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Beinn Eighe Ruadh-stac Mor.jpg
View from Beinn Eighe (Ruadh-stac Mor)
[Interactive map]
Area: 3,089 square miles
Population: 69,503
County town: Dingwall
County flower: Bog asphodel [1]

The County of Ross is a mountainous shire of the Highlands of Scotland, reaching from the Atlantic coast to the North Sea.

The county is amidst the mountains and stretches from coast to coast and to the Hebrides. It is bordered on the north by Sutherland and the south by Inverness-shire. The several estates that make up Cromartyshire are scattered across the north of Ross-shire, many wholly surrounded by it. An exclave of Nairnshire is found within Ross too.

The county can be divided into three parts; Easter Ross, Wester Ross and the Isle of Lewis. Easter Ross and Wester Ross may conventionally be separated by the watershed between the eastern and western coasts of Great Britain. The Isle of Lewis is part of the Outer Hebrides, and contains those islands' only town, Stornoway.

The county town of Ross-shire is Dingwall in Easter Ross, near the North Sea coast.

The name of Ross is ancient. Some derive it from a Gaelic word meaning a headland - perhaps a reference to the Black Isle. The Norse name appearing in the Orkneyinga Saga was Ros, and the area once belonged to the Norse earldom of Orkney; some have suggested a connection with the Norse hross meaning horse.


Sgurr Fiona and the Corrag Bhuidhe pinnacles on An Teallach
View east from Sgurr Mhòr over the "Horns"

Ross lies south of Sutherland and the Dornoch Firth, west of the North Sea and the Moray Firth, north of the Beauly Firth and Inverness-shire and east of The Minch. There are also a number of small islands off the county's west coast, among which are:

Wester Ross

Wester Ross is well known for its spectacular mountain scenery, especially the Torridon Hills which includes such peaks as Beinn Eighe and Liathach. This coast is nearly 311 miles long. The chief capes include Tarbat Ness on the east coast, and Coigach, Greenstone Point, Rubha Reidh, Redpoint and Hamha Point on the west.

The coast here is marked by deep sea-lochs reaching between the highlands, from south to north:

Although many peaks in the North-west highlands exhibit Torridon geology, the Torridon hills are generally considered only to be those in the Torridon Forest to the north of Glen Torridon. Specifically, these are:

The Torridon Hills exhibit some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in the British Isles, surpassed in grandeur probably only by the Cuillins of Skye.

Other notable peaks include An Teallach and Slioch. The landscape is dominated by the Torridonian sandstone, a Precambrian and very old rock formation. Each of the Torridon Hills sits very much apart from each other, and they are often likened to castles. They have steep terraced sides, and broken summit crests, riven into many pinnacles. There are many steep gullies running down the terraced sides. The summit ridges provide excellent scrambling, and are popular with hill walkers and mountaineers. However, like many ridge routes, there are few escape points, so once committed, the scrambler or hillwalker must complete the entire ridge before descent. The area is thinly populated, so walkers need to come fully prepared. Under winter conditions, many walking routes become serious expeditions.

Easter Ross

Easter Ross, on the side of the county on the North Sea or Moray Firth, has a shorter coastline. The major firths are the:

The Isle of Lewis

Uig Loch, Lewis
Main article: Lewis

The Isle of Lewis is a mixture of mountain and peat bogs. Its highest point is Mealisval, at 1,883 feet. Its west coast has many islands and its east coast is cut with long, narrow lochs.

Lewis though treated as an island is in reality the northern part of Lewis with Harris; the larger and lower-lying part, for Harris rises in mountains to the south of the border. It has much flatter and more fertile land, though the centre of the island is covered in a massive peat bog which has fuelled lewis hmoes since time immemorial. Stornoway on the east coast is the only town in the Outer Hebrides and contains three-quarters of their population.

There are many and diverse habitats on the Isle of Lewis, home to an assortment of birds, beasts and plants. The golden eagle can be seen soaring here, red deer on the hills and seals around the coasts.

Mountains of the southern border of Ross-shire

Almost all the southern border with Inverness-shire consists of a rampart of peaks, many of them Munros:

To the north of Glen Torridon are the masses of Liathach 3,455 feet, Beinn Eighe 3,313 feet, Beinn Alligin 3,235 feet and Beinn Dearg 2,998 feet. On the north-eastern shore of Loch Maree rises Slioch 3,219 feet, while the Fannich group contains six Munros, the highest being Sgurr Mor at 3,645 feet. The immense isolated bulk of Ben Wyvis at 3,428 feet forms the most noteworthy feature in the north-east, and An Teallach 3,484 feet in the north-west appears equally conspicuous, though less solitary. Only a small fraction of the west and south of the area is under 1,000 feet in height. Easter Ross and the peninsula of the Black Isle are comparatively level.

