As you drive along the A98 from Cullen to Portsoy your attention tends to be drawn to the tempting signs pointing out coastal destinations such as Findlater Castle and Sandend. But keep a look out for signs pointing inland to the historic village of Fordyce, a mile or so off the main road. Follow the signs and you find a magical place, a warren of narrow streets still following a medieval plan, and all wrapped around a magnificent centrepiece, Fordyce Castle, simply sitting on a bend in the village street.
Fordyce is a startling contrast to many of the planned or improved villages along or near the north coast of Aberdeenshire. It originally grew up as the focus of a large rural parish, and "Kirktoun of Fordyce" became chartered as a Burgh of Barony in 1499, a status that allowed it to hold regular markets and fairs.
In 1842 the village was recorded as holding a fair at All-Hallows on the last Wednesday of October, and another on the last Thursday in November. Both saw the trading of sheep and cattle, while the October fair also became a centre for the hiring of farm labour. In earlier times, Fordyce was also permitted a very unusual Sunday market, held in the kirkyard. In the end it emerged that this was due to the misreading of an early charter, a realisation that brought to an end a long period of conflict between church authorities and often drunken market-goers.
An echo of this conflict persisted until at least the end of the 1700s, when the Parish Minister recorded that it remained part of his role to maintain some sort of order in the village ale-houses on market days. Today's Fordyce has no pubs to disturb the tranquility: nor, for that matter, any markets.
The origins of the village go back some 1400 years to the foundation of a church here by the Pictish Saint, St Tarlarican (or St Tarquin). Today the remains of this Old Fordyce Church parts of which date back to 1272, can be found scattered around the old kirkyard. The church here was abandoned in 1804 when a new parish church was built at the other end of the village. What remains today forms one of the most interesting old churchyards in North East Scotland.
Fordyce Castle was built by Thomas Menzies, Laird of Durn and one time Provost of Aberdeen, in 1592. At its core is a typical 16th Century L-plan tower house, three storeys high, and amply provided with gun loops and shot holes. The west wing was added some time around 1700. The castle has seen varied use over the years. In more recent times it has been restored and is now partly private home, partly self catering accommodation.
Thomas Menzies also founded a school here, the start of a story of academic excellence that by 1882 saw four schools operating in the village, including one for girls, one associated with the Free Kirk, and one held in the castle. A new school was built in 1882 and became known as Fordyce Academy in 1900. The Academy achieved such high standards that it became known as the "Eton of the North". It closed in 1964. Today part of what was the Academy serves as the village primary school
For visitors, Fordyce also offers an attractive park opposite the old kirkyard, plus Victorian garden and a nearby joiner's workshop and visitor centre. But the main attraction is without any doubt the village itself. Narrow streets, lovely houses and cottages complete with gardens overflowing with roses. If you want to pass some time in a quiet and very beautiful village, then Fordyce really is worth a look.