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In its far north the Aberdeenshire coast turns a corner westwards and becomes the Banffshire coast. All is sea and sky at first. Then sandy bays and rugged cliffs come into view, with a string of little seaside towns and villages.
The Banffshire coast is one of the world’s outstanding coastlines, says the National Geographic. Not just for its natural beauty with plentiful wildlife – there are dolphins, seals, puffins and other seabirds in abundance – but for its “strong community feeling”.
And the two are surely linked. For right around the coast of Aberdeenshire nature dominates … and people have always pulled together to get things done. Tiny beautifully preserved 17th, 18th and 19th century harbours have rich histories of Baltic trade and herring fleets. Fishing villages perch on clifftops or crouch precariously at the water’s edge, the oldest houses built gable-end on to the weather and the waves. Many with lighthouses to guide safe passage.
There’s evidence of older history too. Craggy clifftops, great dunes and wide beaches stretch for miles, and shifting sands at Forvie reveal the halfburied remains of a 12th century church. Among the ancient coastal sites are Dunnottar and Findlater Castles, open to the elements, with precipitous drops to the sea below. The old ways are still valued: traditional boats still built, crafts thrive, Doric words are spoken and Doric ballads are sung. The people – whether born here or more recently arrived – seem rooted and shaped by this far-flung, salty aired place.
“The Northern sky is a beautiful thing” says Burt Lancaster in cult movie Local Hero, filmed along this coast. And it’s true enough. In Summer, the light up here is special, days are near endless, sunsets can light up the sea and last for hours. Winter skies are dark and starry and – with a bit of luck – you might even see the Northern Lights.