When it comes to golf, visitors to Dornoch are spoilt for choice. Not only is there the world famous natural links course of Royal Dornoch, designed by the legendary 'Old' Tom Morris, but the surrounding area is also home to another 3 courses and is steeped in golfing history. The Dornoch Firth golf courses represent all that is special about Scottish links golf course design and, aside from the esteemed Tom Morris, the area is also synonymous with golfing luminaries Donald Ross and James Braid (who was born in Dornoch). The old joke about Dornoch is that it's a big golf course with a wee village attached, and this is no exaggeration as Royal Dornoch also has a second 18 hole links course called the Struie which compliments the main course in layout and challenge. Known as one of the world's great courses, Royal Dornoch consistently ranks in the top 20 and is one of the best examples of natural links golf one can play. The first 8 holes follow the old dune embankments, while the remainder run along the pristine sandy beaches of Dornoch Bay. This is 'real' golf, you'll be tested by the wind, large undulating greens, clever bunkering, and the thickest of rough. Perhaps the defining hole of Royal Dornoch, and one that is often rated amongst the top 10 in the world, is the 14th - known as 'Foxy'. This 440 yard par 4 has entirely natural obstacles, from the encroaching wild dunes to a series of hillocks that leave a very narrow approach to a small raised green - escaping with a par here is impressive. Also on the Dornoch Firth are Golspie and Brora, both brilliant courses designed by James Braid, as well as Tain which is another of Old Tom Morris' and boasts the shortest hole he ever designed. Put simply playing golf on the Dornoch Firth, and particularly a round at Royal Dornoch, is an experience that no serious golfer should miss out on. Honorary Royal Dornoch member Tom Watson called it "the most fun I have ever had on a golf course”.
No visit to Scotland is complete without a dram of our national drink and Dornoch is ideally placed near some of the very best distilleries in Scotland. Balblair, Brora, Clynelish, Dalmore, Glenmorangie, and Teaninich are all nearby and many offer excellent tours of their distilleries where you can witness the alchemical process firsthand and of course sample and buy the finished product.
Dornoch is a fantastic base from which to explore the surrounding Sutherland hills whether on foot or riding a bicycle. From relaxing coastal paths and child-friendly walks through the animal sculpture trail of Skelbo Wood to the more strenuous exercise of the Trim Trail in Camore Wood there are a great number of marked walks to suit every type of walker. The Highland Council also organises accompanied walks throughout the Summer. The roads and paths around Dornoch provide an equally inspiring environment for cyclists and you can even hire a bicycle and have it delivered to your door by Dornoch Cycle Hire. Whether it's an easy and relaxing cycle you're after or something more challenging and hilly you'll find your ideal route here. The off-road cyclist is also well catered for in nearby Tain, the Borgie Forest, and the stunning Kyle of Sutherland trails which feature blue, red, and black graded trails.
Dornoch is very small but boasts some great places to eat. A favourite with locals and visitors alike is Luigi's, in the daytime it is open serving fresh Italian coffee and homemade cakes, soups, and wraps. At night it transforms in to a restaurant serving contemporary European food with a definite emphasis on locally sourced seafood. Regular visitors to Dornoch will be saddened that the exceptional cooking at the 2 Quail guesthouse is no longer available but heartened to hear that their Chef Michael is now in charge at the Royal Dornoch Gold Club. So if you've just played a round you have a shorter journey to some of his award winning fine dining. Another good option for local food is Sutherland House. Superbly prepared, unpretentious cooking is the order of the day. If you've yet to give the Scottish delicacy of haggis a try this local gem serves some of the best you'll get. Margaret is the warmly welcoming lady in charge and her Sticky Toffee Pudding is the stuff of legend. The Dornoch Inn is the village pub and they do a very reasonably priced unfussy dinners upstairs in their 'One Up' restaurant which overlooks the main square. Those after something a little less formal or just a quick bite can equally well enjoy one of their hearty sandwiches over a pint in the pub.
Dornoch beach is an officially designated E.C Bathing Beach and has won awards for it's cleanliness. The miles of unspoilt golden sand make for a perfect seaside day out whether you want to swim, build sandcastles, explore the wildlife of the rock pools, or simply take a beautiful walk. The well established 'machair' dune system is unique to North Western Scotland and Western Ireland. It consists of wind deposited shell-sand blown inland from coastal beaches and mobile dunes, which lie over impermeable rock. The herb-rich sward this and the correct amount of grazing creates supports a rich invertebrate fauna and large wader populations - this is a twitchers paradise. A few miles to the north of Dornoch is the Scottish Wildlife Trust's Loch Fleet Reserve, one of the most important bird sanctuaries in Scotland. In March you'll hear birdsong from Lapwings and Skylarks. in April and May huge numbers of Sandwich Terns congregate on Dornoch Point whilst Curlew, Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit, and Spotted Redshank make the area their home in August and September. Venture in to the unspoilt woodland and you might happen across tree pipit, redstart and wood warbler.
In the highlands fly fishing is king and Dornoch provides some top class places to indulge in one of the most enjoyable and challenging forms of fishing there is. Lochs Laoigh and Loch Lannsaidh are both nearby, stocked with Rainbow and Brown trout, and have car access. Loch Buidhe and Loch Lagain are a little further afield (half hour drives) but here too cars can be taken loch-side and it's a short walk to the boats. There is some excellent Wild Brown Trout fishing to be had here and stunning scenery. All of these Lochs allow bank fishing too if fishing from a boat doesn't appeal. For the more adventurous Loch Laro, Loch Cracail, Loch Mor and Loch Beag require a longer walk from the car, but for those willing to take a 40 minute ramble the reward is some brilliant wild brown trout fishing surrounded by all the majestic grandeur of the Highlands. 40 minutes from Dornoch one also finds superb Salmon and Sea-trout fishing on Loch Brora (boat fishing only). The season opens on the 1st April, with the early part of the season being better for salmon and July onwards being better for sea-trout. All the necessary permits are available from the Dornoch Pet Shop.