Inverness to Fochabers / Spey Bay to Aberdeen / Porthlethan to St.Andrews



Van number 3The plan for this trip was to travel by camper van down to Edinburgh and thus complete our coastal path from Inverness down to Suffolk. We only had a week and driving to and from Scotland took two days so we had to stop at St Andrews, but were able to visit a small part of the Fife coast from Kircaldy to North Queensferry on the last day.

The tourist officeWe arrived at our campsite on Culloden Moor at 8pm after a 10½ hour drive and settled down in the pleasant surroundings to an evening of rain.

The next morning was brighter as we set off for the impressive Kessock Suspension Bridge to find the Tourist Office.


INVERNESS-SHIRE

From the Gaelic Brittonic meaning the mouth of the Ness. Inverness-shire is the largest county in Scotland with Ben Nevis, Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye lying within its borders. It also takes in the outer Hebridean Islands and the landscape is pure Highland. Absolutely wonderful!



Inverness


This is our fourth visit to Inverness -‘the Gateway to the Highlands’- and we like it a lot.

Although the town centre is much like any other, the river area is charming with promenades on either bank or footbridges over it. The houses flanking the river are rambling remnants of a wealthy Victorian population, now offering accommodation.

Panorama

It is the unofficial capital of the Highlands, straddling the Caledonian Canal and the River Ness and sitting on a plain fringed by tidal mud flats. It stands at the head of the Great Glen, the giant rift that runs from the Atlantic to the North Sea.

castleInverness is dominated by its impressive 19th century sandstone castle on a hill, which is now a courthouse. The town goes back to the time of St Columba, who converted the local Picts to Christianity in the 6th century and later the town became a successful trading port.

Castle and statue The castle was built in 1141 and the site is associated with both Robert the Bruce, who threw out the English garrison, and Mary, Queen of Scots, who hanged the Governor for refusing her admittance. General Wade later rebuilt it during his suppression of the Highlands. Bonnie Prince Charlie's army blew it up in 1746, shortly before the Battle of Culloden. Now a statue of Flora Macdonald stands in its forecourt.

Town House The town was then ravaged by British troops after the Battle. It didn’t have a lot of luck really.

The rest of Inverness is an old Highland Burgh, with narrow streets and squares. The Gothic-style Town House was the scene in 1921 of an Emergency Cabinet meeting to discuss the Irish Treaty, called by David Lloyd George, who was on holiday in the area. Castle Wynd houses an art gallery and a museum, telling the history of the Highlands.

CathedralHigh ChurchOn the river's west bank is the mid 19th century St Andrew's Cathedral, which has fine stained glass.

A pedestrian bridge crosses the Ness to the Old High Church, dating from the 14th century but substantially rebuilt 400 years later.

EastgateVictorian arcade


There is a Victorian shopping arcade and the new Eastgate shopping mall as well as a kiltmakers and a huge tourist centre. Andy reckons he got a very good haircut down the High Street on one occasion - apparently it was the most memorable haircut he has ever had!



Loch Ness


NessieNo one really knows if there is a Monster in Loch Ness, but the legend goes back to the day in AD 589 when St Columba was being rowed up the loch. He was halfway up when the Monster appeared and attacked his boat.

Loch Ness at UrquartSightings continued down the centuries, particularly in the 1920s and 1930s when hardly a summer went by without someone spotting the Monster. There were 33 sightings in 1933. The Monster is most usually seen in the waters near Castle Urquhart.

The loch is 24 miles long and up to 800 feet deep so anything is possible, although scientific expeditions have failed to come up with any firm evidence for it’s existence.Neptunes staircase

Thomas Telford's Caledonian Canal was built in the 1803 to link the Atlantic with the North Sea. It took 24 years to complete, runs for 22 miles, linking the lochs in the Great Glen and rising through 29 locks - most spectacularly at Neptune's Staircase which lifts vessels from sea level to a height of 64 feet.


NAIRNSHIRE

Named from the local river, which in Gaelic is 'Uisage'n Earn', meaning ‘River of the Alder Trees‘. One of Nairnshire's claims to fame is that it is one of the smallest Scottish counties, with the smallest population of all. A little wedge of country on the southern shores of the Moray Firth, half is moorland and the rest concentrated on the coast.

 

The county shares a history of witchcraft with Morayshire and five miles east of Nairn you will find the site of the original `Blasted Heath' at Macbeth's Hillock, where the witches stirred their magical brews. In 1662 at a witch trial in Auldearn, the witch confessed that she used to fly to Kempock Stone in Renfrewshire to raise the wind there taking "a rag of cloth wet it in water, and we take a beetle (mallet) and knock on the rag on a stone...".  


