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Issue 80 - From Badenoch into Moray and Banff

Scotland Magazine Issue 80
April 2015


This article is 3 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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From Badenoch into Moray and Banff

Local History, where to go, what to do...

Ancient pine forest, fine agricultural soil, river, loch and moorland interspersed with small townships. This comprises the landscape between the Monadhliath and Cairngorm mountains, known by the Gaels as Badenoch. And herein lies Speyside, the heartland of Scotch Whisky country.

This capacious region which stretches between the northern cities of Inverness and Aberdeen, through an abundance of inland water is sometimes also referred to as ‘the drowned land,’ taking its translation from the Scottish Gaelic Bàideanach. Snow and rain seasonally gathered in the mountains, rising in granite and soaking through peat, serve to provide a continual flow of fresh water, feeding the rivers Spey, Findhorn, Lossie, Avon, Fiddich and, of course, Livet.

Such waterways are the life blood of the Speyside whisky industry which comprises the widest variety and concentration of distilling expertise to be found anywhere. Fishermen may sing the praises of the Spey as one of the finest salmon rivers in Scotland but equally special is the individuality it brings to all of the distilleries operating along its flow.

From the A9 surging north towards Inverness, the A95 branches off north east from the holiday resort of Aviemore and heads past Grantown-on- Spey, looping back over the Spey to head up to Cromdale through the northern stretch of the Cairngorms National Park. Here Grantown-on-Spey was founded in the 18th Century and named after Sir James Grant of Colquhoun. A politician and landowner, his son succeeded a cousin to become 5th Earl of Seafield and the town is nowadays twinned with both Notre-Dame-de-Morris and Pays-de-la-Loire in France, and Grant Town, West Virginia, USA.

The region known as Badenoch was once lorded over by the Comyns who arrived in Britain with the Norman invasion of William the Conqueror in 1066. In a later generation, they accompanied King David I to Scotland in 1124. Richard Comyn married a granddaughter of Donald III and thus their descendants had a hereditary claim to the throne of Scotland when it came up for grabs in the following century.

Prior to this, they had acquired the mormaership (earldom) of Buchan and the lordship of Badenoch but after Robert the Bruce's great victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, these lands were confiscated and handed over to Bruce's supporter Thomas Randolph. When Badenoch later reverted to the Crown, it was bestowed upon Robert II's turbulent fourth son Alexander Stewart, who became King's Lieutenant in the north.

Thus the stage was set for the exploits of the Wolf of Badenoch, as Alexander became known. In the lonely hills and moors north east of Grantown-on-Spey, he set up his headquarters in the former Comyn stronghold of Lochindorb Castle situated in the middle of a freshwater loch. In revenge for the church's annulment of his second marriage to Euphemia, Countess of Ross in her own right, he set siege to and destroyed Elgin Cathedral, an act for which he was excommunicated from the church but later pardoned.

At Cromdale, the Strathspey Railway Station, which was absorbed into the Great North of Scotland Railway and closed by the British Railways Board, once had a private line to the nearby Balmenach Distillery. On either side of the road, the landscape is lush and wooded and, after Advie, the A95 passes the strikingly elegant Tormore Distillery. Fabricated in granite, it was designed by Sir Albert Richardson in 1958 and has a clock which plays four different Scots songs on each quarter hour.

North of Bridge of Avon is Ballindalloch Castle after which it is as if there is a distillery around every corner.

Ballindalloch Castle has been the home of the Macpherson-Grant family since 1546. Plundered by the Marquis of Montrose and his Royalist army in 1645, the castle houses a fine collection of 17th Century Spanish paintings and is open to the public from April to September. Within the grounds there is a celebrated herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle and Ballindalloch is now the home of Scotland's first Single Estate distillery, which is also open to the public. The Ballindalloch Castle Golf Course was designed by Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie. The Tomintoul Distillery, situated in the highest village in the Highlands, and the J. & G. Grant family owned Glenfarclas Distillery are both located nearby.

