THE last day of my October 2022 trip began with the gentle sound of raindrops upon the windows of my hotel room. Once again, this eased off during breakfast but most of my morning’s exertions would still be cooled by the lightest of misty drizzle hanging damply in the air. I didn’t mind this in itself – I quite like the rain – but it did threaten to hide any scenic views that my day’s walk had to offer. The walk would be from Forres to Lossiemouth along part of the Moray Coastal Trail…
The walk began at the Ramnee Hotel in Forres, which makes sense because that is where I had stayed. As I noted last time, this was built as a retirement villa in 1907 for a former official of the Imperial Civil Service (ICS) in India.
An Unfortunate Omission
Having exited the hotel onto Victoria Road, I turned right and headed for Forres town centre. This was something I needed to do but, as it turns out, I should probably have gone on a little detour first.
Had I turned left instead, I could have gone to look at Sueno’s Stone, which is described by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) as ‘the tallest and most complex piece of early medieval sculpture in Scotland,’ being ‘a gigantic Pictish cross-slab measuring 7 m tall.’ HES then adds that:
‘Its carvings are ornate and unique. We see here a rare and complex narrative depiction of a battle, and a wholly unique scene interpreted as a royal inauguration.’
Something that I did get to see was the creative flowerbeds of Grant Park, which had been veiled by rapidly diminishing twilight on my walk to the hotel the evening before.
I followed Victoria Road back into Forres town centre, where it became the High Street. There, I was struck by some of the buildings, which I had previously hurried past with barely a glance.
St Leonard’s Church
St Leonard’s was opened as a United Free Church in 1903 and built in a delightful gothic style.
The United Free Church, which had been formed in 1900 through a union of dissenting groups split off from the Church of Scotland, merged back into the latter in 1929, making St Leonard’s a Church of Scotland church.
Forres Town Hall
Forres Town Hall was built by the Freemasons in the 1790s and remodelled and extended by architect Archibald Simpson (1790-1847) in 1829. It was then bought by the Mechanics’ Institute in 1855, who had local architect John Forrest (b. 1865) rework the frontage in 1901.
Forres Burgh Council acquired it after WW1 (during which it had been a Red Cross hospital) but it ceased to be used as a seat of government after 1975. In 2021, it was sold to the Forres Area Community Trust, who had already been managing it for three years.
Not quite opposite the Town Hall was its predecessor as a municipal building – Forres Tollbooth – which I had actually looked at the previous evening. Its attention-seeking still unsated, it demanded that I look at it again.
The tollbooth hasn’t always looked this good, though. In 1665 it was described as ‘thackit’ (thatched) and ruinous. Its 1838 makeover was as necessary as it was effective.
Imagining it thusly broke its enchanting spell, allowing me to continue down the High Street towards the next exhibit of architectural allure.
St Laurence’s Church
The delightful current St Laurence’s Church dates from 1906 and smacks of a desperate need by the Church of Scotland to one-up the United Free Church’s St Leonard’s, which had been built just three years earlier.
It was designed by an Inverness architect, John Robertson (1840-1925). His entry on the Scottish Architects website tells us that he favoured ‘hammer-dressed masonry contrasted with polished ashlar’ and it looks like that’s what he used here, with hammer-roughened stones for the main wall material, edged with polished blocks at the building’s corners. I think it’s rather lovely.
Burn of Mosset
At the end of the High Street, I crossed Castle Bridge and followed Invererne Road downstream beside the Burn of Mosset. I had hoped to snap a photo of the beturreted bridge but weeping willows and other foliage conspired to block such a picture, albeit in the most picturesque way.
A heron was striding about on the banks of the Burn of Mosset right up until I got my phone out, at which point it promptly hid behind some foliage. So you will just have to trust me that I really did see it and that I’m not just making up herons. As one does…
I took a route via Invererne Road for two reasons, one being that the Burn of Mosset looked quite pretty and, after all those architectural aesthetics, I wanted to wean myself carefully off such optical attractions rather than go cold turkey.
Also, maps made it clear that it used to meet up with the Waterford Road upon which I had approached Forres. However, between the 1988 construction of the A96 Forres Bypass and the 2017 realignment of the Aberdeen-Inverness railway line, that link had probably been severed. I was resolved to find out if it had…
I was not hugely surprised, therefore, when Invererne Road came to a dead-end for traffic, while a footpath continued onwards to meet the A96.