Rivers, burns and waterfalls

The longest stream of the mainland portion of Ross-shire is the River Orrin, which rises from the slopes of An Sidhean (at 2,671 feet) and pursues a north-easterly course to its meeting with the River Conon after a run of about 26 miles, during a small part of which it forms the border with Inverness-shire. At Aultgowrie the stream rushes through a narrow gorge where the drop is considerable enough to make the Falls of Orrin.

The River Blackwater flows from mountains in Strathvaich south-east for 18 miles until it joins the Conon, forming soon after it leaves Loch Garve the small but picturesque Falls of Rogie. Within a short distance of its flowing out of Loch Luichart, the Conon pours over a series of graceful cascades and rapids and then pursues a winding course of 12 miles, mainly eastward to the head of the Cromarty Firth.

The Falls of Glomach are found above Glen Elchaig in the south-west of Ross. The burn giving rise to them drains a series of small lochs on the northern flanks of Beinn Fhada (Ben Attow) and, in an almost unbroken sheet over a yard in width, effects a sheer drop of 360 feet, and soon afterwards ends its course in Glen Elchaig. The falls are usually visited from Invershiel, seven miles to the south-west.

The Falls of Measach 12 miles south-east of Ullapool, on the estate of Braemore, are, formed by the Droma, a headstream of the River Broom. The cascades, three in number, are close to Corrieshalloch Gorge.

The River Oykel, throughout its course, forms the border of Ross-shire with Sutherland.

Lochs and glens

Slioch seen from the shores of Loch Maree

Ross has many freshwater lochs, the largest being Loch Maree.

Lochan Fada (the long loch) is found 1,000 feet above sea level. It is four miles long, and covers an area of 1,112 acres, and is 42 fathoms deep, with a mean depth of 17 fathoms. Once drained by the Muice (Allt na Muice), it has been tapped a little farther west by the Abhainn na Fhasaigh, which has lowered the level of the loch.

Other lochs include Fionn Loch (the white or clear lake), eight miles long by a mile wide, famous for its herons, Loch Luichart towards the centre of the shire (eight miles long and between half a mile to a mile broad), fringed with birches and having the shape of a crescent, the mountain-girt Loch Fannich (a mile wide); and the wild narrow lochs of Monar (four miles long) and Mullardoch (five miles long), on the Inverness-shire border.

Of the straths or valleys the more important run from the centre eastwards, such as Strathconon, Strathbran, Strathgarve, Strathpeffer and Strathcarron. Excepting Glen Orrin, in the east central district, the longer glens lie in the south and towards the west. In the extreme south Glen Shiel runs between five mountains (The Five Sisters of Kintail to its mouth on Loch Duich. The A87 passes down the glen. Further north lie Glen Elchaig, Glen Carron, and Glen Torridon. The railway from Dingwall runs through Glen Carron to Kyle of Lochalsh.


The central portion of the county is occupied by the younger highland schists or Dalradian series. These consist of quartzites, mica-schists, garnetiferous mica-schists and gneisses, all with a gentle inclination towards the south-east. On the eastern side of the county the Dalradian schists are covered unconformably by the Old Red Sandstone. The boundary runs southward from Edderton on Dornoch Firth, by Strathpeffer, to the neighbourhood of Beauly. These rocks comprise red flags and sandstones, grey bituminous flags and shales. An anticlinal fold with a south-west to north-east axis brings up the basal beds of the series about the mouth of Cromarty Firth and exposes once more the schists in The Sutors (The Sutors of Cromarty) guarding the entrance to the firth. The western boundary of the younger schist is formed by the great pre-Cambrian dislocation line that traverses the county in a fairly direct course from Elphin on the north by Ullapool to Glencarron. Most of the area west of the line of disturbance is covered by Torridonian Sandstone, mainly dark reddish sandstones, grits and shales, resting unconformably on the ancient Lewisian gneiss with horizontal or slightly inclined bedding. The unconformity is well exposed on the shores of Gairloch, Loch Maree and Loch Torridon. These rocks, which attain a considerable thickness and are divisible into three sub-groups, build up the mountain districts of Applecross, Coigach and elsewhere.

