I’ve done two ‘reality’ posts already – one about finding a real-life hollow tree, and another about caves and passages at Auchmithie beach. I was on holiday on the north east coast of Scotland earlier in the month and found a few real Blyton-worthy places.
I only went into one cave, but it was so spectacularly Blyton-worthy that I am sure that all the rest were, too.
The cave was at Portknockie, right by a famous rock formation called Bow Fiddle Rock. Bow Fiddle Rock is plenty Blytonian in itself. It is a natural sea-arch made of quartzite and home to various sea-birds.
I can very much see the Adventure series children sailing out there for Jack to look at the sea-birds. (But no Great Auks, I’m afraid).
The cave is just a short walk from the village, across the cliff to where there is a good view-point for Bow Fiddle Rock, then down a very worn little path to a stony beach. What at first looks like a smallish and very dark cave then turns out to be a long passage through the rock where the sea comes through.
You can absolutely imagine a little boat pulling into this cave in the dead of night to unload smuggled goods which could then be taken over the ridge to the next cove and hidden in one of the many caves there – and perhaps even taken up to the village through a secret passage. It’s on the opposite side of the village to the harbour where the legitimate boats would dock. At the top left there’s another (very small) entrance, just right for a young adventurer to watch clandestine goings-on as they try to solve a mystery.
There was another inlet into the rock on the other side of the beach, but the tide was in so I could only get a few photos taken after a bit of a climb up the side of it (Ewan did the climbing, not me!)
We would have explored this area more, but having walked down to the harbour together Brodie then tripped over nothing and skinned all of one knee, curtailing our afternoon out. Maybe next time!
Ruins and secret passages
The first ruin we found was an old manor house which just happened to be in the grounds of where we were staying – something the owners should definitely add to their website! Called Glassaugh House it was built around 1770 but now is in a pretty poor state. The walls are still standing but the roof has more or less collapsed and all the windows are gone. I looked in a couple of windows and it looks like most of the ground floor is storage for firewood with tools and decorating things stored in the front hall.
Apparently at some point in the past it was owned by a farmer who used it – including the upper floors – as pens for livestock!
Our welcome pack at the house – the non-ruined one we were staying in – expressly forbade us from exploring the house as it’s in such an unsafe condition. As none of us were fictional teenagers with a penchant for danger, we left well enough alone. I bet the Five would have been right in there, though. When we read ‘please stay away from the old ruin’ we pictured the typical half-fallen in crofters’ cottage you see now and again in rural parts of Scotland. We definitely did not expect an enormous manor house!
The next ruin is at the other end of the scale – just a single wall of what must have been a cottage at some point, overlooking the Portsoy harbour (Portsoy being where some of Peaky Blinders was filmed). Although there’s not much left there now, the window does frame a seriously good view.
What’s interesting about Portsoy is that is has one of the oldest harbours in the area and so predated things like customs houses. I learned this in the Salmon Bothy – a tiny museum in Potsoy about the fishing industry. I also learned that one of the large buildings by the harbour – the one I had actually thought might have been the customs house – was owned by a man (one Alexander Brebner) a merchant also believed to be a major smuggler. The whole area was rife with smuggling in those times, and it’s suggested that there were many secret passages especially in and out of that house.
I only discovered after we came home that there’s a blocked-up smuggler’s hole at the back of the building, and nobody knows what’s down there! I can imagine a passage snaking from Brebner’s house, under the Portsoy Marble building (it’s not really marble, it serpentine), and up the slope to that old cottage which would be a perfect signalling point for smugglers’ boats. Mind you Laird Brebner, as he was known, was caught smuggling so often he had a lawyer move into his house, so perhaps he wasn’t as sneaky as all that!
It appears that the Old Merchant House is now a holiday rental, I’d definitely love to stay there some time!