No Way Through
I am pleased to report that I made it across the busy A96 with my skin intact and am not, in fact, communicating via necromancy.
On the far side, I set about looking for where Invernerne Road had continued under the railway line up until 2017. In my second undelighting non-surprise of the morning, I found that it had been blocked off with fencing. If I wanted to cross the railway line (and I did) I would have to use the new overbridge that I had used the evening before. So that’s what I did.
Having crossed the overbridge, I followed its road (Benromach Way) around to where it meets Waterford Road and then turned right along that to where it meets what Google Maps thinks is yet more Waterford Road but Bing Maps thinks is a continuation of Invererne Road. In this case, and for possibly the first time ever, my money’s on Bing being right.
Nestled in the corner of these two roads was the Benromach Distillery, founded in 1898 and owned by the independent distiller and bottler Gordon & MacPhail of Elgin, which was itself founded in 1895.
Benromach is a Speyside whisky and not one I’ve ever tried (my personal taste in whisky tends to favour peaty Islay malts).
Putting the distillery behind me, I strode briskly north along what was almost certainly Invererne Road. This quickly became a narrow country lane, flanked by flat fields dotted by black cattle. Ahead, the thin, misty drizzle draped its grey veil over distant objects.
Mill of Grange
The road soon turned northeast and carried me past the farmsteads of Middlefield and Lingieston and then back across the Burn of Mosset near to Mill of Grange.
After a while, the road swung eastwards, passing between some forestry land on its right – piles of neatly-stacked timber spoke to recent felling activity – and Findhorn Bay on the left. The shoreline of the latter was about 300 m distant, separated from the road by marshland of the sort that is only nominally ‘land’.
Skein of Geese
Findhorn Bay is home to dozens, possibly hundreds, of geese. I know this because my unexpected appearance at the shoreline had disturbed them the previous evening, the geese responding with rather less nonchalance than I had come to expect from them. Why the geese found humans in the bay quite so disturbing was made clear to me over the next half an hour or so, after the gunshots started.
The wildfowling season in Findhorn Bay runs from 1 Sep to 20 Feb and wildfowlers are prohibited from using lead shot.
The geese, it turned out, weren’t all that keen on dying from steel shot either and took to the air in quite the largest and most frantic-looking skein I’ve ever seen. There were so many geese, flying back and forth in concert over Findhorn Bay, that it looked for all the world like a flock of really large starlings rather than the usual formation-flying of geese.
Fuzziness in Flight
Sadly, between the fast-moving geese and the drizzly conditions, none of the photos I took of them were even remotely close to being in focus.
Adding to my suspicion that Findhorn’s geese had evolved a hitherto unknown superpower of blurriness was they way they kept phasing in and out of view. Now, rationally, I know that this was simply the skein flying in and out of low cloud but it looked for all the world like they were engaging some sort of avian cloaking device.
Also evidencing such powers, at least according to the photographic evidence, was a flock of pheasants milling about in a field near Whiteinch. In their case, however, they were definitely crisply-edged in real life so my own ineptitude is squarely to blame for my lack of useable photos of them.
After Whiteinch, my narrow country lane came to an end in a T-junction with the wider and busier B9011. And by ‘busier’ I mean that it actually had light traffic, whereas I had only seen two vehicles on the Invererne Road. Even the B-road was hardly what you’d call ‘busy’, its light vehicular usage more reminiscent of motoring decades long past.
Pre-Worboys Road Sign
On closer inspection, such traffic as there was comprised modern vehicles, so either we’d all time-travelled or it was the pre-Worboys road sign that was anachronistic.
A committee headed by Sir Walter Worboys (1900-1969) reported its findings on British road signage in 1963, leading to a massive redesign being rolled out the following year and all the old signs were supposed to have been replaced. There are very few survivors; the sign above is clearly one of them.
This road sign relic stood in advance of another junction, just across the Kinloss Burn, where the B9011 was met by the B9089 (as shown on the sign). It was at this junction that I made my second inadvertent omission of the day. I needed to take the left-hand turning but, if I first went right, I could visit the ruins of Kinloss Abbey, founded in 1150 by David I and disestablished in 1601.
