Cullen, Scotland has to be one of the best off-the-beaten-path locations in Scotland. We chose to spend a month there for several reasons: we wanted a place in Scotland without midges, and we were looking for sunshine. Once I did a little more research, I found that the Moray Coast Trail goes right through Cullen and that it looks like it is among the best walks in Scotland.
It turns out, there really aren’t many midges around here (tiny, biting, insects), but its reputation as the “Sunshine Coast of Scotland” doesn’t always hold true. It rained a majority of the days we were there during the month of June. Apparently, the previous summer was hot and sunny, so you never know. And climate change is messing everything up, so you really never know.
We didn’t let the rain keep us from exploring the coastal walks in Scotland or the many other walks in Moray.
Where is Moray in Scotland?
Moray is a council area in the northeastern part of Scotland. Its coastline runs along the Moray Firth (a narrow inlet of the sea) and it borders the council areas of Aberdeenshire and Highland.
This map of Moray Scotland shows you the “major” towns in Morayshire, including Forres and Cullen, the terminal towns on the Moray Coast Trail.
This Moray Coast Map indicates the different sections of the Moray Coast Trail.
From Moray Ways
There are many adorable beach towns in Moray. We chose Cullen because of its long, lovely beach. And we found a cottage to rent there. Once we arrived, I started finding Moray walks in abundance, many of which we could access right from our cottage.
Walking in Scotland
Walking is quite popular and the Scotland walking trails are well-signed and easy to follow. The Moray Coastal Trail is no exception. People come from all over to wander the shoreline, duck through little copses, photograph sea stacks and cliffs, and watch the famous Moray Firth dolphins frolic in the North Sea. It may not be the most well-known, but it is definitely on of the best hikes in Scotland.
The Moray Way
The Moray Coast Trail is part of the Moray Way, one of many circular walks in Scotland. The Moray Way uses all of the Dava Way, two-thirds of the Moray Coast Trail, and about half of the Speyside Way.
Moray Coast Trail Details
- Distance: 44 miles, 70 km
- Trail Surface: Beach walking, coastal paths, quiet roads, old railways
- High point: 165 feet, 50 meters
- Low Point: sea level
- Start: Forres
- End: Cullen (a coastal trail continues from here to Sandend and Portsoy and beyond)
How To Walk the Moray Coast Trail
Scotland Walking Tour
When we travel, a lot of our explorations are on foot. My favorite way to get to know a place is through the landscape. There are so many things to do in Moray that involve walking (there is even a Moray Walking and Outdoor Festival in June, which we participated in!).
Hiking holidays are my favorite and even though we didn’t walk every day, we covered several walking trails in Scotland. We only walked sections of the Moray Coast Trail, but we covered more than half of it, plus a continuance of the trail past Cullen.
- Forres to Findhorn – 5.5 miles, 8.8 km
- Findhorn to Lossiemouth – 15.3 miles, 24.6 km
- Lossiemouth to Buckie – 15.9 miles, 25.6 km
- Buckie to Cullen – 7 miles, 11.3 km
Getting Between Sections on the Moray Coast Trail
Anders and walked the Lossiemouth to Buckie section, so we left the car in Buckie, took the bus to Lossiemouth (via Elgin), and walked back to Buckie. The bus takes a while and is kind of expensive for a bus, but it was clean, reliable, and easy to use.
We used Google Maps to get the bus schedule, but you can see the Moray bus times on the Moray Council Bus Times page or the Stagecoach site. You can buy tickets online or on the bus. There’s even an app—of course, there is—where you can get tickets and timetables.
If the bus isn’t your thing, you can also use a taxi to get between towns. When Anders and I were having lunch in Garmouth on a very rainy day, we saw some other walkers who decided to cut their day short and grab a cab back to their hotel. Moray weather is tricky, so it’s good to have a way out if you need it.
Map of Moray Coast Trail
We used a spiral-bound book called Moray Coast Trail: With Dava Way and Moray Way by Sandra Bardwell. There is a great flip-down map, detailed descriptions of each section, information about flora, fauna, geology, and history of places along the Moray Coast, Scotland.
Even though the trail is well marked, we pulled the book out a couple of times to double-check where we were supposed to go or just to read about the area. Plus, you always want a map when you are hiking in Scotland or anywhere else. The map key indicates where there are places to eat and toilets, among other things, so that’s quite helpful.
