The smallest town to be represented in the Scottish Premiership – in fact, one of the smallest top-flight towns anywhere in Europe – Dingwall is home to Ross County. County town of Ross-shire, that also includes part of the Outer Hebrides, Dingwall is just slightly more north and more remote than its local football rival of Inverness.
The Staggies of Ross County and Caledonian Thistle from Inverness both gained Scottish League status in 1994 after decades in the Highland League. With a population of under 6,000 – fewer than the capacity of the Global Energy Stadium, in fact – Dingwall was perhaps a more controversial choice to ascend to the Scottish League than the big city of Inverness.
But after two decades, County’s average gates are slightly higher than those of their Inverness rivals. More than that, the Staggies not only reached the Scottish Cup final in 2010 but won the Scottish League Cup in 2016.
Founded in 1929, their longer tradition and slightly more northerly location make them the club of choice for fans from the crofting communities and small towns of the Highland hinterlands.
Hardened by years of traversing the single lanes of the local A roads to get to Highland League games, fans from Wick and Thurso on the extreme tip of mainland Scotland think nothing of the four-hour round trip to Dingwall.
For football travellers, a trip to Dingwall can be combined with a ride on the scenic Kyle of Localsh or Far North rail lines. Dingwall station is a short walk from the Global Energy Stadium, named after the locally based, multinational company run by County chairman Roy MacGregor, a former youth team player.
Still referred to on certain maps by its old name of Victoria Park, it adjoins the Highland Football Academy, positive evidence of the healthy level of cooperation between Ross County and Inverness Caledonian Thistle for the good of the game in this remote region. A modern indoor and outdoor complex, with professional coaching, draws in young hopefuls from as far away as the Isle of Lewis.
The nearest airport is Inverness, 13km (eight miles) north-east of the city it serves, 35km (21 miles) south of Dingwall.
The 11/11a Stagecoach Jetbus runs to Inverness bus station (£4 on board) every 30 mins, every hr Sun, journey time 25min. It arrives at Stance 4. Bus No.27 to Dingwall (every 30min, every 2hr Sun, 30min journey time) leave from Stance 5. It stops at the Royal Hotel, close to Dingwall rail station and the Global Energy Stadium.
Alternatively, a train from adjoining Inverness station takes 35min to reach Dingwall (£6.30, every hr). Like everything in Dingwall, the station is walkable to the town’s modest offering of pubs and hotels.
Dingwall-based C&E Taxis (01349 862 412) charges £30-£35 from the airport at Inverness and £25-£30 from its bus/train stations.
All are an easy walk from the stadium – but none easier than the landmark National Hotel, in business since 1859, with 45 guestrooms.
Also close is the Royal Hotel, more of a guesthouse, with a handful or rooms from £40 a single, £70 a double, Scottish breakfast extra.
On Station Road are two bed and breakfasts: Garfield House and, at No.1, the Gowanfield (01349 865 340), which has shared facilities.
Given Dingwall’s size, all pubs and bars are convenient for a pre-match drink an easy stroll from the stadium, though the Mallard (see Ross County) is more convenient than most.
The down-to-earth, friendly County Tavern, decorated with scarves, team pictures and assorted County memorabilia from over the years, is a few minutes’ walk into town on the corner of Hill Street/High Street. As well as the place to go to for a bit of pre-game atmosphere with home and away fans, it’s just as lively on non-match days.
A little further up the High Street at No.62, the Caledonian Bars is a traditional local pub and restaurant with TV sport.
Slightly further from town towards the Dingwall Business Centre, Oscars on Strathpeffer Road has reverted back to being a football-focused, honest local after trying with a Hollywood theme.