When I think about the picturesque villages that cling to the Moray Firth, these are the snapshots that come to mind: white-washed cottages, splashed with colour; narrow lanes running between rows of weathered houses; harbours that gather in restless boats; a frame of long, swaying grass against a sandy beach; old dinghy boats planted with flowers; piles of stones, shells and blue-netted lobster pots adorning gardens and doorsteps.
I grew up on the Moray Coast and despite living abroad for a few years, it is here that will always be home. Here where I instantly feel calmer; where I go when worries weigh on my shoulders; where I find comfort and solace, with the soothing whisper of ‘sshhh’ in my ear.
If you want to lose yourself in a maze of lanes, contemplate life from the top of a sea-facing dune or collect spectacular sunsets, head for the Moray and Banffshire Coast.
Findhorn in Scotland
This is where I spent many a summer as a child, and I have written a great deal about my love for this pretty village and its teardrop bay. It is the most peaceful place to spend a few days and the subject of many paintings and photographs; with its mirror bay, dotted with boats and stapled by two piers, and long stretch of sandy beach, curving around a point.
Staying in a cottage in Findhorn recently, I discovered how lovely it is just wandering up and down the criss-cross of village lanes, admiring the traditional cottages and some examples of stunning modern architecture. My tips for visiting are 1. The Heritage Centre and the Ice House across the road for information on its fascinating history (it is actually the second village on this spot); 2. A wonderful (but longish) walk along the semi-circle stretch of beach between Findhorn, Roseisle (another little gem) and Burghead; 3. The Bakehouse Café for delicious food – they have an organic bakery next door and feature a range of tasty baked goods on their menu (and on Friday and Saturday evenings the Bakehouse turns into a pizza restaurant).
In 2012 a microbrewery opened in Lossiemouth and I think it is very aptly named – the Windswept Brewing Co. The residents of Lossiemouth are lucky to have two lovely beaches but my favourite is the wilder East Beach; I always feel slightly windswept and clear-headed after walking here. It’s a popular place for surfers as the waves heave onto the shore and I still love climbing up the dunes that line the beach. For some gorgeous views over the East Beach, take a left as you arrive in the town, coming from Elgin by car, and follow the road up the hill.
If you’re driving out of the town heading west along the coast, there is a great little 9 hole golf course and café not far from Lossiemouth, tucked away behind the cliffs. Look out for the signpost for the Covesea Golf Course on the right hand side as you’re leaving town (not too far past the lighthouse), and follow a track down to the secluded cove – The Tee Shack café is beside the car park.
Despite growing up sixty miles along the Moray Coast, I didn’t really explore the Banffshire Coast until a few years ago. And it was only very recently that I visited Cullen for the first time. (I guess you never explore what’s on your own doorstep). Cullen is sliced in half by its 19th century viaduct (which makes for lovely photographs), with the colourful cottages of the Seatown huddling in front of the beach and the newer part of the town built up on the hill behind the viaduct. Other than through the lanes of the Seatown and along Cullen’s wonderful beach, another good place to walk is along a stretch of rocky coastline, passing the harbour on your left and following the path towards Nelson’s Seat Viewpoint (look out for the Pet Cemetery on your right).
After your walk, make sure you visit Rockpool in the Square, up the hill from the harbour. This café/restaurant is a fantastic find, with a varied menu (including scrumptious local seafood dishes and an adorable lunch bucket for children) and charming, seaside-themed décor.
The second time I visited Portsoy was very different from the first. My first experience was a quiet walk around its beautiful 17th century harbour (the oldest along the Moray Firth); the second was during the Aberdeen Asset Scottish Traditional Boat Festival, when the harbour was flooded by a sea of people. It is a lovely place to visit outside of the festival, but it was a wonderful to experience the atmosphere of the harbour spilling over with crowds; traditional Scottish music filling the air and stalls lining the streets. As well as learning about all things boat related during the festival, you can enjoy the views from the harbour side, watch craft demonstrations and explore the town.
Whether you go during the festival or not, Portsoy is a great place to drink in the beauty of the coastal scenery. From the harbour you can walk up a grassy hill to the left, and take some nice shots from the top. One wall of a ruined house stands on the edge of the cliff, and its window makes a great frame for photos.
The jewel along the stretch of coast from Banff to Aberdeen is, in my opinion, picturesque Pennan (famously featured in the the 1980’s film, ‘Local Hero’). The quaint village is utterly charming, hidden away from the world as if it belongs to the cliffs that hunch protectively around it. The road down to the village is tight and twisting, leading down onto the only street in the village. Houses cluster along the cliff-edge of the street, as if shielding themselves from the elements, and the cobbled space between the street and the path along the water’s edge is scattered with benches and marked out by the wooden posts of washing lines. The view from the benches is quite something – the sea unfolds before you, rolling out to meet the horizon. (It is said to be a good spot for dolphin watching).
Driving back from Pennan towards Banff, I discovered an incredibly pretty bay not far along the road – Cullykhan Bay. Park at the top of the hill and walk down to the secluded beach. With a small beach and clear waters, it’s a great picnic spot. Look over to the right and you can see Pennan, tucked in the cliff-side.
Wherever you visit along the Moray Banffshire Coast, you’re sure to be charmed by the incredibly charismatic villages. And as a sign on the wall in the Cullen café, Rockpool, reads, ‘By the sea all worries wash away’…
Emma Gibb writes about holidays to Scotland for EmbraceScotland.