A FREAK low tide has uncovered a coastal community - dubbed Scotland’s own Atlantis - exactly three centuries after it disappeared beneath the waves in a devastating flood.
For more than 500 years, the old town of Findhorn in Moray had been a thriving fishing and commercial port, at the centre of flourishing trade with Europe, the Baltic states, the New World and even the Orient.
Created a Burgh of Barony in 1532, it was the principal harbour on the Moray Firth coast and was used to ship the mighty oaks from the forests of the Earl of Moray’s estates, used in the construction of the Scottish parliament, and Edinburgh and Stirling castles.
But in the 17th century, the shifting sands which had already completely buried the neighbouring estate of Culbin began to silt up the once-bustling harbour, forcing the town’s citizens gradually to establish a new community, one and a half miles away to where the present village of Findhorn now stands.
In 1701, the demise of the Old Town was sealed when the mercat cross was moved to the new village on the Muirton Estate. And, a year later, Old Findhorn vanished when the waters of the River Findhorn finally broke through the barrier of sand protecting the once-vibrant community.
The river formed a new channel through the centre of the Old Town and, gradually, the sea and sand reclaimed what was left.
But, by a quirk of nature, the lost town has been rediscovered.
Tim Negus, a retired RAF surgeon and a member of the local heritage society, stumbled on what remained of the ancient port when he took advantage of an exceptionally low spring tide to look for clues to the lost town.
He said: "I knew roughly where the old town was from maps we have at the heritage centre and the first thing I saw was a pile of stones that looked like the ruins of a building.
"These stones were fairly unfashioned. But then I discovered two well masoned slabs, including a piece of carved masonry that must have come from a fairly substantial and sophisticated building."
He e-mailed Bill Anderson, the society’s chairman, saying: "Atlantis has been found."
Mr Anderson said yesterday: "It was an absolutely fantastic discovery which will allow us to fill in this massive black hole about the history of Old Findhorn.
"Accounts tell us that Findhorn was an important trading port for many years before it disappeared into the sea in 1702, a busy harbour with bonded warehouses. But there have also been conflicting claims that Findhorn was nothing but a huddle of rude rural buildings, with the boats beached on the shore and no harbour.
"All the evidence we have found now points to a thriving cosmopolitan port of some importance."
Mr Anderson stressed, however, that there was no prospect of detailed excavations being carried out at the site in the search for further clues to Findhorn’s past because of the shifting tides and dangerous currents in the area.
Atlantis: City under the sea
ATLANTIS. Population unrecorded but probably millions.
According to Plato (427-347 BC) the history of Atlantis begins when the gods divide the world amongst themselves. Poseidon, god of the sea, creates the lost island, larger than Asia and Libya combined, for his love, a mortal woman named Cleito, more than 11,000 years ago.
She bears him ten sons. They name the firstborn Atlas, and Poseidon names the islands and the surrounding ocean in honour of his son.
For centuries Atlantis flourishes, but the Atlanteans begin to worship the false gods of wealth, idleness and luxury.
In 9,600BC (according to Plato’s writings), corrupted by greed and power, the Atlanteans embark on a war of world conquest. The only power that stands against them is Athens, the city dedicated to Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war.
Enraged by the actions of the Atlanteans, Zeus gathers the other gods to determine suitable retribution. Plato states: "Afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune ... the island of Atlantis disappeared into the depths of the sea."