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Let’s go to...Nairn

THE Mo­ray Firth town of Nairn has much to of­fer vis­i­tors, not least sea, sand and a touch of Hol­ly­wood glam­our. There’s even a good chance you’ll see the sun in this com­par­a­tively dry cor­ner of Scot­land, which sits serenely on the beau­ti­ful Mo­ray Firth.

The town, which lies 16 miles east of In­ver­ness, has been at­tract­ing tourists since the nine­teenth cen­tury – it was once called the “Brighton of Scot­land” – and it re­mains a pop­u­lar sum­mer des­ti­na­tion thanks largely to the beach.

There’s plenty to en­joy year-round, how­ever, in­clud­ing walks by the river, top-notch res­tau­rants, a thriv­ing arts

scene and quirky in­de­pen­dent shops. And you may bump into the bona fide film star who lives here.

His­toric High­lights

Set­tled be­fore 1000AD, Nairn his­tor­i­cally strad­dled the Gaelic­s­peak­ing fish­ing folk of the north and farm­ers to the south. James VI is said to have been sur­prised to have a town in his king­dom so di­verse that peo­ple at one end of the high street spoke a dif­fer­ent lan­guage to those at the other.

The rail­ways ar­rived in 1855, bring­ing wealth – see the grand man­sions and leafy av­enues of the West End – and tourists keen to “take the wa­ters”.

Nairn’s beach was used as a train­ing ground for the Nor­mandy land­ings dur­ing World War Two. Later in the con­flict, two Ger­man spies who had been dropped by U-boat in the Mo­ray Firth were ar­rested at Nairn rail­way sta­tion try­ing to board a train to In­ver­ness.

What to do

The afore­men­tioned beach is mag­nif­i­cent, of­fer­ing end­less sand­cas­tles, walks, kite-fly­ing, pad­dling (and swim­ming if you’re will­ing to brave the cold wa­ters of the firth) as well as mag­i­cal sun­rises and sun­sets. Gaz­ing across to the Black Isle on a clear day is a plea­sure re­gard­less of the sea­son.

The Mo­ray Firth is home to pods of bot­tlenose dol­phins which can some­times be spot­ted from the shore. But if you want to get up close and per­sonal, take a trip on Phoenix’s 10m plea­sure cruiser (dol­phin-trips-nairn. co.uk), which leaves from the har­bour. As well as the dol­phins, you may also get a glimpse of seals, por­poises and even minke whales, along­side gan­nets, herons, osprey and red kite.

Those look­ing to get more of an in­sight into the his­tory of the town and its peo­ple will want to visit the child­friendly Nairn Mu­seum on View­field Drive (nairn­mu­seum.co.uk), which has ex­hibits cov­er­ing fish­ing, mil­i­tary con­nec­tions to the area and the High­land way of life.

There’s a lively cul­tural scene in this town of 10,000, which in­cludes the Nairn Book and Arts Fes­ti­val in Septem­ber (re­cent guests have in­cluded Chris Pack­ham, Kirsty Wark, AL Kennedy and Carol Anne Duffy). The ex­cel­lent com­mu­nity and arts cen­tre on King Street, mean­while, shows films old and new, while the Lit­tle Theatre puts on year-round per­for­mances.

In May, the Band­stand Beer and Mu­sic Fes­ti­val brings to­gether a vast ar­ray of indie ales and ciders, as well as whiskies, pop-up food stalls and live mu­sic.

Golf fans will al­ready know that the town has a world-class course looked af­ter by Nairn Golf Club, which was founded in 1887 (nairn­golf­club.co.uk). With its spec­tac­u­lar set­ting along the links of the Mo­ray Firth, it was re­cently placed at num­ber 11 in Golf World mag­a­zine’s list of Scot­land’s top 100 cour­ses.

Near the town sits his­toric Caw­dor Cas­tle and Gar­dens (caw­dor­cas­tle.com), seat of the Thanes of Caw­dor – made fa­mous by Shake­speare’s Mac­beth – which dates back to the 14th cen­tury. There’s much to see in this fairy­tale cas­tle both in­side and out – don’t miss the an­cient thorn tree – and the café serves some of the best scones for miles.

Where to shop

Crafty Wee Birdie, on the High Street, stocks a lovely ar­ray of Scot­tish­made

arts and crafts, in­clud­ing glass, ceram­ics, tex­tiles and up­cy­cled fur­ni­ture.