Now, I grew up a stone’s throw from Reading and love a good abbey ruin but I thought I had read that nothing remained of Kinloss Abbey at all. Since seeing a patch of ground where there used to be an abbey is a lot less interesting than seeing its actual ruins, I resolved to skip paying it a visit.
The thing is, though, there are still ruins to be seen. I can only assume I was confusedly conflating Kinloss with somewhere else I’d read about. Anyway, the upshot was, that I quite unnecessarily skipped some ruins I’d quite like to have looked at.
Kinloss Parish Church
On my way out of Kinloss, I passed this:
Kinloss Parish Church was built in 1765, over 150 years after the demise of the nearby abbey. Constructed by a mason named David Low, it replaced an earlier church from the 1650s.
Kinloss Church was repaired and given new windows in 1830 to a design by the Elgin-based architect William Robertson (1786-1841). Four years later, a central aisle was added by Alexander Urquhart of Forres. Then, in 1863, Alexander Reid (1816-1887) and William Reid (1825-1893) – two cousins with an architectural partnership in Elgin – added the tower and a western extension to make a T-plan.
A plain Georgian church, even with the Victorian alterations, I think it presents an interesting contrast to those churches on Forres High Street.
I left Kinloss on Findhorn Road, which was also still the B9011. To my left was rough ground covered with trees and bushes, masking sight of the marshes and Findhorn Bay beyond. To my right were the concrete pillars and meshwork of the sort of chain-link fence that was utterly ubiquitous throughout the 1970s and 80s. The fence marked the boundary of Kinloss Barracks, which, despite its military name, is very obviously an airfield.
It looks like an airfield and not an army base because that’s exactly what it was. Established as RAF Kinloss in 1939, it served in that capacity through WW2 and continued to do so post-war all the way up to 2012, when it was turned over to the Royal Engineers. They, being a British Army unit (but not the Army Air Corps), have use for a barracks but none at all for an airfield and so its runway is now closed.
Duke of Edinburgh
The aeroplane in the photo is a Hawker Siddeley Nimrod MR2 maritime patrol aircraft, a 1970s upgrade of a 1960s design whose airframe was based on the 1958 de Havilland Comet 4 airliner (the 1949 Comet 1 had been the world’s first jet airliner).
This particular aircraft – RAF serial number XV244 – was saved from the scrapheap in 2010 when Nimrods were withdrawn from service. It is maintained by Morayvia – an aviation museum celebrating aviation history in Moray – and was given the name Duke of Edinburgh in 2014.
It’s not going anywhere and wouldn’t be, even if the runway wasn’t closed.
At about the end of the airfield, a sign on my side of the road pointed towards the marshes with the legend ‘Findhorn Bay Local Nature Reserve Bird Hide.’ By this point, it was seeming like that could only mean that it was a place where birds successfully hide from me but it also seemed like a spot where I could take a brief rest. Actually spotting any birds would be an unnecessary bonus.
As I continued north, Findhorn Road gained a pedestrian pavement, which was a sure giveaway that I was now approaching Findhorn. Soon enough, I passed the gates to Cullerne Gardens, which confirmed it.
Cullerne House, to which the gardens are attached, is an unremarkable Victorian house but it was acquired in the 1980s by the Findhorn Foundation, a utopian New Age-style community and charitable foundation (founded 1972) resident on the neighbouring caravan park, which they also bought. The gardens became a centre for growing organic vegetables and was very successful at it, which phenomenon the foundation explained with much mystical woo.
The foundation later sold the house and I believe it is currently a B&B, although one owned and run by people with a connection to the foundation.
Community Centre Fire
As strange and slightly culty-sounding groups go, the Findhorn Foundation appears to be entirely benign. Its members have weird beliefs, sure, but the foundation itself espouses no dogma and its seems to have a lot of genuinely collaborative spirit.
All is not always rosy in Eden, of course – I mean, when is it? – and their former community centre manager, Joseph Clark, snapped on learning of his redundancy last year and promptly torched the community centre and one other building. Almost ironically, he was sentenced to 300 hours of community service by Inverness Sheriff Court.
