THE SEAPORT OF FINDHORN
Before 1702, the port of Findhorn stood one mile north-west of where it is today. It was a busy seaport, important enough to be made a Burgh of Barony in 1661. It was well documented in ancient maps and Bills of Lading for the ships which visited the harbour regularly carrying cargoes to and from ports in Scotland, England, the Baltic and Holland. One Bill of Unloading dated 1647 listed a cargo of salt, French wine, vinegar, iron pots, kettles and tobacco for Findhorn.
About 1670, Elgin merchants frequently used the port of Findhorn for importing mixed goods and exporting 'beef, tongues, tallow, hydes and malt'. Towards the end of the 17th century, the magistrates of Elgin attempted to get possession of the Findhorn trade by diverting it to Lossiemouth, then a village belonging to them. Thereafter, Findhorn became regarded primarily as the port for Forres whose magistrates commanded considerable privileges. Thus all incoming cargoes, including fish from local boats, had first to be offered to the Forres merchants, and only if refused by them could they be sold on the open market.
During the period 1690-1700 the sand drifts which were swallowing up the Barony of Culbin were also affecting the course of the River Findhorn. At that time the river turned westward above Binsness and flowed in a westerly direction for about five miles until it entered the Moray Firth near the Old Bar. The inhabitants of Findhorn, having anticipated the danger for some years, had been building new homes and moving their possessions to the 'New Findhorn', located about a mile south east on the Estate of Muirtown. On the 11th of October 1702, during a great wind storm, the original course of the river was finally blocked by drifting sand, thus causing the river to sweep a new course through the old village, flooding all before it. The bustling seaport, known to mariners from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, was now inundated by the waters of the Moray Firth.
With the old town gone, the resolute villagers of Findhorn got on with the job of rebuilding and restoring the status of their seaport in its present location. In 1778 an Act of Parliament was passed for the construction of a harbour, fixing the dues and enacting the laws for the regulation of shipping. The pier was built '130ft long, 20ft broad at the top and 14ft high above the ground at the end next the sea'. Today this is known as the North Pier.
For fifty years, the trade of this busy port was plied from the single pier which must have been in constant use. Apart from a considerable fishing fleet, regular shipping included four vessels of 90-130 tons on the London trade - completing five or six voyages in the year. Smaller vessels (70-90 tons) were employed in the trade with Leith, and trade with Aberdeen was steady. Flax, tow, iron, soap, ropes and dressed hemp were shipped in. The flax was spun in Elgin, Forres and Nairn and then re-exported to the large cities via Findhorn. From London came sugar, tea, hops, porter, silk hats, ribbons, buttons etc. and from Sunderland, coal was supplied to the North of Scotland through Findhorn harbour for many years. The principle exports were grain, dyed threads (spun in the village), salmon, timber and eggs.
In 1830, after many petitions and complaints from masters of vessels compelled to stand off for as long as a week, additional facilities were provided at a cost of £1300. The original pier was enlarged and improved and a second, also of hewn stone, added with breastwork between the piers. The old North Pier was used mainly by fishing boats while the South Pier, the property of the Burghers of Forres, was for the use of merchant vessels.
From 1837 shipbuilding was carried on in findhorn making fishing smacks and barques for the coastal trade. In five years ten boats of oak and larch from Darnaway Estate, were launched. In 1866 'Minnie of Mayfield' was built in Findhorn -'112ft in length, 25ft in breadth and 15ft in hold'. Along with shipbuilding there were the allied trades of sail and ropemaking.
Although Findhorn was regarded as a seaport rather than a fishing village, there is no doubt that trade in the 19th century was greatly influenced by fishing. There was a flourishing cooperage making barrels for salt herring. Haddocks were cured and dried in the unique way, producing the tasty 'Findhorn Speldings'. Salmon fishing was also a very important industry. In the mid 19th century an average of 600 boxes of salmon, each containing 34lbs and packed with ice, were shipped annually to London.
With the constant movement of so many ships, the provision of food for victualling the vessels was an industry in itself. Consequently Findhorn was well supplied with butchers, bakers, 'general dealers', etc. The village had two schools, a Friendly Society and a temperance Coffee House. Three fairs were held annually for the buying and selling of sheep, cattle and horses. In 1842 the local minister wrote - 'Of licensed public houses and whisky shops there is a superabundant number, no fewer than 13. That they have a demoralising tendency is most apparent'.
On 18th April 1860, the Findhorn Railway, running from Kinloss to the pier, was eventually opened. Although it carried passengers, if was built primarily to convey cargo to and from the ships using the piers. Unfortunately the railway was never a financial success and it was closed on the 30th January 1869 despite an upturn in shipping trade about that time.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the bay became increasingly shallower and navigation of the Bar increasingly difficult. The larger boats abandoned their visits and the decline of Findhorn as a port had begun. This also coincided with improvement in road and rail communications between Moray and the rest of the country and the consequent downturn in the coastal trade of the British merchant shipping fleet.
Findhorn continued as a fishing port, but eventually , as fishing boats became larger and the bay shallower and more tide-bound, the neighbouring village of Burghhead became the preferred port of fishermen.
The halcyon days of the bustling seaport were over and Findhorn gradually assumed the role of an idyllic and peaceful haven for the resident and visitor alike to indulge their maritime or shore based interests at leisure.