After Charlestown of Aberlour, the A941 travels north towards Rothes and Elgin and south to Balvenie and Dufftown. Charlestown of Aberlour takes its name from Charles Grant of Elchies who named the town for his son. The well-known shortbread manufacturer Walkers has its headquarters here. Two miles away is the confluence of the River Spey and River Fiddich where that great civil engineer Thomas Telford designed the Craigellachie Bridge. Craigellachie is the home of the Craigellachie and Macallan distilleries, and home to the Speyside Cooperage which is well worth a visit. It is also a popular stopping off point for walkers following the Speyside Way, a long distant path leading from Aviemore to Buckie in the north.

Enclosed by massive curtain walls, the ruins of Balvenie Castle, once the seat of the powerful Comyn earls of Buchan, are maintained by Historic Scotland and open to the public from April to September. Dufftown, once known as Mortlach, was originally established in the 19th Century by James Duff, 4th Earl of Fife to house soldiers returning from conflicts abroad. A Highland Games is held here in July and again, with its Dufftown Whisky and Heritage Centre in Conval Street, the town sits on Scotland's Malt Whisky Trail and enthusiastically participates in the annual Speyside Whisky Festival.

The Glenfiddich Distillery, belonging to William Grant & Sons, is situated nearby.

Turning north, the A941 arrives at Rothes, home of the Glen Grant, Glen Rothes, Glen Spey and Speyburn. Rothes Castle was built around 1200 by one Peter de Pollok, and was commandeered by King Edward I of England during his 1296 invasion. In the following century, it passed to the Leslie family who became earls of Rothes and who, around 1700, sold much of their land in the region to the earls of Seafield.

At Keith, again on the Speyside Malt Whisky Trail, there is the Strathisla Distillery dating from 1786. Here can also be found the Keith Kilt and Textile Company, Scotland's original kilt school.

From the City of Inverness, the Highland Capital, the A96 travels east along the Moray Firth. On the 16 April 1746, the followers of Prince Charles Edward Stuart were confronted on Culloden Moor by British Government troops commanded by the Duke of Cumberland, the youngest son of King George II. With over 1,200 of the Prince's soldiers killed in just one hour, it was the battle that would finally put to an end to the Jacobite cause to take over the throne of Great Britain.

In the aftermath, British soldiers ruthlessly plundered the Highlands in search of the fugitive Bonny Prince Charlie who, following a series of heroic exploits on-the-run, escaped to France in September. With a victorious Government determined to undermine Gaelic culture and destroy the powers and influence of the Highland Chiefs and their clans, life in the Highlands of Scotland would never be the same again.

Seven miles from Inverness on the B9006, the National Trust for Scotland has created a superb exhibition and award winning visitor centre which is open throughout the year. A hand-held audio device with multi-language dialogue is available to take out-of-doors and explore the battlefield site.

After Newton and passing Inverness Airport on the left, the A96 arrives at Nairn, whose inhabitants always insist that they live in Nairnshire, which, of course, they do. With the proximity of sandy beaches Nairn is an immensely popular holiday destination with 40 golf courses to choose from within a sixty mile radius. Major events over the summer season include the Nairn Agricultural Show on 1 August at Kinnudie Farm, Auldearn; the Macallan Nairn Highland Games on 16 August, and the Nairn Book and Arts Festival from 1 to 6 September.

Five miles south west of Nairn is Cawdor Castle, celebrated by William Shakespeare in his Scottish Play. Built around a 15th Century tower there have been substantial additions. Originally held by Clan Calder, it passed to the Campbells in the 16th Century. Family owned, it is open to the public from May until October.

Kilravock House is also on the outskirts of Nairn and has been the home of the Rose family since 1290. It was here that Prince Charles Edward Stuart was entertained on the eve of battle in 1746 while the Duke of Cumberland took up residence at the Rose's town house in Nairn. Today, Kilravock Castle and its environs are owned by the Kilravock Castle Christian Trust and it is available for B&B accommodation, weddings, and guided tours.

