Join us on our day trip along the Banffshire coast, taking in the haunting Tarlair Swimming Pool and the Marine Aquarium at Macduff, followed by the delights of Cullen, Bow Fiddle Rock and Findlater Castle.
Our family adventures recommenced within the boundaries of the pandemic restrictions and we look forward over this series of posts to highlight the great days out now available to us in Scotland. 2020 has been a difficult year for most of us. As we start to see the green shoots of recovery, we want to see Scottish tourism flourish again and show that Scotland is open for business. Certain sites and locations may not be open or fully functioning, but there is still an amazing range of things to do and see, with more places opening to visitors each day.
Our morning started naughtily with a visit to Annies Cakery in Macduff. The delightful cakes and bakes are currently only available as a takeaway, but in normal times, you can sit down and enjoy a coffee and sweet treat before checking out the tempting gifts at the adjacent fashion accessories shop, The Platform. The photos really say it all – these cakes were absolutely yummy!
Tarlair Swimming Pool
The evocative Tarlair Swimming Pool is an abandoned Art Deco style outdoor pool, which was opened in 1931 at the base of a sea cliff just outside Macduff. There is a certain beauty in this disused facility, but I can only image how stunning this pool would have looked back in its heyday. Thankfully, my mother was with us to bring the pool to life with her colorful story of how much she enjoyed her trip to it when she was a child. The design of the pool was a clever use of pumped sea water to fill the pools, and flooding of the main pool at high tide to flush out the old water. The second-largest pool was a boating pool with the two remaining pools being paddling pools.
Today, Tarlair is more of a half-forgotten curiosity, with the occasional arrival of model boat enthusiasts. This does the site a great disservice and it urgently needs rescuing and brought back to life. Thankfully, a community group called "Friends of Tarlair" has since been formed and is working with Aberdeenshire Council to try to find a way forward for the site as a community facility. Please offer support by following their Facebook page.
Just outside the perimeter of Tarlair, there is a mini sea arch, which has more than a hint of Bow Fiddle Rock… but more of that later!
Macduff Marine Aquarium
The highlight of the day for Ythan was definitely the Macduff Marine Aquarium. The aquarium presents all kinds of sea creatures that live in the Moray Firth and is one of the last aquariums in the UK to feature solely local marine life. The core of the aquarium is home to a cylindrical tank of seawater, open to the sky and holding 400,000 litres of water. This is the deepest seawater tank in Scotland, and one of the deepest in Europe and divers hand feed the fish in this tank on a regular basis (although this is currently suspended).
We found the social distancing measures currently in place well thought out and managed throughout the facility and included an easy to use online booking system. The limited numbers and one way trail effectively allowed social distancing.
On exiting the aquarium, make sure that you check out the fun mural on the side of the building facing the sea.
Seafield Arms Hotel, Cullen
Just a 25-minute drive took us to the beautiful harbour town of Cullen. We were here specifically for lunch at the Seafield Arms Hotel, which is a recently refurbished, boutique style hotel in an old coaching inn dating back to 1822.
The hotel has chic and stylish décor throughout its public rooms, such as the Findlater Lounge, Bar 19 and the Grant Dining Room. However, we had specifically chosen the Seafield Arms Hotel for its socially distant outdoor dining space.
The garden has a maximum capacity of around 40 to 50 people and is a mixture of open tables and cabanas. Our quirky choice of table is probably best described as a greenhouse, and it turned out to be the perfect location to have our meal. Initially, we were not sure if it would be too hot, but instead, we found it well-ventilated and ideal for these times of social distancing. The food was excellent, and it was great to know that the ingredients were locally sourced and of the highest quality. We would definitely recommend a meal at the Seafield Arms. Please note, however, that reservations are essential.
Cullen Antiques Centre
After lunch, we explored the Cullen Antiques Centre, which is just a couple of doors up from the hotel. It is an absolute treasure trove and the largest antique shop of its kind in the North East of Scotland. The centre showcases not only a wide range of antiques, collectibles, jewelry, and art, they also have architectural and garden salvage, plants and much more.
Bow Fiddle Rock
Next on our itinerary was the Bow Fiddle Rock which is a natural sea arch in the neighbouring village of Portknockie. It is easy to see why this Quartzite rock was named as such, since it closely resembles the tip of a fiddle (violin) bow. The cliffs above the rock can be accessed from Addison Street and you can get a great view of the formation from above. The path down to the shore in front of Bow Fiddle Rock is a little narrow and precarious, so it is not for everyone, but it is well worth making your way down to the rocky beach to get a closer view. It is also a nesting place for sea birds including herring gulls, great black-backed gulls and lesser black-backed gulls, so a great destination for naturalists to visit.
Portknockie and its harbour is worth a look when visiting Bow Fiddle Rock. Portknockie is a small cliff top fishing village of about 500 houses with a history dating back to 1677. This was a major fishing port in the 19th century and today the harbour serves as a marina for private boats.
We doubled back on ourselves and headed for Findlater Castle which sits on the coast between Cullen and Portsoy. The castle is off the beaten track a little, as you have to come off the main coastal road and head up a side road and farm track, which are in good condition, so there are no worries driving on them. Just follow the signs and there is a carpark at the side of the farm, then there is a track allowing you to walk down to coast. The castle dates from the 15th Century, but it probably has elements going back two hundred years before that. The rock on which the castle sits is around 27m (90ft) above the sea and sits slightly below the mainland cliffs from which it is reached. Its position makes it look like a mini Dunnottar Castle. In two places the rock is cut across, each gap having once been spanned by a bridge. Access to the Castle was restricted to foot traffic, thus a forecourt was formed on the mainland.
In the mid-16th Century, possession of the Lands of Findlater passed from the Ogilvy family to the Gordons, resulting in a bitter feud between the families. The Gordons rebelled against Mary Queen of Scots in 1562 but were defeated at the Battle of Corrichie. Following these dramatic events, Findlater Castle was repossessed by the Ogilvies, but abandoned in the mid-1600s in favour of a new residence, Cullen House at Cullen.
Take the challenge, discover what is in your backyard, whether you live in Scotland, in the other parts of the British Isles or even Europe, venture into the fairy tale land of Bonnie Scotland.
Join us next time when our family adventures continue as we explore more of the attractions of Aberdeenshire. Until then, happy reading and safe travels.
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