Burghead Boxing Day Swim
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A Bit about Burghead...


Credit: Angela Oatridge



Burghead is situated on a narrow head land projecting into the Moray Firth, the word Firth originating from the old Norse word meaning 'arm of the sea'. As you look over the Firth from the head land you can see the wide arm of water stretching towards the North Sea to the land of the Vikings. To the West the more delicate fingers of The Moray Firth point into the Dornoch, Cromarty and Beauly Firths, the waters flowing into the very heart of Scotland.

Burghead has a lot to offer both resident and visitors with its excellent beach, farreaching views, abundance of flora, fauna and bird life, plus evidence of a more turbulent past when Picts and Vikings fought for power. Add to this the mystic well where stones carved with bulls were found, and a yearly fire tradition called 'Burning The Clavie' which symbolises the ancient fire festivals of primitive man.

Today Burghead is dominated by the huge maltings building which was erected in 1966, then extended in 1971 to double the production capacity, thus making it the largest 'Maltings' in Scotland at that time. This is where the grain used in the production of whisky is prepared, so one might say that this is the real start of the famous 'Whisky Trail', which winds its way through the very heart of Moray. (Details of the Whisky Trail can be obtained from The Tourist Office in Elgin).

Burghead has a wide variety of features to attract both day visitors and people who wish to spend a longer holiday in the area, it also is an ideal place to live for both young and old. The proximity of sea, open fields and woodlands, coupled with the extraordinary variety of fauna and bird life, are just a few of the major natural attractions. Add to this the historical connections of an area where it is reputed Romans, Picts, Vikings and even Kings lived.

History stretching back over a thousand years is much in evidence with the remains of what is reputed to be, the largest Iron Age fort in Great Britain. There is also a large Roman type bath, which was discovered in the last century, known as 'Burghead Well'. The origins of 'The Well' still remain one of the many mysteries of the area, who built it? and, what was it used for? are some of the questions being discussed by archaeologists. There is also an old cemetery with stones going back to medieval times, and tales of hearing a child cry if you knock on the 'Cradle Stone', which is situated on the right of the far wan.

The layout of Burghead as seen today was part of the 'planned village' scheme, which was created in Scotland between 1745 and 1845. The old fisher village of Burghead was demolished at the beginning of the 19th century, along with the major part of its antiquities. This was in order to build the new Burghead, with wide streets laid out in a neat grid pattern which would attract new settlers especially from the Highland Clearances. (Forced migration and emigration of crofters from the Highlands 1780-1855). A new harbour was built at this time, and was enlarged a few years later to allow the London and Leith steamers to enter. The original small pier was destroyed by storms in the 1790's, ten years before the new Burghead was built.

Burghead harbour

Burghead harbour was once described as one of the safest, deepest and complete harbours in the North of Scotland. A commentator in the 1840's remarked 'That in spite of the best facilities and a harbour that could be used in any wind, there was still room for more boats than the 43 that were based there' (Maclean, 1985 p.69). Today this once busy harbour is peaceful with perhaps no more than a dozen fishing boats. However, there is still the occasional large ship calling in to collect stone, wood or grain, and in the summer months a yacht or other small craft will call in to sample the delights of this small corner of Scotland.

In the past few years much emphasis has been made in the County of Moray, on improving the environment by encouraging the planting of trees, flowers and shrubs. Burghead has responded in no small way, and has won many awards for its floral displays and the cleanliness of the streets. Window boxes in the form of boats, each named by its sponsor, deck the school and many of the houses, conjuring up a reminder of the days when Burghead was an important port. An Annual Floral Market is held at the end of May when pipe bands play, and for one day Burghead becomes the Garden Centre of Moray.


The area behind the beach is all woodland, this was planted to prevent a re-occurence of the disaster at Culbin, near Nairn when in the late 17th century and early 18th century high winds blew the sand until it became so serious that the homes in Culbin village became almost covered in sand, and the people had to move away. The main estate was also buried in sand, and blown sand was reported as far afield as Duffus and Roseisle.

A narrow ridge of sand dunes lies between the beach and the forest, this area is perfect for sunbathing away from the sea breezes. Within the forest itself there are areas set aside for picknicking and barbecuing as well as many marked walks. The Forestry Commission runs various events to help people enjoy the natural history of this area. Details of events can be obtained from the tourist office in Elgin.

This area is ideal for:


Discovering unusual fungi

Bird Watching

Capercaillies used to be common in this area, however sightings of these unusual birds are now very rare.


Table, benches and barbecues are to be found near the Roseisle part of the forest

Seeing deer in their natural habitat

Looking at different insects

Discovering wild flowers

Rare flowers like English Stonecrop (Sedum anglicum) which has pink flowers can be found in open places. Also the once common but now rare Oyster Plant (Mertensia maritima) which has unusual blue green leaves and bunches of bell like flowers of light blue.


The beach to the west of the town lies between Burghead and Findhorn. There are only three entrances to it, from Burghead, Roseisle Forest and Findhorn. A small spring flows across the beach at a point known locally as 'The Millie Burn' . There used to be a mill here many years ago, however there is little trace of it now.

The beach area is

Safe for bathing. However remember to take normal swimming precautions.

Never crowded.

A perfect opportunity to collect shells, some very curious.

A place to find unusual worms and sea life.

Recorded as one of the most rewarding places in the British Isles for winter bird watching.

Ideal for seeing the famous Moray Firth bottle nosed dolphins.










Traditions and Annual events in Burghead

Burning the Clavie - 11th January

On January 11th each year, which is the Pagan New Year, the ancient ceremony of Burning The Clavie takes place in Burghead. The Clavie is a tar barrel which is filled with wood and tar then set alight. This burning mass is carried around the streets of Burghead by The Clavie King and his crew, followed by cheering crowds as periodically the Clavie King stops outside a designated cottage, and a piece of burning wood is handed to the resident. (In former times the burning wood was thrown into the cottage). The burning barrel is then taken to The Doorie Hill where it is placed on the Clavie Chimney. Here, as the crowd cheer wildly, more fuel is thrown on the fire setting the whole of the hill alight. The crowd stay until the Clavie falls down, before returning to open houses which offer hospitality and friendship, plus free entertainment and food which is provided in the local hotels and inns in order to celebrate the successful welcoming of the traditional Burghead New Year. (The Clavie tradition never takes place on a Sunday. When 11th January is a Sunday this traditional event will be on Saturday 10th January.)


Charity Swim - 26th December

During the annual Boxing Day Charity Swim across Burghead Harbour, hundreds turn out on this cold day to watch brave volunteers dive one at a time into the harbour, to swim from one side to the other. This has raised thousands of pounds over the years for various causes.

Floral Market

This normally takes place on the last Saturday in May. Plants, flowers, trees, gardening tools, anything to do with gardens or flowers are on sale at this most northern floral market.

Where to eat

Besides the many areas for enjoying a picnic, for those who wish to buy a snack or full meal Burghead has a good variety of places to eat.


The Harbour Inn, Granary Street

Commercial Hotel or Broch House, Young Street

Station Hotel, 2 Brander Street

The Bothy  Grant Street


Where to shop

Burghead Post Office, 49 Grant Street

CO-OP, 47 Grant Street

Vantage Pharmacy, Chemist, 18 Grant Street





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