Squeezed between the Cromarty Firth to the south and the Dornoch Firth to the north is the Tain Peninsula, whose largest town is Tain. Visitor guide to Tain in the Scottish Highlands. Include info on Portmahomack, Hill of Fearn and details on how to get there, sights, sleeping and eating options and also shopping info.
Local Sights & Activities for Tain
Tain was the birthplace of the 11th-century missionary St Duthac. Pilgrims flocked here in the Middle Ages to his shrine, and a ruin near the links is thought to be the original chapel. His head and heart, encapsulated in gold and silver reliquaries, were later kept in the still extant medieval Collegiate church until their disappearance during the Reformation. The shrine was much favoured by the Stewart kings, notably James IV who on one of his frequent pilgrimages reputedly approached walking penitentially barefoot along the King's Causeway. Tain's status as a place of sanctuary probably explains why Bruce's family fled here during the Wars of Independence.
The Collegiate church is on Castle Brae, just off the High Street, and inside is a 17th-century panel painted with the badges of the trade guilds, a reminder of the town's busy international trade. Another reminder is the imposing 16th-century Tolbooth in the High Street. Next to the church is a museum housed in the Pilgrimage which charts the town's medieval history in the Tain through Time exhibition. Info - Apr-Oct Mon-Sat 1000-1700, £3.50, concession £2.50. Tel. 894089.
One of Tain's main attractions is the very fine Glenmorangie whisky distillery, just off the A9 to the north of town, where you can see how the world-famous whisky is made and try a sample. Info - All year Mon-Fri 0900-1700, Jun-Aug Mon-Sat 1000-1600 and Sun 1200-1600. Tours (45mins) from 1030-1530, £2.50, where you can see how the world-famous whisky is made and try a sample. Famous for its various wood finishes, Glenmorangie remains Scotland's best-selling single malt whisky. You can now stay here, in some considerable style and comfort, at Glenmorangie House Tel. 892477. Also out of town, just to the south off the A9, is the Aldie Water Mill, a restored 16th-century mill in working order, with various high-quality craft shops attached. Nearby is the Tain PotteryTel. 893786. 1000-1700, which you can also visit.
The town of Tain serves a vast hinterland. Inland the hills are little-visited backwoods and farm towns, narrow valleys lined with crofts where cattle graze in boggy haughs and, to the west, glens and moorland. Along the seaboard are the windswept fields of the Tarbat Peninsula. Good sea angling is to be had from the harbours of the otherwise dull coastal villages such as Balintore, and at Shandwick is a massive Pictish stone. It is said that unbaptized children were buried near the stone which is now in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
The seaside village of Portnahomack, or 'port of Colman', is named after the missionary who was keen as mustard to found a religious settlement here. Archaeological work is revealing the importance of this area in Pictish times. The Tarbat Discovery Centre, Tel. 871790, in Tarbat Old Church, displays recently discovered Pictish stonecarving. From the harbour, with its 18th-century girnals (grain warehouses) and sheltered sandy beach, you can see a huge stretch of the Sutherland coast, and the great sandbanks - the 'gizzen brigs' - at the mouth of the Dornoch Firth. Boat trips are available from the harbour for sea angling. A worthwhile trip is out to Tarbat Ness lighthouse, about three miles north.
A great place to eat out here is The Oyster Catcher, Tel. 871560, a small café-restaurant serving snacks and lunches, and dinner from 1930 (if booked). Crêpes are a speciality, but it also does pasta, seafood and fish.
Self Catering Cottages in Portmahomack
Hill of Fearn
South from Portnahomack, just west of the junction of the B9165 and the B9166, is Hill of Fearn. Fearn Abbey was moved here around 1250 from its original site near Edderton, where it was too vulnerable to sea raiders. It later became the parish church, but in 1742 lightning struck the roof which fell in, killing 38 Sunday worshippers. A tragedy was preceded by a fairy harbinger sighted at nearby Loch Eye. In Hill of Fearn is the excellent Anta Factory Shop, one of the very best places in the country for classy tartan furnishing fabrics, as well as tartan rugs and throws, and pottery. Info - Mon-Sat 1000-1700 (Jun-Sep also Sun 1000-1600).
Tain Hotels & Accommodation
There are several grand hotels in and around Tain. Mansfield House Hotel, Scotsburn Rd, Tel. 892052, www.mansfield-house.co.uk 19th-century baronial splendour and superb cuisine. Restaurant also open to non-residents (mid-range to expensive). There's the excellent value Morangie House Hotel, on Morangie Rd, Tel. 892281. It's popular locally for its food (mid-range) and is open for lunch and dinner. There are also more modest B&B options, such as Golf View House, at 13 Knockbreck Rd, Tel. 892856, www.golfview.co.uk