Cromarty Conservation Area

Carved Stone with scissors symbol, letters and the date of 1727.

A conservation area is "an area of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance".

The power to designate conservation areas in Scotland was initially contained within the provisions of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972, and substituted by the Town and Country Amenities Act 1974. The passing of the legislation was a milestone and reflected the growing concern, particularly during the 1960's, at the many insensitive changes which were destroying the character of our historic burghs and villages.

The harbour town of Cromarty was one of the first conservation areas to be designated in Scotland in 1974. Cromarty Conservation Area was subsequently granted "Outstanding" status by the Secretary of State in recognition of its outstanding architectural and historical interest.

The designation of the Conservation Area, together with the associated legal measures, allows Highland Council as a planning authority, to exercise a high degree of control over proposed changes through the planning application procedure. It is possible to preserve and enhance the unique character of Cromarty, by careful attention to the architectural detail such as windows and doors and by ensuring that alterations and extensions are sympathetic to the original design and form of the town.

Why is Cromarty a Conservation Area?

Formerly the capital of Cromarty-shire, Cromarty is one of the outstanding examples of an 18th /early 19th century Scottish burgh, 'the jewel in the crown of Scottish vernacular architecture'. Situated at the entrance of the best deep water firth in the northeast, it served as an entrepot for seaborne goods and traffic from the 17th century to the early 19th century.

The designation of Cromarty as a Conservation Area reflects the quality of many of its individual buildings and their relationship to each other and to the wider spaces.

Its narrow streets are lined with symmetrically fronted houses and cottages, some with sophisticated detailing, such as date and marriage stones, others quite plain. The earlier houses have steeply pitched roofs, their sharp profiles a reminder that the first quarter of the 18th century experienced a cycle of poor weather; the steep roof relieved both earlier thatch and later slates of excessive rain.

Cromarty fishertown lies between Church Street and Shore Street, linked to both by Big Vennel and Gordon's Lane. Randomly sited houses vary from small single storey former fishermen's cottages to two storey houses of the late 18th and early 19th century.


Cromarty is an historic village of immense character and charm which is derived from a mixture of small cottages, fine town houses and commercial buildings. Its wealth of architectural detail includes crow-stepped gables, slate roofs, chimney stacks, thackstanes and datestones, all of which should be safeguarded and enhanced where possible.

Advice on gaining grant aid for works can be obtained from the Council's Conservation Architect. Most grant aided work should be carried out using the traditional materials and methods which are mentioned below. While advice indicates reinstating predominant features there may be a number of alternatives which may be considered.


Most buildings in Cromarty are built of sandstone, from early random and coursed rubble with tooled stone dressings around door and window openings, to the smooth and squared stonework known as ashlar which appeared later. Some have been embellished with stylish pointing (cherry-cocking), date stones and decorative stone chimney stacks. Such detailing is important to the original character of the building and should not be removed or obscured.

The traditional and more functional approach to protect stone walls from the weather, and particularly the corrosive effects of the sea, is to use a lime based render of harl. Cement is too hard for the soft, porous masonry and in the course of time, cracks develop. Lime protects the walls from the worst of the weather while still allowing the building to "breathe".

Limewash is more suitable for painting walls than modern equivalents. Given that colour plays an important part in Cromarty's character, especially for highlighting window and door openings, there is some scope for using coloured limewash as an alternative to paint. It should always be used when painting a lime harl.

For some stone buildings where harl is inappropriate lime pointing should be encouraged for the reasons described above. (The Planning Service's Conservation Officer will be pleased to give advice on how this might be achieved).

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Mud Walls

Many older buildings are built of stone and clay. The clay mixed with straw and sometimes horsehair binds the material. You can see mud mortar in some of the walls which run along the sides of roads and lanes, where there were once houses. Again, lime harling is used as an exterior finish.

Roof Detail

  • Crowsteps: Stepped gables made it possible to access the roof for thatching, slating and repair. Crowsteps then became fashionable on many new buildings during the 19th century.
  • Thack stanes: Projecting from the base of the chimney stacks, thack stanes prevent leaks on the vulnerable joints between thatch and chimney, and continued in use when roofs were slated.
  • Steep sloping roofs: on many of Cromarty's buildings reflect the heavy winter snow falls during the late 17th / early 18th century and the need to dispose of rainwater as quickly as possible from thatched roofs.

These are all important details should be respected in the design of any alterations or extensions. It is important to continue to respect the architectural unity of the village.


