Cawdor Estate offers a gateway to over three thousand years of Highland history.
Nearby are the stones and cairns of Clava, which date from 1500 BC. Traces of the first Pictish settlers can be found in the standing stones and cairn-circles at Auldearn, Balanrait and Wester Urchany. Above the city of Inverness lies Craig Phadrig, once the stronghold of Pictish Kings, whilst at Forres stands Sueno’s Stone, one of the best preserved Pictish relics in the Scottish Highlands.
Evidence of the power and politics of the old Highland Clans is all around us. The real Macbeth (onetime ‘Thane of Cawdor’) was crowned King of Scotland in 1040 at Pitgaveney near Elgin. There is our own Cawdor Castle, the stronghold of the Clan Campbell since the late 15th Century; Ballindalloch Castle, the seat of the Clan Macpherson-Grants since the 16th Century; Gordon Castle, home to the Dukes of Gordon since the 15th Century; and Brodie Castle, the 16th Century home of the Clan Brodie.
Two famous battles took place nearby. The ‘Covenanters Revolt’ of 1645 was ended by the Earl of Montrose’s Royalist forces at the Battle of Auldearn. Suffering a similar fate, the Jacobite Rebellion under Bonnie Prince Charlie was finally subdued in April 1745 at the Battle of Culloden; the last battle to be fought on British soil. Evidence of the post-Culloden pacification of the Highlands stands magisterially at the vast garrison fortress of Fort George; the mightiest artillery fortification in Britain. General Wade’s infamous military road, connecting Fort George with the south, once ran through the Estate and traces of the old roadway can still be found today; in particular, Whitebridge on the edge of the Cawdor village, the oldest bridge in the Highland Council’s region.
The ecclesiastical history of the Highlands is well represented too. Known affectionately as the ‘Lantern of the North’, 13th Century Elgin Cathedral is one of Scotland’s most beautiful medieval buildings. Nearby stands the majestic Spynie Palace, the residence of the Bishops of Moray from the 14th Century until the Scottish Reformation of the 1680s. A few miles from here finds Pluscarden Abbey, the only medieval monastery in Britain still inhabited by monks and still being used for its original purpose. Inverness, Nairn and Forres all have well preserved examples of both pre- and post-Reformation churches.
Then there is the agricultural and industrial heritage of the Highlands. Here are just a few examples. Nestling in the valley of the River Spey is Knockando Woolmill, dating from 1754, and the oldest district working mill in Northern Europe. Just along the River Spey stands Thomas Telford’s pioneering Craigellachie Bridge, built in 1814 of cast-iron, truly a gem of the Scotland’s industrial heritage. Two fine examples of ‘Icehouses’, of the type once common across the coastlines of Scotland and Scandinavia, can be found at Findhorn and at Tugnet near Fochabers.
Two beautifully preserved railway lines run through this part of the Highlands. There is the Strathspey Railway; running nine-and-a-half miles of the old Highland Railway route from Aviemore to Inverness. And there is the Keith and Dufftown Railway; covering eleven miles of the former Great North of Scotland’s circuitous route from Keith to Elgin.
Last but definitely not least, no trip to this region of the Highlands is complete without venturing along the ‘Whisky Trail’. Moray-Speyside is the home par excellence of Scotland’s world famous malt whisky industry. Hardly a corner can be turned hereabouts without seeing the charcoal stained stone bonded warehouses and pagoda roofs distinct of a hundred year old distillery. Many of the well-known distilleries, such as Glenfiddich, Cardhu and Macallan, have visitors’ centres and shops, and offer tours where you can take ‘a nosing’ and sample the unique flavours and aromas of their individual malts.
Ballindalloch Castle: www.ballindallochcastle.co.uk
Cawdor Castle: www.cawdorcastle.com
Cardhu Distillery: www.discovering-distilleries.com/cardhu
Glenfiddich Distillery: www.glenfiddfich.com
Keith and Dufftown Railway: www.keith-dufftown-railway.co.uk
Knockando Woolmill: www.knockandowoolmill.org
Macallan Visitors Centre: www.themacallan.com/visit/
Pluscarden Abbey: www.pluscardenabbey.org
Strathspey Railway: www.strathspeyrailway.co.uk