Elgin, Findhorn and Inverness

On our way to spend a couple of nights in our van in Findhorn, we stopped in Elgin to stay in a B&B recommended by some friends. South of the A9 before we diverted up Speyside, we passed Glen Feshie which sits on the side of the Cairngorm Massif. I had recently read an article about 200 people from there who emigrated to Canada in the early 1830s and established a town called Badenoch on the shores of Lake Ontario. They cleared the heavily forested land and threatened the livelihood of the local indigenous people, the Mississaugas, a nomadic people whose traditional migratory routes were cut off. The immigrant community grew with additional English and German settlers. It is hard to believe that people who had grown up with the consequences of the clearances in Scotland could do this to the local people.

After settling into our accommodation in Elgin, we had a meal in a restaurant in a close off the High Street. Our host told us that Elgin was initially a network of narrow streets until the Victorians created the High Street and built St Giles’s church. The map shows the remains of a castle and several old wells. The following morning, we awoke to blue skies and sunshine and set out to explore the Cathedral ruins and the nearby Biblical Garden. The first cathedral was constructed in 1224.

The Biblical Garden is part laid out in the shape of a Celtic Cross

and also has statues of biblical characters with a note relating to their section of the bible.

There is also a space where you can sit and eat a picnic.

Leaving Elgin on the A941 we saw that like many towns in East Lothian, lots of new houses are being built on the outskirts. By the time we stopped for a coffee in Lossiemouth it had started to cloud over.

Heading west along the coast we passed RAF Lossiemouth, Hopeman, Roseisle Maltings and Kinross Airfield where we turned into the road to Findhorn. The Aire is situated on the Findhorn Bay Local Nature Reserve. 

The Findhorn River is 60 miles long. Its source is in the Am Monadh Liath mountains and it runs down to the Moray coast where it reaches the sea at the village of Findhorn.  Thomas Henderson wrote a book The Findhorn’ published in 1932. He describes the village of Findhorn as ‘now but a holiday resort of a charmingly primitive kind’. The Culbin Estate is near Findhorn. In the 17th century it was a prosperous farm protected from wind by the dunes. It lay on a low peninsula in the bay. In November 1694 a huge storm flooded Findhorn.  The people had to escape and the sea completely covered the Culbin Estate. 16 farms, land, the lairds house and all the workers houses were completely destroyed. A new river course to the sea had opened.  The Culbin forest is across the water from Findhorn.

The village was once a trading port. The local lairds were co-partners. They sold and shipped out their timber, salmon, herring and cod and imported luxuries. Thomas Henderson lists a selection of cargo ordered from Holland in 1649: soap, dyeing materials e.g., Indigo, raisins, currants, figs, prunes, ginger, sugar, aniseed, black pepper, wine, tobacco and more.

We were close to the beach and there are steps up the dunes for access.

There are some stones on the beach but not as many as at Spey Bay.

I did several beach walks on the first day.

On our second morning we had a coffee at the Bakehouse Market and then walked via the marina and the beach to the Aire.

In the afternoon we visited the Ice House which covers the local history of salmon fishing which was the main industry until 1987.

The main Heritage Centre was closed.

That evening I watched the sun go down on the beach.

On our way back home, we diverted to Inverness to visit some friends and had a walk alongside the River Ness.

Ballyrobert Gardens

Ballyrobert Garden is close to Ballyclare in County Antrim, Northern Island. It Is a family run affair, open to visitors and a Royal Horticultural Society Partner Garden which the owners try to blend into the local surroundings, both horticulturally and culturally. They cite influences on the garden design and philosophy from Vita Sackville West, Christopher Lloyd and Irish-born William Robinson, author of The Wild Garden and others.

The garden contains an extensive collection of plant varieties; over 4000 at last count.

It began as a small farm around 300 years ago and existed in that form until the present owners came along in 1994 and started to dig beds and add trees. Then it became a garden, a nursery, and a small farm. The site was quite rich in wildlife and had a bit of history. After a lot of thought they planned to garden in a way to fit the local landscape being as careful as possible to blend their love of gardening with the rich built and natural history of the site. The entrance to the property in 1994 consisted of a nondescript tubular gate. A search of the local area soon revealed what a traditional entrance ought to look like and so they copied the design for the pillars and the gate.