Chimney coping has been used to good effect and is an indicator of a building's age. Deep copes with rolled edges are generally 17th to early 18th century. Chimneys with a cornice at the base are generally mid/late 18th century; and those with panelled stacks with square copes are 19th century. These should be retained where possible.

  • Cast iron gutters, downpipes, collecting heads and fixings: Plastic guttering is not as strong as cast iron so the supports need to be closer together. It is obvious even from a distance that there has been a significant change to a building.
  • Chimney stacks and pots: Second hand traditional pots are best for replacement. Some of the chimneys in Cromarty have moulded copes.
  • Traditional cast iron skylights should be retained or replaced with a roof light of the same character and equivalent size.
  • Solar panels and satellite dishes can be serious disfigurements in a conservation area if not sited with care. An outbuilding maybe a less obtrusive location.
  • Aerials attached to Chimneys: The local television mast may now make it possible to locate aerials in the roofspace of buildings.

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The majority of buildings are finished in slate and usually laid in diminishing courses. The building's character can best be maintained by the use of matching second-hand Ballachulish or West Highland slates which vary in colour from dark grey to deep purple.

Roof pitch is generally about 45 degrees (or more, in earlier buildings).The Cromarty roofscape is particularly prominent, with many changes in levels and viewpoints.

Original features should be retained where possible. For example:

  • Skews and skewputs (decorative skew ends) at the top of the gable wall.
  • Crowsteps, often just along one end of the building.
  • Decorative ridge tiles. If losses have occurred, it may be possible to replace with second hand tiles.


Traditional timber and sash windows provide functional openings which increased in size over time but retained their vertical emphasis. Where original examples exist, they should be repaired rather than replaced if feasible.

  • If replacement is necessary the windows should be an exact copy of the original.
  • UPVC, aluminium windows and pivot types are not acceptable.
  • Double glazing : It is preferred that double glazing should be fitted internally.
  • Window Panes : Although windows and doors became larger, the panes themselves remained small. Most windows have twelve panes. These should be retained where possible or replaced to match existing.
  • Stones around doors and windows (margins) should be retained.


Traditional shapes and proportions fit best with the overall local character. These are usually solid timber, vertically lined or panelled and often double opening. Avoid off the shelf doors with a variety of glazed panels. Features on or around the door should also be retained where possible; handles, knockers, bootscrapers etc. Dressed or ornamental stonework around the doors of later buildings in Cromarty reflects a refinement in building style and should be retained.


Permissions and Procedures

The following summarises some of the types of development which may not now be carried out without the consent of the Council as Planning Authority.

Alterations to Houses

Cromarty is subject to Article 4 Directions and consent from the Council will be required before making any alterations to your house that would affect the character of the village.

The following are examples of alterations requiring consent :

  • Erection of any extension, porch or garage;
  • Installation of different type of window or door;
  • Changing the roof materials (e.g. from natural slate to concrete tile);
  • Changing the walling material (e.g. from stone to roughcast);
  • Stone cleaning or painting.

For further information see Information Leaflet 3 - The Building Control Process

Walls and Fences

You may also need to obtain planning permission if you wish to erect any fence, wall or gates. You should discuss your proposals with the Planning and Development Service first.

Agricultural Buildings

Any building or engineering operation for the purpose of agriculture now requires consent. Because of the existence of the Article 4 Direction covering agricultural buildings, planning permission will be required for the erection of agricultural buildings.

Protection of Trees

Trees within the Conservation Area are protected and may not be felled or cutback without the consent of the Council.


No buildings may be demolished without consent from the Highland Council. This includes partial demolition (e.g. the removal of a chimney stack).


There are national regulations controlling advertisements and you should always consult the Planning and Development Service before you put up a sign.

Listed Buildings

Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest are protected by particular legislation and any work that affects the external or internal character requires listed building consent. For further information see the Information Leaflet 14 - Listed Buildings


The forms to be used for any of the proposed works (except Advertisements and Listed Buildings) are identical to those used in a normal planning permission.

The following are therefore required:

  • Neighbour notification;
  • Certificate of ownership;
  • Location plan at 1:2500;
  • Drawings and/or specifications sufficient to fully explain the proposed changes;
  • Completed forms and fee, where appropriate.

(For many minor works where planning permission was not previously required, no fee is charged.)

The proposal will then be advertised in the local press by the Council and a 21 day period allowed for representation. A decision notice will be issued to the applicant as soon as possible.

Before starting any work or even if you have no firm ideas, it is always a good idea to contact the Planning and Development Service  for advice and to check whether consent is required. Planning staff will be pleased to discuss your proposals with you or your agent and to offer advice on procedures to be followed.

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