With the school holidays now underway, local people and visitors are being reminded that the rich Pictish heritage of the Highland Council area is a perfect theme for a summer day out.
The Highland Pictish Trail, which dates back more than 25 years, has recently been extended to include 32 of the area’s most impressive and accessible Pictish sites, including carved stones set in superb scenery, museums and visitor centres where you can see impressive and thought-provoking carved stones and Pictish objects, and the mighty hill fort of Craig Phadrig (on the outskirts of Inverness) with its amazing views over the Beauly Firth and towards the Great Glen.
The Picts dominated north and east Scotland from around 400AD for about 600 years, and the carved stones they left in the landscape, with their mysterious symbols, carvings of animals, and, later, intricately-carved Christian crosses and images of bible scenes, battles and hunting, have been a source of fascination for hundreds of years.
They also left other marks on the Highland landscape including impressive hill forts and the important Pictish religious centre at Tarbat on the Easter Ross Peninsula.
Tarbat Discovery Centre is this summer offering younger visitors (from age 4 years and over) the chance to have a go at archaeology by digging for exciting Pictish objects in the centre’s archaeology pit. (Advance booking is recommended.)
Tarbat also has a new exhibition focusing on eight of its special finds – including the 6th to 7th-century decorative disc from an aristocratic Pictish horse harness and the stone corbel, possibly from the lost Pictish church on site – which proved very popular on its lockdown #FindsFriday social media posts during lockdown.
Summer is also the perfect time to travel along the Trail between the Black Isle and the Easter Ross Peninsula using the Cromarty-Nigg ferry.
Enjoy the outstanding Pictish carved stones in Groam House Museum in Rosemarkie, then make your way by car, bike or bus to Cromarty for a short but very scenic crossing across the Cromarty Firth near the Sutors of Cromarty and the renewable energy fabrication yard at the Port of Nigg.
On the other side, see the amazing Pictish carved stone at Nigg Old Church, then perhaps travel onwards to the Shandwick Stone and the Hilton of Cadboll stones near Balintore, and the exhibitions at Tarbat Discovery Centre of Pictish treasures found there by archaeologists.
Where else can you experience intricate art from more than 1,000 years ago, dramatic coastal scenery, and views of immense and cutting-edge renewable energy structures at close hand in the same afternoon?
The recently-launched Highland Pictish Trail website has full details of all the sites on the Trail as well as a wealth of information to help people plan short and longer Pictish-themed visits around the Highlands.
A downloadable free app of suggested tours is available on the website and the new Trail leaflet can be downloaded from the website or is available in printed form in local museums, libraries, visitor centres and Highland accommodation ‘welcome’ folders.
Chief Executive of High Life Highland Steve Walsh said:
“The Pictish heritage of the Highlands has not been at the forefront of tourism marketing in the past but some of the carved stones on the Highland Pictish Trail are outstanding examples of early medieval European art and all the Trail sites give their own insights into a time when the Highland area was an important centre of Pictish power.”
Graham Watson, Board member of Museums and Heritage Highland, said:
“After all the stresses and strains of the last two years, the Highland Pictish Trail offers local people and visitors the chance to step back into a time when life in the Highlands was very different from today.
“You can admire the skill of the Pictish stone carvers, think about what the symbols and images are telling us about life here more than 1,000 years ago.
“Visiting the stones housed in local museums and visitor centres gives you the chance to find out more from the people who look after them while the outdoor sites offer the chance to enjoy the stones in their beautiful Highland landscapes while filling your lungs with fresh Highland air.”
Councillor Ken Gowans, Chair of The Highland Council’s Environment and Infrastructure Committee said:
“Exploring the Trail – whether for an afternoon, a day, a weekend or a week – is also a chance to explore and enjoy the food, drink, crafts and atmosphere of the distinctive Highland communities along the route.
“It’s a real opportunity to slow down, immerse yourself in a different world, and re-charge your batteries.
“|As many of the sites on the Trail are on or close to the NC500 route, we hope that NC500 visitors will also take advantage of the chance to enjoy this fascinating aspect of Highland culture.”
The Highland Pictish Trail project is a partnership of The Highland Council, High Life Highland and Museums and Heritage Highland and has received financial support from The Highland Council, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Museums Galleries Scotland.
Museums and Heritage Highland will be maintaining and updating the website and app when the current project ends.