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Strategically placed at the head of the Cromarty Forth, Dingwall has been the administrative and commercial centre of the of the area with important transport links to the rest of the Highlands. When the Cromarty Bridge was built in the 1970s, traffic on the A9 by passed the town, so preserving its unspoilt C19th centre.

The Vikings arrived in the C8th and the name Dingwall comes from the Old Norse Þingvöllr, meaning Parliament Field and the site of the field is thought to be beneath the Cromartie Obelisk.


Dingwall was an important Viking administration centre and there was a wooden castle here by the C11th. Near the mouth of the River Peffer, it controlled entry from the Cromarty Firth and was reputed to be the largest castle north of Stirling. It was later replaced by stone.

Alexander II of Scotland made Dingwall a royal burgh in 1226, with trading rights throughout Scotland and overseas.

During the Wars of Independence in the early C14th, the castle was taken by Edward I although it was later recaptured by William, Lord of Ross, for Robert Bruce in 1314. Following the Battle of Bannockburn, the castle, town and lands were given to the Earl of Ross as a reward. They ruled the north from Dingwall Castle until the late C15th, when the Castle passed to the Earls of Athol who made some improvements to the castle, before it passed through a series of other owners.

By the C17th, the Castle was no longer needed and the remains were levelled in 1817, leaving one of the towers which became a dove cote.


Tulloch Castle to the north of the town is a C16th tower house, although it may have been built on the site of an earlier fortification. It became increasingly important and extended after Dingwall Castle was abandoned. It is now a hotel and Conference Centre.

By the C17th Dingwall was an important market town and commercial centre with a busy harbour and road links to the rest of the Highlands. It was an important meeting point for the long-distance droving routes for cattle and sheep.

A splendid Town House was built on High Street in 1733 with a lock up and school on the ground floor and council chamber and courthouse above.

In 1903, Andrew Carnegie donated money for an extension to the rear of the Town House for a library.


Silting up of the river was always a problem, preventing ships reaching the centre of the town and the River Peffery was deepened and canalised by Thomas Telford with a new harbour at the mouth of the canal. Work was completed by 1819 at a cost of £4,365 to which the burgh contributed £100. The canal was never a commercial success and needed continual dredging. After the arrival of the railway in 1863, it carried very little traffic and by the 1880s was no longer used.

A narrow strip of land separates the canal from the Cromarty Firth at the seaward end, before it runs into the sea.


The route of the canal still forms a pleasant walk from the town to a picnic site on the Cromarty Firth

The Highland Railway from Inverness arrived in 1863 and Dingwall became an important railway junction for the line to Kyle of Lochalsh in the west and Wick and Thurso to the north.

The town’s economy has always been based on agriculture. It is still an important service centre for the local area and has a thriving High Street which still retains many locally owned shops. There is a large Tesco but the independent butchers still thrive and there is an old fashioned hardware store .


Dingwall Heritage Trail

The Dingwall Heritage Trail explores the town centre with illustrated panels describing the history of the town. The town centre trail takes about 30 minutes, with an hour to do both.

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I began outside the Town House which overlooks the Market Square, at the centre of the shopping area.

Narrow alleys lead off High Street and gave access to land used for crops or animals as well as inn stabling.

The Mercat Cross from the Market Square is now in the is now in the museum

In 1729, the burgh leaders decided the town needed a municipal building in which to hold civic functions and to incarcerate offenders. Dating from 1733, the Town House is one of Dingwall’s oldest buildings.


It had a lock up and school on the ground floor with the council chamber and courthouse above, originally reached by an outside staircase. There was a debtor’s prison in the steeple.

Later the jail was amalgamated with the County Jail and the school moved to a new building across the road. The original clock tower was replaced in 1906. Now only the clock tower remains. The buildings on either side are C19th.

The building was used by the Ross and Cromarty County Council until 1975 and is now the Museum.

