Your gateway to the Black Isle, the village of North Kessock lies 7.8km (4 3/4 miles) from Inverness on the south coast at the narrows where the Beauly Firth becomes the Moray Firth. The village is directly opposite Inverness. North Kessock is bypassed by the A9, which crosses the Kessock Bridge (it's rather peaceful and spared of heavy traffic).
The village is a well-known spot for watching bottlenose dolphins, which live in the Moray Firth -- and are, in fact, the most northerly group of bottlenose dolphins in the world. Most of the village lies along its Main Street, which could be a base for food and lodging if you're touring Black Isle.
Fortrose & Rosemarkie
Fortrose is a good place to start. Along the way, you'll pass a celebrated wishing well, or clootie well, festooned with rags. Dedicated to St. Boniface, the well dates back to pagan times. It's said that anyone removing a rag will inherit the misfortunes of the person who placed it there.
The ruins of Fortrose Cathedral stand in this sleepy village. Founded in the 13th century, the cathedral was dedicated to St. Peter and St. Boniface. You can still see fine detailing from the 14th century. If the stones scattered about don't seem adequate enough to fill in the gaps, it's because Cromwell's men removed many of them to help build a fort in Inverness. There are no formal hours; you can wander through the ruins at any time.
Fortrose adjoins Rosemarkie, up the road. The site has been inhabited since the Bronze Age. A center of Pictish culture, the town saw the arrival of the first Christian missionaries. It's reported that St. Moluag founded a monastery here in the 6th century. Rosemarkie became a royal burgh in 1216. The twin hamlets share a golf course today, and they're the site of the Chanonry Sailing Club, whose annual regatta brings entries from all over Scotland. Right beyond Rosemarkie is the mysterious Fairy Glen, signposted at the end of the village. It's one of the loveliest places in the Black Isle for a long walk.
Also at Rosemarkie is the Groam House Museum, High Street (tel. 01381/620-961; www.groamhouse.org.uk), which tells the story of the region from prehistoric times. The museum's main exhibit is 15 carved Pictish stones, some dating back to the 8th century A.D. when the area was a major center of early Christianity. The pride of the collection is the Rosemarkie cross-slab, decorated with enigmatic Pictish symbols. Visitors can also learn about the legendary prophet Brahan Seer, who was buried alive at Chanonry Point. The admission-free museum is open daily May to October Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm, Sunday 2 to 4:30pm. Off season, it is open Monday to Friday 2 to 4pm.
Cromarty stands at the tip of the peninsula, where the North and South Sutors guard the entrance to the Cromarty Firth, the second-deepest inland-waterway estuary in Europe. Much of the Black Isle invites country walks, but in Cromarty you may want to stay in the village itself, exploring each street, with its rows of terraced cottages that seem to hunch against the prevailing north winds. The town has been handsomely restored, and the old merchants' houses are superb examples of domestic 18th-century architecture.
Once a flourishing port and a former royal burgh, the town gave the world a famous son: Hugh Miller. Born here in 1802, Miller was a stonemason as a young man, but in time he became a recognized expert in the field of geology, as well as a powerful man of letters in Scotland. Hugh Miller's Cottage, Church Street (tel. 01381/600-245; www.hughmiller.org), contains many of his personal belongings and collections of geological specimens. The thatched cottage was built in 1698. From Easter to September, it's open Monday through Saturday from noon to 1pm and 2 to 5pm, and Sunday from 2 to 5pm; October, Sunday to Wednesday noon to 5pm. Admission is £5 for adults, £4 for students and seniors, and £8 per family.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.