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Dornoch has proved a popular destination with travellers for years due to the tranquil setting, friendly welcome, award-winning sands and excellent golf courses, one of which, Royal Dornoch, is a championship course.
Nearby Embo is one of Scotland’s finest beaches boasting clean waters, unspoilt golden sands stretching from Embo itself to Dornoch Point and offering spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.
Dornoch is from the Gaelic for horse’s foot and the town is said to have been named in honour of William, Thane of Sutherland, who killed an opponent in a battle nearby using the leg of a slain horse after he had lost his sword!
The town initially grew around the church when St Finbarr of Cork founded a respected monastery here in around 600AD. The link with the Church was strengthened in 1223 when Gilbert de Moravia, Bishop of Caithness took up residency in the town and founded his cathedral.
In the 16th century, after the Reformation, the cathedral was partly destroyed by the Mackays of Strathnaver, but has been restored over the years with major restoration work funded in the early 19th century by the first Duchess of Sutherland. Today the cathedral once again forms a focal point for the town.
As well as the historic appeal of this Royal Burgh, Dornoch remains modern in outlook.
It has embraced change to offer an eclectic mix of shops, dining and accommodation experiences, impressive for a community of its size.
Across the tree-lined, leafy town square is the 16th-century Dornoch Castle – once the Bishop’s residence and now a hotel. Many of the original features can still be found within the impressive building.
Dornoch was created a Royal Burgh in 1628 securing its position as an important market town.
To this day, shopping in Dornoch is a real treat and makes a pleasant, stress-free alternative to over-crowded high streets, shopping malls and retail parks.
You are almost guaranteed to find something extra special or unusual here that you won’t find in large towns or cities.
The former Dornoch jailhouse has been transformed into a mini emporium offering luxury clothing, hand-made cosmetics, gifts and crafts among other items.
The cells have been filled with gifts but the original stonework and heavy wooden doors have been beautifully preserved giving real character to the place.
It was here that Janet Horned was tried and sentenced in 1722 becoming the last witch in Scotland to be officially burned.
Dornoch boasts lots of excellent shops full of character and charm along its main street, quiet lanes and alleyways.
If you like browsing for antiques and collectibles you will be spoilt for choice here.
The town is a treasure trove of gifts, antiques and collectibles as well as toys for the wee ones.
With outdoor activities a big draw for both visitors and locals alike, you will find all the supplies you need for a day out whether on the hills, the golf course or fishing, ranging from clothing to tackle.
For a small town there is no shortage of places to dine and stay.
Visitors will find smart cafes offering both delicious home-baking and traditional Scottish fayre inclduding local ice-creams alongside freshly prepared ciabatta and panini while providing internet access and local information.
In the evening, one such café transforms into a chic bistro with soft lighting and a fusion menu featuring typically Highland produce such as seafood but with an Italian twist.
Contemporary venues sit comfortably next door to more traditional Scottish restaurants offering the very best in fine dining, using seasonal local produce to ensure the freshest flavours throughout the year.
Many talented chefs are drawn to the area simply because the raw ingredients that are available right on the doorstep are among the best in the world ranging from meats such as beef, lamb and venison to seafood, cheeses, breads, wines, beers and of course, whisky.
There is an equally impressive array of accommodation ranging from comfortable, inexpensive B&Bs to the most luxurious of hotel rooms including a former castle.
For those who prefer to go it alone there is also a wide selection of caravan and camping sites nearby making the most of the area’s most beautiful attractions. And for those who like their home comforts there are also several self-catering options offering the best of both worlds.
Many visitors who travel to Dornoch simply come for the fantastic golfing in the area.
The Royal Dornoch course was originally designed in 1877 by Tom Morris and is regularly ranked in the top end of the world’s championship courses, particularly as one of the finest links courses. It is just over 6,500 yards, is bordered by the Dornoch Firth and has challenging rolling fairways and small greens.
Nearby, the Struie Course was built in the early part of the 20th century but floundered during the war. It was reinstated as an 18-hole course by Donald Steel and Partners in the mid-60s, while incorporating a number of the old holes.
It is a fitting neighbour to the championship course despite being less than 5,500 yards in length.
It is a traditional links course with narrow fairways, bunkers, thick whin bushes and fast greens.
Whatever your reason for visiting Dornoch, whether it is for a week or just the day, you won’t run out of things to see and do.