When people arrive in Banff, they could be forgiven for thinking they have stepped into a miniature Edinburgh. Fine examples of Georgian architecture have attracted visitors to this area for centuries, from the Scots poet Robert Burns in the 1700s to, more recently, actor Timothy Spall, star of the Harry Potter films.
Highlights which give a nod to the town’s historic heyday include Banff Castle - its distinctive yellow façade is instantly recognisable when entering the town from the east across the salmon-rich waters of the River Deveron – and 1 High Shore, which is said to be one of the finest examples of townhouses in Scotland.
However, Duff House, a grand mansion built in 1740 by William Adam as a seat of the Earls of Fife is one not to be missed. Now home to a permanent collection of art from the National Galleries of Scotland, during its lifetime it has been everything from a palm court hotel to a prisoner of war camp.
Although the town, granted its charter by Robert the Bruce in 1324, has latterly been dependent on fishing, it was once a great centre of trade and was home to manufacturers, weavers, soapmakers and possibly some of the most talented silvermakers in the country.
Visitors will be able to see some examples of their work at the community-run Banff Museum on High Street, which is home to one of the oldest surviving silver teapots in Scotland.
It is in this museum that the story of the notorious Scottish outlaw James MacPherson and how he met his demise is told. He was captured at Banff and on the day of his execution, believing that a reprieve was on its way, the powers-that-be put the town clock forward by 15 minutes. Legend has it that MacPherson composed a song – now known as MacPherson’s Rant – sang it, and then smashed his fiddle before he was hung at the gallows.
A tour around Banff will take in many of the architectural highlights, but the emphasis is not all on the past. The town’s old harbour has recently been developed as a marina, complete with a webcam which enables visitors to wave to their family and friends back home.
Many crafters and artists have established themselves in Banffshire – there is an annual arts festival held in Banff in May – and it is possible to buy a unique souvenir of a visit to the area from some of the small, independent shops in the town.
There are many fantastic walks in Banff, but the most spectacular is surely from Scotstown – dotted with traditional fishermen’s cottages – to the stunning sandy beach at Banff Links which not only offers up the opportunity to spot dolphins and porpoises, but is one of the best locations in the country for surfing.