By 300 AD local tribes had come together to create the kingdom of the northern Picts and the cultural importance of the Fearn Peninsula, within the kingdom, is shown by its magnificent early Christian monuments. Great cross-slabs were erected at Nigg, Shandwick, Hilton and Tarbat, all carved in the late eighth or early ninth centuries. For over 1200 years visitors to Nigg have been drawn to its magnificent cross-slab, now housed in Nigg Old Church. This is not only an important relic of the Pictish period but a major work of European art.
The entrance to the deep waters of the Cromarty Firth has been of strategic importance for centuries. In 1179 the Scots king William (later known as ‘William the Lion’) established a castle overlooking the firth, as part of his campaign to control the north. This was Dunskaith (Gaelic Dun Skàth – the Fort of Dread). A few traces remain.
The ferry crossing between Nigg and Cromarty was also important as the most direct route north and south. Two Scottish kings – Robert the Bruce and James IV – crossed here, both travelling to the medieval shrine of St Duthac at Tain.
The Cromarty Firth was a major naval base during the First World War and, to a lesser extent, in the Second World War. There are extensive remains of the fortification of the firth from these periods, including a mine store near here and gun emplacements on the North Sutor.
The headlands at the mouth of the firth were originally known as the East and West Sutors – but the Admirality, unable to adapt to the local sense of direction, changed this to the North and South Sutors in 1913, when the firth became a naval base.
The prosperity of the parish of Nigg has been based on both agriculture and industry. An eighteenth-century girnal (grain store) with crow-stepped gables is now part of the Nigg Ferry Inn. Grain was stored here before being shipped south to the markets in Edinburgh.
In the 1970s Nigg became a major centre for the construction of drilling platforms for the North Sea oil industry. A pipeline was laid to bring oil onshore from the Beatrice Field to storage tanks, from where it could be transferred to tankers berthed at the long pier to the west of here.
Here modern industry coexists with a rich natural environment. Nigg Bay is an internationally important habitat for waders and wildfowl – and a school of over 100 bottle-nosed dolphins swim here and in the wider waters of the Moray Firth.