Not too many minutes later, I entered the village of Findhorn proper and followed the road up to a point where it forked.
Yeah, obviously, I went left.
Findhorn Tercentenary Monument
In wandering up the shorefront facing Findhorn Bay, I came across a couple of monuments. The first, Findhorn Tercentenary Monument, was obvious enough, not least because it had been labelled with a large inscription plus the years ‘1702-2002’ in case I was having trouble with long words. It comprises a set of (working) binoculars affixed to a stone pedestal.
The Original Findhorn
While the modern Findhorn dates ‘only’ as far 1702, it is but the latest iteration of an earlier village of Findhorn that existed a mile northwest of its current position. Now, any modern map will tell you that heading a mile northwest of Findhorn involves a mile-long swim and that’s why it moved, withdrawing from a gradual inundation by the sea.
The second monumental item is Findhorn’s Mercat Cross (i.e., market cross), which isn’t in fact, a cross. It’s a ball. It will have been a cross once, of course, but fell into ruin, becoming a pile of stones by the 1930s. Today, only the circular base remains of the original cross and the pillar affixed to it is a replacement ornament.
I continued heading up the shoreline. The road had abandoned it before the Mercat Cross and now I was reaching the end of even the path as it approached Findhorn Beach. There was no sign of the Moray Coastal Trail, however, as I’d missed that heading off to the right at the top of the village. I decided to go back and find it.
Findhorn Bay (Again)
Knowing that I was now about to leave it, I took one last look at Findhorn Bay (and Culbin Forest on its far side).
It turned out that the Moray Coastal Trail was indicated by a fingerpost sign that you’d have to be blind – or gazing mistily-eyed across the bay, I suppose – in order not to see.
Anyway, that made the correct route quite clear and I followed it to Findhorn Beach via a different approach. From there, it could only head east.
I headed east along the edge of the rocky rip-rap sea defences for maybe a quarter of a mile before passing through a car park. At its exit (or entrance, from the other perspective), it passed through a line of WW2 anti-tank blocks.
Helping with an altogether different sense of scale was a fingerpost standing beside the road . Thus helpfully told me that it was four miles to Roseisle and six and a half to Burghead, which I knew sat at the far end of Burghead Bay.
Following the fingerpost, I stepped off the road and back onto the Moray Coastal Trail. This began by winding its pebbly way through a series of low and poorly-vegetated dunes.
Findhorn Wind Farm
While it was undeniably coastal, the path mostly kept far enough in from the actual shore that I couldn’t see it and just had to take it on trust that it was there. It could only go so far inland however, as the Findhorn Foundation and its related appendages lay directly to the south. The most obvious of these was Findhorn Wind Farm, which supplied power to the foundation’s eco-village.
As one would expect with a windfarm, their output is highly weather-dependent. On windy days, they generate a surplus and sell it to the National Grid. On calm days the opposite is true and they buy electricity in from the grid to cover their shortfall. This is pretty typical for a private windfarm setup.
After the windfarm, the path veered north to re-join the actual coastline, hemmed in between a low cliff and a wooden fence. This latter indicated the northern boundary of Kinloss Barracks’ extensive grounds.
A short distance on, I saw what I took to be more WW2 defences but now I’m not a hundred percent sure that they all were. These comprised concrete shapes in the water and foundations of the non-charitable kind.
After I had walked beside the fence for about three quarters of a mile, I came to a set of steps leading down to the sea. I chose to stop and sit on these for a rest and enjoy a spot of lunch that I’d bought while passing through Kinloss.
In addition to being a handy place to stop and take lunch, the steps also marked the point where I would enter Roseisle Forest, which would then occupy the next four miles or so, taking me up to the very edge of Burghead. This suited me just fine, as I love a woodland walk.
Before I entered the trees, I took a good look along the coastline.
To begin with, the path ran right along the very edge of Roseisle Forest, close enough that I could still see the sea and hear the waves.
Now, while I enjoy a woodland walk, I also appreciate a coastal one or else I wouldn’t be doing this. A woodland walk in which it is still obviously coastal is the best of both worlds and cannot really be topped. I was loving it.
