With the launch of a new Food Festival, A Taste of Nairn, I was invited to discover new foodie highlights and family attractions. Forget a high street full of branded names and boring uniformity – Nairn has its own identity, it’s full of independent unique locations, some excellent, others wonderfully idiosyncratic. I was delighted by these quirky finds, read on…
Restaurant – The Sundancer
As it’s a food festival I’ll start with a fab place to eat. The Sundancer is right next to beach with views to die for. It’s a contemporary, spacious venue so ideal for family groups. I had the most epic Seafood Platter featuring scallops, lemon sole, sea trout, mussels and cullen skink. The children’s menu served dishes such as Roast Chicken with roast potatoes, vegetables and gravy or Beer Battered Haddock and Chips, alongside traditional favourites such as Pizza and Bangers and Mash.
Considering there is always something going on in the water (dolphin-spotting is a regular occurrence), on the beach or even in the sky, these sea views occupy kids and big kids.
The Fishwife & the Harbour
A small diversion, but just outside the Sundancer you can see lots of leisure boats in the modern harbour, which have replaced the fishing boats of old. A small statue commemorates the work of the fishing community, especially the women who grafted hard at home, whilst raising the kids, as the men spent long, dangerous periods at sea.
The Beach, Playgrounds & James’ on the Green
From the Sundancer walk along the sand by the water, or on the coastal path if you have a buggy. Kids love the beach, but you’ll also come across two playgrounds, an outdoor swimming pool, a bandstand in a vast expanse of grassland and then you’ll find James’ on the Green. This cute-as-a-button cabin is right next to one of the playgrounds and a putting green. People queue up for James’ signature waffles, ice-cream and coffees. Outdoor seating is available, with blankets and hot-water bottles to get cosy.
Nairn Museum is a small, traditional museum – think display boards and artefacts. Whilst there’s not the high-tech interactivity that you’d find in inner city museums, Nairn’s museum is full of simple pleasures, and one very weird one.
Whilst the museum tells the story of fishing, agriculture and Nairn’s role in WW1 and WW2, as you’d expect, there are lovely details for wee ones. First off there’s an actual play corner with toys, books and colouring-in to keep them quiet.
Secondly, the four typewriters are a bit of a hit. To today’s generation these are genuine historic artefacts, but seeing kids clattering out a letter on a typewriter is quite amusing.
There’s a wee schoolroom where children can sit at a wooden desk or ‘be teacher’ at a large blackboard. And in a third room, there are a couple of old-fashioned tills featuring ‘old money’ for them to play shop. It’s really helpful that most rooms had a little corner with child-friendly activities.
In terms of objects, actual sporrans and sections of plaid from Culloden appeal to mini-historians and Outlander fans. But the shrunken head is the one display that children drop their jaws over. It’s about the size of a tennis ball, and even as a adult it has a morbid fascination. Poor creature.
Scottish Exotic Animal Rescue
Another really unusual find is the Scottish Exotic Animal Rescue. It’s the passion of one man, Nick Martin, who is dedicated to rescuing exotic beasts – from snakes and spiders to lizards. It’s gorgeously warm so a great stop on a cold day! Here children get to meet and greet the animals in an aim to prevent phobias and misconceptions about these much maligned creatures.
Whilst the centre wishes to familiarise children with exotic animals, it also clearly highlights why many of them make unsuitable pets. Thus educating the next generation so that the rescue of such animals hopefully decreases! It was a hugely unexpected to find a range of such creatures on Harbour Street in Nairn!
The High Street
I wouldn’t normally mention a High Street, but Nairn’s High Street is like going back in time to a period when streets had character and personality. Morton’s Sweet Shop was super cute, I spent a small fortune in Crafty Wee Birdie Gift Shop and, if I was self-catering, there were several independent delis and butchers to buy quality produce from.
Househill Farm Shop & Coffee Shop
Slightly out of Nairn is the Househill Complex. I visited the Coffee Shop and the Farm Shop, but there’s also a Gift/Furniture Shop specialising in wooden creations alongside a hairdressers and flooring company! You can see the actual farm from the shop, which specialises in Simmental cattle, and spot tractors driving back and forth, which kids generally love.
Alongside fresh veg, Tractor Ted gifts are on sale, meat straight from the farm, eggs, cheeses, Scottish gin, you name it! I bought some Scotland Street coffee, before indulging in Victoria Sponge. Lunches are also available, such as Steak Sandwiches, Vegetarian Wraps and Crispy Tatttie Skins, and it has a relaxed vibe that works well for families. One corner of the coffee shop has small selection of toys to amuse youngsters.
Restaurant – One One Two on the Brae
This restaurant specialises in small platters and large plates, creating a dining experience of mixing and/or sharing dishes. Ideally I’d visit One One Two child free, partly because it has a wall of wine and gin for customers to imbibe. The owner’s mother is a local wine buyer and has created a menu of global wines especially for One One Two. Scottish gins are also hugely popular. The cocktail list is strong, and they look lush.
This is a great choice for those with different dining tastes. For those who love meat the Lamb Croquettes are virtually pure lamb and delicious, those who prefer something lighter could try the Chickpea and Cumin Falafel. I also tried the Cheeseboard featuring two Scottish cheeses, one Welsh cheese, Perthshire Honey and Onion Chutney from Orkney. It was delightful.
Auldearn Antiques is such a treasure trove. With antique furniture, vintage clothing (including Christening gowns) and retro crockery, this site is perfect for a rummage. It’s the kinda place you could give the kids £2 each to buy something and see what they come back with. There’s even a 50p room where everything costs … 50p. I left with a really bizarre plate featuring a ballet dancer!
Where to Stay – Sandown House
I was put up in the charming Sandown House Guest House. Its owners, Liz and Andrew, bring a personal touch to your stay. Six modern bedrooms are available with details such as cafetieres and ground coffee with fresh milk in the fridge.
Sofa beds for wee ones mean that families can stay in the spacious rooms. Dogs are welcome in certain suites too, welcoming the whole family.
Breakfasts are made fresh to order and include homemade soda bread. I started well with the Fresh Fruit Plate served with homemade Granola and berries straight from Hardmuir Farm down the road. But satisfying morning rolls with Stornoway Black Pudding hit the spot too! Sandown in on the edge of Nairn. It’s near the beach, and a 20-30 minute walk into town or a short drive.
I was really surprised by Nairn. The food offering is strong, and will be celebrated during the Food Festival in April. The beach and setting is a winner too. As Nairn hasn’t been overrun by brands each venue and attraction has its own character, and I loved that.
I drove from Aberdeen to Nairn which took roughly two and a quarter hours. Nairn is served by its own railway station and is a compact walkable town. It’s also a great stop in an itinerary exploring Morayshire or Loch Ness/Inverness.