PERCHED on Scotland’s shelf-like north-east coastline, Gardenstown was always going to be an unlikely home to a reality show starring erstwhile punk godfather Malcolm McLaren.
ITV’s The Baron also featured Mike “Runaround” Reid and Suzanne Shaw (once of Hear’Say). The trio were competing to become Baron of Troup but due to his unruly behaviour, the late Sex Pistols manager was run out of town. The Banffshire fishing village returned to normality when the TV cameras had packed up and gone. And a good thing too because Gardenstown (nicknamed Gamrie by the locals) is a tranquil little gem.
We were staying in Owl Cottage, a cosy dwelling in the part of the village known as Seatown. The cottages here are built side-on to the sea for protection from the worst of the gales and are separated by narrow, stepped lanes. It’s an architectural delight with great views on your doorstep and the beach just yards away.
BUDGET OR BOUTIQUE
Value for money at £423 for a seven-night stay. Ideal for a family holiday (it sleeps four) or for a couple seeking tranquillity. The wood-burning stove in the living room is a boon, while the kitchen is well stocked and includes a dishwasher and microwave. There are two bedrooms (one double, one twin) upstairs and a shower-room.
DVD and CD players are welcome additions to Owl Cottage and there is also a selection of books. Mobile reception is somewhere between tricky and nonexistent but there’s a landline if you really need to keep in touch with the outside world. The beach is on your doorstep and when the tide is out you can search for starfish and crabs.
WINING AND DINING
The Garden Inn is a real hub thanks to friendly staff and free wifi. Nice, uncomplicated menu and kids are welcome. It also has a pool table and Thursday is quiz night but be warned – the locals have it sewn up. For a special treat visit the Harbour Restaurant, the place to go if steaks are your thing. Booking essential. The Gamrie Larder sells local produce and the staff in the Spar are friendly and helpful.
There are plenty of culinary treats nearby. Visit Cullen for soup (obviously) but also try the Cullen Skink pies. Downie’s fish shop at Whitehill is worth a visit for these and other pescatarian treats. Further west is Portsoy, home to quite possibly the world’s finest ice cream shop. It boasts a bewildering array of flavours including Cranachan and Fudgey Wudgey Sandwich, and you get to try before you buy.
WORTH GETTING OUT OF BED FOR
Leave Owl cottage, walk to the seafront and turn left for a bracing walk up the hill to the Old Kirk of St John. Built in 1513 to celebrate the defeat of the Danes at this site in 1004, it was restored in the 1960s when the remains of the roof were removed. It’s a fairly steep climb but worth it for the views.
Head in the other direction for Gardenstown harbour where the visitor centre is worth a look. Wild salmon fishing has begun again after a 20-year lull which is good news for local restaurants but bad news for the seals, many of which have been culled.
Leaving the village, visit Troup Head to see gannets and puffins and try dolphin spotting in Cullen Bay. Nearby Pennan is a delight and Local Hero fans shouldn’t miss the chance to get their photo taken at the famous old red phone box.
Further afield, Duff House at Banff (ten miles away) has impressive grounds, a coffee shop and playground. The nearby football and rugby pitches are great for a kickaround with the kids. There is also a woodland walk which takes in a mausoleum and ice house.
A small patio at the front of Owl Cottage is perfect for barbecues. It’s sheltered and has sunset views to the Black Isle. To get to Owl Cottage you must drive along the harbour wall at Seatown, both exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure.
Nothing beats being tucked up in a warm cottage as nearby waves batter harbour walls. Throw another log on the fire, pour yourself a local malt and tuck into a Cullen Skink pie.
• Owl Cottage, Gardenstown near Banff, 0845 268 0760, www.cottages4you.co.uk