Amazing views from Nelson’s Tower

One of the best tourist attractions in Forres has reopened for the Summer.  Nelson’s Tower has now opened for the season – and is a great place to visit for both tourists and locals.

Nelson's Tower Cluny Hill Forres Moray Scotland
Nelson’s Tower stands proudly on Cluny Hill in Forres | Credit: Valenta

Nelson’s Tower stands proudly on Cluny Hill, looking over Forres.  The foundation stone was laid there by James Brodie in 1806, in memory of Admiral Lord Nelson.

The tower was created to commemorate the Lord Admiral’s victory in the Battle of Trafalgar, and took another six years before it was open to the public.

On the day of the grand opening, cannons fired a twenty-one gun salute.  It was said that these canons were with the first fleet at the bombardment of Alexandria.  These canons can still be seen at the entrance to the tower to this day.

Canons Nelson's Tower Forres Moray Scotland
The canons at the entrance of Nelson’s Tower | Credit: Forres Heritage Trust

Once inside, a steep spiral staircase of 97 steps leads you to the it’s highest point.  There are two stops on the way up, where you can view associated historic information on your trek to the top.

My favourite part of the tower is the amazing views from the top.  From the peak you can see a complete 360 of the surrounding area – the view of the Moray Firth is particularly breathtaking.

Nelson's Tower view Forres Heritage Trust
Nelson’s Tower offers fantastic views of Forres and the surrounding areas | Credit: Forres Heritage Trust

Nelson Tower really does have a lot to offer.  For keen walkers there is the surrounding Grant Park and the walk up Cluny Hill.  People who love nature can embrace the beautiful views and surroundings.  And for the history buffs there is plenty information about the background of the tower.

The tower is currently looked after by lovely volunteers from the Forres Heritage Trust, who are all very passionate and knowledgeable about the local area.  They are very helpful and keen to answer any questions you have.

It is open from 2pm to 4pm every day, from the beginning of April to the end of September, and entry is by donation.

Nelson’s Tower is only a 15 minute drive from Carden Cottages.  It is also near other great historic sites such as Sueno’s Stone, and is near some lovely cafes such as Timeout or The Peppermill.

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Spynie Palace is a must visit in Moray

One of my favourite castles in Moray reopens this month.  Spynie Palace has a rich history, beautiful scenery, and is well worth a visit if you are in the Moray area!

Spynie Palace Moray
The magnificent ruins of Spynie Palace | Credit: Mike Searle

Spynie Palace is actually the largest surviving medieval bishop’s house in Scotland.  It was the residence of the bishops of Moray for five centuries, with royalty travelling the area sometimes using it as a guesthouse.  James I, James II and James IV were among those who stayed at Spynie during their travels.

The palace originally sat at the edge of Spynie Loch, surrounded by a thriving settlement.  Today only ruins remain where the palace once stood – the loch tiny in comparison to its former self.

Due to its rich history, there are many stunning historic features of Spynie Castle to appreciate on your visit.  Some details are smaller than others – for example you can see the gun holes that the final Catholic Bishop of Spynie Palace, Patrick Hepburn, had put in place just before the Protestant Reformation of 1560.

The three bishops who played a part in the building of the tower house have their coats of arms displayed at Spynie Palace

My favourite part however, is David’s Tower.  The tower is the largest tower house by volume to survive in Scotland.  The top of the tower offers fantastic views of the spectacular countryside that the palace is located in, as well as the rest of the palace.

You can also find all three of the Bishop’s coat of arms who were parties to the creation of the tower house carved intricately into the ruins.

Due to its peaceful location, birds and other wildlife can also be spotted in the area.  Loch Spynie is actually a great location for bird watching – from mute swans, to ducks, to woodpeckers, many different birds have been spotted in the area.

swans Loch Spynie Moray
Swans, among many other birds, can be spotted at Loch Spynie | Credit: Des Colhoun

The palace is also a 10 minute drive to one of my other favourite tourist spots, Elgin Cathedral, which has a rich history, and I would recommend going there when you are in the area.

Tickets come at affordable prices, including: £6 per adult, £4.80 for people 60 and above, £3.60 for children, free for children under five and £1.00 for YoungScot Card Holders.

Despite the fact that Spynie Palace has shrunk from an incredible castle to ruins, it still has a remarkable grandeur about it.  I would definitely recommend a visit when you are staying with us at Carden Cottages – it’s less than a 20 minute drive!

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Delicious lunch at The Peppermill, Forres

Last week for a Friday treat I decided to pay a visit to another of my favourite Forres spots, The Peppermill.

