Moray Firth Tourist Route
The Moray Firth Tourist route offers an alternative drive north from Inverness than simply taking the main A9 road. It follows the former A9 road from Inverness up to The Mound on Loch Fleet via the Beauly Firth, Cromarty Firth coast, and Dornoch Firth.
The route itself is only 80 miles end-to-end but it's rich with history, things to do, and amazing sights to take in. It's not a circular route like many other tourist routes in Scotland; meaning you'll start and finish road trip in different locations and you should note that this is different to the Moray Coast tourist route which travels along the north coast to the east of Inverness.
Take in the wild beauty of the Highlands as you meander along the Moray Firth Tourist Route through areas of Easter Ross, Inverness-shire, and Sutherland in as little or as many days as you please.
Starting in Inverness, officially at the Longman Roundabout, you can easily spend a day or two in the city exploring the area.
Within the city you can visit Inverness Cathedral, which is the most northerly Anglican Cathedral in the UK and an amazing example of the work of architect Alexander Ross, or Inverness Museum and Art Gallery which displays an extensive range of incredible exhibitions focused on the Highlands as well as a variety of ever changing featured artists.
There's also the Botanical Gardens, Nursery, and Secret Garden which has a tropical house, cactus house, and gardens for you to stroll through at your leisure. There's also the largest second hand bookshop in the UK tucked into the city centre where you can find almost any book and hide away from the world for an hour or two.
Culloden is just outside of Inverness and offers an interesting insight into the final Jacobite Rising of 1746. The Culloden Visitor centre and Battlefield are cared for by the National Trust for Scotland and allow you to view artefacts, explore the interactive exhibition, and take a moment to reflect as you view the headstones of those who fell.
Whilst not in Inverness itself Loch Ness is a must see for visitors in the area. It's one of the best known locations in Scotland and steeped in the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster alongside beautiful countryside, scenery and wildlife.
Travel along the A82 south from Inverness to visit a selection of small villages along the west coast of the Loch with Drumnadrochit providing lots of amenities for Nessie Hunters! Drumnadrochit is surrounded by Glen Urquhart and Glen Moriston with the Great Glen reaching from Inverness to Fort William in the west. You'll find the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition in the village which tells you all you need to know about the history of the facts and myths surrounding the monster.
The opposite shore of the Loch has just as many opportunities for adventure too. Whether you want to visit the Loch Ness Alpacas, Dores Beach, or just take in all the places and sights along the road it's a fantastic way to spend a few hours or entire day.
Inverness to Dingwall
This section of the route covers around 22 miles and has plenty packed into it.
Beauly is the next town along the route once you leave Inverness. It's name is thought to have come from a comment made by Mary Queen of Scots when she visited in 1564, "C'est un beau lieu", which translates to "what a beautiful place".
For fans of the Outlander series you can explore the remains of Beauly Priory, one of three priories founded in Scotland around 1230 for the monks of the Valliscaulian Order, which is mentioned in the books by author Diana Gabaldon.
There's also Campbell's of Beauly which is an independent and family run country tailor and outfitters with a Royal Warrant to the late Queen Elizabeth II. All garments are made on site in Beauly and they specialise in sporting tweets and Highland Dress, its well worth a visit to see their iconic craftmanship.
If you're travelling the route in the summer you can tie it in with a visit to the Black Isle Show which is held on the first Thursday in August at Mansfield Showground at Muir of Ord. It's the largest agricultural show in the North of Scotland and is a great way to experience lots of culture in one day. Farmer's show their livestock, there's show jumping, a Flower Show, sheep sheering, vintage tractors, and live performances from entertainers such as Highland dancers.
The Black Isle
You could use Dingwall as a base to spend a day exploring the Black Isle and its coastline, just to the east of the town. This area is a peninsula which is surrounded by three different bodies of water: the Moray Firth, the Cromarty Firth, and the Beauly Firth.
The largest town on the Black Isle is Fortrose and is the home of the Brahan Seer who lived in the 17th century. Apparently his predictions included the Highland Clearances, the Battle of Culloden, and the discovery of North Sea Oil. Travelling north along the Moray Firth Coastline will take you to Cromarty which offers wildlife tours into the Firth and is home to the Highlands only Dutch cheese shop.
Beyond the town and along the Moray Firth coast lies Chanonry Point which is one of the best places in the UK to view dolphins, porpoises, and grey seals and the Northern Lighthouse Board operates the lighthouse there which has been active since 1846. It is directly across the Moray Firth from Fort George and you'll be able to see it clearly from the viewpoint.
A popular stop is the Black Isle Brewery who make organic beer on a small 130 acre farm. They're very focused on sustainability and have worked incredibly hard to increase biodiversity in the area. This includes planting over 7000 native broadleaf trees, reinstating hedgerows, digging new ponds, and creating wastelands.
