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Tarbat Ness circuit - a tasty bite of seaside :) UPDATE

Tarbat Ness circuit - a tasty bite of seaside :) UPDATE


Postby BlackPanther » Thu Mar 15, 2012 11:39 am

Route description: Tarbat Ness circuit, Portmahomack

Date walked: 10/03/2012

Time taken: 4 hours

Distance: 13.8 km

Ascent: 225m

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From big, famous hills we moved all the way down to seaside walking, though only for one day. It was a gray morning with thick cloud forecast all over northern Scotland, so climbing higher hills looked a bit dodgy. Having done most of the Moray Coast Trail, we turned our attention to Tain area, which for us has the big advantage of being only about an hour drive away.
This particular circuit includes all that a proper shore walk should include: nice sandy beaches, high cliffs, plenty of wildlife to watch (nesting sites for seabirds, maybe you'll be lucky to spot a dolphin) plus one lighthouse and one renovated 16th century castle. Anything else needed for a good day?...

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The best place to start the circuit is the fishing village of Portmahomack, which has a lovely beach and a free car park :lol:
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As pictures show, weather was rather dark, with strong wind gusts... But we are not easy discouraged!
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We walked through the village. At some point this little sculpture caught my eye:
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It is actually an ornamental cast-iron fountain and it commemorates the introduction of gravitation water in 1887.
Just past the village and along the shore, there is a well signposted path, basically all the way to the Tarbat Ness lighthouse (about 5 km/3 miles). There area few muddy areas to cross but nothing bad enough to spoil a nice day... Ah, I almost forgot: beware of cattle and cowpats :lol:
Houses in Portmahomack and the sea:
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The rocky shore just past the village:
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A stile to cross:
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The first stage of the circuit is on rather flat terrain nad I didn't expect that Tarbat Ness was saving its best for last. At the moment, I enjoyed the windy seaside. Some unusual rock shapes there:
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The rocks were buzzing with seabirds: gulls, oyster-catchers, cormorants. To keep this TR reasonably short (ha ha ha when did I last post a SHORT report???) just a single picture here, more will go to wildlife section:
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The sky brightened a bit as we continued our stroll:
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A few more boggy puddles and a few cowpats further we spotted the red-and-white, long shaped building of the lighthouse:
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I had a short moment of deja vu when looking at the lighthouse and then I realized it reminded me of the one in Lossiemouth (Covesea Skerries). It shouldn't be a surprise though, as both these buildings were designed and built by the famous Stevensons: the Tarbat Ness one in 1830 by Robert Stevenson and the Covesea Skerries one in 1846 by Alan Stevenson.
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The lighthouse looks impressive, espoecially when you are standing below gazing up :lol: It has an elevation of 53 metres (174 feet) and 203 steps to the top of the tower. Unfortunately it is not available for tourists and the adjacent buildings were sold to private owners. One can cross the yard though and admire the building from different angles:
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Just past the lighthouse there is a car park with picnic tables (for lazier tourists :lol: ) and a good viewpoint. Here, high cliffs of the second part of the circuit are revealed for the first time:
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Back to the lighthouse:
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After a short diversion on tarmac road we walked back down to the seaside, with an old jetty and a ruined house:
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The tide has turned and some more sandy beaches showed up:
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Here, once we found a sheltered spot under a steep rocky cliff, we stopped for a longer break and something to eat. It was getting warmer now and the day felt pleasant...
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The path on this part of the route stays below the cliffs most of the time:
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One last glimpse back to the lighthouse:
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A quick climb up the cliff...
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...only to descend back to the shore again:
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We took a few more breaks to take pictures and watch seabirds:
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We walked below the impressive cliff of birds - Creag nan Eun. It was full of herring gulls and I guess in later spring it must be a great spot for watching little ones :D :D
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We turned another corner and suddenly, something beautiful came into view:
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It was Ballone Castle and further along, Rockfield village:
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The castle is actually a large late 16th century Z-plan tower house and it makes an impression, especially when you realize that only about 20 years ago it was completely ruined, falling apart... It's fantastic that it's been saved for next generations... Even if you can only admire it from the outside:
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An interesting set of old photos, showing Ballone Castle in ruined state, is here: http://www.scotlandsplaces.gov.uk/search_item/index.php?service=RCAHMS&id=15632
This will give you an idea of how much work must have been put into returning this lovely building to life... Job well done! :D :D
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Me and the castle:
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Ballone from the south:
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We walked below the castle and towards Rockfield:
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From the village we took a tarmac road up the cliffs. The final part of the circuit is the least interesting one, it crosses the peninsula back to Portmahomack. In a short time we were back at the car park and ready to go home :D
Summing up, this is one of the best seaside walks I've done in Scotland so far. Just such a shame about the weather as this circuit is crying for a warm sunny day! Nothing lost though, we live nearby and there will be plenty of opportunities to go back. Meow!
Last edited by BlackPanther on Wed Sep 12, 2012 9:47 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Tarbat Ness circuit - a tasty bite of seaside :)

