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United Kingdom
Lossiemouth Harbour - - 217148.jpg
Lossiemouth Harbour
Flag of Morayshire
In Spe (In hope)
[Interactive map]
Area: 476 square miles
Population: 67,654
County town: Elgin
County flower: One-flowered wintergreen [1]

The County of Moray (pronounced "Murray") or Elgin, is a shire of the Highlands. It lies on the south coast of the Moray Firth between Nairnshire to the west and Banffshire to the east. To the south inland lies Inverness-shire. The county town is Elgin, which has also given the county its alternative name of Elginshire.

The main body of the county stands on the coastlands, but two large, detached portions of Moray are inland, locally situate in Inverness-shire, and a corresponding part of Inverness-shire interposes itself between coast Moray and its larger detached portion.

The county town, Elgin, lies inland a way, on the wee river, the Lossie. Downstream, Lossiemouth is a fishing village best known for its RAF base. The main road from Aberdeen to Inverness runs through this coastward strip and here are the main villages.

Above the impressive Findhorn Bay is magnet for Shakespeareans; Forres where the Bard placed Duncan's royal palace.


Along the sea coast the shores are mostly low and sandy. It is a fishing and farming coast, the Firth rich with haddock and cod. Running inland, Morayshire consists of fertile valleys, divided by low hills, producing crops and livestock. Further inland, in the detached portion, the fields rise to the mountains.

Thus Elginshire is naturally divided into two sections, the level and fertile coast and its hinterland, known as "the Laigh o' Moray," a tract 30 miles. long by five to twelve miles broad, and the hilly country in the south.

The southern portion of Morayshire is a contrast to the coast. It lies in the hills. A large portion at least on the lower slopes is covered by forest. The Spey, Lossie and Findhorn run from these hills, the Spey and the Findhorn with salmon and grilse, and in the lochs with trout. Speyside in particular is renowned fishing country. Forestry is the industry of the hills, though a good income is made too from fishing and deer-stalking.


View to Carn a' Ghille Chearr
Bin Hill behind Buckie Harbour

The highest mountain of Morayshire is Carn a' Ghille Chearr, at 2,329 feet the ridge of the Cromdale Hills on the Banffshire border.

There are few high mountains off the ridge. In the south-central district the greatest are:


The two most important rivers, the River Spey and the River Findhorn, both have their sources in Inverness-shire. About 50 miles of the course of the Spey are in Morayshire, which serves for much of its course as a boundary river on the south-east and east of the shire.

The Findhorn rises in the Monadhliath Mountains which form the watershed for several miles between it and the Spey. Of its total course of nearly 70 miles, only the last 12 are in Morayshire, where it separates the woods of Altyre from the Forest of Darnaway, before entering the Moray Firth in Findhorn Bay. Though its passage through Morayshire is sort, it is during these miles, in particular the highest seven miles of its course in Morayshire, that the Findhorn passes through some of the finest scenery in the Highlands. It is liable to sudden risings, and in the memorable Moray floods of August 1829 wrought the greatest havoc.

Of other rivers the River Lossie rises in the small lakes on the flanks of Carn Kitty and pursues a very winding course of 34 miles until it reaches the Moray Firth; Ballintomb Burn, Rothes Burn and Tulchan Burn are left-hand affluents of the Spey; the Dorbock and Divie, uniting their forces near Dunphail House, join the Findhorn at Relugas; and Muckle Water, a left-hand tributary of the Findhorn, comes from Nairnshire.

The Spey and Findhorn are famous for salmon, but some of the smaller streams, too, afford good sport.

Lochs and glens

Lochindorb and castle ruin

The lochs are few and unimportant, among them being Loch Spynie (2½ miles north of Elgin), Loch-na-Bo (four miles south-east of Elgin), Loch of Blairs (2½ miles south of Forres), Loch Romach (three miles south of Rafford), Loch Dallas (four miles south-west of Dallas, and Lochindorb in the south-west (six miles north-north-west of Grantown-on-Spey).

Lochindorb is the largest lake in the county, two miles in length and fully half a mile wide. In the upper end, on an island believed to be artificial, stand the ruins of Lochindorb Castle, in the 14th century the stronghold of the "Wolf of Badenoch", and afterwards successively the property of the Earls of Moray, the Campbells of Cawdor and the Earls of Seafield. Sir Thomas Dick Lauder saw at Cawdor Castle a massive iron gate which, according to tradition, Sir Donald Campbell of Cawdor carried on his back from Lochindorb to Cawdor, a distance of 13 miles.

Loch Spynie was once a lake extending from the Firth to within 2½ miles of Elgin and covering an area of over 2,000 acres. Its shores were the haunt of a great variety of birds, and its waters were full of salmon, sea-trout and pike. However early in the 19th century it was resolved to reclaim the land, and the drainage works then undertaken reduced the beautiful loch to a swamp of some 120 acres.

In the southern half of the county, amongst the hills, are several glens, among them the Glen of Rothes, Glen Lossie, Glen Gheallaidh, Glen Tulchan and Glen Beag. Strathspey, though more of a valley than a glen, is remarkable for its extent and beauty.


Morayshire has its origin in the ancient province of Moray, which was somewhat wider than the county of today. The name "Moray" is from Gaelic or Pictish, and means "among the seaboard men". Traces of the Picts in Moray are frequently to be come upon: the stone circle at Viewfield is a prominent memorial of ancient days.

Christianity was introduced under the auspices of Columba (from whose time the site of Burghead church has probably been so occupied), and it flourished for a period until the Columban church was expelled in 717 by King Nectan. Thereafter the district was given over to internecine strife between the northern and southern Picts, which was ended according to legend by the victory of Kenneth MacAlpine in 831, who united the Picts to the Scots.

