VISITOR TOUR 2 | Beaches and castles

beaches and castles

Tour 2 takes the visitor north of Elgin and west along the coastline of the Moray Firth.

The Moray Firth provides a wealth of wildlife-watching opportunities and activities and is best known for its resident population of dolphins.

Along the way, the tour introduces culture and heritage in the shadow of brooding castles and picturesque fishing villages and towns.

If the idea of sitting on a beach, where you can kick back and relax, is appealing, then this is the tour for you. The choice is simply unrivalled.

Beaches And Castles

Tour 2 | Beaches And Castles

spynie Palace | TOUR 2

Just North of Elgin, on the edge of Loch Spynie, is Spynie Palace. The Bishops of Moray enjoyed use of the fortified residence, at the centre of a thriving community, for more than five centuries. Loch Spynie was originally a sea loch that provided direct access and safe anchorage.

Giric or Gregory first appears, in the records, as Bishop of Moray , as early as 1120. Bishop Brice chose Spynie church as his cathedral in 1207 and whilst the seat of Bishop was eventually moved to the Cathedral at Elgin, Spynie Palace remained the residence of the Bishop until 1686.

The original buildings would have been built of timber. Changes to the layout and structure of the Palace, up to the 16th century, were extensive and reflected in the fortified residence as it appears today.

The impressive David’s Tower originally contained five floors. it is one of Scotlands largest tower houses and the largest surviving medieval bishop’s house.

The 17th century, with its conflict and ecclesiastical uncertainty, led ultimately to the physical decline of the Palace.

That said, the Palace still exudes grandeur, on a scale rarely seen in medieval times. The view of Moray, from the top of the Tower, is worth the climb.

Duffus Castle | TOUR 2

Duffus Castle is a Norman castle. The elevated mound, parapet, drawbridge and moat are typical of the defensive structures built at the time . The finest of its type in Scotland, the castle is located on what was once the north western shore of the Loch of Spynie.

The land was granted to Freskin, Lord of Strathbock , by King David I. Freskin was one of the Flemish and Anglo-Norman immigrants encouraged, by the King, to settle in Moray with the promise of landed fiefs. The castle was built in 1140.

During the Wars of Independence, the castle remained loyal to the English King Edward I. It was attacked and burnt down by the Scots in 1297.

A stone tower was built on the motte, as part of the rebuild in the 14th century. A stone curtain wall was built to replace the original wooden palisade. The tower was, and still is, one of the most impressive stone towers in Scotland

On approaching the castle, it is clear that a considerable part of the stone keep has slid down the motte. Parts of the curtain wall on the south east side of the bailey are leaning out at an angle.

Much of the castle, however, is well preserved and presents an opportunity for the visitor to see one of the oldest surviving strongholds in Scotland.

St Peter’s Kirk | TOUR 2

In medieval times, the building of a castle also required the founding of a church or kirk. Records from as early as 1226 confirm that the Lairds at castle Duffus, chose St Peter’s as the location for their church.

The church had an altar of St Catherine and a chapel dedicated to St Laurence.

When the Scots burned the castle at Duffus during the War of Independence, it’s no surprise that they also burned the church. Despite the loss of castle and church, the then Laird, Sir Reginald de Cheyne, remained faithful to King Edward I.

In recognition of the continued loyalty, the King made a grant of 200 oaks from the forests of Longmorn and Darnaway to help restore the two buildings.

In 1524, Alexander Sutherland added the gothic porch, with groined vault that now forms the entrance to the church. The Sutherland burial vault sits within the remains of what was once a medieval tower.

To the South are some excellent examples of 16th century table-tombs and the market cross, the St Peter’s Cross.

A substantial building with walls in excellent condition, St Peter’s Kirk is sited at the entrance to Gordonstoun School.

Lossiemouth | TOUR 2

A well established port town, Lossiemouth has numerous examples of fine architecture from different centuries. Located as it is, at the mouth of the River Lossie, it also boasts two fabulous beaches.

The town was built originally as a port to service Elgin and its trade. Spynie was, for many centuries, the original port for Elgin. However, the entrance to Loch Spynie became blocked, over time, by sand and shingle.

Lossiemouth today has retained much of its original layout, with wide streets separating the many small fishing cottages.

The first Prime Minister from the Labour Party, Ramsay Macdonald is Lossiemouth’s famous son.

In addition to the harbour, regular town plan and famous inhabitants, the visitor is presented with two beaches. Two beaches that are simply breathtaking.

With its impressive sand dunes, the East Beach is reached by a pedestrian bridge.

The landing lights of RAF Lossiemouth and the headland housing Covesea Lighthouse are features of a three mile stretch of beach at West Bay.

