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.

Top 5 things to keep in mind when you go bird watching around Elgin

When one talks about Elgin, a beautiful town steeped in centuries of important historical events and reformation immediately comes to the mind. Elgin may be the commercial and administrative centre for Moray but it is set in an agricultural heartland of rolling hills, woodlands and forest, miles and miles of walks and trails and beautiful golden beaches. With its cool summers as well as mild winters, this area enjoys a beautiful climate all the year ’round which is why so many visitors are attracted to the town.
 
But besides tourists, many species of birds seem to love it too! If you’re interested in experiencing this wonderful wildlife area, then we would love for you to join us here at Carden Holiday Cottages where we are wonderfully positioned for exploring all that this beautiful area of Scotland has to offer.
 
There are many species of birds that can be sighted around Carden Cottages and owing to its proximity to the sea, only a few miles away across the fields, you can get a really close view of some elusive seabirds on a local wildlife cruise or on a chartered boat. With miles of coastline, that include rugged peaks as well as pristine beaches, this area is easily one of the best places in Scotland to get up close and personal with Red throated divers, Peregrines, Kingfishers, Guillemots, Puffins, Green-winged Teal sand many, many more varieties of birds.
Carden Cottages are located just a few miles from the coast, surrounded by hundreds of acres of open farmland, they have small woodlands onsite and large pine forests nearby; they also boast their own small lake which attracts everything from nesting swans to early morning deer.
A special treat could be gained from spending a little time with out great neighbours at The Loft, a local small estate, where they have spotted over thirty different varieties of birds in their streams, pastures, ponds and fields. This is a direct result of their commitment to maintaining a sustainable landscape, favourable to a wide variety of local and visiting wildlife.
 
Mentioned below are the top five things you must keep in mind when you go bird watching in the Moray area.
 
Plan well in advance:
Most ornithologists and people from the birding community will recommend that you must avoid summer months, as the chances of sightings are not as reliable. Springtime, which occurs from late March through May, or autumn months – September through November and winter months December through Mid-March are the best times of the year for bird watching. Having a heads up about which species you wish to observe, will help you book tickets and make reservations accordingly.
Note: Season months have been mentioned to make it easier for you to plan a trip, as some species can be sighted only during particular times of the year.
 
Clothing and Footwear:
Summers in Elgin are cool due to its geographic proximity to the Moray Firth but that also means winters are quite mild. Keep in mind that you will want to pack semi warm clothing when visiting Scotland and If you plan to charter a boat, you may want to consider warm clothing as it can get breezy to mildly windy while you are out on the water. Not wearing season-specific clothes can cause you to miss an opportunity to sight rare birds. Scotland is known for its rugged terrain so you might want to consider wearing sturdy shoes/boots that don’t wear out easily. Mid-calf boots with a sturdy waterproof sole are highly recommended.
 
Optical gear:
Seasoned birders always recommend that you carry lightweight optical devices such as monocular, binoculars or spotting scopes. Since these are light in weight, it allows you to move around freely. You can check the prices and reviews of the best compact binoculars here. However, if you are looking to catch the birds in flight, you can use a telescope.
 
Note: Telescopes need to be mounted on a tripod. You will want to use it only if you will be stationary as lugging around a telescope can be cumbersome and ruin your experience.
 
Apps:
There are many apps available that can help you gain information on when certain birds can be sighted in specific locations. In case you sight a bird and are not able to identify it, you can use these apps to identify it. All you need to do is mention a brief description of the bird and you will receive detailed information. Some apps feature a calling out sound for some birds. You can use this feature to lure birds out of their hiding.
 
Code of ethics:
Code of ethics outlines the expected behaviour for birdwatchers. One must always maintain respect for the environment, wildlife, and rights of others. At all costs, do not cause undue stress to birds and expose them to danger. Always exercise caution and restraint during observation, filming/photography.

Mysterious History of Sueno’s Stone

On the north-easterly edge of Forres lies Moray’s own piece of Picto-Scottish history, Sueno’s Stone.

The Pictish Stone is one of the largest surviving of its type, standing over 6.5 metres high.  Situated on a raised bank on a now isolated section of the former road to Findhorn, the stone has a rich history and is definitely worth a visit while in the area.

Great shot from Mary and Angus Hogg

The stone has beautiful, intricate carvings of an ancient battle on one side, and a large Celtic cross on the other.  The height and the incredible attention to detail makes the artefact quite the sight to see.

Sueno’s Stone has a rich and interesting history that is still being debated to this day.  Some historians believe that the stone depicts the defeat of the Picts by the Scots of Dalriada under Kenneth MacAlpin in 841, which would suggest that it is actually not a Pictish stone, due to the fact that history is always recorded by the victors.

Other historians believe that it depicts a battle between the forces of Norse King Swein Forkbeard (“Sueno”) against the Scots, which is where the stone’s modern day name comes from.  Others have theorised that the stone was carved to commemorate the battle that took place in Forres in 966, when King Duff (“Dubh”) of Alba fought for control over Moray.

Sueno’s Stone from Nelson Tower thanks to Valenta

The slab weighs over seven tons, and evidence suggests that it fell or was pushed over at some point near the 1600s, only to be uncovered again in the 1700s and re-erected near where it was found.  There are informative signposts with information about the stone surrounding it, so you can learn more upon visiting.

The stone also has links to the great English poet, playright and actor, Shakespeare, as local legend states that it is at the crossroads where Macbeth originally met the three witches.  In the legend, the witches were imprisoned inside the stone and should the stone be broken they would be released.

In spite of its questionable history, Sueno’s Stone is still a great attraction to visit, and you can investigate the carvings and come up with your own conclusions to which battle it commemorates!

When you tire from checking out Sueno’s Stone, you can return to your comfortable stay at Carden Cottages, which is only a 15 minute drive away.

VIP SERVICES – Guided Salmon Fishing

Ian Neale is an expert salmon fisher, spey casting tutor, writer, photographer, and fishing guide. Ian is a passionate angler, who cares for his quarry and its fragile environment.

He also offers a full and comprehensive guiding service from complete beginners to intermediate and experienced casters, whether it is single handed rod casting or double speycasting with the traditional two-handed spey and switch rods.

Ian’s intimate knowledge of his many and varied beats throughout Rivers Findhorn, Dee, Spey, and Avon (A’an) makes him the perfect guide, dedicating time to the needs of his clients over the period of a full working day offering advice and tips on improving casting technique.

You will also learn the many aspects of river craft and reading the water throughout the many changing conditions of a fishing season from early Spring to late Autumn.

You can contact Ian on 01309 641658

Check out this link for further information  https://speycaster.net/

 

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.

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.

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.

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.