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A place with dolphins in the bay and red squirrels in the trees, where historical towns dot the map and centuries-old distilleries produce world-class whisky.
Picture a land of clear rivers and ancient forests. A place with dolphins in the bay and red squirrels in the trees, where historical towns dot the map and centuries-old distilleries produce world-class whisky. Somewhere to stop, look, listen, and breathe. You’d think such a region would be heaving with tour buses, but despite being a wedge of prime-grade Scottish countryside – with the Moray Firth to the north and the Cairngorms to the south – the Moray Speyside area often gets overlooked. A quick tip: don’t do the same.
Travellers who make the journey have serious rewards in store. As well as its celebrated whisky, it has a stunner of a coastlin, lined with pale sandy beaches, rampant cliffs and characterful little fishing villages, while the mighty River Spey is an attraction in its own right, flowing and frothing its way from the mountains to the coast, where it empties into the sea-life-rich Spey Bay. Elsewhere you’ll find – among many other things – the farmland plains of the Laich of Moray, the peaks and valleys of the northern Cairngorms, and one of the best Dark Sky Parks in the UK.
This is also an area thick with tradition. Highland Games have had a prominent role in local culture since the days of the clan system, and the local Scots dialect known as Doric – while not in wide use – still has a part to play in Moray’s overall personality.
It’s said that more than half of all distilleries in Scotland are based here in Moray Speyside, meaning that when many people think of the region, they do so through the golden hue of a whisky optic. But a wee (or not so wee) dram is just one part of Moray’s rich appeal, which blends rugged scenery and coastal drama with riverside walks, fishing villages and age-old customs – not to mention a lively contemporary cultural scene.
Archaeological remains hint at a fairly large local population in the Stone and Bronze Ages, although the region’s more tangible history kicks off in the 4th century, when the Picts occupied the area. It spent several hundred years under Pictish rule until Kenneth I united the region with the lands of the Scots in the 9th century, and after several bloody battles against Vikings, the ancient province subsequently provided two 11th-century kings (including Macbeth) to the Scottish throne. Later, Robert the Bruce designated the county of Moray as an earldom, gifting it to his nephew in the early 14th century.
The rippling unrest of the English Civil Wars saw many local villages decimated, but by the 1700s, the Scottish Enlightenment witnessed a rise in living standards, with new harbours and fertile farmland. The Highland Clearances had their own impact on the region, with many displaced locals emigrating across the Atlantic. On a more positive note, the arrival of the railways in 1850s helped transport fresh seafood to market, boosting the Moray fishing industry. Today, the region’s main sources of income lie in timber, whisky, and livestock.
Moray is serviced by Stagecoach buses, which connect it with neighbouring Aberdeenshire, as well as a number of smaller, rural coaches. There are two train stations that connect Moray with other regional services. Moray is also easily travelable by car with a number of major roads, though more rural areas can be trickier.
Getting to Moray
The closest airports to Moray are Aberdeen and Inverness, both just over an hour away. Trains are available from major Scottish stations, including Glasgow and Edinburgh, but will often connect through Aberdeen for regional services. By road, Moray is best accessed by the A90 road through the Cairngorms.
When to go
The region gets the best weather during the summer months, so for maximum sunshine, Moray is best visited from June to September. Winters are certainly colder and if you can brave it, you’ll find the most consistent snowfall in the UK around Moray and further north.
Where to stay
The commercial and administrative centre of Moray is Elgin, where 25% of the population lives. Because of the rural nature of the county, its larger towns have more options for accommodation, including hotels. The smaller villages and towns are popular holiday home spots, including Cullen and Portgordon.
Eating & drinking
Its proximity to both the Highlands and the coast means there’s plenty to indulge in here, including the local speciality Cullen Skink – a soup made of smoked haddock, potatoes and onions. Much like other coastal counties, the seafood here is unmissable, particularly the wild salmon. The region is also well-known for its craft gins and beers produced locally.
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