The Sweetie Shoppe of Nairn, mean­while, a short hop along the street, pulls in candy lovers young and old with its dizzy­ing se­lec­tion of sweets. From old-fash­ioned boiled sweets in jars to fudges, brit­tles, jel­lies and choco­lates, this Wonka-style em­po­rium has it all.

Also on the High Street is the friendly Nairn Book­shop, one of the best in the High­lands, which stocks a full se­lec­tion of fic­tion and non-fic­tion and plays host to reg­u­lar lit­er­ary events.

Those in search of sea­sonal lo­cal pro­duce – fruit and veg­eta­bles, meats, cheeses, jams and home-bak­ing – should make the five-mile trip to Wester Hard­muir farm shop (hard­muir.com), just east of the town. In sum­mer, you can pick your own fruit.

Where to Eat

If it’s High­land beef you’re af­ter, The Class­room on Caw­dor Street (class­room­bistro.com) serves up some of the best steaks in town. The cock­tail list is also pretty im­pres­sive.

The Sun Dancer Bar and Restau­rant on Har­bour Street (sun-dancer.co.uk) is the new­est kid on the block, of­fer­ing mod­ern, beau­ti­fully-pre­sented food and views across the wa­ter.

Café One One Two, a bistro and deli on the High Street, is a big hit with lo­cals and vis­i­tors for its shar­ing plat­ters, seafood, vege­tar­ian op­tions and ex­ten­sive wine-list. For a quick cof­fee and cake Café Nairn, a few doors down, of­fers a friendly wel­come and also does a tasty fry-up.

Where to Stay

Lux­ury: Set in 22-acres of gar­dens, re­gency manor Boath House of­fers un­der­stated lux­ury and fine cui­sine in a re­laxed set­ting. Bed and break­fast from £295 per room.

The Sweetie Shoppe of Nairn pulls in candy lovers with its dizzy­ing se­lec­tion, from old-fash­ioned boiled sweets in jars to fudges, brit­tles, jel­lies and choco­lates, this Wonka-style em­po­rium has it all

Com­fort­able: Set back in an Ed­war­dian villa over­look­ing the sea is Napier at Nairn, a wel­com­ing up­mar­ket B&B with spa­cious, well-ap­pointed rooms. From £100 per room.

Cosy: Less than 500ft from the har­bour, Su­tors Hauf is a ro­man­tic sea­side cot­tage com­plete with open fire. Sleeps two. From £50 per night on Airbnb.co.uk.

Fa­mous faces

Os­car-win­ning Scots ac­tress Tilda Swin­ton has lived in Nairn for the last decade with her fam­ily and reg­u­larly con­trib­utes to the town’s artis­tic and so­cial life, hav­ing founded a film fes­ti­val and a school. Char­lie Chap­lin of­ten hol­i­dayed in Nairn with his fam­ily in the 1970s, book­ing a whole floor of the New­ton Ho­tel. Burt Lan­caster and Charl­ton He­ston were also reg­u­lar vis­i­tors, as was for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Harold Macmil­lan. Wil­lie Whitelaw, the Home Sec­re­tary for much of the Thatcher era, was born in Nairn.

What to see nearby

If you’re look­ing for a bit of ad­ven­ture, ACE, 45 min­utes west of Nairn, of­fers some of the best white-wa­ter raft­ing any­where in the UK, as well as canyon­ing, kayak­ing and clif­fjump­ing. There’s camp­ing, glamp­ing and a yoga re­treat on site. (acead­ven­tures.co.uk).

No mat­ter how much you read about it in the his­tory books, there’s noth­ing quite like soak­ing up the at­mo­spheric bat­tle­field at Cul­lo­den, where the 1745 Ja­co­bite re­bel­lion came to a bru­tal end. Just 25 min­utes’ drive from Nairn, the Na­tional Trust for Scot­land site of­fers an in­ter­ac­tive ex­hi­bi­tion and guided tours.

Built in 1755, Dulsie Bridge, 25-min­utes drive south of Nairn, crosses a deep, twist­ing gorge over the River Find­horn. Make a day of it with a river­side walk and pic­nic.

His­toric For­res, 10 miles east of Nairn, is a par­tic­u­lar draw for artists and has a num­ber of thriv­ing gal­leries and stu­dios.

In the com­ing weeks I’ll be go­ing to Lin­lith­gow, Stornoway and Cu­par. Send your hints and tips for things to do and places to eat, drink and stay, with a few lines about what makes them so mem­o­rable, to mar­i­anne.tay­lor@her­al­dand­times.co.uk

Tilda Swin­ton, Char­lie Chap­lin and the beau­ti­ful gar­dens at Caw­dor Cas­tle

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