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Scotland Travel Blog February 2023

”Exploring the Moray Coast: Pennan to Banff”

I wrote a Blog in June 2022 about a day trip we did from the Speyside area to show that there is more to Speyside than Whisky distilleries. From your responses, it seemed to be quite a popular post, and people asked if we would do another to show some other places that could be covered from a touring base in the Aberlour / Craigellachie / Dufftown area.

So we spent a long weekend in a cottage near Aberlour and did some more touring and hiking to bring you this Blog.

Moray Coast - Pitsligo to Banff day trip

In our June 2022 Blog we featured a route that picked up the Moray coast at Buckie and then traveled east to Banff. This time we started on the other side of Banff at Rosehearty and traveled west to end in Banff.

This map shows you the route that we drove and the schedule is explained step by step in the text below.

The schedule below is based on our actual times when we explored this route.

10:00 Depart Aberlour

We started our day trip from a cottage located in Carron, a few miles west of Aberlour. Driving times from Dufftown or Craigellachie would be similar give or take 5 - 10 mins.

Pitsligo Castle

11:35 Arrive Pitsligo Castle

Pitsligo Castle 15th century Keep viewed from east end of courtyard

Pitsligo Castle is a largely forgotten ruin on the outskirts of Rosehearty. Despite years of neglect, it is still impressively large and retains some interesting features.

Like most Scottish castles, it started with a strong defensive Keep that could hold attackers at bay, but a building designed for defence is seldom comfortable. So, over the centuries, the castle was extended with outbuildings around a large courtyard.

Pitsligo Castle courtyard looking towards the old kitchen block

The upper sections and east wall of the keep have fallen away, but this allows the visitor a cross-sectional view of the castle, and you can appreciate the sturdy construction of its vaulted ceilings and thick outer walls.

All of the buildings are now roofless, but you can enter some rooms in the courtyard building which retain vaulted ceilings and sections of spiral staircases that lead to upper levels.

The castle was latterly owned by Clan Forbes, but the Clan Chief, Alexander Forbes, backed the wrong side at Culloden and forfeited the castle as a result. He is said to have lived out the rest of his days hiding in caves not far from his once-grand residence.

Pitsligo Castle 15th Century keep with external supports holding up south wall

After Culloden, the castle fell into disrepair and, if left to its own devices, would probably have fallen down by now. Fortunately, a trust has been set up and some essential work has been done to arrest the collapse of the 15th-century Keep.

12:00 Pitsligo Castle


12:30 Arrive Pennan

Anyone who has watched the Scottish cult film “Local Hero” will recognise Pennan. In the movie, it stars as the fictional village of “Ferness” and it steals the show.

Pennan and the famous red telephone box from Local Hero

The film has its 40th anniversary this year and from May 25 - 28 there will be a series of events around Pennan, Banff, and Portsoy which will celebrate the film.

View of Pennan from approach road

I’ve visited Pennan a few times over the years and have slightly mixed feelings about the village. There is no denying that it is every bit as picturesque as it is depicted in the film, but the film depicts the village as being a vibrant community of locals who gather each night in the local pub.

Pennan Shorefront

In reality, Pennan is plagued by the same issues that so many small rural communities face. The curse of holiday-let homes. There is still a handful of cottages lived in by permanent residents, but there is no local pub and a visit to Pennan in winter can be a lonely experience.

If you do visit the village, we recommend that you park at the small car park which you pass on the descent down to Pennan. From there, you can walk down the steep slope to the village seafront. For the best pictures of the village, it is worth walking out to the end of the harbour breakwater so that you can get the view looking inland.

Pennan viewed from the harbour breakwater

13:00 Depart Pennan

Gardenstown - Crovie:

13:25 Arrive Gardenstown

Gardenstown isn’t as postcard-pretty as Pennan or Crovie, but this has saved it from becoming a holiday-let “ghost town”. That isn’t to say that Gardenstown is unattractive, far from it. This little fishing village has some very photogenic streets and narrow lanes, but the whole is not as harmoniously pretty as Pennan or Crovie.

Back lane in Gardenstown

The heart of Gardenstown is still its harbour and it remains home to a few working fishing boats. Fishing supported the families of Gardenstown and it was a close-knit community bound together by the shared hardships of their livelihood from the sea.