The Peppermill Forres from High Street
The Peppermill in Forres is a popular café and restaurant, serving delicious food | Credit: The Peppermill

I was on Forres High Street when I decided to nip in for a spot of light lunch.  I was seated straight away by the window, which gave me a great view of all the goings on of the High Street.

There were lots of excellent choices on the lunch menu – from soup to battered Buckie haddock.  I opted for the Cajun chicken and mayonnaise baguette with a side of lovely homemade chips.

The service was speedy and before I knew it I had a beautifully delicious baguette in front of me.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that the baguette was much bigger than I expected.  The chicken was perfectly cooked, the sauce was deliciously creamy, and the bread was just the right balance between soft in the middle and crisp on the outside.

Chicken tikka and mayonnaise baguette from The Peppermill Forres
My chicken tikka and mayonnaise baguette with salad and homemade chips made for a delicious lunch

Although I love my coffee, Friday was a nice warm day and I fancied something refreshing to drink.  I asked for an orange Fanta, however this is something they don’t serve at the Peppermill.  The lovely waitress offered to make me up some orange juice with lemonade which I gladly accepted.  Her kindness and helpfulness made the whole experience that bit better.

In a very out of character move I didn’t have any cake to finish off my lunch at The Peppermill – but the restaurant does offer delightful home bakes such as caramel slices, scones and tiffin.

The café and restaurant has a great cosy feel and the amount of people coming in and even ordering food to go showed just how popular it is.  I would recommend reserving a table at The Peppermill when you decide to pay it a visit as it does get very busy.

The scrumptious generous portions of food also come at great value for money.  It cost me just around £8 for my huge baguette, large portion of hand cut chips, salad and large drink.

For more information on The Peppermill, check out there Facebook page where they post pictures of their delicious food and baked goods.

The Peppermill can be found on Forres High Street, a short 15 minute drive from Carden Cottages.

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Take some Time Out at one of Forres’ best cafes

One of my favourite spots for a spot of coffee and some cake in Forres is Time Out Café.

Outside Time Out Cafe Forres High Street
Time Out Cafe is located in the centre of Forres | Credit: Maria W

My most recent visit to the café, which is conveniently located on the High Street, was for business rather than pleasure – but that didn’t stop me thoroughly enjoying my time there.

Time Out is a great place to visit when you want to get some work done, but in a relaxed and informal setting.  The combination of tables and booths creates a laid back atmosphere to the café, which can really help when you’re having a mental block.

Hard work can build up quite the appetite, which is probably part of the reason my bacon roll went down so quickly, but this was also largely due to the fact that it was so delicious.  The bacon was juicy yet crisp, cooked exactly how I like it.

 I washed my food down with a mug of delicious white coffee, the perfect drink to compliment a bacon roll and to keep my brain functioning properly while doing work.

The café also offers fresh home bakes, including mouth-watering Danishes which are always my go-to at Time Out when I am there for a light snack.

Time Out Café have Delicious Home Bakes | Credit: Time Out Café

Time Out also offer a full lunch menu including everything from soups, sandwiches and toasties to burgers and macaroni cheese.

Aside from the great food, one of the main reasons I enjoy my trips to Time Out is the great customer service from the lovely workers.  They are always there to lend a helping hand, even when the café is packed full – which it often is as it is a very popular spot.

To top it all off, the prices are more than reasonable, but make sure you bring your cash with you as they do not accept card!

The café is only a 15 minute drive from Carden Cottages and I would definitely recommend giving it a visit if you find yourself visiting any of the sites in Forres, such as Sueno’s Stone.

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Great food and drink at the Drouthy Cobbler

Whether you’re looking for tasty food, great drink or fantastic live music, the Drouthy Cobbler in Elgin has it all.

The Drouthy Cobbler is offers outdoor seating for alfresco dining | Credit: Tobi

The contemporary bar is nestled down a medieval close in the heart of Elgin, with a covered and heated outdoor seating area for alfresco dining.

I popped into the bar with a couple of friends for a spot of late lunch and a few afternoon drinks – and we all enjoyed ourselves immensely.

We opted to take advantage of the bar bites deal, choosing a few dishes to share around the table.  Between us we managed to polish off haggis bites, crispy chicken wings, sausage rolls, Scottish scampi and hand-cut chips.  We also had a few delicious beers and gin and tonics!

The food that we had was absolutely delicious – well above the standard you would expect for such a low price.  My favourite was the delicious haggis bites – a must try, especially if you are visiting Scotland for the first time.

