Portgordon - A Picturesque Fishing Village

Written by Chris Thornton | 11th of March 2024
Portgordon on the Moray Firth Coast

Portgordon, found on the spectacular Moray Coast of Scotland, is celebrated for its breathtaking sunsets and the rare, magical display of auroras. Its exceptional geographical position and pristine natural environment attract nature enthusiasts and photography lovers.

I live near Portgordon, and it's a lovely wee town worthy of an article on this website.

What to see in Portgordon

Portgordon is a small place, but it has a lot to offer:

Portgordon Seal Colony at Portgordon Beach

The coastal village is renowned for the seals that make their home here, lounging on the shoreline or gliding through the nearby waters. These seals have become a beloved highlight for tourists, prompting many to visit Portgordon to see them.

The allure of seal watching in Portgordon draws crowds eager to observe these captivating animals. Key spots for seal viewing include the Harbour wall, the cliffs by the beach, and the remains of the old pier. Summer is the ideal season for seal sightings as they approach the shore to breed and nurture their offspring. I have often photographed the seals on the beach; the best time to see them is at low tide.

On Portgordon Beach is a 19th-century ice house, which is interesting for a quick look while walking by.

Portgordon Beach. The third new village founded by Alexander 4th Duke of Gordon.
Portgordon Beach. The hill in the background is the Bin of Cullen.
 
Young Portgordon seals on the north west corner
Portgordon Seals.
 
The Portgordon Seals are a popular tourist attraction
A seal at Portgordon Beach.

Portgordon Harbour

Portgordon has its own historic harbour, currently not used for boats but a great place for a walk and photography. The harbour entrance is currently silted up with stones, making it impossible for boats to access it, but Portgordon Community Harbour Group has big plans to regenerate the harbour and convert it into a marina.

Portgordon Community Trust website.

Portgordon Harbour, currently owned by the Crown Estate.
Portgordon Harbour.
 
Portgordon was once a fishing village
Portgordon Harbour.

The Aurora Borealis

The skies north of Portgordon occasionally light up with the aurora borealis, offering a spectacular natural light show. The village's minimal light pollution provides perfect conditions for observing these vibrant colours streaking across the night sky. From Portgordon Beach between Buckie, I have personally observed the northern lights and taken photographs.

Aurora Borealis from Portgordon Beach.
The Aurora Borealis as seen from Portgordon Beach.

Sunsets

A highlight of Portgordon is the breathtaking sunsets it offers. Guests can watch as the sun dips below the horizon, casting a spectrum of hues from vibrant oranges to gentle pinks across the sky. This scene becomes even more stunning when viewed from the village's scenic beach. Here, the golden sands and the North Sea's gentle waves create an idyllic backdrop for the dramatic skies above.

Portgordon sunset.
A sunset overlooking Portgordon.

What to see near Portgordon

Buckie

The largest town in East Moray has a brilliant fishing museum, a vibrant working harbour, and some fabulous architecture, such as St Peter's Church. Buckie offers more shops and accommodation options.

Bow Fiddle Rock

Just along the coast to the east is Portknockie, home to Bow Fiddle Rock, a natural sea arch resembling a fiddle's bow (violin). It's a lovely place for a walk, picnic, or photographing seabirds.

Spey Bay

Spey Bay is where the Spey River meets the North Sea. It is an area of stunning natural beauty and home to many forms of wildlife. The WDC Scottish Dolphin Centre can be found here and has a great deal of information on dolphins and whales in the Moray Firth... it also has a lovely cafe.

The viewing areas near the centre allow visitors to see whales (including orcas), dolphins, and seals. I highly recommend a lovely walk from Spey Bay to Spey Viaduct and across to Garmouth.

Spey Bay waves.
Spey Bay.

History of Portgordon

Portgordon, named initially Port Gordon, emerged in 1797 under the guidance of Alexander, the 4th Duke of Gordon, marking it as the third village he established, following Tomintoul and Fochabers. This development granted crucial sea access, enhancing trade and communication. The construction of its harbour utilized stones from Lossiemouth, elevating Portgordon to a significant maritime hub, surpassing even Buckie in importance at the time. The village thrived on a bustling trade, exporting grain and importing essentials like salt, coal, and bones, which were processed into fertilizer.

By almost a century later, the original harbour could no longer support the booming activity and underwent a comprehensive overhaul and expansion led by Charles Gordon-Lennox, the 6th Duke of Richmond, to accommodate the growing fleet of boats. The harbour saw further renovation a century later, thanks to the efforts of the 69th Gurkha Independent Field Squadron, which tackled significant deterioration of this historic structure.

The arrival of the Moray Firth Coast Railway in 1886 was a turning point, enhancing transportation links and fostering business and employment opportunities. Although shipbuilding in the adjacent Kingston dwindled by the early 1900s, Portgordon enjoyed a boat-building renaissance between 1903 and 1915, with steam drifters in high demand, signalling a peak in industrial and economic activity. This era also saw the construction of numerous substantial residences and the flourishing of shops and pubs, indicative of the village's prosperity. However, it wasn't until the mid-20th century that most homes in Port Gordon saw the advent of electricity, earning it the nickname 'Paraffin City'.

Crown estates commissioners closed the harbour after World War 2 due to lack of activity. The harbour would languish in a state of disrepair, further being damaged in 1953. The 69th Gurkha Independent Field Squadron repaired the harbour between 1985 and 1989.

The community embraced its unique character, and in 2001, they affectionately named their community hub "The Lampie Hoose," located in the historic Gordon Square.

Aerial photo of Portgordon Community Garden
Portgordon Community Garden.

FAQs on Portgordon

Where can I buy food in Portgordon?

There is a Spar shop on the west side of town, open 7 am—7 pm. Further afield, there are supermarkets in Buckie to the east, including Tesco, Coop, and Lidl.

Is the harbour still active in Portgordon?

The harbour has silted up at the main entrance, making it impossible for boats to access. Plans are underway to repair the entrance and make it usable again.

Portgordon or Port Gordon?

It is all one word and pronounced Portgordon.

Key information on Portgordon in Moray

  • Portgordon is a beautiful coastal village located on the Moray Coast between Spey Bay and Buckie.

  • Around 780 people live in Portgordon.

  • Portgordon has a harbour that is currently unused, but Portgordon Community Trust Ltd hopes to revamp it.

  • A big draw to the town is the colony of seals on the beach east of the harbour wall.

  • Portgordon Beach is a popular spot to view the Northern Lights / Aurora Borealis and sunsets.

  • Portgordon is a picturesque coastal home base from which to explore East Moray.

Portgordon's natural surroundings wide angle photo
Super wide-angle view of Portgordon.

Conclusion

Portgordon is a lovely village in northeast Scotland. The village's unique location offers stunning sunsets, the Aurora Borealis, and wildlife, and the town itself is lovely to walk through particularly harbourside.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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