Culloden Moor


Culloden cairnWe went to the visitor centre and first saw a movie that explains the battle of Culloden, followed by a tour round the bleak moors.

The hopes of Charles Edward Stuart to regain the throne met their end here in April 1746. It was the last major battle fought on British soil. His 5,000 Highlanders, who were used to skirmishing in the hills, faced 9,000 trained troops under the Duke of Cumberland, and despite courage, were swiftly defeated.

CullodenThe number of dead was greatly increased by `Butcher' Cumberland's order that no prisoners should be taken and the clansmen who died are buried around the site in graves marked with small stones which bear the names of their clans. The English who died lie in the Field of the English.

Flags now mark the position of the armies and generations later, no name in Scottish history evokes more emotion than that of Culloden's bleak moor.

Clava CairnsClava Cairns are Scotland's Stonehenge, and they lie below Culloden Moor. Built around 3,000BC there are 25 stones and 8 of them are located on the plain of Clava.

They are known as Druidical circles but may not be burial places, i.e the tombs of great men of the Neolithic Age, which in Scotland began about 2,000BC and lasted till around 750AD.



Cawdor


Cawdor CastleCawdor, a small village in the centre of Nairnshire is best known for the reference to the 'Thane of Cawdor' in Shakespeare's Macbeth.

Cawdor Castle is a fine, moated fortress dating from 1454 with a drawbridge and all the medieval trimmings. The 14th century keep has been extended, and the house now contains a collection of portraits, tapestries and some excellent furniture.

Castle StuartThere is a 17th century kitchen and a 21st century one too! The gardens are fabulous and include a maze with higher hedges towards the centre. "Narrow roads with passing places", commented a foreign visitor, with a smile on his face.

drinking fountainBack on the coastal road we passed Castle Stuart which was built by the Earl of Moray in 1625. Unfortunately his father-in-law killed him before he could live in it. We drove along the Old Military Road past Inverness Airport through lots of bright yellow gorse.

AndresierAt Andresier, I took a photo of the drinking fountain as the healing waters of the spring on the shore were famed as the ‘whooping cough well’.

Driving through the rifle ranges we had fine views of the Black Isle and the lighthouse on Chanonry Point.



Fort George


Fort GeorgeFollowing the defeat at Culloden, King George II put up this ultimate defence against any further unrest. On a bleak headland, jutting into the Moray Firth this is one of the finest 18th century artillery fortresses in Europe and is protected by almost a mile of mighty ramparts.

Despite taking 21 years to complete and costing nearly £1 billion at today's prices, Fort George never saw a shot fired in anger.

Fort GeorgeThe fort is still an army barracks, but visitors can explore several buildings and walk the ramparts for views of the Moray Firth. Every approach is covered by at least two cannon-lined walls that hide this massive complex. Unfortunately the heavens opened and we never reached the far end. In the grounds, is the Regimental Museum of the Queen's Own Highlanders and there is a visitor centre where we acquired a new bear mascot who we named ‘George’.

Around the promontory are sands marked as danger areas, so even on a nice day a stray bullet may put paid to a paddle. In any case Whiteness Point is an oil platform construction yard so the scenery is doubtful.



Nairn


We drove along a B road past Wester Delnies and Easter Delnies, with partial views of the construction yard and our first golf course of the week.The Scots names for East and West are very endearing I think, and Andy likes the ‘X of Y’ such as Bridge of Orchy.

NairnNairn is supposed to have one of the mildest, driest and sunniest climates in the British Isles - but not today! It became popular with visitors in Victorian times, and is still dependent on tourism, especially with golfers.

Nairn has spent most of its history as a peaceful farming and fishing community and was roused from this historic slumber just once, in April 1746, when the Duke of Cumberland's Army spent the night here before the battle of Culloden. The history dates back to the 12th century, when William the Lion granted a royal charter.

Nairn harbourThe herring industry declined in the 1930s and the harbour is now used mainly by pleasure craft. Behind the harbour are the narrow streets and tightly packed cottages of the old district of Fishertown, where there is a museum of the local fishing industry.

Beach cafeIn the 16th century, or so the story goes, Nairn supported two communities, one of fishermen, the other crofters. The fishermen only spoke Gaelic and the crofters only spoke English, so King James VI used to boast that he had a town in his Kingdom so vast that the people living at one end of the High Street could not understand the people who lived at the other!

We walked to the harbour and could see an oil rig out near Cromarty. A few people were dog walking on the beach but most of the holidaymakers in the Haven campsite had retreated indoors, either that, or no one was staying. It was all a bit depressing in this weather and the fast food café had no takers either.



Aldearn


DovecoteWe wanted to look at the 17th century circular dovecote in Aldearn. It is a white circular structure standing on the motte of the ancient castle. It was built as a stronghold against Celtic attack with a commanding view of the battlefield where Montrose defeated the Covenanters in the Battle of Aldearn in 1645.

