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Seeing the light after ferry ride

By John Davidson

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The Cromarty Ferry
The Cromarty Ferry



Distance — 37 miles

Maps — OS Landranger 21; OS Explorer 438

Catch the ferry to enjoy this fantastic road ride to a historic lighthouse

Tarbet Ness lighthouse, north-west of Portmahomack, is the main focus of this enticing cycle circuit but the fun starts before you’ve even got in the saddle.

I parked the car in Cromarty and rolled the bike down to the pier to catch the ferry over to Nigg, where the ride itself begins.

The Cromarty Ferry was out of action all last summer and it was a big loss to the cycle route in the area, but thanks to investment from the company which runs it, a new boat now carries up to four cars and 50 passengers (and their bikes) across the Cromarty Firth.

Alighting at the somewhat abandoned looking Nigg, the ride starts along the B9175, passing the former fabrication yard, desperately in need of investment itself.

Where the National Cycle Network Route 1 goes right up the hill after about a mile, continue straight ahead on the B road. It’s quiet along here and the wildlife seems to have taken over – rabbits, a buzzard, sparrows, yellowhammer and other birds far outnumbered the few humans who got off the ferry.

Soon you pass an RSPB nature reserve at Nigg Bay, where there is cycle parking within the car park and a short walk to a hide overlooking the bay, home to tens of thousands of birds during the winter months.

At Arabella, take a right turn towards Hill of Fearn and, after a new residential street, take the next left part-way along a big straight. This road was empty when I went on it and I suspect it sees very little traffic, but the meadows to either side and the trees make it fantastic for wildlife and the bright green colours look fantastic just now.

It soon reaches the edge of the railway line and then parallels it for a short distance to a give way junction just past Fearn station. Go left here to cross the railway before turning right towards Loandhu just the other side.

Passing by some fantastic looking homes and crossing back over the railway, this road soon passes the pretty Loch Eye, though you only get a glimpse of the view over the water before being shielded from it by trees for much of its length.

As you move away from the loch on the wonderful single-track road, you get some fabulous views across the Dornoch Firth. Having headed straight through an unmarked crossroads and arrived at a T-junction on the route between Tain and Portmahomack, I stopped to admire the view and . . . was that the Mannie — the statue of the first Duke of Sutherland — where I was stood on top of Ben Bhraggie the previous weekend?

I had no idea how far north you’d be able to see from here, so it was a great surprise to enjoy this view up the east coast into the hazy sunshine as I turned right to head towards the pretty village at Portmahomack.

Past Inver there’s a slight climb — the first on this predominantly flat ride — to meet the B9166 where you go left to reach the village.

Rather than heading right and following the sign to Tarbet Ness at the entrance to the village, I continued down Main Street and enjoyed my sandwiches on the beach overlooking the firth to Golspie and Dornoch across golden sands.

Ready to roll again, I continued through the pretty village and turned right up Castle Street, going left at the golf course at the top. Passing out of the village it’s just a short ride now to the lighthouse, though I still hadn’t seen it yet.

Only when you reach the mast at the top of the small hill on the peninsula do you see the red and white stripes, and it’s a fun freewheel much of the way down to the car park at the very end of the public road. Bikes can go through the gate down the private road and I left mine at the edge of the private garden (where you can’t enter) near the base of the lighthouse, before having a stroll down the track to the point.

The views here are magnificent and it’s such a picture-perfect spot to stay a while and relax, especially when the weather is nice and sunny like this. There’s something about a lighthouse when the sun shines off its brightly painted walls that is intriguing and inspiring at the same time.

Returning to Portmahomack, I kept straight on past the golf club and turned left when I reached the B road at the edge of the village again.

Instead of taking the Tain road back, keep straight on here towards Fearn, but go left further on at the sign for Hilton of Cadboll, joining the National Cycle Network Route 1 again. A single-track road leads you towards the Seaboard village, which you can reach by detouring left down the hill.

To stay on route, keep ahead on Route 1 to bypass Balintore and soon turn left towards Nigg village and Pitcalnie.

At Nigg it’s worth stopping at the old church on your right, which houses a 4000-year-old Pictish cross slab, before dropping back down to the B road near the old fabrication yard. Turn left here to return to the ferry and enjoy the crossing of the firth once again.

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