The north eastern corner of Aberdeenshire is an area of deep traditions with its own heritage and culture, shaped by the fishermen and farmers who for centuries derived their livelihoods from the sea and the land.
Centuries ago this area was part of the Pictish province of Buchan, and over the years the once poor infertile soil was turned into rich agricultural land through hard work and innovation. The Aberdeenshire Farming Museum, at 230-acre Aden Country Park near Mintlaw, is housed in reconstructed farm buildings and vividly portrays the lives of farming folk in Grampian. As with other parts of Aberdeenshire, the countryside is criss-crossed by a fine network of roads that make car touring or cycling a real pleasure.
Turriff is an historic market town whose annual two-day Show is the largest event in the region. Such agricultural shows are a feature of this part of Scotland and highlight the importance of this industry to Grampian’s economy. Within easy reach of Turriff is Glendronach Distillery and Delgatie Castle, whose restoration is a tribute to the work of the Hays of Delgatie. Aberchirder; popularly known as Foggie or Foggieloan, is a charming town and a good centre for touring the valley of the River Deveron.
Arguably one of the finest castles on the Castle Trail and, indeed, Grampian, is Fyvie with its five towers enshrining five centuries of Scottish history. This magnificent property houses an exceptionally important collection of portraits, armour and tapestries. Many of the rural Buchan villages were built in an age when landowners undertook a process of farm and estate improvements.
New Pitsligo is famous for lace-making, Maud has a huge livestock mart and Strichen, an outstanding example of a planned village, hosts an annual heritage festival. Old Deer however is a much more historic site as it was here that St Columba founded a 6th Century monastery which produced the Book of Deer in the 9th Century – one of the earliest known examples of Gaelic. It is perhaps a little ironic that there is no trace of Gaelic today in this part of Scotland and it is the Doric, the rich distinctive dialect of Grampian, which holds sway. The ruins of the later Deer Abbey lie near this idyllic village.
The visitor is often amazed by the many different vistas offered by this area’s spectacular coastline – alternating between sweeping sandy beach, dune systems, cliff formations and fishing towns and villages.
North of Aberdeen, Balmedie Country Park is a popular beach site with walks and trails and a ranger service. Newburgh, on the banks of the River Ythan has a popular golf course and is a gateway to one of the most spectacular dune systems in Europe – the Sands of Forvie. The spectacular coastal area between the Ythan estuary and the village of Collieston is popular with walkers and birdwatchers and is renowned for its wildlife.
Standing close to the village of Cruden Bay, Slains Castle was said to have inspired Dracula author Bram Stoker when he holidayed in this delightful village. Today Cruden Bay is more famous for its outstanding sweep of beach and famous links golf course which welcomes visitors from all over the world. A few miles north of Cruden Bay the cliff scenery of the Bullers of Buchan is amongst the finest in Britain and the sea chasm, some 200 feet deep, is truly awesome. Continuing north along the Coastal Trail, the route passes by the most easterly point on the Scottish mainland, Buchan Ness, and on to Peterhead, the most easterly town of mainland Scotland.
Peterhead, known throughout the region as the Blue Toon, lies near the mouth of the River Ugie and has always been intrinsically linked with marine industries and fishing in particular. It is indeed appropriate that the oldest building in Peterhead is the Ugie Fish House which still uses traditional methods to smoke salmon and trout and to which visitors are most welcome. Peterhead is now the largest white fish port in Europe and the story of Peterhead and its people is vividly brought to life at Peterhead Maritime Heritage, a new state-of-the-art visitor centre which is also a superb vantage point for activity in the Bay. There is much of interest in and around the town which now boasts a popular marina and is a port of call for cruise ship passengers.
Situated between Peterhead and Fraserburgh is the Loch of Strathbeg Nature Reserve – a 2,300-acre RSPB site with a profusion of bird-life. Fraserburgh itself stands on the very shoulder of Scotland at Kinnaird Head where the North Sea meets the Moray Firth and is still a major white-fish port. The principal attractions in the burgh known as the Broch are the splendid beaches, Fraserburgh Heritage Centre, Scotland’s Lighthouse Museum which portrays two centuries of service and tradition and includes a tour round the lighthouse. Fraserburgh’s most celebrated son was Thomas Blake Glover founder of the modern Japanese Navy and whose shipbuilding company grew into Mitsubishi.
A feature of this part of the Moray Firth coast is the delightful towns and villages, often situated by dramatic cliff scenery. Rosehearty is a friendly coastal town and Pennan is world famous as the village from the film Local Hero – look for the commemorative plaque on the local hotel and the distinctive red phonebox. The massive landmark of Troup Head, another Mecca for birdwatchers, separates Pennan from the villages of Crovie and Gardenstown which hug the coast tightly. There are many fine walks in this area, including a path between the two villages, but care should be taken when walking near cliffs or shorelines.
Standing either side of the River Deveron estuary are the towns of Banff and Macduff. The latter maintains its own fishing fleet and there are several examples of related industries be seen in this bustling town. Macduff’s harbour is increasingly used as a base for watersports and plays host to yachts participating in the annual Banff/Stavanger Yacht Race. Followers of a different type of sport are attracted by the challenges of the clifftop Royal Tarlair Golf Club. There are boat trips available and the sea life of the Moray Firth is the focus for the newest visitor centre in the area, the Macduff Marine Aquarium whose display tanks (including the deepest one in Britain) and touch pools make for an ideal family attraction.
Neighbouring Banff is a quite delightful town whose fine architecture and air of prosperity charm many a visitor to this royal and ancient burgh. There are many fine buildings in and around the town, including William Adam’s magnificent Baroque mansion, Duff House, now completely refurbished as a Country House Gallery and operating as an outstation of the National Galleries of Scotland. It provides a fine backdrop for Duff House Royal Golf Club and there are other fine attractions in the town including Banff Museum and Colleonard Sculpture Garden.
West of Banff, the main road passes the long sandy beach of Boyndie Bay and the village of Whitehills, one of the smallest ports in Scotland to have retained its fishing fleet and fishmarket. Portsoy is another beautifully preserved town whose harbour is a hive of activity when it hosts the annual Scottish Traditional Small Boats Festival. The town is famous for its locally cut marble which is still crafted in a renovated 18th Century building overlooking the harbour.
Nestling inland, Fordyce is one of the undiscovered gems of North East Scotland which has won many conservation awards. The Joiners Workshop gives a fascinating insight into the trade and has tradesmen in residence. The landscapes and seascapes of this distinctive corner are illustrated in a video, Banff and Buchan Country to Sea, which is available form Tourist Information Centres throughout the region.