If you don’t fancy sharing a few bar bites, the bar also serves meals at an excellent price of £23.95 for three courses or £19.95 for two courses.  The tasty food is also locally sourced, as the Drouthy try to source the best Scottish ingredients from independent butchers, farmers and veg growers.

My favourite part of our experience was the great bar, which boasts over 150 whiskies, natural wines, craft gins and local beers.  We certainly took the opportunity to sample as many different beers and gins as we could!  It is the perfect place to sample both Scottish drinks and foods.

Drouthy Cobbler bar Elgin
The Drouthy Cobbler bar offers over 100 malt whiskies | Credit: Tobi

If that isn’t enough for you, the Drouthy Cobbler also has live music during some evenings and some afternoons, making it great for a lively evening out.  The venue also has regular arts events, including a monthly comedy club, lunchtime theatre and trad music concerts.

The excellent food, drink and events are also all offered with a smile from the lovely staff, who are full of knowledge about the different drinks that are on offer.

It really is a great place to relax and enjoy some great food and drink in a friendly atmosphere.  It is an excellent place to stop by if you are exploring nearby sites in Elgin; such as Elgin Cathedral.

It is also a 10 minute drive from your stay at Carden Cottages.

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Great adventure at Duffus Castle

Debbie and I recently took a trip to Duffus Castle, having many fond memories of picnicking at the medieval ruins with our son, Josh, when he was young.

Duffus Castle in Moray, Scotland
The beautiful Duffus Castle in Moray, Scotland | Image: Mike Searle

The first viewing of the ruins from the bottom of the hill is somewhat misleading, as it is hard to fathom the true expanse of the stonework beyond the front of the castle.  It is only when you reach the top of the mound that you are able to take in the full extent of the vast structure.

The best way to approach the ruins is by first following the path from the left of the gate, until you get to the ancient bridge, and then following the lovely stone path up to the castle itself.

The castle, which was once considered the medieval stronghold of the Moray family, was a fortress residence for more than 500 years, from the 1100s all the way through to the 1700s.

A plan of Duffus Castle

The stone castle that now stands was not built until the 1300s, replacing the earlier timber fortress that stood in the same place.  It was actually previously known as one of the strongest castles in Scotland – until it was reduced to decaying ruin by the time it was abandoned in 1705.

Due to its location, Duffus Castle has something to offer during any season.   It is the perfect place for a picnic during the summertime – and is on a large slope, making it great for rolling eggs down during Easter time, and for sledging down during snowy winters.

The ruins are also located near the RAF base in Lossiemouth, which means that there is sometimes an added bonus of seeing their jets taking off.  Despite how this might sound, this does’t detract from the beauty and serenity of the area.  It is actually rather interesting to think that this site would have once been a strategically important structure, and now its lie very close to one of the UK’s largest and busiest fast-jet stations in the Royal Air Fore.

RAF Jet flyig over Lossiemouth RAF base
RAF Jets can be seen flying over Duffus Castle

There are plenty ruins to be climbed and nooks and crannies to be explored at this historic site.  Well placed information boards also help you build up a good picture of exactly what the castle used to look like, so you can imagine it’s beauty in its glory days.

It is completely free to visit the ruins of Duffus Castle, with a free car park as well as a bike stand for those keen cyclists who choose to cycle over.

I may be slightly bias due to the fond memories I have of Duffus Castle, but you can go see for yourself, as this beautiful historic site with fantastic views is only 15 minutes from Carden Cottages.

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A historic day out at Elgin Cathedral

I recently revisited the beautiful Elgin Cathedral, also known as the Lantern of the North, taking in all it has to offer; the ruins, its two towers, the Chapter House and the beautiful views that surround the historic site.

Elgin cathedral West front from inside cathedral
The West front of Elgin Cathedral remains intact today, despite its rich history

The Cathedral has been part of Elgin’s history for decades, with its creation spanning back to 1224, when it was established as the principal church of the bishops of Moray.

With one trip to Elgin’s majestic ruin you can learn all about its rich and exciting history.  For example, it was left badly fire damaged from 1390 following an attack by King Robert III’s brother Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, the infamous “Wolf of Badenoch”.  Despite this attack, the two towers of the West Front and the Chapter House remain intact to this day, and are open to the public.

19th century depiction of buning of elgin cathedral
19th Century depiction of Elgin Cathedral blaze, caused by the infamous Wolf of Badenoch

If the history of the site does not appeal to you, then the views will certainly make up for it.  You are rewarded for your climbing efforts with magnificent views over Elgin, with the top of the tower having an open viewing platform, as well as information boards to help you learn more about all of the fantastic landmarks that you can see.

