Written by Lynsey Oxton
The Moray Firth is an inlet of the Northern Sea and sits at the top of Scotland – and, like most Scottish coastlines, is a haven for wildlife and beaches.
2020 has been designated Scotland’s ‘Year of Coasts and Waters’ so it was almost mandatory to visit one of the most popular stretches of Scottish waters – both with visitors and dolphins, alike.
Only a short distance from Inverness (our base for the week), we decided to spend the day hitting some of the towns along the Moray Firth, starting at the seaside town of Lossiemouth, which was just a mere 1 hour, 20 minutes away by car.
Lossiemouth is a cute little fishing village and harbour, with sandy beaches and that familiar ‘seaside smell’ and fresh sea air. It is often referred to as ‘the jewel of the Moray Firth’ for its rich mix of beach, country and premium golfing.
In the short space of time we spent here, it was clear to see that Lossiemouth is one of those places where time passes by lazily and tranquility is the name of the game. You can easily understand why it is a place where people come to relax, unwind and in some cases, settle.
If harbours and watching fishermen at work float your boat, this might just be somewhere you want to put on your list of places to visit. There’s a big boat yard where all the vessels, big and small, go to have their ‘makeovers’ and lobster crates sit stacked up, ready for the next fresh catch.
As we were walking along the seafront minding our own business, a couple (probably having seen my camera dangling around my neck) told us that there was a pod of dolphins playing around the side of the lighthouse.
Knowing that dolphins don’t tend to hang around waiting for visitors with cameras, we walked around the quay as quickly as we were able, to the point at which they had been sighted – although, typically, we were a bit too late. We did, however, see a group of seals (of the Navy variety) out training. I’m not sure that counts?
Visiting Lossiemouth made me feel that I’d have happily spent one of our nights away here – there seemed to be plenty of beach to explore, long countryside walks and enough pubs and eateries to keep me entertained. Maybe next time?
Just a twenty minute drive from Lossiemouth is the small village of Fochabers, perhaps most famous as the home of the Baxter food family (think soups, baby beetroot and chutney).
Although Fochabers may not always make it into the tour guides, it was always on our list as my partner lived there for a short while when he was little – and he wanted to see if it was as he remembered….
We parked up in the village square and soon found ourselves walking on part of the Burn o’Fochabers woodland walk. This walk in its entirety will take you through the pine trees, past the stream and through to Gordon Castle, where you can see the Fochabers War Memorial and well-kept gardens. Keep an eye out for red squirrels in the woods if you visit.
As a reminder that we are in a pandemic right now, there was a spot where the local children had painted pebbles with messages and pictures, building a rather long trail through the woodland in doing so. The walk is also home to many intricate wood carvings that someone with a lot of talent must have spent quite a bit of time doing.
Not your average woodland walk.
Fochabers isn’t huge so it was easy to find the location of my partners old house and the church where his parents got married. Turns out his old primary school was still there too. Just a little bit of nostalgia combined with holiday…
It was early afternoon by now, and definitely ‘ice cream o’clock’ by my watch. I have a rule: if it’s not raining on holiday, you get ice cream. In fact, even if it rains – you get one! Diets don’t exist on holiday.
Next on the list – a short drive back up to the coast.
Spey Bay is known for two things – the largest shingle beach in Scotland and the Scottish Dolphin Centre that houses interactive exhibits including huge whale bones and dolphin cams.
We drove to the summit and parked up at the Dolphin Centre. Once again, we were reminded that we are in a ‘Covid World’ as the centre was unfortunately shut, with only the cafe and gift shop open. Still, I’d become rather partial to a ‘Scottish latte’ (they only use whole milk) – so we picked up a takeaway and wandered along the pebbly beach for the time it took to drink it. Despite keeping look-out for the Moray Firth bottle-nosed dolphins, I didn’t see anything other than squawking seagulls. But, that had seemed to be my luck when it came to wildlife spotting in Scotland.
Little did I know what was to follow…
As we drove back along the coastline from Spey Bay towards Buckie (a small fishing port), it was with thanks to the eagle-eyes of my partner that I was able to leap out the car and photograph a group of seals on an empty stretch of beach! So many seals in one place – amazing!
Now the absolute truth is that I also (briefly) saw a dolphin at this spot – but didn’t quite manage to get my camera set up in time to capture it before it went from sight. I blame the seals – they were pretty captivating!
Heading back to Inverness, our last stop off was Nairn – apparently one of the sunniest spots in the whole of Scotland and with award-winning beaches to boot!
Nairn is a Victorian seaside town, it has colourful cafes selling ice cream, a handful of shops selling souvenirs and lovely golden sands that stretch for miles. There are no amusement arcades in sight. Classy, not tacky….
It’s easy to see why people flock here when the weather is good; the beach is clean, the sand is soft and the sea is blue. There’s also two championship golf courses in Nairn – and a mini golf for the kids (and big kids) – so plenty to draw people here when they want a day at the Scottish seaside.
I can’t say that it quite struck me as the sunniest spot (blame the time of day, perhaps) – but yes, the beach was the best I had seen during my trip. Seems almost ironic to say this, but if you’re a beach-loving sun worshiper in Scotland – go here!
Pebble beaches, sandy beaches, fishing ports, working harbours and seal-sightings – with a touch of nostalgia for good measure – yep, our day trip to the Moray Firth was one that I’d recommend to anyone travelling to the Northern Highlands.
If you don’t quite fancy the exact route we took, there are plenty of other villages and towns to see on the coastline – but if one thing is for sure, DO take the time to add this part of the Highlands to your agenda if you’re in the vicinity because to miss it would be to miss out!