Tuesday, 31 January 2012


Unlike the present incumbent, former Prime Minister Ramsay McDonald was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Quite the opposite in fact: an illegitimate son, he was born in Lossiemouth in 1866 to a farm labourer and a housemaid. The education which propelled him towards office in Government began in Lossiemouth's Free Church of Scotland school. The British Pathe website has a short film of McDonald arriving at his birthplace for a short stay, showing hordes of local children and adults running after his car as it made its way along the road.

As its name suggests, Lossiemouth is at the mouth of the River Lossie, where it began life as a port set up to serve the nearby town of Elgin. The port is still going strong, and has recently been enhanced by the addition of a marina. The town's heritage and history of fishing is on display at the Lossie Fisheries and Community Museum.  Long sandy beaches stretch away in either direction: the West Beach, overlooked by Covesea Lighthouse and flanked by the Moray Golf Club, and the East Beach with its sand dunes. The beaches are popular with surfers, and there are opportunities for dolphin-spotting and sea angling. RAF Lossiemouth, unlike Leuchars, has so far been spared the effects of the Government's defence cuts, which is a good thing given its vital role not only as the largest fast-jet RAF base, but also as a valuable search and rescue facility.

Map of the area.

© 2008 Anne Burgess, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 29 January 2012


The River Spey is one of the best loved rivers in Scotland: whether for long-distance walking, salmon fishing or whisky production, it is emblematic of all that Scotland is famous for. The river's birthplace is at Loch Spey in the Scottish Highlands and its mouth is at Spey Bay on the Moray Firth. The story of the river's importance for salmon fishing has been preserved in the form of the Tugnet Icehouse, open during the summer months. Wildlife enthusiasts will find plenty to keep them occupied in Spey Bay courtesy of the Scottish Dolphin Centre. There is a large bottlenose dolphin population in the Moray Firth, and it is not even necessary to go out on a boat trip to see them, as they are often visible from land. Other cetaceans which are regularly seen in the area include Harbour Porpoises and Minke Whales. Sightings of bottlenose dolphins peak in the summer months. For those in search of more land-locked leisure activities, there is a golf club.

Map of the area.

Spey Bay - - 58651

© 2005 Iain Macaulay, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 27 January 2012


The foreign accents were a bit of a giveaway, as was the fact that they were consulting a map and looking lost. Added to which, in this small Scottish fishing village, any strangers would stand out like a sore thumb. The year was 1940, the place Portgordon's railway station, where the station master's suspicions were aroused by a couple attempting to buy railway tickets for a train heading south. In fact, the couple in question were Nazi spies who, along with one other, had been brought from Nazi-occupied Stavanger in Norway and landed on the north-east coast of Scotland, where they tried to make themselves out to be German refugees. Finally, the station master's misgivings led to him slipping out to alert the local bobby, who arrested the couple. The female spy, the Serbian-born Vera Eriksen, was the only one who was spared execution, and there is speculation that the reason she was spared was because she was carrying the love child of a British VIP.

Portgordon was named after the 4th Duke of Gordon, who established the village in 1797. Fishing became the mainstay of the village's economy, and in the 1880s Frances Groome's Ordnance Gazeteer of Scotland noted that the village had 99 fishing boats employing 200 men and boys. The village was once dubbed "Paraffin City" due to its unusual form of street lighting powered by paraffin, lovingly tended by the local lamp-lighter, who would go around the village at 10 o'clock every night extinguishing all the lights. The nickname stuck even after the arrival of electricity in 1937. A campaign is underway to restore the harbour, organised by the Portgordon Community Harbour Group, who hold an annual Gala Day each summer to raise funds for the project.

Map of the area.

