Am Bratach No. 323
September 2018

Graeme at large
by Graeme Mackay

August has been another busy month exploring new places and visiting friends. I started the month on the Moray coast in Buckie, a place I’ve always wanted to visit for some unknown reason. I had a picture in my head of what I thought the town would look like, and I can safely say that they were nothing alike! I was expecting a small village nestled around a quaint fishing harbour, but instead I was surprised at how big the town is and how affluent it must have been during the nineteenth century at the height of the fishing. Large and ornate sandstone buildings line the main thoroughfare and although you can see that the main street is in decline (like so many around the country), it remains a busy wee place.

I love the accent in this neck of the woods and how Doric is intertwined into the local vocabulary. Places names aren’t pronounced as you would read them in English. Portessie is the “Sloch”, Findochty is “Finechty”, Sandend is “Sinign”, Fraserburgh is “the Broch” and Peterhead is “the bloo toon”. It’s a beautiful drive from Buckie along the coast towards Banff.

In Portknockie you can stop to see Bow Fiddle Rock, a natural sea arch visible from the shore. In Cullen there is a beautiful sandy beach, a range of quirky shops and the impressive Cullen viaduct. The eight-arched bridge is a monument to the Great North of Scotland Railway, constructed in 1884, and closed in 1968 during Dr Beeching’s infamous “Reshaping of British Railways” report. Sandend was my favourite little fishing village, with not much to do but plenty to see, including surfers catching the waves from the North Sea. And of course, no trip to this area would be complete without an ice cream from Portsoy, itself a lovely little town, but the ice cream is worth the drive.

Sticking with the seaside theme, I was also in Portpatrick last month for a wedding. It’s an area of Scotland that I wasn’t very familiar with. In fact, the last time I was in Dumfries and Galloway was twenty years ago with my parents when we took the Stenaline SeaCat catamaran from Stranraer to Belfast — I hadn’t realised that this crossing no longer leaves from Stranraer and that the SeaCat was taken out of service. The crossing from Scotland to Northern Ireland now leaves from Cairnryan.

Portpatrick is a small and quaint fishing village cut into a cleft between imposing high cliffs. Its unique positioning lends itself to impressive views across the Irish sea towards Ireland and the Isle of Man, both visible on a clear day. This harbour town has been a busy tourist destination for over a century and it was the opening of the Portpatrick railway in 1862 that introduced this remote peninsula to industry, communication and tourism. Similar to the railway in Cullen, rolling stock to Portpatrick closed in 1950, but you can still make out traces of the old track carved into the landscape. We stayed in the Portpatrick Hotel, an imposing seaside resort set on top of the cliff, built in 1905, overlooking the harbour below. An idyllic setting, but tired accommodation.

The harbour area is very pretty with many guest houses, pubs and restaurants overlooking the fishing boats, taking shelter from the sea. Seafood is in abundance here, with Campbell’s Seafood Restaurant being the reputable place to sample the “fruit of the sea”. Portpatrick is also the start of the Southern Upland Way, Britain’s official coast-to-coast long distance footpath, taking in 212 miles across the south-west of Scotland to Cockburnspath on the eastern seaboard. Portpatrick is best described as a relaxing place: there are a couple of notable attractions to see, but for the most part you’d come here to put your feet up and read a good book.

Talking of books, last month I attended a book launch in Aberdeen which celebrates the life work of Aberdonian George Washington Wilson (1823-1893). Washington Wilson was an avid landscape photographer and entrepreneur who captured daily life as it was during the Victorian era. He travelled across Scotland documenting towns and villages, including a number of beautiful photographs taken in Sutherland. He was best known for capturing the renovation of Balmoral, having been appointed by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert — overnight he became a Victorian superstar! But it was his work in stereoscopic photographs (3D imagery) that made his mark on the world. It was a time when new inventions, like the OWL stereoscope were changing the pastimes of Victorians and Washington Wilson was on to a winner.

Dr Brian May (from the band Queen) and Prof Roger Taylor (not from the band Queen) were in Aberdeen to launch the new book, called “George Washington Wilson, Artist and Photographer”. The University of Aberdeen holds 38,000 glass plate images taken by Washington Wilson which have all been documented online and are available to view and order. It was a fascinating evening and another example of how Scottish inventions shaped the modern world — we really did invent everything!


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