Burghead- An Ancient Pictish Capital.
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Burghead- An Ancient Pictish Capital.

The small village of Burghead is located in Moray in the north east of Scotland. The village is positioned on the coast with picturesque views out across the Moray Firth and towards the North Sea. The village is on a peninsular and most of the residents here are surrounded on three sides by the sea.

The small village of Burghead is located in Moray in the north east of Scotland. The village is positioned on the coast with picturesque views out across the Moray Firth and towards the North Sea. The village is on a peninsular and most of the residents here are surrounded on three sides by the sea. The population of this tranquil setting is about 1600 people, behind the village and the beach is a large area of forestry land and farming is the major industry further inland.

The setting of the village of today is largely based upon the layout set between 1805 and 1809. During this process of designing the village and rebuilding the harbour the site of a Pictish hill fort was discovered. The, until then unknown site was damaged during the construction process of the village. The hill fort was at first thought to have dated from the time the Romans were present in Britain, but this discovery turned out to be much older than that. The hill fort was believed to have been a major centre for the Pictish people, some carvings on slabs of stone depict bulls and these have since become known as the Burghead Bulls. Toward the end of the building of the village in 1809 a well was discovered, inside this well were hidden chambers, the full reason or use for these chambers have not so far been discovered.

A link with the past is played out every year on or close to the 11th of January in an event called ‘The Burning of The Clavie.’ This annual event brings many visitors into the village for just a few hours as a burning barrel is carried aloft by some of the men from local families. This pagan festival is held in the early evening and dates from the 1700’s, it marks the start of the New Year, from the time before the Gregorian calendar was adopted in Scotland.

The hill fort is three times the size of any other defensive enclave of its type found in Scotland and is believed to be the oldest Pictish Hill Fort in Europe. Its defensive structures were largely through a series of banks and ditches, much of these were destroyed during the building of the village and its harbour in the early 19th century. The stone slabs depicting the bulls are displayed with four in local museums, one housed in the Royal Museum in Edinburgh and the sixth one can be seen at the British Museum in London. The doorie hill close to the site of where the hill fort once stood is where the burning of the clavie festival comes to a close each year. The burning barrel is left on the hillside to burn itself out, the cooling embers are given to local families as a sign of good luck for the year ahead.

The discovery of the chambered well led to speculation that it was a roman well or bath before it was dated as being older than this. It measures 11 feet across and is of the same measurement in height. It can only be reached down a flight of stone steps. Inside the well is a water tank 4 feet deep, fed by a spring. Its use or role is still unknown although it may have had some ceremonial use such as baptism or simply to worship water spirits.

At one time fishing was a major employer to the area with a large number of boats once sailing from the harbour. Less than 2% of the local economy is now dependant on this once thriving industry. Tourism is important to the local economy with guest houses and family run hotels offering seasonal and year round operations. On the edge of the village and overlooking the beach is a large caravan park housing static caravans for use mainly during the summer months. A railway line once operated into the village but this was close in the 1960’s as part of the infamous Beeching act to axe many non profitable lines across Britain. Large sections of the route of the railway are now used as a scenic cycle route for both cyclists and walkers through cuttings giving views past the headlands out across the North Sea.

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Comments (3)

I'm afraid I hadn't heard of it, but thanks for an enlightning article.

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Ranked #1 in Scotland

Excellent article.

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