Abandoned Communities ..... Shifting Sands
The finds include various objects that had been imported from elsewhere. Rattray never became a major port, and its exports appear to have been limited, but some pottery came from other parts of eastern Scotland and from Scarborough. A few pieces came from the continent. It may have come directly into Rattray by sea, or it may have been landed at Aberdeen and then brought overland. Coal and some building materials such as sandstone would have been imported.

The harbour may sometimes have been used by vessels from elsewhere. In the first Statistical Account of Scotland, published near the end of the eighteenth century, it was reported that early in the seventeenth century fishing boats from the Netherlands made use of the harbour at Rattray.

The most significant event in the history of Rattray came in 1564. Since the defeat of John Comyn in 1308 ownership of the village had passed through various hands, but in 1564 two families believed they had a claim to it. The Keith family of Broadland assumed it belonged to them, but Andrew Hay, the proprietor of Haddo, another neighbouring estate, argued that Rattray should be forfeited to him as the Keith family had failed to maintain certain obligations of ownership.

The issue was dealt with by the Lords of Council and Session. Unable to resolve the matter the Lords recommended to Queen Mary that ownership should not be granted to either family, but instead the status of royal burgh should be conferred on Rattray. The effect of this status would be that the people of the village would be ruled directly by the crown, with a charter that granted a number of rights to them.

The rights listed in the charter included the right to set up a market cross and hold a weekly market, and to hold a fair twice a year. The citizens of the village, now called burgesses, would be encouraged to improve their houses by building with stone and lime instead of sods, and they were granted a large piece of ground as common land which they could sell or use as they thought fit.

The charter of 1564 is still in existence. It is listed by the National Archives of Scotland as document NRAS 1188/38, though oddly with the date of 1553. The NAS have told me that it is in private ownership, but I have not been able to find out from them whether the owner allows members of the public to look at it.

Its new status does not appear to have improved the prosperity of Rattray. Even before 1564 the population seems to have been in decline, and the mansion on the castle mound had been abandoned by the end of the previous century. After 1564 the absence of a single strong landowner to act on its behalf meant that Rattray was not able to compete effectively with neighbouring baronial burghs such as Fraserburgh.

In 1696 the Aberdeenshire poll tax returns indicate that there were 17 adults still living in Rattray. They included four fishermen, but it is likely that by that date access to the harbour was becoming increasingly difficult. The shingle spit north of the harbour would have been growing larger and extending further towards the south east, and sand may have been accumulating within the channel.

According to local tradition the final closure of the channel occurred during a storm around 1720. It was said that a hill of sand below the castle mound had been moved by strong east winds and had closed the gap between Rattray and the shingle spit. It was also believed that a small boat carrying a load of slates was trapped within the harbour, and the slates were used to roof the Mains of Haddo. The lake formed within the former bay, today called the Loch of Strathbeg, soon became filled with fresh water, and at the same time became larger as low lying land at its western end was flooded.

General Roy’s map of the Highlands, based on surveying done between 1747 and 1755, shows the chapel at Rattray, but no sign of a village.

If you are looking for accommodation near Rattray the eco-hostel at Rattray Head, run by Rob Keeble and Val Porter, can be highly recommended. You will have a choice of self catering or bed and breakfast accommodation. Even if you do not wish to stay, Rob and Val’s website at www.rattrayhead.net is well worth a visit.
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