A serene coast of sandy bays and quiet forests
From the sheltered sands of Nairn, the coast sweeps east in a series of graceful bays to the rocky headland of Burghead. Along this coastline yachtsmen enjoy fine sailing, while the many forests that make this one of the most thickly wooded coasts in Britain are a delight for walkers and birdwatchers. The beaches are sandy and deserted, bathing is safe, and the whole area is rich in history and relics of a turbulent past.
A quietly prosperous town on the sheltered sandy shore of the Moray Firth, Nairn is rich in historical associations and modern attractions, as well as being a focal point for this stretch of coast.
The town’s history goes back, to the 12th century, when Alexander 1 granted it a royal charter. In 1746 the Duke of Cumberland spent his 25th birthday in a house in the High Street, now marked with an inscription, before going on to defeat Prince Charles Edward at Culloden. Nairn was once the home of a vigorous fishing industry, and though this has now declined the old fishing district, the Fishertown, a place of tightly packed cottages preserves its identity.
The past is admirably recreated at the Fishertown Museum in Laing Hall, King Street. The present is represented by the yard at Ardersier, on the eastern side of the spit towards Fort George, which makes rigs for the North Sea oil industry. Nairn’s harbour is now used solely by pleasure craft, and has a free slipway. Visiting boats are welcome. To east and west are sandy beaches with safe bathing.
The town has ornamental gardens just off the High Street, and there are attractive walks along both sides of the River Nairn. Golfers are well provided for, with two 18-hole golf courses, both of which welcome visiting players. Seven miles of the River Nairn are available for anglers, and Highland Games are held in the town on the first Saturday after August 12 every year.
There is little to show that this quiet village was the scene of a major battle during the Civil War; but it was there, in 1645, that the Royalist Marquis of Montrose routed a much larger force of Covenanters led by General Sir John Urry. A fine view of the battlefield may be seen from a small hill on the outskirts of the village, where a chart shows the positions held by the two sides. The hill is the motte, or mound, of a 12th-century castle. On it also stands a 17th-century dovecot, in the care of the National Trust for Scotland, and there are superb views of the Moray Firth and the Black Isle.
South-west of the village, off the B9101, is the empty shell of 13th-century Rait Castle, scene of a double act of treachery in 1424. It was the home of the Comyn family, who invited the Macintoshes to a banquet with the intention of slaughtering them, but were massacred by their guests instead. The castle has been a ruin ever since.
WINTER STOCK The dovecot at Auldearn, with its 546 nest holes, supplied food for the local laird’s table during the winter.
Rising in the midst of beautifully landscaped grounds, Brodie Castle has for hundreds of years been the home of the Brodie family, one of the oldest untitled landed families in
Britain. Now administered by the National Trust for Scotland, the castle contains a fine collection of 18th and 19th-century furniture and paintings, and still retains the atmosphere of a family home. The castle was built originally in the 15th century as a tower, but later additions mean that three centuries of architecture can now be seen side by side.
Around the castle the grounds still retain a hint of the formal landscape garden that was laid out in the 18th century, mingled with schemes from later years. At the end of the east drive stands the Rodney Stone, a well-preserved Pictish monument found originally in the nearby churchyard at Dyke. The stone was set up in its present position to commemorate the victory of Admiral Rodney over the French at Dominica in 1782, during the American War of Independence.
The vast forest that today stretches for some 9 miles along the Moray coast from Nairn to the western edge of Findhorn Bay was once an area of sand-dunes so desolate as to be called the ‘Scottish Sahara’. The dunes built up during a series of storms in the 17th century, finally burying the village of Culbin which stood at the heart of what had earlier still been rich farmland. The forest, quiet and undisturbed, has
SEA, SAND AND SOLITUDE From Findhorn, a 7 mile stretch of sand and dunes curves eastwards in a broad are toBurghead on its stubby headland, From thebeach, paths lead into the dense Roseiste Forest.
A BIRD OF THE PINES The male capercaillie may be seen and heard in Culbin Forest, showing off its tail feathers and uttering its gurgling mating call. The turkey-sized bird became extinct in Britain in 1783, but was re-introduced from Sweden in 1837. Its name may derive from the Gaelic – atpullcoille – ‘horse of the woods’.
A steep climb takes the visitor along well-made paths to the monument, which was built in 1806 to commemorate Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar. From the top are wide views of the Moray Firth and the surrounding countryside. The key can be obtained from the Tourist Information Centre in Tolbooth Street.
