BESIDE THE SEASIDE
WITH AN ABUNDANCE OF WILDLIFE AND NATURAL BEAUTY, THE BANFFSHIRE COAST IS ONE OF THE WORLD’S FINEST
The Banffshire coast is a haven for wildlife and perfect for a Spring break
Sea views take on a whole new meaning for anyone living in, or visiting, the village of Crovie found on the north-facing coastline of Aberdeenshire. Only a narrow footpath separates the houses from the sea. In the winter it is not uncommon for the incoming waves to break over the roofs of the houses.
Strung out like a necklace of pearls along the east side of Gamrie Bay, the cottages at Crovie were built to give easy access to the sea. There is no space for cars in the village.
The area was first settled following the Highland Clearances when many families, forced off their land to make way for sheep, moved from inland estates to the coast.
In his book, Confessions of a Banffshire Loon, David Addison describes Crovie as a last resort. ‘When you think about it, no-one would deliberately choose to live in a place like Crovie, on a strip of land with the sea in your face and rocky cliffs at your back, would they?’
Encouraged by landlords to build their own fishing boats, the fisherman in Crovie and nearby Gardenstown owned 50 boats between them by the end of the 19th century. But by the first half of the 20th century as larger, more effective boats operated from other ports, the fishing industry gradually declined, finally coming to an end in 1953.
That same year, hurricane winds and huge seas washed away a number of houses and sheds, along
with stretches of Crovie’s sea defences and the path from the village to Gardenstown, a mile further along the bay. After the storm, most of Crovie’s residents moved to Gardenstown.
Gardenstown and Pennan, slightly larger fishing villages flanking Crovie, also lie between the sea and the cliffs. Life in these villages was a hardship and all along this coastline ruins of 18th century croft houses can be found – evidence of the many families who eventually left to find a better life elsewhere, most often in Australia or North America. Today, many houses in this area are holiday residences, enjoyed during the summer months.
Pennan gained worldwide fame in the 1980s when it was used as one of the main locations for Bill Forsyth’s 1983 film Local Hero. The village’s red telephone box became one of the most famous, and easily recognisable, in the world. It was in fact only a prop for the movie and although initially removed, it was brought back by public demand and has remained in Pennan ever since.
The original harbour at Pennan was established in 1704 and has since been rebuilt several times over the centuries following storms or disrepair. It is still used today by a few fishing vessels. At one time the families in Pennan depended on the sea for their livelihoods and were a close-knit community – until the 1930s everyone in the village had one of three surnames: Watt, Gatt or West.
Gardenstown is the largest of the three coastal communities.
It takes its name from Alexander Garden who founded the fishing village in 1720.
The nearby remains of the Church of St John the Evangelist are older than Gardenstown itself. Built in 1513 to celebrate the defeat of the Danes in 1004 after the Battle of the Bloody Pits, the church houses three skulls said to belong to fallen Danish warriors. Due to this, it is locally nicknamed the Kirk of Skulls.
National Geographic magazine has named the Banffshire coastline, with its abundance of natural beauty and wildlife, as one of the most outstanding in the world.
In summer, boat trips to the RSPB’s reserve at Troup Head, aptly called Seabird City, are well worth it. Gannets, kittiwakes, guillemots, razor bills and puffins are aplenty in colonies located on the impressive red cliffs which rise 365ft out of the sea.
Some refer to this long strip of coastline as the Dolphin Coast, due to the large population of bottlenose dolphins that inhabit the Moray Firth.
One of the attractions of the coastline is the wide open spaces where sea meets sky and the horizon goes on forever
Whales, porpoises and seals are also frequently spotted from the shore. In the summer orcas often venture down this coastline from Iceland.
To get closer to the abundance of aquatic life the North Sea has to offer, there is no better place than the Macduff Marine Aquarium. It was been described by television wildlife presenter Steve Backshall as ‘the best aquarium ever’, and their living kelp wall is the only one of its kind in the UK.
Several miles west of Macduff is the picturesque harbour village of Portsoy, which is known for its serpentine quarry, which produces Portsoy marble. This green semi-precious stone can be found as far afield as the Palace of Versailles. The quarry is still worked and there are many shops in the village selling jewellery and other marble products.
Visitors to the Banffshire coast often remark upon the wide open space where sea meets sky and the horizon seems to go on forever.
In Local Hero, astronomy buff Felix Happer, the character played by Burt Lancaster, visits Pennan and declares that ‘the northern sky is a beautiful thing’. And so it is. The long summer nights and sunsets are just a few of the things that attract people to this spectacular, unspoilt part of Scotland.
Some refer to this long strip of coastline as the Dolphin Coast
Image: Precariously located on a thin ribbon of land between cliffs and sea, the unspoilt village of Crovie is popular for weekend breaks.
Above: Duff House, William Adam’s ambitious mansion built for William Duff. Right: The harbour at Portsoy hosts the popular Scottish Traditional Boat Festival in the summer.
Above: Portsoy Harbour plays host to the annual Scottish Traditional Boat Festival. Right: The Moray Firth is home to the most northerly resident bottlenose dolphins in the world.