Within the Torridonian tract the older Lewisian gneiss occupies large areas north of Coigach, on the east of Enard Bay, between Gruinard Bay and Loch Maree. Between the last named and Gairloch, on both sides of middle Loch Torridon and at many other spots smaller patches appear. The Lewisian gneiss is everywhere penetrated by basic dikes, generally with a north-west to south-east direction; some of these are of great breadth. The Torridonian rocks are succeeded unconformably by a series of Cambrian strata confined to a variable but narrow belt west of the line of main thrusting. This belt of Cambrian rocks has suffered an enormous amount of subordinate thrusting. It is composed of the following subdivisions in ascending order: falsebedded quartzite, Pipe Rock quartzite, fucoid beds and Olenellus band, serpulite grit, Durness dolomite and marble, Durness dolomite and limestone: but these are not always visible at any one spot. So great has been the disturbance in the region of thrusting that in some places, as in the neighbourhood of Loch Kishorn and elsewhere, the rocks have been completely overturned and the ancient gneiss has been piled upon the Torridonian.

On the shore of Moray Firth at Rathie a small patch of Kimeridge shale occurs, and beneath the cliffs of Shandwick there is a little Lower Oolite with a thin seam of coal. Glacial striae are found upon the mountains up to heights of 3,300 feet, and much boulder clay is found in the valleys and spread over large areas in the eastern districts. Raised beaches occur at up to 108 feet or so above the present sea-level; they are well seen by Loch Carron.


The four most prominent ancient Scottish clans in mainland Ross-shire were the Clan Ross whose chiefs once held the title Earl of Ross, Clan Munro, Clan MacKenzie, and the Clan Chisholm. Lewis was long held by the Macleods, whose chief now holds court at Dunvegan on Skye, but the estate was lost to the Crown in 1597.

Towns and villages




: On the isle of Lewis
*: Shared with Cromartyshire


Excavations of a rock shelter and shell midden at Sand, Applecross on the coast of Wester Ross have shown that the coast was occupied by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers.

It may be doubted whether the Romans ever effected even a temporary settlement in the area of the modern county. In Roman times, and for long afterwards, the land was occupied by Picts, who, in the 6th and 7th centuries, were slowly converted to Christianity by followers of Saint Columba and converted to the Gaelic language by unexplained social movements. Throughout the next three centuries the natives were continually harassed by Norse raiders, of whose presence tokens have survived in several place-names (Dingwall, Tain, and others). At this time the country formed part of the great province of Moray (Latin: Moravia), which then extended as far west as the Dornoch Firth and the Oykel, and practically comprised the whole of Ross-shire.

William, the 4th Earl of Ross, was present with his clan at the Battle of Bannockburn (1314), and almost a century later (1412) the castle of Dingwall, the chief seat on the mainland of Donald, Lord of the Isles, was captured after the disastrous fight at Harlaw in Aberdeenshire, which Donald had provoked when his claim to the earldom was rejected. The earldom reverted to the crown in 1424, but James I soon afterwards restored it to the heiress of the line, the mother of Alexander Macdonald, 3rd Lord of the Isles, who thus became the 11th Earl. In consequence, however, of the treason of John Macdonald, 4th and last Lord of the Isles and 12th Earl of Ross, the earldom was again vested in the crown (1476). Five years later, King James III bestowed the earldom on his second son, James Stewart, whom he also created Duke of Ross in 1488.

By the 16th century the whole area of the county was occupied by different clans. The Rosses held what is now Easter Ross; the Munros the small tract around Ben Wyvis, including Dingwall; the Macleods Lewis, and, in the mainland, the district between Loch Maree and Loch Torridon; the Macdonalds of Glengarry, Coigach, and the district between Strome Ferry and Kyle of Lochalsh, and the Mackenzies the remainder.

The county of Ross was constituted as such in 1661.

Apart from occasional conflicts between rival clans, the only battles in the county were Invercarron, on the Kyle of Sutherland at the head of Dornoch Firth, when Montrose was crushed by Colonel Archibald Strachan on 27 April 1650—and the Battle of Glenshiel, when the Jacobites, under the Earl of Seaforth, aided by Spaniards, were defeated by a force under the command of General Joseph Wightman on 10 June 1719.

Climate and agriculture

On the west coast considerable rainfall occurs, averaging for the year 50.42 inches at Loch Broom and 62 inches at Stromeferry, but on the east coast the annual comprises only mean 27 inches.

