Magic light and breathtaking views

In what may well be the most beautiful town in Scotland - Fortrose sits on the breathtaking edge of the Moray Firth. With a contented serenity and a welcoming atmosphere - you feel at home the minute you arrive, and each time you visit it gets harder to leave...

A very near miss...

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by Red Mezz on July 27, 2011

The Fat Frog Cafe in Fortrose is a review I feel almost hesitant to write. Having lived here for over a year now I've put off this particular review several times as I've felt that I wanted to be able to do so as clearly and as positively as possible, given the conflicting feelings I have about it. However - given that my opinion has remained the same in all of this time, I'll simply lay out both the pluses and minuses of the experience here and let the reader judge for themselves.

To begin with, the one glaring absence in the Fortrose High Street has been that of a little coffee shop. Though Eilean Dubh Restaurant just around the corner does have outside seating and offers coffee and cake, it is still in effect a restaurant rather than a cafe, and is often extremely crowded at lunch times. There are also two bakers in the village, but neither of these offer any kind of seating and the coffee at the Cromarty bakery is quite simply dire. It's coffee on the go - not exactly 'sitting and enjoying the sun' coffee.

In fact, the nearest cafe I really enjoy is in Cromarty - 10 miles away. So when I first moved to Fortrose, I was delighted to see that the handcrafted jewelry store (called simple The Studio) on the high street had attached to it a small cafe. Not only did it have a cafe - but it had an art cafe.

Given that I am currently a student again, the idea of spending my afternoons of study in a beautiful little arty cafe having coffee in Fortrose seemed a fantastic one, and I was looking forward to doing just that. On my first visit I was immediately encouraged by how well the cafe is put together. It's small (can accommodate approx 10 people) but very nicely put together. The tables are good quality wood, with big loungy leather sofas and the room is decorated with an eclectic selection of work from local artists as well as some of the artisan jewelery examples from the owners who do bespoke, handmade jewelry.

I should perhaps take a moment (as the two businesses are combined) to mention how incredible their jewelry selection is. It is miles from any local bead-maker jewelery and is stunningly crafted. It is - I must say - extremely expensive, but really beautifully done. If you want something unique and well made and don't mind spending the money for it, I can highly recommend them.

The cafe, however, is unfortunately lacking in one very key area. The selection is quite good - they offer Belgian dark chocolate hot chocolate which is impressive (though perhaps only for a serious chocolate lover, as it's very intense. I've never managed to finish one yet). They also offer coffees which are very decent, teas, and a small lunch selection of soups and sandwiches.

For all intensive purposes, it should be a fantastic cafe experience for locals and visitors alike except for one aspect. The service is all but nonexistent. On my first visit I came in, took my seat - was utterly ignored for a good 15 minutes by the jewelry maker who was working within sight at the other end of the room (I can only assume this wasn't part of her job) and then stood waiting at the counter another 15 before the staff (I assumed their daughter?) came down the stairs in an apparently sleepy manner, made herself a cup of tea in the kitchen area and after another 10 minutes seemed to notice us and asked if we wanted anything.

It wasn't - however - the way you ask a customer if they want anything, but rather the way you ask if someone has come over to your house and you feel you should offer them something. I bought a greeting card from a local artist and a Belgian hot chocolate and sat down to enjoy the space. It was quiet - not at all crowded, but the girl soon disappeared again and I spent the entire time feeling the unsettling sensation that I was having coffee in someone's house.

When it was time to leave, we had exactly the same experience as at our arrival. The jewelry maker ignored us standing at the counter for a good 15 minutes before calling the girl down to serve us, in which we waited another few minutes for her to sort this out.
I had hoped this was a one off occurrence, but unfortunately I have had a near identical experience several times now. Once I was left waiting at the counter for 20 minutes while the jeweler spoke to friend after friend who came in the shop.

I'd love to love this cafe, but I've not been able to go back in months. With a few small changes this could be a really great little cafe.
The Studio Jewellery Workshop and Cafe
28 High Street
Fortrose, Scotland

Black Isle cuisine...

