Ann Shaw discovers a hidden gem gently embracing tourism

YOU might have difficulty finding Fordyce on the map and getting there

could be even trickier, involving (for me) a five-hour car journey from

Glasgow -- but it is worth it. This unique North-east conservation

village lies just off the main Banff to Inverness road and is one of

Scotland's gems.

Until this summer few tourists visited it, but this season more than

6000 people have called, following the opening of the Fordyce Joiners

Workshop, a development marking a significant change for the village as

it embraces tourism.

Yet it almost didn't happen. Richard Leith, a planning officer with

Banff District Council, happens to live in Fordyce, and one evening he

was strolling through the village when he heard that the former joinery

business was up for sale. Moreover, the retiring joiner was leaving

behind a vast collection of tools.

The idea was born of keeping the workshop open, partly as a working

business and partly as a museum. ''As far as I am aware it's the only

one of its kind in Britain,'' says Richard Leith.

It represents a joint venture between Banff and Buchan District

Council and the North-East of Scotland Museums Service.

Sandy Hay, a former village joiner, recalls his working life: ''You

had to become a jack of all trades. You could be making everything from

a table to a cartwheel or coffin.''

Today the joiner is a 30-year-old Englishman, Richard Stupple, who

leases the premises from the council. He moved to Scotland three years

ago with his family from Wiltshire. Initially they intended to settle in

Cornwall but while on holiday in the North-east they fell in love with

the area.

''It's always been my dream to have my own business,'' says Richard.

''I find that people up here expect very good value for money. You could

charge double down South.''

This remains a working village with most people employed locally. You

notice immediately the manicured lawns with their lovingly tended flower

beds, and a total absence of litter. A good test of a village or town's

state of cleanliness is to visit their public lavatories. Fordyce's is

spotless, even with fresh soap and paper towels.

Neat picnic areas with wooden tables provide an oasis of tranquillity

in a village, apparently caught in a time warp, whose central feature is

amedieval castle, a model of Scottish baronial architecture but sadly no

longer open to the public nor lived in. Owned by an Englishman who lives

abroad, it is on the market at #185,000.

A church has stood on the site of Fordyce Kirk since the sixth

century, though originally it was associated with St Talarican, a

Pictish saint.

Christine Urquhart notes in her pictorial history of Fordyce, Mither O

The Meal Kist (an excellent booklet available locally) that the village,

although insular, was a thriving place at the turn of the century.

In 1900 it boasted two grocers, post office, drapery, blacksmith,

bakery, joiner, undertaker, two soutars, lime kilns and quarry, sawmill,

porter and alehouse, at least three places where you could buy milk, a

dressmaker, three tailoring businesses, two churches, two manses, two

ministers and a school. And even a studio where you could have your

photograph taken.

Today the post office, school, church remain and, of course, the newly

opened Fordyce Joiners Workshop. Meanwhile, plans include a tearoom and

gallery as the village steps into the nineties.

Fordyce school enjoyed an enviable reputation, so much so that it

became known as the Eton of the North and local residents would doff

their caps on meeting a Fordyce pupil.

In 1902 an HM inspector of schools wrote: ''The position of this

school is now well established as the most important feeder of the

university outside the city of Aberdeen.''

Former pupils include numerous surgeons, tea planters, headmasters and

missionaries, barristers and Nellie Badenoch, the first woman to

graduate with first-class honours from Aberdeen University.

Another ex-pupil is Thomas Glover, the man responsible for introducing

Japan to Western technology. The first doctor to advocate the use of a

stethoscope was another ex-Fordyce pupil, Sir John Forbes.

Perhaps the best known medical man to emerge from Fordyce Academy was

Sir James Clark, physician to Queen Victoria. It was on his

recommendation that the royal family bought Balmoral estate.

The children of Fordyce, who struggled against poverty and worked by

candlelight to achieve an education, displayed, says Christine, the

special facet true to the North-east character: an inner strength

reflected in an ability to appreciate what you've got and make the best

of it without fuss.

Today the former Fordyce Academy, built in 1846 and used as a village

school until 1964, is a private house and enjoys a different kind of

fame. For Sandra Leith runs the village's only bed-and-breakfast guest

house, and last year became the first winner in the new Scottish Tourist

Board de-luxe category bed-and-breakfast awards.

''I have only three bedrooms so I try to keep it like a home and treat

all my visitors as special guests,'' explained Sandra. I can vouch for

that. I stayed there.

Next time you are in the North-east make a point of visiting Fordyce.

Here you will find the intimate charm of a village reflecting a

community at peace with its past.

* Further information: Fordyce is a few miles off the main A98

Banff/Inverness road. The Fordyce Joiners Workshop is open Easter to end

of October 10am-5pm. Evenings and winter by arrangement.