You can stop to visit their shop and they encourage you to visit their organic veg garden, have a picnic, and let your dog have a run around. There's also a selection of workshops throughout the year that they offer as a full course or individually depending on what suits you best.
Black Isle Dairy has a self serve farm shop that is full of a wide range of amazing local produce from a variety of businesses from the Highlands. This includes bakery, coffee, dairy products, eggs, honey, meat and many more. It's a great way to fuel your road trip, and support local businesses at the same time.
Another wonder of the Black Isle is Fairy Glen Falls, a small and steep-sided reserve in a broadleaf woodland. The walk to the Falls themselves will take you through the ancient woodland area alongside the Rosemarkie Burn and as it is an RSPB Scotland site there is information about the birds you can expect to see on your visit. There is a car park so you'll be able to stop safely whilst you visit too.
You'll first come to Mill Pond, followed by the Lower Falls before arriving at the Upper Falls. All three points are enchanting and offer great viewpoints which allow you take in spectacular scenery, the sounds of the rushing water and see if you can spot any of the aforementioned wildlife.
Dingwall to Lairg
Heading north from Dingwall the route takes you further along the A9 until just before Alness, where it splits away from the main road to the B9176 road.
Alness is the next town along the route on the coastline and not a significant detour from the route so is a great place to stop again. There are two distilleries in the area, the Dalmore Distillery and the Teaninich Distillery, but unfortunately neither are currently open to the public to visit.
The Fyrish Monument is also near Alness and was originally built in 1782 on Fyrish Hill under the instruction of Sir Hector Munro who was a native Lord of the area that had served as a General in India. It's design represents the Gate of Negapatam in India and can be seen from almost anywhere in Kiltearn and Alness whilst providing extensive views of the Cromarty Firth.
The road here was originally built by Thomas Telford as part of his commission on Highland Roads and Bridges and is also known as the Fearn Road. This takes you on a climb through lots of different terrains including open fields, forestry plantation, and open moorland, and has plenty of laybys for you to stop and take in the views of the wider north Highlands.
From here you'll come back down and re-join the old A9 road and come to Bonar Bridge. The current bridge is the third iteration to stand at the site and has been in use since 1973. From here you'll be able to continue to the Falls of Shin, another natural wonder in the Highlands.
The Falls of Shin allows you to explore forest trails, playpark, and garden games area but also, if you visit at the right time of year, you can watch the salmon leaping. It's one of the best places in the UK to watch the fish as they return from the sea to their spawning grounds with the best time to catch them between May and September.
Lairg to The Mound on Loch Fleet
Lairg is also known as the crossroads of the north and has the largest loch in Sutherland, Loch Shin running in the north west for a total of 17 miles. Loch Shin is also the reservoir for the Shin Hydro Electric Scheme and has a very unique sight when you visit it: The Wee House. This is a tiny cottage on a small island in the loch and there are signs by the shoreline which tell you the story of the small building.
There's also the Ferrycroft Visitor Centre that will allow a good stop for the whole family before continuing on towards your next destination. Two walks start from the centre, they have a play area for children, and lawned gardens to enjoy good weather from. Inside there's a small café, gift shop, and three separate themed rooms to educate you about the area.
From Lairg the Moray Firth Tourist Route heads east towards its final destination, Loch Fleet which is north east of its Inverness starting point. The A839 section of the tourist route is approximately 15 miles and whilst there aren't as many amenities along the section to stop at it gives you a chance to take in some beautiful scenery as you come down towards the east coast.
The Mound on Loch Fleet is another bridge designed by Thomas Telford and serves the same purpose that it did 200 years ago which was replacing an ancient ferry across the narrow mouth of Loch Fleet. The current version in use is seven metres high and almost a kilometre in length!
The original bridge is still in place where it crosses the River Fleet and can be accessed from the car park at the northern end of The Mound. It was the first piece to be completed and opened in 1816, with the original four arches eventually extended to six and the sluice gates modified in 1833.
Previously these sluices would only regulate the flow of the water out of the river and prevent the tide heading upstream but today they also are used to control the movement of salmon in and out of the river.
From here you can re-join the A9 and head south back towards Inverness or North to continue your road trip and exploring the Highlands.
The Moray firth tourist route is one of the shorter recommended routes across Scotland but is by no means less wondourous as you drive it. With its spectacular scenery and a wide selection of guest houses, campsites, and hotels in the towns you'll pass by and through it's a great way to spend a couple of days and dip your toes into the larger North Coast 500 tourist route.
For help with a campervan for your travels our friendly team at Clarkie's Campers are on hand to get you booked into the right camper for you and to answer any other questions you may have about travelling in one before you head out.