Banff started life as a port on the west side of the mouth of the River Deveron in the 1100s, and there is evidence that King Malcolm IV stayed here for at least part of 1163. However the town's harbour suffered from silting in the 1800s, leaving Macduff, on the east side of Banff Bay, to take up the role of principal commercial port along this stretch of coast.
Banff and Macduff don't quite merge. They are separated by the valley of the River Deveron. This unpredictable river was only finally tamed by the seven arched bridge completed in 1799 by John Smeaton, whose other claims to fame included the Eddystone Lighthouse. An earlier bridge had been built here in 1765, but it was swept away in 1768. The old ferry the earlier bridge had replaced was brought back into use, until it was lost in a flood in 1773.
Within the Deveron Valley lies Duff House, designed by William Adam, built between 1735 and 1740, and widely thought to be one of Britain's finest Georgian houses. Duff House was built for William Braco, who became Earl of Fife in 1759.
The story of Duff House did not get off to a happy start. Disputes over its building reached such an intensity that William Braco never lived here. So acrimoniously did this end that it is said that he never even looked at the completed house, having his carriage blinds drawn whenever he passed by. Which, if true, is a shame, because he missed something well worth seeing.
These days Duff House serves as part of the National Gallery of Scotland and houses a range of art treasures and superbly furnished rooms. It also hosts a programme of artistic events and is used as a base for artists and writers.
Banff itself contains a variety of fascinating architecture in a number of contrasting styles. Georgian architecture abounds in the "upper town", while down towards the harbour there are examples of more functional styles.
Though no longer a commercial port, the harbour still serves leisure traffic and the area is well worth a look for a sense of what Banff must have been like before the coming of its more upmarket upper town.
Banff's Tourist Information Centre opens during the summer and can be found by the car park you pass en route to Banff Bridge and Macduff. One of their audio tours provides an excellent way to gain an insight into the town, its history and its architecture.
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