On the remote northern coast of Aberdeenshire, looking out over the Moray Firth, lie three of Scotland’s most picturesque villages: Gardenstown, Crovie and Pennan.
Gardenstown (locally known as the Gamrie) is much the largest of the three. A steep, steep road leads down through the modern part of the village to the harbour and the packed jumble of cottages which make up the old fishertown. A warren-like maze of alleyways, walkways and a narrow street connect the buildings and make this part of the village a fascinating place to explore.
At the west end of the village there is a good sandy beach at low tide, and a walk up to the cemetery and ruins of St John’s Church beyond this gives perhaps the best view looking back over the whole village. From the other end of the harbour, a short pebble beach and then a dramatic section of built path lead on round to the next bay…
and the tiny village of Crovie. We included this picturesque row of cottages at foot of a very steep slope on our pick of Scotland’s most picturesque villages. Crovie has been claimed by some to be the most perfectly preserved former fishing village in Europe, but fishing here ended abruptly in 1953 following a major storm. Many of the residents left to resettle in Gardenstown, and it is likely that only conservation of most of the houses to holiday homes saved the village from being lost. The strip of flat land at Crovie is so narrow that cars cannot enter the village; it is possible only to reach one end in a vehicle, and visitors are encouraged to use a car park and viewpoint higher up the hill. Our Gardenstown and Crovie walk explores both of the villages. Crovie has no facilities, but there is a summer tearoom and cafe (Teapot 1) in Gardenstown as well as a pub at the heart of the fishertown. Both villages have a wide choice of picturesque holiday cottages.
A circular walk is available from Crovie linking it to five farms high above. The walk also provides a link to the RSPB reserve at Troup Head, just east of the village. Here you can visit the rim of dramatic cliffs that plunge around 100m down to the sea, perhaps spotting a few puffins as well as razorbills and guillemots. It is for its fascinating colony of 1,500 gannets that Troup Head is best known, however, and from spring to summer this is an enchanting place from which to watch these elegant birds and their young – with many nests easily visible.
Careful with the unprotected cliff edge though, this isn’t the best place to not be watching carefully where you are going….
If you are looking for a bit of shelter after the exposed top of Troup Head, Cullykhan Bay just to the east is another great spot for a stop; it has an attractive sandy beach as well as a collapsed sea cave and the site of an ancient fort.
Beyond Cullykhan is perhaps the best known of the three villages. Pennan is similar to Cullen, with a steep descent road leading to its packed cottages, although a wider sea front means cars can reach parking at the far end.
Pennan’s fame was assured by its starring role as Ferness in the classic film Local Hero. The Pennan Inn is still here, as is the red phone box… although the one that featured in the film was actually a prop and only public demand led to the installation of the real one.
Once again, many of the cottages in Pennan are available as self-catering holiday lets. If you do rent one, there are plenty of facilities for drying your washing…
From Pennan there is a one-way walk to Aberdour Bay along tracks and paths. Here a series of caves and natural arches add plenty of interest to the small beach.
Another great way to see this area is from the water. Trips are avaiable with Puffin Cruises from nearby Macduff, passing Gardenstown and Crovie from the sea en route to the foot of the great cliffs and seabird colonies of Troup Head.
If you are really lucky, as we were, you might find some very welcome visitors swimming alongside the boat…