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Red Mezz on July 19, 2011

For being such a small village - Fortrose is well equipped with excellent restaurants. At one end of the high street is the interesting and eclectic The Anderson hotel and restaurant, and at the other end just as you arrive in town from Avoch is the exquisite Eilean Dubh. The restaurant name is Gaelic for 'Black Isle' and you do get a sense of it being a bit of a bastion of good dining on the isle. The place is always full - particularly on a Sunday where the you'd be hard pressed to find a nicer Sunday lunch (though you might want to arrive early or book a table if you want a seat). Barely a Sunday goes by when the tables aren't full - and there's good reason for that.

At first glance it's hard to tell how good the restaurant will be. It's location right on the edge of town and large eye-catching sign is hard to miss, but it didn't draw me in immediately and it was a few months of living in Fortrose before I took advantage of this great little restaurant.

The inside is well put together and generally has a very pleasant atmosphere. If you catch it on a quiet day it's a great place to have a coffee and cake - the coffee is usually quite good (though you're more likely to get a good coffee it you order an espresso as opposed to a flat white) and the cakes are tremendous. It's also the best place in town to go just for a coffee and a a bit of cake (the one cafe in town is somewhat lacking in service and has erratic opening times) in the afternoon - and outside the Sunday lunch and dinners you can easily get a quiet table to enjoy your meal. And if you happen to get a sunny day (which is not uncommon on the Black Isle) then they have seating outside as well. It is, unfortunately right on the street and doesn't offer the best view - but it's nice to enjoy their coffee outside all the same.

The cuisine itself was an extremely pleasant surprise on my first visit. They have an excellent menu of local produce, and the owners pride themselves on using as much from Black Isle farmers and even their own farm as possible in their meals. They're interesting seasonal dishes really reflect this - and the seafood on offer is often extremely fresh and beautifully prepared. They also have an impressive and interesting wine selection.

Often I find myself going down just for desert - as they have a really delightful selection of deserts prepared, and these change often. The Scottish breakfast is equally good, and I can recommend it for any one who has to leave the Black Isle before lunch time.

This is a great little restaurant, and a perfect place for lunch or coffee and cake if you are looking for less than a full meal. They are always welcoming, the service is good - and you'll more than likely find yourself staying on or coming back for the full dinner menu. Highly recommended.
Eilean Dubh Restaurant
18 High Street
Fortrose, Scotland

A stunning taste of Belgium in the highlands...

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Red Mezz on May 27, 2011

Perhaps the last thing you really expect to find in the middle of a little village in the Scottish highlands is a shop filled with handmade Belgian chocolates - but that is exactly what you'll find in Fortrose.
Now, Story's chocolate shop is not the reason I moved to Fortrose, but I have to say that if I had known about it before I made the decision to settle in this little village - it wouldn't have deterred me from making the decision.

There's a quirky Belgian theme running through our little village on the shores of the Moray Firth from the large selection of Belgian beers at The Anderson, the Belgian hot chocolate offered at the Fat Frog cafe, and best of all, the hand made, geunuinly Belgian crafted chocolates produced by the Storys.

Located on the main street of Fortrose just before Co-Op - this beautiful little shop is perhaps my favourite shop in Fortrose. The shop is small but impeccably put together. It oozes character, charm and lots of special little touches that really make it something special. They always take a lot of care at holidays and special occasions, their windows dress up and liven the entire main street.

Inside is everything a chocolate shop should be - with an eclectic selection of absolutely stunning chocolates in all shapes and sizes - beautifully packaged and cared for by hand. The owners of the shop (who also keep a shop in the Victorian Market in Inverness) are extremely friendly and will come out and have a chat while you make your choices.
You can buy chocolates which are prepackaged (from truffles to chocolate covered coffee beans) or choose individual chocolates to be gift wrapped to go. The prices are very reasonable for these - and every time I go in I find a new favourite.

You can't visit Fortrose with out paying a visit to the Story chocolate shop - just give yourself plenty of time to browse and make your choices!
Story Belgian Caledonian Chocolate Line
65 High Street
Fortrose, Scotland

You can't miss it...

