A stately Georgian town at a break in Banffs rugged shore
Precipitous cliffs and shelving, sandy beaches punctuate this section of the Moray Firth coastline, which is renowned for its dramatic scenery and brilliant sunsets. Villages and towns range from the Georgian formality of Banff to the tiny fishing hamlets of Gamrie Bay and the busy fishing port of Fraserburgh; between them narrow lanes and rough footpaths lead to secluded coves, castle ruins, sea-bird colonies and vast subterranean caves.
A mile of sandy beach and a challenging ‘split-level’ golf course are among the attractions of this bustling resort town. Cullen is built on two levels, divided by the graceful arches of a disused 19th-century railway viaduct. The broad main street and square of the upper village were constructed in 1823 by the Earl of Seafield and Findlater, who moved the town from its old site half a mile away to give his own house greater privacy. Within the grounds of the 17th-century Cullen House is the Auld Kirk- 14th century or earlier – which is still in use.
Seatown, the lower village, is a cluster of fishermen’s cottages hugging the harbour. A short walk up Castle Hill behind Seatown yields a view of the distant mountains of Caithness and Sutherland. West of the harbour, the road ends at a burn, and a foot bridge leads to the golf club and the craggy rock formations of the ‘Three Kings’. The best swimming is found between these natural sculptures and the massive hump of Boar’s Craig.
A 45 minute walk westwards along the beach or golf links leads to caves along the headland and up the hill to Portknockie.
The impressive ruins of this 15th-century Ogilvie stronghold, which was inhabited until about 1600, girdle a 150 ft cliff. To reach the castle by road, turn north off the A98 down an unmarked road at a crossroads 2 miles south-east of Cullen. Follow this road for nearly 1 mile, then turn north on to a track and park at the Barnyards of Findlater.
Just past a conical dovecot on the left, the track drops steeply down to the castle. A quarter of a mile to the west is the isolated crescent of Sunnyside Beach, one of the finest on the Moray Firth.
Once a busy port and fishing village, this attractive resort is now primarily a haven for pleasure craft and holiday-makers. Its restored 17th and 18th-century harbour warehouses have received a number of conservation awards. A workshop sells souvenirs made from the red and green ‘Portsoy marble’, found in the surrounding cliffs.
An easy 2 mile coastal walk leads west to Sandend Bay which hosts the annual canoe surfing championships in October. To the east of the harbour, a 2 mile walk following the coastal path leads to the ruined 16th-century Boyne Castle – an Ogilvie stronghold set high above the Burn of Boyne. The castle can be reached by car from the B9139, by a path next to the burn.
This small fishing village is built around a thriving harbour. The colourfully painted boats bring in cod, haddock, sole, plaice and whiting, which are sold fresh every weekday. The harbour road leads east past a children’s playground to the edge of Boyn-die Bay, and a stony track for walkers continues on to Banff – about 2 miles away. The chalybeate spring just off the track was once part of a fashionable 19th-century circuit for visitors ‘taking the waters’ around Banff.
A town of architectural surprises, Banff has Greek columns, crow-stepped gables, Venetian windows and delicate steeples. Its many fine Georgian buildings were erected when Banff was a fashionable wintering resort. They include Duff House, a fine baroque mansion on the edge of the town, built between 1725 and 1740 by Lord Braco.
From Duff House, a 2 mile walk leads inland through the woods beside the River Deveron to the Bridge of Alvah, which crosses the river 40 ft above an impressive gorge. The path can be followed on past the Mains of Montcoffer, then by turning north over a wooded hill to join the main road near Banff Bridge, a circular walk of i’/i miles.
The seven-arched bridge which spans the estuary of the River Deveron was designed by John Smeaton, the architect of the third Eddystone lighthouse. Swimmers should stay clear of the river mouth, where there are dangerous undercurrents and shifting sands.
Originally a Hanseatic trading town of the 12th century, and later an important fishing port, Banff lost the use of its harbour when it silted up in the 19th century. The tidal harbour is now being dredged, and has grown as a sailing centre. A museum of local history displays silver, armour, and relics of James Ferguson, an 18th-century Banff astronomer.
GRACIOUS LIVING Duff House in Banff, one of Britain’s finest Georgian baroaue houses, was designed by William Adam.
The busy fishing harbour is the focal point of this resort town, which is divided from Banff by the estuary of the River Deveron. Colourful salmon nets and lobster creels dry at the harbour’s edge, and there is a boatyard on the western side. The Hill of Doune, reached by a path up the grassy slope from the east end of Banff Bridge, provides a fine view of Banff and the Deveron estuary.