We began our walk around along the woodland walk

where autumn crocuses were beginning to emerge.

And some fungi in the grass.

The lake was very dry and empty of water after the recent hot, dry weather.

In normal times dragonflies, reed buntings and wagtails can be seen there. There are several bridges across the streams in the garden and this stone one has nest boxes built into it.

The station lawn has its name because there once was a station across the road. The gate from the front garden leads through to it.

The old hay shed is now reception and it and the other buildings are close to the front garden.

Behind the buildings is the nursery

which grows plants which they sell.

I was interested to see for the first time, discounted mis-labelled plants.

There are many wonderful plants in the garden and although it was a little too windy for macro photography, I did manage to catch a couple of insects on some of the flowers.

The rowan trees had ripe berries on them.

It has been suggested that the warmer weather due to climate change might bring autumn colours and leaf drop sooner. We had a coffee in the self-service cafe before we left. I was delighted to see one sculpture amongst the foliage.

In another area an earthenware pot sat beside some of the trees and plants.

It would be interesting to return in different seasons.

Tantallon Castle

Tantallon Castle is only a few miles from our home in North Berwick. You can even see North Berwick Law from it.

It was the headquarters of the Douglas family. William Duke of Douglas built the castle in the 1350s and they remained occupants until the 16th century when Archibald Douglas was charged with treason. It then passed to the Earldom of Angus.

The outer gate used to have double wooden doors which by the 1500s was the main route into the castle

and the Tower built in 1520s.  

Tantallon was besieged three times:

  • By James IV in 1491
  • James V in 1528
  • Oliver Cromwell in 1651 who also captured nearby Dirleton Castle as well.

The castle was abandoned after this last attack. The Dalrymples bought it as a romantic ruin in 1699. It was taken over by the ministry of works in 1924. The castle is now under the care of Historic Scotland. At the moment access is only to the outside grounds. During the pandemic a backlog of safety inspections and work compiled and is now being carried out. Until this is complete there is not access to the inside of many buildings. We wandered around the outside which gives views to the bays on either side and to the Bass Rock.

The Doocot sits in the grounds and used to house thousands of pigeons to provide meat and eggs to the residents. The birds entered via the roof and the door was kept locked to prevent poachers gaining access.

The grounds are spacious

and there are picnic tables near the entrance. It is only a short distance from the Drift Cafe as well.

RHS Garden Bridgewater

I have been a member of the Royal Horticultural Society for many years and visit their gardens if I am in the vicinity. The newest is RHS Bridgewater in Worsley, Salford, Manchester. We stopped off on our last trip down south. You do have to book visits but the booking lasts for the whole day and you can arrive whenever you want and stay for as long as you like. We arrived mid-morning in July.

The historic 154-acre Worsley New Hall estate was turned into the RHS Bridgewater Garden to improve and enrich Salford’s communities and environment. Worsley New Hall, in its formal landscaped gardens, was a notable residence in the 19th century. It was built for the 1st Earl of Ellesmere between 1840 and 1845, designed by the architect Edward Blore – whose speciality was Tudor and Elizabethan-style architecture, and whose reputation was for completing projects on time and to budget. This project cost just under £100,000 to build, which is the equivalent of around £6.7 million today. The estate sat northwest of the current garden.

Worsley New Hall was a British Red Cross Hospital during the First World War and afterwards the house and garden declined. In the Second World War parts of the hall were requisitioned by the War Office and its gardens used as training grounds by the Lancashire Fusiliers. In the 20th century, a fire and dry rot led to the hall falling into disrepair. In 1943 a scrap merchant bought it for £2,500. Subsequently, the grounds were used as a garden centre, a Scout camp and a rifle range. There are still some old buildings in the garden.

We began by walking around the walled gardens after passing the learning centres on the way.  Weston Walled Garden is divided into two: the Kitchen Garden

and the Paradise Garden.

I enjoyed photographing some flowers.

North of the walled gardens are two glasshouses, one devoted to fruits

and one to Mediterranean plants.

There is a pollinator meadow

and Moon Bridge Water.

The Chinese Streamside Garden is under construction and should be completed in three years.

The garden is surrounded by a forest with an arboretum to be developed in future.

There is also a lake which will have future development. I will definitely return in a different season.