The Royal Burgh of Forres, with its award winning floral sculptures, has been a regular winner of the Britain in Bloom award. The town also boasts Sueno's Stone, a 20 ft high carved Pictish thought to commemorate a battle against Norse invaders. On 27 June, the town will host the European Pipe Band Championships at Piping at Forres held in Grant's Park. This fun, family-friendly event is sponsored by Benromach Speyside Single Malt with 120 pipe bands from around the world ( The fascinating Dallas Dhu Museum in Mabbachie Road provides visitors with a malt whisky time capsule throughout the year.

Another notable attraction just outside the town is the 16th Century Brodie Castle, a veritable treasure trove of paintings and antiques. The ancestral home of the Brodies of Brodie, it is opened to the public by the National Trust for Scotland.

On Findhorn Bay is the Findhorn Ecovillage, one of the largest international charitable trust communities in Britain. There is no formal doctrine or creed involved and the foundation provides an enormously popular programme of workshops and events relating to spiritual values in everyday life.

Darnaway Castle, located at the nearby village of Croy, is the ancestral home of the earls of Moray. Although it was rebuilt in 1810, it retains its medieval banqueting hall with an impressive hammerbeam ceiling. There is a Darnaway Farm Visitor Centre at Tearie from which afternoon trips explore the forest and castle.

Elgin, south of the River Lossie, is the administrative centre for Moray and first appears in a Charter from David I in 1151, becoming a royal Burgh in 1130. Dominican and Franciscan (Greyfriars) monks established communities here and Elgin Cathedral was established in 1224. Abandoned after the Scottish Reformation of 1560, it fell into disrepair and what remains today is looked after by Historic Scotland.

Elgin Castle once stood on Lady Hill overlooking the town, but after being irreparably damaged by the Covenanters and the Marquis of Montrose in 1645 was abandoned. Since 1839, the skyline has been dominated by an 80ft monument commemorating the soldier/politician 5th Duke of Gordon, who commanded the Gordon Highlanders regiment.

In the 21st Century, however, Elgin has become home to some of Scotland's most iconic brand names, notably the cashmere retailers Johnstons of Elgin, and the family run Scotch whisky retailers Gordon & MacPhail.

Travelling up from Elgin to the north east Moray Firth Coast, the BA941 leads to Lossiemouth, known locally as the ‘Jewel of the Moray Firth’. Originally Elgin's port, it was once an important fishing town and in 1866, was the birthplace of James Ramsay MacDonald, Britain's first Labour Prime Minister. In more recent years it has been the base of RAF Lossiemouth, one of the main operating bases of the Royal Air Force.

Back on the A96, the road travels eastwards into Banffshire towards the North Sea coastal fishing towns of Buckie, Cullen and Portsoy. Cullen, of course, is celebrated worldwide for its traditional soup Cullen Skink. Cullen House, the former mansion house of the earls of Seafield, has been converted into residential apartments.

To the south, from Elgin, the A68 runs to Fochabers and the Baxters Highland Village, a popular retail park centred on the celebrated Baxters soup company. The Fochabers Folk Museum, which opened in 1984, houses a collection of gigs and carriages, and an exhibition celebrating RAF Dallachy, the nearby World War II fighting station.

Visitor Information
National Rail Enquiries
Tel: +44 (0) 8457 484 950

Bus and Coach Services and Travel Information
Tel: +44 (0) 8712 002 233

General visitor information
Tel: +44 (0) 8452 255 121

Recommended Itinerary

From the winter ski and summer recreational resort of Aviemore, travel east through the Cairngorm National Park and into the heartland of Speyside with its rich history, rolling landscape of hills, pastoral farmland, and many inviting distilleries.

Distance: 50 miles via A95 / A941
Approximate time by car, without delays: 1 hour and 16 minutes

A9 Aviemore: The village of Aviemore sprang up in 1898 as a railway junction, but with the opening of a Cairngorms chairlift in 1961 became one of the first ski and winter sports destinations to be opened in Scotland. Since then, the Aviemore Centre has developed into an immensely popular holiday resort for hill walking and outdoor activities. There is an excellent choice of accommodation ranging from resort hotels to bed and breakfasts and self catering lodges.

