I was in Nairn, capital of the 'Scottish Riviera' for most of the week, and although I had to do a lot of driving about, there was still time for a walk to Cawdor, 5 miles or so to the south-west along the picturesque banks of the River Nairn and the Cawdor Burn.
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My 'local' for the duration of the visit was the Braeval Hotel and its Bandstand Bar. Located just on the edge of the raised beach of Nairn Links there are great views of the Moray Firth & across to the Black Isle and also of the Links & the iconic Wallace Bandstand itself.
The main entrance is to the back of the hotel, and this week they had just started to put up the marquee for the Nairn Highland Games which was being held on Nairn Links at the weekend.
The entrance corridor filters you past a number of tables and to the bar itself, normally resplendent with a choice from 8 or so hand-pulls, but in this week before the Highland Games the cellar was jammed full of fizzy lager kegs for the Games visitors (sigh...). This meant a cut-down selection of only 4, but it was still a more than decent choice, with the bitter, dry finish of the Cromarty Atlantic Drift superb after being almost fresh on (and only from about 10 beer miles away).
There's plenty of room for both standing or sitting at the bar, masses of pump-clips around the beams, a large mirror opposite the bar counter with a couple of posters on either side (one for Black Sheep Imperial Russian Stout which I looked for in vain for in the fridge), tables towards the rear where you can have food, and a more raised area further at the back which is normally used for pool, but which transforms into a disco or karaoke 'dance-floor' at the weekend.
The Sea View restaurant in the conservatory was busy every day I went in, the staff were friendly & helpful, and the owner Gordon saw me taking a photo of the pump-climps and came over & chatted about beer and breweries - you can't really ask more about a 'local'.
After leaving the Braeval Hotel & the Bandstand Bar I started out with a lovely walk along the outstanding (and quiet) reaches of Nairn beach leaving the sands at the harbour area of Nairn.
On the sea wall I found a statue of a 19th Century 'Fisherwife', an inhabitant of the Fishertown area of Nairn, which still exists today as a maze of small cottages & shacks, narrow roads & dead-ends.
The small harbour contains more pleasure craft than fishing boats nowadays, and overlooking this are both the teensy Basil Harbour Café & Deli/Takeaway serving/selling delicious food and the Nairn Sailing Club (only open at the weekends, I think).
At the sea wall I came across the first of many bridges across the River Nairn. This is the Bailey Bridge across to Nairn Lochloy Holiday Park (apologies, there will be a lot more bridges here - I like bridges).
This is the start of the signposted riverside path to Cawdor. All along this stretch of the river (until the next bridge, the narrow (& bouncy!) Merryton Bridge) was a teeming amount of wildlife in the reeds and small islands - ducks, gulls, and there was also a pair of swans and their 9 cygnets. A lovely retired Gent takes care of these and they even have their own website with some great pics - Simply Superb Swans.
Next up I came to the main Nairn Road Bridge which carries the A96 from Aberdeen to Inverness. This has 2 arches, 1 for the river in normal flow, the other for flood purposes and which is normally sanded-up.
Just up-river from this is the railway bridge - 4 arches at quite a high level compared to all the other bridges.
The last of the bridges on the lower stretch of the Nairn is the Jubilee Bridge - this is another footbridge, but it is easily accessible on both sides by cycle or wheelchair.
From here the riverside path diverges - the cycle path heads off towards a minor road at the outskirts of Nairn, but the footpath continues to follow the river through some secluded greenery complete with benches at the more scenic viewpoints. A mile or so later I came to the Firhall Bridge with some fairly steep steps on both sides meaning that it would be a bit of a pain for both cyclists and for young children. However the Firhall Estate on the other bank of the river is a planned 'Over 45's only' development, so I'm guessing it's not too much of a problem.
From here onwards the path narrowed and sometimes took the river and sometimes skirted the surrounding fields. The final bridge on this stretch is the Howford Bridge taking the minor B9090 road across the River Nairn.