During the Viking period, the Norsemen raided the country. It was in the time of the second Sigurd that the Firth was fixed as the northern boundary of Moray. In spite of such interruptions as the battle of Torfness (Burghead) on the 14th of August 1040, in which Thorfinn Earl of Orkney overthrew a strong force of Scots under King Duncan, the consolidation of the kingdom was being gradually accomplished.

Macbeth ruled as mormaer, or great steward, of Moray until seizing the throne of Scotland; he and his brief successor, "daft" Lulach were the only kings whom Moray gave to Scotland. Nevertheless, Moray never lacked for able, if headstrong, men, and it continued to enjoy home rule under its own mormaer until the dawn of the 12th century, when as an entity it ceased to exist. With a view to breaking up the power of the mormaers David I and his successors colonized the seaboard with settlers from other parts of the kingdom. Nevertheless, from time to time the clansmen and their chiefs descended from their fastnesses and plundered the Laigh, keeping the people for generations in a state of panic.

During the Middle Ages the Church became a civilizing force. In 1107 Alexander had founded the see of Moray and the churches of Birnie, Kinneddar and Spynie were in turn the cathedral of the early bishops, until in 1224 under the episcopate of Andrew of Moray (de Moravia), the church of the Holy Trinity in Elgin was chosen for the cathedral.

Arms of the Earldom of Moray

During his war, King Edward I came as far north as Elgin, where he stayed for four days in July 1296, and here he issued his writ for the parliament at Berwick. Nevertheless, Moray did not side with the English king, and it was relatively untouched by the war: English armies penetrated Moray only three times, in 1296, 1303 and 1335. Robert the Bruce erected Moray into an Earldom in 1312, conferring it on his nephew, Thomas Randolph. The earldom was successively held by the Randolphs, the Dunbars, the Douglases, the royal Stewarts and an illegitimate branch of the Stewarts.

The Church accepted the Reformation peacefully but the strife between Covenanters and the adherents of episcopacy was played out here. In the civil war, Montrose ravaged the villages which stood for the Covenanters, but most of the great lairds shifted in their allegiance, and the mass of the people were quite indifferent to the declining fortunes of the Stewarts which led to the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and ultimately to the beheading of King Charles I. Charles II landed at Garmouth on 3 July 1650 on his return from his first exile in Holland, but hurried southwards to claim his crown, ultimately in vain for he came to reign effectively only at the Restoration in 1660. Civil strife in Moray continued until prelacy was abolished in 1689. Thus the bishopric of Moray came to an end after an existence of 581 years.

Footpath on the Culbin Sands

In 1694 an unparalleled catastrophe overwhelmed the barony of Culbin to the north-west of Forres. A fine estate of 3,600 acres, Culbin belonged to the Kinnairds and yielded them a rent of £6,000 a year. This land was so fertile that it was called the Granary of Moray, and had a grand mansion, a church and several houses. In that year though a storm of extraordinary severity broke upon the land and the estate was buried under a mass of sand. Today it is a sandy waste three miles long and two miles broad, a wilderness of dome-shaped dunes divided by a loftier ridge. The sand, exceedingly fine and light, is constantly shifting and, at rare intervals, exposing traces of the lost estate. They have lately been tamed to some extent by forestry.

After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, a rising in favour on the deposed King James VII was shattered at Cromdale on May day in 1690. The Jacobite risings in 1715 and 1745 were too spasmodic and half-hearted to affect the loyalty of Morayshire to the House of Hanover. A few weeks before the Battle of Culloden, Prince Charles Edward, the Young Pretender, stayed in Elgin for some days, and a month afterwards the Duke of Cumberland passed through the town in haste to annihilate the Pretender's army on Drummossie Moor.

Other celebrated Moray families who played a more or less strenuous part in local politics were the Gordons, the Grants and the Duffs.

On the 2nd and 3rd days of August 1829, the Moray Floods struck. The River Findhorn rose 50 feet above the ordinary level and flooded 20 square miles. The Divie rose 40 feet and the Lossie flooded all the low ground around Elgin. The floods tore down bridges and buildings, and obliterated farms and homesteads.

Towns and villages of the county

Elgin High Street

*: These places lie within the detached parts of the county, locally situate in Inverness-shire.
Additionally, the town of Grantown-on-Spey and village of Cromdale are locally situate in Morayshire but within a sizeable detached part of Inverness-shire.


*: Extends into Banffshire.
: Mostly in Inverness-shire detached, but wholly in Morayshire if detached parts are disregarded.
Additionally small parts of the parishes of Keith and Inveravon otherwise in Banffshire extend into Morayshire. Abernethy and Kincardine and Duthil and Rothiemurchus are also partly in the detached parts of the county.



Duffus Castle
  • Hogan, C.Michael: (2008) Longman Hill, The Modern Antiquarian
  • Shaw, Lachlan and Gordon, James Frederick Skinner The History of the Province of Moray: Comprising the Counties of Elgin and Nairn, the Greater Part of the County of Inverness and a Portion of the County of Banff (1882)
  • A Survey of the Province of Moray (1798)
  • Rhind, W: Sketches of the Past and Present State of Moray (1839)
  • Dunbar Dunbar, E: Documents relating to the Province of Moray (1895)
  • Gordon, C A: History of the House of Gordon (1890)
  • Rampini, C: History of Moray and Nairn (1897)
  • Innes, C: Elgin, Past and Present (1860)
  • Macdonald, J: "Burghead" (Proceedings of Glasgow Archaeological Soc.), (1891)
  • Lauder, Sir T Dick: The Wolf of Badenoch (1886)
  • An Account of the Great Floods of August 1829 in the Province of Moray and Adjoining Districts (1873)
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