The village has narrow streets and although we wanted to stop and walk to it, there was absolutely nowhere to park a large van, so I took a photograph out of the window and we left.



Culbin Forest


Culbin ForestBetween the road and the shoreline dunes is the vast Culbin Forest. For centuries, the area was a desert of sand created by storms during the 17th century, but the sands buried the village of Culbin, which had stood in rich farmland. In the 1920s the Forestry Commission started planting Scots and Corsican pines on the still shifting sands, and the forest now extends along 9 miles of coastline.

Culbin beachIts varied wildlife includes rare species such as ospreys, wildcats and capercaillies (Britain's largest game bird). On its north-western shore is an RSPB Reserve, where birds such as bar-tailed godwits, knots, shelduck and greylag geese can be seen. There are wonderful place names around here like ‘Bog of Cawdor’, ‘Blinkbonny’ and ‘Cloddymoss’.



Brodie Castle


Brodie CastleBrodie is approached through woodland that opens up into impressive landscaped grounds. After lunching in the van, we took a tour round the house that has been the home of the Brodie family since it was built. There is a pink 16th century tower and two later phases of alterations.

It contains collections of French furniture and fine paintings. The dining room has an amazing plaster ceiling - painted to look like wood and there is a lovely study as well. The older part of the house is dark but the Victorian part is bright and airy. Up several flights of stairs are the nursery rooms and below, the kitchens display huge cooking ranges.

Just by the eastern entrance as we were leaving we saw the well-preserved 9th century Pictish symbol stone known as Rodney's Stone.



MORAYSHIRE

If you're fond of a wee dram and a chunk of juicy salmon as we are, then this is the county for you. This and Banffshire are the two classic `whisky' counties and the amber nectar is very important to the county's economy! Likewise, it's in rivers such as the Spey that you find some of the best salmon fishing in the land.

 

 

Morayshire also has fine scenery, splendid old towns and you're far more likely to meet a sheep than another car. It has prehistoric remains with hill forts and traces of Neolithic villages all over. The coastline runs for 32 miles along the south shore of the Moray Firth and is particularly rich in antiquities.


The Whisky Trail


The Whisky TrailEven more than for tartan, Scotland is known world-wide for it’s superb single malt whiskies. There are distilleries throughout Scotland, but half are to be found in the valley of the River Spey* and its tributaries. The peaty Highland water of the region is the basic ingredient of whisky, together with malted barley.

* - from the Gallic for ‘Paradise’ – according to Andy!

labelDistilleries and a cooperage, where barrels are prepared are open to visitors and linked by ‘The Whisky Trail’, a signed route of around 70 miles. You can see the great copper stills and learn about whisky production from start to finish in the visitor centres and they always offer you a `wee dram'. famous names include Glen Grant, Glenfiddich, Cardhu, Glenlivet, Glenfarclas, and Strathisla.

Dallas DhuOn this occasion we visited Dallas Dhu near Forres. It is no longer producing whisky in quantity and has been acquired by Historic Scotland as a working museum, maintained as it was when last used. There is a very good audio tour.



Forres


Mercat CrossThe opening scenes of Macbeth are set in Forres, an ancient royal burgh whose street layout dates from medieval times. At the centre are the 19th century tolbooth and market cross.

Sueno StoneAt the western end, an obelisk on Castle Hill commemorates James Thomson, a local surgeon who tended soldiers in the Crimean War regardless of their nationality and the 70ft octagonal Nelson Tower on Cluny Hill was erected in 1806 to celebrate Britain's victory at Trafalgar.

The main attraction is the Sueno Stone, probably dating from the 10th century - it is a shaft of sandstone standing 23ft high and encased in a glass box.

The monolith was probably commissioned by the Scots royal house in the years following the takeover by Kenneth MacAlpin. One side of the stone is carved with a cross, the other with warriors - storytelling panels depicting the downfall of the Pictish kingdom.

Witches' StoneNearby, the Witches' Stone marks the spot where, in the 17th century, women accused of witchcraft were put to death. ----- Nice.



Findhorn


FindhornOn the approach road that runs alongside the bay, there are bird hides and a place called the Findhorn Foundation. This is an alternative lifestyle community of well-heeled hippies, founded by Peter and Eileen Caddy and Dorothy Maclean in 1962. There are residential courses and workshops, ecological houses, wind power, etc.

FindhornThe former port at the entrance to Findhorn Bay is a centre for watersports and sailing. Seals live in the bay and migrating wildfowl visit the extensive tidal mud flats. A heritage centre (museum in a shed in a pot-holed carpark) explains the natural and human history of the area. To the east is Kinloss Airfield.



