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Aberdour, Aberdeenshire

Historical Description

ABERDOUR, a parish, in the district of DEER, county of ABERDEEN; containing 1645 inhabitants, of whom 376 are in the village of New Aberdour, 8 miles (W. by S.) from Fraserburgh. The name of this place is supposed to have been derived from the Gaelic term Aber, signifying "mouth" or "opening," in reference to the rivulet Dour, which finds an entrance into the sea a short distance below the manse. There are numerous cairns and tumuli, containing stone coffins with the ashes and bones of human bodies, indicating the parish to have been the theatre of military conflict. The castle of Dundargue, also, stands here, which Sir Thomas Beaumont fortified and garrisoned, in right of his wife, daughter to the Earl of Buchan, when he accompanied Edward Baliol, who came to claim the kingdom of Scotland. This castle was of great importance in the feudal times, and is famed for a long siege in 1336, when Henry de Beaumont, the English Earl of Buchan, capitulated to Murray, Regent of Scotland, during the captivity of David Bruce. On the coast is a cave called Cowshaven, which is celebrated as the hiding-place of Lord Pitsligo, after the battle of Culloden: this retreat was at last discovered by the impressions on the snow, of the footsteps of a woman who supplied him with food; and he was obliged to flee thence for safety.

The parish contains 15,165 acres, of which 5873 are cultivated, 5608 are moor or green pasture, 3496 moss, 88 wood, and 101 occupied by roads, &c. Its form is altogether irregular, consisting of a kind of zigzag boundary, some parts of which strike off to a considerable extent. The northern boundary runs for about seven miles along the shore of the Moray Firth, which is broken by numerous openings and caves, some of them penetrating for a long distance into the land. The coast in general is bold and rocky, and on the estate of Auchmedden rises the colossal Pitjossie, an immense natural arch, which strikes the beholder with astonishment, when viewed from the summit of the adjoining cliff, and is said to rival the celebrated Bullers of Buchan. On the coast are also the three small bays of Aberdour, Pennan, and Nethermill, the beach of which consists of large quantities of stones washed down the Dour burn and other streams, and thrown back by the violence of the sea on the occurrence of a storm. The surface of the parish, generally, is unequal, the eastern division being flat and low, while the estate of Auchmedden, on the western side, rises about 200 or 300 feet above the level of the sea: on that property are several deep ravines and dens, which, with the adjacent scenery, present a striking and romantic appearance. In the south-eastern extremity are three farms, entirely cut off from the rest of the parish by the lands of Tyrie, and which some suppose to have been originally grazing land for the cattle belonging to the tenants on the sea-coast; whilst others think that, at the time the parish was erected, they formed a separate estate belonging to the proprietor, who, wishing to have all his property in one parish, included them within the bounds of Aberdour. In the south-west of the parish, on the farm of Kinbeam, is a fresh-water loch called Monwig, situated in a large and deep moss; it is 200 yards long and twenty-two broad, in some parts very deep, and the dark mossy water of which it consists is covered in the season with flocks of wild geese and ducks. There are several small streams, all of which run into the Moray Firth; and near Pitjossie, in the glen of Dardar, is a cascade, the water of which, after dashing from the top of a rock into three successive basins, glides gently for 100 yards, until it falls into the Firth.

Near the coast the soil is a strong loamy clay, which, with good husbandry, yields fine crops; but in many other parts it is cold and mossy, exhibiting merely cultivated patches of land: the produce raised chiefly comprises oats, turnips, potatoes, barley, bear, and hay. Great improvements have taken place in agriculture within the last thirty or forty years, especially upon the estate of Aberdour, where a regular and scientific system of drainage has been adopted. The bog, the moss, and moor, with which the arable land was mixed, have been removed, bridges and roads have been constructed, and a proper rotation of crops has been introduced and observed; improvements which have entirely altered the character of the parish. In other parts, however, there is a deficiency of good inclosures, arising from the scarcity of stones for forming dykes. The rocks along the shore, which are lofty and precipitous, and of considerable interest, are a coarse sandstone, frequently passing into conglomerate of various degrees of coarseness, and connected with a greywacke slate: the outlying blocks of loose stone, or boulders, are primary trap or granite. There are several quarries in the parish of granite and sandstone, and two quarries of millstone, one of which latter, in the rocks of Pennan, is said to contain some of the best stones in Britain: the stones from this quarry were formerly in great repute, and sent to the south and west of Scotland, but the demand for them has of late years greatly diminished. The annual value of real property in the parish is £4510. Aberdour House is an old-fashioned narrow building, occupying a very bleak situation; and there are several other residences, including one on the estate of Auchmedden: the glens of this estate are justly celebrated as the beds of the finest collection of plants to be found in Scotland, and afford some scarce specimens of botanical treasure.

The parish contains the villages of New Aberdour and Pennan, the former erected in 1798; the inhabitants are employed in agricultural pursuits, with the exception of a few engaged in fishing at Pennan. A manufacture of kelp was formerly carried on to a considerable extent, but it has been greatly reduced, in consequence of the repeal of the duty upon Spanish barilla, which is now generally used instead of kelp. The white-fishing at Pennan, on the estate of Auchmedden, employs six boats, with four men each, who pay a rent to the proprietor of £20 and some dried fish; and several long boats annually proceed to the herring-fishing in the Moray Firth, which abounds with fish of almost every description, except salmon, very few of which are to be obtained. There are two meal-mills in the parish, one at Aberdour, and the other at Nethermill, each of them built partly of granite and partly of red sandstone. Four annual fairs are held at New Aberdour, for cattle, merchandise, and for hiring servants, in the middle of April, at Whitsuntide, in the middle of August, and at Martinmas: there is also a cattle-fair called Byth Market, occurring twice in the year, in May and October, upon a moor in the south of the parish. The turnpike-road from Fraserburgh to Banff touches the parish, at the two points of Bridgend in the east, and Cowbog in the west, and is rendered available to the parishioners by an excellent junction road.

For ecclesiastical purposes the parish is in the presbytery of Deer and synod of Aberdeen; patron, A. D. Fordyce, Esq.: the minister's stipend is sixteen chalders and a half of victual, half meal half barley, payable by the fairs of the year; with a manse, built in 1822, and a glebe of about seven acres, valued at £14 a year. The church, which is conveniently situated at the northern extremity of the village of New Aberdour, was erected in 1818, and contains about 900 sittings. There is a parochial school, where Latin is taught, with all the ordinary branches of education; the master has a salary of about £32, and £15 fees, with a house. The chief relic of antiquity is the castle of Dundargue, situated upon a lofty precipice overhanging the sea; and at a place called Chapelden, on a hill opposite the Toar of Troup, are the ruins of a chapel. Of the mineral springs that are to be found in every direction, the most famed is one named Mess John's Well, a strong chalybeate, celebrated for its medicinal virtue; it issues from a rock about 200 yards west of the burn of Aberdour, and has a small basin, like a cup, to receive the water that drops. The basin is commonly said to have been formed by John White, laird of Ardlaw-hill during the contest of religious parties.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis


Online maps of Aberdour are available from a number of sites:

Postal districtKY3
Post TownBurntisland