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Burghead Seafront - geograph.org.uk - 246847.jpg
Burghead seafront
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Population1,640 (2001 census)[1]
est. 1,650 (2006)[2]
Scots (Doric)
OS grid referenceNJ116688
• Edinburgh168 miles (262 km)
• London555 miles (894 km)
Civil parish
  • Duffus
Council area
Lieutenancy area
  • Moray
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townELGIN
Postcode districtIV30
Dialling code01343
UK Parliament
Scottish Parliament
List of places
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Burghead (Scots: Burgheid[3] or The Broch,[4] Scottish Gaelic: Am Broch) is a small town in Moray, Scotland, about 8 miles (13 km) north-west of Elgin. The town is mainly built on a peninsula that projects north-westward into the Moray Firth, surrounding it by water on three sides. People from Burghead are called Brochers.[5]

The present town was built between 1805 and 1809, destroying in the process more than half of the site of an important Pictish hill fort. General Roy’s map shows the defences as they existed in the 18th century although he wrongly attributed them to the Romans. The fort was probably a major Pictish centre and was where carved slabs depicting bulls, known as the Burghead Bulls, were found. A chambered well of some considerable antiquity was discovered in 1809 and walls and a roof were later added to help preserve it. Each year on 11 January a fire festival known as the Burning of the Clavie takes place; it is thought that the festival dates back to the 17th century, although it could easily predate this by several centuries. Burghead is often known by locals as The Broch, a nickname also applied to Fraserburgh in nearby Aberdeenshire.

A recent dig just beyond the boundary of Burghead at Clarkly Hill has uncovered Iron Age circular stone houses and Pictish building foundations, as well as silver and bronze Roman coins and a gold finger ring possibly from the Baltic region. Significant evidence of large scale Iron smelting has also been found, providing evidence that iron was probably being traded from this site. The National Museum of Scotland has carried out significant exploration which leads it to believe this is a significant site of interest.[citation needed]


One of the Burghead Bulls at the British Museum
Inscription stone at Burghead.

Iron age fort

This vitrified fort lies on top of a headland which commands extensive views of the Moray Firth. Originally believed to be Ptolemy's Castra Alata, later 'Ptoroton' and the 'Torffness' of the Orkneyinga Saga, it is now known to be of Pictish origin and is thought to be the oldest Pictish fort. It encloses 3 hectares and is three times as large as any other fort of the same period in Scotland. It was defended on the landward side by three banks and ditches which were destroyed during the creation of the harbour and modern village; their age is therefore uncertain.[6] Six striking carved slabs known as the Burghead Bulls were discovered during excavations. Dating to 7th Century AD, four of the originals are held locally in Burghead Visitor Centre and Elgin Museum and one each in the Royal Museum, Edinburgh, and the British Museum, London.[7] Much of the fort was destroyed during the building of the village from 1805 to 1809. The Doorie Hill (see below), which marked the junction of the citadel and the bailey, is the only remaining piece of the southern ramparts. Lengths of the eastern and northern ramparts are also still visible.[8][9][10]

A view of Burghead chambered well from the approach (click to enlarge)

Chambered well

The Burghead Well, which lies within the perimeter of the promontory fort, was discovered in 1809. It consists of a flight of stone steps leading down to a chamber containing a tank fed by springs. There is a frieze in the upper walls, a pedestal in the southeast corner and a sunken basin in the northwest corner. The chamber is 11 feet (3.4 m) high, and 11 feet (3.4 m) across with a 4-foot (1.2 m) wide ledge around the edge, and the tank is 4 feet (1.2 m) deep. The discovery was made during excavations for a possible municipal water supply after an elderly fisherman recalled a tradition of a well in the vicinity. Various additions such as re-cutting the steps and deepening the tank were undertaken, but the flow of water proved to be insufficient for the proposed new function. At the time of discovery it was assumed that both the fort and well were of Roman antiquity and it was described as a 'Roman bath'. Later in the 19th century it was suggested that it was an early Christian baptistery possibly associated with the cult of St Aethan, but its origins remain obscure to this day. It is almost certainly of Dark Age provenance and clearly had some ceremonial significance.[8][9][11] It is possible that its main purpose was as a water supply for the fort and may suggest a Pictish interest in water spirits.[10] The well is a scheduled monument.[12]

Burning of the Clavie

A fire festival called the Burning of the Clavie is held on 11 January each year, except when the 11th is a Sunday, in which case it takes place on the 10th. The event starts when the Clavie is lit on Granary Street at 18:00 and normally ends by 19:30.

