Like Tain itself, Easter Ross has many places of interest to be discovered. Exploring with the help of OS Landranger Map 21 will take you to ruined churches, castles, forests, beautiful beaches, spectacular cliffs, peaceful lochs and wonderful viewpoints. There is good and not too strenuous walking near the town, particularly at the Hill of Tain and Aldie Burn. Walks leaflets are available from Tain Through Time. The list of places that follows is just a sample of what you might find. Easter Ross has a number of spectacular Pictish Stones, carved in the 8th or 9th centuries. The Shandwick Stone is still in its original location, and has recently, after restoration work, been enclosed in a glass structure to prevent further erosion by weather. It stands 2.7 meters high in a field just southwest of Shandwick, and can be seen from far out to sea.
Both faces of the stone are covered with a profusion of symbols, including a prominent cross in high relief bosses. At Nigg the stone is in Nigg Old Church which is open daily 10am to 5pm from Easter to the end of October. The church itself is well worth a visit.
At Edderton there is a Pictish cross slab in Edderton Old Churchyard, and an earlier Pictish symbol stone in Edderton village. The fabulous cross slab which once stood by the old chapel site at Hilton was controversially removed to the British Museum in 1921 and is now in the Museum of Scotland. A project is taking place to carve a replica which will be erected at the original site.
Further light is being shed on the Pictish and earlier history of the area by excavations at Tarbat Old Church in Portmahomack. A number of Pictish fragments have been found during an archaeological project that has been underway for several years. The church has been converted into a Discovery Centre where the finds are interpreted.
Portmahomack is also worth visiting for its long sandy beach with stunning views to the mountains of Sutherland. Just to the north of the village is Tarbat Ness Lighthouse, built in 1830 by Robert Stevenson. It is the second tallest lighthouse in Britain and is not open to the public.
Fearn Abbey, about five miles south east of Tain, was originally founded in 1227 at Mid Fearn on the south of the Dornoch Firth, by Ferquhard, 1st Earl of Ross. The Abbey moved to its present site in about 1246 taking the place name with it. After the Reformation in 1560 the Abbey continued to be used as a church. In 1742 the building was struck by lightning during a service. The flagstone roof collapsed killing 38 people. The assistant minister held up the lintel of the east door giving many others the chance to escape. Fearn Abbey is still in use as the parish church today. Please ring +44 (0)1862 832626 for access arrangements.
Another church of particular interest is that at Croick in Strathcarron. Eighty people from Glencalvie sheltered here when they were evicted from their homes in 1845. Some of their names were scratched on the church window; these can still be seen along with contemporary newspaper reports describing the events.
Returning closer to Tain, opposite the Glenmorangie Distillery on the A9 is the Walter Scott Stone. This is a large boulder carved with the inscription "The Immortal Walter Scott OB 1832", by a mason working on the construction of the distillery.
There are several impressive castles around Tain, including those at Balnagown, seat of the Clan Ross, Ballone and Skibo, built by Andrew Carnegie. These are all privately owned and are not open to the public. In order to visit a great Highland castle you must go to the home of the Countess of Sutherland at Dunrobin, just north of Golspie on the A9. For more information on Skibo Castle visit their website.