The genteel seaside resort of Nairn claims the driest and sunniest climate in the whole of Scotland. This alone should be reason enough to pay a visit, but there are other attractions besides the sunshine. Our visitor guide to Nairn in the Scottish Highlands. Includes info on how to get there, history and self catering cottages in Nairn.
In Nairn there are miles of sandy beaches stretching east to the Culbin Forest, a championship golf course (which hosted the 1999 Walker Cup), and two of the best castles in the country are within easy reach - Cawdor Castle and Brodie Castle.
Nairn began life as an important commercial centre in the 12th century, and by the early 17th century had grown to such an extent that King James VI was able to boast of a town in his northern kingdom so large that people at one end of the High Street didn't understand the language spoken by those at the other end (the different languages being English and Gaelic). The town was a major fishing port in the 19th century and the tiny houses of the Old Fishertown, huddled together around the harbour, are very different from the town centre, which is known as New Fishertown. Both lie apart from the substantial villas and hotels of the seaside resort that developed with the arrival of the Highland Railway in the mid-19th century.
Today Nairn is still a tourist favourite, with its seafront full of people munching chips and ice cream. There are banks with ATMs in the High Street, a post office on Cawdor Street, a swimming pool on Marine Road, and cinema on King Street. The town hosts its annual Highland Games in August.
Local Sights & Activities for Nairn
This impressive and important Bronze-Age site lies only a mile southeast of Culloden and is well worth a short detour. The 5,000 year-old site consists of three large burial cairns encircled by standing stones, set in a grove of trees. The less imaginative visitor may see it as merely a pile of stones but no one can fail to be affected by the spooky atmosphere of the place. This is even more perceptible when no one else is around!
To get there, continue on the B9006 past Culloden Moor, then turn right at the Culloden Moor Inn and follow the signs for Clava Lodge. Look for the sign on the right of the road.
Standing proudly on a sandy spit that juts out into the Moray Firth is Fort George, Europe's finest surviving example of 18th-century military architecture. In today's money it is estimated the mightiest artillery fortification in Britain would cost over £1 billion to build. Begun in 1748, it was the last in a chain of three such fortifications built in the Highlands - the other two being Fort Augustus and Fort William - as a base for George II's army to prevent any potential threats to Hanoverian rule. It was completed in 1769, by which time the Highlands were more or less peaceful, but was kept in use as a military barracks.
Today it remains virtually unchanged, and there are even armed sentries at the main gate. You can walk along the ramparts to get an idea of the sheer scale of the place and also enjoy the sweeping views across the Moray Firth. You may even be lucky enough to see a school of dolphins. Within the fort are the barracks, a chapel, workshops and the Regimental Museum of the Queen's Own Highlanders, which features the fascinating Seafield Collection of arms and military equipment, most of which dates from the Napoleonic Wars. Info - Apr-Sep daily 0930-1830, Oct-Mar daily 0930-1630, £6.50, concession £5, children £2.50. Wheelchair access, café.
Fort George is 11 miles NE of Inverness and 6 miles W of Nairn Highland Bus and Coach No 11 from the Post Office in Inverness, several daily except Sun; also buses from Nairn. more about Fort George here
Though best known for its legendary association with Shakespeare's Macbeth, Cawdor Castle post-dates the grisly historical events on which the great Bard based his famous tragedy. The oldest part of the castle, the central tower, dates from 1372, and the rest of it is mostly 16th or 17th century. But despite the literary disappointment, the castle is still one of the most appealing in Scotland. It has been in the hands of the Cawdor family for over six centuries and each summer they clear off, leaving their romantic home and its glorious gardens open for the enjoyment of ordinary folks like us. There's also a nine-hole golf course.
According to family legend, an early Thane of Cawdor, wanting a new castle, had a dream in which he was told to load a donkey with gold, let it wander around for a day and watch where it lay down, for this would be the best spot for his new castle. He duly followed these instructions and the donkey lay down under a thorn tree, the remains of which can still be seen in the middle of a vaulted chamber in the 14th-century tower. Info - May to early Oct daily 1000-1700. £7, concessions £6, children £4.30. Tel.01667-404401.
To get to Cawdor by public transport, take the Highland Country Buses No 12 leaves from Inverness Queensgate and runs several times Mon-Sat as far as Cawdor Church. It's a 10 min walk from there to the castle. The last bus returns around 1822; also regular buses from Nairn. Close by the castle, is the Cawdor Tavern, Tel./Fax. 01667-404777, a traditional country pub serving excellent food in a friendly atmosphere. Perfect for lunch or dinner after visiting the castle. Prices are cheap to mid-range.
Here is one of Scotland's finest castles, still lived in by the Brodie family. The oldest part of the castle, the Z-plan tower house, is 16th-century, with additions dating from the 17th and 19th centuries, giving it the look of a Victorian country house. The interior of the house is the epitome of good taste, with some fabulous ceilings, and you can look round several rooms, including the huge Victorian kitchen. The collections of furniture and porcelain are wonderful but most notable are the outstanding paintings, which include Edwin Landseer and Scottish Colourists. The grounds, too, are a delight, especially in spring when the daffodils are in bloom. There's also a tearoom. Info - Castle open Apr-Oct daily 1100-1630, grounds open all year daily 0930-sunset. castle and grounds £10, concessions £7. Tel. 01309-641371.
Just to the west of Cawdor is Kilravock Castle, a lovely 15th-century stately home which is closed to the public, but can be visited by prior appointment. The castle (pronounced 'Kilrawk') is still the seat of the Rose family, who now run it as a guesthouse on strictly Christian principles. Info - Tel. 01667-493258. The castle gardens are open to the public Mon-Sat 1000-1600, and worth visiting. Free.
Sights In Nairn
The Fishertown Museum in Old Fishertown is interesting and tells of the building of the harbour by Thomas Telford in 1820 and the subsequent decline of the herring industry. The harbour is now mainly used by pleasure craft. Info - The museum is open from Jun to Aug Mon-Sat 1000-1700. Free.
About two miles east of Nairn, in the little village of Auldearn, is a 17th-century doocot (dovecote) from where the royal standard was flown, in 1645, by the victorious troops of Charles I led by the Marquis of Montrose against the Covenanters. Displays in the doocot tell of the battle.
Nairn Hotels & Accommodation
There's lots of accommodation to choose from right across the range in Nairn and our visitor guide brings you these details and also eating options.
Clifton House, Viewfield St, Tel. 453119. This unique hotel offers superb hospitality and a touch of class, every room is different and the place is full of antiques. They host musical and theatrical evenings and dinner is also quite an event.
For families, the very child-friendly Covenanter's Inn about 2 miles east of Nairn is recommended. Albert St, Tel. 452547, neil.macleod@ lineone.net
There's a good campsite 1 miles from town: Spindrift Caravan & Camping Park, at Little Kildrummie, Tel. 453992, open Apr-Oct.