332. St. Cyrus to Inverkeilor

Today was going to be a bit of a pain,mainly because three rivers, a couple of gorges and the railway blocked my coastal route, this meant diverting inland along a selection of roads. I drove to the small car park above the cliffs at St. Cyrus, just after the sun had risen and parked in the same spot as yesterday. This meant I would be walking towards a point where I needed to catch a bus back to my car.There were already 3 cars in the tiny car park, which appeared to have been there overnight; three tents on the beach far below me confirmed this.

I set off just after 6, dropping steeply down to the shoreline and extensive dune system. I followed a well-worn path over springy grass through the St. Cyrus National Nature Reserve. The cliff line above was the Heughs of St. Cyrus and was quite impressive. I soon came to an old graveyard not shown on the map, I had a quick look around for old headstones, but these were mainly mid-19th century. I arrived at the Visitor centre and car park for the Reserve which then led onto the public road. I followed the public road heading inland because of the North Esk River. Although it is possible to cross the river at low tide on the shoreline, it was high tide with no chance of wading across. The viaduct that I crossed over the river on was the old railway route which I walked along yesterday from Inverbervie.

I followed the route of the old railway through woodlands and playing fields until I reached the outskirts of Montrose. I avoided the town centre keeping towards the Links of Montrose, before turning when I hit the docks area of the town. Near the bridge over the South Esk River I read the story and admired the statue of Bamse, a Norwegian Naval dog, a much loved and well known animal that has his own burial plot in Montrose.

Early morning light looking down to the Sands of St. Cyrus
Heading SW below The Heughs of St. Cyrus
The old railway viaduct over The North Esk
The North Esk
The Norwegioan naval sea dog “Bamse” at the South Esk Bridge in Montrose

I crossed over the South Esk Bridge and could see that the tide was racing out from immense Montrose Basin, which fills with high tide and empties at low tide. I headed along the south bank of the South Esk through the old fishing village of Ferryden. At the end of the public road I continued on a good track on  to the lighthouse at Scurdie Ness, another of the Stevenson’s lighthouses. I rounded the lighthouse and followed the shoreline towards Mains of Usan, here I passed by the ruins of the old farmhouse. I followed the shoreline towards Usan itself. The village sits at the end of a quiet road and comprises a set of cottages and houses. The main feature of the village is George Keith’s Fisherton of Usan, a set of 28 ruined cottages and a three story tower used for shipping navigation, and now used by the Scottish Wild Salmon Company. Basically the site looked more like a scrapyard than any form of fishery. I headed south around fields of barley, until I reached Elephant Rock. This double arched rock feature certainly looks like an elephant from certain angles, although my photograph does not show it so well. Perched high above the rock lies a small graveyard from the early to mid-19th century. Its claim to fame is the inscription on one of the headstones for a Mr George Ramsey who according to the wording was born 19 years after he died. [I did not locate the stone at the time as I was not aware of this mistake].

I followed an excellent wide path along the cliff-top towards the hamlet of Boddin, where I was able to look down on the large  limekiln ruins dating from the 1700’s as well as an old ruined fishing station. At this point the railway made an appearance and would hug the coastline over two precipitous ravines and pinching out any land to walk along.

I headed inland following the road around Dunnidald castle and then onto Lunan. The view down and over Lunan beach was amazing and I knew the roads would be very busy with people getting onto the beach. In fact, although busy the road was not too bad. At Lunan I made a small detour to climb up to the ruins of Lunan Castle.  Not a lot remains of the castle apart from parts of the Keep and a wall. Constructed from Old Red Sandstone the Castle does command an impressive view down to Lunan Bay. From Redcastle I followed the road into Inverkeilor where I would catch the bus back to St. Cyrus.

Crossing over the South Esk at Montrose
The Tower is that remains of the old Ferryden Infant school
Looking back to the South Esk bridge in Montrose
Scurdie Ness lighthouse
Heading towards Mains of Usan
Heading towards Boddin
Headstone at Elephant Rock telling a tragic story
Elephant Rock
Limekilns at Boddim, with old fishing station below
The keep at Lunan Castle
Lunan Castle

All in all quite an interesting day even with the road walking.

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=25091

Distance today = 18 miles
Total distance =6,093 miles

 

331. Stonehaven to St. Cyrus

Today was going to be a very hot day, fortunately the temperatures did not rise as high as predicted, but it was still very warm. I decided to make a very early start, so I drove south to St. Cyrus where I parked in a tiny car park on the cliff top. From there I walked back into St. Cyrus to catch the first available bus to Stonehaven. I caught the #X7 5:42 bus heading north, it was strange passing through Inverbervie and past my hotel window where I had departed from an hour earlier.

