Dornoch is an east coast town by-passed by the A9, and as a result all too easy to overlook. It can be a busy place, but if you explore it in the evening or early morning, with fewer cars and fewer people, you begin to appreciate the beauty of the honey-coloured stone from which so many of Dornoch's buildings are constructed.
This is best appreciated by standing on Cathedral Green, again ideally in the absence of traffic or parked vehicles. To the north is located Dornoch cathedral. To the south is a wonderful run of buildings including the Old Town Jail and the excellent Dornoch Castle Hotel, whose origins are not as a castle but rather as the bishop's palace built to accompany the cathedral.
Many other buildings are, in their own smaller way, just as impressive. Of particular note is the use of Scottish slate on many of the roofs. This can be identified because it is not of uniform size, with the rows of slates typically getting narrower as you get nearer the apex of the roof. (Continues below image...)
Dornoch dates back a thousand years, and it became a Royal Burgh in 1628. Other notable events in its history include the extensive damage to both town and cathedral caused by the MacKays during a clan feud in 1570; and perhaps its least glorious claim to fame, as the place where Scotland's last alleged witch was burned alive in a barrel of oil in 1722.
This unfortunate old lady was called Janet Horne. She provided "proof" of her guilt by stumbling over a recitation in Gaelic of the Lord's Prayer during her trial. Whether she really turned her daughter into a horse, rode her round the town, then took her off to be shod by the devil seems open to doubt. Perhaps the real explanation lies more in the quality of the output of the local illicit still that week. The event is marked by the Witch's Stone in a private garden on the southern edge of the town.
A little more recently, Dornoch achieved a few days of fame on the world stage when the pop star Madonna chose Dornoch Cathedral as the location for her son's christening in December 2000 and the nearby Skibo Castle for her marriage. Celebrity christenings aside, the name of Dornoch is primarily known for its golf. The story goes that many of the priests who came to service the cathedral were first trained in St Andrews: and in Dornoch they found a similar coastal landscape equally suited to golf.
Royal Dornoch Golf Club can be found on the eastern edge of the town and has two 18-hole courses. Its championship course is said to be one of the finest courses in Scotland and it is certainly the most northerly championship course in the world. As a result it has become a place of pilgrimage for those who tour the world collecting the best courses.
Beyond the golf courses lies the sea and some wonderful beaches: and, less expoectedly, a small airport. These coastline turns more rocky as itr progresses north, providing hours of enjoyment for those who want nothing more than watching a world in miniature in a rock pool.
Dornoch In Fiction
A Tangled Web by Ken Lussey (15 November 2023).
A fast-paced thriller set in northern Scotland. Callum Anderson returns to Sutherland to help Jenny Mackay investigate the death of her
husband. The authorities say he committed suicide but she’s convinced he was murdered. If she's right then they're both in danger.
Callum visits Dornoch several times during his investigation.