East of Tain a hammerhead shaped peninsula projects into the Moray Firth, extending from the lighthouse at Tarbat Ness in the north east to the headland of North Sutor, forming one of the jaws of the Cromarty Firth, in the south west.
Looking across to distant Moray from the south east shore of the peninsula are Shandwick, Balintore and Hilton, the three villages of the Easter Ross Seaboard, often collectively referred to simply as "Seaboard". The collective reference is apt, because the three villages blend into one another with their focus on Balintore, the middle of the three and home to the main harbour.
Sitting on the shoreline (and signposted from the road through the villages) is the "Mermaid of the North" The 10ft high mermaid was originally made from bronzed wood and was placed here in 2007. She was badly damaged in a severe storm in 2012 and in 2014 was replaced by a bronze casting. (Continues below image...)
There is evidence of settlement in the area since ancient times. A couple of miles inland is Fearn Abbey, founded here in 1238, while on the hillside above Shandwick, the most southerly of the Seaboard Villages, is the Clach a' Charridh or Shandwick Stone.
This 2.7m high Pictish cross slab dates back to the around 780 and is thought to stand in its original position. For centuries it served as a beacon for the fishermen of this coast, until it blew down and broke into three pieces in 1846. The stone has since been restored and is now protected from the elements by a large glazed box.
At the northern end of Seaboard, near Hilton of Cadboll, are the remains of a chapel, now covered by turf, close to which another Pictish cross-slab was found. This may relate to an even earlier chapel thought to be beneath the remains you see today. The surrounding lumps and bumps in the field may be the deserted medieval fishing village of Cadboll-Fisher.
Fishing has always been at the centre of the community here. The name "Shandwick" comes from the Norse Sand-Vik meaning sand bay, suggesting the original Picts were displaced by the Vikings, and it's not hard to imagine Viking longboats pulled up along the shore here.
The practice of pulling fishing boats up on the beach continued right up to the 1890s, when a harbour was built at Balintore, complete with the Commercial Inn, which still overlooks it. Today the villages have an unusual, slightly forgotten, feel. New housing has been built around Balintore, though it has fewer services than you'd expect for somewhere of its size: and is well off the beaten tourist track.
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