Rattray Head

Sometime in the 1720s a furious east wind swept sand from the dunes into the estuary of Rattray Burn creating the Loch of Strathbeg, and bringing to an end the seaport at the Free Royal Burgh of Rattray, and leading to the almost complete disappearance of the town. (Summers, 1988).

In mediaeval times the Rattray Burn flowed into an estuary that provided safe anchorage for sizable vessels in an area where such anchorages were rare. The Earls of Buchan regarded the harbour of such importance that they fortified it by building two castles, the Castle of Rattray and the Castle of Lonmay. Though Rattray was not a large town, in 1563 it was raised to be a Free Royal Burgh to settle the conflicting claims of two local lairds to own the town. As a result it gained a variety of privileges and was allowed to hold a weekly market, two fairs in the year, and to engage in foreign trade. As a result the town gained some importance but never thrived. As late as the early 1720s the channel from the sea into the Burn was navigable, at least at times, and the town was famous for the quality of its codfish both fresh and cured.

Almost all signs of the town are lost and the most wonderful feature of Rattray Head today is that apart from the lighthouse and a hostel, there is nothing there, nothing except for a colossal system of sand dunes with a glorious sandy beach beyond. It is difficult to get there because the road is broken and pot-holed, and in a normal car with normal springs, it is slow going, but on a fine day it is worth the trip.

The expanse of beach extends several miles southwards to Buchanhaven, beside the river Ugie, but is broken by the vast St Fergus Gas-Terminal, sited with philistine insensitivity on the coast about two miles to the south of Rattray Head. Access to the beach south of the gas-terminal, can be gained by Scotstown, and the beach continues in a series of perfect arcs to Buchanhaven.

The open skies and the long, deserted beach with its golden, silky sand are unforgettable.

(Revision date: Friday 16th March 2012)