In Dornoch, it’s remarkably easy to build up an appetite. Blustery walks on the beach, a few rounds on the Royal Dornoch Golf Club, or exploring the Dornoch History Links Trail and its tales of witches, cholera and Norsemen.

Here's a wee notion of how to plan a great day:


When I arrived in Dornoch, I was immediately summoned to court, making my way to the Carnegie Courthouse. Designed by Scottish architect Thomas Brown in the Scottish Victorian renaissance style, it’s been transformed into a smart but relaxed café and bistro offering breakfast and lunch, as well cakes and home baking.

The lunch menu highlights include a spicy beef burrito, home-made quiche of the day, or a Courthouse Grain Bowl combining spiced cauliflower, hummus, beetroot and toasted seeds and nuts. As people dine, they gaze up at a mural that decorates the balcony of the courtroom, depicting the great and the good of Dornoch, past and present.

Individuals celebrated range from butcher, Donald Grant and novelist, Rosamunde Pilcher (who lived locally and Dornoch is the setting for much of her novel Winter Solstice), to Andrew Carnegie (who owned Skibo Castle), Madonna (who married at Skibo), a host of golfers, and local milkman Bill Wright.

A useful mural key is available to customers to enable them to identify each individual and their profession, and it’s nice to see a depiction of ordinary hardworking individuals mingling with millionaires and celebrities.


The Courthouse is also home to a well stocked whisky cellar and a tasting room that offers whisky sessions and nosings.

Blind whisky tastings of two single malts and one blended whisky is £10 per person, a regional masterclass is £30 per person, or take a taste tour of Scotland with a 90-minute explanation of Scottish malts, including six malt whiskies. Gin lovers aren’t forgotten, and can book a gin masterclass for £25.

Another excellent whisky bar I stuck my nose into is a dark snug in the heart of Dornoch Castle Hotel. It also features an organic micro-distillery within the grounds, creating ‘Thompson Brothers Organic Gin’.

The Scottish Farmer:

For real fans of the uisge beatha, Dornoch’s annual Whisky Festival was due to run Friday, October 30, to Sunday, November 1, 2020 – but now cancelled due to restrictions. There are six distilleries nearby, including Dalmore, Clynelish, Glenmorangie and Balbair, so it’s relatively straightforward to taste the local ‘water of life’.

* Given fast changing Covid-19 related restrictions, please check beforehand that any events are going ahead ... but why not book ahead for next year?


Unlike many high streets, Dornoch’s main thoroughfare is still alive with beautiful independent shops to browse.

Award-winning Cocoa Mountain chocolatiers is an obvious foodie stop. There’s room to take a table and indulge in a very chocolately hot chocolate, or buy boxes of chocolate treats.

It has an imaginative range of flavours – the tastes range from Super Seeds, Sea Salt or Ginger Nibs Dark Chocolate, to Caramel Hazelnut Milk Chocolate, and Toffee Pieces White Chocolate. Dairy free, vegan and alcohol-free goodies are available too, ensuring nobody misses out on a chocolate fix.

The Scottish Farmer:


Once everyone’s fed and watered, there’s energy for a spot of shopping. Don’t miss Dornoch Jail, where each cell has been transformed into a small boutique, housing the likes of Johnstons of Elgin, Arran Aromatics, Scottish Fine Soaps and Dubarry goods.

Another dapper stop is Kincraig Fabrics. For anyone considering Scottish clothing, throws, travel rugs or accessories in tweed, cashmere or tartan, it’s a gem of a find. It’s stocked high with knitting yarn for those creative with their needles. Kincraig also crafts cushions, curtains, bags and even capes in your choice of their fabrics.

Next I headed towards the east of town and situated in the quaint old Post Office can be found Country Interiors. From vibrant feature lamps decorated with paintings of bold hares to Highland cow placemats and farmers' market-style wall hangings – it’s a bit of a rural treasure trove.

The Scottish Farmer:


Back on a foodie theme, Dornoch General Store is an unusual and vast food hub, focussing on Highland and Scottish produce, often buying direct from growers and makers.

The shelves are stacked high and there’s a staggering choice. We’re talking meat from the likes of the Murdoch Brothers, or Knockfarrel Produce, fresh vegetables, a selection of teas, granolas, biscuits and chocolates, plus a range of sauces, dressings, pickles, chutneys, preserves and honey.

Dornoch also does a fine line in independent butchers.


Links House in Dornoch is a sumptuous, yet homely Highland retreat, winner of the Scottish Hotel Awards 2019, Golf Hotel of the Year, and Luxury Town Hotel of the Year.

The Scottish Farmer:

From an accommodation perspective, it offers a mix of rooms and apartments decorated with modern comforts in a classic Scottish style. As well as a putting green and a drying room for golf bags and wet weather gear, there are four luxurious public rooms to relax in, so it’s easy to find your own space for an aperitif, after dinner drinks, or simply to read a book in front of the fire.

The Links House's new restaurant, Mara, is led by chef Christopher Dougan. Sustainability and local provenance is at the heart of the menu. The hotel’s small kitchen garden readily supplies vegetables, herbs and edible flowers to the table.

The Scottish Farmer:

Local suppliers include lobsters from Portmahomack, Scrabster scallops, Gartmorn duck, Perthshire raspberries, Dornoch lamb, game from Bonar Bridge and Highland Fine Cheeses, from nearby Tain.

Guests can choose between an à la carte menu, a tasting menu or Mara’s signature ‘Hook and Hanger’ board for two. The Hook and Hanger board is a modern twist on 'surf and turf' featuring Aberdeen-Angus steak, monkfish tail, scallops, langoustines, whelks, winkles, cockles, mussels, roast marrow bone, roast potatoes, sea herbs, garlic butter, lobster bisque and tartare sauce.

Alternatively, pop in for Sunday lunch, and children under 10 years old dine for free.

The drinks are certainly not an afterthought. The wine cellar and wine-list is extensive. It’s a joy for connoisseurs, but the staff will happily select a wine flight to accompany the meal for anyone who doesn’t know their Beaujolais from their Barolo.

The beverage manager is passionate about creative cocktails, so consider his signature drink, a ‘Quiet Word’. This take on a Vesper Martini combines maple syrup gin, Grey Goose vodka and Mancino Vermouth. Or try the Links House ‘Old Fashioned’ — Clynelish whisky smoked with apple wood.

The Scottish Farmer:

After dining indulgently, the following morning it’s time to get out and about once more. Links House has fishing rights on the River Oykel, the staff can organise hiking, stalking and cycling excursions, and guests can borrow fishing rods, fly reels, waders, art equipment, golf clubs and bikes.

Other attractions in the area include Historylinks; a five star museums covering the history of Dornoch, from witches and picts, to vikings and Carnegie.

Spend a moment in Dornoch Cathedral, which has an engaging animal trail for children, featuring 60 creatures across the South Transept, North Transept, Porch, Nave and Chancel.

The Scottish Farmer:

The John o' Groats Trail is ready to be explored. That's 147 miles of coastal hikes from Inverness to John o’ Groats cutting through Dornoch. Or simply take time for self-care, and curl up in front of the fire once more …

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