Forres is a good centre for walks in the well-wooded countryside round about. Two particularly attractive walks are to the southwest of the town. The Dunearn Burn Walk in Darnaway Forest, starting 1 1/2 miles south of Conicavel, is signposted from the A96, 3 miles west of Forres. The Sluie Walk, signposted from the A940, 4 miles south of Forres, leads through open country and woodlands to the River Findhorn. Details of these and other walks are available at the Tourist Information Centre. a rich variety of wildlife, from roe deer to badgers and crested tits to capercaillie – the largest of British game birds, resembling a small turkey. The easiest approach to the forest is along the road from Kintessack, south of the forest, which is signposted from the A96. The Forestry Commission has laid out picnic areas, and there is extensive walking through the forest and down to the foreshore, where the various stages in the reclamation of the dunes can be seen.
This ancient burgh, nestling among hills beside a major crossing of the River Find-horn, is the prosperous hub of a number of scattered communities. Busy streets alternate with quiet closes, showing the architecture of many ages. In the High Street are the Old Tolbooth, dating from the early 19th century, a 15th-century market cross, restored in the 19th century, and the 19th-century St Laurence’s Church. In Tolbooth Street stands the Falconer Museum, with an interesting local history collection.
Dominating the skyline is the 70 ft Nelson Tower, built on a wooded hill in Grant Park.
Also in Darnaway Forest is the Darnaway Farm Visitor Centre, where there are exhibits relating to the history of the Moray estate. Guided walks take in Darnaway Castle, where there is a fine hammer-beam roof and a contemporary painting of the murder, in 1591, of James, second Earl of Moray. The Visitor Centre is open at Easter and in the summer months.
An ancient pillar, the 23 ft high Sueno Stone, stands to the east of the town. The origins of this monument are unknown, but it is thought to commemorate a long-forgotten battle, as it is decorated with carvings depicting warriors and headless corpses. The stone is on the B9011 to Findhorn. The nearby Witches Stone marks the spot where, in the 17th century persecutions, women accused of witchcraft were put to death.
Six miles south-east of Forres is the village of Dallas, which has a link with the city of the same name in Texas. The connection arose through the American politician George Mifflin Dallas, who became vice president of the United Stales in 1844 and gave his name to Dallas, Texas in 1845. He was a descendant of the Scottish landowner William de Ripley, who obtained the Scottish village of Dallas and the surrounding lands from the Crown in 1279. At about the same time he received a knighthood, becoming Sir William of Dallas. The village is on the River Lossie, and Dallas means ‘watery valley’.
The dunes surrounding Findhorn are a reminder of the village’s unhappy past. The first settlement of Findhorn was buried beneath the sand during fierce storms in the 17th century. The second village was destroyed by floods in 1701, and the present village is the third to bear the name.
The modern settlement, which was an important port, is now the chief centre for sailing on this coast. There is racing throughout the summer, including several major competitions, and a variety of sailing courses are available.
The large tidal Findhorn Bay offers excellent birdwatching, and though bathing is not recommended in the bay, the north beach offers 5 miles of sands stretching eastwards towards Burghead.
A mile south of Findhorn is the home of the Findhorn Foundation, an international spiritual community founded in 1962 whose members have reclaimed the sand-dunes to grow vegetables. They make pottery, candles and other products, and a craft shop on the site sells a wide range of items made by the community. Courses based on the community’s philosophy are run for non-members, and there are guided tours daily in summer.
The rocky bulk of a promontory jutting defiantly into the Moray Firth protects Burghead’s harbour and once made it the foremost grain shipping port in Moray. This trade has gone, and the granaries that line the harbour have been adapted to other uses, but the harbour still serves as a base for fishing and pleasure craft, as well as for vessels carrying timber.
The site of an Iron Age fort at the end of the promontory is now occupied by the old coastguard station, but still visible is the Burghead Well, a chamber cut into the rock and thought to have served as an early Christian baptistry. Near by is the Clavie Stone, the scene of a traditional festival held every year on January 11, the old New Year’s Eve. At the ceremony, which may be Norse in origin, the Clavie, a blazing tar barrel, is broken up after being carried round the village in procession.
To the west the Forestry Commission’s Roseisle Forest has an attractive picnic site, with walks down to the sandy beach which stretches west to Findhorn.
The fishing village of Hopeman, set in a natural hollow among the cliffs, is now a centre for water sports. It was built in the 19th century and has the neat, sturdy appearance typical of many Scottish fishing villages. The small sheltered harbour is used by pleasure and fishing craft, while the village itself lies on a gentle slope away from the sea. The harbour was used by the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles when they were pupils at nearby Gordonstoun.
There are sandy beaches both east and west of the harbour, and the village has a golf course. Fishing can be arranged, and water sports equipment may be hired.
PLACE TO SEE INLAND
Randolph’s Leap. 1 mile SW of Logie. on B9007. Gorge on Findhorn river.