Lossiemouth offers history, good dining opportunities, diversity and two beaches that offer something for everyone to see and do.

Hopeman | TOUR 2

Two excellent beaches, a druids site, prehistoric footprints and excellent wildlife. Just some of the features awaiting visitors to this fishing village.

Originally built to house people displaced by the Highland clearance in the 19th century, the village has an active harbour that divides the east and west beach.

Excellent rock pools and large grassy sand dunes are striking features of the East Beach

Evidence of prehistoric dinosaur footprints can be found on the beach path and at the pavilion. The path leads to the individually painted beach huts that are, collectively, the best of any beach in Moray or Scotland.

Overlooking the beach path is Hopeman Lodge. Where its boundary meets the beach path there is the Bramou Well, which is said to have healing powers.

Following the beach path beyond the edge of the east beach provides access to Clashach Cove. A hidden beach and collection of large rock formations used in the 5th century, by the druids, as a place of worship.

The beach path and harbour wall provide a perfect vantage point to see the Moray Firth bottlenose dolphins and a wide range of sea birds including, oyster catchers and black headed gulls.

Cummingston | TOUR 2 

Designated a site of Special Scientific Interest, the sandstone cliffs and the Caves of Caussie are a feature of this small coastal village.

Seaview Road provides access to a car park and beach which, for many visitors, remains one of the undiscovered parts of Moray.

Access to the beach is via a footpath that also provides access to the wells that once provided water supply to the village.

The caves were used for smuggling, by tinkers or Scottish gypsies, during the 17th century. Activities financed by the merchants in Elgin.

Today, the caves and sandstone are used for climbing and provide the best bouldering in Scotland.

The disused railway line, which runs parallel with the beach, is popular with walkers and cyclists. It is now part of the Moray Coastal Trail network.

A footpath provides access to the beach and the wells that once provided the village water supply.

Parts of the sandstone cliffs at Cummingston are designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Burghead | TOUR 2

A stronghold on the Moray coast, the largest Iron Age defensive structure in Britain was built in the 4th century by the Picts.

Likely to be the Pictish capital of Fortriu it housed a Royal Palace. Pictish tradition is kept alive today with the annual burning of the Clavie.

A unique Scottish signature event, the annual burning of the Clavie is a Pictish ritual that is revered on a global level.

The Earl of Orkney, Sigurd the Powerful, captured the stronghold in 884. Known to the Vikings as Torridon, it remained a base of operations until retaken by the Scots in 1010.

A much larger settlement and fishing port was developed in 1805. Thomas Telford was commissioned to build the harbour and warehouses.

As part of the development, much of the ancient fort was destroyed. Only the “Burghead Bulls”, Pictish symbol stones, and the Burghead Well, discovered as part of the works, now remain.

The Coastguard lookout is now a visitor centre and is a perfect lookout for the Moray dolphins.

Roseisle | TOUR 2

Roseisle forest and beach sits between Burghead and Findhorn on Burghead Bay. With views across the Moray Firth and accessed through scots pine trees, the sandy beach is sheltered by sand dunes. It provides a great platform to observe seals and dolphins at play.

The woods provide shelter for cycling and walking along the 3 main trails. A natural haven for wildlife, the woods have an area with wildlife hide, play and barbeque equipment and toilets.

Findhorn | TOUR 2

A superb beach, picturesque bay and attractive village await the visitor to Findhorn.

Once an important commercial seaport, much of the herring fishing and salmon industry was in decline by the end of the 20th century.

A glimpse of the commercial past can be found at the Ice House Heritage Centre and the oldest surviving structure in the village, the Crown and Anchor Inn, which dates back to 1739.

Transformed over the years into a peaceful haven, Findhorn is better known, internationally, as the home of the Findhorn Foundation.

Today Findhorn is a major watersports and sailing centre. In addition there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the seals, dolphins and great variety of birds along this stretch of the Moray Firth.

Kinloss Abbey | TOUR 2

Kinloss Abbey is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade A Listed Building.

Founded by King David I in 1150 for Cistercian monks of Melrose Abbey, its significance, in the history of the North East of Scotland, is considerable.

As a Cistercian house of considerable wealth and size, the Abbey received many Royal endowments and visitors.

In 1303, Edward I (the ‘Hammer of the Scots’) camped at Kinloss Abbey as part of his tour of surpression.

Salmon fishing rights to the Findhorn were granted by Robert I (The Bruce) in 1312.

Edward III was a guest in 1336 and Mary Queen of Scots stayed in the Abbey in 1562.

In 1560, The Reformation of Parliament signaled the end for the Abbey. The wealth and fabric of the abbey was stripped by the last Abbot and the stone of the ruined building was sold to Cromwell in 1650.

