Cromarty History

Cromarty Community Collage

Cromarty History - A guide produced by Cromarty and District Community Council

Cromarty in the early 1800s

Romanticised picture of Cromarty Castle ....

.... and of the view from the Fishertown.


The town of Cromarty is over 700 years old and has always depended on both the sea and the fertile land of the Black Isle. For centuries there was trade with Norway, Sweden, Holland, Portugal and even the Mediterranean.

In the late 18th century large cargoes of flax and hemp were imported from St Petersburg in Russia to be spun and woven in the town. Fishing was also important, particularly with booms in the herring fishing in the 19th century. Cromarty today is enjoying a renaissance as fine, old buildings are put to new uses.


Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty was Laird of Cromarty in the mid-17th century. He was a noted eccentric who claimed to trace his ancestry back to Adam and Eve, invented a universal language and wrote incomprehensible works on mathematics.

Despite his oddities, he is an important figure in the history of Scottish literature and was the first person to translate the works of Rabelais from French to English - in a translation longer, wilder and bawdier than the original. A commemorative plaque to Sir Thomas can be seen in the East Church and his animatronic figure is a feature in the Cromarty Courthouse.

George Ross of Cromarty acquired the estate in the 1760s and the town you see today is largely his creation. He established one of Scotland's first factories here and built the brewery, harbour, Courthouse, Gaelic Chapel, and Cromarty House, with its elegant stable block. Such was the prosperity in the late 18th century that almost all of the town was rebuilt and it is the fact that all of this has survived which makes Cromarty unique.

Hugh Miller was born in the town in 1802. He worked first as a stonemason and taught himself geology, making a significant contribution to the new science. At the same time he collected and published local folklore and traditions in a book called Scenes and Legends.

Miller became an accountant in the local bank. He was active in church affairs and later left Cromarty for Edinburgh to edit The Witness, the newspaper of the Free Church of Scotland, which he built up to become the second largest newspaper in Scotland. Hugh Miller's birthplace in Church Street is preserved by the National Trust for Scotland as is adjacent Miller House, built by Hugh's father and Hugh's home after his marriage to Lydia Fraser.


Cromarty has been called "the jewel in the crown of Scottish vernacular architecture". Its buildings combine Georgian style and traditional building techniques. Look out for crow-stepper gables, date stones and the elegant proportions of the merchants' houses.

Bellevue, Church Street


The East Church is a gem of a building typical of many Scottish Presbyterian churches. The T-plan, created in 1739, embodies a central pulpit and lofts (galleries) to give additional accommodation. The site is a medieval one, although the first church built there dated from the late 16th century. The church is now in the care of the Scottish Redundant Churches Trust for restoration.


From medieval times pilgrims passed through Cromarty on their way north to the Shrine of St Duthac at Tain. They crossed by ferry between Cromarty and Nigg, a crossing protected by the ancient castle of Cromarty. The ferry was used by at least two Scottish kings - James IV and Robert the Bruce, both travelling to Tain. The present-day car ferry follows the same route. Timetables are displayed beside the ferry slipway and throughout the town.

The deep water of the Firth, and its narrow entrance, made it a safe anchorage. Its early name was Siccar (safe) Sound and it may have sheltered Viking fleets. From the 19th century it was used regularly by the British Navy and became a naval base in 1914. In 1914 Winston Churchill visited the South Sutor and authorised the building of forts and gun emplacements on the North and South Sutors. An enormous metal net was stretched under the water, between the Sutors, to prevent submarines entering. During the Second World War the forts were extended and many of these buildings remain.

On 30th December, 1915, HMS Natal mysteriously blew up in the Firth, with the loss of over 400 lives. The graves of some of the seamen can be seen in the churchyard of Cromarty's Gaelic Chapel.


The South Sutor
The South Sutor rises to a height of 125 metres (406 ft) and provides a spectacular view over seven counties. The channel below is at points over 46 metres (150 ft) deep. "Sutor" is Scots for a shoemaker. There is a local legend that the two headlands, the North and South Sutor, are named after two giant shoemakers who shared their tools and threw them across from one side to the other.

The North and South Sutors are made of older and harder rocks than the surrounding area. They may be Moinian rocks, about 700 million years old, but some geologists believe them to be much older. During the last ice age (10,000 years ago), glaciers flowing from the west were held back by this harder rock.

The ice built up, deepening and widening the Cromarty Firth, and at last broke through the rock, making the entrance to the Firth below you. The Sutors lie on the same fault line which runs across Scotland along the Great Glen.

The 'Hundred Steps Path'
This ancient path to the South Sutor and its viewpoint has been well restored. It passes former World War fortifications.

Macfarquhar's Bed - Natural Arch and Nature Walk
A track through Cromarty Mains Farm leads you to a sheltered bay rich in plant life, with caves and a natural arch in the rocks. Please follow the Country Code when walking through farmland and do not obstruct farm roads when parking. The steep, narrow path down to the old salmon bothy requires much care.

Udale Bay
The Cromarty Firth has much wildlife interest and is of outstanding international importance for birds. Many thousands of duck, geese and waders winter here or pass through on migration. Several species occur throughout the year, attracted by a plentiful food supply and the mudflats at Udale Bay, a nature reserve managed by the RSPB and SNH. Follow the B9163 out of Cromarty and park beyond Jemimaville.

The shore at Eathie was one of the sites explored by Hugh Miller in the 19th century. Fossils can be found in the rocks and there is a rich variety of plant life. It is possible to walk along the shore from Eathie to Rosemarkie, but those attempting this should be careful of the incoming tide.

The Moray Firth is home to one of the three populations of bottlenose dolphins found in the British Isles. Both dolphins and porpoises can be seen in the channel between the Sutors. Also seen are common and grey seals. In 1991, Aberdeen University established a Field Station at the lighthouse to study both dolphins and seals. To view these animals and the many species of seabirds in the area, local boat trips are available.


North Sea Oil. The discovery of oil in the North Sea brought prosperity back to the Cromarty Firth. A construction and repair yard for drilling platforms was opened at Nigg, opposite Cromarty, in 1972, and it was then the largest dry dock in the world. Oil platforms which you see in the Firth are waiting for repair or refitting, or are simply anchored here when not in use.

Cromarty Courthouse
George Ross's 1772 courthouse is now a splendid museum of local history which, in 1991, achieved the accolade of Scottish Museum of the Year. In fact, it has gained over a dozen awards. Animatronic figures re-enact a trial in the courtroom, and a personal tape tour of the older part of Cromarty is available.

The Cromarty Centre
The 18th century brewery has now been converted to a study centre and offers a wide range of courses.

Shops and Services
Cromarty has a good range of individual shops, giving the opportunity to buy locally made arts, crafts and pottery, as well as antiques, souvenirs, and much more. There is a bakery, grocery, general store, post office and cash dispenser. A good range of accommodation can be found locally, and there are several tearooms and eating places. For information on services, visit our website at

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