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Fishing For Clues

The Banffshire Coast has been built on the foundations of commercial fishing – an industry which also produced a resilient and tenacious breed of people with a fascinating way of life. Over the past century, the fishing industry has changed beyond all recognition – a vibrant fleet of scaffies and zulus has given way to yachts and pleasure craft – but in every nook and crannie of this coastline there are proud salutes to its maritime past.

Many visitors who come to Banffshire looking for clues to piece together their family history come from fishing stock, and often their first port of call will be the harbours where their ancestors worked. From the Thomas Telford-designed harbour at Cullen to the tiny pier at Crovie, every structure has a story to tell.

Traditional fishermen’s cottages are still very much evident in the towns and villages along The Banffshire Coast. These houses are nearly always built close to each other in one distinct area – often designated conservation areas. As a result, very few have been knocked down or allowed to fall to rack and ruin, so the chances are that the house where your great-great-great grandfather lived still exists.

Often brightly coloured and pristinely kept, you will see that many cottages are built gable-end to the sea. This meant that the householders did not have fantastic views, but their properties were protected from fierce sea spray and waves during storms. Although many have now been converted to meet modern living requirements, in olden days there would have been no rooms upstairs as this was an area where fishing nets would have been hung and mended.

One place which should be on the must-visit list for those researching their past is the Salmon Bothy at Portsoy. Displays and memorabilia about the fishing industry – in particular the salmon fishing which was integral to trade in the town – come to life in the former ice chambers of the building, which is just a stone’s throw from the picturesque 17th century harbour. It also boasts a first-class genealogical research facility.

Local people also put a huge emphasis on the town’s past involvement with boatbuilding – the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Traditional Boat Festival takes place every summer – with plans to open a traditional boat building and restoration venue in the near future.

Further along the coast, the Buckie and District Fishing Heritage Museum in Buckie offers up a treasure trove of information. Here, you will find a huge amount of records – written and pictorial – about Banffshire boats and the crews which sailed on them - www.buckieheritage.org

Although generations of brave Banffshire men put to sea, the role of Banffshire’s women in developing the industry should not be forgotten. In the days before harbours existed, women had the job of carrying men on their backs to the boat so that they could avoid the discomfort of going to sea in wet clothes. During a visit to The Banffshire Coast you will also be able to learn more about the formidable herring quines who, despite being barely into their teens, travelled with the herring fleet all over the country to carry out the back-breaking task of gutting and packing fish.

Fishing was indeed what our coastline was built on, but the heritage of our farmland is celebrated too. Take a trip inland to Turriff where you can learn more about a cow which played an integral part in the social history of Scotland, or pay homage to the simple, unassuming potato in Cornhill. It is this tiny village that gave the world the Kerr’s Pink – cultivated by J. Henry who later moved to Canada - in 1907.

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