Showing posts from April, 2012

Walk: Mar Lodge Estate - bash through the Clais

Aberdeenshire | Braemar | Full day walk | ★★★

The National Trust for Scotland's Mar Lodge Estate covers 7% of the Cairngorms National Park, incorporating 4 of the UK's highest 5 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 ★★★
Start / finish at Victoria Bridge (space for a couple of cars only), minor road 3 mi west of Braemar, …

Duffus Castle & Church

Moray| 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 12th century Duffus Castle, which once belonged to the Moray family. 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: a place of worship since at least 1190, with a medieval mercat (market) cross in the graveyard.

Location & info

📌 Duffus Castle★★★
Off minor road 2 mi southeast of Duffus village, G.R.: NJ 189672 ///nosedive.crackling.fallen
Always open | Free

📌 St Peter's Kirk and Parish Cross
By minor road immediately east of Duffus village, G.R.: NJ 175687 ///monks.…


Moray | Village | ★

Little Burghead is situated at the east end of the 7-mile golden crescent of Burghead Bay. The settlement has been populated since at least Pictish times, and is still an important regional capital with a major fort and subterranean shrine - both of which you can still visit - belying the village's small size. January 11th each year sees the Burning of the Clavie - a historic fire festival - celebrated here. At the other end of the bay is Findhorn, with its own unusual appeal. Besides its beautiful position, almost surrounded by water and perched atop fragile sand dunes, it's also home to the Findhorn Foundation: eco-community and a thriving centre for alternative living.


📌 Burghead ★
Moray, G.R.: NJ 112690 ///curbed.began.butchers

🚶 Aside from the village itself, the coast path allows walkers access to nearby scenic spots and settlements.
🚌 There's a bus service from Elgin.

See & do (<1 mi away)

📌 Burghead Fort
Description: Earthworks …

Pluscarden Abbey

Moray | Miltonduff | 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.

Location & info

📌 Pluscarden Abbey★★
By minor road 3 mi southwest of Miltonduff, G.R.: NJ 142576 ///
Open daily | Free

Spynie Palace

Moray | Elgin | Palace | ★★

With surviving parts dating from the 1300s and seat of the bishops of Moray for 5 centuries, Spynie Palace is an extensive and formidable ruin. David's Tower dominates the site: 6 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 was because of 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.

Location & info

📌 Spynie Palace★★
Off the A941 3 mi north of Elgin, G.R.: NJ 231659 ///aimless.losing.ships
Open daily, April to September | £6 adult / £3.60 child / free for Historic Environment Scotland members. Joint ticket with Elgin Cathedral available.


Moray | Town | ★★

Entering Elgin on one of its main roads doesn't really give first-time visitors 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 800 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 ★★
Moray, G.R.: NJ 216628 ///duke.e…

Maiden Stone

Aberdeenshire | Chapel of Garioch | Standing stone | ★★

This 3 metre-tall cross-slab is one of Aberdeenshire's most impressive Pictish stones, not far from the A96 a few miles northwest 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...

Location & info

📌 Maiden Stone★★
By minor road 1 mi west of Chapel of Garioch, G.R.: NJ 704247 ///just.intrigues.maps
Always open | Free

Walk: Hungry for a Pressendye panorama

Aberdeenshire | Tarland | Full day walk | ★★★

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 ★★★
Start / finish in Tarland village square (street parking), G.R.: NJ 481044 ///awards.relaxing.excavate

▶ 15 km / 9 mi | ▲ 560 m | ⌚ Full day | ⬤ Moderate
Summits: Broom Hill (576 m); Pressendye (619 m, Graham)
Terrain: Minor roads to start and finish. Remainder largely on woodland and moorland tracks, some path sections. Fairly sustained ascent to Broom Hill.

Route & map

Start - Easter Davoch - Tom Breck - Br…

Walk: Ben Rinnes wins!

Moray | Dufftown | Half day walk | ★★★★

So often free of clag 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 northeast Scotland. The Scurran of Well granite tors (a mile northwest of the summit) are well worth visiting as a pathless extension to the route. Glenfarclas Distillery sits at the base of the hill to the north: reward yourself with a dram after summiting maybe?

📌 Walk: Ben Rinnes wins! ★★★★
Start / finish at car park on minor road 4 mi southwest of Dufftown, G.R.: NJ 285359 ///stint.rhino.notice

▶ 8 km / 5 mi | ▲ 540 m | ⌚ Half a day | ⬤ Moderate
Summits: Ben Rinnes (841 metres, Corbett)
Terrain: Wide, clear path (track to start) with some steep sections.

Route & map

Car park - Ben Rin…

Macduff Marine Aquarium

Aberdeenshire | Macduff | 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 this is the only one on the east coast north of the Highland / Lowland boundary. 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.

Location & info

📌 Macduff Marine Aquarium★★★
High Shore, Macduff town centre, G.R.: NJ 708648 ///other.meatballs.snail
Open daily, late March to October; Saturday to Wednesday, November to late March | £7.50 adult / £4.40 child

Banff & Macduff

Aberdeenshire | Towns | ★★

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 somehow we find Macduff, to the east, more charming; 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 ★★
Aberdeenshire. The town hall is at G.R.: NJ 690640 ///

📌 Macduff ★★
Aberdeenshire. The harbour is at G.R.:NJ 704648 ///backyards.landscape.supporter

🚶 The two towns are a…

Walk: Alvah Bridge over troubled water

Aberdeenshire | Banff | Short walk | ★★

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 ★★
Start / finish at Duff House car park, 10-min walk south of Banff town centre, G.R.: NJ 689633 ///ironclad.graceful.flows

▶ 6 km / 4 mi | ▲ 100 m | ⌚ Short | ⬤ Easy
Features: Duff House; Duff House Mausoleum; Bridge of Alvah
Terrain: Woodland tracks an…