The lost village of Rattray

The lost village of Rattray

In 1342 Sir Archibald Douglas received the Lordship of Rattray. In his charter there was mention of a harbour. Milne describes the likely nature of the settlement of Rattray as it then was:- “The townland had been a commonty where the townsfolk pastured their cows and dug sods and clay for house-building. Their houses were not made of stone and lime. A common way of building a house was to lay down a layer of sods, the corners were well rounded and the walls sloped inwards. The fire was in the middle of the floor well away from the combustible wall. The townspeople would have had enclosed gardens and fields of corn”.

Following the Reformation, Rattray was elevated to the status of royal burgh. The charter of erection, dated 1563, gave its burgesses the right to erect a market cross and hold their own weekly market, as well as two fairs per year. The folk on this cold shoulder of Buchan pursued a way of life based on land and sea, and the harbour, called Starnakeppie, provided a sheltered haven for their fishing boats. In Macfarlane’s Geographical Collections, Alexander Hepburn mentions that “the village of Rattray is famous for codfish, which the inhabitants take in great plenty, and have the best way of drying and curing them”. Even so, things were apparently not to work out very successfully for the settlement, as the 1696 Aberdeenshire Poll Book could list the presence of only seventeen adults.

Apart from the long-standing chapel walls, there is now no surviving trace of the royal burgh of Rattray. The exhortation to build in more permanent materials was clearly not heeded, and as a result the face of the land recalls little of the deserted settlement. But place-names can help recall what material remains fail to record, and the field name “Shore Wynd” is evocative of the little lanes that lead seawards from the villages on this North-East coast.

According to local tradition the closure of the entrance to Rattray’s harbour was so sudden that a small ship loaded with a cargo of roofing tiles or slates became trapped in the harbour, never again to sail into the North Sea. For the farmer at nearby Mains of Haddo, it had been a good illustration of the adage about an ill wind, for he was now able to obtain a ready supply of roofing material for his farm. As long as its connection with the sea was maintained, Rattray could offer valuable shelter for shipping when easterly gales were blowing.

In the end, it was that easterly wind of 1720 that spelt the end for Buchan’s remote royal burgh. With its harbour gone, the settlement's demise was assured, and its last residents had to contemplate a new future. A few families continued to gain a living from the sea, having their homes at Seaton, the edge of the village closest to the sea, and at a settlement known locally as Botany Bay because of its supposed similarity in remoteness to the penal colony in Australia.

If the sealing off of Rattray’s outlet to the sea was to be the local people’s loss, it became a gain for geographers and naturalists as it created a fascinating land-locked freshwater Loch that is the largest coastal lagoon in Scotland. The Loch of Strathbeg is one of the great Wetland sites in the north, attracting innumerable ducks, geese and swans to its shallow waters each winter. This outstanding wildlife importance was recognised in the designation of the greater part of the Loch and its margins as a nature reserve by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

In the 1970’s, plans to lay a gas pipeline from the North Sea across the bed of the loch and to construct a large processing plant provoked a storm of protests. An alternative site was selected near St Fergus, three miles east along the Buchan coast. Today, the flares of St Fergus can be seen from the last mined remain of the lost village of Rattray. It smells. Prosperity was to come to this remote corner, just as the creators of the settlement had hoped, from a new natural resource, long after Rattray’s royal burgh had vanished off the face of the land.

'Sands and Silence' - DP Willis, Centre of Scottish Studies, University of Aberdeen (1986)
Ref:
Date:
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Photographer:
Yvonne Ferguson
The lost village of Rattray

The lost village of Rattray

In 1342 Sir Archibald Douglas received the Lordship of Rattray. In his charter there was mention of a harbour. Milne describes the likely nature of the settlement of Rattray as it then was:- “The townland had been a commonty where the townsfolk pastured their cows and dug sods and clay for house-building. Their houses were not made of stone and lime. A common way of building a house was to lay down a layer of sods, the corners were well rounded and the walls sloped inwards. The fire was in the middle of the floor well away from the combustible wall. The townspeople would have had enclosed gardens and fields of corn”.

Following the Reformation, Rattray was elevated to the status of royal burgh. The charter of erection, dated 1563, gave its burgesses the right to erect a market cross and hold their own weekly market, as well as two fairs per year. The folk on this cold shoulder of Buchan pursued a way of life based on land and sea, and the harbour, called Starnakeppie, provided a sheltered haven for their fishing boats. In Macfarlane’s Geographical Collections, Alexander Hepburn mentions that “the village of Rattray is famous for codfish, which the inhabitants take in great plenty, and have the best way of drying and curing them”. Even so, things were apparently not to work out very successfully for the settlement, as the 1696 Aberdeenshire Poll Book could list the presence of only seventeen adults.

Apart from the long-standing chapel walls, there is now no surviving trace of the royal burgh of Rattray. The exhortation to build in more permanent materials was clearly not heeded, and as a result the face of the land recalls little of the deserted settlement. But place-names can help recall what material remains fail to record, and the field name “Shore Wynd” is evocative of the little lanes that lead seawards from the villages on this North-East coast.

According to local tradition the closure of the entrance to Rattray’s harbour was so sudden that a small ship loaded with a cargo of roofing tiles or slates became trapped in the harbour, never again to sail into the North Sea. For the farmer at nearby Mains of Haddo, it had been a good illustration of the adage about an ill wind, for he was now able to obtain a ready supply of roofing material for his farm. As long as its connection with the sea was maintained, Rattray could offer valuable shelter for shipping when easterly gales were blowing.

In the end, it was that easterly wind of 1720 that spelt the end for Buchan’s remote royal burgh. With its harbour gone, the settlement's demise was assured, and its last residents had to contemplate a new future. A few families continued to gain a living from the sea, having their homes at Seaton, the edge of the village closest to the sea, and at a settlement known locally as Botany Bay because of its supposed similarity in remoteness to the penal colony in Australia.

If the sealing off of Rattray’s outlet to the sea was to be the local people’s loss, it became a gain for geographers and naturalists as it created a fascinating land-locked freshwater Loch that is the largest coastal lagoon in Scotland. The Loch of Strathbeg is one of the great Wetland sites in the north, attracting innumerable ducks, geese and swans to its shallow waters each winter. This outstanding wildlife importance was recognised in the designation of the greater part of the Loch and its margins as a nature reserve by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

In the 1970’s, plans to lay a gas pipeline from the North Sea across the bed of the loch and to construct a large processing plant provoked a storm of protests. An alternative site was selected near St Fergus, three miles east along the Buchan coast. Today, the flares of St Fergus can be seen from the last mined remain of the lost village of Rattray. It smells. Prosperity was to come to this remote corner, just as the creators of the settlement had hoped, from a new natural resource, long after Rattray’s royal burgh had vanished off the face of the land.

'Sands and Silence' - DP Willis, Centre of Scottish Studies, University of Aberdeen (1986)
Ref:
Date:
Location:
Photographer:
Yvonne Ferguson