Tain, the oldest royal burgh in Scotland, has plenty of stories of saints and kings to tell.
The town has been considered a sanctuary since recorded history began. St Duthac was born here in around 1000 AD and his relics were preserved for a while in the St Duthac Collegiate Church which was built in the 14th century.
As one of the most important medieval shrines in Scotland, Tain became a place of pilgrimage and Scottish kings throughout the centuries visited the town to pay their respects. Malcolm Canmore confirmed Tain’s status as a sanctuary in 1066. And future kings also bestowed their favours on the town.
One of the most regular royal visitors was James IV, who made the trip north periodically between 1492 and 1513. His visits and the town’s protected status helped establish Tain as a centre for trade.
Visitors are still attracted to the town by the medieval character of the winding streets and narrow lanes, the well-preserved historic buildings and the variety of traditional crafts and industries.
Tain and District Museum is home to an extensive and varied collection of objects, photographs and archives of local, regional and national significance.
The museum is housed in what was once the caretaker’s cottage for the collegiate church and churchyard. It was built in the 1880s following the restoration of the collegiate church.
The building opened as the town’s museum in 1966 to coincide with the celebration of the 900th anniversary of the town’s first charter.
Among the rarest items in the collection are examples of silverware made in Tain in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The earliest recorded goldsmith in the town was in the mid-16th century and, although other silversmiths worked during the following 150 years, none of their work is known.
However, between 1700 and 1835 there was a continuous series of silversmiths whose pieces are represented in the collection.
These silversmiths were Hugh Ross (three generations of the same name), Alexander Stewart, John Sellar, William Innes and Richard Maxwell Wilkie.
The star items in this collection include a Hugh Ross tot cup made between about 1700 and 1710, a mid-18th century Hugh Ross pepperpot, and a rare three-pronged fork and a gold signet ring by Alexander Stewart.
In 1997 the museum held the first exhibition ever dedicated entirely to Tain silver, consisting of about 150 items from a range of private and institutional owners across the UK as well as from its own collection.
The town’s silversmithing tradition is continued by Tain Silver, a business that has been in existence for over 30 years. All of its products are handcrafted in the Highlands, with the inspiration for many of them coming from the Celtic gospels and Pictish standing stones.
Tain Silver’s products are available only from its shops in Tain and Invergordon and through its website, www.tainsilver.com
Balnagown Castle, built for the Earl of Ross in the 15th century and home to the senior branch of the Clan Ross until 1711, is just a few miles from the town.
People with the surname Ross have played a central part in the history of the area, and it is still one of the most common names locally. The history of the clan is illustrated throughout Tain Through Time, in the church and gravestones, in the stories told in the Pilgrimage, and in many of the objects in the museum.
From here take a personal CD tour of the town and discover traces of bygone days you might otherwise have walked past.
Since 1843 Glenmorangie Distillery has been producing its famous malt here on the shores of the Dornoch Firth.
Glenmorangie is still handcrafted to this day by the Sixteen Men of Tain, using tried and tested methods that have been passed down from generation to generation.
Each year the distillery welcomes visitors from all over the world who come to discover how the malt whisky is made and meet the people who share their passion for Glenmorangie and live and breathe it every working day.
Near Tain, visit the Tarbat Discovery Centre at Tarbat Old Parish Church, Portmahomack. This was an important monastic settlement and many stones were uncovered during restoration work in the old church and in the surrounding churchyard.
In 1993 Professor Martin Carver of York University visited the site and was so intrigued that he returned with a team the following year to carry out a geophysical survey. The archaeology was of profound importance and since 1996 major excavations have been ongoing at the site every summer.
The site is the only Pictish monastic settlement found in Scotland to date. The settlement consists of dedicated workshops for glass-making, metalworking, vellum production and woodworking.
There are also farming areas, a millpond and a surfaced road, all of which date from between the sixth and 11th century AD.
There have been numerous beautiful pieces of sculpture unearthed both inside and outside the church, and these are now on display inside the museum.
A total of six churches have existed within the building, the earliest of which dates back to the eighth century and the Picts. Its numerous alterations have been incurred by a historical timeline of social, political and religious change.
Extend your trip and create your own “Pictish Trail”. Easter Ross has many examples of these enigmatic stones.
See the original cross-slabs at Nigg and Shandwick and a new reproduction of the Hilton of Cadboll stone (the original is in the New Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh) erected at the Hilton Chapel site.