Round the corner on Church Street is the Carnegie Library and Hall. Dating from 1903, this was funded by money from Andrew Carnegie



The building was used for events and the Beatles performed here in 1963 on their second stop of a tour of Scotland. The event wasn’t well publicised and only 19 people turned up. Everyone had gone to listen to The Melotones, a local band, who were playing at Strathpeffer Pavilion on the same night to a crowd of over one thousand.


Church Street is a narrow street lined with stone built terrace houses.


At the bottom is St Clement’s Church. The present church was built between 1800 and 1803 to replace a ruinous medieval church. The remains known as St Clement’s Aisle,
can still be seen in the kirkyard to the north of the church and were used as a burial vault.

It is the only church to have been designed by the architect and civil engineer, George Burn, who was better known for building bridges.

The church was funded by the Davison Family of Tulloch Castle who owned most of the parish and wanted the church to face their castle, rather than the town centre.


Only the small battlemented porch faces the town.


Near the entrance to the kirkyard is a Pictish symbol stone dating from the C4th-C5th. It is carved on both sides with double disc, crescents and Z-rods, although these are now very eroded and difficult to make out.



Near the church set in a raised walled enclosure is the Cromartie Obelisk. This is thought to be the site of the Viking Þingvöllr (Parliament Field) where laws were announced and disputes settled.

When the land was acquired by George Mackenzie, the first Earl of Cromartie, he erected a tall obelisk and was buried near it in 1714. Unfortunately marshy sub-soil caused subsidence and the monument developed a tilt, which was exacerbated by an earthquake in 1816. Nicknamed Dingwall’s Leaning Tower, it was demolished and replaced by the present obelisk in 1923.


St Clement School on Tulloch Street was the housed the original Dingwall Academy between 1870-1939. It then became a primary school and now caters for children from 3-18 who have additional support needs.


Tulloch Street leads to the River Peffery, which was canalised in 1819 allowing vessels to dock in the centre of the town.



The trail continues along the canal to Castle Street, with the remains of Dingwall Castle. (It is possible to cross the railway line and continue along the canal until it reaches the Cromarty Firth.)

By the C17th, the Castle was no longer needed and the remains levelled when the canal was built. One of the towers was left as a dove cot. The rest of the stone was used for building stone, including Castle House which was built by Captain Donald Maclennan a wealthy merchant seaman.

Dingwall Heritage Trail cont...

Castle Street has many large C19th houses set in their own grounds.


St Lawrence’s Roman Catholic Church dates from 1902.


Near the junction with High Street is the larger Church of Scotland Church.


The old Royal Hotel is at the junction of High Street, Castle Street and Hill Street.


On the hill above is the Sir Hector MacDonald Memorial, a prominent local landmark erected in 1906 in memory of General Sir Hector Macdonald. He was a son of a crofter and rose rapidly up through the ranks of the British Army, fighting in South Africa and the Sudan. He was much respected but shot himself after false allegations were made against him.

Across the road on High Street is the National Hotel.


Next to it on High Street is the impressive Alexander Murray Building. This was built as the National Bank of Scotland in 1835 along with an apartment for the bank’s manager. It is now the Highland Theological College, Part of the Highlands and Islands University.


Across the road is the Post Office with its impressive white frontage masking plain brickwork behind.


The large church on the corner of High Street and Station Road is the Free Church. This opened in 1870 to seat a congregation of around a thousand. The population of Dingwall was around two thousand and over six thousand people collected to celebrate the opening.


The Railway Station opened in 1862 and, from the road, has hardly changed.


The small cottage near it is an example of rustic architecture and feels completely different to the other buildings in Dingwall.


Dingwall has three main war memorials. In front of the National Hotel is the memorial to the dead of both World Wars


At the bottom of High Street by the junction with Achany Road is Seaforth memorial to those who died in the Second Boer War in South Africa between 1899-1902.



The final monument is in the Station Square In the square itself is the Fontane Notre Dame Memorial remembering the men who were killed during fighting at Fontaine Notre Dame in 1917. The crudely made wooden cross with eight horizontal bars was originally sited at Cambrai in France but was moved here in 1924.




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