During the 1700s there was no village of Hopeman and it was not until 1803 when William Young purchased part of Inverugie estate and started to clear the area of sand dunes that the makings of a village was born. The majority of the coastline had been covered to a good depth in sand (over one meter) during the gales of the late 1600s when the Barony of Culbin, located between Findhorn and Nairn, was completely covered and lost. William Young removed the sand to build a small settlement and during 1805 advertised the benefits of moving to the new place called “Hopeman” in the local newspapers along the coast. From these a group of young fisher/farmers from the Ardersier and Pettie areas made the decision to make the move to start a new life and would most probably have travelled along the coast in their small open fishing boats. There was of course no harbour, similar to where they had just come from, and on arrival used the lovely sandy beaches as a boat hythe.
Mr Young soon realised that with the exposed location the boats required a harbour and so within a short period of time he build a small harbour consisting of an ‘L’ shaped pier that provided shelter from the north and east together with a shorter breakwater on the western end of the basin. William Young was earning a reputation as a practical estates manager and this led to his appointment as ‘Commissioner’ on the extensive Sutherland Estates in 1810. He was involved the ownership of lands during the Highland Clearances and with the development of villages such as Brora & Helmsdale. On returning to Hopeman in 1816, Mr Young purchased Burghead during 1819 as this was a much larger port based village, and sold Hopeman to William Stuart who owned plantations on Granada in the West Indies. Mr Stuart is thought to have spent several hundreds of pounds improving the harbour, however in 1828 it was described as ‘being in a very dilapidated condition and so very small that 9 or 10 boats is the utmost it will contain’. Mr Stuart also found deposits of lime rock at the top of Inverugie road and built lime kilns there along with a gravity railway to transport the lime from Inverugie to the harbour and so eliminate the cost of cartage. It was said that this railway was one of the first railways in Scotland.
At this time the harbour was used by the fishing boats and small cargo scooners to import coal and export lime. It was not until 1837 when the estate was sold to Captain (later Vice Admiral) Archibald Duff of Drummuir that major changes started as he invested heavily in the infrastructure of the village and the harbour. These commenced immediately and by 1939 upgrades had been completed and he placed advertisements in newspapers giving details on the harbour improvements which included a better and safer refuge for boats, more water depth, and advantages for boat builders and better facilities for fish curers. These improvements allowed the fishing station to rapidly develop and the village to expand. By the 1880s, Hopeman was one of the best fishing stations in the area and heavily dependent on the fishing industry with approximately 350 of the population of 1350 residents being fishermen or engaged in supporting industries such as curers, coopers, sailmakers, boat builders, chandlers, etc.
Vice Admiral Duff died during 1858 and left Hopeman to Mr Gordon Thomas Duff, a minor son, who also took great interest in Hopeman and seeing the fishing station expanding and earning money for him he started further discussions during 1882 to again extend and improve the harbour by adding a new basin west of the original harbour. These proposals were both difficult and controversial and it was not until 1888 that the Provisional Order was obtained and quotes for the work received. The work was given to the lowest bidder, George Pirie, whose background was mainly with railway and civil engineering and work started in 1888 and completed during 1992 around the same time as the opening of the new Alves –Burghead railway line extension to Hopeman. This new harbour more than doubled the size of the harbour and allowed berthing for the majority of the boats summer and winter. It was a real bonus for the larger sailing boats which previously had to be wintered ashore as they could now continue fishing and for the larger steam drifters who started using the port around 1902. The new design however did not eliminate the surging of boats in the harbours during adverse conditions and so the entrance to both harbours was changed by building a new, but much smaller, wall from the new west pier to the old pier wall and open up a new entrance to the old harbour creating a small island (Barbers Island) retaining the old entrance for boats heading to the new harbour — see photos and plans.
Silting had always been a problem in the harbour and it has been passed down that there were originally three holes through the small wall mentioned above which were designed to allow water and silt to move from the inner new harbour out to sea and so maintain a reasonable water depth against the inner harbour wall. This unfortunately was not very successful and so during 1898 a steam dredger was purchased from Helmsdale Harbour to deal with the accumulations of sand and the dredger can be seen in one of the attached photos. It is believed that these water holes were filled in by Moray Council many years ago. Since the building of the west pier and the changes to the harbour entrance there have been no further major changes or developments on the harbour construction. Many of the harbour features are original and the majority of works over the years have been with the maintenance of the harbour walls as they certainly take a beating during northerly gales.
Notes on the Harbour –
- a) The entrance to the harbour (the pintie) sits on what was called Coffin Rock and the name must reflect accidents that happened as boats lost control of the wind and seas as they approached the old pier. Prior to the building of the north wall there was a metal framework on the rock where the harbourmaster would light an oil lamp to guide back home boats which were out there at night.
- b) With the harbour extension completed two ‘leading lights’ were installed to give boats the correct course to steer when entering the harbour. One was next to the steps leading down to the water on the east harbour wall with the other above a stone and wooden structure at the end of the new west wall (sma pintie) The east light was higher than the west light and when both lights were in line your boat was on the correct course to enter the harbour. Originally oil lamps were used as they are now electric.
- c) At the harbour entrance on the south side along with on Barbour’s Island are large stone bollards which were used to assist the large steam drifters and motor boats as they entered and departed the harbour.
- d) The water depth at the harbour entrance reduces very quickly and mariners must ensure that there is always sufficient water to move within the harbour. Many a boat has foundered here when they struck the sand at the entrance during an ebb tide and ended up on the rocks on the wrong side of the sma pintie. The last of those was the motor vessel ‘Energy’ around 1949 which had previously been built at Sanny Findlay’s boatyard in Hopeman and it must have been quite a sad occasion for the both the owners and boat builders to see their stout boat end up being broken up on the rocks and then the beach as it was completely wrecked. Timbers from these wrecks kept many fisherman’s fire alight during the cold winter months.
Clashach pier was built during the early 1800s and is located approximately one mile east of Hopeman. The L shaped pier was built to export stone from Clashach quarry and apart from a few old photographs there is not much left of the structure. There is a section on this quarry and the pier within the Hopeman 1805-2005 book..
Gallery of Photographs & Plans