Fishing Boats in Gardenstown Harbour

An example of the villagers' sense of “Common Weal” was the Gardenstown method of caring for Fishermen’s widows. If a family lost their breadwinner through an accident at sea, one of the local shops would let the widow use a room in her house as an outlet for their goods. In this way, the widow gained a small income. As a result, you find some shop windows in random places.

Display of Gardenstown fishing boats

A quirky fact about Gardenstown is that it was here, in the Garden Arms Hotel, that Bram Stoker put the finishing touches to his classic novel “Dracula”. The pub still trades and it is a nice place for a pint on a sunny day as you can sit outside.

Garden Arms Hotel in Gardenstown

Following an excellent light lunch at Eli’s wee cafe / gift shop near the seafront, we embarked on the short walk via the coastal path to Crovie. Crovie is every bit as pretty as the more famous Pennan and certainly deserves a visit if you are in this area.
Coastal path to Crovie

Charming old cottages on Crovie shorefront

From Crovie, you can return to Gardenstown the same way, or you can head slightly inland to pick up the route of the recently made clifftop path. This path brings you back into a housing estate in the newer part of Gardenstown. From here, you can follow your nose back into the old village and take a wander around the back streets and harbour area before returning to your car.
Crovie shorefront

Our circular walk to Crovie and back to Gardenstown via the cliff path, including a wander around Gardenstown and light lunch at Eli’s cafe, took us about 2 hours in total.

15:35 Depart Gardenstown

Tarlair Swimming Pool

15:50 Arrive Tarlair Swimming Pool

Tarlair Swimming Pool is a bit of a curiosity and a reminder of a different era. A time when sunshine holidays abroad were only for the richest members of society. and the rest of us had to make the most of a seaside holiday in Scotland.

Tarlair outdoor swimming pool

To be fair, Tarlair swimming pool on a hot sunny day would not be a bad place to be, and the pools still have an air of faded glamour. The Art Deco styling of the changing rooms / cafe building is so evocative of the 1930’s, and you sense that the building is clinging to its memories of happier times.

Tarlair swimming pool viewed from old Art Deco cafe

Not far from the swimming pool, there is a striking rock formation that looks like a miniature version of the Bow Fiddle Rock found in nearby Portknoickie.

Unusual upthrust rock formation at Tarlair

16:10 Depart Tarlair Swimming Pool

Banff via MacDuff

16:15 Quick stop at MacDuff to buy fish then into Banff for 16:30.

A short hop along the coast from Tarlair (literally 2 minutes) and you arrive in MacDuff which is quite a functional-looking fishing town. There is a small aquarium in Macduff and just a few hundred yards away from the aquarium there is a great wee fish shop called “Inshore Fish Supply”. We only mention this because we always stop here on our visits to get some fresh fish for our dinner.

Banff Bay looking east towards Macduff

MacDuff and Banff are clustered around the shores of a wide sandy bay, and it is just the presence of the River Deveron that prevents the 2 towns from merging into one. Banff is home to some surprisingly fine buildings and the streets around the harbour area are lined with attractive 18th-century buildings.

Attractive old houses on a street in Banff

Banff was also home to the Ship Inn which had its moment of stardom when it was featured in “Local Hero”. You won’t recognise the Ship Inn building as it was only the interior of the public bar that they used for the filming of bar scenes in the fictional “MacAskill Arms”. Sadly, the Ship Inn closed in 2021 and is unlikely to re-open as a pub.

17:00 Depart Banff

Return to Aberlour

17:50 Arrive back at Aberlour

Foot Note: If we had started the day at 9am instead of 10am, it would have been possible to end the sightseeing with a visit to the grand Duff House on the outskirts of the town.

Despite the unfortunate name, Duff House is a very grand country residence that was designed by the famed architect William Adam. The owner was William Duff, hence the name.

The house does have a bit of an unhappy history. Willam Duff fell out with Adam over the cost of the project and this dispute went on so long that Adam never completed the house in the way he had planned. Consequently, the east and west wings of the house were never built, and the house looks a little bit to tall relative to its width. William Duff was so disappointed with his partially finished home that he never stayed here.

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