Fishing villages where the Spey flows into the Moray Firth
Steep cliffs and sandy beaches line the fertile southern shore of the Moray Firth, known as the ‘Granary of the North’. This is a countryside of small fishing villages and quiet inland farms. The hills and forests provide miles of good walking, while the cliffs and the foreshore offer caves to explore as well as excellent birdwatching. In fine weather there are good views across the Firth towards the Black Isle and the mountains inland..
Planned and built in the 19th century, like many of the villages along this coast, Duffus is a quiet picturesque village set on a slope above level farmland. The surrounding area was once part of the vast Loch of Spynie, now drained to insignificant size. The old village, built on an island in the loch, was centred around the church of St Peter, now a ruin.
THE NOBLE SALMON
At Kingston the River Spey flows into the sea, and to fishermen the Spey means salmon. One of the most prized of all fish, salmon spend most of their lives in the North Atlantic but return over thousands of miles to the river of their birth to spawn. It is thought that some form of inbuilt ‘compass’ may enable them to steer by the earth’s magnetic field or even by the stars. In coastal waters each fish can ‘smell’ its own river.
Duffus Castle, 2 miles south-east, rises massively above a Norman mound and dominates the flat country about it. The present structure, which is open daily, dates from the 14th century and was built by Sir Reginald Le Chan on the site of an earlier wooden castle. Although part of the keep has subsided, the castle is one of the most interesting in Moray, as well as one of the oldest.
The ruin is reached by turning east off the 139012, on to a narrow road signposted to Duffus Castle. Beyond the castle the road leads the visitor past RAF Lossiemouth, and the frequent sight and sound of fighter aircraft remind the visitor of the difference that 500 years has made to military, strategy.
This busy fishing town came into existence as the port for the inland town of Elgin, after the older port of Spynie silted up. The river’s former estuary was at Covesea, 3 miles to the west. Branderburgh was founded on the rocky headland above in 1830, and the two communities are now joined.
Salmon can leap a waterfall 11 ft high
Lossiemouth is a thriving fishing port that also has two excellent sandy beaches. The east beach has conditions suitable for surfing, while the west beach offers safe bathing and facilities for landing small craft, for which there is a small charge. Quiet streetsinvite the visitor to wander at leisure among the neat houses and cottages. Anglers are well catered for, with fishing available both on the beach and along a length of the river, and there are two 18-hole golf courses.
Inland, off the road to Elgin, are the ruins of the 15th-century Palace of Spynie, home of the Bishops of Moray. The ruins, visible from the road, are not safe, but are in the process of being strengthened
The Spynie Canal, built to drain the former Loch of Spynie to create the fertile farmlands between Lossiemouth and Elgin, can be seen at the point where the A941 and B9013 cross it.
KINGSTON AND GARMOUTH
There is no longer any sign of the once flourishing boat-building industry that was carried on in these two small villages on the western bank of the Spey. Logs were floated downstream from the Rothiemurchus and Glenmore pine forests to be transformed into ships that sailed all over the world. Kingston is named after Kingston-upon-Hull because the timber merchants who started the logging came from there. It was not until the introduction of ships built of iron and steel that the industry declined.
Today the villages, with their narrow-winding streets, are peaceful havens from a busy world. On the wall of Brae House in Garmouth a plaque commemorates the signing in the village of the Solemn League and Covenant by Charles 11 in 1650.
The coast abounds in bird life, and there is a good walk along the sand-and-shingle beach and across a footbridge to Lossiemouth, some 7 miles to the west.
A cluster of cottages at the mouth of the River Spey is all that remains to show that this village was once an important centre of the salmon-fishing industry. Although some salmon fishing continues, it is on a far smaller scale than in the past. On the edge of the river mouth is a restored ice house, in which salmon were stored before being sold. The building contains a permanent exhibition of various aspects of the salmon industry.
Spey Bay is the northern starting point of the 30 mile Speyside Way, which follows the eastern bank of the River Spey southwards along a series of fishermen’s paths to Fochabers, and then onwards for a total of 30 miles to Ballindalloch. It is planned eventually to extend the path as far as Glenmore Lodge, near Aviemore. The footpath is well maintained and clearly marked, in one place following part of an old railway line. A series of leaflets describing the walk in four stages can be obtained from Elgin Tourist Information Centre.
