Tain repays exploration on foot. There are many interesting and unusual buildings and hidden-away corners to be found. Many of the major buildings in the town centre, as well as more modest houses and commercial premises, were built by the Maitland family of architects in the late 19th century. Their buildings have a distinctive appearance, and "Maitland-spotting" adds a new dimension to a walk round the town. Maitland buildings in the town centre include the Old Town Hall, the Royal Hotel, the parish church and the museum. There are many others throughout the town, by no means all of which have been identified.
Tain's most prominent building is the Tolbooth at the west end of the High Street. This was built between 1706 and 1733 by local mason Alexander Stronach. It replaced an earlier tolbooth on roughly the same site and is probably in a similar style to its predecessor, which accounts for its old-fashioned appearance. The tolbooth was built as a prison and a place of safe-keeping for the burgh's charters and arms. The burgh council met in the adjoining council-house which has been rebuilt on a number of occasions, most recently in 1849, with an extension in 1873 by Andrew Maitland.
The upper floors of the tolbooth are reached by a stone turnpike-staircase. In the central turret is a bell made in 1630 by a Dutch bell founder. The first floor of the tolbooth was originally reached by an external forestair. The ground floor served as a pit, or cell for the worst criminals, perhaps only reached by a trapdoor in the first floor.
Just outside the tolbooth is the mercat cross, which once stood in the middle of the High Street and was a great centre of activity. The shaft of the cross was heavily restored in 1895. The base with its unusual chamfered corners is likely to be ancient.
The oldest buildings standing in Tain are the three churches dedicated to St Duthac. St Duthus Collegiate Church was built between 1370 and 1458 to house the shrine of St Duthac. At the Reformation in 1560 it became the parish church until 1815 after which it was abandoned. It was restored to its present form in the 1870s which is when the outstanding stained glass windows were put in. A number of important medieval features remain including a fine sedilia, a piscina and aumbries or lockers to hold the saint's relics.
The pulpit is a 19th century reconstruction of the pulpit installed in the 16th century. Fragments of the original are in the museum. The painted panel on the wall opposite the main door is the front panel of the guildry loft and shows the emblems of the different groups of craftsmen.
At the south east corner of the collegiate church is a roofless Chapel. This 12th century building was an earlier shrine which was seriously damaged by fire in 1427, hastening the completion of the adjacent new church.
Looking towards the north east from the churchyard you can just see the ruins of St Duthac's Chapel on a knoll near the shore. This was believed to have been built on the site of Duthac's birth to house his relics after they were brought from Armargh in 1253. A hermit lived in the chapel and may have had the minor relics in his care.
On the north side of the High Street is the Rose Garden. This was planted with 900 roses in 1966 to mark the 900th anniversary of the 1066 charter and was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
There are many other historic buildings in the town well worth a visit. Several of them have information panels outside and are covered in the Tain Through Time CD Tour. They include the old academy in Academy Street, now Duthac House, built in 1813; the old parish church off Stafford Street, now the Duthac Centre, built in 1815 to replace the collegiate church and itself superseded by the present parish church in Queen Street, built by the Maitlands in 1892 as the Free Church; and the Old Town Hall in Tower Street, later a cinema and at present awaiting restoration.
Shopping or just browsing? The Tain experience is one you will enjoy.
Tain High Street and the many narrow side streets leading off the town centre have a wide range of shops, catering for all your needs. There are, of course, shops which sell goods catering for your everyday requirements, but there also traditional family run specialist shops which entice you with wares which you 'always were looking for' or just want to add to your collection.
The selection of shops in Tain include bakers, butchers, chemists, banks, greengrocers, supermarkets, off-license, clothes shops, shoe shops, sports shop, craft and gift shops, jewellers, hardware shop, electrical retailers, pet shop, book shop, hairdressers, kitchen fittings and newsagents. There is also a specialist fish shop, health food store, furniture, carpet and bed store, garden centres and nurseries and agricultural machinery supplier. Click here to go to our shops and businesses page.
The range of shops is complemented by the wonderful experience of just wandering around the town centre, appreciating the beautiful architecture and stunning views. Supplement this with a friendly, warm Highland welcome from the staff and you will thoroughly enjoy a relaxing shopping experience.
To add to the traditional and charming market town atmosphere which prevails in Tain there are often market stalls in the town centre, with local voluntary groups selling home baking, organic produce, plants, flowers, and a genuine assortment of goods, to raise funds for local groups and causes.