Moray Coast Trail (Scotland)
Fishing villages, caves and long beaches, decorated with concrete blocks for German tanks – the Moray Coast Trail is a journey into the past. It’s located 80 kilometers along the coast in the north of Scotland. Although it is rather cool up here, in contrast to many other areas of Britain and there is less rainy days and midges – as the local mosquitos are called. April to September are suitable months for a hike. If you like it rough, you can use the winter period for the trail, as the thermometer rarely falls below the freezing point.
Moray Coast Trail
Medieval history – between Pictish Fort and monastery church
Forres, a former “royal burgh”, marks the start of the Moray Coast Trail. The first kilometers lead along a countryside road to Kinloss Abbey, which was built around 1150. The ruin stands patiently on a green meadow, with crooked tombstones and the headless statue of an angel remaining reminiscent of earlier times. I close my eyes and imagine the reception of the royal visitors: Edward I, Edward III or Mary, Queen of Scots.
Accompanied by yellow gorse bushes, the trail leads past the Findhorn Bay Nature Reserve. A lookout offers the possibility of spotting Curlews and Redshanks. Afterwards, I walk through the village, counting the antique cars passing me by – Scots seem to use every ray offered by the sun. There is an ice house, where fish was stored in the past, but nowadays it serves as a museum about the history of fishing. Unfortunately, it is only open from May.
On the other side of the village I reach the sea for the first time: I enjoy the sound of the waves and the scent of salt in the air. Since it is low tide, I can take the beach path – alternatively, there is a high-water route over the dunes. The clouds clump together, and the weather seems to get worse. I am glad that the path leads through a forest.
In Burghead, I follow the signs to the Pictish Fort. What I find is a white stone building with a model of it. Hellen takes care of the tourists and tells me that the fortress was built about 400 A.D. and destroyed by a fire 500 years later. She shows me proudly two stones with the engraving of a bull. “There are only 6 of them in the world!” She says.
Beach, caves and World War II bunkers
The next stage has a lot to offer for everyone. The faithful find the well of St. Aethan, whose waters are said to have healing powers. Rock hunters will find interest in the “Red Craig,” which marks the spot where the geological fault lies between fluvial and aeolian sandstone. Bird fans can take a closer look at a roosting place for seagulls – Gow’s Castle – and for climbers there are the Cummingston Stacks with over 50 routes.
The path leads me through Hopeman. When I leave this settlement, my gaze falls on some small colorful beach huts standing in a row. An hour later I reach the Clashach Bay, known by the many caves in the rocks of sandstone. The brown and gray layers of the cliff overlap like a stack of uneven books.
Then, the Moray Coast Trail leads me back to the beach. In front of me appears a lighthouse, enthroned on a ledge. Underneath is a cave cut into the rocks. I take a seat inside – the sand is comfortable – and let my eyes wander: through the entrance, across the sea. I sigh and leave this ideal sleeping place with a heavy heart – there are still at least 5 kilometers to go today, if I want to master the trail in 2 days.
The sun, which reigned over the skies, fights with the clouds. The result is a rainbow stretching over the Port of Lossiemouth. In search of the campsite I turn to two older men. “You have to go back three miles,” is the answer of one. “In Lossiemouth, there is only one parking space for camper vans.” The decision to camp wild is thus prepared and I hurry to use the last hour of daylight. On the beach between Lossiemouth and Spey Bay, there are concrete blocks arranged in rows – for tank defense. Surreal memories of the Second World War. The only variety in this trot is a bunker with shooting ranges.
My sleeping place could not be more contrary: I pitch my tent in the peaceful Lossie Forest, on a bed of pine needles. The end of the day makes me smile: I discover a bunker in the forest, overgrown by the roots of a tree – history, not forgotten.
Dolphin protection and flooding – the modern topics
I leave the remains of war behind me. The route leads over a viaduct, which allows a dry crossing of the Spey River. In the Scottish Dolphin Centre I treat myself with a coffee – the nice owner of the cozy restaurant provides me with a scone, a typical British pastry. During the break, I look out for dolphins, which often swim near the coast – unfortunately without success.
Afterwards a stretch of forest follows, away from the road, and I enjoy a moment of peace. The needle-poor trees are witnesses of harsh conditions and stand at unnatural angles partially supported by a friendly neighbor. It creaks and crackles. It smells of wood.
In Port Gordon, the next village, sandbags are stacked in front of the house and garden doors. A resident tells me that this area is flood-prone. Winds from the southeastern direction are not dangerous – here the sea is shallow, and the waves break sooner. In the northeast, there is no natural protection, the tides have already destroyed the port wall several times. I admire the antique church before I leave the village. On the way, I watch a few splashing seals. One last time I admire the yellow sea of gorse blossoms, over which the blue ocean and the gray sky open up.
The Bow Fiddle Rock is reminiscent of a violin bow and is the last exciting rock formation on the Moray Coast Trail. Shortly after, Cullen appears on the horizon. The destination of the trail, which is only a 30 minutes’ walk on the beach.
Authentic impressions of Scottish history – this is the least you can expect of the Moray Coast Trail. This route is recommended for those who want to experience a different side of Scotland. The division of the 80 kilometers can be arranged individually, since every village offers accommodation – and a night in a cave has something romantical about it.