For those preferring a shorter haul, there is a I ½ mile walk from Spey Bay along a shingly shore to I’ortgordon, or an even shorter walk over the disused viaduct to Garmouth, on the western bank of the river. The car park for this walk is about half a mile from the village, accessible over a rough track.
Lying beside an important crossing of the River Spey, Fochabers was built in the 18th century to a gridiron pattern, and has a wealth of elegant buildings. They include the Bellie Parish Church and the ornately decorated Milne’s High School, built in the 19th century to rival nearby Gordon Castle.
There are a number of good walks around Fochabers. From the bridge over the Spey, a path runs alongside the river to the south, through pleasant woodland, before joining the Speyside Way. About a mile east of the village, off the A98, are the Winding Walks, a selection of well-made paths through White-ash Hill Wood. A viewpoint at the top of the hill commands panoramic views of Fochabers, lower Speyside and the countryside east of Elgin.
The woods at Aultderg, to the south, are reached by taking East Street out of Fochabers and following the road for 1 1/2 miles to a car park. From there a path runs along the top of a steep slope, to the Earth Pillars, eroded stacks of red sandstone standing on the banks of the Spey.
West of the village a large food-processing factory offers guided tours to the public, and there is a fascinating reconstruction of the company’s first shop opened in the 19th century.
The 18th-century village of Portgordon clusters about its tiny harbour. Rows of cottages form what used to be a centre of the net-and-line salmon-fishing industry, but the harbour is now only used by pleasure craft. A relic of the salmon-fishing industry can be seen along the foreshore towards Buckpool in the shape of the restored 19th-century GoIIachy Ice House, where salmon were stored before being sold. To the west a 21/: mile walk along the foreshore takes the visitor to Spey Bay. Inland, at Leitcheston, stands a four-compartment dovecot, all that remains of a castle of which there is now no trace. The dovecot is clearly visible from the A98, a quarter of a mile east of its junction with the A990.
Stretching for 2’A miles along the coast, from Buckpool in the west to Portessie in the east, Buckie displays a variety of different architectural styles. These range from the small cottages of the fishing community around Cluny harbour to the splendour of the Roman Catholic Church of St Peter, built in 1857, at the western end of West Church Street and the crowned tower of the North Church, built in 1879, in Cluny Square. Near this church is the town’s First World War memorial, 21 ft high and one of the finest in Scotland.
Cluny harbour is still very much a fishing port. The main fish market is on Thursdays and Fridays, but fish are sold on other days whenever sufficient are landed. The older and smaller harbour of Buckpool has been filled in and made into gardens. Relics of Buckie’s fishing past can be seen at the Museum in Cluny Place.
Cottages painted in bright colours make Findochty one of the most cheerful-looking villages on the Moray coast. The paint was originally intended to weatherproof the houses against winter storms, but this form of decoration has now become both a tradition and a challenge.
The village skyline is dominated by its church, while the lower part of the village surrounds a sheltered sandy cove, from which a footpath runs eastwards to Port-knockie. The western part of Findochty is centred on the harbour, long deserted by its fishing fleet but offering a safe haven for pleasure craft. An easy path starting near the war memorial runs westwards along the shoreline for 1 mile, following an old smugglers’ route past hidden coves and caves to Strathlene, where there is an 18-hole golf course.
About half a mile inland, the ruined castle of the Ords family is clearly visible from the main coast road. The Ords played a significant part in the village’s development, and Thomas Ord had workmen’s cottages built there in 1716. (9) PORTKNOCKIE
Perched on top of steep cliffs above a rocky shore, this quiet fishing village has a long and varied history dating from the Iron Age. The harbour, sheltered by a rocky promontory with its 7th-century Pictish fort, is no longer used by fishermen, but is an excellent haven for small craft. Around the harbour the older cottages cluster in colourful disarray, while the newer cottages lie higher up the cliffs.
The cliffs that form the predominant feature of the village provide plenty of scope for exploration. Eastwards a path runs from the lower end of Admiralty Street along the clifftop and down to the rocky foreshore, where there are three caves; the largest of them, the Preacher’s Cave, was used as a church during the religious revival of the early 19th century. A short walk further east leads on to the sandy beach at Cullen.
To the west, a l1/: mile path takes the visitor along the top of spectacular cliffs to Findochty, with superb views across the Moray Firth to the Black Isle.