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Red Mezz on March 1, 2011

Fortrose is a small place - and so to be fair it's not a big surprise that the Fortrose Cathedral was one of the first things which caught my eye. You never know quite what to expect in the little villages of Scotland, and I had been through many in the weeks before I first found myself in Fortrose looking endlessly for a little highland spot to call home.

By the time I did get here - I was starting to think that there was nothing at all to distinguish one from the other. Some seemed a little busier than others, some a littler dirtier - but all in all they were beginning to blend into one big group.

When I pulled in to the high street of Fortrose I was expecting the same yet again. Not only was I expecting it, I was actively looking for what might be a good reason not to move there. Not that I had anything against this town I'd never been to - just that we had recently been burned on moving into a flat too soon before really checking the area out. It had seemed great at first sight and quickly turned into a nightmare.
So when we headed out in the afternoon to have a look at Fortrose my husband had the job of looking at the bright side - and I was to look for things which would be a downside.
So when we passed Cathedral Square with it's Cathedral ruins standing stately right in the middle - it immediately caught my eye and I had to think - 'Hm. Well - there are lots of cathedrals around Scotland.'

But that's not what I really thought - and by the time we had got out of the car, breathed in the ocean air and wandered a few minutes more around the clean little town I was already hooked. The red stone cathedral ruins in the middle of the square only cemented my feeling that this could very easily become home for me.

Perhaps my favourite thing about the cathedral ruins in Fortrose is the tranquility of it. Everyone in town seems to enjoy it, just never at the same time. And it is also pristinely kept. We have an Academy here in Fortrose, and one of the few complaints I have since I've come here is how lenient they seem to be with the students of the Academy where litter is concerned. After every lunch hour when town swarms with students the streets are likewise filled with the rubbish they couldn't bother to dispose of properly. Fortrose town keeps itself clean - the trash quickly finds it's way to the bins, but not from those who left it there.
And yet - even so, the Cathedral square never has so much as a gum wrapper on the well tended grass. It's also great to go at night when it's all lit up and in the year I've been here I've never once found it filled with kids drinking - which seems to be the case in every other town square I've been to in Britain.

It's a stunning spot - especially when the brilliant blue sky lights up behind it and the sun hits the brick turning it especially red. The cathedral itself was built around 1300 and though it is a ruin I often forget that that is the case because there's still something very 'complete' about it.

The building was effectively dismantled around the mid 1600's to use it's parts for the citadel in Inverness. It's now in two parts - separated by enough space to give the impression they were never joined at all.

It's a quiet spot you can wander, and if you can a day in the sunshine you may find it hard to leave - you'll likely be sharing the day with the local sea gulls and perhaps the occasional curious tourist. Quite literally in the middle of the town in cathedral square where you will park when you arrive - you can't possibly miss it. Also if you follow the wall around to the back of the cathedral you will find yourself at the St Andrews Church over looking the Moray Firth - another one of Fortrose's best sights.

Fortrose Cathedral
Cathedral Square
Fortrose, Scotland

The beautiful little church with the best view in Scotland

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Red Mezz on February 27, 2011

The views in Fortrose are numerous - and there are many places you can stand to take in the stunning light and the brilliant blue of the firth, but arguably the best place to enjoy the perfect serenity and unrivalled light is the hill just off of Ardross Street next to one of my favourite little churches in Scotland.

It's easy to be jaded by beautiful little churches and chapels when you've lived in the UK for any lenght of time. It seems every village has some small church which is worth travelling abroad just to see - and after some time you begin to regard them simply as churches once again.

But from the moment I first saw it - I've had a soft spot in my heart for the little church of St. Andrews.

It's one of the most photographic spots in the beautiful town of Fortrose. Just a few minutes walk from the Cathedral Square where you can park for free (if you can find a space that is - there aren't many but it's surprisingly rare that I've had trouble finding one). Everything in Fortrose moves outward just a few easy strides from the Cathedral Square and the old Cathedral ruins (see my other review). If you walk around the square heading away from the High Street you will almost inevitably find yourself staring at St Andrews church, perched beautifully on a green grassy hill set above the rocky beach of Fortrose and with a truly awe inspiring view out across the Moray Firth right into the distant sprawl of Inverness. The sunrises on this hill are beyond compare - and the sunsets and sunny afternoons are hard to top. Whether in good weather or bad, when the hill is covered in daffodils in the spring of thick with snow in the winter, this is one of the most serene places in Fortrose - and it was sitting on the bench perched on the edge of this hill looking out across the silver sea that I decided this town would become my new home.

