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Annual Cullen Skink Championships

Perfection In A Bowl

The Annual Cullen Skink Championships demonstrates that a simple
soup steeped in tradition can still stir the passions of its many devotees.


The wee Banffshire town of Cullen on the Moray Firth is famous for many things -- its dry climate, its sunshine and bracing sea air, its bay and beaches and distinctive rock formations, its idiosyncratic golf course that takes players out along the cliff and back along the shore.... Then there are the spectacular 19th-century railway viaducts (now part of the North Sea Cycle Route), which give splendid views and split Cullen into two halves. The upper town has fine squares, substantial houses and a host of interesting wee shops. Down by the harbour, the Seatown is a higgledy-piggledy labyrinth of narrow lanes and fishermen's cottages. It's a place to wander without direction or hurry, with small gems of discovery round every corner. Brightly painted doors and window frames, tiny gardens and an occasional netting shed as a reminder of times past. Cullen has been a fishing port for at least 500 years, and in its heyday, smoked haddock was a major export that kept three large curing houses busy. It was also at the heart of the town's best-known claim to fame.

This may be one of the sunniest places in Scotland, but when the north wind hustles into the bay, it's away with the buckets and spades and off to the nearest café. And what better north-wind-beater than a good bowl of hot soup? In Cullen, that can only mean Cullen Skink: haddock from the North Sea, onions and potatoes and milk from the inland farms, family recipes handed down through generations -- it's more of a meal than a soup.

The recipe has travelled throughout Scotland, the British Isles, and to all parts of the world. But there's nothing like the real thing on its home ground. So, when I heard about the annual Cullen Skink World Championship, I headed east to the Banffshire coast. The north wind was making the most of a cold, sunny November day when I arrived at the Cullen Bay Hotel on its clifftop perch above the town. A chilly gust blew in across the water and over the golf course to deliver a brisk slap in the face as I got out of the car. I hurried inside to meet Simon Tucker of the Cullen Voluntary Tourist Initiative, the driving force behind the competition.

The full text of this article is available in the Spring 2015 issue of Scottish Life.

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Photos © Terry Williams