Location: Forres, Moray

Distance: 4.75 miles/7.5km

Time: 2-3 hours

Grade: Moderate countryside walk on good paths

It’s always good to come across a community which takes pride in its heritage and offers a genuine welcome to visitors, and this feeling was very much in evidence when my wife and I stopped in Forres.

The Morayshire town has a neat and tidy appearance and it is no surprise to find that it has won prizes in the Britain in Bloom contest on a regular basis.

The Forres Heritage Trust plays an active role in conserving and publicising the best of the past and the local Footpaths Trust is doing great work in enabling both locals and visitors to enjoy the countryside which surrounds the town, as I’m sure it will continue to do as lockdown lifts.

These two aspects of past and present are nicely combined in this walk, which explores several areas of beautiful mature woodland before reaching its climax at an imposing monument to a hero.

The walk starts from the Victoria Road car park which could easily be reached by walking from the town centre through the park with its amusing animal sculptures.

You are immediately into very fine woodland with many splendid trees soaring above you; at one point you walk downhill through a very impressive avenue of conifers.

The paths are in excellent condition and the walk is well marked with yellow arrows. The route is quite convoluted but follow the arrows and you shouldn’t go wrong.

The walk emerges from the woods to follow the sparkling Mosset Burn, whose waters are used in the production of whisky at Benromach Distillery, which can be visited. You soon reach Sanquhar Loch, a beautiful stretch of water with plenty of birdlife. The name of the loch is intriguing; I have not been able to establish a link between this place and the town in Dumfries-shire but perhaps someone can enlighten me. The name comes from the Gaelic seann cathair, meaning ‘old fort’.

After this you walk through the Sanquhar Woodlands which are run by a local trust and managed very much with conservation in mind.

After passing the neat, whitewashed Chapelton farm, you reach a road opposite the former Leanchoil Hospital. The future of this fine old building was very much in doubt when we visited but having seen how Forres folk regard their heritage I am sure a use will be found for it.

A stretch through the Muiry Woodlands – again locally run – leads eventually to an old right of way past the golf course and leading to the cemetery.

Back into the woods where you started, a curving path leads round the hill and a left turn takes you fairly steeply up to the Nelson Tower.

Looked at logically, there seems no reason why a small Morayshire town should celebrate a naval victory (Trafalgar, 1805) on the southern tip of Europe, but Nelsonmania seems to have spread through Britain and this is one of a considerable number of impressive monuments to the one-armed admiral.

Erected in 1812, it has inevitably had a somewhat chequered life but is now firmly in the hands of the Forres Heritage Trust, working in partnership with Moray Council and other bodies. The 21-metre tower can be climbed by an internal spiral stone staircase and the view from the top is magnificent.

The tower is open from 2pm to 4pm daily from April to September (check for current restrictions before you go) and is staffed by volunteers eager to tell you more about it.

It is one of only four ‘climbable’ Nelson monuments and is not surprisingly the most northerly of these (the others are in Edinburgh, Great Yarmouth in Norfolk and – as unexpected a location as Forres – Paxton’s Tower near Llanarthney in mid-Wales.

As you gaze out over the Moray countryside and coast from the top of the tower you can say a word of thanks to those who help keep such places in good shape. Long may they prosper.

Roger Smith

ROUTE PLANNER

Map: OS 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 27 (Nairn & Forres) or 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 423 (Elgin, Forres & Lossiemouth).

Distance: 4.75 miles/7.5km.

Time: 2-3 hours.

Start/Finish: Victoria Road car park, Forres (GR: NJ042592).

Public transport: Excellent bus and rail services to Forres from Inverness, Elgin and Aberdeen. Details from www.travelinescotland.com or www.stagecoachbus.com

Information: www.morayholidays.co.uk/forres or www.forresfootpathstrust.org.uk

ROUTE

Take track behind car park into woods. Go up steps, TL on track for 100m, up more steps. Take higher path contouring the hill. Take sharp L turn, downhill, then TR along avenue of conifers. TR at junction, keeping small ravine on R. At next junction TL on track which becomes lane. Cross road and take track opposite. It narrows to a path. Just before reaching road, TL as signed on path which curves R and drops to reach Mosset Burn. TR on wide path to reach Sanquhar Loch. Continue to road. TL and TL again before houses, then fork R to climb and again keep R, uphill, to follow track to minor road. Cross and enter Sanquhar Woods. Follow yellow waymarks through the wood, going L at an open area. Path eventually crosses Mosset Burn. Go R then L on the bank. Reach Chapelton Farm and follow access track out to road. TR. At end of houses go L through car park and follow waymarks through Muiry Woods. Track eventually becomes path by golf course then reaches road at cemetery. TR. At road bend go L into woods. TR to rejoin outward route but continue ahead round hill and climb L to tower. Follow tracks and steps back down to car park.

All walks are subject to current restrictions