GrampianRegions of Scotland

Portsoy Visitor Guide

Nestled along the Moray Firth coastline, the picturesque village of Portsoy is a study in timeless beauty. This 17th-century harbour village is a treasure trove of Scottish heritage and tradition that is best known for its historic fishing harbour, locally mined marble, and annual boat festival. It offers a serene coastal experience for all visitors to this beautiful part of the Grampian region.

Portsoy

Overview

Portsoy is one of those hidden gems that you’ve probably never heard of, but if you get the chance to explore this quiet part of Aberdeenshire, you really should take the time to check it out.

Nestled in a small bay on the picturesque Moray coast between Cullen and Banff, Portsoy is a small sea-trading village that time appears to have forgotten about. Quaint wee cottages line the roads that wind their way down to the seafront, and it’s there in the 17th-century harbour where you’ll find some of the warehouses that stored the Portsoy marble that the village was once famous for.

This red and green serpentine marble is renowned for its quality and was at one time shipped all over the world, and even today you’ll likely come across examples of jewellery and statues made from it if you ever visit the Palace of Versailles in France.

Other commodities that travelled through the old port were coal, which was imported for domestic fires, and linen, which was exported to England. It would have been a very busy place in its heyday, but it’s difficult to imagine the commotion nowadays because it’s so peaceful – at least until the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival starts in June.

For the rest of the year, Portsoy attracts tourists who mainly go to see the picturesque harbour. It’s reminiscent of the old fishing villages that line the coast of Cornwall, and while the weather isn’t usually as nice as you’ll find down south, the village is just as attractive.

Portsoy

The Highlights

1: The Portsoy Boat Festival is an annual event that attracts visitors from all over the world. It showcases the rich maritime heritage of the north-east of Scotland.

2: The Portsoy Salmon Bothy is a museum dedicated to the history of salmon fishing in the area. It includes a fascinating collection of artefacts and provides an insight into the life and work of the salmon fishers.

3: Located in the heart of the historic harbour area, Portsoy Pottery is a working pottery studio that produces a diverse range of hand-crafted ceramics. Visitors can watch the potters at work and browse the shop for unique souvenirs.

Visiting Tips

1: Try to plan your visit around the Portsoy Boat Festival, usually held in June. It’s a wonderful event showcasing traditional boat building, crafts, music and local food.

2: Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the historic Portsoy Marble Shop and the Salmon Bothy. They provide a fascinating insight into the town’s history.

3: If you’re after food and gifts, there’s a gift shop in the harbour that sells arts and crafts as well as delicious locally made ice cream. There’s also a small pub in the harbour that serves good qaulity food.

Portsoy

Tourist Information

The annual Scottish Traditional Boat Festival is held in the old harbour in June, where a celebration of the region’s fishing heritage can be enjoyed in a variety of events from competitive sailboat racing to demonstrations by traditional craftsmen. It’s encouraging to see traditional craft skills still in use in boat building and restoration as new technologies increasingly replace them.

But there’s more to the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival than boats. The event offers a wide variety of activities from live music to children’s fun parks, as well as a selection of mouth-watering food stalls.

Up to 16,000 people attend the event each year, which is as good an excuse as any to visit Portsoy to sample another of its secrets: Portsoy ice cream. Made locally and available in a dizzying array of flavours, it’s the perfect accompaniment to a relaxing summer’s day in this lovely historic village.

Outside of the festival, you can discover the history of Portsoy at the Salmon Bothy Museum, a former working salmon house that displays artefacts and information about the harbour and the salmon fishing trade that was one of the village’s main sources of income. Admission is free, but the volunteer staff will be grateful for any donations you’d like to make.

The 113,000-square-foot harbour with its 660-foot quay is particularly popular with visitors who are keen to take advantage of the photo opportunities it offers, especially on its western side which has a small embankment with stunning views of both the village and the North Sea. A sculpture of a dolphin at the top of the mound gives some clue as to why nature lovers also flock to Portsoy, as pods of dolphins are frequently seen swimming close to the shoreline.

Portsoy

History

Although Portsoy was well-known as a fishing port in the 16th century, the harbour that we see today wasn’t constructed until 1693 when the 8th Earl of Boyndie decided that the Aberdeenshire fishing industry would benefit from improved berthing and material storage in Portsoy.

Take a close look at the old harbour and you’ll notice that the stone walls have been laid with horizontal rather than vertical stones as it was thought the walls would resist the crashing waves better, and I guess they must have been right because it’s still standing over 300 years later.