In 1599, the Privy Council of Scotland made an order which provided that the first day of the year would be 1 January with effect from 1 January 1600,[13] while retaining the Julian calendar. With the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750, Great Britain, including Scotland, adopted the Gregorian calendar and elided 11 days from the 1752 calendar. Thus the day that would have been New Year's Day in the old calendar now fell on 12 January of the new calendar. The Burning of the Clavie continues to be celebrated on "old" New Year's Eve—that is, in the new calendar, on 11 January.

The practice has survived clerical condemnation. On 20 January 1689, the young men of the village were rebuked by the church courts for "having made a burning clavie, paying it superstitious worship, and blessing the boats after the old heathen custom".[14]

The Clavie is a barrel cut down to 17 inches (43 cm), which is filled with tar and bits of wood. It is nailed onto a pole which is 4 feet 6 inches (1.37 m) long with a specially forged nail. It has to be specially made to leave a space for the carrier’s head to fit between the staves (6 in all) and allowing him to rest it partly on his shoulders while he carries it. A group of about 15 men known as the Clavie crew, traditionally fishermen and headed by the Clavie king, take turns to carry the burning Clavie on a set route clockwise round the streets of the old part of the town. The Clavie crew stop to present bits of smouldering embers to certain households and the three public houses in the village to bring them good luck for the following year. There are also two set points where they stop to refuel. At the end of the route the Clavie is put onto a stone altar (which was not constructed until the 19th century) upon Doorie Hill,[8] and more fuel is added, often setting the whole side of the hill alight in the process. The barrel eventually collapses and the blazing embers are scattered all over the hilltop before they are collected and given out for good luck,[15] although it is said that in the past the embers were kept as charms against witchcraft,[16] and to kindle the New Year's fire on their cottage hearth.[17] It used to be customary to carry the Clavie round every boat and vessel in the harbour, but this part of the ceremony was later discontinued, presumably because it became impossible as the harbour became busier.[citation needed]

Ship building

Alexander Stephen founded his company Alexander Stephen and Sons and began shipbuilding at Burghead on the Moray Firth in 1750.[citation needed] For Reference A Shipbuilding History 1750-1932 Alexander Stephen & Sons Ltd. A Record of the Business founded about 1750, by Alexander Stephen at Burghead, and subsequently carried on at Aberdeen, Arbroath, Dundee, and Glasgow.


Welcome sign (click to enlarge)

Primary and secondary schools

  • For primary education, there is just Burghead Primary School, a non-denominational primary state school in Grant Street in the centre of the town. The school educates in a nursery school and years 1-7. There is a school roll of 128.[18] Students are grouped into three houses; Clavie, St Aethans and Torfness.
  • For secondary education, free transport is provided to two schools in nearby towns. Students may choose to attend either Lossiemouth High School[19] or Elgin Academy.[20]

Further education

Moray College is located approximately 9 miles (14 km) away in Elgin.

Notable people


UK and Scottish parliaments

Local government

Burghead is represented at The Moray Council by the Heldon & Laich ward, from which four councillors are elected. The members elected from this ward as of 3 May 2007 are: Allan Grant Wright (Scottish Conservative and unionist), John Christopher Hogg (Independent), Eric Morrison Mcgillivary (Independent) and David Christie Stewart (Scottish National Party).[24] Moray Council is currently controlled by an Independent/Conservative Coalition.[25]

Burghead was previously represented at Moray Council by the Burghsea ward from which one councillor was elected under the first past the post electoral system. Since 3 May 2007 the STV electoral system has been used in local elections throughout Scotland, which means that Burghead is represented by several councillors in the significantly larger Heldon & Laich ward.

Population (demography)

The population of Burghead in 1991 according to the 1991 Census was 1,495.[26] Data from the 2001 Census showed Burghead's population had risen to 1,640;[27] however, mid-2004 estimates showed the population had risen again slightly to 1,680.[28] The 2001 data makes Burghead the eighth-largest town in Moray behind Keith, Kinloss and Lhanbryde but ahead of Hopeman, Dufftown and Fochabers.