A mile to the east, at Tarlair, are four man-made outdoor swimming and paddling pools sheltered by a ring of cliffs. A heather-clad path up the hill on the east side of the pools leads on to the fairways of the Royal Tarlair Golf Course.
Apparently challenging the laws of gravity, the houses of this active fishing village cling to a hillside that drops down to Gamrie Bay. The harbour, at the foot of the village, is protected from all but due north winds.
Castle Hill of Findon overlooks the village and yields a good view of the surrounding cliffs. To the west are the ruins of the church of St John the Evangelist, built in 1513 but commemorating a victory over the invading Danes in 1004. The twin village of Crovie is a 10 minute walk from the harbour’s east end, along a railed cliff path.
Rising to 368 ft above the ocean, the sheer cliff face of this headland is the refuge of thousands of sea-birds. The roar of the ocean is pierced by a riot of bird sound: the kittiwake calling its name, the laugh of gulls and the croaking call of shags and cormorants. The headland is a 10 minute walk from Northfield Farm; park by the lower sheep pens.
This charming one-street village has a permanent population of about 25 that swells to more than 100 in summer. The steep road down to the stone cottages has hairpin turns; there is limited parking at the harbour.
West of Pennan the road plunges down to Cullykhan Bay, where waves pound into huge clefts and caves in the surrounding cliffs.
East of Pennan, sheer cliffs of red sandstone march down to the glen of Aberdour, providing nesting sites for colonies of sea-birds and pitted with caves and tunnels accessible at low tide. A 3 mile footpath leads from Pennan to New Aberdour.
This compact, self-contained community lies about a mile from the sea, its single street lined with fishermen’s cottages and a few shops. A steep and twisting road leads to a pebble beach at the mouth of the Dour valley. The beach is surrounded by grassy banks, where wild flowers abound in spring and summer, and by red-sandstone cliffs, which are pierced at the eastern end by impressive caves. A path rising above the caves leads over a small headland to another sheltered sandy beach, enclosed between two rocky points. The unwary can easily be cut off by the tide.
Between New Aberdour and the beach is the ruin of Old Aberdour church, one of the oldest in the north of Scotland and the centre of the original village. Dedicated to St Drostan, the church was founded by St Columba, and contains several interesting gravestones.
Surrounding a quiet and peaceful harbour, Rosehearty is one of the oldest sea-ports in Scotland. Its origins go back to the time of the Viking raids, and for many years it played a major part in the fishing industry. Although commercial fishing has now moved to Fraserburgh, Rosehearty’s sandy harbour is still much used by inshore fishermen. An open-air, seawater swimming pool and a peaceful golf course are within easy reach of the town centre, and there is a small museum, open in summer, with a display of fishing gear and relics connected with local history.
Half a mile south of the town, along the road past the Mason’s Arms, are the ruins of the Castle of Pitsligo. The castle was originally owned by the Frasers of Pilorth, and was the home of Lord Pitsligo who was a fugitive in the area after the failure of the 1745 Jacobite Uprising.
This once-thriving fishing village, and the adjoining village of Pittulie, are now quiet, sleepy communities. Sandhaven’s sea-walls were severely battered by storms in 1953, but they still provide protection for a few inshore fishing boats.
The rocky shoreline makes a good place for watching birds and seals and is easily accessible from points along the road to Fraserburgh. At the eastern end of the village stands a meal mill which stopped working in 1981 after 200 years of continuous use.
Now one of the busiest fishing ports in the north-east, Fraserburgh stands facing the North Sea and the Moray Firth at the end of Kinnairds Head. The Head is rocky, but Fraserburgh Bay to the east has more than 2 miles of dune-backed sands.
Alexander Fraser built a castle on Kinnairds Head in 1570, and in 1786 it was converted into a lighthouse, one of the oldest in Scotland. Close by, at the head of a steep cove, is the so-called Wine Tower. The purpose of this enigmatic building, which has no stairs between its three floors, is unknown.
In the harbour area the lifeboat shed is open at certain times in summer except Sunday, and fish are sold daily on weekdays in the fish market at 7.30 a.m. Fishing trips can be arranged from the harbour, which is also used by pleasure craft.
The lack of a harbour ended the prosperity of Cairnbulg and its neighbouring fishing community of Inverallochy, huddled together in the shelter of Cairnbulg Point. They are now tranquil villages, a cluster of fishermen’s cottages, their gable ends defiantly facing the sea to offer less resistance to winter gales. The narrow streets are chaotic and twisty. The beach around the Point is rocky, cut here and there by narrow clefts which serve as havens for colourful small craft.