A mile south of Inverbervie, Gourdon is one of the few natural harbours along this stretch of east-facing Aberdeenshire coast. It is likely that a fishing settlement existed here in Neolithic times, 5,000 years ago, with residents burying their dead in the Long Cairn on Gourdon Hill to the west of the village.
The first written reference to the village was in 1315, to a farming and fishing settlement called Gurden, which is how the name of the village is still pronounced by those living here. An active port was in operation by the 1500s and by the end of the 1700s the population had reached 200.
By the 1830s Gourdon was exporting grain grown in the area and importing coal for fuel and lime for agricultural improvements. But the coming of the railway to this part of the east coast in 1865 took away much of Gourdon's sea-borne trade.
Fishing rapidly took over as the predominant activity and in the 1881 season over 8,000 barrels of herrings were exported from Gourdon. The herring declined in the early 1900s and by 1912 fishermen from Gourdon had switched to long line fishing from motor boats, some of the first in Scotland to do so.
Long line fishing entailed laying a series of lines about 1,000m long across the sea bed, one for each man on the boat. Attached to each line were around 800 hooks, baited with mussels by the women of the village. Getting the mussels and baiting the hooks could take up to 9 hours per day and each fisherman had two lines, one being used, the other being baited for the following day.
At least one vessel operating from Gourdon was still employing this labour intensive method of fishing into the 1990s. Others had moved more to seine net or cod net fishing, supplemented in spring and summer by lobster and crab fishing.
The original harbour was simply a gap between rocks, but in 1819 Thomas Telford built what is now known as the Old Harbour or West Harbour. This was expanded in 1842 and another harbour added in 1859. The harbours at Gourdon were most recently renovated in 1960.
Gourdon's chief attraction for visitors is its strong sense of being a working fishing port. Lobster pots are piled around the harbour and traditional fish merchants like Ian Craig still fillet and smoke fish in sheds on the harbourside and sell it from their fish vans across the area. A lot more Scottish ports used to be like Gourdon, and sadly it seems that fewer will be in future: but we hope that Gourdon weathers the vagaries of the fishing industry as it has in the past and that it continues to thrive.
The village of Gourdon lies behind the harbour and rises in terraces up the hillside towards the line of the A92, which bypasses the village as it makes its way north into Inverbervie. Close to the harbour is the small building housing the excellent Maggie Law Maritime Museum Maggie Law was a double ended surf lifeboat boat capable of assisting vessels having difficulty entering the harbour. From its launch in 1890 until it ceased operation in 1930 it saved 36 lives. The Maggie Law supplemented the RNLI Lifeboats which were based at Gourdon from 1878 until 1969, when it was decided coverage could be maintained by the lifeboats at Aberdeen and Montrose.
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