History of Forres

Forres is a historical town, and many of the remnants of its past can still be seen today.

Nelson’s Tower dominates the wooded Cluny Hill above the town, however, the 200-year-old monument distracts from a much older historical presence.

Bronze Age

A recent archaeological dig on Cluny Hill has revealed evidence of a hill fort surrounding the summit which, in recent history has been marked by Nelson’s tower.

The findings at Cluny Hill have been dated by archaeologists to between 800BC (Late Bronze Age) and 350BC (Early Iron Age).

The dig also revealed that the site was different from other sites in Moray, being a hillfort rather than an unenclosed settlement.

According to one of the archaeologists who visited in 2018, the evidence shows that the Moray Firth area was the ‘ironworking capital’ of the country and she cited several other sites in the north and north-east, such as Birnie near Elgin, Burghead and Inverness, all pointing to iron production on a scale not seen elsewhere in Scotland.

Further reading: The Cluny Hill Blog

Sueno’s Stone

Sueno's Stone, Forres
Sueno’s Stone

Standing tall at the eastern entrance to the town is Sueno’s Stone, and indeed the tallest carved standing stone in Scotland.

A 21-foot monolith, it is carved with illustrious detail, although somewhat weather-worn the single slab is now encased in a glass shelter to protect it from further erosion.

It probably dates from around 980AD. Many theories abound as to what the carved scene depicts but the most probable is that it shows a defeat of the men of Moray by Gaelicised Picts from the south.

The runes carved on the stone still mystify scholars today, one side is carved with a large ring-headed cross, the other side is divided into four panels depicting what appears to be a large but unknown battle scene which could possibly have been fought nearby.

From around 900AD, the town as we know it started to form. A castle at the west end, now completely gone, dominated a mound that extended east to form the high street.

Royal Burgh

The burgh of Forres was granted by Robert I to Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray in 1312 and forfeited to the Crown in 1455.

Forres still displays much of the medieval layout, with long narrow plots running at right angles to the High Street, also referred to as the “kin’s calsay” (causeway).

In 1390 Forres was destroyed by fire in an attack by the ‘Wolf of Badenoch’ (Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan). In 1496 became a Royal burgh again, and King James IV granted a charter setting out the rights, privileges and duties of the burghers.

Forres expanded rapidly in the 19th century.

Forres – Royal Burgh
Forres – Royal Burgh


The town has links with Macbeth, the king of Scotland, from 1040 till his death in 1057. Before he became king he fought and killed Duncan near Pitgaveny near Elgin on 10 August 1040. Macbeth was immediately crowned at Scone to legitimise his position.

After William I became King of Scotland in 1165, the castle at Forres served as a hunting lodge for royalty. Today the mound on which the castle was built is still there, but unfortunately over the years, the remains of the castle have all been removed.

Mercat Cross

There are no 20th century buildings on the main thoroughfare, and the presence of a mercat cross, and prominent Tolbooth give the town some historical character.

A Mercat Cross is a common sight in Scottish town centres, but the Forres cross is more elaborate than most

The current pinnacled structure has had pride of place in the middle of the high street since 1844. It was modelled on the Sir Walter Scott Monument in Edinburgh, albeit a much smaller version. The cross has crumbled over the years, and has recently undergone some restoration with finials and ironworks being replaced.

Falconer Museum

Falconer Museum, Forres
Falconer Museum, Forres

The Falconer Museum was built from a bequest by Alexander and Hugh Falconer to house a large collection of fossils. It was named after Hugh in the 19th century.

He was a distinguished geologist, botanist, palaeontologist and paleoanthropologist and spent much of his life studying the geology, plant and animal life of India, Assam and Burma.

The museum is currently closed due to funding cuts by Moray Council.

The Friends of Falconer Museum website has more information

Nelson’s Tower

Nelson's Tower

Situated at the top of Cluny Hill with spectacular views across Forres and Findhorn Bay, Nelson’s Tower was built by Charles Stewart in 1806 to commemorate Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson’s success at the Battle of Trafalgar .

It is the culmination of a leafy walk through Grant Park and Cluny Woods. Clear signposts and a network of paths will take you to the top.

It is rather a steep climb so not suitable for those with mobility issues and the view on a clear day is well worth it. When you get to the tower you will be able to climb the 96 steps to the viewing platform on the roof.

It is open to the public from the beginning of April to the end of September between 2pm and 4pm and manned by volunteers. The walk to the tower is worth the effort, but if you want to climb to the top, look out for the red ensign, which will be flying from the tower and can be seen from the town when open.

There is free parking at the edge of Grant Park and entry is by donation.

The Tolbooth

Forres Tolbooth

The Tolbooth in Forres is an impressive landmark situated in the centre of town on the high street. There has been a building on this site for some 800 years, however, the current structure dates back to 1838.

The Tolbooth has an opulent court room which served as council offices for many years, but now used for local events and meetings. Behind the court room is a jail house which has six cells.

Tours of the tolbooth, police station and jail cells can be booked in the summer season.

The tour includes the clock tower which is accessed through a winding staircase that opens out onto a parapet giving spectacular views over the town.

The first record referring to the Tolbooth is a proclamation made in 1586 and then in 1588. The records show that in 1619 it was being used “for sure keiping and deteining” evil-doers and prisoners. In 1655 the Tolbooth is a “thackit” ruinous building that cannot carry the roof until the walls are repaired.

Between 1671 and 1677 much masonry had been repaired and new structures added to form a three-storey building. By 1698 an agreement for major rebuilding work had been drawn up and “£333 1s 8d” had been provided by the merchants and burgesses for the project.

James Thomson monument

A large granite obelisk marks the beginning of the ridge which forms the high street. Standing high above the tree line, the monument to a surgeon who stayed behind in the Crimean war to tend to soldiers during the Crimea War.

Thomson wasn’t a Forres man. He was from Cromarty across the Moray Firth, but when his army superiors campaigned for his recognition, there was a dispute between his supporters and the landowner. The owner of Castlehill was a friend of the campaigner and offered the site.

The assistant surgeon was credited with saving the lives of 100s of men, and he ultimately succumbed to cholera and died in Russia.