© 2008 Ann Harrison, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 25 January 2012


Buckie, which lies at the mouth of the Buckie Burn, has a long-standing fishing industry, involving both the catching of fish and processing, with the fish-processing plants based here producing such delicacies as fresh and frozen langoustine and smoked salmon. There is also a shipyard devoted to the building of and repairs to a range of craft including fishing vessels. The Buckie and District Fishing Heritage Centre shares the town's fishing tradition past and present with visitors. The harbour is named Cluny Harbour after the family which built it in 1877. A former harbour called Buckpool Harbour has been filled in and converted into a park, and it is the finishing point of the Speyside Way (or the starting point, depending on which way you choose to do it). In summer there are boat trips, some of which venture out into the Moray Firth in search of the pods of dolphins for which this stretch of water is so famous. Buckie has a number of churches, including St Peter's, whose twin spires tower over the town.

Map of the area.

© 1984 Anne Burgess, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 23 January 2012


The houses that cluster around the harbour of this Moray fishing village are brightly painted, making it one of the most attractive villages along this stretch of coast. The earliest recorded instance of the name was in 1440, while the following century the land around the port was acquired by the Ord family, who built a castle there, now a ruin. It was also the Ords who established the fishing activity in the port. Like so many of the smaller fishing villages, this facet of the economy has now largely been given over to leisure pursuits, but a reminder of the village's past as a fishing port remains in the form of a statue of a fisherman watching over the harbour, created by a local artist. There are many caves in the coast around here, and in 1899 prehistoric bones were discovered in one of them, identified as having been fashioned into implements. Walkers can strike out along the cliff top paths towards Portknockie to the east or Buckie to the west. Caravanners who are dolphin enthusiasts are in for a treat here in Findochty, because the caravan park looks out onto a bay where the famous Moray Firth dolphins can sometimes be seen.

Map of the area.

'findochty' photo (c) 2008, stu smith - license:

Sunday, 22 January 2012


Examples of artistic inspiration can be found all over the British coast, whether in the form of an artist's depiction of the scenery and local life of the area displayed in a gallery, or an unusual artistic community project. An example of the latter was unveiled in 2009 in the Moray village of Portknockie. A local artist collected handprints from residents of the village and combined them in a mosaic which was used as a piece of outdoor artwork. The mosaic depicted images representative of the village, including two fish 16 feet long, as depicted in the village's coat of arms.

Portknockie, a fishing village in Moray just inside the border with Aberdeenshire, was founded in 1677 and during the 19th century became important for herring fishing. The harbour is overlooked by Green Castle, which was once a Pictish stronghold. The stretch of coast around Portknockie is known for its striking coastal scenery, which includes wierd and wonderful shapes and arches, the best known of which is the Bow and Fiddle which emerges from the sea just offshore. There are also a number of caves, one of which, the Preacher's Cave, was used as a church in the early 19th century. A walk along the cliff top towards Findochty provides wonderful views across the Moray Firth to the Black Isle.

Map of the area.

'Bow Fiddle Rock' photo (c) 2009, Deborah Main - license:

Friday, 20 January 2012


There are many delights for food lovers in Scotland, but one of the most enjoyable to my mind are the lovely, warming soups which are especially welcome in the chilly climate of this northern corner of the British Isles. One of the best known Scottish soups is Cullen Skink, which tastes much better than its rather uninviting name suggests; its main ingredients are smoked haddock, potatoes and onion, smoked haddock being a regular feature in the diet on this stretch of coast. On his visit to the town, Samuel Johnson, in his usual forthright manner, declared himself to be disgusted by the sight of "dried haddock broiled", so much so that he refused to eat it for breakfast. But don't let him put you off trying this local delicacy.

Cullen is a resort built on two levels, set on the beautiful Cullen Bay. The lower part is the fishing village of Seatown, built in the typical style of a traditional Aberdeenshire fishing village, while the upper village, a former royal burgh, has a square boasting an ornate market cross dating from 1696. The two parts are separated by a disused railway, whose viaducts are used by walkers and cyclists and offer wonderful views, matched only by the views from the local Golf Club. The wife of Robert The Bruce died in the area, and her organs are thought to be buried in Cullen's Auld Kirk, which dates from at least the 14th century. Cullen Burn is believed to equate to the River Celnius, which was mentioned by Ptolemy in "Geography", written around 139-161.