Postby SusieThePensioner » Thu Mar 15, 2012 12:35 pm

It's nice to have a change of scenery and I'm all for a walk along the coast :D

Enjoyed your report and all those great photos :thumbup:
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Re: Tarbat Ness circuit - a tasty bite of seaside :)

Postby ChrisW » Thu Mar 15, 2012 4:24 pm

Beautiful coastal wander BP, I miss the coast :cry: That castle is incredible, someone must have had a significant chunk of money lying around to complete a renovation on that scale - its almost a full rebuild. Really enjoyed your coastal wander, cheers :D
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Re: Tarbat Ness circuit - a tasty bite of seaside :) UPDATE

Postby BlackPanther » Wed Sep 12, 2012 10:51 am

I wasn't sure if I should post a separate TR on last Saturday activities but decided on an easier option - just an update of my older report.

I bet many of you heard about Doors Open Days. The scheme (coordinated by The Highland Council) takes place throughout all Scotland as part of European Heritage Days. It gives people the unique chance to visit some of the country’s most interesting buildings, many of which are not normally open to the public.
Last Weekend, the Doors Open Days came to Ross & Cromarty area so we grabbed the opportunity and set off to pay a visit to some interesting places just on our doorstep :D Really worth waiting for and we had an excellent day of touring.
The first place on our list was Ballone Castle. The main report above contains some pictures of this impressive structure, we admired it from the path below the cliffs. But as the castle is a private house, we couldn't have a peek inside :( I always wondered - how much work and sweat was needed to restore this beautiful old building to its current state, simply incredible! Now, the Doors Open Days gave as the unique chance to venture inside Ballone and find out more about its history.
The castle was carefully restored by Lachlan and Annie Stewart, and I must say I was impressed, how much attention to detail was put to this project. Hats off!
The story of the rebuild is described here: http://www.scottishcastlesassociation.com/rec-id-56-cat_id-1-highlight-2.htm
and here:
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d1e44110-be9f-11de-b4ab-00144feab49a.html
A few photos I'd like to share...
ballone 001.JPG
Approaching the castle from the south

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Details of the masonry...

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The extension added to the main building integrates well with the main bulk of the castle :)

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The rebuild took about 5 years...

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...but even before it was started, the owners had to negotiate with different institutions for 5 years before they got all the necessary permits!

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The result is stunning. Both outside and inside...

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The great hall on the first floor - the fireplace

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We were taken on a short guided tour to the second floor and in the main hall we could study the castle's history in pictures. The display showed different stages of the rebuilding process, I was fascinated!

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The well indoors? :)

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The castle from the adjoining little wall garden

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It must be a great feeling, waking up to such grand views...

We found out that the Tarbat Discovery Centre in the nearby Portmahomack was also included in Open Days so we paid the museum a visit as well. Highly recommended, especially for those with a soft spot for archaeology. The old church is dedicated to displaying and preserving the heritage of the Tarbat peninsula, including a Pictish monastic settlement dating from the 7th Century. Another great journey back in time :D
ballone 114.JPG
Tarbat Discovery Centre

We still had a couple of hours so we drove to Cromarty and visited another site not usually available for the tourists - Cromarty Lighthouse. Built by Alan Stevenson and only de-commissioned in 2005, now used for marine research and teaching by the University of Aberdeen.
ballone 166.JPG
The Cromarty Lighthouse

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It was a chance to climb to the top of the lighthouse and admire the view down to the harbour...

