On a sheltered coastal spot by the mild Moray Firth and tucked beyond the mountains, the traditional resort town of Nairn has been a favourite for generations of holidaymakers. It is especially noted for golf as well as its good weather statistics.
Nairn ‘the Brighton of the North’
This was a common description in old guidebooks and a reminder of the Victorian resort that flourished, as in so many other places, after the railway arrived, as early as 1855. However, around nine centuries before that, it is thought there was a Norse settlement here, by the river-mouth, which eventually grew into the fishertown of Nairn. The harbour was built by the famous Scottish engineer Thomas Telford in the 1820s.
Inland, a little farming settlement developed alongside the fishertown. The community was also associated with a tale, attributed to King James VI. He is said to have boasted of his town so large that two languages were spoken in it – that is, Gaelic in the ‘Highland’ farming end and Lowland Scots down by the sea.
Today’s main A96 trunk road still separates the fishertown from the commercial streets of Nairn, while the main Victorian villa development lies to the west. The harbour, once busy with herring drifters, is now mostly used by leisure craft. Tourism is still important, with golfers especially well catered for.
Accommodation in Nairn:
Nairn has an excellent selection of hotels, of all sizes, within easy reach of the beach and golf courses, some with views northwards across the Moray Firth. Bed and breakfast and guest house accommodation is also wide-ranging. Self-catering properties are found both within the town but also include steading conversions and cottages on working farms nearby. There are also caravan parks both to east and west of the town.
Nairn Museum (closed in winter) is a good starting point for the heritage of Nairn. Further afield there is a good choice of places to visit, including the National Trust for Scotland properties at Brodie Castle and Culloden. Historically linked to the famous battlesite is Fort George to the west. Cawdor Castle also makes an excellent excursion.
There are two golf courses at Nairn and about 40 more within an hour’s drive. The Culbin Forest to the east is a large area with a great variety of walks, trails and cycleways. The coastline here is part of the Moray Forth Trail, which is also signposted and has excellent walking east of Findhorn too. Angling can also be arranged within easy reach of the town.
The largest area of dunes in the UK formerly stretched from near Nairn eastwards to the mouth of the River Findhorn. The Forestry Commission undertook substantial planting here from the 1920s onwards. Today’s mature forest has specialities such as red squirrels and crested tits but is just one of the habitats rich in wildlife here. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ reserve of the Culbin Sands is rewarding at all seasons, but especially autumn with its range of migrating waders and geese, plus there are good numbers of over-wintering sea-duck.
Only a few minutes’ drive west of Nairn is a vivid reminder of Scotland’s turbulent past. Fort George is one of Europe’s finest surviving examples of 18th-century military architecture. It was built to ensure that the Highlands would never again become a threat after the last Jacobite uprising of 1745. Look out for dolphins while walking the walls on the seaward side!
Associated with Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Cawdor has been the seat of the Earls of Cawdor and is a treasury of artefacts acquired over the generations – paintings, tapestries and a great variety of historical material. Much of the castle seen today is 16th and 17thcentury work, though the tower is earlier. There are attractive gardens and walks.
The famous bottle-nose dolphins of the Moray Firth as a species grow larger here than anywhere else in the world – a combination of rich feeding and cold water necessitating extra layers of insulation! Though they can be seen without warning anywhere along the coast, river estuaries are sometimes favoured – so it is well worth keeping a watch from Nairn harbour. There are local dolphin cruises available.
Nairn has for long had a reputation for a thriving cultural life. Events include a Book and Arts Festival in June, and an International Jazz Festival in August. More traditionally, Nairn’s Highland Games are also held in August. See www.nairnscotland.co.uk.