Cromarty stands close to the tip of the of the peninsula known as the Black Isle, which projects into the North Sea between the Moray Firth to the south and the Cromarty Firth to the north. It benefits from the protective shadow of the Sutors of Cromarty, the high ground to the east, and is the principle settlement on the Black Isle.
The village looks north across the Cromarty Firth towards the fabrication yards at Nigg. It occupies a triangle of ground, with sea on two sides, and you get the very strong sense of a history that is intimately tied to the sea and to seafaring. Cromarty's major phase of development was overseen by the local laird, George Ross of Pitkerrie and Cromarty, in 1770s.
He built the harbour, and imported raw materials from the Baltic to feed the cloth, rope and ironware factories he also built here. These were operated by workers brought in from all parts of the Highlands. There has been a ferry port here for many centuries. The village lay on the main coastal route north from Inverness, and formed a key staging post in the pilgrimage undertaken by many to the Chapel of St Duthac at Tain.
The building in 1982 of the A9 crossings of the Cromarty and Beauly Firths made the road links a much better option than they had been before. But until the end of the 2014 season a car ferry still operated seasonally between Cromarty and Nigg. The vessel used, the Cromarty Queen, could carry four cars or 50 foot passengers, and had been in service since 2011, when it replaced an even smaller vessel, the Cromarty Rose, which could only carry two cars. In May 2015 it was announced that the berth used by the ferry in Cromarty harbour was no longer available, and the service would not operated during the 2015 season. It is unclear what the longer term future holds for the ferry.
Cromarty Firth has long been an important haven, being sheltered, deep, easily defended and very large. This was recognised by the Royal Navy through both first and second world wars. In more recent decades it has been associated with the North Sea oil boom, with both Nigg and Invergordon being used as service and construction yards. For many years this was signified by the string of rigs moored along the length of the Firth and readily visible from Cromarty. The rise in oil prices meant that by early 2007 the world demand for oil rigs was very high and there was no longer a surplus needing to be parked here. A number have since returned.
Cromarty itself is an extremely attractive town, a mix of smaller cottages and more substantial buildings designed to house both the workers who fed its prosperity and those whose fortunes were made here.
Three neighbouring buildings in the main street, Church Street, show this well. The first is the imposing Cromarty Courthouse, now home to an excellent community run museum. The second is Miller House, and the third is Hugh Miller's Birthplace Cottage. The last of these is the only thatched cottage left in Cromarty and the interior has been restored as it would have been during the life of Hugh Miller, between 1802 and 1856. Hugh Miller was a stonemason who became interested in geology and fossils; and who also became a notable author and church reformer. The cottage and house together form Hugh Miller's Birthplace Cottage & Museum, operated by the National Trust for Scotland.
Hugh Miller is also remembered in the shape of the Hugh Miller Institute, a grand, if a little out of place, library presented to the town by the Carnegie Institute in 1903. At the end of Church Street is the East Church or "Old Church". This is regarded as one of the best preserved Presbyterian churches in Scotland.
Cromarty is well worth a visit. It is very pretty in its own right, but adds to this an interest that comes from its history, its nautical connections, and its sense of being rather unique.