Brodie Castle | TOUR 2

Now in National Trust ownership, Brodie Castle was built close to Macbeth’s Hillock, in 1567, by Clan Brodie

Architecturally, the castle has a very well preserved central keep with two 5-storey towers on opposing corners. It includes a 16th century vaulted guardroom and secret passages.

Priceless antiques and unique artifacts can be found in the towers and rooms of this grand Scots Baronial mansion.

In the grounds there is the Rodney Stone, a Pictish monument with the longest pictish inscription found too date.

Forres | TOUR 2

The ancient royal burgh of Forres has strong links with Macbeth.

Macbeth ruled Moray from the castle in Forres. It was from Forres that he set out to meet, and kill in battle, King Duncan I.

The monument to Dr James Thomson, on Castle Hill, marks the location of the original castle.

The town retains its original medieval street plan with “wynds” and “pends” off the High Street.

Near the centre of the town is the town-house, built in 1839 on the site of the old toll booth, and mercat cross.

The role as a principal market town is confirmed by the fine buildings in the town centre.

A history and comprehensive archive of Forres can be found at the Falconer museum.

The impressive St Laurence Church is nearby.

The Witches Stone is one of three original stones that marked the spot where three witches were put to death in 962. They had been accused of plotting the death of King Dubh.

They were rolled down Cluny Hill in barrels and burnt at the point that they came to rest.

In 967, the governor of Forres, Donwald, is believed to have murdered King Dubh before moving the body to Kinloss bridge where it was hidden.

It is said that this account, with the murder of Dubh and the burning of the three witches was the inspiration for Shakespeare’s play.

The sunken garden at Grant Park is home to award winning floral sculptures. Close by is Nelson Tower, built to commemorate the death of Nelson at Trafalger.

Forres, is one of the oldest towns in Scotland and was once one of the most important places in Scotland.

Sueno’s Stone | TOUR 2

The largest surviving Pictish stone in the world and the largest sculptured stone in Europe.

Sueno’s Stone dates back to the end of the first millennium and stands over 6.5m high.

The front and rear faces of the stone, and its sides, are covered in intricate carvings that depict a battle.

Displayed one above another, the battle is told in a series of horizontal strips set within panels.

There are many views on the battle that the stone records.

An encounter between Viking and Picts or Viking and Scots. Or the battle known to have been fought at Forres in 966 in which King Dubh or Duff of Alba fought for control over Moray.

The arched structure, shown on the stone, could be the bridge under which Dubh’s body was hidden after his murder, by Donwald, in 967.

Dallas Dhu | TOUR 2 

The picturesque distillery of Dallas Dhu was built in 1898 to produce malt whisky for blending.

Charles Doing, a Scottish architect, designed the distinctive pagoda roof.

Dallas Dhu is unique amongst Scottish distilleries.

The last barrel of whisky produced by the distillery was in 1983. However, the distilling process was the same as the first barrel produced in 1899. It provides a rare opportunity to experience how a distillery would have looked and operated over a century ago.

Historic Scotland now maintain the distillery as a working museum. It has secured a unique role in promoting the heritage of whisky.

It’s location is close to Califer Hill viewpoint. A picnic site with extensive views over the Moray Firth and the Black Isle.

Pluscarden Abbey | TOUR 2

Founded by King Alexander III, in 1230, the Abbey is the only medieval monastery in Britain that is still used for its original purpose and inhabited by monks.

The stained glass windows of the Choir was the first, of its scale, anywhere in Scotland and a medieval wonder.

The Wolf of Badenoch set fire to the Abbey in 1390. The Choir windows were much reduced by the damage.

In 1454, Pluscarden Priory became a Benedictine Housefollowing a merger with the priory of Urquhart.

The decline of the priory during the 17th century, and linked to the Scottish Reformation, resulted in the priory becoming ruinous. It was used as a quarry for the rebuilding of St Giles Kirk, in Elgin.

The turning point was the restoration and transfer of the buildings to the Benedictine community of Prinknash Abbey in 1948.

The priory, and in no small part due to the ongoing restoration by the monks, wsa raised to Abbey status in 1974.

Quarrelwood Henge | TOUR 2 

A ‘henge’ is simply a earthen enclosure, usually composed of one or more circular banks and ditches.

The Quarrelwood henge is located within a Forestry Commission plantation on the western fringe of Elgin and built near the crest of a hill.

An oval bank and ditch create the enclosure, with the outer slope formed by the bank. An entrance is formed by a break in the bank on the west side.

There is a ditch around the enclosure. Within the henge are a pair of standing stones, about 1 metre high, which may be remnants of an earlier stone circle.