The ancient Scottish Royal Burgh of Forres sits on the shoulder of Cluny Hill and looks out to the north over the Moray Firth towards the mountains of Caithness. The town and its surrounding countryside is a delight both to its inhabitants and to its visitors.
The first historical indication of the existence of the town may be that shown as Varis on a map of the region produced by the Roman cartographer, Claudius Ptolemy. The word Varis is also used on another Ptomely map of Wales so it may have some purely Latin meaning. The “Forres” of today may be derived from this or perhaps from the Gaelic words “fo” (below) or “far” (where) and “ras” (underwood).
The most ancient historical artefact in the town is the impressive “Suenos Stone” standing 6 metres (20 ft) tall and elaborately carved on all four sides. The stone is classed as a Pictish Class III symbol stone and is perhaps the ultimate monument to the stone art of the indigenous people. The stone has a Christian cross on one side supported by extensive Celtic knot-work. On the obverse side there is a visual record of battle scenes perhaps recording the ultimate victory of the first Scottish king, Kenneth Mac Alpin over the Picts. It seems that, whoever he was, “Sueno” had nothing to do with the stone and the name is a historical misinterpretation.
It is known that there was a castle in the town around 900AD and it is believed to have been a royal burgh in 1140AD . Certainly, on 23rd June 1496 King James IV of Scotland granted a confirming charter defining the rights, privileges and duties of the burghers. The town still creates burghers from time to time as acknowledgement of the contributions made by particularly worthy citizens to the life of the town. On 23rd June 1996 the town celebrated the quincentenary of this charter to the sounds of a Pictish carnyx trumpet and Scottish music, supported by a specially produced Quincentenary Blend of uisge beatha.
The town has two whisky distilleries, the Benromach in full production and the Dallas Dhu historic distillery, which is run as a museum by Historic Scotland. Both have their own visitor centres.
Forres High Street is typical of an ancient market town revived by Victorian wealth. It has a wide central area with a mercat cross and presents a number of attractive buildings including the Tolbooth, The Bank of Scotland and the Falconer Museum.
There are many forests and woodland walks surrounding the town, the nearest being on the Cluny and Sanquar hills to the south.
Nelson’s Tower sits on top of Cluny Hill and can be reached in a short walk from the town centre through Grant Park. This is one of the most attractive features of the town providing a huge open space right in its centre and hosting popular events, such as the Forres Highland Games and Forres Theme Day during the summer. The flower gardens in the park inspire floral efforts throughout the town and the town regularly hits the top spots in the Britain in Bloom competition.