Nearer to Norway than it is to London, Elgin is the most northerly senior league destination in the UK.
True, this league status was only granted in 2000 but Elgin City have proved themselves as hardy as any of the other key clubs beyond Scotland’s Highland Boundary Fault.
Durability, of course, typifies historic Elgin, site of Macbeth’s greatest battle and close to Culloden, out towards Inverness, the city’s long-term sporting rivals.
Organised football began here in 1879, with the formation of the first Elgin City. Soon to fold, the club was superceded by another short-lived Elgin City in the mid-1880s. Soon afterwards, Elgin Rovers and Vale of Lossie came into being.
These two local clubs merged to create modern-day Elgin City in 1893 – the same year as the inaugural Highland League was played, perhaps no coincidence. Dominated by clubs from Inverness – Thistle, Caledonian, Citadel, Clachnacuddin – the league was complemented by the earlier North of Scotland Cup.
Having joined the Highland League in 1895, the newly formed Elgin immediately beat Citadel 7-2 and went on to become the first club from outside Inverness to win the North of Scotland Cup, in 1898, Clachnacuddin the victims.
Hero of the hour was Elgin-born Robert (‘RC’) Hamilton, snapped the following year by Rangers, where he would go on to score 150-plus goals and win 11 Scottish caps.
Occasionally entered the Scottish Cup as Highland League qualifiers, Elgin moved from Milnfield Park to Station Park and then, after World War I, from Cooper Park to their current home of Borough Briggs.
After subsequent Highland League and North of Scotland Cup wins, and memorable runs in the Scottish Cup in the late 1960s, Elgin were left behind by their Inverness rivals in 1994.
Following in the footsteps of Inverness Caledonian, six years later Elgin City joined the Scottish League and have remained in the fourth tier ever since, battling floods and near bankruptcy to keep afloat.
Inverness airport is 50km (31 miles) from Elgin. The direct Stagecoach bus No.11 runs every hour from the airport to Elgin – every half-hour, change from the No.11 to the No.10 at Nairn, Delnies Woods Caravan Site, then onto Elgin (overall journey time 1hr-1hr 10min, tickets, £10-£11). A Zone 4 Dayrider, including Stagecoach bus transport around Elgin, is £13.
Elgin bus station is on the north side of the town centre, close to the football ground. The train station is just south of the town centre, less than 1km away from Borough Briggs. The train every 2hrs from Inverness (£12) takes 40min – from Glasgow (£64), change at Inverness or Aberdeen, overall journey time 4hrs-4hr 15min.
Stagecoach is the main provider of Elgin’s buses but the town is easily walkable. A Dayrider pass can only be incorporated as part of a journey from Inverness, and/or its airport.
C&R Taxis (01343 545 456) are locally based and offer airport transfers.
A key stop on the Whisky Trail and full of historic attractions, Elgin is full of hotels and guesthouses.
The nearest lodging to the ground is upmarket and surprisingly rural. The Mansion House Hotel & Country Club fills a riverside, 19th-century baronial pile with 23 luxurious, recently refurbished rooms, fine-dining restaurant, indoor heated salt-water pool, sauna and gym.
Also nearby and classy with it, The Mansefield is more contemporary but still elegant in style, its restaurant and separate bar/eaterie destinations in their own right.
You’ll find cheaper options on town-centre Moss Street, where the Torr House Hotel has marketed itself as ‘premium budget’ since a recent change of management, who now seem to be calling it the Central. En-suite rooms have just enough space for a bathroom, TV/DVD player, fridge, microwave and tea- and coffee-making tray with kettle. Alongside, the family-run Willowbank B&B has its own walled-in garden and private off-street parking.
Down by the train station, the spiffy Laichmoray was a classic railway hotel in the 1850s and now offers 34 individually fashioned rooms, a restaurant, well stocked lounge bar and conference facilities. Across the roundabout, the equally sturdy Royal Hotel, once the mansion of a local whisky baron, is an excellent mid-range choice with smartly furnished rooms, a restaurant and free on-site parking.
Even Elgin’s Premier Inn, just outside town on the A96, has a stately air but offers rates you might find at far more prosaic branches of this nationwide chain. From the nearby roundabout, bus Nos.10, 31A, 34 and 38 run to Elgin Library/Tourist Information Centre near the bus station and football ground.
Pubs and bars in the north-west corner of the town centre, closest to the ground, are convenient as pre-match options – apart from, the trendy, more cocktail-centric Zed Bar, more of a post-work destination. The Cooperage nearby is in similar vein.
Towards the other end of the High Street, the Drouthy Cobbler is equally contemporary, part-café, part-lounge bar, with plenty of local beers and whiskies. A few houses along, the Muckle Cross is the local Wetherspoon, named after a medieval landmark.
Round the corner on Lossie Wynd, the award-winning Midas is almost certainly the best pub in town, fine ales and plentiful whiskies attracting a lively group of regulars.
Back on the High Street, the Ionic Bar is another Elgin landmark, with an older clientele by day – note the wall of archive photos – and younger after dark.
On Academy Street, it’s anything goes at the recently renovated Seaforth Club – salsa classes, ukulele lessons, hypnotherapy – with a bar area open to the general public.