A95 Grantown-on-Spey: With its situation on the River Spey on the northern flank of the Cairngorm National Park, this is a delightful and traditional small Highland town from which to explore the surrounding countryside. Since 2011, it has been the home of the Strathspey Camanachd Shinty Club

A95 Ballindalloch: This small village on the River Spey is close to Ballindalloch Castle, the home of the Macpherson-Grant family who have continuously lived there for centuries. In addition to the family owned distillery, Clare Macpherson-Grant Russell, the Lady Laird, has produced a series of I Love Food recipe books.

A95 Aberlour: Although its full name is Charlestown of Aberlour, this has been shortened over the centuries. It is the home of Walkers Shortbread, and the location of the preparatory school for Gordonstoun School.

A95 Craigellachie: Superseded by a reinforced concrete road bridge, the elegant cast iron bridge which spans the River Spey, and which is now open only to foot and bicycle traffic, was built in the 19th Century by the celebrated engineer Thomas Telford. It has been given Catagory-A Listing by Historic Scotland.

A941 Rothes: If one small town in this region deserves the title of Whisky Town, then it is Rothes, being the home of Speyburn-Glenlivet, Glen Grant, Glen Spey and Glenrothes. Occupying 22 acres on the Glen Grant Distillery site is the Glen Grant Garden, which with its cherry orchards and spectacular rhododendrons in season, is a delight to explore.

A941 Elgin: A cathedral town dating from the 12th Century, Elgin is Moray's administrative centre. Visited by Edward I of England in the 13th Century and burned by the Wolf of Badenoch in the 14th Century. The town is situated on the A96 trunk road.

Where to Visit

1. Cawdor Castle
Nairn IV12 5RD
15th Century home of the Thanes of Cawdor. Superb gardens.
Tel: +44 (0) 1667 404 401

2. Ballindalloch Castle
Ballindalloch AB37 9AX
Family home of the Macpherson Grants since 1546.
Tel: +44 (0) 1807 500 205

3. Brodie Castle
Forres IV36 2TE
Ancestral seat of the Brodies of Brodie. National Trust for Scotland.
Tel: +44 (0) 1309 641 371

4. Culloden Visitor Centre
Culloden IV2 5EU
Site of the Jacobite defeat in 1746. Open daily from 24 January to 23 December.
Tel: +44 (0) 8444 932 159

5. The Speyside Centre
Skye of Curr Road, Grantown-on-Spey PH26 3PA
Heathers and wildlife. Award winning visitor centre.
Tel: +44 (0) 1479 851 359

6. Pluscarden Abbey
Elgin IV30 8UA
Operational Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery. Visitors welcome.
Tel: +44 (0) 1343 890 257

7. Falconer Museum
Tolbooth Street, Forres IV36 1PH
Founded in 1871. Houses a wealth of artefacts relating to Moray.
Tel: +44 (0) 1309 673 701

8. Findhorn Foundation
Findhorn, Forres IV36 3TC
A spiritual education centre and eco-village.
Tel: +44 (0) 1309 690 311

9. Dallas Dhu Visitor Centre
Forres IV36 2RR
Historic Scotland time capsule museum celebrating Scotch.
Tel: +44 (0) 1309 676 548

10. Baxters Highland Village
Fochabers IV32 7LD
Family friendly home of the famous soups and speciality food products.
Tel: +44 (0) 1343 820 666

11. Elgin Museum
Elgin IV30 1EQ
Scotland's oldest independent museum, owned and managed by The Moray Society.
Tel: +44 (0) 1343 543 675

12. Speyside Cooperage
Craigellachie AB38 9RS
The only working cooperage in the UK. Explore the life of the cask.
Tel: +44 (0) 1340 871 108

Where to Stay

13. Cluny Bank Hotel
69 St Leonard's Road, Forres IV36 1DW
Quietly sophisticated hotel restaurant providing a warm welcome.
Tel: +44 (0) 1309 674 304

