Morayshire is so, So, SO renowned for whisky (think Speyside, people!) that I hadn’t really viewed it as a family destination. It’s a whisky destination, right? But obviously the area offers way more than just one
isolated (but globally renowned, respected and adored) product. So when Moray Speyside Tourism sent us on a family press trip I actually didn’t know what to expect. Here’s Morayshire with Kids…
For those who don’t know, Morayshire (tucked between the nearest cities of Aberdeen and Inverness) runs along the coast from Cullen to beyond Findhorn. Then heads deep inland beyond Tomintoul, covering a stunning region offering up mountains, rivers and beaches. Plus we found some really cool places to stay, and a very long list of places to eat. Many tempting cafés and restaurants offer much more besides, from Walled Gardens and dolphins, to soft play and a Victorian grocer’s shop.
What to Do
The Speyside Cooperage, Craigellachie
Admittedly our first stop is a core part of the local and international whisky industry, creating the barrels where the water of life matures. With barrels large and small used in the grounds, to create displays, play-houses, statues, tables and chairs, the approach felt much more child-orientated than I would have expected.
The guided tours (best to book a slot to avoid disappointment) aren’t particularly aimed at kids. We had the only tots on our tour, and everyone else was American, but it worked pretty well. Mainly because most of the tour is conducted at various points along a viewing gallery, looking down on the men crashing, thudding and hammering metal and wood into shape. Our 21st century children aren’t used to seeing men at work, pure physical activity, so our tots were awed by the noise and the sight of it all.
I never knew I’d find barrels interesting. The tour guide fleshed out the staff’s personalities, with tales of Atila the Hungarian who rides a Harley Davidson, Guinness World Record holder David McKenzie who holds the record for building a 190 litre barrel in the fastest time, and ‘Crazy Pete’, who apparently builds one even faster!
Extras – Free parking, and an informal café serving soup and a sandwich type lunches, tray bakes and coffees. Find the current prices here.
Brodie Castle & Playful Garden, Brodie, nr Forres
Brodie Castle was the seat of the Brodies of Brodie. To me, that’s just too many Brodies in one sentence, but the castle is beautiful. Run by the National Trust for Scotland, the tours are aimed at adult, but older kids may be more patient.
Our tots were relatively well behaved as we toured the elegant dining halls, libraries and bedrooms. The nursery was a highlight as they coloured on mini-blackboards like they’d gone back in time.
Maybe the reason they were so good was the promise of Brodie Castle’s relatively new Playful Garden. This innovative space contains a mix of installations allowing kids to play with sounds and visuals, as well as running, jumping and splashing. It’s a really quirky space, and all the better as adults can grab a coffee from the café and let the kids run free. There’s also an indoor soft-play area for rainy days.
Extras – Ample parking (free to NTS members) and café serving casual fare. For prices click here. The garden is quite expensive, considering many play parks are free, but it’s totally free to NTS members. And that’s a key element of the National Trust, you join up and can then visit any member site whenever and however many times you wish.
Nelson’s Tower, Forres
Built by public subscription after the death of Lord Admiral Nelson, this tower is run by local volunteers. For visitors it’s a very tranquil walk through the forest of Cluny Hill. The tower itself features exhibits on each floor relating to the Battle of Trafalgar, and the history of the building itself. The children were invited to ring a particularly noisy ship’s bell, which they did with delight far more often than any of us anticipated.
From the top of the tower the views over the Moray countryside and out to sea are simply excellent. The kids loved being King of the Castle.
Extras – At the bottom of Cluny Hill is the lovely wee play park called Grant Park, which is also home to Mather’s Ice Cream. After our forest walk and tower visit, we spent an hour letting the kids be kids on the swings and slides. There’s free parking next to Grant Park. The forest path is uphill but relatively buggy friendly. The tower has no access for buggies or wheelchairs but you could leave prams etc. at the bottom.
FREE – check for opening hours and info here.
Scottish Dolphin Centre, Spey Bay
This low key centre makes for quite a relaxed hour or so. With cameras out to sea and over the river, visitors are invited to try to spot wild dolphins and sealife in its natural habitat. To be fair, we saw very little but had fun attempting to do so.
The boys listened to recordings of dolphins and whales, and then helpfully imitated them.
