Showing posts from April, 2012

Walk: Mar Lodge Estate - bash through the Clais

The National Trust for Scotland's Mar Lodge Estate covers 7% of the Cairngorms National Park, incorporating four of the UK's highest five hills. Taking a hike here doesn't have to involve climbing Munros though, as the region also contains some of the most beautiful glens in Scotland. The treeless Clais Fhearnaig (Hollow of the Alders) connects the pine-filled glens of Quoich and Lui, concealing a sheltered lochan in its narrow confines: an idyllic spot and perfect place for a picnic. Don't miss the Linn of Quoich near the start (attractive rapids rather than a dramatic waterfall), with the round Punch Bowl pothole just above the footbridge. Depending on which legend you believe, the Earl of Mar poured spirit inside to toast either successful deer hunts or the Jacobite cause.

📌 Walk: Mar Lodge Estate - bash through the Clais ★★★☆☆
▶ 16 km / 10 miles | ▲ 410 metres | ⌚ Full day walk
Points of interest: Mar Lodge Estate; Linn of Quoich; Clais Fhearnaig
Start / finish: Spa…

Walk: Solitude's overrated but the North Esk isn't...

The Rocks of Solitude is the evocative name given to a picturesque stretch of the River Esk as it passes through a narrow cleft on the fringes of the Cairngorms. You could park here, but this spot's beauty is equalled by several other rocky defiles between here and Edzell village, a few miles downstream. Instead, tracing the bank all the way from the village gives a rewarding tour of the various gorge sections interspersed with verdant forest and farmland, culminating in the Rocks of Solitude themselves. This is basically a there-and-back walk, but a maze of paths at the far end means you can vary the beginning of the return route, as well as south of Gannochy Bridge where you can head back on the opposite bank to the outward leg.

📌 Walk: Solitude's overrated but the North Esk isn't... ★★★☆☆
▶ 11 km / 7 miles | ▲ 70 metres | ⌚ Half day walk
Points of interest: River North Esk; Rocks of Solitude gorge
Start / finish: Street parking at Edzell post office, G.R.: NO 601689 ///c…

Duffus Castle & Church

Duffus is a perfectly rectangular village on the road between the county capital of Elgin and the coastal village of Hopeman on the Moray Firth. It's probably best known for the private boarding school of Gordonstoun, but its key draw for tourists is Duffus Castle. This has to be one of the most interesting castles in Scotland that's still free to visit, partially on a prominent motte but collapsing slowly (comically, even) down the hillside. Closer to the village, the roofless ruin of St Peter's Kirk is also worth a look, with a medieval mercat (market) cross in the graveyard.

📌Duffus Castle★★★☆☆
Description: Outstanding 12th century motte and bailey ruin, once belonging to the Moray family.
Location: Off minor road 2 miles southeast of Duffus village, G.R.: NJ 189672 ///nosedive.crackling.fallen
Open: Always
Cost: Free

📌St Peter's Kirk and Parish Cross★☆☆☆☆
Description: Place of worship since at least 1190, now a roofless ruin cared for by Historic Scotland.
Location: Min…

Pluscarden Abbey

Time seems to stand still at Pluscarden Abbey, a Benedictine monastery founded in 1230 and still inhabited by monks. It's hard to think of a more tranquil place anywhere in Scotland, with an almost impossibly perfect location in the glen of the Black Burn amidst gently rolling forest and hillside several miles from Elgin, the nearest town. The interior is stunning, extensively restored from the partial ruin it had become by the beginning of the 20th century: wander round in silence or attend one of the daily mass services.

📌Pluscarden Abbey★★☆☆☆
Location: Minor road 6 miles south-west of Elgin, G.R.: NJ 142576 ///
Open (2019): Daily
Cost: Free


Seaside resort and commuter town for Inverness, Nairn has long been a popular tourist destination. Like most of the towns strung along the A96, the best parts have to be actively sought out as they're hidden from the main road: an attractive High Street on one side, and a fine beach to the north. Also check out Boath Doocot (a few miles to the east of the town) and Brodie Castle (a few miles further).