The path then continued in this vein for another couple of miles, in and out from the bank as the river meandered through the wooded valley. At the junction of the Cawdor Burn I followed the path heading due south for a mile or so before this led me to the small village of Cawdor. Here, slightly off the main road, but well signposted, is the low-slung collection of buildings which makes up the Cawdor Tavern, opposite the bowling green (and sharing a busy car park with the bowlers).
I gravitated straight to the bar area of the lounge where there were tasters of Orkney & Atlas beers available (don't worry, these are cleaned & re-filled). They only sell Orkney & Atlas beers because way back in 2004 when the Orkney Brewery merged with the Atlas Brewery to become Highland & Islands Breweries, this combined entity was subsequently rescued from administration in 2006 by Sinclair Breweries, owned by Norman & Christine Sinclair, who (as it happens) also own the Cawdor Tavern. The Orkney summer pale ale Norseman was available, so I ordered this (perhaps a bit too bitter, without too much balance), and also a Ham Salad from the menu (I was eating far too many fish suppers back in Nairn).
The lounge is all reddish-ochre low ceilings, lovely oak panelling, a stone fireplace with brass tools and lots of subdued lighting; it's definitely trying for a traditional, but still stylish effect which actually works out quite well. The service was prompt & friendly and I couldn't fault the salad at all (it was way too embarrassing to take a pic).
I actually completely missed the snug bar until I was leaving the Cawdor Tavern; located on the right hand side of the Tavern it's quite a large room, complete with pool table, darts board & wood burning stove and seems very much a locals bar - it'd imagine it to be a great place to spend an evening (and then get a taxi back to Nairn). The Cawdor Tavern was originally the workshop for Cawdor Castle, and since this was only 'down the road' from the village it made sense to pay it a visit whilst I was so close. Although the 15th Century castle has no connection to Shakespeare's 'Scottish Play' (the Thane of Cawdor was a completely made up title) it's still a seriously impressive castle, complete with moat, tower-house and extensive ornamental gardens.
I'm not really that into ornamental gardens (or plants or shrubbery) but the large flowering thistles definitely caught my eye.
And I also liked the various modern sculptures dotted about the gardens.
I then had to find a way back to Nairn. The regular bus only operates on school-days so that was out, and although there is a 'tourist bus' during the summer season which runs to Inverness & some other nearby attractions, I had missed this by quite some time. So I decided my best option was to walk up the main A96 road and get the Nairn-bound bus at the Highland Foodstop junction. A bus runs on this route every 30 minutes so it wasn't too long before I was eastward bound, and since I still had some time I decided to continue through Nairn and get off at Brodie, a small village between Nairn & Forres. There's an upmarket shopping 'experience' here, Brodie Countryfare, which sells some bottled beer (from the nearby Speyside Craft Brewery in Forres and (for some reason) Otter Brewery in Devon), but on the other side of the road is the Old Mill Inn, complete with distinctive carved wooden horse at the main entrance.
They were just setting up for the influx of evening diners, but they were quite happy to serve me a pint of Cromarty Brewed Awakening, lovely bitter, alcoholic cold coffee in a glass.
There's not too much space for simply having a beer (I think I was only given the choice of 3 tables) since the majority of the bar area and the whole of the conservatory are setup for meals, including Afternoon/Cream Tea & High Tea at the weekends, but it's good to see the selection of real ales that they've had in the recent past and the selection of whiskies that are available.
I decided to brave the possible incoming rain shower and head out into the large beer garden at the front of the Inn. There's quite a few tables out there, it's somewhat sheltered from the noise of the A96, and it was interesting to see what I assume is (at least part of) one of the old Mill water wheels in prime position.
Return journey was as follows:-
Bus: A96/Ardesier Road to Brodie (Stagecoach 10 or 35)
Brodie to Nairn (Stagecoach 10 or 35)