Cullen Skink is one of Scotland's most famous dishes. It is a fish soup made with potatoes, onions, milk and/or cream. It is delicious and one of my favourite Scottish foods.
I have to confess that, until recently, I had no idea there was an actual place in Scotland called Cullen, and that the soup originated here. I also discovered that Cullen is a coastal town famed for its beaches, harbour and relaxed atmosphere. That was it, I had to go! And where better to try the soup than the Cullen Bay Hotel, the host venue and previous winner of the Cullen Skink World Championships?
Overlooking Cullen Bay this hotel has probably the best location in town for views.
A short walk from the front door and you are on the beach, via the golf course. A main road, the A98, is right in front of the hotel and you must cross this to begin the walk down to the beach. The hotel is not in the centre of the town, but you can walk there in about 15 minutes.
This area of Scotland, the Moray coast is spectacular, but does not seem to get talked about as much as some other parts of the country. How many people would say Cullen when asked to think of a Scottish coastal town or village? I felt like I had come across an undiscovered part of the country, but that's just me. If you are looking for places in Scotland that might be less busy with visitors then Cullen could be a good choice.
There are 14 rooms and some have sea views, but they are more expensive. My room, without a sea view, was cosy with very comfortable beds.
Coming to the restaurant was like one of those TV ads for the perfect holiday. Someone shows you to your table and it has the most gorgeous view of the sea. The sky has no clouds and the water is a tranquil dark blue.
It was time to try Cullen Skink, in Cullen. I was was surprised to see not one, but two types of Cullen Skink on the menu. There was the traditional option and there was 'Cullen Skink With a Twist.' The 'twist' version had sherry, port jam and smoked haddock marinated in dark molasses.
I wanted to try the original version and it more than lived up to my expectations. It was thick and creamy, with succulent fish and the satisfying potato chunks that make this such a filling meal. I have tasted a lot of Skinks and this was definitely one of the best. Actually, it was the best because it was delicious and I was eating it in Cullen with this magnificent view.
For my main course I had the Fisherman's Pie, with salmon, haddock and prawns. It looked small, but it was packed with chunky bits of fish and a thick, creamy sauce.
Stroll on the beach after dinner
Take advantage of the hotel's location and head down to the beach after dinner, particularly in the summer when it is still light at 9pm.
From the hotel's front door it is a short walk across the golf course to the beach. The sand is soft and there might be a gentle wind sweeping across it. Let your mind relax and focus on the waves rolling in. Turn around and look back towards the hotel where you had just enjoyed Cullen Skink and you will feel very fortunate to have experienced this place.
Look out for the wildflowers growing here.
The sunsets are spectacular and during my stay I noticed that someone had written in the sand "last night here. Maggie is sad." I know exactly how she felt, it is a place that you don't want to leave.
The breakfast menu here is excellent with items like smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, grilled haddock with a poached egg and haggis with poached eggs. I tried the French toast and it was perfect.
How to get here
Cullen is on National Cycle Network Route One, but if you are not doing that route the best way to reach the town is from Keith. There's a train station there and it is a 14 mile ride using quiet B-roads. There is a full description of this route in my blog about the Willows Tearoom.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.