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Issue 99 - The Bullers of Buchan

Scotland Magazine Issue 99
June 2018


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The Bullers of Buchan

Aberdeenshire’s coastal marvel

On the high cliffs of the Buchan Coast, just north of Cruden Bay, there remains a row of cottages that historically belonged to a small fishing village known as Bullers. Below this is a collapsed sea cave forming a circular chasm some 200 feet deep, where the sea crashes in through a natural archway. Today, the cottages are also accessible from a rough and spectacular coastal path through the Longhaven Wildlife Reserve towards Boddam, or the equally dramatic clifftop path from Cruden Bay.

It was in the spring of 1773 that the English writer and lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson and his Scottish sidekick James Boswell embarked upon their celebrated tour of the Hebrides. On their rather circuitous route around Scotland, this eccentric couple found themselves south of Peterhead as guests of the 17th Earl of Erroll at Slains Castle. On their first morning, the distinguished pair were taken on an excursion by Lord Erroll's brother, Charles Boyd, to inspect ‘a circular basin of large extent, surrounded by tremendous rocks’. Boswell went on to comment: ‘In some places the rock is very narrow, and on each side you have a sea deep enough for a man-of-war to ride in, so that it is somewhat horrid to move along... It was rather alarming to see Mr Johnson poking his way. He insisted to take a boat and sail into the Pot. We did so.’

Writing in turn, Samuel Johnson observed: ‘We were enclosed by a natural wall, rising steep on every side to a height which produced the idea of insurmountable confinement. The interception of all lateral light caused a dismal gloom. Round us was a perpendicular rock, above us the distant sky, and below an unknown profundity of water. If I had any malice against a walking spirit, instead of laying him in the Red-sea, I would condemn him to reside in the Buller of Buchan.’

There is some debate as to the origins of the name ‘Bullers’. Charles Boyd informed James Boswell that it derived from the French ‘bouilloire’, meaning ‘to boil’, thus encapsulating the frothy appearance of the sea water during a storm. Most likely, however, it is taken from an old Scots word depicting a rush of water with an accompanying sound of waves crashing through the archway. Either way, the Bullers of Buchan remains a remarkable natural phenomenon.

In the summer, colonies of seabirds (kitiwakes, puffins, fulmars and guillemots) populate the granite cliff faces, while wild flowers colour the landscape. But for Dr Johnson, it was a ‘monstrous cauldron which no man can see with indifference who has either sense of danger or delight in rarity’.

Today, visitors are advised to take care while walking to the Bullers as the cliffside path is rough underfoot.


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