It may be the fastest-growing tourist destination in Scotland, yet many people from Northern Ireland probably won’t have heard of Moray Speyside.
Overshadowed for so long by world renowned tourism hotspots such as Edinburgh, Loch Lomond and Skye, Moray Speyside - located in the country’s spectacular north-east between the Cairngorm Mountains and the Moray Firth - is quickly becoming one of Scotland’s must-visit destinations.
Duncan Elder takes a look at what the area has to offer...
How to get there
The Moray Speyside area is blessed with excellent transport links, with daily flights from Belfast to nearby Inverness and Aberdeen. However, to make the most of your trip, it’s well worth taking the ferry to Cairnryan and driving up the west coast, through central Scotland, past the historic city of Stirling and up the A9, enjoying the breathtaking scenery of the Cairngorms National Park.
Stena Line offers five sailings per day from Belfast to Cairnryan on its state-of-the-art Superfast VII and VIII ships.
Where to stay
The Speyside and Morayshire areas offer a wide variety of accommodation choices, from plush five star and boutique hotels to ‘glamping’, camping and homely B&Bs.
Laurie Piper, Operations Manager at Moray Speyside Tourism, says: “Moray has no shortage of excellent accommodation options, from the premium five star boutique Station Hotel in Rothes and the Craigellachie Hotel, which is a favoured haunt of rich hipsters, footballers and glitterati, to wonderful B&Bs with proper Speyside hospitality. We’ve also got premier holiday lodges, glamping huts, yurts, tents and good quality hotels in each of our towns, so there is no shortage of good accommodation.”
Places of interest
The region is blessed with stunning scenery - rugged mountains, fast-flowing rivers, wild woodlands and beautiful beaches.
An icon of the Moray coast, Bow Fiddle Rock - a natural sea arch near Portknockie - is a must-see. And the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society’s site at Spey Bay is well worth a visit for nature lovers in search of birds, butterflies and, of course, the Moray Firth dolphins.
There are many sites of historic and cultural interest too, including Ballindalloch Estate, Elgin Cathedral, Duffus Castle, Johnstons of Elgin Cashmere Heritage Centre and Covesea Lighthouse, which sits close to the end of the runway of fast-jet station RAF Lossiemouth.
No trip to Moray Speyside would be complete without checking out the famous ‘Malt Whisky Trail’ and visiting one or two of the area’s 60 distilleries, which include world-leading brands such as Glenfiddich, The Glenlivet and The Macallan.
“A trip to Moray Speyside gives visitors the opportunity to experience the best of Scotland in miniature,” Mr Piper continues. “You can drive from one side of the county to the other and from the top to the bottom in about an hour, and in that hour you would see mountains, coasts, castles, dolphins - the very best of Scotland but you don’t have to drive across Scotland to see it.
“If however you’ve got a week, we can fill that week. If you’ve got two weeks we have plenty to fill that as well. It is a beautiful place with so much to see and do.
“It is genuinely Scotland in miniature because you can get the best of everything, and there are no midges here either!”
Things to do
The area’s temperate climate makes it perfect for all sorts of pastimes.
It is popular all year round with walkers and cyclists, anglers and adventure sports enthusiasts alike. Golfers too are spoilt for choice, with the region boasting some wonderful parkland courses and links.
Throughout the year there are festivals celebrating the region’s culture, music, food and drink.
Moray is an ideal place to see the Northern Lights at many points throughout the year, and the Cabrach Dark Sky Site is the perfect location for stargazing.
Find out more
For more information about Morayshire and Speyside log on to www.morayspeyside.com
For details of Stena Line sailings click on www.stenaline.co.uk
To book a free mill tour at Johnstons of Elgin log on to www.johnstonscashmere.com/retail/mill-tour