry with King William the Lion, for ferry revenues were expected to contribute to the upkeep of Dunskaith Castle.
The King of Scots most closely connected with the ferry is, of course, James IV, whose typically late medieval piety involved many visits to a celebrated northern shrine, that of the historically elusive St Duthac at Tain.
A trip to the Highlands wouldn’t be complete without visiting one or two of the reknowned malt whiskey distilleries in the area. Close to Hamilton Cottage are the Glenmorangie Distillery (Tain) and Dalmore Distillery (Invergordon), a little further afield can be found the Balbair Distillery on the Balnagown Estate (this vast estate is home also to the
‘Falls of Shin’ – watching the salmon leap is exhilerating, then there’s an opportunity for lunch and a browse round Harrods!)Of course there are plenty more Distilleries to visit around the Highlands – too many to mention here…
Dunrobin Castle is a short drive further north from Dornoch just north of the small town of Golspie. The fairy tale architecture of gleaming white turrets and sweeping spires draw crowds of tourists each year to tour the castle and look at the splendour of life in years gone by.
Hill of Nigg
Looking out from Arabella Holdings towards the South East, it is difficult to miss the Hill rising above the fertile landscape. Views from the Hill of Nigg are unsurpassed and extend over three Firths and six counties. On a clear day, you can see Ben Rinnes to the south and Dunrobin Castle to the northViewed from inland, the Hill gives an impression of being pastoral fields and meadow land but behind that peaceful scene lies the force of The Moray Firth with dramatically sheer cliffs dropping straight down into the sea, protecting the
Hill on the landward side. To the north, the Hill gently descends to sea level but to the south it ends in the North Sutor which forms, with the South Sutor, above Cromarty, ‘The Sutors of Cromarty’ are rightly considered to be one of the great sights of the Highlands. They are the oldest geological features of a landscape, teeming with fossils, perpetually providing an impressive natural gateway to the safe and deep harbour of the Cromarty Firth, clearly visible from the Nairn side of the Moray Firth. The Sutors stand guard over the Firth and many stories were told about them.
‘Sutor’ is the Scots word for shoemaker, and one story goes that two giant shoemakers, the sutors, used the two cliffs as their workbenches, tossing tools one to the other as necessary. In folklore, the Hill has always been regarded as a suitable terrain for the activities of a race of giants. In historic times men, too, have exploited the North Sutor for defensive purposes. Scotland’s great twelfth-century king, William the Lion, built a formidable royal stronghold overlooking the entrance to the Firth – Dunskaith Castle, the remains of the curtain walls of which can still be traced among grass and bracken as you go up the Hill from the Ferry to Castlecraig. The cultural continuity of the North Sutor is dramatically demonstrated by the presence of twentieth-century military installations in amongst the castle remains.
In both World Wars this was a vital focus for Britain’s defence.