Ross and Cromarty is in the Scottish Highlands, to the north and west of Inverness. As the map shows, there's a string of villages along the east coast, more separated villages along the lochs and inlets of the west coast, and lonely moors and mountains in between. There's little industry, and it's very thinly populated - like neighbouring Sutherland, its population were systematically, sometimes violently, removed in the 19th C to make way for sheep, grouse-shooting and deer-stalking.
The local government area of Ross & Cromarty, and its predecessor counties of Cromarty, Easter Ross and Wester Ross, have all been abolished by reorganisation. However those terms still correspond to the natural layout of the region, so they're used (somewhat loosely) on these pages.
Towns and villages
Easter Ross and the Black Isle
The less-visited eastern part of the region, where the Highlands give way to a mix of working towns, rolling farmland and charming seaside villages.
- 1 Fortrose and Rosemarkie are a pair of small seaside towns with a 13th C cathedral. They're a good base for exploring the Black Isle. Nearby is Chanonry Point, with dolphin watching, a sandy beach and a classic links golf course.
- 2 Cromarty has attractive 18/19th C merchants' houses and fishermen's cottages.
- 3 Strathpeffer is a 19th C spa village.
- 4 Dingwall see red kites at the RSPB reserve.
- 5 Alness has two distilleries.
- 6 Invergordon has a deep water harbour and has been a navy base and oil-rig construction yard. It's visited by many cruise liners for Highland excursions.
- 7 Tain: visit the Glenmorangie Distillery.
- 8 Portmahomack has Pictish stones and ruins of a monastery. The town museum turned out to date from the 9th C, so they had to put it in a museum.
Wester Ross and Loch Alsh
The western part of the region, where mountains, castles and small villages make for striking scenery.
- 9 Achiltibuie has the Inverpolly Nature Reserve. Offshore are 1 The Summer Isles.
- 10 Ullapool is a ferry port, beautifully situated beside Loch Broom and surrounded by typical west Highland scenery.
- 11 Gairloch is a small seaside resort with a museum and boat trips.
- 12 Torridon has spectacular loch scenery.
- 13 Plockton is a harbour popular with yacht and dingy sailors.
- 14 Kyle of Lochalsh used to be the main route to Skye, but now the bridge arches overhead.
- 15 Dornie has the scenic Eilean Donan Castle.
- 16 Glenelg, formerly a port for Skye, has ruins of 18th C barracks and two Iron Age forts.
- 2 Knoydart is a remote and scenic peninsula. The main village is Inverie but there's no road in, so you have to take a boat.
Most transport is via 1 Inverness, which has flights across UK and to Amsterdam. Trains run from Edinburgh and Glasgow via Perth and Aviemore to Inverness, with one direct daytime train from London Kings Cross via Peterborough, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh, and an overnight sleeper from London Euston. Trains from Inverness run north across this region via Dingwall, Alness, Invergordon, Fearn, Tain, Ardgay, Culrain, Invershin and Lairg, continuing towards Thurso, which has ferries to Orkney. There are four trains M-Sat and one on Sunday.
By road, A9 runs north from Inverness across Kessock Bridge and the Black Isle to Tain and Dornoch, continuing towards Golspie, Helmsdale, Wick and Thurso. Stagecoach Highlands Bus X98 / X99 runs along this road, four times M-Sat and twice on Sunday.
A835 runs inland from Inverness to Ullapool. Scottish Citylink Bus 961 runs twice a day M-Sat and once on Sunday along this route.
Calmac car ferries sail between Ullapool and Stornoway on Lewis, taking about 2 hours 45 min. They sail year-round, with two sailings M-Sat, one on Sunday Nov-Mar and two Apr-Oct. The Citylink buses are timed to meet these ferries.
Trains run from Inverness via Dingwall, Achnasheen and Plockton to Kyle of Lochalsh, for buses to Skye. There are four trains M-Sat and one on Sunday.
You can get around Easter Ross and Black Isle by public transport, just about, and along radial routes from Inverness to the main west coast ports. Anything else is going to need a car.
- Gardens: best of these is Inverewe at Gairloch.
- Wildlife: always be watching, especially along the coast. Dolphins are especially common off Fortrose, and there are red kites at Dingwall.
- Castles: Eilean Donan at Dornie is the standout, but the oldest are the Iron Age brochs (2000 years old) near Glenelg.
- Weird geology: the UNESCO North West Highlands Geopark stretches up the west coast into Sutherland. Some of the local rocks are over 3 billion years old.
- Highland Gatherings and Games: many villages host an event during summer. Pipe bands, caber-tossing, field & track events and so on; often combined with Agricultural Shows. For instance the Black Isle Show is held in July / Aug at Muir of Ord; the next event is Wed 31 July - Thurs 1 Aug 2019.
- Visit Scotch Whisky distilleries: best known is Glenmorangie at Tain. There's another at Muir of Ord near Dingwall and a couple more at Alness.
- Climb mountains: the Torridon hills are very scenic, and there are many "Munros" in this region.
Best dining option is usually the local hotel restaurant, open to non-residents, but sometimes closed in winter. There's no standout, but the keynote is fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, especially for sea-food.
The larger villages have at least one pub but the small places often have none. The local hotels often have public bars.
The main hazards are road safety, and bad weather which can roll in on thinly-dressed walkers even at the height of summer.
- North to Caithness and Sutherland, for the wild north coast of Scotland, with Smoo Cave, cliffs and whirling sea birds. Ferries make the short crossing to the Orkney Islands.
- The Great Glen and Strathspey: most routes south lead back to Inverness, but it's possible to wind along the west coast via Fort William and Glencoe.
- Reach Skye by road, or sail from Ullapool to Stornoway on Lewis.