Outdoor carved stone
Outdoor carved stone
‘The Pictish Queen’ Sculpture at Tarbat Discovery Centre © Jim Dunn
The Easter Ross (Tarbat) Peninsula
A special Pictish place
Àite àraid Cruithneach
Step back to a time when the Tarbat Peninsula was an important centre of art and religion not just in Highland but European terms. Discover the lost world of a major Pictish monastery and the intricately carved stones which are thought to mark its sacred territory. This trail can be completed in one day in either direction but visiting Tarbat Discovery Centre first will set the other sites in context. Allows time for refreshments and exploring local villages and shops.
The Tarbat Peninsula is a patchwork of peaceful farmland edged by beautiful coastal scenery and atmospheric small coastal communities.
Why not immerse yourself in the landscape by doing some or all of the trail by bike or walking from the seaboard village of Balintore to see the Hilton of Cadboll replica stone with its impressive sea views?
Tarbat Discovery Centre
The Shandwick Stone
Hilton of Cadboll base
Hilton of Cadboll replica
The Nigg Stone
Your tour starts in the picture postcard seaside harbour village of Portmahomack on the Tarbat peninsula. The village grew as a fishing village in the 1830s. At its peak it was home to over a hundred fishing boats supporting a large onshore fish curing industry. But Portmahomack’s origins lie much further back in history. Today, Tarbat Discovery Centre sits on the site of the only known early Christian monastery in eastern Scotland. Uncovered over a two decades-long archaeology project, a visit to Tarbat Discovery Centre will give you an opportunity to delve deep into Pictish history and explore the life of this important monastic site and its people.
It is worth taking the three-mile journey to the tip of the Tarbat peninsula at Tarbat Ness. This is home to one of the tallest lighthouses in Britain built to prevent seafarers smashing onto the rocks of the Ness. On a good day there are wonderful views across the Dornoch Firth to the distant views of the Sutherland hills. On a clear day you can also spot Dunrobin Castle which has a wonderful collection of Pictish stones.
From here your journey takes you through an area steeped in history and dotted with small local communities who have close connections to the land and sea. Travel along the B9165 through the patchwork of farmland that rolls down to the Moray Firth and turn left at the junction for Hilton and the brown signs for Hilton of Cadboll.
From here you will dip down towards the sea to take a gentle tour along the coast amongst the fishermans’ cottages of the Seaboard villages of Hilton, Balintore and Shandwick. As you near the village of Hilton look out for layby where you can stop and catch a first glimpse of the Hilton of Cadboll stone. Cross the road to see this remarkable replica stone from a viewpoint where a short walk will also take you down to the stone. The original cross slab stone stands in the National Museum of Scotland but the replica was installed on the site in 2000 and recreates the dramatic impression this stone must have had on the landscape and this important early Christian site.
Travelling through the tiny village of Hilton, the Seaboard Centre at Balintore is not only a great place to park and stop for lunch or refreshments, but it also houses the base of the Hilton of Cadboll stone. This original stone was discovered in 2001 during a large archaeological investigation on the Hilton of Cadboll site. The local community campaigned for this base stone to remain locally and it is now on permanently on show to the public.
This stretch of coastline has a timeless feel. A walk along the long sandy beach between the Seaboard villages may even include an opportunity to see the resident bottlenose dolphins of the Moray Firth. As you travel up and out of the village of Shandwick, the last of the Seaboard villages, the Shandwick Stone is hard to miss as it dominates the skyline on the slope looking down to the sea. There is roadside parking for two cars here but be careful in crossing the road to the gated entrance to the site. Now protected from the elements by a glass enclosure, this impressive Pictish cross-slab overlooks the Moray Firth with outstanding views across to Burghead on the southern shore. The complicated and detailed carving on the Shandwick Stone reflects the incredible skill of the Pictish sculptor who created it. The stone is decorated with both Pictish symbols and a large Christian cross which can be compared to the decorated manuscripts of Lindisfarne and Iona.
Continuing up and out of the Seaboard villages route, at the junction turn left following the signs for Nigg. At the next junction turn left and as the road gradually narrows into single track, enjoy the views across rolling farmland and big skies. Near the end of the road and nestled amongst deep woodland is the historic Nigg Old Church housing The Nigg Stone. This wonderful Pictish carved symbol stone has been carefully conserved and displayed inside the church with dedicated interpretation.
Leaving here it is worth following the road down to the shores of the Cromarty Firth to look out past the headlands and across to Burghead on the Moray coast. In summer it is possible to catch the Nigg Ferry across the water to the historic village of Cromarty and an alternative tour across the black Isle to visit Groam House Museum with its magnificent Pictish collection.
For more information about the Easter Ross (Tarbat) Peninsula, please click here.