📌Nairn ★★☆☆☆
Location: G.R.: NH 884565 ///deeds.fountain.refuse

Within walking distance

📌Nairn beaches ★★★☆☆
Description: Nairn's main draw: miles of sand with views across the Moray Firth.
Location (west beach): NH 882571 ///scuba.dollar.explained
Anything else: The west beach is closer to the town centre and the most popular; the east beach across the river is longer and quieter.

>> Nairn Museum (not yet featured)


📌Boath Doocot★☆☆☆☆
Description: 17th century doocot atop an ancient motte.
Location: Doocot Road, Auldearn village centre, G.R.: NH 917556 ///…

Spynie Palace

With surviving parts dating from the 1300's and seat of the bishops of Moray for five centuries, Spynie Palace is an extensive and formidable ruin. David's Tower dominates the site: six floors and in a far better state of repair than the other buildings dotted around the former courtyard. For some reason we didn't warm to it. Perhaps it's the stark, LEGO-block-like shape of the tower, or the ugly modern roof fitted to the top of it. It completes the story of Elgin Cathedral though, and good value, joint tickets covering both are available.

📌Spynie Palace★★☆☆☆
Location: Off A941 3 miles north of Elgin, G.R.: NJ 231659 ///aimless.losing.ships
Open (2019): Daily, April to September
Cost (2019): £5 (adults), £3 (children), free for Historic Environment Scotland members


Entering Elgin on one of its main roads doesn't really the first-time visitor the most favourable of impressions. Especially from the east, a series of scruffy retail parks and light industry makes it tempting to carry on through without stopping. Fortunately things improve if you venture off the main roads. An attractive town centre lies hidden away just to the south of the A96 with a pedestrianised High Street dominated by the Greek-style St Giles' Church; our go-to restaurant here is Scribbles (an excellent independent pizzeria with a massive menu). Away to the north is the huge site of Elgin Cathedral: now very much ruined but still emanating grandeur eight hundred years after construction. On the western outskirts of town beyond the Duke of Gordon Monument is Glen Moray Distillery, part of Scotland's Malt Whisky Trail. This is a bit of a walk if you don't have a car, but worth it for the excellent tour.

📌Elgin ★★☆☆☆
Location: G.R.: NJ 216628 ///duke.emerge.dining


Maiden Stone

This 3-metre tall cross-slab is one of Aberdeenshire's most impressive Pictish stones, not far from the A96 a few miles north-west of Inverurie. The stone features intriguing Pictish symbols plus (possibly) a Biblical depiction of Jonah and whales. Local folklore tells that the stone was once a maiden, turned to stone after losing a bet with the devil. We can't quite see the likeness, but pay a visit and decide for yourself...

📌Maiden Stone★★☆☆☆
Location: Minor road a mile west of Chapel of Garioch, G.R.: NJ 704247 ///just.intrigues.maps
Open: Always
Cost: Free

Walk: Hungry for a Pressendye panorama

Prominent enough for great views yet not high enough to attract crowds, Pressendye makes a perfect objective for a long half-day's walk. The broad upswelling of Morven dominates views on the first half of the walk, before Lochnagar's northern coire muscles in on the panorama higher up on the ridge. Starting in Tarland splits up the road walking (happily, on quiet lanes). Don't count on the village shop selling sandwiches: cold cooked pizza really didn't do the trick in 2012.

📌 Walk: Hungry for a Pressendye panorama ★★★☆☆
▶ 15 km / 9 miles | ▲ 560 metres | ⌚ Full day walk
Main summits: Broom Hill (576 metres); Pressendye (619 metres, Graham)
Start / finish: Street parking in Tarland village square, G.R.: NJ 481044 ///awards.relaxing.excavate

Route: Start - Easter Davoch - Tom Breck - Broom Hill - Pressendye - west side of Pittenderich - west side of Doune Hill - rejoin road at G.R.: NJ 481054 - start
Terrain: Minor roads to start and finish. Remainder largely on woodland a…

Walk: Ben Rinnes wins!