The church itself is fantastic. It seems small - though beautifully kept up and quite unique in it's style. It's been referred to as ugly in the past by architects, but I find it's slightly odd style refreshing and it seems to fit where it is so perfectly I can hardly imaging the spot with out it - and it is quite a spot.

The chruch was built in 1828 - though it seems both new and timeless. It's pristinely kept and once inside you feel a kind of welcome that not all churches offer. The church is always open during the day time - you are free to come in and visit at your leisure. If you are lucky you may run into Father Mel who looks after the church. He, too, seems hard to separate from the church and the town and will welcome you in happily and talk to you as long as you have time for about the Church, Scotland and may even give you a phrase or two in Scots Gaelic. If you're very lucky - you may even happen to catch him playing the pipes - a sound that is gloriously resplendent in the stone walls of this church.

It's beautiful in the dark light of a rainy afternoon - but if you catch it with the sun from across the sea streaming in through the stained glass it's a very awe inspiring sight.

Be sure to walk over and enjoy this part of Fortrose - it may be this moment that it truly captures your heart.
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church
Academy Street
Fortrose, Scotland
01381 622241

The wonderous light on the Black Isle.

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Red Mezz on February 27, 2011

There are so many ways to describe a trip to Scotland - there are enough thing to view and places to see and historical sights and castles and distilleries to make your head spin. But no one comes to Scotland expecting to lounge in the sun, and I think everyone arrives with at least a mild expectation of the inevitable bad weather. And if they don't - they realize they should have very soon after arriving.

However, in all of my time before coming here, in my first travels around this lush country, and in all the years since that I've lived here - I've never once heard anyone talk about how good the light is in Scotland.

And that is because - after almost a decade here I have to say - for the most part it is true that it's not great. There is a perpetual white sheet which more often than not hangs over the bulk of the country, and when it's gone more often than not it is replaced by heavy, low hanging rain clouds. Those who live on the West coast wear the bad weather of their homeland with a ironic pride - and they'll talk about the beauty of Scotland, but they do it in reference to the damp and the colours you find in the watery shores of Loch Lomond, or the low haning mist in the hills of Glencoe.

I'm a photograher - so light is inevitably a very important thing to me. But more than that - I have always intensely felt the importance of colour and light in the places that I've been. It tints the journey with it's hues and leaves an indelible impression in your mind once home of what you saw and the technicolour grandness (or washed out dreariness) of the time abroad. The light I see in a place when I get off the plane often leaves me with an immediate impression of how I feel about the new land I've just set down in, and more often than not I find that that first impression was a good one.

In the years I lived in Edinburgh - I did some times glimpse a stunning light unlike anything I had ever expected to witness in Scotland. But it wasn't until I moved to Fortrose, a beautiful little village on the Black Isle north of Inverness that I discovered the true greatness of the light possibilities in Scotland.

There are many stunning places I've discovered in this country over the years. Unbelievable hills and incredible cities - vast landscapes and sky and lochs to take your break away. Even surprise beaches with long stretches of sand leading out into the Atlantic. But never have I seen the kind of stunning light that I experience almost daily in Fortrose.

I write this story mainly for the photographer, the painter, fellow followers of great light. When I arrived here and saw my first sunset over the Moray Firth from the hill near St Andrews Church I knew I'd found a place to call home and that my camera would never be far from my side. This spot seems to be a hidden gem for artists - and in all my time here I've never once seen anyone painting the incomparable view over the firth to the bridges of distant Inverness.