Silence is Golden
There was about half a mile of this woodland wonder before the path veered right and plunged deeper into the forest and I lost sight of the coast. This wasn’t quite as perfect but still scored extremely highly on my personal scale and I was as happy as a happy thing, as I strode along. Not quite happy enough to burst into song but that was probably a mercy; even the most stubbornly non-dancing squirrel doesn’t deserve to be subjected to that.
More Tank Traps
About a mile after the path had veered away from the shoreline, it suddenly decided to veer back. This was nice, as it gave me another chance to see the sea and also provided a handy tree stump to sit down on, while I considered the efficacy of the WW2 defence line, with and without the barbed wire that once graced it.
The path, having regained the seashore, immediately left it by the most direct means, heading inland at right-angles to the forest’s edge. Fortunately, it quickly calmed down from this apparent thalassophobia and resumed a roughly north-eastern course running parallel to the shoreline. This conveyed me over Bessie Burn and past a former gravel quarry.
The Sound of Bells
It was at about this time that I heard a ringing as if of tiny bells. Was this a tardy dance troupe of squirrels, come to do some forest dancing?
Only, I thought, as the intermittent ringing drew nearer, if the squirrels are on bicycles.
I stepped aside as half a dozen teenage boys cycled past me at some speed. To their credit, they had used their bike bells exactly as intended and they shouted ‘thank you!’ as they passed. All very proper and polite. I could hardly hold it against them that they weren’t magic dancing squirrels. Could I?
No, of course I couldn’t.
I found out where the cyclists were rushing off to a short while later when the track I was following met an unexpectedly asphalted road.
Lurking deep in the forest was a car park, picnic area and toilet block, the better to encourage people to drive in and then go for walk. I also encountered several people doing that while staying within that all important 50 m radius of their car just in case, oh, I dunno, they spontaneously combust and burn down the forest. Or something.
Sausage and Burger Bar
Also at the picnic area was a ‘sausage and burger bar,’ which made the bike kids triply forgiven. They were already forgiven because, well, they had done absolutely nothing wrong, and then doubly because cycling fast to get to the man selling bacon rolls is entirely understandable. And triply because I soon had a bacon roll myself, and so my good mood was complete.
As I was paying for my bacon roll, someone ran up and handed the Sausage & Burger Man a set of keys they’d just spotted lying in the car park. Sausage & Burger Man regarded them with an expression that suggested this happened a lot, and went to add them to his small but growing hoard of lost property. He then paused, looked more closely at the keys and held them up to show me.
‘These are for someone’s garage or a lock-up,’ he said. And they were. He then showed me the rest of the haul, which mostly featured car keys and mobile phones.
‘You’d think you’d notice your car keys had gone when you tried to drive off,’ he observed. ‘And yet…’
When my bacon roll was consumed and I’d paranoidly checked that I still had my phone fourteen times, I moved on. I was now behind my nominal schedule but so long as I didn’t lose too much more time, I’d still make Lossiemouth before nightfall.
A mental image flitted through my head of someone handing in my lost time to Sausage & Burger Man. I could just imagine his expression. ‘What, this again? How do these people function?’
Millie Burn & Bennet Hill
So, if not exactly running late, I was certainly walking both briskly and tardily as I continued northeast.
The path was dead straight as it left the picnic area but became less so after crossing Millie Burn and not at all in the vicinity of Bennet Hill.
Holiday Park & Seafront
All at once, Roseisle Forest ended and the path deposited me in Burghead Holiday Park, where I made my way past the static caravans and out onto a street. This, in turn, led me to a grassy seafront, from which I could see Burghead Harbour ahead.
I quickly made my way to Burghead Harbour. As one would expect for a coastal town, this was for a long time of vital economic significance to it. This was true even before the old fishing village was demolished and rebuilt as a planned village between 1805 and 1809. The new Burghead had its streets laid out on a regular grid pattern and was intended to attract and resettle those displaced by the Highland Clearances.
The rebuilding work included a new harbour (the pier of the old one had been damaged by storms ten years earlier) and by 1840s it was reckoned as one of the best harbours in the north of Scotland, being both deep and safe. But then it should be; it was built by Thomas Telford (1757-1834). Of course it was. I mean, who else? It might be quicker to just list the things in Scotland that weren’t built by him.