The most fertile tracts lie on the eastern coast, especially in Easter Ross and the Black Isle, where the soil varies from a light sandy gravel to a rich deep loam. As of 1911, among grain crops oats were most generally cultivated, but barley and wheat were also raised. Turnips and potatoes were the chief green crops. The higher grounds contain much good pasturage, with heavy flocks of sheep, blackfaced being the principal breed. Most of the horses, principally half-breds between the old garrons (hardy, serviceable, small animals) and Clydesdales, were maintained for the purposes of agriculture. The herds of cattle, mainly native Highland cattle or crosses, were large, many of them supplying the London market. Pigs were reared, though in smaller numbers than formerly, most generally by the crofters.

Owing partly to the overcrowding of the Isle of Lewis and partly to the unkindly nature of the bulk of the surface—which offered no opportunity for other than patchwork tillage—the number of smallholdings was enormous. Sutherland, alone among Scottish counties, shows an even larger proportion of holdings under 5 acres, while the average size of all the holdings throughout the county did not exceed 20 acres.


As of 1911 about 800,000 acres were devoted to deer forests, a greater area than in any other county in Britain, among the largest being Achnashellach with 50,000 acres, Fannich with 20,000 acres, Kinlochluichart with 20,600 acres, Braemore with 40,000 acres, Inchbae with 21,000 acres and Dundonnell with 23,000 acres. At one time the area under wood must have been remarkable, if we accept the common derivation of the word "Ross" as from the Old Irish ros, a wood, and there was until recent times a considerable extent of native woodland, principally pine, oak, ash and alder.

The birds and beasts of Ross are noteworthy. Red deer and roe deer abound, and foxes and alpine hares are common. Badgers and wild cats are occasionally trapped. Winged game is plentiful, and amongst birds of prey, the golden eagle soars the high slopes and ospreys come to the lochs. Waterfowl of all kinds frequent the sea lochs.

Many rivers and lochs were rich in salmon and trout, and the pearl mussel is found in the bed of the Conon.

Other industries

Tourism is a major industry in the region, with over 20% of the workforce employed in the wholesale, restaurant and hotels sector, second only to the public service sector. A little over 5% of the workforce are employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing, traditionally major industries in the region. The oil industry, which spurred a rapid increase in industrial development in the 1970s, is in decline, although still a major employer.

The Glen Ord and Glenmorangie distilleries are prominent whisky distilleries.

A railway, the Far North Line from Inverness, enters the county to the north of Beauly and runs northwards to Dingwall. From there the Far North Line continues north/north-east through Sutherland to Thurso and Wick in Caithness, and the Kyle of Lochalsh Line runs west/south-west to the Kyle of Lochalsh.


The principal relics of antiquity - mainly stone circles, cairns and forts - appear in Easter Ross. A vitrified fort crowns the hill of Knockfarrel in the parish of Fodderty (in Cromartyshire detached no. 21), and there is a circular dun near the village of Lochcarron. Some fine examples of sculptured stones occur, especially those that, according to tradition, mark the burial-place of the three sons of a Danish king who were shipwrecked off the coast of Nigg. The largest and handsomest of these three crosses - the Clach a' Charraidh, or Stone of Lamentation - stands at Shandwick. It is about 10 feet high and contains representations of the martyrdom of St Andrew and figures of an elephant and dog. It fell during a storm in 1847 and was broken in three pieces. On the top of the cross in Nigg churchyard are two figures with outstretched arms in the act of supplication; the dove descends between them, and below are two dogs. The cross was knocked down by the fall of the belfry in 1725, but has been riveted together. The third stone formerly stood at Hilton of Cadboll, but was removed for security to the grounds of Invergordon Castle.

Among old castles are those of Lochslin, in the parish of Fearn (in Cromartyshire detached no. 4), said to date from the 13th century, which, though ruinous, possesses two square towers in good preservation; Balone, in the parish of Tarbat (in Cromartyshire detached no. 5), once a stronghold of the Earls of Ross; the remains of Dingwall Castle, their original seat; and Eilean Donan in Loch Alsh, which was blown up by Royal Navy warships during the abortive Jacobite rising in 1719.

Sights of the shire

Cathedral/Abbey/Priory Cathedral/Abbey/Priory
Accessible open space Accessible open space
Amusement/Theme Park Amusement/Theme Park
Castle Castle
Country Park Country Park
Historic Scotland Historic Scotland
Forestry Commission Forestry Commission
Heritage railway Heritage railway
Historic house Historic House
Museum (free)
Museum (not free)
Museum (free/not free)
National Trust for Scotland National Trust for Scotland
Zoo Zoo



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