The light and views in this place are equal to any I have seen in the world - and in some ways it has encompassed them all. There have been early spring days (like today) where the light shows so fine and lightly coloured over the water it reminds me with a pang in my heart of my days on the beaches in Maui. Warm summer days where the light bleeds red in the afternoon in the long stretch across turquoise seas that I could almost swear I was in the Florida Keys watching the sun set over the Seven Mile Bridge. There have been days when the beach could be in Australia - the Firth transformed to a golden Indian Ocean lapping against the waves - and days when it is the cool sullen pewter of the Tasman Sea off the coast of New Zealand.
There are days when it could be nowhere but the highlands of Scotland - and the entire Firth glistens with a pristine silver light unlike anything I've ever seen anywhere - the boats in the harbour floating serenely through it - with shafts of light breaking out of majestic clouds and the low lit view of the Inverness bridge somehow still visible in the distance.

So many days I've walked the paths in Fortrose and wondered if I'd somehow wandered into the backdrop of a 1930's technicolour film set - the clouds are so full and bursting with all the colour that seems to have been drained out of the lower half of the country.

This is a place like no other - and I share this with both the joy and trepidation that that secret will not keep for ever.

A Pagan Past, and a Wierdly Interesting Day Out...

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Red Mezz on May 16, 2010

It's hard to explain to someone who isn't already familiar with the concept of the clootie well, why it's something to go and visit. If you were making the drive through the Black Isle towards Munlochy from Inverness and were unfamiliar with this tradition - you would certainly pass this little spot off the side of the road and think that you had just witnessed some strange and horrible hobo-camp gone awry

A friend of mine, recently deciding to make a visit to Scotland asked about things to do on the Black Isle (an area north of Inverness which is very pleasantly situated between the Moray and Cromarty Firth).

When I mentioned our rather resplendent clootie well and sent a few snapshots of my last wander around it, the reaction I received was very confused. She thought that, surely, I had sent the wrong photos.

Driving past what is a superb little area of woodlands on your way to towards the little village of Munlochy, you will come across an array - a spectacular array of what at first appears to be rubbish covering the hillside. This isn't an accident though, and it's not some strange camping place that no one every bothered to clean up. This is a clootie well.

With traditions that date back centuries before Christian traditions took hold and still maintaining some of their potency afterward, the clootie well today embodies a sense of experiencing another time in a way that can be embraced in a modern way. Though it looks appalling at first sight, when you wander on foot up the pathway leading to the well, you instantly begin to get a sense of why this resonates with people, and why - year after year - they come to these 'holy' places to experience it for themselves.

Once the sight of holy pilgrimages, the clootie well is thought to be a spring of healing powers, and what at first appears to be an obscene level of rubbish left behind, is in fact offerings from those who have come to visit the well over many years.

The tradition usually revolves around someone who is ill - the idea is that you bring something that touched or was close to the person who is ill, perform a small offering ceremony at the well itself and then leave the cloth tied in the vicinity to help heal the ailing person.
And though there are quite a few offerings there today which certainly appear to have relevance to this tradition, it also seems that often the things that are left as left as a symbol of people having visited, or passed through and wanting to leave something of themselves behind.

This is a nice little tradition, I find, in a strange way - and very soon (especially in the beautiful afternoon light you get on the Black Isle) the cluttering of rags and clothes on trees and branches along the path begin to take on a special significance you feel almost privileged to have seen. I recommend you join in the tradition - though be sure to tie something that will actually disintegrate. This is true for the tradition, as well as obvious environmental reasons.

There is an easy access, free car park just a couple seconds from the well itself, and this also joins a really beautiful little woodland path behind it, that is excellent for a walk, and one of my favorite spots to go for a wander on the Black Isle.
The Clootie Well
A832, One Mile West of Munlochy
The Black Isle, Scotland

Food that will surpass all expectation...

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Red Mezz on January 2, 2011

After spending a almost 8 years living in Edinburgh and several years out in the world enjoying the vast selection of cuisine in Hong Kong, Christchurch, Los Angeles, London, Cornwall and Glasgow - I admit I was a little daunted by moving to a small town in the Scottish highlands with only two real restaurants to choose from. Not that the size of the town mattered - Fortrose from the moment I saw it seemed the perfect stopping place after years of travel and I was more than happy to recline in the quiet repose of unequaled scenery.

