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‘It’s Cornwall without the crowds’: Film for virtual boat festival could put Portsoy on tourist map

Portsoy aim to put themselves on the map for visitors.
Portsoy aim to put themselves on the map for visitors.

Film crews have become an increasingly common sight around Portsoy in the last few years.

But the latest production isn’t a major TV series about gangsters such as Peaky Blinders, or a remake of a comedy classic like the recently reinvented Whisky Galore.

This time, the star is the coastal community itself.

For the past few weeks, organisers of the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival have been capturing all that is special about Portsoy on film.

It’s part of a renewed effort to put the area on the tourist map as one of Scotland’s top destinations.

Visit Aberdeenshire recently described that stretch of the north-east coastline as “Cornwall without the crowds”.

The boat festival team are now hoping they can be the ones to lure more people to the picturesque spot.

Pandemic scuppered boat festival plans

Portsoy Community Enterprise (PCE) hoped that the nautical bash would go ahead later this month, after it was cancelled in 2020.

But by the end of April, the group of volunteers realised it was not feasible and instead threw all their efforts into the digital extravaganza.


There will still be plenty to appeal to fans of traditional boats, including film from a fishing vessel shot off the Macduff coast and contributions from the keepers of historic crafts from Anstruther to Shetland.

But as well as reeling visitors in for its return in 2022, the virtual event is aimed at making more people consider the region as an attraction.

‘We had thought all this would be over by June’

On a sunny morning at Portsoy Harbour, PCE development manager Richard Thorne told us about the choppy waters the group has navigated this year.

He said: “With the vaccine being rolled out, we had thought all this would be over by summer.

“So we committed to putting something on this June, but by April we realised it still couldn’t go ahead as normal.

“It is such a big deal for the town, we didn’t want to lose it for two years running.”

Richard added: “The Banffshire coast is a bit forgotten, the head of Visit Aberdeenshire called it ‘Cornwall without the crowds’.

“It has the scenery, it has the weather, it’s got everything but people.

“The boat festival has always been quite a ‘north-easty’ event but, with it going online, we can promote it much farther afield and show off the area more.”

Richard Thorne stopped for a chat at the pier

‘This show-reel will go around the world’

Event commentator Andrew Martin has taken on hosting duties for the virtual version of the event.

He said: “What I am proud of is the fact it’s Scotland’s traditional boat festival, and it’s about the host community welcoming tourists from around the world.

“We feel this is a showcase for the best of Scotland, this show-reel will go around the world and provide people with a real reason to visit this part of the world.”

Andrew Martin has provided event commentary for the past few years.

Cafe boss looking forward to return of tourists

We caught up with Portsoy Coffee Shop owner Jill Mair as she was making some Cullen Skink as part of a cookery demonstration for the virtual festival.

Between serving up steaming bowlfuls of the creamy broth, Jill told us how the sudden loss of tourist income affected the cafe – which is currently only open from Thursday to Sunday.

She said: “It has been a challenge, but we have kept going by coming up with different delivery ideas like our ‘dipping doughnuts’ box.

“I can’t wait to get the festival back and have all the tourists in town next summer.”

Jill Mair looking pleased with the Cullen Skink.

Ice cream parlour hoping for big boost next summer

Alec Murray is the proud owner of one of the most popular spots in town – the Portsoy ice cream shop.

Speaking as he was preparing to film some footage for the virtual event, Alec told us things were finally “on the up” following a “difficult” past year.

He said: “Tourism is very important, it creates jobs all along the coastline.

“All the bars and hotels, everything depends on that. And we really need that summertime rush.

“Hopefully there will be a big interest in coming here and we are giving people enough reasons to choose Portsoy.”

Esther Green speaks to Alec Murray ahead of filming. Picture by Wullie Mair

Ostriches and emus on farm outside town

The French family usually take part in the boat festival by setting up a stall of produce from their Little Rowater farm by the side of the harbour.

This year, they will be able to show virtual visitors about the land outside the town – and introduce them to the ostriches, emus and deer that live there.

Farmer Isla French addresses a potential global audience about her life on the outskirts of Portsoy. Picture by Wullie Marr.

Isla and George French are no stranger to film crews, having recently starred in the BBC’s This Farming Life series.

Isla, who is from Keith and was named after the river that flows through the town, is keen to highlight the region’s larder to international viewers.

She said: “We want to show off the produce you get around here, with our grass-fed Belted Galloway cattle and red deer.

“We usually sell at the festival, and we are looking forward to being back there next year.”

Marketing coordinator with PCE, Esther Green, hopes that being forced to change course by the pandemic will turn out to have been a blessing in disguise.

She said: “We see this as a chance to reach a wider audience, especially with staycations becoming more popular.

“The boat festival is about preserving and promoting our heritage, but this is also about economic regeneration.”

Read about the time the Peaky Blinders visited Portsoy to shoot some important scenes here.