By Laurence Norah
Photographer and Writer
Published: 9th May 2018

Taking Time to Explore the Black Isle

We teamed up with Laurence and Jessica who were lucky to have had the experience of driving the North Coast 500 for the third time. They loved their trip so much that they returned again stopping for a few days in the same location, setting up a base and taking the time to really get to know the area – there is just so much to see and do in each individual area.

Laurence and Jessica are a travelling duo who share their adventures on their two popular travel blogs, Finding the Universe and Independent Travel Cats. Laurence is a British travel blogger and photographer who has been living in Scotland for the past 2 years with his American wife Jessica. They are lucky enough to have driven the North Coast 500 in its entirety twice, returning in May 2018 for a third time!

I am a British travel blogger and photographer who has been living in Scotland for the past 2 years with my American wife Jessica. We’re lucky enough to have driven the North Coast 500 in its entirety twice, and are heading back in May 2018 for a third time!

One of the best parts about driving the North Coast 500 is the opportunity to take it slow and really explore an area. We love stopping for a few days in the same location, setting up a base, and taking the opportunity to really get to know an area.

As you set off on your North Coast 500 adventure from Inverness, heading counter-clockwise, one of the first places you can stop to explore is the Black Isle. This is an excellent base for your first couple of days exploring! Or if you only have a couple of days to travel, this is a good place to get a taste of the NC500 before you return again!

Here are a few of our personal highlights of the Black Isle to give you some ideas for what to do here, as well as a couple of accommodation suggestions. For even more ideas and details about what do here, take a look at our guide to visiting the Black Isle.

Laurence And Jessica In Girona

Groam House Museum

First on our list of attractions on the Black Isle is the Groam House Museum in Rosemarkle. This is home to an excellent collection of Pictish and Celtic artworks, and if you’re interested in this part of Scottish history, it should be firmly on your Black Isle to-do list.

There are a number of artefacts on display, including original carved Pictish sculptures which are hundreds of years old. There’s also an exhibition dedicated to George Bain, a Scottish artist who dedicated much of his life to learning about British medieval art.

Finally, to help you understand more about the area, Groam House Museum has a local history collection that focuses on the lives of the local people.

Photo: Finding the Universe, Groam House Museum

The Fairy Glen

We haven’t actually spotted any fairies at the Fairy Glen, but the two beautiful waterfalls are reward enough for this 20 minute walk.

You’ll find parking for this walk just near the edge of Rosemarkie town, and from here it’s a relatively flat and easy stroll along the edge of the river before you come to the falls themselves.

Hidden deep in the glen, it’s not hard to imagine fairies making their home here. There are two set of falls, each of which are stunning, and certainly photo worthy. Shutter bugs will definitely want to bring their tripods and cameras for these!

Dolphin Watching at Chanonry Point

If you love marine wildlife, then you’ll love the Black Isle, and our next two attractions focus on why. First up is Chanonry Point. This is a peninsula that juts out into the Moray Firth right next to Rosemarkie, and the beach at the end by Chanonry Lighthouse is widely regarded as one of the best places in the UK to spot dolphins.

You can see these right from the shore, as they come very close to feed on the fish here. The best time to see them is on a rising tide, as this is when the salmon and other fish are most likely to be found. They can be seen with the naked eye, but a pair of binoculars will afford better views of course. For more dolphin advice – speak to Charlie in the Auroraborealis Arts and Crafts studio in North Kessock.

Photo: Finding the Universe, Dolphins Chanonry Point

Mountain biking at Learnie Red Rock Trails

For the more active adventurers amongst you, you might consider a visit to the Learnie Red Rock trails. Owned and operated by the Scottish Forestry Commission, this location is home to a six purpose built mountain biking trails which range in difficulty from easy through to severe – something for everyone, whatever your level of mountain biking ability.

Wildlife Watching from Cromarty

If you want to get really close to marine wildlife, as well as various seabirds, you’ll want to take a wildlife tour from Cromarty with EcoVentures. This local operator has been running wildlife tours from this picturesque town for a number of years, and their small boat and knowledgeable guides will get you close to a number of animals – including the local pod of dolphins!

As well as dolphins, you’ll also have the chance to see porpoises, seals, and minke whales, as well as a wide variety of sea birds. Tours run every day in the EcoVentures custom-built boat. All the equipment you need is provided, and booking is very much recommended so as to avoid disappointment!

Glen Ord Distillery

I think it’s fair to say that Scotland is very much known for its whisky, so why not add a visit to one of Scotland’s whisky distilleries to your North Coast 500 adventure?

Here you’ll learn all about how whisky is made as you take one of their informative tours, plus of course you’ll also have the opportunity to try some of the whisky as well! Glen Ord distillery dates from 1838, and is the last surviving distillery on the Black Isle, so you’re also sure to get some history when you visit on top of the whisky knowledge!

Photo: Finding the Universe, Glen Ord Distillery

Black Isle Brewery

If you’re more of a beer drinker, you will definitely want to head to the Black Isle Brewery. Although of course we won’t tell anyone if you visit both a distillery and a brewery!

Founded in 1998, this independent brewers on the Black Isle is particularly known for being both an organic and a vegetarian brewery. With the majority of their ingredients sourced locally (and some even grown right on site), a tour here is a lovely way to learn all about how beer can be made in a local and sustainable way.

Plus, you get to try a number of their beers, all of which are excellent. Then you can buy a few from their well-stocked shop to keep you going on the rest of your adventure. When we last visited they even had a limited edition North Coast 500 beer!

Photo: Finding the Universe NC500 beer!

Rich local larder

Foodies reading this post will love to hear about the many options you have for dining. The Black Isle is famed for local produce, with the island itself seen as a “local larder”, with all sorts of products freshly available, from locally grown mushrooms through to fish and beef. Agriculture is an important part of life on the Black Isle, and the quality of food available definitely reflects that.

Some of the restaurants to try out feature some of the best local produce available, these include the Culbokie Inn, Sutor Creek and North Kessock Hotel

Where to Stay on the Black Isle?

There are a number of excellent lodging options on the Black Isle, although you could also stay in Inverness quite easily as it’s only a short drive. Ideally though, you would find somewhere to stay on the Black Isle and explore the above attractions at your leisure, perhaps over a few days.

If so, we can recommend the Old Drynie House, the Factor’s House B&B or, if you’re camping, Fortrose Bay Campsite. If you’d prefer to be right on the North Coast 500 route, there’s also the Ord House Hotel (which is handy for the Glen Ord Distillery!).

Further Tips for Driving the North Coast 500

Driving the North Coast 500 is a once in a lifetime experience for many people, so you want to make the most of it and be fully prepared. First, we can recommend checking out the other posts on the North Coast 500 blog, including this one we wrote, full of tips for driving the North Coast 500.

We’re also written a number of other posts about the North Coast 500 that you might want to read, including a detailed 7 Day North Coast 500 camping itinerary, and a guide to help you plan your North Coast 500 road trip.

Overall, we’d say that forward planning is key to a good trip. Come up with an itinerary in advance, and book your accommodation as far in advance as possible so as to avoid disappointment. We’d also definitely recommend taking your time – if you can, stop off in various locations around the route and make a base for a few days to explore. There is so much to see in this part of the world that to really do it justice you’ll want to slow down and take your time!

We hope you enjoyed reading our guide to Scotland’s Black Isle – have a safe trip, and enjoy your North Coast 500 experience!

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