Conservation area - Cromarty

Architectural characteristics

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 our 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.

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- many of Cromarty's buildings reflect the heavy winter snow falls during the late 17th and early 18th century and the need to dispose of rainwater as quickly as possible from thatched roofs.
These are all important details that 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 to 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 roof space of buildings


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 ones
  • 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 such as handles, knockers and bootscrapers. Dressed or ornamental stonework around the doors of later buildings in Cromarty reflects a refinement in building style and should be retained.