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!

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.

Special thanks to MORAYWAYS for a superb set of walks

Of all the great places to go walking in Scotland, Moray is arguably the most celebrated. With so many spectacular places to walk, it’s really hard to choose a favourite between lochs, beaches, ancient sites, forests and rushing rivers.

Here we have selected a range of walks right on your doorstep that we hope will ‘kick-start’ your interest in Moray as an excellent walking destination and Carden Cottages as the perfect place to stay.

All images and text sourced from MORAYWAYS

Quarrel Wood Trail

quarrel woods walkThe Ancestor’s Trail meanders through the beautiful Oakwood part of which is an ancient semi natural wood.

2.5 Miles


Millbuies Lock Trail

millbuies trailMillbuies Loch was created by the damming of streams to provide angling facilities on the loch.Moray District Council took over the estate in 1975 and the fishing was extended to the public.

2.5 Miles


Brodie Castle Trail

brodie castle walkBrodie Castle has a variety of paths offering a wide choice of scenic and historic features along the routes.

2.5 Miles



Culbin Forest Trail – Hill 99

Hill 99 walkOne of Moray’s many Forestry Commissions woodlands with promoted access, it is located on the coastal sand dunes between Findhorn Bay and Nairn. It has a wide network of paths suitable for many users, including the signed all abilities trail, known as the Route 99. Click on in the ‘Useful Links’ section below for more information on this and other Access opportunities within Moray’s Forestry Commission woodlands.

02 Hour walk


Forres – River Findhorn Circular

Forres findhorn walkA circular walk through and around the town of Forres, following the banks of the River Findhorn for much of the route. With some fine views of the surrounding countryside it explores some attractive, yet less frequented, environs of this pretty Moray town. Click on the FORRES FOOTPATHS TRUST WEBSITE link at the bottom of this page for more information on the Forres Paths Network.

8 Miles


Roseisle Beach Walk

Roseisle beach walkOne of the featured routes on the Moray Equestrian Access Group’s website.

Approximately 8miles of sandy beach to enjoy.

8 Miles


Burghead: Clarkly Hill Circular

burghead walk and trailA circular walk starting in the Pictish Fort town of Burghead and passing through farmland and rocky shores, with stunning views of the Moray Firth along the ridge of Clarkly Hill.

3.5 Miles


The Moray Way

Moray wayThe Moray Way concept links existing walking routes to form a circuit of 95 miles (153km) that can be walked comfortably in six to nine days. The route encompases a wide variety of Scotland’s scenery and wildlife condensed into one area ie Moray. The walker experiences expansive beaches, rugged clifftops, wide Straths, fertile farmlands, forests, open moorland and mountains. The route links numerous towns and villages where there is a variety of accommodation and shops.

95 Miles

Hopeman Railway Path

This walk takes you from Hopeman Surgery on a circular route along part of the old railway line to Cummingston. It is quite sheltered along the old track and has lovely views over the Moray Firth with potential to spot dolphins.

The section from Cummingston back towards Hopeman is along a pavement next to a relatively busy road so care will be required.

1.5 Miles


Check out MORAYWAYS for a great range of walks, trails, cycle ways and bridle ways.

Great customer service at The Loft, Kinloss

This week I ventured over to The Loft in Kinloss for a business meeting – and in search of the perfect coffee!

The Loft Café from outside | Credit: The Loft

Having recently had my mind opened to the incredible world of a Cortado, I wanted to find out if one of my favourite cafes that I visit regularly could provide one for me.  This option wasn’t on The Loft’s menu, but the wonderful Gayle was kind enough to make one for me anyway.

After a quick Google she knew exactly what she was doing and the next thing I knew I had the perfect Cortado sitting in front of me.  The coffee was made exactly how I hoped it would be, with the exactly right balance between coffee and frothy deliciousness.

The Loft Coffee Cortado
Gayle going out of her way to make me my Cortado!

As I’m (trying) to be very healthy lately, I only ate a little cheese scone on my visit.  It was fresh out the oven and smelled incredible.  Because it was still warm from being freshly baked, my butter melted perfectly into the light and fluffy scone.

My colleague, who was being considerably less healthy than me, decided to have a big slice of chocolate cake – probably just to make me jealous!  According to her, it was delicious, melted in the mouth and had beautiful rich icing.  I think I have had enough cake from The Loft to take her opinion as a fact, as every cake I have had from there has been stunning.

Crispy cake at The Loft Kinloss
Some of the tasty cakes from The Loft

Although the coffee, scones and cakes are all amazing at The Loft, it is the friendliness and kindness of the staff that really takes the café to the next level.  From Gayle going out of her way to get me the Cortado I had my heart set on, to Bill the chef passionately talking us through all of the great soup ideas he has – the staff are there to brighten your experience from the moment you step through the door.

If you want to find out more about The Loft Café and the delicious treats they offer you can visit their website, Facebook page or Instagram.  They are also more than just a café: they offer activities, host events such as concerts, and even work as a wedding venue!

It is also in a prime bird-watching spot and is close to many local attractions, from beaches to museums.

Best of all, you can find all of this at just a 10 minute drive from your stay at Carden Cottages.

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.
Sunset from Carden

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.
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.