Cruden Bay is the village that lies at the northern end of the two mile arc of wide pink sands that forms the Bay of Cruden. The purist would say that the harbour area is more properly known as Port Erroll, and Cruden Bay itself lies a little inland: but as you stroll around you're unlikely to notice the difference.
Approaching from the west, the first you see of Cruden Bay is St James's Church, prominently positioned on Chapel Hill amid open fields. With a spire that makes it one of the most prominent landmarks in the area, St James's was built in 1842. The font comes from a much earlier chapel built here some time before 1100 to mark the site of a battle between Danes and Scots in 1012. Who won? There's a clue in the origins of the name "Cruden", which comes from the Gaelic Croch Dain or "Slaughter of Danes".
The origins of Cruden Bay are associated with the building nearby of Slains Castle on the base of an earlier tower house in 1597. The Earl of Erroll didn't stop with his new castle, he also built a harbour at Port Erroll. Its distant descendant remains in use today: more functional than pretty, but with good views along the sands of the Bay of Cruden. The way in which fishing nets are hung up to dry near the harbour gives a good impression of their complexity and structure not usually obvious when you see them piled on the harbourside.
Access to the superb beach is by means of a white wooden foot bridge across the Water of Cruden from the harbour road: though beware flying golf balls from the course on high ground to the west of the river.
Cruden Bay became the name for the settlement followed the arrival in Port Erroll in 1897 of a branch railway line from Ellon. The Great North of Scotland Railway Company tried to attract people to use their railway by building the luxurious Cruden Bay Hotel on the high ground above Port Erroll. This came complete with a golf course and its own narrow-gauge tramway to link it to Port Errol.
The hotel was little more successful than nearby Slains Castle, which had been stripped of its roof in 1925. The branch railway from Ellon and the tramway were both closed in the 1930s, though a tram car from the latter can still be seen in the Grampian Transport Museum at Alford. The Cruden Bay Hotel spent WWII as a military hospital, and was later demolished.
Cruden Bay did not do well during the 1950s and 1960s and its population fell steadily. The turning point came with the discovery of oil under the North Sea in the 1970s. With the growing wealth of Aberdeen to the south and Peterhead to the north came a steady stream of people looking for attractive places to live: and Cruden Bay fitted the bill ideally. As a result its population more than doubled between 1971 and 1981.
Despite this rapid recent growth, Cruden Bay remains an attractive village. The golf courses, the beach and the rocky cliffs that flank it all provide a timeless atmosphere, and the village itself has a nice feel as well as a reasonable range of services.