Moray Travel Guide

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Findochty 'Fennechty'

Findochty 'Fennechty'

Jock Flett

Moray, one of the former Pictish provinces, lies on the southern shores of the Moray Firth, the great inlet which bites deeply into the north-east coast of Scotland. It extends south into the very heart of the Cairngorm Mountains and thanks to the shelter offered by them it enjoys a micro climate which is milder, drier and sunnier than its latitude might suggest. This is a district of outstanding gardens, fertile agricultural land, fine salmon rivers, an attractive coastline and, of course, malt whisky distilleries.

At the heart of Moray, flows the River Spey, Scotland's fastest flowing river, famed among salmon anglers. Like the discerning king of fish, the producers of malt whisky appreciate the unpolluted waters of the Spey and its tributaries - half of all Scotland's malt whisky distilleries are to be found in the surrounding glens.

And yet, there is much more to Moray than malt whisky. The early inhabitants of this part of the country certainly left their mark - Sueno's Stone, standing 23 feet high on the outskirts of Forres, has mystified archaeologists for years.

Forres is today famous for its marvellous parks and gardens but it is one of the most ancient places in an area associated with the name of Macbeth. One of the finest vantage points in Moray is Nelson Tower which has superb views of the town, Findhorn Bay, the Moray Firth and the surrounding countryside. There are numerous other attractions in and around this floral Royal Burgh including Brodie Castle, Dallas Dhu Distillery, Culbin Forest, the Falconer Museum and Randolph's Leap, a popular beauty spot on the River Findhorn.

The village of Findhorn is a popular watersports centre for the Moray Firth, has a fine Heritage Centre but is world famous for the Findhorn Foundation, the international spiritual community founded in 1962. Much older spiritual sites can be found in an area which was something of a cradle for Christianity in Scotland. Pluscarden Abbey can trace its origins to 1230 while Spynie Palace was for a short time the principal seat of the diocese of Moray until the consecration of nearby Elgin Cathedral in 1224.

Elgin, the principal town of Moray for over eight centuries, was one of the most important centres of medieval Scotland. The Cathedral, known as the "Lantern of the North", is a dramatic ruin and a quite stunning testament in stone to the turbulence of Scottish history. Close to this site is the Johnston's of Elgin Cashmere Visitor Centre where mill tours and exhibitions explain the mystique behind cashmere production. There are excellent attractions in this elegant cathedral city including Elgin Museum, Moray Motor Museum, the unique Biblical Garden and a superb leisure centre.

The flat farmlands of the Laich of Moray culminate in sandstone cliffs, the long sandy beaches of Lossiemouth to the east and Roseisle to the west. Lossiemouth was established as the seaport for Elgin, and like neighbouring Burghead and Hopeman, is now a popular resort for beach-loving visitors.

The town has an excellent museum and is famous as the birth place of Ramsay McDonald, Britain's first Labour Prime Minister.

The Moray Firth is one of only two places in Britain where there is a resident population of bottle-nosed dolphins. The observant walker can often see a school leaping past and it is possible to take boat trips from local harbours to see them closer. The story of the local salmon fishing industry is reflected at Tugnet Ice House at Spey Bay, the starting point for the Speyside Way footpath. Further east along the coast, the communities are as redolent of the sea as any in Grampian. Buckie was the largest town in the old county of Banff and is still one of the largest in Moray. The town boasts two excellent golf courses and the maritime heritage of the town is portrayed at the Buckie Drifter, a purpose-built centre which tells the story of the herring industry and gives a unique insight into the lives of the fishing communities of the Moray Firth.

Findochty, known as "Finnechty", is a delightful village whose brightly painted cottages are more reminiscent of a Mediterranean harbour than a Scottish fishing village. There are excellent coastal walks linking the villages along this stretch of the Moray Firth. Portknockie is another fine conservation area with the Bow Fiddle Rock an outstanding local natural wonder. Neighbouring Cullen is an attractive golfing resort dominated by former railway viaducts, one of the great achievements of engineering in the last century. This fishing community gave its name to a local delicacy "Cullen Skink" a fish soup that can be enjoyed throughout the region. A few miles south of (Cullen} is Deskford where the curious Carnyx, a Pictish musical instrument, was discovered in 1806.

The fertile farmlands of Grampian are well served by prosperous market towns and Keith, on the River Isla, is another fine example. Agriculture remains the mainstay of the local economy and the great annual Agricultural Show is a highlight of the year. There are many places to visit in and around the burgh including Strathisla Distillery, one of the oldest and arguably, most attractive distilleries in Scotland.

The richness of produce from the land has resulted in a flourishing food industry in Moray, with family owned firms to the fore. Perhaps the most famous is Baxters of Speyside whose factory and excellent visitor facilities at Fochabers are among the most popular in the region. A visit here allows one to truly savour a taste of Scotland. Fochabers itself is a beautiful village with fine shops, garden centre and Folk Museum. The Speyside Way, the popular footpath, cuts close to the village as it winds its way from Spey Bay to the edge of the Cairngorm Mountains through some of the finest scenery in Scotland.

Other rivers may claim to be as fine a salmon river as the Spey but none can claim to be as fine a whisky river. Over half the distilleries in Scotland are situated in this area, many of them with excellent visitor centres where a dram is part of the educational process.

Rothes is the home of Glen Grant Distillery with its enchanting Victorian Garden. Craigellachie occupies an enviable position close to the Spey and the Fiddich. The Craigellachie Bridge, designed by Thomas Telford, is a striking local landmark and the award-winning Speyside Cooperage Visitor Centre, telling the story "from acorn to cask", is a definite must.

The Speyside Way Visitor Centre gives information about the Moray countryside and detailed information on the route itself which includes a six mile spur via the old railway line to Dufftown.

If Rome was built on seven hills, then Bavenie Castle, Dufftown, Banffshire was built on seven stills! This is indeed "whisky-opolis" and the location of the Glenfiddich Distillery, home of the largest selling malt whisky in the world. The sports conscious are well catered for here with fine walks, a golf course in superb scenery and the Loch Park Adventure Centre for the more activity oriented.

Aberlour is an attractive planned village where the Village Store offers a fascinating glimpse into the past. Across the River Spey Cardhu Distillery is another of the distilleries with visitor centres on the Malt Whisky Trail and a further famous name to be sampled on the Trail is Glenfarclas at Ballindalloch, the gateway to Strath Avon, Glen Livet, Tomintoul and the Eastern Cairngorms. Ballindalloch Castle, with its exquisite grounds and gardens, is a magnificent property dating from the 16th Century.

Situated on the main road between Speyside and Deeside by the Lecht pass is Tomintoul. Popular with walkers, skiers and the not so active alike, this village is the highest in the Highlands and an excellent location for visiting the Glenlivet Estate.

The museum in the village square focuses on local history and nearby Glenlivet Distillery with its newly refurbished visitor centre is the oldest licensed distillery in the Highlands. There is a 15 mile spur of the Speyside Way from Ballindalloch to Tomintoul and the more adventurous can continue on into the Cairngorms, the very roof of Scotland and an area of incredible serenity and beauty.

With its variety of landscapes unspoilt coastline and charming towns, Moray has a positive wealth of attractions and is there to be explored to the full.

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July 01, 2006 change by bardofthebroch (1 point)

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