I set off walking from Stonehaven at 06:15 and immediately set off up the steep path towards the War Memorial. The view back over Stonehaven was superb on this sunny summer morning. The first port of call was the War Memorial and from there I could easily make out the beautiful and dramatic Dunnottar Castle. There was an excellent path that came up from Stonehaven to the Castle itself. The castle with its dramatic position and situation it is a  well visited castle and one of the iconic images of Scotlands East Coast..

A short distance past the castle the cliff top path disappeared, which I suspected would happen. I struggled on between the fields and the cliff top through deep vegetation. It was extremely tough going and I knew I could not keep this up for the duration of the walk. Relief came when I entered the Fowlsheugh RSPB reserve, as I soon as I passed a bird hide the path improved dramatically. The smell of stinking rotten fish and the cacaphony of bird sound  soon came with thousands of nesting Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Herring Gulls on the cliffs below me. I arrived at the hamlet of Crawton and decided I needed a break from the cliff-top waking. I headed up a field to join a minor lane, which was virtually devoid of any traffic.

I continued past the village of Catterline and came to a small cottage where the owner had sown and decorated a large part of the verges near his cottage with large sunflowers and other beautiful flowers. Here I met Geordie Mair and we  spoke to at length for some time about gardening and all sorts of things. As I bid him goodbye he kindly gave me two ripe tomatoes which I enjoyed over the next mile or so. The minor road I was on headed back towards the sea and I passed a number of small hamlets including Whistleberry and Kinneff. Near to a place called Grange I followed a track up towards some radio transmitter towers. I stayed to the right of the fenced in towers and headed downhill. I emerged close to the bridge which led into Inverbervie itself.

Looking back over Stonehaven Harbour
The War Memorial above Stonehaven
Looking towards Dunnottar Castle
Dunnotar Castle
Cliffs and seabirds near Thorneyhive Bay
Bird hide on Fowlsheugh RSPB
Young Kittiwake chick being fed near Trelung Bay
Geordie Mair’s roadside garden
Descending into Inverbervie

It was quite warm as I walked past the hotel I was staying in, so I headed for the co-op and bought some cool drinks and a warm sausage roll. I dropped down to the sea shore to eat and drink my lunch. I knew from reading the map that nearly all the difficult walking was done for the day. I soon came upon a chap who was busy attaching a honeysuckle to the mast of a small wooden boat on a patch of grass, the boat was decked out with more flowers and plants, obvviously this boat was now just used for decorative purposes. I asked the chap if it was his boat, he said yes and the boat once belonged to a local fisherman. This boat was the fisherman’s second boat, his first boat he burnt after his son was drowned out in the Bay on a fishing trip. The fisherman went into a nursing home where this chap befriended him. He asked about this second boat had been left rotting under a tree nearby and the fisherman gave the chap this boat just before he passed away. The chap who I spoke to had repainted the boat and preserved it as a beautiful wooden flower bed. The chap also pointed out that the boat was sitting in the centre of a circle of stones. This was the turntable for the engine that ran along the railway line to Montrose. Inverbervie was the end of this branch line, which last ran a train back in 1966.

The old railway track was very easy going and I joined a few people who were making their way to a small village 2 miles away called Gourdon. As I passed around Gourdon harbour and its small harbour I could see a large French registered ‘artic’ being loaded with all kinds of shellfish. My eye was almost immediately drawn to the mural on the side of the pub close-by – The Harbour Bar. The mural of a large trawler totally took up the whole of the gable end of the pub – it was a beautiful! I would have popped in for a pint, but  because of the current situation I am very cautious at the moment with any external drinking and eating places.

I continued on along the path towards Johnshaven. Although also an historic fishing village it did not appear to have the charm or pub mural as Gourdon! Not far from Johnshaven the old railway track climbed the cliffs and I had to revert to a patchy sea shore path. As I entered Montrose Bay I had to head inland a short distance before emerging near the Rock All Fishing Station. The start of the cliff-top path warned here that proceeding would at your own risk as the path had seen some subsidence. About half-way along the overgrown path an aged sign informed me that the path was closed for my own safety. I ignored the sign and could not see why it had been placed there in the first place. I have walked along far more exposed National Trails than this path and there was no way I was turning back with my car just 400m away.

A fascinating, interesting and enjoyable days walk, well at least the latter half.

Decorated old fishing boat in Inverbervie
The Harbour Bar mural in Gourdon
Diy signpost alongside the old railway route near Gourdon
Heading through Johnshaven
Limekilns near Seagreens

 

 

Old Red Sandstone near Seagreens
Walking along the cliff top with St. Cyrus Church in the distance
Looking down along the The Sands of St. Cyrus

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=25089

Distance today = 20 miles
Total distance =6,075 miles

 

 

330. Portlethen to Stonehaven

Normally, when I travel to Scotland I take 4 days, one day for travel and three days for walking. As I edge closer to home, I decided that I would leave earlier on my travel day and get at least half a day’s walking in. I counted myself as rather lucky with the news that Nicola Spud-gun had placed the City of Aberdeen into lockdown due to a recent surge of Covid-19 cases. which  emanated from a pub/restaurant in the city. Fortunately for me I had already passed through the City boundary and was now back in Aberdeenshire. I had booked myself into a hotel in Inverbervie for 3 nights and hoped that I could get most of the way towards Dundee after 3.5 days walking.

