- This page is about the county in Scotland. For the Incan archeological site, see Moray (Peru).
Moray is a county in the northeast of Scotland, with Aberdeenshire to its south and east, and Highland region west. It's bounded to the north by the Moray Firth, an arm of the North Sea. It's mostly rural, and in 2019 had a population of 95,520.
- 1 Elgin, the county town, has a 13th-century ruined cathedral, and an earlier bishop's palace nearby.
A series of small towns line the coast of the Moray Firth. From the west:
- 2 Forres has a castle, the remarkable Pictish Sueno's (or Sven's) Stone, and a couple of distilleries.
- Findhorn just north on the coast is a "New Age" settlement.
- 3 Lossiemouth is an 18th century planned town on a grid pattern. It's better known now for its RAF base and Gordonstoun school. Along the coast are pine woods and sand dunes.
- 4 Buckie and Cullen are two small fishing ports.
Inland is classic malt-whisky distilling country along the lower Spey Valley.
"Moray" probably derives from Celtic mori, sea, and treb, settlement. In the 11th century, this was a huge tract of territory, between lowland Alba to the south and Viking Sutherland and the islands to the north. Its ruler or "Mormaer" was MacBheatha mac Fhionnlaigh, whom we call Macbeth. But was a Mormaer an independent king or a vassal noble? Duncan of Alba reckoned Macbeth was subservient, and marched north in 1040 to prove his argument; Macbeth's forces overcame and killed him, so Macbeth became king of a unified Scotland. According to Shakespeare he benefited from witchcraft, but it was all quite legal and constitutional, as hacking your opponents to bits was sort of a medieval Electoral College. His reign was secure enough for him to make a pilgrimage to Rome, but in 1057 he was slain in battle in a similarly legal and constitutional way, and Malcolm III got to be king.
Later centuries whittled down Moray to a small county centred on Elgin, and so it remains. (In 1975 it was absorbed into Grampian Region, but re-emerged as a county in 1996.) Its coast is on the same latitude as Newfoundland but has a much milder climate, and its industries have been agriculture, stone quarrying and fishing - this last has virtually gone. North Sea oil and gas were never a major industry here. What Moray is now best known for is whisky tourism, with a chain of distilleries lining the Spey Valley.
For Forres and Elgin the usual approach by air, rail or road is via Inverness. For the southern towns such as Keith, Aberdeen may be a more convenient way in.
Trains run every couple of hours from Aberdeen via Dyce, Inverurie, Huntly and Keith to Elgin and Forres, continuing to Nairn and Inverness.
The main road through the county is A96. Stagecoach Bus 10 follows it, running hourly from Inverness to Forres, Elgin and Aberdeen.
Buses follow A96 and link the coastal towns. You need your own wheels for anywhere else.
- Elgin cathedral dates from 1224 and was continually wrecked for the next few centuries.
- Spynie Palace near Elgin was the bishop's abode.
- Gordon Castle in Fochabers has attractive walled gardens.
- Brodie Castle near Forres is a sumptuous mansion.
- Sueno's (or Sven's) Stone in Forres is a 6.5 m slab with Pictish carvings.
- Burghead on the coast has a curious Pictish well.
- Dufftown has the ruin of Balvenie Castle, and the Keith & Dufftown heritage railway.
- Walk the Speyside Way, a long-distance footpath linking Buckie, Fochabers, Dufftown, Craigellachie, Tomintoul, Ballindoch, Grantown on Spey, Boat of Garten and Aviemore.
- Highland Games are held at Gordon Castle near Elgin in May, and in Forres and Dufftown in July. They have pipe bands, caber-tossing, field and track events and so on; some are combined with Clan Gatherings or Agricultural Shows.
- Golf courses are everywhere, especially along the coast.
- Surfing is possible in the right conditions. There's a surf school in Lossiemouth.
- Elgin has the best selection, and all the towns have cheap-and-cheerful places. You might dine better at the golf hotels.
- Cullen skink is a rich creamy broth of smoked haddock, potato and onion, traditionally from Cullen.
- Distilleries: Elgin has half-a-dozen; best known is Glen Moray, which offers tours. Dufftown has more than you could shake a stick at. Dallas Dhu near Forres is no longer a working distillery, but is now a museum showing early 20th century whisky production methods.
- The main towns all have pubs and hotel bars.
Moray is lowland, with just its southwest edge rising into the Cairngorms, so the main hazards are man-made: traffic, traffic, traffic!
Will you incur dreadful bad luck by quoting from Macbeth? Traditionally the curse is only invoked by quoting the play within a theatre, outside of rehearsal or performance. But think twice.
- East to Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.
- West to Inverness and The Great Glen and Strathspey.
- South to the Cairngorms National Park
|Routes through Moray|
|Aviemore ← Grantown-on-Spey ←||SW NE||→ Portsoy/Banff|