Information boards around the centre display curious factoids about the dolphins of the Moray Firth, such as the fact that they are the biggest and chubbiest in the world. Who knew? Whilst it’s not a shiny, modern centre, its mix of wildlife jigsaws and toys create a relaxed vibe where kids learn more about one of the world’s most endearing mammals.
Extras – The attraction is also home to the largest ice-houses in the UK. Wrap up warm for a free tour.
Woodside Farm, Kinloss
Here you can feed crumbs to the chickens, meet the Aberdeen-Angus bulls, calves and cows, before heading inside to explore Woodside’s Play Area. Combining a mix of climbing frames, soft-play, jigsaws, fancy dress and board games, it’s ideal for wee ones.
The café, set back from the play area, with a window looking directly onto it, allows families to enjoy a tray bake or light lunch and coffee. If your tots are confident enough to play on their own, parents can kick back in the café whilst keeping an eye on wee ones through the glass.
Extras – Don’t leave without picking up some fresh produce from the farm shop. FREE entry with purchase.
Baxters of Fochabers
Renowned primarily for their soup and jams, Baxters is worth dropping into. The visitor centre includes a Victorian Grocer’s shop, akin to the one where the Baxters initially started selling their wares. There is a mix of shops, including a food hall stocking some of the finest produce from across Scotland. One shop sells Scottish alcohol, from fine gins to craft beers, and a third shop is packed to the rafters with Baxters’ produce.
Extras – We swung past the café to share a ginormous pancake with cream and strawberries. The Baxters’ pancakes are legendary.
Gordon Castle Walled Garden, Fochabers
At this historic walled garden, complete with attractive Victorian Glasshouse, you’ll find a super cool outdoor play area for kids, created from reclaimed materials on the estate. The café is delightful, and it’s a chance to pick up fresh produce and gin! Read a full write up here.
This fascinating community stands out from the crowd. And the beach is a cracker too. Read the full write up here.
Where to Eat
The Old Mill Inn, Forres
Such a cosy historic vibe, under new management and dishing up classics such as Gressingham Duck, Black Isle Sirloin Steak and Loin of Organic Roe Dee with a tiny Shepherd’s Pie. The ‘Wee Miller’s Menu’ included a Melon Smile to start, Mini Fish Supper or Cheese Toastie with Skinny Chips and Beans, rounded off with a Clown’s Hat. Our kids talked about the Clown’s Hat for days – an upside down vanilla ice cream cone with fruit!
The Mosset Tavern, Brodie, nr Forres
Another great find. Modern and spacious, with cool playpacks for kids including colouring sets and stickers, and even a doll’s house in the corner to distract them. There’s a Vegan Menu, and the Day Menu included Pub Classics such as Guid Auld Mince and Tatties, or Steak and Craft Ale Pie, or Irn Bru Glazed Half Back of Pork Ribs. Kids could choose between a Roast Chicken Dinner, Spageti Bolognese with Garlic Bread, or a Children’s Picky Plate featuring a mix of nibbles.
Where to Stay
Macbeth’s Hillock, Forres
This is the coolest place, and the cosiest place for glamping. The Hillock is where it’s said Macbeth met the three witches who prophesised his rise and fall, so the witch theme is subtle but wonderfully done. The glamping pods include a kitchenette, shower, flushable toilet and a heater (a blessed heater). Campfires are set outside the pods, maintaining that camping, toasting marshmallow vibe. I plan to write this location up in detail, but if you can’t wait then click here.
Carden Cottages, Alves, Elgin
For homely, comfortable self catering cottages that simply offer everything you need to create a home from home then the four star Carden Cottages deliver. There are several cottages available so it’s easy to book as a group. Super spacious, clean and cosy, set in rural isolation, these traditional cottages offer a chance to escape from it all.
Cullen Harbour Hostel
As you can probably tell, I was quite overwhelmed by what I could do, where we could eat and the family friendly accommodation on offer in Morayshire. It exceeded expectations and would make a great day trip from Aberdeen/Inverness and you could easily pass a long weekend or week here.
Our Story – We drove from Aberdeen to Morayshire, it’s 2 hours from Aberdeen to Forres. There is also a train station in Elgin on the Aberdeen to Inverness route.