Which Direction to Hike The Moray Coast Trail?
I suggest hiking from west to east. This way the prevailing wind is behind you. Some days, this won’t matter, but Anders and I were really glad to have the wind and rain at our back on the stretch from Lossiemouth to Buckie.
If you are hiking the whole trail, you may want to start in Forres and end in Cullen just because the scenery gets better and better as you go east. Don’t get me wrong, the whole thing is lovely, but the first 5.5 miles is inland and the last section is all cliffs, sea stacks, viaducts, and beautiful beach.
Scottish Walks and Moray Restaurants
Walking tours in Scotland usually pass plenty of cafés, pubs, and restaurants. The Moray café scene is pretty good, so you will have plenty to eat along the way.
We didn’t eat in every town, but some restaurants along the Moray Coast Trail we really like include:
- Garmouth – Garmouth Hotel
- Buckie – Pozzi
- Portessie– Bijou by the Sea
- Findochty – Admirals Inn
- Cullen – Rockpool Cafe and Restaurant
Watch your time as some places don’t serve food between 2 pm and 5 pm. We found this out when we walked into Findochty (pronounced Fin-ech-ti) at 3 pm and had to make do with drinks at the Admiral’s Inn. Fortunately, we had snacks with us and supplemented with local beer and Irn Bru. (I think Scottish walking holidays require a mid-walk stop for a beer or a wee dram of whiskey.)
Things To Do Along the Moray Coast Trail
The main point of a Scotland hiking trip is to walk, but there are lots of things to do in Moray right along the trail. You will see so much from the trail, so these are just a few places where you might want to duck off the trail.
The Malt Whisky Trail – Forres
Yes, Scotland has a Malt Whisky Trail (we went to some of the distilleries on Henry’s birthday a few years ago and it’s included in my Scotland Itinerary). At the start of the trail, you pass the smallest Moray distillery, Benromach Distillery, established in 1898. They sell the world’s only organic single malt. Also, cool to note is that it is owned by two local men; most of the distilleries in the area are owned by big corporations these days.
Moray Art Centre – Findhorn
The Moray Art Centre has a lovely exhibition space with local art. They also have rooms for people to make art and host art classes. It’s worth peeking in at the art and possibly taking something home to remember your trip.
Burghead Headland Visitor Center – Burghead
Located in an old Coast Guard building, the Burghead Visitor Centre has information about the area as well as great views of the Moray Firth. The Burghead headland was the site of a large Pictish Fort where bullstones were found. Two of the remaining six bullstones are in the visitor center.
Scottish Dolphin Center – Spey Bay
Located on the edge of Spey Bay where the River Spey meets the sea, the Scottish Dolphin Centre is a great place to learn about the local wildlife. “Enjoy beautiful walks along the tumultuous River Spey, spot a seal or osprey, and discover Spey Bay’s fishing heritage during a tour of the historic Icehouse. Entry to the centre is free.”
If you want the possibility of seeing the world’s largest bottlenose dolphins up close, you can book Moray Firth dolphins boat trips out of Findhorn, Lossiemouth, and several other towns along the Moray Coast. You may also see them as you walk along the Moray Coast Trail. We’ve seen them just steps from our cottage in Cullen Bay.
Findlater Castle – Sandend
You have to see a Moray castle when you are in the area. It’s pretty much a rule and one of the most popular activities in Scotland. While there are some amazing castles inland, Findlater Castle is right along the trail, three beautiful miles past Cullen. It’s a ruin out on a tiny peninsula. There is an information sign and a user trail leading to the ruins. It’s pretty sketchy, so be super careful going out to the castle (there’s a great view at the info plaque).
Your Scotland hiking trip is probably going to require a place to stay. All along the trail there are hotels, bed and breakfasts, and Moray cottages.
Elgin is a good base camp for walking sections of the trail as the main bus station is there. The Laichmoray Hotel is one of Elgin’s nicest hotels and is good for families, couples, or singles.
If you prefer to walk from town to town and spend the night along the way, there are lots of hotels in Moray. We also like vacation rentals or self-catering cottages where we can have a kitchen. It’s often less expensive for the four of us to stay in a vacation rental than a hotel.