Map of the area.

'Cullen viaduct and seatown' photo (c) 2008, Craig Simpson - license:

Tuesday, 17 January 2012


The traditional fishing village of Sandend was established before the early 1600s, meaning it predates many of the other fishing communities around this area. It has one of Scotland's smallest harbours, backed by short streets consisting of tightly knit houses running at right-angles to the sea. Sandend Bay has a fine sandy beach perfect for walking the dog. Overlooking the bay to the east of the village is the Glenglassaugh Distillery, founded in 1875. The distillery was revived in 2008 after being mothballed in 1986, and is known for its single malt whisky. Visitors are welcome, although there is no visitor centre as yet, and they can purchase award-winning aged whiskies as well as younger drinks.

West of Sandend is the ruined Findlater Castle, which clings precariously to an outcrop of rock, so weathered that it almost looks like a natural extension of the cliff top. There have been fortifications here since at least the 13th century, although the original structure was lost during an attack by the Danes, and what you see now probably dates from the 14th century, when it was owned by the Sinclairs. The castle was passed to the Ogilvies in the 15th century, one of whose offspring, James Ogilvie, a Steward to Mary Queen of Scots, was disinherited and the castle passed to Sir John Gordon. However, James was having none of this and set out to regain the land from the new incumbent. Mary Queen of Scots sent troops to seize the castle, and to cut a long story short, a series of battles ensued culminating in Gordon's beheading, upon which the castle was returned to the Ogilvies, but not for long because they moved to Cullen around 1600.

Map of the area.

'Findlater Castle, taken from the coastal walk' photo (c) 2008, Craig Simpson - license:

Sunday, 15 January 2012


Anyone who loves traditional boats should head to Portsoy for the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival which takes place in late June. Traditional boats from far and wide congregate on the harbour here, while the festival itself showcases traditional crafts such as boat building, knitting, music and art. Hungry visitors also have a food fayre to whet their appetites.

Portsoy, established as a Burgh by Mary Queen of Scots, was one of the earliest ports to be established along the Moray and Aberdeenshire coasts. Portsoy has the oldest harbour on the Moray Firth, and its 17th century warehouses remain as a reminder of past glory. One of the warehouses acts as a workshop for a decorative stone known as Portsoy Marble, a variety of serpentine whose uses included parts of the Palace of Versailles. The Salmon Bothy is a former Salmon House which has been converted into a museum. The coastal path heading out of Portsoy offers views of fascinating rock formations as well as the chance to see the dolphins for which the Moray Firth is so well known.

Map of the area.

'portsoy old harbour' photo (c) 2010, stu smith - license:

Saturday, 14 January 2012


If you google Banff and find yourself confronted with majestic snow-covered mountains, ski runs and line-dancing saloons, you've got the wrong Banff: this is the Banff in the Canadian Rockies. The Scottish town from whence the New World version got its name is a very different proposition: once one of the most important ports in medieval Scotland, now a gracious seaside town with a mix of architectural styles separated from its neighbour Macduff by a seven arched bridge built by John Smeaton, a name we last encountered in Plymouth with Smeaton's Tower. In 1700 a kind of Scottish version of Robin Hood called James MacPherson was hanged in Banff following a robbery rampage during which he targetted only the rich.

On the outskirts of town, in the Deveron Valley, is the 18th century Duff House, a stately Georgian pile designed by William Adam and nowadays functioning as an art gallery, with paintings and furniture on loan from the National Galleries of Scotland. Banff Museum is one of the oldest museums in Scotland and, among other treasures, displays a collection of Banff silver. The ruined parish kirk of St Mary's was rebuilt in 1471 but demolished in 1797. The aisle was spared, though, and was restored in 2001 courtesy of the Heritage Lottery Fund, since it was the burial place of the Ogilvies, one of the most important families in Banffshire. The churchyard has further tombs belonging to past townsfolk from all walks of life.