But in my years enjoying various cities, I have become a bit of a fan of restaurants and going out to an evening of nice food and good wine has become one of my favourite pass times. So the idea of being so far away from that selection did, I admit, give me pause.

The Anderson was a place I had actually heard about before I ever came to Fortrose. It may even be one of the reasons we decided to look at the town as a place to settle. Having just returned from Belgium last year - I was already in heavy withdrawal from my intense joy of Belgian beer and chocolate, when I heard that, to my delight, there was a little town just north of Inverness where the local bar was known for it's incredible selection of Belgian beer. We immediately put it on the list of places to see when we began looking for a new home.

But as is often the case, life took it's time allowing us to get there, and when we did find ourselves suddenly house hunting in Fortrose, it was with delight and surprise that I passed The Anderson and exclaimed - 'The bar with all the Belgian beer!'

I won't give it full credit for our choice in Fortrose as a home - but it certainly made an impression.

The Anderson Restaurant is a place I find hard to praise enough, and I'm not quite sure where to begin. I have a special place in my heart for it, as it not only drew me to what would become my new home, but has become part of what has made Fortrose such a welcoming and easy place to live. If you only have one or two restaurants in the town that you live - I can only hope they are as special as The Anderson.

Maybe I have a special fondness for it because, like me, the owner is an American ex-pat who has made his way in the Scottish highlands and had brought a little taste of home to meld with the flavours of Scotland. Maybe it's because I spent the evening of my wedding with friends and family there, with all delighted at the venue, the exceptional food, the vast selection of drinks and superb staff. Maybe these things have made me partial - but I can only hope that they will do the same for you.

The Anderson is a conglomerate of things (as is always useful in a small town) Not only is it a phenomenal dining experience (and I say that not as someone who is happy with a small town restaurant, but as someone who rates it against food from around the world) but it has a relaxed and very amicable whisky bar (you will be blown away by the whisky selection) where you can drink or have your meal, a pub which has a really outstanding selection of beers from around the world including my favourite Belgian beer, and even some American ales where live music is often played on a Sunday night.

They also have hotel accommodation upstairs, which though I've never stayed there myself (not needing to living just around the corner) several of my wedding guests did and were more than happy with their stay.

Located very conveniently right on the corner of Cathedral Square on the main street in Fortrose it's easy to find and easy to get to. Parking is free in Cathedral square if you can find any, and it's easy to walk to the Anderson from anywhere in town.

Over all I really can't say enough about The Anderson. The dining area of the restaurant is beautifully kept and nice without the often stuffy atmosphere you tend to get in local Scottish restaurants. It's warm and inviting. The staff are excellent - whenever I have visited it I've been very impressed with the staff, whether it was in the restaurant, whisky bar or pub. Jim Anderson, the owner, is superbly helpful and friendly and almost single-handedly saved our wedding day when an Inverness restaurant mixed up our booking at the last minute. Ask him about his whisky - his knowledge on the topic is expansive.

But despite all the other positives I could mention about it, over and above all has to be the food which has been without exception in my every experience thus far, superb. With beautiful fusion selections of American, Scottish as well as other cuisines, made from fresh local produce with a menu that changes every week to new and exciting options - I can hardly walk past it with out stopping to see what wonders they have come up with now.

The prices are very good for what you get. They are not cheap, but neither are they expensive and the portions are very good. With over 30 people attending my wedding at The Anderson all ordering different items from the menu each and every single person was thrilled with their meal. And I myself have never yet had a meal there that didn't leave me wishing I could return the next night for more.

Some of the starters are particularly special. If 'Persia meets Paris' happens to be on the menu when you visit, I strongly recommend you give it a try. They also do some beautiful New York style cheesecake that I've not found it's equal since living in the UK.

If you come to Fortrose, it's true you're dining options are limited, but a visit to the Anderson will be an experience to take home with you, and may bring you back sooner than you anticipated.
The Anderson Restaurant
Union Street
Fortrose, Scotland, IV10 8TD
01381 620 236

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