Visitor guide to Dornoch Firth and surrounding areas in the Scottish Highlands. Includes info on how to get there, sleeping and eating options, and details on Culrain, Bonar Bridge and Invershin.
Fairies were said to cross the Dornoch Firth on cockle shells and were once seen building a bridge of fairy gold, perhaps a forerunner of the Dornoch Bridge which carries the A9 across the Firth just north of Tain. A more pleasant and interesting route is to follow the A836 along the south shore. From The Struie, reached by the B9176 which branches south at Easter Fearn, there's a panoramic view over the Dornoch Firth and the Sutherland hills. In the churches of Edderton and Kincardine are Pictish stones. Another stands in a field northwest of Edderton, but don't disturb the crops or livestock. A quartz boulder at Ardgay, the 'Clach Eiteag', commemorates the cattle tryst and fair which once took place locally.
Ten miles from Ardgay, at the end of lovely Strathcarron, is the isolated Croick church, one of the most poignant reminders of the infamous Clearances. Here in 1845, 90 local folk took refuge in the churchyard after they had been evicted from their homes in Glencalvie by the Duke of Sutherland to make way for flocks of sheep. A reporter from The Times described the 'wretched spectacle' as men, women and children were carted off, many never to return. The report is there to read. Far more evocative and harrowing, though, are the names and messages the people scratched in spidery copperplate in the window panes.
North of Ardgay is the Kyle of Sutherland, where several rivers converge to flood into the sea through lush water meadows. Montrose was defeated here, at Carbisdale, in 1651. Overlooking the Kyle, at Culrain, is the 19th-century Carbisdale Castle, once home of the exiled King of Norway, which now houses the largest and most sumptuous Youth Hostel in Scotland, and possibly anywhere else, Tel. 01549-421232. It's open 26 February-31 October (except the first two weeks in May). Trains between Inverness and Thurso stop at Ardgay and Culrain. The youth hostel is half a mile up a steep hill from the station. Buses between Inverness and Lairg (see below) stop in Ardgay and Bonar Bridge.
Bonar Bridge & Invershin
After the Dornoch Ferry disaster of 1809, a bridge was built over the Kyle at Bonar Bridge, from where the A949 runs eastwards to join the main A9 just before Dornoch, while the A836 continues north to Lairg (see below). A few miles north of Invershin are the Falls of Shin, an excellent place to watch salmon battling upstream on their way to their spawning grounds (best seen June to September). A visitor centre and café/restaurant/shop has information about six easy walks in the immediate area; all are under an hour long. The café/restaurant serves good, cheap food daily till 1730. A shop described as 'Harrods of the north' that explains the goods on offer.
Eleven miles north of Bonar Bridge is the uninspiring village of Lairg, the region's main transport hub. Lairg is best known for its annual lamb sale, when young sheep from all over the north of Scotland are bought and sold.
Dornoch Hotels & Accommodation
Travel Directions to Dornoch
It is said that all roads meet at Lairg, and it's certainly a hard place to avoid. From here the A839 heads east to meet the A9 between Dornoch and Golspie, and west to meet the A837 which runs out to Lochinver. The A836 heads north to Tongue, and south to Bonar Bridge. The A838 meanwhile heads northwest to Laxford Bridge and on to Durness, near Cape Wrath. Trains between Inverness and Thurso stop at Lairg, and buses run from here to Ullapool. There's a Tourist Information Centre, Tel. 402160, Apr-Oct daily.
There are several interesting walks around the village, some of which lead to prehistoric sites such as the Neolithic hut circles at nearby Ord Hill. These walks, and many others in the region, are described with maps in the Forestry Commission's leaflet Forests of the Far North, which is available at the Ferrycroft Countryside Centre and the TIC.
Phone code: +44 (0)1549
Trains between Inverness and Thurso stop at Lairg and Rogart stations 3 times daily. Inverness Traction buses, Tel. 01463-239292, run from here to Ullapool, with connections to Lochinver and Durness, from May to early Oct (Mon-Sat). Lairg is also the central point for several postbus routes, Tel. 01463-256228.