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Chapter 2. General Characteristics, Position and Natural Conditions

We often speak of an imaginary line from Helensburgh to Stonehaven as marking off the Highlands from the Central Lowlands. This, however, is not the whole truth. For, while part of Banffshire is certainly highland, its northern part is really lowland—a statement holding good also for its eastern and western neighbours. This lowland region on the Moray Firth is geologically, topographically and meteorologically different from the highland region to the south, and consequently differs considerably in density of population, in products and in the occupations of the inhabitants.

Banffshire lies between latitude 570 6' and S70 2' north, and between longitude 2 15' and 3 40' west. To the east and south it has Aberdeenshire; to the west the shires of Inverness and Moray.

Near the coast the surface is comparatively level and is mostly of fine, open, undulating country, of rich, highly cultivated soil. In the south and south-east it is mountainous, with extensive and good farms however in the fertile glens. The chief mountain ranges, rivers and strike of the stratified rocks, run from south-west to north-east, the whole county being an extensive slope in the same direction, from the Grampians to the Moray Firth.

In the south are productive deer-forests, and some of the grouse-moors, extending to tens of thousands of acres, are among the finest in Scotland.

In other aspects, too, Banffshire stands pre-eminent. Despite its comparatively short sea-board, it has a greater wealth than any other county in herring-fishing plant and stands supreme in the size and the value of its herring-fishing fleet, propelled either by steam or motor engine. Along its shores, from the bay of Gamrie westward to Portgordon, is the largest aggregation of herring and line fishermen, who, in the herring fisheries of Scotland, and only to a less extent in those of England and Ireland, exercise a decisive influence. Not a few fishermen from the county were selected by the Congested Districts Board to introduce and teach Scottish fishing methods in Ireland, and requests have come from Japan for them to undertake similar work there. The manufacture of malt whisky represents a large and important interest, and probably the county output of spirits is the largest in Scotland. For many years Banffshire has possessed an advanced system of agriculture, and farming may be taken as the leading industry. With a comparatively mild climate along a considerable width of the seaboard, agricultural conditions are wonderfully favourable. But in districts such as Glenrinnes, the Cabrach, Kirkmichael and parts of Glenlivet, where cultivated land climbs from the valleys up the hillsides and abuts on the heather, the more or less absolute failure of a crop is not unknown, and in some years in these high altitudes the storms of the northern December see cereal crops lying unsecured, destroyed by weather and consumed by game. In the large parish of Cabrach, an extensive area of which is moorland, hill and forest, is the farm of Reekimlane: it was the only "reekin' lum" left in the parish in a time of physical stress and hardship caused by crop failures. Besides agriculture, fishing and distilling, there are minor industries —boat-building, tweed manufacture, the making of agricultural implements, lime-burning and the like; but these are not of the same general importance.

Banffshire has for long been noted for its love of education, and the most potent export indeed, is not its whisky, its black cattle, or its herrings, but young men and women fitted by education and discipline to play a creditable part in the affairs of life. The teachers of the county enjoy the benefit of the bequest of James Dick, a West Indian and London merchant, born at Forres in 1743, who died in 1828, and left 113,000 to promote higher learning among the parish schoolmasters of Aberdeenshire, Banffshire and Moray. The influence of the bequest has been most beneficial in encouraging country schools to maintain a high standard of education. Such schools as those of Banff, Fordyce, Keith, Tomintoul and others have for many years occupied an important place in the higher educational activities of the county, and through them there is maintained an intimate connection with the University of Aberdeen. At a meeting in the county, Professor Laurie, after an experience of 35 years as Dick Bequest Visitor, said that he had some knowledge of what was going on in America, Germany and France and he would assure them it was a fact, as he had stated, that Banffshire stood quite at the head of all educational effort and machinery and efficiency of any part of the civilised world he knew of or read of.

The magnificent sea-cliffs and the fine sea-views attract artists. Many visitors come annually to the bathing-places and the golf links with their bracing air—bracing it must be for the breezes sweep off the sea straight from the Arctic Zone with no land between the Banffshire coast and the North Pole. Inland, too, the summer visitor resorts to places like Dufftown and Tomintoul, while in Cairngorm and Ben Macdhui the mountaineer finds fit kingdoms to conquer. The geologist and the naturalist will also discover much of interest in the county.

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