14. Knockomie Hotel
Forres IV36 2SG
Attractive gardens and welcoming individually styled rooms.
Tel: +44 (0) 1309 673 146

15. Dowans Hotel
Aberlour AB38 9LS
Baronial style with 19 en suite bedrooms and an excellent restaurant.
Tel: +44 (0) 1340 871 488

16. Aberlour Hotel
Aberlour AB38 9QB
Family run with 19 beautifully designed bedrooms.
Tel: +44 (0) 1340 871 287

17. The Mansfield
Elgin IV30 1NY
Individually designed bedrooms and elegant restaurant.
Tel: +44 (0) 1343 540 883

18. The Newton Hotel
Nairn IV2 4RX
Set in 21 acres. A favourite holiday retreat for the legendary Charlie Chaplin.
Tel: +44 (0) 8431 787 133

19. Highlander Inn
Craigellachie AB38 9SR
Favourite haunt of the Scotch Whisky crowd. Five en suite bedrooms plus two houses.
Tel: +44 (0) 1340 881 520

20. Craigellachie Hotel
Craigellachie AB38 9SR
Splendid riverside mansion re-opened after a major refurbishment in 2014.
Tel: +44 (0) 1340 881 204

21. Laichmoray Hotel
Elgin IV30 1QR
Family run hotel with 34 individually styled rooms.
Tel: +44 (0) 1343 540 045

22. Muckrach Country House Hotel
Granton-on-Spey PH26 3LY
Family owned and recently renovated reflecting Victorian grandeur.
Tel: +44 (0) 1479 851 227

23. Glendalloch House
Glenlivet AB37 9EB
Bed and breakfast on the River Avon.
Tel: +44 (0) 1907 590 424

24. Delnashaugh Hotel
Ballindalloch, Banffshire AB37 9AS
Family run hotel with restaurant and bar.
Tel: +44 (0) 1907 500 379

Where to Eat

25. A Taste of Speyside
10 Balvenie Street, Keith AB55 4AB
Yummy salmon and Whiskied Haggis. Closed Sundays.
Tel: +44 (0) 1340 820 860

26. The Mash Tun
Aberlour AB38 9QP
Great food and Scotch.
Tel: +44 (0) 1340 881 771

27. The Highlander Inn
Craigellachie AB38 9SR
Clubroom with outdoor patio.
Tel: +44 (0) 1340 881 446

28. The Croft Inn
Shenval, Glenlivet, Ballindalloch AB37 9DP
Excellent cuisine. Restaurant closed Monday and Tuesday.
Tel: +44 (0) 1807 590 361

29. Simply Red
Tolbooth Street, Forres IV363TS
Home baking, seafood, tapas, vegetarian.
Tel: +44 (0) 1309 676 737

30. Anderson's Restaurant
Deshar Road, Boat of Garten PH24 3BN
Family friendly with excellent cuisine
Tel: +44 (0) 1479 831 466

31. The Buffer Stop
Dufftown Station AB55 4BA
Easter to September. Lunch and afternoon teas in a restaurant car.
Tel: +44 (0) 1340 821 181

32. Franklin's Restaurant
Cluny Bank Hotel, Forres IV36 1DW
Tantalising options and skilled presentation.
Tel: +44 (0) 1309 674 304

33. Sunninghill Hotel
Elgin IV30 1NH
Popular with locals and advisable to book in advance.
Tel: +44 (0) 1343 547 799

34. Mezzo Bar Eaterie & A La Carte
Mansfield Hotel, Elgin IV30 1NY
Seafood and Scottish cuisine.
Tel: +44 (0) 1343 540 883

35. The Grill Restaurant
Knockomie Hotel, Forres IV36 2SG
Great little inn on outskirts of town.
Tel: +44 (0) 1309 673 146

36. Noah's Ark Licensed Bistro
Dufftown AB55 4AB
Small bistro attached to B&B.
Tel: +44 (0) 1340 821 428