Nairn and Cawdor Castle
One thing I have never tried to hide on this site is my bias for the places in Scotland that have personally impressed and affected me. Just 16 miles east of Inverness is one of those places, the town of Nairn. This sleepy little coastal town (population: 11,000) is a true gem of the Highlands, perfect for the golfer, history fanatic, fisherman or hiker. Whether you stay a few nights or visit on a day trip from Inverness, I would recommend a trip to Nairn to anyone who would listen (or read).
Town of Nairn
Before getting into the great sights to see around the town, let’s have a look at what is on offer in Nairn itself. The most prominent landmark in town is St. Ninian’s Church, with its high steeple covered in orange lichens. If you lose your way on any of the downtown streets, as I did more than once, just look up and around and the steeple will give you your bearings. For the shopper, Nairn’s High Street offers a surprising diversity of stores, with more authentic gifts and souvenirs than you will tend to find in the more popular tourist towns.
The Beach and the River
Nairn is a town defined by water. North of town lies the Moray Firth and running through it is the River Nairn. You might not think of the Highlands as a prime beach vacation spot (and you’d be right), but one of Nairn’s biggest draws in the summer is its long beach of soft, white sand. No one will confuse it for Aruba, especially when the westerlies are blowing, but it is one of the best sand beaches in northern Scotland. Sunsets are particularly special, as the sky turns pink and the water often does the same (see left).
The River Nairn runs through the east end of town, and offers runs of salmon and trout seasonally. Locals can be found fishing the river throughout the spring and summer, but July is the best month for trout fishing, and a permit can be bought from the local Nairn Anglers Club for £30.
Nairn Golf Club
There are actually two Championship golf courses in Nairn, but the more famous of the two is Nairn Golf Club. Ranked 25th among all courses in Britain and Ireland in 2009 by Golf World magazine, it has recently hosted the Walker Cup and other high-profile professional events. The course opens with stunning views of the Moray Firth and never loses sight of the water. As you might expect from a high-profile golf course, it is not cheap, with greens fees on the full championship course ranging from £35 in the winter to £85 in mid-summer. Golfers on a tighter budget can choose to play the 9-hole Cameron course for as little as £15, but serious golfers who take on the full eighteen holes will not leave disappointed.
>> For more information, and to book your tee time, visit the NGC official site.
>> Read more about Scotland golfing trips in our guide to golfing in Scotland.
Shakespeare fans will know the name of this famous 600-year-old fortress, just five miles outside of Nairn. In Macbeth, the title character is given the rank “Thane (or Lord) of Cawdor”. The true and current Thane of Cawdor would tell you that aside from the name, there is no real connection between his clan’s home and the bard’s Scottish play. But that association has certainly helped draw tourists to Cawdor, and those that make the trip find a spectacularly well preserved and maintained castle. Much of the castle is open to the public (except during winter) as are the fantastic gardens, home to hundreds of species of rare trees, flowers and lichens. Bring a camera, preferably one with a good macro lens for close-up photography.
If the weather is good, there is a path along the river that takes you straight from town to the castle. It is a long, but relatively flat, hike, and between the round-trip walk and a leisurely tour around the castle and grounds, you could spend most of a day on it.
>> For more information, check out Cawdor Castle’s official website.
Staying in Nairn
Many visitors come to Nairn as a day trip from Inverness, but if you think you need more time than that, especially if you are going to hike to the castle or hit the links, you will want a place to stay in town. Luckily, there are several great hotels and guesthouses around Nairn. Use the search form below to find the best hotel in Nairn for the dates you will be visiting, and enjoy your stay.