So often clag-free when the main bulk of the Cairngorms to the south is shrouded in low cloud, Ben Rinnes is an excellent option for a shorter hill walk perhaps if the weather isn't playing ball elsewhere. The views to the Moray Firth and inland to the Cairngorms are superb, which is unsurprising given how often you can see Ben Rinnes from other parts of north-east Scotland. Glenfarclas Distillery sits at the base of the hill to the north: reward yourself with a dram after summiting maybe?

📌 Walk: Ben Rinnes wins! ★★★★☆
▶ 8 km / 5 miles | ▲ 540 metres | ⌚ Half day walk
Main summits: Ben Rinnes (841 metres, Corbett)
Start / finish: Car park on minor road 4 miles south-west of Dufftown, G.R.: NJ 285359 ///stint.rhino.notice

Route: Car park - Ben Rinnes by east ridge - return to start by outward route
Terrain: Wide, clear path (track to start) with some steep sections.
Wildlife today: Mostly quiet.
Weather today: Sunny to start with some cloud building. Chilly wind and quite cold for Apri…

Macduff Marine Aquarium

Macduff's history is inextricably linked to the richness of the sea, so it seems fitting that it's also home to an excellent marine aquarium: in fact the only one on the east coast north of the Highland / Lowland boundary, and with a major refurbishment in 2017. Different sections of the building represent the different wildlife found in each of the Moray Firth's marine zones, with the star of the show a massive kelp tank that's open to the sky. So no man-eating sharks here, but good value and a fascinating diversion for an hour or so. Tickets are valid for the whole day, so you can nip out for, erm, a fish supper before continuing your visit.

📌Macduff Marine Aquarium★★★☆☆
Location: High Shore, Macduff town centre, G.R.: NJ 708648 ///other.meatballs.snail
Open (2019): Daily, April to October; Saturday to Wednesday, November to March
Cost (2019): £7.25 (adults), £4.25 (children)

Banff & Macduff

These two rival towns are quite different despite their proximity to one another, sitting either side of the turbulent River Deveron. On the west bank, Banff feels the slightly the more polished and bigger of the two settlements, boasting a reasonable array of shops, golf club and the ornate Georgian mansion of Duff House. But Macduff to the east seems more charming somehow: it has a more obvious connection to the sea, with a main road hugging the waterfront and a larger harbour. It's also the slightly unlikely location for an excellent aquarium. There's a great view of both towns from Macduff Parish Church on Church Street. Neither place is at all touristy, which is quite refreshing in comparison to some of the fishing villages further west.

📌Banff ★★☆☆☆
Location (Town Hall): G.R.: NJ 690640 / d///

📌Macduff ★★☆☆☆
Location (harbour): G.R.:NJ 704648 ///backyards.landscape.supporter

Within walking distance

📌Duff House★★☆☆☆
Description: Elegant Georgian house design…

Walk: Alvah Bridge over troubled water

The River Deveron is a mighty thing. Prone to flash flooding, past spate events have left a legacy of destroyed bridges and flooded homes over the centuries. Perhaps its due to these sudden changes in water level that few paths seem to run close to the most scenic sections of the river course, but at the Bridge of Alvah there's an exception. Here, a 17th century, single-arched bridge soars high above the suddenly dramatic gorge: an unexpected snapshot of Highland drama amongst otherwise gently rolling countryside. This all used to form part of the estate of Duff House, the impressive Georgian mansion at the start of the route on the outskirts of Banff.

📌 Walk: Alvah Bridge over troubled water ★★☆☆☆
▶ 6 km / 4 miles | ▲ 100 metres | ⌚ Short walk
Points of interest: Duff House; Duff House Mausoleum; Bridge of Alvah
Start / finish: Car park at Duff House, south side of Banff, G.R.: NJ 689633 ///ironclad.graceful.flows

Route: Car park & Duff House - Duff House Mausoleum - Mount Carm…