The Harbour Today
As is usually the case, the harbour’s usage today is a far cry from its heyday in the 1840s, when forty-odd boats called it home. Now, it is home to barely a dozen fishing boats but it hardly looks empty and deserted.
Standing beside the harbour was a block of stone bearing two plaques, on of which professed it to be the Shetland Bus Memorial. This sounds comically surreal but it was serious WW2 business…
The Shetland Bus
The Shetland Bus (Norwegian Bokmål: Shetlandsbussene) was the nickname of a Special Operations Executive (SOE) group, which kept the Norwegian resistance supplied with arms, equipment and assistance during the German occupation of Norway.
It initially relied on Norwegian-crewed trawlers that had escaped the invasion but later switched to using American ‘sub-chasers’ to make their frequent clandestine journeys. Between 1940 and 1945, the Shetland Bus carried out 210 missions and delivered over 400 tons of supplies to the resistance.
The work was obviously dangerous and, in total, 44 men died on Shetland Bus operations.
Shetland Bus Memorial
Burghead was one of the Shetland Bus operating bases and its memorial, erected in 2015, commemorates the twelve of the 44 dead who operated out of this port.
Burghead’s name quite obviously refers to a fort of some kind, the name (as ‘Burghe’) having been bestowed upon it by the Vikings after Sigurd the Mighty, Earl of Orkney, captured it in 884; prior to that, it was known to its Pictish inhabitanst as Torridon. The fort remained in Norse hands until 1010.
The fort was the largest and oldest Pictish fort known to us and probably belonged to the Verturiones, whose kingdom of Fortriu is now thought to have been in Moray. One possible etymology of the Latinised name ‘Verturiones’ has it cognate with Welsh gwerthyr, meaning ‘fortress,’ and being known as the ‘Fortress People’ would make pretty good sense if they had the largest one around as their home.
The fort was quite sophisticated and occupied two levels. Sadly, this meant not a jot to William Young of Inverugie – the man behind the new Burghead and a key driver of the Highland Clearances – who obliterated large parts of it with his new urban design.
Fortunately, some of the upper level still occupies the headland overlooking the town.
Upon making my way back down to sea level, I discovered that Burghead’s northern coast was a lot less inviting than its western one. Whereas Burghead Bay had been a long sandy beach, this shore was composed of rocky slabs and stacks, with patches of mostly pebbles scattered between them.
I headed east along a puddle-strewn path, sandwiched between the rocky foreshore and an industrial site surrounded by more retro chain-link fence. This was Burghead Maltings, erected in 1966 and extended in 1971 to become what was then the largest Maltings in Scotland (a maltings being a site where grain is malted for whisky production).
Burghead is one of two Maltings in the area, the other being Roseisle Maltings, about two miles south of Burghead. The two are directly linked, with a pipeline system exchanging heat and transporting water.
The two maltings are owned by Diageo plc, the London-headquartered multinational formed by the 1997 merger of Guinness plc and the Grand Metropolitan conglomerate. Diageo’s vast portfolio of beverage brands includes a broad spectrum of around forty whiskies including my personal favourite single malt, Lagavulin, and the UK’s best-selling blended whisky, Bells.
Burghead Branch Line
Actually, in a completely different sense, I couldn’t rail about Burghead Maltings because the line has been torn up.
Burghead used to sit upon a branch line from Alves, constructed by the Inverness and Aberdeen Junction Railway (I&AJR) in 1862. It sort of almost still does as the line is still in situ to just south of Burghead, having continued to serve the Maltings until 1992 despite being closed to other traffic since 1966 (the final stretch was removed once grain traffic ceased).
Improvements to the main Inverness-Aberdeen line in 2017 brought the official closure of this abandoned railway line.
In 1892, the Burgman Branch became the Hopeman Branch, when the Highland Railway (which had absorbed the I&AJR) extended the line along the coast.
This extension closed in 1957 and the track was lifted, which was bad news if you wanted to catch a train in Hopeman (where passenger services had ceased in 1931, anyway) but excellent news if you wanted to walk there from Burghead in 2022.