For events in Banff and the surrounding area, follow this link.

Map of the area.

'duff-house' photo (c) 2008, stu smith - license:

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


The River Deveron spews into the Moray Firth at Banff Bay, where Macduff on the east side of the bay and Banff on the west side stare across at each other. The little fishing town of Macduff started off as the hamlet of Doune, although there are signs of an earlier Neolithic Celtic settlement in the area. It was James Duff, son of William, who had bought the land in 1733, who came up with the name Macduff. The hamlet grew into a town with a fishing fleet largely going after herring, although the decline of the herring stocks required a diversification into other species. Another mainstay of the economy was shipbuilding.

Marine life in modern-day Macduff is a tourist attraction as well as a source of food. The town's aquarium is a showcase for the rich and varied wildlife of the Moray Firth, while the Puffin Cruises boat trips offer tourists a chance to see Moray creatures such as gannets, whales and dolphins, running 3-hour trips to the RSPB site at Troup Head, which houses the only gannet colony in mainland Scotland. Meanwhile, for walkers, the Speyside Way long distance trail passes through Macduff.  The town's golf club, the Royal Tarlair, lies in an attractive coastal location.

Map of the area.

'macduff harbourside' photo (c) 2009, stu smith - license:

Monday, 9 January 2012


The red sandstone cliffs of Gamrie Bay harbour two neighbouring villages: Crovie and Gardenstown. Crovie clings like a limpet to the narrow shoreline, its houses packed in so tightly that there is no room for a main street, meaning that use of a car in the village is not an option. Cars are left at the south end of the village, from where their owners are forced to walk, while for visitors there is a cliff-top car park. All that separates the line of houses from the perils of the sea is a seafront path, and the vulnerability brought about by this state of affairs was exposed on 31 January 1953 when a storm accompanied by hurricane force winds caused the village to be overwhelmed by the raging seas, destroying part of the sea defences and some of the houses, as well as the path linking Crovie to Gardenstown.

Thankfully the path, which provides a 10-minute walk from Crovie to Gardenstown, has since been replaced. Gardenstown is another dramatically located village, clinging to the steep hillside above the bay. This quaint village has a variety of galleries, shops and eateries, and this being the Moray Firth, a haven for cetaceans, there is a good chance of seeing dolphins swimming offshore. The ruined St John's Kirk, dating from 1513, is said to occupy the site of an older church which was built to commemorate a victory over the Danes in 1004.

Map of the area.

'Gardenstown Beach' photo (c) 2011, Gordon Robertson - license:

Saturday, 7 January 2012


Pennan had its moment on the world's stage in 1983, after it was chosen as one of a number of beautiful locations used in the hit film Local Hero, which told the story of a rich Americal oil company's efforts to buy a small Scottish town - named Ferness in the film. I watched the film again just the other day for the first time in years, and it was still as good as ever - a little dated maybe, but still full of charm and a mischievous humour.

One of the pivotal features of the film was the local telephone kiosk; this was in the days before mobile phones, and much was made of the main character's attempts to cobble together a huge amount of coins in order to phone his boss back in Texas. The actual kiosk was not used in the film, being in poor condition, so a mockup was made. However, the real kiosk is still there, although not in quite the same location, and many people have turned up there to have their photograph taken next to it. Anyone visiting Pennan and hoping to find the beautifully located church which featured in the film will be disappointed: this was filmed in another location entirely, on the west coast. Also, you will not be able to visit the film's hotel for a drink; a normal house was used for the exterior scenes of the hotel in the film, although there is an inn in the village.

Pennan is a bright, whitewashed little village nestling precariously at the base of a cliff, looking rather vulnerable to the often stormy seas which come crashing onto the pebble beach, and accessed by a narrow road leading down to the village's only street. The little harbour is mostly used for leisure purposes nowadays, with just a couple of fishing boats. The village is not just in danger from the sea; in 2007 there was a mudslide which damaged some of the buildings including the village hall.

Map of the area.

