Garmouth lies a mile inland from the Moray Firth and a few hundred yards west of the River Spey. Given its location it is difficult to imagine that it was a significant port from the 1500s until the middle of the 1800s.
Today's Garmouth is a jumble of attractive cottages and houses, arranged apparently at random around a pattern of streets that seems to have grown organically over time. The result is a charming village that contrasts strongly with the many planned settlements of North East Scotland.
If a port well away from the coast and the river seems an oddity, calling it "Garmouth" seems even stranger: if anything you'd expect it to have been called Speymouth. The name is actually rather misleading, having nothing to do with rivers or their mouths. It comes from the Gaelic "gearr magh" meaning short - or more probably narrow - plain. This explains the name of the settlement when it was chartered as a burgh in 1587: Garmach.
As a burgh Garmouth was entitled to hold an annual fair, the Maggie Fair, on 19 June each year: and a marble plaque set into a building commemorates the holding of the 400th Maggie Fair in 1987. Another plaque in the village commemorates the landing here of King Charles II on 23 June 1650, in defiance of Cromwell, and his signing of the Covenant and the Solemn League immediately after coming ashore (see our Historical Timeline).
Garmouth is unusual in the construction of some of its early houses, which used a method called clay-bool. Large rounded beach stones were formed into walls using a mixture of clay mortar and straw to bind them together, with each course being allowed to dry before proceeding with the next. When finished with a coat of lime mortar the end result was indistinguishable from the traditional stone houses, and more than capable of keeping the occupants warm and dry.
As well as being an active port, Garmouth became an centre for the export of logs floated down the Spey from the Rothiemurchus Forest. In 1784 this led to the establishment of a new settlement a mile north of Garmouth at the very mouth of the Spey. Here the partnership of Dodsworth and Osborne, of Kingston-upon-Hull, set up shipyards and sawmills to turn the forests of the Duke of Gordon into profit for all involved. They called the new settlement Kingston-upon-Spey after their home town: it is now known simply as Kingston.
By 1860 the supply of wood was beginning to dry up, and the wandering Spey had changed its course in its lowest reaches making harbour operations at Garmouth increasingly difficult. With the arrival of the railway from Elgin to Buckie in 1886 the character of the village began to change from industrial to residential. The railway crossed the Spey via a steel girder bridge immediately to the east of Garmouth. The line closed in the 1960s, but the bridge remains in use by pedestrians.
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