When you tire of looking over the town’s glorious sites, you can head into the chapter house, which is considered to be one of the country’s “finest octagonal structures” – and it is easy to see why.  If you look close enough at the ceiling, you might just be able to make out faint traces of gold paint.

The Cathedral also offers guided tours; run daily from July through to August at: 10am, 2pm and 3:30pm, the latter tour being for the Bishop’s house only, and must be booked in advance.  If you’d like more information on the tours you can visit: https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/elgin-cathedral/  or call 01343 547 171.

I would also recommend the fact-finding quiz, created by historic environment Scotland, which also comes in Doric, to make your adventure more fun.  You could also try their sculptures and symbols spotter and graveyard count quizzes.

Bishop's house at Elgin Cathedral
You can book a guided tour of the historic Bishop’s House at Elgin Cahedral During the Summer | Credit: Colin Smith

The Cathedral is only a 15 minute drive from your cottage at Carden.  If you look carefully, as you drive into Elgin from Carden Cottages, opposite Dr. Gray’s hospital you will be able to see blocks that were taken from the Cathedral and used in the building of the garden walls and houses there.  So you don’t have to wait until you get there to start taking in the culture.

When you tire from soaking up all the history, there are plenty surrounding coffee shops with great hot drinks and tasty cake to help aid your recovery, like Johnston’s of Elgin, which is about a 10 minute walk away.

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Fashion, history and great cake at Johnston’s of Elgin

If you are venturing to Moray in order to take in the culture, the fashion, or to enjoy good food, there is one place in the North East of Scotland that combines all of these aspects into an unforgettable experience.

On the outskirts of Elgin lies ‘Johnston’s of Elgin’, a 220-year-old woollen mill that has plenty to offer in terms of high end clothing and homeware, Scottish culture and delicious food.

Johnston's of Elgin mill visitor centre
Johnston’s of Elgin offers a rich history, great fashion and fantastic cakes | Credit: Visit Scotland

Although the mill is hundreds of years old – it appears to be currently basking in the prime of its life.  The mill was originally established on the banks of the River Lossie over two centuries ago by Alexander Johnston.  The company has since expanded massively – producing quality fabrics and textiles that have allowed them to be awarded the Royal Warrant of Appointments as Manufacturers of Estate Tweed H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, Duke of Rothesay.

The shop boasts high end fashion for everyone with their range covering menswear, womenswear, children’s wear, accessories and homeware.  I love their fabric so much that, thanks to my lovely wife, it has become part of the furniture at Carden cottages – with our lovely chairs in The Barn cottage upholstered with Johnston’s tweed.

Chairs at Carden Cottages upholstered with Johnston's of Elgin fabric
Our gorgeous chairs in The Barn, Carden Cottages, upholstered with beautiful fabric from Johnston’s of Elgin

Although the mill as a whole is quite an excellent visit, the coffee shop is my personal favourite, drawing me back time and time again to sample the fine food and drink.  It boasts a wide range of breakfast, lunch and afternoon teas – with some of the tastiest coffee and cakes in the Moray area!

If you’re looking to sample some great local cuisine, Johnston’s can certainly oblige.  They aim to have at least 40% of their menu made using only the finest local produce, which has led to them winning a “Taste Our Best” accreditation from Visit Scotland.  So you don’t have to just take my word for it.  The hot salmon salad is particularly tasty – but there is plenty to choose from!

Cakes and desserts at Johnston's of Elgin coffee shop
Just a few of the delicious cake offerings from Johnston’s of Elgin’s coffee shop | Credit: Tripadvisor User Mummy2414

You can also take a tour and learn all about the rich history of the fabric empire and local culture.  It’s not just for food and fashion lovers.

Johnston’s also strive to be eco-friendly – aiming to increase energy efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions and waste, by implementing new technologies and by instituting best practice within the company.  Therefore, this is the perfect place to visit when staying at our green cottages.

On top of all this, the staff at Johnston’s really go the extra mile to make you feel warm and welcome.  They are friendly, cheery and always on hand to deal with any problem you have – not that you should expect to have many here!

The mill provides free guided tours every day, between 10am to 3pm Monday to Friday and 11am to 2pm on Saturday and Sunday.  For more information, or to book, visit their website at: https://www.johnstonsofelgin.com/retail/mill-tour/ or email milltours@johnstonsofelgin.com

Fashion expert, foodie, history buff or cakeaholic – there is something for everyone at Johnston’s of Elgin.

Best of all – you can find all of this just a 10 minute drive from Carden Cottages.

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