St Aethan’s Well
In between the maltings and the bridge shown above, the level, accessible, asphalted path led me past St Aethan’s Well. This was a rather unattractive rectangular hole in the ground, lined with stone and flanked by two benches and an information sign.
The latter informed me that St Aethan (Also known as St Aidan) was a follower of St Columba in Iona in the 7th century, who brought Christianity to the northern Picts and so is the patron saint of Burghead. His well had supposed healing powers attributed to it but, then again, what alleged saint’s well doesn’t?
Although no full account of the life of the Irish-born St Aidan (c. 590-651) survives, he is well-known as the founder of Lindisfarne Priory in 634 and Bishop of Lindisfarne from 635, ministering to King Oswald of Northumbria (c. 604-642). Aidan remained in Lindisfarne and ultimately died there, so if he ever did visit Burghead it would have to have been prior to his mission to Northumbria.
The railway bridge in that last photo was built to enable the villagers of Cummingston to cross the line and get to the (now disused) wells amongst the rocks of Colach Bay, which also feature natural arches and caves.
Cummingston is a linear village roughly equidistant between Burghead and Hopeman that sits about 40 m above mean sea level, giving its houses an excellent view of the Moray Firth.
Drummuir Place & Duff Street
The Moray Coastal Trail abandoned the old Hopeman Branch alignment at the edge of town, climbing up beside another old railway bridge and turning inland to empty into Drummuir Place. This residential street met end-on with another, Duff Street.
Hopeman is another grid-pattern planned village, laid out in 1805 by William Young of Inverugie as a place to put the inconvenient people that he’d cleared from elsewhere.
The harbour dates from 1838, when it was constructed for the export of stone from nearby quarries, by which time Hopeman had passed into the ownership of Captain Archibald Duff of Drummuir (which explains the street names).
Hopeman East Beach
I grabbed a short rest beside the harbour and then resumed my journey eastwards, starting with a road overlooking Hopeman East Beach.
The road ran about quarter of a mile before terminating in a car park. But, while it was the literal end of the road for vehicles, the Moray Coastal Trail had a way onwards for walkers like me.
The path dwindled a bit to become an actual footpath and carried me around to what seems to now be known as Cove Bay but historically has always been Clashach Cove. In addition to its change of name, it had a couple of other points of interest…
One was that the cove was once overlooked by Inverugie Castle, of which no trace now remains.
A wooden castle was raised by the Cheyne family in the 12th century but when Sir Reginald Cheyne died in 1345, his daughters inherited his lands and through the younger, Mariota Cheyne, Inverugie Castle passed to the Keith family, who eventually rebuilt it in stone.
In the early 19th century they sold it to a man named James Ferguson, who kept in good condition but he died in 1820 and the land was contracted out for quarrying. In 1824, the castle was demolished and its stones cleared, presumably because that was easier than actual quarrying.
The other point of interest looked like this:-
The cave on the left doesn’t seem to have a name, perhaps because it’s not a cave as such but a tunnel through that rock spur, making it a natural arch.
The cave on the right is Gypsies Cave and runs for 49 m on a parallel alignment to the rock spur. The name probably relates to its past use (real or imagined) for smuggling by Highland Travellers or a similar group.
From Clashach Cove, the path continued southeast until it reached the access road for Clashach Quarry. Here, the Moray Coastal Trail headed shoreward down that road for about 70 m before turning off onto the continuation of the coast path, which then skirted around the inner edge of the quarry.
Clashach is an excellent example of the stop-start life an unexhausted quarry. In the Ordnance Survey 1st edition map of 1875, Clashach Quarry is annotated ‘disused’. Today, it is anything but and even expanded in 2018, necessitating a slight rerouting of the coastal path.
Its stone has been used to face an extension to the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and for the 9/11 Memorial in New York and the Dunblane Massacre memorial.
The path continued eastwards, passing the actually disused Covesea Quarry, which overlooks Primrose Bay. So too does this, at the other end of the small bay:
The sign on the Fulmar-shaped mounting was a poem about Fulmars for which I could find no provenance and which, in my opinion, barely met even the standards of greetings card verse:
Birds of the Firth and wide open sea Fulmars nest on the cliffs from here to Tiree On the ocean in winter they float, fish and roam But from Christmas to autumn, these cliffs are their home.
