Written by Lynsey Oxton
Despite its name, the Black Isle is not an island (it’s a peninsula) and it’s not black either (in fact, it’s lush green). It supposedly got it’s name because it was once completely dark woodland with rich soil – although there are lots of theories as to how the name came about – so who really knows?
At around a short, 30 minute drive from our base in Inverness, a hop across to the Black Isle was always going to be on the ‘to do’ list.
When planning the trip, I’d read that Chanonry Point was the best place in the whole of Scotland to spot bottle nosed dolphins in the wild, as this was the most northerly breeding ground in Europe. Naturally, I wanted to see if I could spot some myself! This was absolutely our first port of call on the Black Isle!
I’d also heard that the dolphins swam right up into the channel, so any sighting would most definitely be an up-close encounter!
Arriving full of anticipation and with zoom lens poised, I can’t deny it was a disappointment to find just a handful of eagle-eyed visitors, all looking clearly deflated – and a distinct lack of dolphins.
Still, it had a lovely (if not windy) beach which you can stroll along and explore rock pools, whilst keeping your eyes peeled for otters and seals instead (and, no – I was unlucky on that score too!)
I subsequently learned that dolphin activity is influenced by tidal conditions which change on a daily basis – so, there’s no way to accurately predict when Flipper and friends will be present. However, a rising tide is usually best and so if you plan to venture up to Chanonry Point when you’re next in the Highlands, late afternoon may be a better time to choose. I hope you have better luck than me!
Further up the coastline is the little fishing village of Cromarty, perched up on the furthest tip of the southern shore. The name actually means ‘the crooked bay’. I liked the sound of it immediately!
As you drive towards Cromarty, you might be mistaken for thinking that there are ugly, oil rigs out in the sea that somewhat ruin the vista – but in fact, these are salmon stations as Cromarty is a successful seaport. Because of this, much like it’s neighbouring Chanonry Point, Cromarty is also supposed to be a good place to spot bottle-nosed dolphins (again, no joy for me!).
Dolphins or not, Cromarty is a really fascinating village to stop in at. I wouldn’t call it ‘crooked’ but the cottages are all colourful, unique and intriguing and would have belonged to fishermen back in the 18th and 19th centuries. Definitely a little charmer, this place.
It is believed that Cromarty was a Royal Burgh as far back as the 1100’s and in nod to this, you’ll find that each of the street names has a royal emblem attached.
We thought that since the sun had made an appearance, we would have a little stroll and see where we ended up (walk off our full Scottish breakfast in all honesty). We quickly stumbled upon a signpost for a short, 2.5 mile circular walk which seemed just what the doctor ordered.
At the same time as seeing the signpost, we also met a friendly local who looked up from his newspaper and told us that we should instead do the walk up to the ‘Sutors viewpoint’ in order to get the very best views. In fact, he described it as “like being on an aeroplane looking down into the village”. Sounded good….
….of course, with the benefit of hindsight, anything resembling an aerial view was always going to endure some kind of ‘uphill’.
And ‘uphill’ it certainly was, up and up through vast forest! However, after climbing for what felt like ten hours (but was probably more like one and a half), we finally made it to the top of Sutors viewpoint – and yes – I’ll give that local his due – the view was pretty spectacular.
The walk down was, of course, much easier and took us past fields of barley, small farms and an equestrian centre (complete with its own Scottish unicorn!) – finishing off back at a little cafe for a latte and a cake. Well, nobody could say we hadn’t earned it!
Whisky-tasting (nosing) at the Glen Ord Distillery
Of course, that rich, dark soil on the Black Isle provides the peat and barley essential for one of Scotland’s most famous drinks – whisky – and you simply can’t not go and seek out one of the many distilleries when you’re in the Highlands! Not going is simply not allowed.
After our day out at Chanory Point and Cromarty, we stopped off at the Glen Ord distillery on the Muir of Ord (which had been recommended to us by a kindly barman at our hotel). For the whisky connoisseurs out there, this particular distillery specialises in the Singleton Malt.
Not being much of a whisky drinker myself, I was really surprised to find that I actually enjoyed the visit which includes exhibits and seeing how the whisky is made on site. You can book from a variety of tours, or simply visit the site itself, where there’s an excellent gift shop too. If you’re touring, be sure to book in advance online, to allow for smaller numbers and social-distancing.
Of course, there’s also the eagerly awaited ‘nosing’ experience at the end. For anyone driving, the kind workers will give you a ‘take away’ instead. Now that is the epitome of Scottish hospitality!
As with all holidays, a souvenir or two is always in order! Cheers!
The Black Isle in its entirety comprises just a small number of villages, all of which can be seen easily over a couple of days. Stay in one of the villages or do as we did and use Inverness as your base. The peninsula also crosses part of the famous North Coast 500 scenic route, so if that is on your itinerary, be sure to drop in to the Black Isle – and if you spot a dolphin, let me know!