Lost 'Atlantis of the north' emerges from Moray Firth

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The Independent Online

A freak low tide has uncovered a once-prosperous port that was at the centre of Scotland's international trade and commerce until it was lost to the sea almost 300 years ago.

A freak low tide has uncovered a once-prosperous port that was at the centre of Scotland's international trade and commerce until it was lost to the sea almost 300 years ago.

Generations of historians have tried to solve the riddle of Findhorn in the north-east of the country, which for 500 years thrived as a gateway to Europe, the Baltic states, the Orient and the New World. Findhorn, which was created a Burgh of Barony in 1532, was home to some of the wealthiest merchants in Scotland as the principal harbour on the Moray Firth coast.

Shifting sands had already begun to silt the entrance to the bustling harbour before disaster struck, forcing some of the inhabitants to move their businesses one and half miles further along the coast. But the fate of the town was finally sealed on the night of 10 October 1702 when a devastating flood swept through the settlement, forcing the community to flee.

The river Findhorn, which for centuries had helped to build up the wealth of the town, swamped it. The river carved a new channel for itself through the centre of the town and gradually the sea and sand reclaimed what was left.

No lives were lost but the people were unable to rebuild the town and almost overnight it turned into a quiet fishing village. Now evidence shows that the port was constructed of sophisticated buildings akin to bonded warehouses, which would house a fortune in imported wines and brandy from France, pig iron from the Baltic and exotic spices from the Far East.

"All the evidence points to the old Findhorn as a thriving cosmopolitan port of importance," said Tim Nevus, a retired RAF surgeon who made the discovery while walking across the bay to his boat during an exceptionally low tide.

He noticed unusually large and regular stones in the sand, which had been expertly dressed and fitted with glass and iron bars. "I knew the story of the original Findhorn and could barely contain my excitement," he said. "I felt like I'd discovered Atlantis."

With the chairman of the local heritage society, Bill Anderson, Mr Negus ventured further into the bay and discovered an area of stone flags 200 metres long – believed to be the old wharf – and old masonry in the mud, a mile north-west of the modern Findhorn and on the spot where ancient maps placed the lost port.

Unfortunately the site of the discovery lies under the fastest-flowing section of the river channel in Findhorn bay, meaning further archaeological investigation would be extremely hazardous.

But Mr Anderson believes the stones are the clearest evidence that bonded warehouses holding a fortune in international imports from around the world formed part of the old port.

"It shows some weathering too, which means it was probably in place more than 150 years before the flood," he said. "The town was established in 1544, and it is likely the key buildings would have been built shortly afterwards."

Mr Negus added: "Findhorn's loss was an economic catastrophe for the whole of Moray."

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