The last (but not least) on our list was Hugh Miller’s Birthplace Cottage & Museum. A must-visit place for all those interested in geology and fossils!
ballone 211.JPG
Hugh Miller’s Birthplace Cottage

All in all, a great day, free-of-charge and with lots of fun :D :D
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Re: Tarbat Ness circuit - a tasty bite of seaside :) UPDATE

Postby Mountainlove » Wed Sep 12, 2012 11:46 am

Oh wow the castle is so lovely inside...really like it! Thank you for sharing!!!
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Re: Tarbat Ness circuit - a tasty bite of seaside :) UPDATE

Postby hills » Wed Sep 12, 2012 7:50 pm

Thats great, we used to visit Portmahomack a lot on holiday when I was younger, that brings back memories. I remember Ballone Castle as a ruin, and when the people started renovating it, fine job.
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Re: Tarbat Ness circuit - a tasty bite of seaside :) UPDATE

Postby basscadet » Thu Sep 13, 2012 3:57 pm

Oh what a coincidence.. I was at the doors open day at the castle on Saturday as well :lol:
My folks just live at Rockfield (the walk passes through their garden) and there was a family gathering at the weekend, with a ceilidh in the village hall at Portmahomack.. If I knew you would be about, I would of invited you for a bite, bottle and dance :D
I had no idea the castle was so interesting.. but it really was.. and the cakes were really good too :lol:
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Re: Tarbat Ness circuit - a tasty bite of seaside :) UPDATE

Postby BlackPanther » Fri Sep 14, 2012 1:52 pm

basscadet wrote:Oh what a coincidence.. I was at the doors open day at the castle on Saturday as well :lol:
My folks just live at Rockfield (the walk passes through their garden) and there was a family gathering at the weekend, with a ceilidh in the village hall at Portmahomack.. If I knew you would be about, I would of invited you for a bite, bottle and dance :D
I had no idea the castle was so interesting.. but it really was.. and the cakes were really good too :lol:


Oh, such a shame, a bite & bottle sounds great... As for dancing, I have two left feet :lol: :lol: :lol:
We like the area of Portmahomack-Tarbat, especially coastal walks so nothing lost, maybe we'll met in the future :D

The castle is stunning indeed, and it's great to see an old historical building saved for future generations :D Sadly, many other castles and old houses weren't so lucky. Wish I had a lot of money, maybe I would try restoring one, too... But I'd have to win the lottery first.
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Re: Tarbat Ness circuit - a tasty bite of seaside :) UPDATE

Postby Klaasloopt » Fri Sep 14, 2012 2:32 pm

Reports about places unknown to me are always a treat. Seldom do I have to zoom out the map this much to recognize the location. Some history and architecture is nice too!
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Re: Tarbat Ness circuit - a tasty bite of seaside :) UPDATE

Postby Andarin » Sun May 14, 2017 6:06 pm

Walked this circuit today. Great coastal walk
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Re: Tarbat Ness circuit - a tasty bite of seaside :)

Postby LHJackson » Sat Mar 13, 2021 8:28 pm

ChrisW wrote:Beautiful coastal wander BP, I miss the coast :cry: That castle is incredible, someone must have had a significant chunk of money lying around to complete a renovation on that scale - its almost a full rebuild. Really enjoyed your coastal wander, cheers :D


The Stewart's who founded Anta renovated it 😊
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Re: Tarbat Ness circuit - a tasty bite of seaside :) UPDATE

Postby cantabrigian » Mon Mar 15, 2021 3:37 pm

Thanks for this report: very nostalgic for me as my late mother and stepfather lived at Edderton (near Tain) and we used to go to "The Port" and Tarbatness a lot when visiting, later with my children and ultimately grandchildren.

We actually managed a visit to the lighthouse itself once - over 30 years ago - when it was still manned. I don't think it was generally open to the public but my stepdad (who lived in Edderton all his life - he died in the house he was born in) had a useful contact. He knew everyone in Easter Ross.
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