Males in Burghead make up 53.6% of the population; this is higher than the figure of 49.97% for Moray which itself is slightly higher than the 48.05% for Scotland. Males in Burghead do not outnumber females nearly as much over the age of 25 as they do under 25, as the number of males per female is significantly lower over age 25 (1.05) than it is under 25 (1.45).

Population Place of birth Age structure Religion Ethnic group
Males: 871

Females: 679


United Kingdom:96.46%
Scotland: 74.51%
England: 19.76%
Wales: 1.34%
Northern Ireland: 0.85%

Republic of Ireland: 0.3%
Rest of Europe: 1.71%
Elsewhere: 1.52%

Under 16 years: 20.12%
16–65 years: 66.04%
65+ years: 13.84%

0–4 years: 4.94%
5–15 years: 15.18%
16–24 years: 9.63%
25–44 years: 32.93%
45–64 years: 23.48%
65–74 years: 8.54%
75+ years: 5.3%

Church of Scotland: 46.65%
Roman Catholic: 5.3%
Other Christian: 15.85%
Buddhist: 0.12%
Another Religion: 0.24%
None: 27.32%
Not answered: 4.51%
White Scottish: 76.65%
Other White British: 20%
White Irish: 0.55%
Other White: 2.01%
Indian: 0.06%
Other South Asian: 0.6%
Mixed background: 0.37%
Other: 0.3%

Sources: Scotland's Census Results Online, General Register Office for Scotland and Moray Council (2001 Census data)

Other facts

  • Median age of a male: 36
  • Median age of a female: 39
  • Number of males per female (under age 25): 1.45
  • Number of males per female (over age 25): 1.05
  • Percentage of households where not all persons are in the same:
    • Place of birth category: 25.42
    • Religious category: 30.9
    • Ethnic category: 1.07

Source: Scotland's Census Results Online


File:Burghead employmennt.PNG
Sector of employment (click to enlarge)

Burghead and the Moray area in general are heavily dependent on RAF Lossiemouth, a Royal Air Force station, and Kinloss Barracks, a barracks for the Royal Engineers, which are located at roughly equal distances on either side of Burghead. Until 2011 Kinloss Barracks was also an RAF station, RAF Kinloss, and in 2005 the stations contributed £156.5 million to the Moray economy, of which £76.6 million was retained and spent locally. The stations have at one time been responsible for providing, directly or indirectly, 21 per cent of all employment in the Moray area.

Other sectors offering significant employment are local authority, construction and real estate, food and drink, transport, tourism, business services and wholesale/retail.

In the past fishing, particularly herring fishing, was a large part of the economy of Burghead. Langoustine fishing, mainly for the European market, now contributes little to the overall economy; in 2001, fishing accounted for just 2.12% of employment in Burghead.

There is a large malting plant located in the town and in 2009, a large modern distillery was completed at the junction of the Burghead/Kinloss B9089.

Just outside Burghead there is a large radio transmitter owned by Arqiva, the Burghead transmitting station.

Source: Highland & Islands Enterprise



Three roads converge on Burghead, the B9013, the B9012 and the B9089. The B9013 connects to the A96 (Aberdeen to Inverness) and would generally be used to get to Elgin, the B9012 connects to Elgin via Hopeman and Duffus, and the B9089 connects to Kinloss and to the A96 via the B9011 (Findhorn to Forres).

Bus and train

Remains of Burghead railway station in 1974
Harbour pier, looking towards Findhorn

Air and sea

  • The two nearest passenger airports to the town are Inverness Airport (INV) at approximately 30 miles (48 km) and Aberdeen Airport (ABZ) at approximately 70 miles (110 km). Inverness generally provides services to the UK and Ireland whereas Aberdeen provides services to both domestic and international destinations. Aberdeen Airport is the second-largest helicopter terminal in the world and serves the many North Sea oil installations.
  • Burghead harbour is mainly used by fishing boats and is regarded by Moray Council as primarily a commercial harbour[32] but it is also used for recreational purposes. During 2007 the harbour’s North Quay received a substantial upgrade, financed jointly by Moray Council and the European Union.[33]



The town is currently home to two football teams: Burghead Thistle[34] and Burghead United.[35] It was previously home to another football team, the Burghead Anchors.