The ‘new’ harbour was built in 1825 to keep up with the demands made by the herring fishing industry, but as the trade in herring declined in the 1900s, Portsoy became less and less used. Today, the harbour is mostly used by private leisure boats, but thankfully, the charm and character of it remain intact.

Portsoy

Things to Do

Visit the Portsoy Boat Festival: This historic maritime event showcases traditional sailing boats and celebrates the seafaring heritage of Portsoy. Visitors can admire the vessels, watch boat races, and enjoy live music, craft stalls, food, and drink.

Explore the Portsoy Salmon Bothy: This building used to be a hub for salmon fishing in the 19th century. Now, it’s a fascinating museum featuring a collection that includes fishing equipment, photographs, and historic artefacts related to the sea. Visitors can gain an understanding of the harsh conditions faced by the fishermen and the importance of this industry to Portsoy.

Wander around the Old Harbour: Built in 1679, the Old Harbour is a charming place where you can stroll around the quaint, cobbled streets, admire the stone cottages, and enjoy the stunning views of the North Sea. The harbour area is also home to a variety of local shops and eateries, perfect for a leisurely lunch or a spot of souvenir shopping.

Discover Portsoy Marble: Located in the picturesque setting of the Old Harbour, the Portsoy Marble Shop is an outlet for the famous marble that was once transported the world over. Find unique ornaments and jewellery made from the polished stone as well as a range of locally made knitwear, textiles, and soaps.

Hike the Moray Coast Trail: For those who love the great outdoors, the Moray Coast Trail offers stunning coastal views and the chance to spot local wildlife, including dolphins. The trail runs through Portsoy and offers a mix of terrain from sandy beaches to rugged cliffs, making for an exhilarating and scenic walk.

Portsoy

Things to Do Nearby

Duff House. Banff AB45 3SX. 15-minute drive.
A grand Georgian country house set in magnificently manicured grounds. The house is under the management of Historic Environment Scotland and also the National Galleries of Scotland which look after the extensive collection of portraits that are on display. Visitors can explore the house and grounds on a self-guided tour.

Cullen. 8-minute drive.
A coastal village and former royal burgh. Cullen boasts a very clean golden sand beach backed by a golf course overlooking the North Sea. The village is famous for being the birthplace of one of Scotland’s favourite dishes – Cullen Skink.

Banff Heritage Trail. Banff AB45 1AY. 14-minute drive.
The historic town of Banff borders Banff Bay and the River Deveron. There are many historic buildings in the town centre which can be discovered by following the heritage trail that aims to show visitors the story of this quaint coastal town.

Sunnyside Beach. Buckie AB56 4SS 8-minute drive to Cullen plus a 30-minute walk
A secluded beach to the east of Cullen can only be accessed by following a footpath that runs along the coastline or a narrow track that threads through fields. Low cliffs encircle the beach on all sides, and between Cullen and the tiny village of Sandend there is a winding path that offers clifftop walks.

Boyndie Visitor Centre. The Old School, Boyndie, Banff AB45 2JT. 9-minute drive.
A six-acre recreation site that includes managed gardens, ponds, woodland, a restaurant, a garden centre and a gift shop.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Portsoy worth a visit?

Portsoy, located on the Moray Firth Coast, is definitely worth a visit. The town is known for its historic charm, with a 17th-century harbour that’s among the oldest on the Moray Firth coast. The harbour area is particularly picturesque and has been a filming location for several films and TV shows.

Portsoy’s Boat Festival, which celebrates traditional boat-building methods, is another major attraction. The festival brings in enthusiasts from around the world, providing a unique insight into Scotland’s marine heritage.

Is Portsoy a nice place to live?

Portsoy is considered one of the nicest places to live in Aberdeenshire. The historic harbour is a major tourist attraction, the port village benefits from a spectacular coastal setting, and it offers access to the Cairngorms in just over 30 minutes.

What is the population of Portsoy?

The population of Portsoy is around 1,800. The 2001 census lists Portsoy as having a population of 1,734.

When was Portsoy Harbour built?

The old harbour was built by Sir Patrick Ogilvie – the 8th Earl of Boyndie – in 1693. The new harbour was built in 1825 due to demand from the growing Scottish herring fishing industry.

Craig Neil

Craig Neil is the author, photographer, admin, and pretty much everything else behind Out About Scotland. He lives near Edinburgh and spends his free time exploring Scotland and writing about his experiences. Follow him on Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube.