Fraserburgh To Elgin

Dee, Don, And Spey


By Public Transport

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Fraserburgh, like Peterhead, is a busy fishing harbour and industrial port, with a long history. Built on Kinnaird Head its old castle is now an impressive lighthouse. Continuing on the coastal route to Rosehearty, turn left to reach Pitsligo Castle and village with its old parish church. Turning at Peathill, we are approaching hillier ground on the borders of Buchan and Banff. On the right the hill fort of Dun Dearg has associations with Columba and Drostan, who may have established a monastery here. A little further on below New Aberdour is St Drostan’s Church of Aberdour, and on the beach St Drostan’s Well. The coastline becomes increasingly steep with the dramatic village of Pennan, and Troup Head which can only be reached by foot. Likewise the ancient chapel and well in the Tore of Troup which cuts inland. Next comes the fishing village of Gardenstown, and above it to the west on Gamrie More Head the precariously sited Church of St John of Gamrie. You can walk comfortably to this very complete medieval ruin, though the skulls of decapitated Danish raiders which once adorned the walls are long gone.

We are now in Banffshire proper with its string of coastal villages and towns. Banff as the ancient county town has an outstanding architectural heritage but sadly little of its earlier religious buildings survive. There was a Carmelite Friary, a Templar Church, and the old parish church by the harbour which retains its burial ground. Whitehills, and Portsoy, with Portknockie and Findochty further west are all attractive fishing settlements, while Macduff and Buckie are working towns and ports. An alternative to the coast is to detour south by Kirktown of Alvah, with its ancient Church and Well of St Colm, to Kirkton of Auchterless with its Church of St Donnan, and Turriff with an ancient church of St Congan. Then return west on to Aberchirder, and a little beyond Kirkton of Marnoch. This is the same saint as Inchmarnock off Bute and Kilmarnock. His church here is built within a prehistoric stone circle. All the leading Irish missionary saints seem to have sought a presence in this region.

Our inland detour however returns southwest toward the coast by Fordyce, where the old village and its castle cluster round the even older Church and Tower of St Talorgan or Tarkin, whose only known legacy appears to be this peaceful place. Talorgan was an associate of St Donnan, and is believed to have lost his life with that saint when their home monastery on Eigg was destroyed by raiders. A little further west is located the Old Church of Deskford with its superb sixteenth century sacrament house, and earlier features including the water stoups, aumbries and the former holy well of St John on the hillside. The Ogilvie Lairds here were close allies of Mary Queen of Scots and devoted Roman Catholics. Returning south to the coast at the historic town of Cullen, we find another fine church of St Mary endowed by the Ogilvies, a little inland of the harbour area.

Leaving Banffshire we cross into Moray reaching Elgin by Way of Fochabers and Lhanbryde- the Church of Bride which was originally on the steep mound in the centre of the village. Fochabers was the headquarters of the all powerful Gordons who long ruled most of northeast Scotland as Earls of Huntly and Dukes of Gordon. But their castle and palace here are only shadows of their erstwhile scale and magnificence. Elgin was the county town and ecclesiastical capital of this region with its magnificent, and still impressive, cathedral ruins (the Lantern of the North), the Bishop’s House and the associated historic churches in and around the town. The Elgin Museum houses early carvings from many key sites in the wider area.

So many early fragments survive,
Clues to the places of the past,
Glimmers of a lost, early world.
But the Lantern of the North
Brings new scale, and vision.
The kingdom of Scots in Europe
Shines forth across the land
But in turn the kingdom wanes
Gives way to time’s assaults.
Our journey continues on hidden tracks,
Sources of a world glimpsed
And stubbornly enduring
For us to find afresh.

Pilgrim Journeys