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Sin I Cam By Johnshaven

About Johnshaven

Johnshaven lies on the Aberdeenshire Coast, just off the main A92 coast road, between Montrose and Inverbervie. Like Gourdon, not far to the north, it is a village in which fishing remains the focus of life. It is all too common to find villages in which parked cars occupy every spare space: Johnshaven is the only village we know where the cars are displaced by the parked boats. History fails to record who Johnshaven was named for, but it was an active fishing port at an early date. In 1722 it was said to be amongst the most important fishing towns in Scotland. There were 26 boats and at least 130 fishermen.

The largest boats with a crew of 10 were used only for 3 months in the summer for distant cod fishing, the smaller boats with a crew of eight the rest of the year, there being 13 boats of each type.

However it declined during the rest of the 1700s, partly following a fishing disaster, partly as a result of the activities of Royal Navy press gangs.

In 1790 a sailcloth works was set up in the village which helped Johnshaven recover. By 1820 the village was being described as "a colony for the manufacturers of Dundee".

Today you find a village in which a fair proportion of the population are still engaged in fishing and related activities, with lobsters and crabs being the main product. The fisherman's cottage with oilskins, boots socks and gloves drying in the sun outside looks staged, as does the wooden fish box on the quayside: and anywhere else they probably would be. But in Johnshaven these remain everyday sights. Of course, somewhere this attractive has also drawn in people who commute as far afield as Aberdeen and more locally to Montrose. Despite this, the village has avoided that dormitory feel that sometimes overtakes such places: and long may it remain so.

The ‘Sea Pie’, a steak beef, potato and onion medley, was born in Johnshaven. The local delicacy would have been lovingly made centuries ago to feed the crews of the fishing boats that came into the harbour.

The historic fishing village toasts its unique culture with an annual Fish Festival, attracting locals and visitors from across the world. The festival celebrates the village’s famous shellfish and its prominence in the maritime industry.

The most southerly of Aberdeenshire's seven harbours, Johnshaven has two basins separated by a central jetty. Extending to 5800 square metres with 330 metres of quay-side, the harbour offers quayside fresh water and there is a slipway available. Around 20 boats have regular moorings there and some are involved in commercial shell fishing. Lobster fishing is carried out locally and live lobsters can be seen – but not touched – stored in water tanks near the harbour before shipment to the Continent.

The more sheltered inner basin offers three to six metres of water at high tide but the harbour dries out at low tide and it is advisable to check access with the Harbourmaster. The very narrow entrance through a rocky foreshore can be difficult in winds from between North-East and South-East.


The most obvious peculiarity of speech, which the village has in common with the burgh of Montrose, and coastal villages from Usan (when it was inhabited) as far north as Catterline, is the use of toe, doe, yose, boets where inland speakers in the district would say tae, dae, yaise aand buits, for example: ”are ye gaen toe?”; “fat’s ‘e doein?” “far’s ma boets?” or “dinna yose that ee”.

Otherwise it is a version of the southern Mearns dialect which has more in common with the dialect of the neighbouring parts of Angus than with the part of the Mearns from Stonehaven northwards where North-East Scots is spoken and where there are quines rather than lassies and the above become : tee dee, eese and beets. Mearns Scots like that of Angus uses f for wh only in questions: foo, fat, far, fan for who what where when but not in other words such as white. Vocabulary for birds and sea creatures in Johnshaven is similar to that of Gourdon and Catterline; pleengs or pleengies for gulls, solan for gannet, log or loag for lugworm, rampers for ragworm, rotticks for “dead men’s fingers”, and pawpies for the red beadlet anemone, in Angus called papples at Arbroath, and clipes at Ferryden. David Adams, 1991