Banff & Buchan
THE ancient county of Banffshire is a rich corner of north east Scotland full of interest and history.
All too often visitors ignore this classic Scottish county in their rush to head north and west and miss out on gloriously varied scenery that changes mile after mile as you venture from the dramatic moorlands of Upper Banffshire in the south through its lush river valleys and rolling hills to its dramatic coast and characterful fishing communities.
Banffshire is driven into the heart of north-east Scotland like a wedge. Its pointed tail ends up surrounded by river sources in the high Grampians and Cairngorm foothills bounded by Strathspey to the west and the Correen Hills and Aberdeenshire to the east.
At its toe the land soars to over 3000 feet in the large Parish of Kirkmichael and is overlooked by Ben Macdhui.
There are 22 parishes in the county, each with its own particular character and charm. At one time a deeply religious area, it is covered with fine church architecture and once wealthy settlements that include one of Scotland’s highest villages, Tomintoul.
Scattered throughout its 40-mile length are a wide range of historic sites. Castles predominate with excellent visitor facilities available at Ballindalloch Castle close to Speyside and near to the famed local whisky distilleries of Cragganmore, Glenlivet, Glenfarclas and Glenfiddich.
The seat of the Macpherson-Grant family since 1546, it is a particularly attractive structure in a magnificent setting. The castle is open to the public.
The further north you percolate towards the coast the more distilleries hove into view.
Banffshire is home to some of the most famous quality Speyside whiskies in the world with outstanding visitor facilities at many distilleries like that at Dufftown, one of the county’s many upland towns and one that proudly proclaims itself the "Malt Whisky Capital of the World".
The great wealth generated by whisky and its associated farming industry helped railway companies forge deep into the county and though the line to Dufftown from Keith is no longer part of the British Rail network it continues to carry passengers as a private railway run by enthusiasts.
From the busy market town of Keith to the interesting parallel street layout of sleepy Aberchirder agriculture takes over with mile after mile of rich farming land and highly productive farms covering the glens and hillsides.
In the valleys runs another lucrative natural resource – Banffshire’s fine rivers. The best known is the Deveron that rises high in the hills and winds its way north to the coast from Tomnavon and Haugh of Glass to Rothiemay and Forglen before flowing into the sea between Banff and Macduff.
Along its length it is a renowned angling river with some outstanding world class beats that have produced fine salmon catches and are a mecca for anglers from around the world.
As the land flattens through forested hills it broadens out to a coast that stretches 25 miles or so from Buckie in the west deep into Buchan and Gardenstown in the east.
The main population centres are here.
In 1975 Banff disappeared from the Scottish local government map. It lost its status and was divided between Moray in the west and Aberdeenshire in the east. A bitter battle was fought, and lost, to retain it as a political county.
But while it was forced to forego that status, Banffshire remains a proud and ancient county with its own history and Lord Lieutenant.
The call for better recognition of its past has never faltered and in 2009 new signs went up on roads on its former county boundaries welcoming visitors to "Historic Banffshire".
Buckie is Banffshire’s largest settlement. Although now part of the new local government district of Moray, it retains strong links with the old county. Famous for its large harbour, fishing and boat-building it is one of many communities that have forged a link with the sea.
Strung out like pearls to the east are other, smaller fishing towns – Portessie, Findochty, Portknockie, Cullen, Sandend, Portsoy, Whitehills, Banff, Macduff and Gardenstown – all contributors to an industrial wealth that came with the Herring Boom and continued long after the "silver darlings" had moved away.
The architecture and settlings of these small harbour towns between fine sandy beaches and dramatic cliffs is unique – just like the welcome visitors receive when they arrive.
Varied, attractive and full of Doric charm, ancient Banffshire is a hidden gem in the north-east that is worth a lengthy stop to allow visitors to linger and appreciate its many high points.