The traditional fishing village of Whitehills lies some two miles west of Banff and four miles east of Portsoy. The A98 between these neighbouring settlements travels a little inland at this point, and it takes a conscious effort to turn off the main road to reach Whitehills: it is worth it in order to enjoy a village with a huge amount of character.
Surrounding a rocky bay immediately to the west of Knock Head, Whitehills enjoys a relatively sheltered spot on this sometimes wild and unforgiving north Aberdeenshire coast. As a result, a fishing village was well established here by the 1700s. This was served by a track from Banff and Inverboyndie, which, at the time, was home to a series of mills dotted along the line of the Burn of Boyndie.
By the mid 1800s, the small harbour at Whitehills was home to 160 fishing boats engaged in line fishing, each with a crew of three or four. This meant there was more than enough activity to justify the lifeboat station which opened here in 1860. Fishing entered a slow decline in the second half of the century, as larger boats and different methods came into vogue and Whitehills found itself competing as a harbour with the likes of Macduff, just three miles to the east. The village responded by building a much bigger and better harbour in 1900, which, when it opened, was still the home base of around 100 boats. Whitehills remained an active fishing port through the 1900s, making its name as the smallest port in Scotland that operated its own vessels and had its own fish market.
This changed in 1999 when, in the face of continuing changes in the structure of the fishing industry, the Harbour Commissioners at Whitehills took the decision to build a marina here and move away from the previous dependence on fishing. As the header image shows, Whitehills is now a very active leisure port, though you will still see fishing boats here, and the fish market still stands on the harbourside.
The harbour was built at the north-east end of Whitehills. As you move south-west along the shore from it, you pass the remaining workshops and fish-related businesses before coming into the traditional seatown of Whitehills. Strung out around a rocky bay, this is the real heart of the village, a jumble of cottages and houses, many turned gable end-on to the sea for protection. The north Aberdeenshire coast is home to many fine fishing villages, and Whitehills ranks highly among them. In the early days, fishing boats would be drawn out of the water and left between the houses, and an echo of this can still be seen.
Away from the shore, Whitehills climbs steadily to the south, offering a range of services including the Seafield Arms Hotel. The most striking landmark in the village is the tower of the Whitehills Parish Church. This has an unusual history. When Whitehills found itself in need of a new parish church in 1926, it responded by purchasing the redundant United Presbyterian Church in Banff, dismantling it stone by stone, transporting it to Whitehills, then reassembling it in its current location.
Not far from Whitehills are the slightly scattered settlements of Boyndie and Inverboyndie. By the late 1800s the latter was home to the very large Banff Distillery, located near the mouth of the Burn of Boyndie and producing 200,000 gallons of malt whisky each year. In 1866 the Ladysbridge Asylum was built in Boyndie on a site a mile inland from Whitehills. This was still in use as a 600-bed psychiatric hospital in the 1980s, but in more recent times has been transformed for housing as Ladysbridge Village.
Whitehills is also associated with RAF Banff, which was based at Boyndie Airfield. This lies inland from the coast, west of Whitehills, and a little over two miles from the village. It opened in 1943, initially as a training base. From September 1944 it became home to the RAF Banff Strike Wing, flying Beaufighters and Mosquitos to attack enemy surface vessels and U-boats in the North Sea and and targets along the Norwegian coastline. A memorial alongside the A98 is dedicated to the 80 airmen killed in flying operations from here during the last nine months of the war. The airfield closed in 1946 and later saw use as a short-lived flying club. It is now home to the Boyndie Wind Farm.