MORAY

Northeast of Scotland, you will find the two historic shires of Moray and Banff, sitting side by side and sharing a coastline.  The county of Moray (pronounced as “Murray”) is one of Scotland’s smallest, but it is filled to the brim with natural beauty, in a way that could possibly overwhelm you.  It has a very varied landscape—sharing the best of the craggy majesty of the Highlands and the serenity of the rich flat farmlands.  It is also equally rich in local industries with farming, fishing and whisky-making which all have a deep history in the county. 

Banffshire, east of the county of Moray, is equally beautiful in terms of its natural landscape.  What sets it apart is it is now home to many contemporary artists and craftsmen who feed off of the beauty of the county, both natural and historic.  The county also has a rich maritime history. 

The general climate here is temperate maritime, which makes visits pleasant any time of the year, with breezy summers and kind winters.


Moray Firth
is the biggest of all the Scottish firths, or in this narrow body of water you will find more than a hundred of bottle-nosed dolphins.  This is the northernmost habitat for this species in the whole of the continent, and you have a fairly good chance to get a sighting of these charming creatures on the shore or by boat.   The firth is big, spanning Duncansby Head to Fraserburgh, so you have a variety of options.  

Aside from dolphin sightings, the 800 kilometers of Moray Firth’s coastline affords one with a great nature trail.  The website for Moray Firth gives you a guide to several points of interests, including guides on the proper attire for the trek, and an interactive map to give one an idea of how to best explore the area.



Brodie CastleBrodie Castle (Forres, Inverness, +44 8444 932156, £8.50).  Originally built and owned by the Brodie Clan in the 16th century, partly destroyed in a fire a century later, then renovated to include several additions that would greatly expand the whole castle, Brodie Castle is a delight for art and furniture connoisseurs, with its extensive collection of art and furnishings sourced from all over the world—from Dutch art, to Chinese and English porcelains, to French furniture, as well as Scottish art.  The grounds, all of seventy hectares, are open for anyone to explore, with its wooded walks and tranquil ponds.

 

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Elgin CathedralThe market town of Elgin, which has been the capital of Moray since the thirteenth century, grew around the River Lossie.  Having been a cathedral city and a royal burgh, Elgin still thrives as the county’s administrative centre despite losing such lofty titles. 

The haunting ruins of the Elgin Cathedral (North College St, +44 1343 547171, £4.70) are the only remaining glimpse we have to the town’s historical significance.  Once considered the most beautiful of all the cathedrals in Scotland, back when it was founded in 1224, now it is but a shell of its former beauty.  The ruins are a product of the extensive rehabilitation of the cathedral after it was burned down in 1270, only to be burned down again by Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, as a reaction to his excommunication, in 1390.  It was rebuilt, but reached its eventual decline during the Reformation.  The ruins, though, give one an idea of how big and detailed the cathedral is.  From the River Lossie, to which the cathedral was purposefully built near, the ruins are a sight to behold, reflected on the clear waters of the river.  Its Gothic exteriors are still evident, and its western front is still one of the best achievements in Gothic architecture.  The ruins also include a 15th century octagonal chapter house, which is considered the country’s best. 

Hotels

        

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Old Church of Urquhart (Meft Road, +44 1343 843063, £31) .  The name says it all—it is a former church located east of the town, restored as a charming, however eerie-looking, B&B.  The church can be cold sometimes, but the warm welcome and equally warm and tasty dinner will more than make up for this.  The vast grounds that surround the church on afford a great view. 

 


Jane Maxwell, Duchess of Gordon, by George RomneyBanff and Macduff are both on the Banff bay, and are separated only by a bridge over the River Deveron which stands between the two towns.  These are the only things these two towns have in common, though.  Entering Banff, you will find yourself traveling back in time, as it is one of the most well-preserved historic towns in Scotland.  It is a sleepy little town, until you get to behold its biggest draw, Duff House (+44 1261 818181, £6.55).  Duff House, built in the 18th century, is considered one of the most beautiful Georgian mansions, commissioned by William Duff and designed by William Adam.  It now houses some permanent collections of the National Gallery of Scotland, as well as temporary exhibits.  The grounds that surround the mansion are vast, and are free for anyone who wants to explore.

Cross the bridge over the River Deveron estuary and you will find Macduff. Its atmosphere is much livelier than serene historic Banff, as it is a thriving fishing port, where wooden boats are still made—the last of its kind in the United Kingdom.  In keeping with its marine background, Macduff’s biggest attraction is the Marine Aquarium (11 High Shore, +44 1261 833369, £5.65), which is located east of the harbour.  The aquarium celebrates the marine history of the area, but focuses mostly on Moray Firth.

PennanPennan is a really tiny village—it is but a row of unassuming houses (and an inn) set against the small harbour, with an iconic red phone booth sticking like a sore thumb amidst all the grayness of the area.  The tiny village has been a fishing village since the 18th century, but it was only upon the release of the film Local Hero, when it gained prominence among visitors, who loved it so much they insisted the red phone booth prop stay on the grounds.  In 2009, though, the village was endangered by a large crack on the cliff that borders it.  Landslips have also been a threat to the small settlement since 2007. 

CrovieIn nearby Crovie (say Crivy), you will find a similar row of houses against the harbour, only its land area is so narrow that the residents can’t even park their cars near their houses.  The village was built by families who lived off of the fishing industry, which died down in the 20th century after a big storm that destroyed most of the houses.  It also had a history of being a site for smuggling whisky because of its hidden location.  Nowadays, most of the houses that remain on the village are leased during the holidays for vacationers.

 

 

 

 


Glenfiddich whiskeyDufftown is relatively young, founded only in 1817 by the fourth Earl Fife, James Duff.  It prides itself on its whisky production, and even claims the title of “Malt Whisky Capital of the World”—and no one dares contest this claim.  This small town has nine distilleries—not all of them are in working condition, though—and it produces the most Scotch whisky than any other town in the Britain.       

There’s not a lot to see here, but it’s a good base for the whisky trail, which includes eight distilleries.  It is also home to the largest single malt whisky distillery, Glenfiddich, which provides the most number of jobs for the locals.  It is also the most modern among all the distilleries, and the first to open its doors to visitors.  It is still owned by the Grant family, who opened this business in the late 19th century.  If you have to pick only one distillery on the whisky trail, the Glenfiddich is a great option.