Moray Coast Hotels
- The Cluny Bank Hotel – Forres
- Lossiemouth House – Lossiemouth
- Garmouth Hotel – Garmouth
- Kintrae Bed and Breakfast – Buckie
- Cullen Bay Hotel – Cullen
- Seafield Arms Hotel – Cullen
Self Catering Moray and Moray Coast Cottages
Scotland Walking Routes Packing List
Whichever walking routes Scotland has in store for you, you need to pack for changing weather. This packing list should have you covered. And check out my travel backpacks review or expedition packs review for something to carry your stuff in.
|Item||Image||Why You Need It||Cost & Reviews|
|Rain Jacket With Hood||Regardless of what the weather forecast calls for, you should pack a rain jacket with a hood. Even if it doesn't rain, you have a windbreaker or a beach blanket. Make sure you have a hood to keep water from running down the back of your neck.|
|Rain Pants||Rain pants are lightweight and very packable. You'll be glad you have them when the weather sets in.|
|Hiking Pants||Lightweight hiking pants are comfortable for walking and sitting on the beach. I like pants better than shorts since I don't need sunscreen on my legs. They will also help keep the ticks out (and ticks are becoming more of an issue in Scotland).|
|Hiking Shirt||Look for a lightweight, synthetic material with sun protection. This will be your base layer on colder days and sun protection on warm ones.|
|Midweight Layer||I always carry my wool sweatshirt as a mid layer. It's warm, but not too warm, and doesn't get as stinky as synthetics can.|
|Sun Hat||Admittedly, sun hats make you look like a goofy tourist, but they work. Add a little sun protection to your noggin.|
|Warm Hat||Yes, you should bring a ski cap or touque as well. People were wearing wool beanies in June when we walked the Moray Coast Trail. Look for something sleek and without a pom pom to fit under a hood.|
|Hiking Shoes or Boots||You'll probably want waterproof hiking shoes or boots. We wore regular trail shoes and had soaking feet and socks by the end of one day. Kind of gross, cold, and stinky.|
|Hiking Socks||Wool or synthetic socks will keep your feet warm even when they are wet. They also work to keep your feet cool. Avoid cotton.|
|Gaiters||These might be more than you need, They will keep rain, sand, ticks, and pokey plants out of your shoes.|
|Water Bottle||Bring a refillable water bottle to avoid the plastic waste that is covering our planet. I like the stainless steel bottles so my water doesn't touch plastic, but the LifeStraw bottles are so useful since they filter water as you drink.|
|Snacks||While there are places along the trail to stop for food, they may be closed or may not appear when you are hungry. We carry a few protein bars and cheese and bread.|
|Map or Guidebook||As I mentioned above, the Moray Coast Trail guidebook is great have along both for route finding and learning more about the area.|
|Sunscreen||I keep talking about the rain, but you'll want some sunscreen, too. As my dermatologist keeps telling me, you need to wear it even on cloudy days. I prefer a reef-safe, mineral-based sunscreen.|
|Sunglasses||Protect your eyes from sun or rain with a good pair or polarized sunnies.|
|Headlamp or Torch||If you are walking the Moray Coast Trail in summer, you probably won't ever see darkness, but other times of year a headlamp comes in handy. I always keep one in my backpack.|
|First Aid Kit||You never know when you are going to scrape a knee or get stung by a bee. Keep a First Aid Kit handy, including any medications you know you might need. Also, learn the emergency number (in the UK it is 999. You can also dial 112 from any phone, anywhere in the world to get to the same emergency center.|
|Trekking Poles||I really like walking with trekking poles and would have used them on the MCT if I hadn't wanted to deal with packing them. A good pair can telescope up pretty small and may be worth sticking in your luggage.|
In addition to what you will need during the day, don’t forget your items for overnight. Casual pants and top, pajamas, toiletries, journal and pen, and comfy shoes should be enough.
The Moray Coast Trail is one of the best long-distance walks Scotland has to offer. I hope you get a chance to experience it yourself.
More Scotland Adventures
- Scotland Sampler: 4 Days Scotland Itinerary (with Edinburgh Itinerary)
- Books Set in Scotland
- Girls’ Weekend in Edinburgh
- Fun Things To Do in Edinburgh with Kids
- Day Trip to Island of Hoy, Orkney, Scotland
- White Water Rafting in Scotland
- Walking the Moray Coast Trail
- Walking the West Highland Way
- Family Bike Rides in England and Scotland
- Adventure Course in Aberfoyle, Scotland
- Five Favorite Hikes in Europe
- Best Castles in the World