How is it possible to swell the population of an historic coastal town to three times its normal size? Simply stage a festival celebrating everything that is best about seafaring heritage and invite the world to join in!
For two days in mid-summer the town of Portsoy stages the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Traditional Boat Festival with its stunning 17th century harbour – the oldest on the Moray Firth – as its backdrop. Up to 16,000 people come to the Festival, which is now one of the region’s biggest visitor events. It places special emphasis on boat building, restoration and sailing, but it also showcases a wide range of arts, crafts, music and food.
Even without the buzz of the Festival, visiting Portsoy should be on a must-do list as there is much to do and see. The old harbour is often photographed and instantly recognisable because of its unusual design: the walls are constructed of horizontal rather than vertical stone and echo some of the natural rock formations along this stretch of coastline.
The ‘new harbour’ was built in 1825 to accommodate the growing herring fleet and although only a few small boats now work out of the harbour, the town is still synonymous with fine seafood.
It’s also famed for another culinary delight - Portsoy Ice Cream. This is a little gem of a shop where you can buy ice cream flavoured with everything from sticky toffee pudding to apple crumble. Buy a cone and take a walk around Loch Soy where you can hire a boat and paddle around with the ducks!
Visitors can find out more about the history of salmon fishing, boatbuilding and local people at the community-run museum, The Salmon Bothy. Accredited by Museums Galleries Scotland, it is located within the lower ice chambers of the building. Upstairs, an area where fishing nets were stored is now a space for musical and theatre performances, while a genealogical research facility is within the former sleeping quarters.
And it is also in the Salmon Bothy that you will find Folk at the Salmon Bothy - a local club which organises a range of music events, including the annual HAAL Festival, monthly Open Mic' Nights and appearances by many renowned folk musicians and artists. Click here for more information.
Portsoy is also renowned for its marble – actually polished red and green serpentine – which has been used in grand mansions and castles all over the world, most notably the Palace of Versailles. It’s still possible to buy objects created in Portsoy Marble from a shop in one of the restored warehouses on the quayside.