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The Historic County of Banffshire

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© 2020 Banffshire Field Club

Reproduced with kind permission

Click link above for club website


The historic county of Banffshire extends from the high tops of the Cairngorms, along the Deveron and Spey valleys to the shores of the Moray Firth.

Banffshire was one of the sheriffdoms which emerged during the twelfth century as a legal jurisdiction, and which later, as a county, become one of Scotland’s administrative jurisdictions. Its boundaries have moved on numerous occasions, particularly in its westernmost parts, between Keith and Portgordon and the Spey. It also included a number of detached portions within Aberdeenshire. It had two Royal Burghs, Banff and Cullen, and its main towns are Aberlour, Banff, Buckie, Dufftown, Keith and Macduff.


The shape of the county is very elongated, being 50 miles from north to south, but only eight miles from east to west near Keith. The highest point in the county is Ben Macdui, which at 1,309m is the second highest mountain in the British Isles. Perhaps it is most famous historically as containing a possible site of Mons Graupius, in Strathisla, between the Knock and the Balloch, and for the find spot of the eponymous Carnyx, at Lietchestown Farm in Deskford in 1816.

Its major landowners and aristocrats were the Dukes of Gordon and Fife and the Earl of Seafield. The present Lord-Lieutenant is  Mr Andrew Simpson.  Banffshire suffered extensively in various local government reforms during the last quarter of the twentieth century, and what was its territory now lies in either Aberdeenshire or Moray. The main north/south route through it is the A95 while the A96 and A98 both cross it in an east/west direction. The many railway lines which used to exist are now reduced to the Aberdeen to Inverness line and its station in Keith. There are many harbours and two commercial ports, at Buckie and Macduff.


The Glenlivet Distillery


Buckie Harbour

The county has a significant commercial heritage in agriculture, both upland stock and lowland cereal, in white fish, herring and salmon fishing, in distilling and in woollen mills. Of these only agriculture and distilling are still practised extensively and there is still significant employment at Baxters of Fochabers and Walkers of Aberlour. During the late twentieth century a significant number of Banffshire people were employed in the oil industry. Employment levels are high, but average pay is low. Tourism is an increasingly important economic sector.

There are secondary schools in Banff, Buckie, Keith and Aberlour, and cottage hospitals in Banff, Buckie, Keith, Aberlour and Dufftown. Famous Banffshire people include General James Abercrombie, Glassaugh, 1706-1781; James Gordon Bennett, Newmill, founder of the New York Herald; William Cramond, Cullen, local historian; Thomas Edward, Banff, naturalist; James Ferguson, Rothiemay, astronomer; Colin Hendry, Keith, footballer; Lord Laidlaw, Keith, businessman; Baron Mountstephen, Canadian Railway developer; James Naughtie, Keith, journalist; Saint John Ogilvie, Keith; Thomas Ruddiman, Banff, 1674-1757 classical scholar; Sandi Thom, Macduff, singer; James Milne Wilson, Banff, later Premier of Tasmania.  


Duff House, Banff, designed by William Adam.  Now in the care of Historic Scotland, Duff House is the premier outstation of the National Galleries of Scotland and houses a collection of fine paintings and furniture.


Ben Macdui


Bow Fiddle Rock, Portknockie

The Deskford Carnyx


The BFC logo, a bronze boar's head, is a modern reconstruction of the iconic Celtic carnyx, or trumpet, discovered in about 1816 by farm workers at Leitchestown in the parish of Deskford. The original, dating to the first or second century AD, is now on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. It is the only carnyx head to have been uncovered in Britain, although graphic depictions from other locations across the Roman empire provide evidence of their widespread use. So there is every reason to believe that, as long as 2000 years ago, Banffshire had a place in the civilised world.

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Click the link for more about the history of the Deskford Carnyx at the National Museum of Scotland

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