Way back in January 2019 I had a day in Elgin – which is nestled halfway between Inverness and Aberdeen. You can read about my mill tour at Johnstons of Elgin, home of fine cashmere homeware and clothing, but in this post, I’ll be sharing more of what you can expect to see, do, eat and drink in this cathedral and castle town.
I started off my explorations from Johnstons of Elgin, which is not much more than a brisk 10-minute walk away from the centre of town. However, it is very easy to get distracted by two attractions on the way. The first is the ruin of Elgin Cathedral, which dates back to the thirteenth century. You can get views through the iron bars, or pay an admission charge to wander around. It’s managed by Historic Environment Scotland, and they run guided tours in July and August. Known as the ‘lantern of the north' due to the ambitious design, I think it comes close to rivalling the cathedral in St Andrews for medieval beauty.
The second attraction, and conveniently just across the road from the Cathedral, is Elgin’s Biblical Garden. If you have an interest in religion and/or gardening, this site is carefully managed by horticultural students at the University of the Highlands and Islands. I visited in January so of course, it was looking pretty bare in terms of plants, so a trip in the spring or summer would be ideal. Look out for the central walkway laid in the shape of a Celtic cross and built using over a thousand textured paving slabs, and sculptures which depict various parables.
Heading back into town, I spotted Elgin Museum - Scotland's oldest independent museum! Whilst closed for the winter season, there are collections that feature archaeology, art, fossils, images of old Elgin and other local history exhibits.
Another museum which is closed during winter is the Moray Motor Museum which is a must-visit for any fan of vintage cars and motorbikes. For both of these museums, do check their websites for opening times.
Onto Elgin High Street now, and there are some sculptures that are definitely worth spotting. The first at the east end of the pedestrianised street is “Elgin’s town drummer”. This bronze statue is of William Edward who held the position of town drummer for 60 years over the 18th and 19th centuries. There’s also a statue of a child mimicking the drummer, and a statue of an excitable dog which adds to the fun of the scene.
The other eye-catching statue is the Dandy Lion - dressed in fine estate tweeds and a cashmere cardigan from Johnstons of Elgin. He has a top hat, monocle, moustache and cane which represent the fashion of the nineteenth century. His fishtail represents the fisherfolk who brought their catches to sell at the market, and he also sports a dandelion in his buttonhole to reflect the people involved in agricultural work at the time. Definitely a must for a photo opportunity!
If you’ve got this far without a coffee break or a lunch stop, then now would be a good time! I’ve been to Batchen Street Coffee for coffee and lunch, it’s a great chilled-out space with an excellent toastie menu and impressive cake cabinet.
As we were nearing Burns night at the time of our last visit, my haggis and beetroot relish toastie was my choice. I don’t drink the stuff but Mr B assures me coffee is very good and he enjoyed the space for working in.
For the main meal, on a prior visit, we’ve eaten pizza at Scribbles which seems one of the most popular places in Elgin. They also serve local ice cream from Stew & Drews who are based in Hopeman (Aside: the ice cream shop in Hopeman is well worth a visit in summer!).
We also paid a visit to the Ditsy Teacup, which is definitely an Instagram-friendly place – dainty tea cups, bright faux greenery walls, a great playlist and an epic slice of millionaires shortbread to share! Make sure you book a table. Once you’re suitably refreshed, it’s time to hit the shops, and Elgin definitely has a growing scene of independent traders.
Head to Gordon & MacPhail for your food and drink needs – especially if you are a whisky fan (for a whisky tour, you can visit Elgin’s Glen Moray distillery). Stocking around 1000 different single malts, it’s an Aladdin’s cave and one where Gordon & MacPhail run tasting events. If whisky isn’t your tipple, there is a good range of other spirits, beers and ciders, and there’s also a dedicated wine room with over 500 wines and champagnes! There’s also a tempting deli counter and extensive grocery section.
Back onto Batchen Street, and for fans of stationery and funky cards, there’s one place to hit up – Pencil Me In. They’ve got a great selection of prints and accessories, and they even do a pencil personalisation service with some crackers of slogans for that special someone in your life. If you can’t get to Elgin, definitely take a look at their website!
Just next door from Pencil Me In is a taproom/beer emporium - Against the Grain. While it was closed in the earlier part of the day when we were in Elgin, it opens in the afternoons and evenings (closed Mondays and Tuesdays).
While we're mentioning beers, a special mention goes to the Drouthy Cobbler, known for top-notch meals using Speyside ingredients, a huge array of beers, whiskies and gins, and comedy and music events. We were recommended here and were sorry to miss out but hope to make a visit when we’re next passing!
Siriology bills itself as a shop for blokes – a retail destination for gents grooming, hair and skincare, and lifestyle accessories. A great place for treating any man in your life whether that’s a partner, dad, brother or friend!
For a local Moray family farm business which produces beef, eggs, tatties and other vegetables, definitely head out of town to Allarburn Farm Shop which has a café and farm shop. 80% of products sold are from local producers, bakers, butchers or from Allarburn’s own production.
If checking out the shops isn’t your idea of fun, you can head to Lady Hill, which is at the western end of Elgin High Street. A short climb up 100 steps gets you to the top, with a Burns Seat well placed for great views over Elgin.
Castle (or rather a castle ruin) fans are in luck, as there’s still a ruin to look at, having been destroyed in 1308.
Adjacent is Nelson’s column-Esque memorial to the Duke of Gordon, a real focal point from other points in the town.
So that’s my whistle-stop guide to Elgin. It’s a great base for starting or ending the Speyside whisky trail, or for exploring the nearby coastline towns of Burghead, Hopeman and Lossiemouth. Have I missed any must-visit places on your list?