We started our journey along the Moray coast at Banff, an attractive, stone-built seaside town. (Due to time constraints, we didn’t explore the eastern part of this area – north of Aberdeen or east of Banff ) Venturing west through Portsoy, Cullen and Portknockie and onwards around Spey Bay to Lossiemouth and Elgin, both the towns and the coastline were very attractive.
Elgin is surprisingly large and appears to have all the things you’d need if you actually lived in the area – together with the ruins of an impressive cathedral, which is worth a visit if you like such things.
Things took a turn for the worse after Lossiemouth as we drove through Kinloss, which has a large RAF base that dominates the town – indeed, if the base were ever to close, it’s clear that the town would pretty much cease to exist, too. Kinloss obviously plays a major part in supporting the economy of the surrounding area, but it’s a bit grim and like us, you will probably drive straight through to Findhorn, which is better, although not amazing. Our favourite parts of this coastline were those to the east of Lossiemouth.
One interesting, if minor, diversion between the coast and Inverness is Sueno’s Stone, in Forres:
This Pictish stone is 6.5m high and is thought to date from the 9th or 10th century. It is heavily carved all over and according to our Lonely Planet Scotland guide, “is thought to depict a battle between the Picts and invading Scots or Vikings.” The enormous glass box protects it from weather damage and human interference – you can’t get inside.
On reaching Inverness, we skirted the city and headed down towards Loch Ness – undoubtedly one of Scotland’s biggest coach tour attractions… Two large visitor centres plus no overnight parking in all the laybys on the road (A82) along the loch didn’t detract from what is a very scenic area. Still, it isn’t a good place to try and wild camp for the night, so we headed west a little further, towards Glen Affric.
Our trusty Lonely Planet Scotland guide describes Glen Affric as “one of the most beautiful glens in Scotland”. This time, they were right – but the weather had turned against us with intermittent rain and the beautiful (lush, green) parking spot we found by Loch Affric provided us with our first in-depth introduction to Scottish midges, which seemed to get into the van despite us closing everything up and swarmed around the windows and doors. Indeed, the next morning, the outside of the van was plastered with scores of dead midges which had drowned in the rain while trying to get into our van.
(The fly screens in our van’s Seitz S4 windows keep almost everything out, but the mesh is too big to keep midges out – they just crawl through it!).
Despite this, Glen Affric is very beautiful it is worth following one of the short, signposted walks from the forestry commission car parks if you’d like to see a little more of it. The Dog Falls walk will only take you twenty minutes, for example – but if you feel like it, there is a 10 mile route that takes you all the way around Loch Affric.