'L1016703 - 2011-09-17 um 15-46-18' photo (c) 2011, Christian Baltrusch - license:

Thursday, 5 January 2012


The red sandstone cliffs around Aberdour Bay are a riot of caves and arches, including an arch at the east end of the bay which is big enough to walk through. This stretch of coast has pathways with views to satisfy the most demanding of coastal ramblers. Just inland from the bay, the village of New Aberdour has a street lined with fishermen's cottages, while Old Aberdour has a ruined church which is one of the oldest in north Scotland, originally founded around 575 by St Columba and St Drostan, although the present church is Norman. St Drostan crops up again in the bay itself in the form of St Drostan's Well. St Drostan used the water from the well to baptise the local people and he was famed for his miracle cures, so much so that he continued to work his magic from beyond the grave: after he died in 809 AD, his remains were brought to Aberdour and placed in a stone coffin, from where they were thought to be responsible for a number of amazing cures.

In September 2009 there were news reports of a swarm of unusual jellyfish which had shown up in the waters of Aberdour Bay. The jellyfish in question, known as the "crystal jellyfish" and distinguishable by their flashes of blue light, are normally found in the north west Pacific, so their sudden appearance off the coast of Aberdeenshire had marine biologists scratching their heads. The jellyfish were carted off to the Macduff Marine Aquarium, where they found themselves in the company of common moon jellyfish.

Map of the area.

'Aberdour coast' photo (c) 2009, flickrtickr2009 - license:

Tuesday, 3 January 2012


Located on the south shore of the Moray Firth, Rosehearty was probably first settled by shipwrecked Danish fishermen in the 1300s. If you google the name Rosehearty, you might be perplexed at the appearance of Rupert Murdoch among the results. This is because he has a yacht called Rosehearty, presumably in memory of his ancestor the Australian academic Sir Walter Murdoch, who hailed from these parts. His home in New York also bears the name. Rosehearty still has an active harbour, with the appropriately named area of Fishertown bordering it, with its fishermen's cottages.

Pitsligo Castle, a short distance inland, was built by the Fraser family in 1424, and the following century was enlarged by the Forbes family. Following the Battle of Culloden, the castle was pillaged by Hanoverian troops, and it fell into a decline until the formation of the Pitsligo Castle Trust in 1995 with the aim of looking after the castle and establishing a centre in the former Pitsligo Parish Kirk to tell the story of the Jacobites and the history of Scottish heraldry.

Map of the area.

'rosehearty-harbour' photo (c) 2008, stu smith - license:

Monday, 2 January 2012


I love stormy seas. People may think I'm mad, but one of my favourite times on the coast is when there is a storm brewing and waves are crashing wildly against the shore. So Rattray Head, with its reputation for impressive swells brought about by the nature of the its geographical position, is just my kind of place. Rattray Head is also a magnet for birdwatchers, with wading birds and Arctic skuas. There is a lighthouse here built on a tidal platform in 1895 by David Alan Stevenson. A ruined 13th century chapel, St Mary, is all that remains of Old Rattray.

Fraserburgh, or "The Broch" as it is known locally, is named after its 16th century founder, Sir Alexander Fraser, 8th Laird of Philorth. Fraser was also responsible for the building of the castle to the north of Fraserburgh, which he built as a Town House complete with a long room with a minstrel gallery, and which incorporates the Kinnaird head Lighthouse built in 1787 by Thomas Smith, which has been turned into the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, with a Heritage Centre next door. The oldest building in Fraserburgh is the intriguingly named Wine Tower which contains an impressive collection of large pendants, and which features chambers with vaulted roofs. Fraserburgh is one of the biggest fishing ports on the east coast of Scotland, and is actually situated at the mouth of the Moray Firth. In the late 1900s there were over 800 fishing boats based here, though that number has since diminished. The Seashore Centre has a live webcam for armchair coast viewers.

For a list of events in Fraserburgh, see here.

Map of the area.

'Fraserburgh Harbour' photo (c) 2011, Bernt Rostad - license: