Visit Elgin and the surrounding villages and stay in bed & breakfast accommodation:
Elgin, Moray. The city and royal burgh of Elgin, North West of Aberdeen and East of Inverness, has a pivotal importance far greater than its population of 17,000 indicates. Indeed, its excellent shops do a trade normally commensurate with a town twice its size. The fertile Laich of Moray, of which it is the market town, acts today, in the way it has done for ten centuries, as a magnet to the folk of less favoured areas. Approaching the town across this mellow plain, with its cornfields and Lombardy poplars, you see miles away the soaring western towers and the magnificent East gable of Elgin Cathedral, known of old as “the Lanthorn of the North”, which was without doubt the most perfect of Scottish cathedrals. The fame of the cathedral is so great that it has tended to obscure the fact that Elgin has many other architectural glories. The character of modern Elgin as a “boom-town” of the North-East also tends to smother the plentiful evidence of its more gracious past. But old Elgin, like old Edinburgh, is remarkably compact and can be simply described. It was cruciform, laid out upon a low ridge stretching from East to West above the winding River Lossie. At the West end of the ridge is the Lady Hill, on which a royal castle stood from the 12th to the 15th century, having been occupied in 1296 by Edward I of England. The ruins that remain today are so fragmentary that it is impossible to assign a date to them. They are at the North-East angle of the hill, on the summit of which is a tall column in honour of the last Duke of Gordon, who died in 1836. At the East end of the ridge is the Cathedral, founded in 1224. Between these two monuments of temporal and spiritual authority, from the South face of Lady Hill to the South limit of the Cathedral sanctuary, runs the ancient High Street. Parallel to it on North and South run two subsidiary streets originally known as the North Back Gait and the South Back Gait, now named Blackfriars Road (with North Lane), and South Street. These three long lines of streets running East and West were linked by a series of wynds running North and South, of which Lossie Wynd and School Wynd (now renamed Commerce Street) formed the entries to the town from North and South respectively.
Elgin Cathedral was virtually complete by the end of the 13th century. It comprised twin western towers, a nave of six bays with double aisles to North and South, a central tower with North and South transepts, and a long choir flanked by North and South aisles, having an octagonal chapter house still farther to the North.
The North and South transepts are of severe Transitional work — and may have been inherited from the older Church of the Holy Trinity on the same site; but the choir is a masterpiece of early Gothic, with a double tier of lancets surmounted by a great rose window. French inspiration is traced in the West front with its magnificent portal set between massive flanking towers, and in the double aisles of the nave.
The chapter house was reconstructed after the most notable disaster in Elgin's early history, when in May 1390 that unruly scion of King Robert II, Alexander Earl of Buchan, the notorious “Wolf of Badenoch”, enraged by the sentence of excommunication passed upon him for previous misdeeds, burnt both the burgh and the Cathedral. The shame of the final ruin of this great edifice, however, must rest with the Privy Council of Scotland, who in 1567 ordered the roof to be stripped of its lead to raise funds for the paying of troops.
North West of the Cathedral is the “Bishop's Palace”, now thought to have been the precentor's manse, a house of two wings linked by a square staircase tower. It bears the date 1557, and has interesting heraldic detail. To the South East is the Pans Port or Water Yett by the bank of the Lossie. It represents the East gateway to the Cathedral and its college precinct. The West front of the Cathedral faces Cooper Park, Elgin's great central open space, rich in old trees, acres of lawns, playing-fields and a boating pond. Within the park is Grant Lodge, the Georgian town house of the Grants of Grant, now the headquarters of the very efficient Moray County Library.
It is worth while trying to see the High Street of Elgin at some time when you can avoid being jostled by fellow pedestrians with urgent business, for it was during the 17th century, the great age of Scottish burgh architecture, that most of the characteristic houses of old Elgin were built. In a district more richly endowed with good freestone than any other in Scotland, the mason-craftsmen of Moray developed what might be called an Elgin School of building, and by the opening of the 18th century, the greater length of High Street was lined with stately stone houses with piazzas or arcades. In the 19th century very many were destroyed with wanton insensitivity, but a goodly number still remain. In 1946 the Elgin Society published a record listing no fewer than twenty-eight of these historic buildings, all of which are described in the Society publication Old Elgin.
Along its central portion High Street widens out to enclose, in the middle of the thoroughfare, the Muckle Cross (a restoration in which only the Scottish Lion is from the original), the parish church of St Giles (a classical building designed by Archibald Simpson in 1828 to replace the ancient Muckle Kirk), a causeway, and a fountain that marks the site of the Old Tolbooth.
One historic domestic building must be mentioned; on no account should it be missed. This is Thunderton House, in a narrow lane called Thunderton Place off the South side of High Street, just West of the fountain. The present building, a hotel marked by a plaque erected by the Elgin Society, represents part of the old Thunderton House, once the most splendid mansion in Elgin, belonging successively to the families of Moray, Duffus, and Dunbar. Before that, in medieval times, the site was occupied by the “Great Lodging” of the Scottish kings. History repeated itself when Prince Charles Edward Stuart lodged here, prior to Culloden in March 1746.
Entered from Abbey Street is the Church of the Greyfriars Monastery, which moved thither from another Elgin site in the later 15th century. A long building without an aisle, it was restored in 1896 by John Kinross for the 3rd Marquess of Bute. With its plastered walls and richly decorated screen, it recovers the true medieval feeling.
Of the four bridges crossing the Lossie, the oldest is the Bow Brig (1630—5), with its graceful single arch; next in date comes the pleasant Brewery Bridge of 1798. Elgin is a town that grows on you and inspires well-merited affection.
Nearby towns: Buckie, Burghead, Forres, Keith, Lossiemouth, Rothes
Nearby villages: Alves, Auchenhalrig, Bogmoor, Cummingston, Dallas, Dipple, Duffus, Fochabers, Fogwatt, Garmouth, Hopeman, Inchberry, Kingston, Kinloss, Lhanbryde, Longmorn, Mosstodloch, Nether Dallachy, Ordiquish, Orton, Rafford, Spey Bay, Upper Dallachy, Urquhart
Have you decided to visit Elgin or the surrounding villages? Please look above for somewhere to stay in:
- a Elgin bed and breakfast (a Elgin B&B or Elgin b and b)
- a Elgin guesthouse
- a Elgin hotel (or motel)
- a Elgin self-catering establishment, or
- other Elgin accommodation