Burghead


Burghead wellThe road to Burghead is extremely straight through the forest and the roads in the village are wide and laid out in a grid. Once an important grain shipping port, the stone-built granaries lining the harbour have now been adapted to other uses and the harbour is used by fishing boats and pleasure craft.

The village is built on a promontory jutting into the Moray Firth, and near the tip is Burghead Well which may have provided water for a nearby Iron Age fort which was partially destroyed in 1805 when the old fishing village was razed to the ground to make way for the present buildings.

Every January 11, a blazing tar barrel known as the Clavie is carried round the village. The event celebrates the New Year under the Julian calendar, which was replaced by the Gregorian Calendar in 1752. The barrel's charred remains are placed on the Clavie Stone, not far from the well.

The thing that we found most strange was the absence of people or any evidence that anyone was there at all!. It was quite eerie. Perhaps the millennium celebration had been too much for them this year! The only person we saw was a man in uniform with a briefcase who drove off in a car, and we decided he must be a pilot from Kinloss.



Duffus


HopemanWe passed through Hopeman, an unspoilt 19th century fishing village, built on a gentle slope overlooking the sea, with a small harbour. There are sandy beaches on both sides and a red windlass on a bank overlooking the harbour that looks like some sort of sculpture.

Like many of the villages along this coast, the quiet, pretty hamlet of Duffus was planned and built in the 19th century. The original village was centred on the 13th century St Peter's Church that is now a ruin.

Gordonstoun SchoolWe drove down a narrow road to find it and found ourselves at the entrance to Gordonstoun School, originally called Plewlands House, which is well-known for educating Prince Charles. The entrance made an excellent turning circle!

Duffus CastleWe eventually found the ruins of Duffus Castle, which is built on a mound on the edge of flat land that was formerly a loch. There has been a castle on this spot since 1150 and the most recent building was abandoned in the 18th century.



Lossiemouth


LossiemouthShellfish and some white fish are landed at this busy fishing town and there is a fish market most weekday mornings but it was pretty deserted by the time we arrived. The beach is often used for surfing. RAF Lossiemouth is just outside the town, which is a base of three Royal Air Force squadrons and the planes were taking off and landing.

LossiemouthThe village is close to the farming area known as Laich of Moray, traditionally known as the `Granary of the North' because of the fertility of its fields. We went up to the memorial erected on the centenary of Ramsay MacDonald's birth - he was Britain's first Labour Prime Minister. There are spectacular views over Spey Bay.



Elgin and Huntley


Elgin CathedralWe were staying inland at Huntley so we headed through Elgin. The town has fine 19th century neo-classical buildings and a few grand town houses. Beside the River Lossie are the magnificent ruins of the Cathedral and the Moray Motor Museum has a collection of vintage vehicles.

ElginThe town's museum is one of the oldest in Scotland, it was founded by a group of local gentlemen including Dr George Gordon, who used to correspond with eminent scientists of the day such as Charles Darwin. Exhibits include reptile fossils going back 385 million years that were found in the local sandstone, and collections from the 19th century New World.

Huntly CastleHuntly is an old town, quite small, and a centre for the whisky trade, surrounded by numerous distilleries. In the Civil War the castle was held for Charles I by the Earl of Huntly, who was shot when the Parliamentary forces took the castle. Most of Huntly Castle is in ruins, but Haddo House, the home of the Gordons, is a very beautiful stately home, dating from 1730.

The pleasant campsite was quite large and the warden rode around on his bicycle! The next morning we returned to the coast at the Spey Estuary.



Kingston


View from KingstonA short stretch of shore immediately west of Kingston is sometimes closed to the public for military firing practice. Shipbuilding once flourished in Kingston, at the mouth of the River Spey. There is no sign of it now as the industry declined after cheaper iron vessels started to be made on the Clyde.

Garmouth, nearly a mile to the south, was a busy port on the Spey estuary in the 18th century, but a great flood in 1829 altered the course of the river. Today both villages are peaceful places, with narrow winding streets.



Fochabers


Another town built on a grid plan with many buildings from that time surviving, including Bellie Kirk, which lends an air of Georgian elegance to the town square. There is a Folk Museum with exhibits including horsedrawn vehicles, costumes and toys. About a mile east of Fochabers, are the Winding Walks which are paths through Whiteash Hill Wood and from the top of the hill there are panoramic views of lower Speyside and the countryside east of Elgin.Baxters

Across the river is the Mrs Baxters soup factory with a large and fascinating visitor centre. We had a very interesting tour to see the soups and jams being made and packaged and then went to the shop to buy some goodies. There is also a replica 'old' grocery store and a nice restaurant. It is a good place for a day out and you can stock your larder at the same time.


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