Burghead Thistle compete in Division Two of the SJFA North Region and play their home games at Forrest Park, just outside Burghead.[36] In 2008 Thistle were awarded the Elginshire Cup without playing in a final after New Elgin and Lossiemouth United were both thrown out of the competition.[37]

Burghead United compete in the Moray District Welfare Premier Division.[38] United share a close rivalry with fellow Premier Division team Hopeman FC, based in the town of Hopeman about 2.5 miles (4.0 km) from Burghead.


Burghead & Duffus Golf Club was founded in 1896, permanently closing with the onset of World War II.[39]


  1. "Comparative Population Profile: Burghead Locality". Scotland's Census Results Online. 29 April 2001. Archived from the original on 24 August 2005. Retrieved 1 September 2008.
  2. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 16 September 2009. Retrieved 2010-05-09.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. Scots Language Centre: Scottish Place Names in Scots
  4. The Online Scots Dictionary
  5. Hidden Lives: 1/6 Burghead, BBC Scotland, 27 Nov 2019
  6. The Iron Age in Northern Britain: Celts and Romans, Natives and Invaders (Dennis William Harding), Google book search [1]
  7. British Museum Collection
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Sellar, W.D.H. (editor) (1993). Moray: Province and People. London. Robert Hale. Pages 142-4
  9. 9.0 9.1 Burghead Well. (1968) Ancient Monuments of Scotland. Crown copyright leaflet.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Burghead. (c. 1990) Grampian Regional Council leaflet.
  11. Historic Environment Scotland - Burghead well. Retrieved 13 March 2019
  12. Historic Environment Scotland. "Burghead Well (SM90044)". Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  13. David Masson, ed. (1884). The Register of the Privy Council of Scotland. VI. p. 63.
  14. Sellar, W.D.H. (1993). Ibid. The quotation marks are his, but no specific citation is provided.
  15. "Happy New Year". Archived from the original on 19 May 2008. Retrieved 13 September 2007.
  16. "Notes and Queries (1860), Google book search". Archived from the original on 19 May 2008. Retrieved 13 September 2007.
  17.  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Clavie, Burning the". Encyclopædia Britannica (in English). 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 469.
  18. School Census
  19. Lossiemouth High School contact details
  20. Elgin Academy contact details
  21. "Election 2005 – Result: Moray". BBC News. 6 May 2005. Retrieved 30 April 2009.
  22. "Scottish Elections 2007 – Moray". BBC News. 4 May 2007. Retrieved 30 April 2009.[permanent dead link]
  23. "Scottish elections 2007 – Highland and Islands". BBC News. 17 May 2007. Retrieved 30 April 2009.[permanent dead link]
  24. "Moray Council Local Election Results 2007 – Heldon & Laich". Moray Council. Retrieved 30 April 2009.
  25. "SNP win Elgin by-election". Northern Scot. 15 February 2009. Archived from the original on 6 October 2008. Retrieved 30 April 2009.
  26. 1991 Census data Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  27. 2001 Census data, Moray Council Archived 18 April 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  28. Mid-2004 population estimates, General Register of Scotland Archived 25 January 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  29. Bus Timetable, Stagecoach Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  30. Train timetable, First Scotrail[dead link]
  31. "FirstGroup drives up profits by 9 per cent". Edinburgh Evening News. 3 November 2004. Retrieved 31 August 2008.
  32. "Moray development plan" (PDF). Moray Council. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 June 2011. Retrieved 14 September 2009.
  33. "Harbour environmental improvements". Moray Council. 24 January 2008. Archived from the original on 2 December 2008. Retrieved 14 September 2008.
  34. "Burghead boss tips United for title". Northern Scot. 16 November 2007. Archived from the original on 6 December 2007. Retrieved 2 October 2009.
  35. "Fixtures called off". Bannfshire Journal. 2 May 2007. Retrieved 2 October 2009.[permanent dead link]
  36. "Burghead Thistle 1-3 Vale Of Leven". Vale of Leven Football & Athletic Club. 9 November 2002. Retrieved 2 October 2009.
  37. "United in shock after judgement". Northern Scot. 9 May 2008. Archived from the original on 14 May 2008. Retrieved 2 October 2009.
  38. "Moray District Welfare Football Association League Tables". Moray District Welfare Football Association. Retrieved 2 October 2009.[permanent dead link]
  39. “Burghead & Duffus Golf Club”, “Golf’s Missing Links”.

External links

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