Granted, it’s not ‘William McGonagall’ bad, but then, what is? Even Vogon poetry is mild by comparison.
Ahead, I now saw the Watchers’ Tower, a coastguard lookout post.
This whole section of cliff was riddled with spectacular caves although I generally couldn’t see them on account of them being somewhere under my feet. One in particular rejoiced in the name ‘the Sculptor’s Cave,’ which it was given on account of Pictish carvings on the walls near its two entrances.
And so, having not seen the Sculptor’s Cave, I arrived at Covesea Viewpoint and saw the Watcher’s Tower up close.
Whoever watches the watchers, it wasn’t me as I didn’t see any. Not that I expected to in the shadow-lengthening last few hours of daylight.
The Watchers for whom the tower is named are auxiliary coastguards volunteering to help look out for trouble in the Moray Firth. Specifically, they are students at the infamously Spartan Gordonstoun independent boarding school, which is nearby. That being so, one wonders if they voluntarily volunteer or are ‘volunteered’ into taking part.
The Watchers’ Tower was opened in 1955 by the Duke of Edinburgh, who was an alumnus of the school. The actual prince, that is, not the Nimrod.
There was a handy bench beside the tower and I took the opportunity to have a short rest. It had to be short though as my shadow very much wasn’t and I knew that meant that sunset was probably now going to happen before I made it to my hotel.
When I’d had about half as much rest as I actually wanted, I made myself get up and go on. The path conveyed me to the flank of Covesea Hill, from which I looked down upon the stack called Gow’s Castle and the Double Mouthed Cave.
Not visible from this angle was Sir Robert’s Stable Cave, in which Sir Robert Gordon (1696–1772) hid his best horses to save them from being requisitioned during the Jacobite Rising of 1745.
Moving on, I passed in front of and below Covesea Village, one house of which can be seen in the previous photo. As I got closer, however, I was less able to see it, on account of the houses being hidden atop the coastal slope to my right.
What I could see was the distant Covesea Lighthouse, designed by Alan Stevenson (1807-1865) and erected in 1846. The Northern Lighthouse Board, which had never really wanted a lighthouse there to begin with but bowed to public opinion, finally decommissioned it in 2012.
It now belongs to the Covesea Lighthouse Community Company, which was formed to develop it for tourism.
Just past Covesea Village, the coastal slope turned into vertical cliffs and the Moray Coastal Trail chose to deal with this problem by avoiding it: the path dropped me down onto the beach.
Sand & Sunset
Between Covesea Beach and Lossiemouth West Beach, I now had two and a half miles of sand to traverse. This made for an easy-going end to the day’s adventure, which I much appreciated. As I headed east, I started to see more WW2 defences, and more caves, all loomed over by Covesea Lighthouse.
Slowly – I was quite tired by now – I rounded the broad headland atop which sits the Silver Sands Holiday Park. Now, for the first time, I could see Lossiemouth (Inbhir Losaidh) before me. It was still a good mile away but my destination was in sight!
West Beach Slipway
I made it to the slipway that would take me into Lossiemouth just as the sun did some slipping of its own, dropping down behind the horizon. I paused to take a long look back down the beach and try to catch the last red rays of the sunset that I had been facing away from.
A retired couple, who had just sat and watched it, made sure to let me know just how much I’d missed out.
Lossiemouth by Night
Twilight rapidly dwindled into darkness but that didn’t matter because Lossiemouth has street lighting. By its incandescent glow, I navigated my way across town to the east-facing seafront and found my hotel.
The usual post-walk routine followed – a shower, a change of clothes, dinner, a drink and then bed. Except I knew I would be getting little sleep. In fact, I was planning on it.
My Cunning Plan
The interaction of train timetables meant that the only way I could get back to London in one day was to catch the first train out of Elgin in the morning. And that meant getting up at five thirty and walking the six miles there along the footpath that had once been Lossiemouth’s branch line.
I would be doing this in pitch blackness of course – the path would be almost entirely unlit and sunrise wasn’t until eight – which was why I’d felt the need to buy a new torch in Nairn the morning before. Having done so, I was all set to proceed…
But that is quite another story…
This time: 25 miles
Total since Gravesend: 4,219 miles