More people have been visiting sights on their doorstep during the pandemic.
For Iona Grant, this brought about an opportunity.
An amateur photographer, musician and motor-biker, Iona shares her passion for her home region in her new book, Moray Speyside: A Travel Guide.
Growing up in Burghead along the region’s coastline, she now lives in London with her husband but reconnected with Moray while coming back to visit family.
Filled with local travel tips, listings for festivals and distillery visitor centres, the travel guide is ideal for Moray residents and visitors alike to explore the best of what the region has to offer.
Having previously never written a book before, Iona has been delighted to see it receive such positive feedback.
“The amount of support from people for the book has gone through the roof,” says Iona.
“Locally, sales have been incredible. Hopefully I’ll get the word out that Moray is a great place to visit and we’ll attract more visitors from further afield.”
From Moray to Las Vegas
Iona has many fond memories of growing up in Burghead from blisteringly hot summers to excellent teachers at Burghead Primary School.
With aspirations of becoming a journalist, she relocated to London to study for a media degree before taking a bit of a left turn.
“I had an excellent time during my studies, but I decided I maybe wasn’t quite ready for the real world,” Iona explains.
“I met a drummer, fell in love and he happened to work in Vegas. I had some crazy idea that I’d go out and be a trumpet player over there – I had big dreams.
“But as I was looking for opportunities, I learned how to deal and work at the casinos.”
Little did Iona know that these first steps into the casino trade would take her across the world working as a croupier aboard a US cruise liner.
From big adventures to meeting her would-be husband, she enjoyed her introduction to life at sea but later realigned her priorities to settle on land back in the UK.
Now working as a finance officer in London, it was during a visit to Moray in July 2020 that Iona first thought about creating her travel guide book.
“My nana had sadly developed rapid onset dementia,” Iona explains.
“So, when restrictions were relaxed, my husband and I drove up and my intention was to be around my family there for a month to lend a hand with things.
“During this time, I revisited lots of places I used to hang out as a teenager. The weather was just amazing.
“That whole unexpected time to be spending back in Moray was what inspired the book.”
Iona adds that her time on cruise ships also partly influenced her writing the book.
“When I’d been on cruise ships, I’d kept a journal with small write-ups here and there. I felt like I had it in me to write a book,” she says.
“I really wanted to write about my experience from and all the places I’d visited throughout Moray.”
Putting pen to paper
With a combination of first-hand and online research, Iona set about writing what she believes to be the only current in-depth travel guide to Moray and Speyside.
“At the times when I couldn’t visit anywhere, I would drive down the streets on Google!” Iona laughs.
Detailed maps, pictures, references and useful tips are aplenty for those looking to sightsee across the region.
The Craigmin Bridge and Kinloss Abbey were a few of Iona’s favourite spots when she revisited again in 2021, but spending time exploring with her parents was something she treasured even more.
“Having the experience with my mum and dad whilst doing all my fact checking was excellent,” says Iona.
“They were surprised to discover so many great things for the first time that had been on their doorstep.
“The project was really just for me. But when the book was finally published, I didn’t expect the big response I got from it.”
‘There’s so much to offer here’
Iona hopes to gain national coverage for the book looking towards the summer months as well as creating an e-book.
For now, she is happy to reflect on her work and continue to spread the word about the beauty of Moray.
“I’m very proud of my achievements and still a bit overwhelmed by all the support,” says Iona.
“People have also asked if there’s any more books to come, but I don’t know if anywhere else needs it like Moray needed it.
“The area was neglected and the people of Moray felt overlooked. People would tend to visit Aberdeen, Loch Ness or the Highlands instead.
“There’s so much to offer here. We’ve got shortbread, whisky and salmon coming out of our lugs!”
A list of local stockists of Moray Speyside: A Travel Guide is available here.