I drove to and parked on the sea front at Stonehaven, the drive up and been quick and without delays. I caught the number X7 bus towards Aberdeen, the bus did not stop in Portlethen but on the A90 bypass. The morning was glorious sunshine, but with a refreshing breeze. It did not take long to walk to the railway station in Portlethen where I walked through the station and across the bridge. My first destination was a small village of Downies. I tried to follow an old track on my 1:25000 OS map and, as usual, the track had disappeared many years ago. I had to back track a short distance and so headed into Portlethen village itself and finding an alternative track

The next 2 to 3 miles was mixture of farm track, green lanes and footpaths where I passed through the village of Downies and then onto Cran Hill. I met a number of other walkers/strollers on the lanes. Below Cran Hill I was able to drop below to a cove and cross a footbridge into the large village of Newtonhill. After passing around a large building site which looked to be new housing I picked up another green lane. I spotted the odd sign post, one that particularly caught my eye for the  Nave Nortrail, apparently part of the European funded North Sea Trail.

As I walked through the village of Muchalls I spoke to a lady who described a convoluted route south past Easter Muchalls, she talked of various routes onward involving high Bison fences. I tried one of these routes which crossed the railway line, I went through an overgrown field but came to a ravine with impenetrable vegetation, boxed in my the cliff and the railway line for the second time that I had to retrace my steps. I decided the heat of day would be my undoing in  trying to find a way through here and so headed for the busy A92, something I always knew was a real possibility. To be fair the A92 was ok, with a pavement for most of the way and the rest on a well-trodden footpath on a wide verge. I was only on the main road for about 40 minutes, which still gave me a brilliant view of the North Sea a few fields away.

Crossing the railway line at Portlethen Station
Heading towards Newtonhill
Dropping down to the beach before ascending into Newtonhill
Reaching a dead end in Muchalls
Looking across to the railway viaduct from the A92

I turned off down the road into Stonehaven and took a small footpath to the ruins of St Mary’s church (or Cowie Chapel) on the boundary of the Golf Course. The chapel dates back to 13th Century and fell into ruin about 1540 and  was fascinating with many old gravestones and mori symbols. It reminded of the Kilmun Church, near Dunoon which I had visited over 3 years ago. I followed the footpath and dropped down onto the beach which I walked along for a short distance before arriving at the end of the sea front at Stonehaven. The town was reasonably busy, with a long queue for the sea front restaurant. I continued onto the far end of the town, heading for the Police station. I was looking for something not seen by many people. A pair of gravestones set into a garden wall, just behind the police station. These gravestones where from 1608 and 1648 and were for victims of the Plague. I thought about the similar circumstance the world was facing today. I returned to my car and headed off to Inverbervie to find my hotel and my bed for the night.

Cowie Chapel
The chapel is situatewd alongside Stonehaven Golf Course
This is the Aumbry a small recess where the sacred vessels for Mass were stored
An inscription on the back of one gravestone
Heading along the shoreline into Stonehaven
Two gravestones from 1608 and 1648 for victims of the Pest (Plague) one for Magnus Tailiour Seyman and the other for two children, located in Stonehaven near the junction of Victoria and New Street

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=25087

Distance today = 11 miles
Total distance =6,055 miles

 

 

 

327. Balmedie to Portlethen

Today would see a lot more road walking as I passed through Scotland’s third largest city – Aberdeen, cross over two famous rivers and would also see me racking up 6000 miles of coastal walking!

I set off very early from my B&B in Aberdeen as I needed to catch the 06:03 #7B bus back to Aberdeen, after parking at the rail station in Portlethen. The bus was quite busy for that time of the morning. I was slightly nervous because at the Bus Station in Aberdeen I only had 6 minutes before I caught the connecting #61 bus onto Balmedie. I needn’t have worried as the traffic was light and I had time to spare.

The forecast today for this part of Scotland was persistent light rain all day, which meant that I was going to get wet. I set off through Balmedie making my way through the dunes onto the beach to continue my walk south from where I left off yesterday. The beach was totally deserted and the rain was nowhere to be seen….yet. I had almost 5 miles of dead straight walking to do along the beach which I knew from other long beach stretches can be tedious at times. But given the right underfoot conditions you can make swift progress. With only the distant sight of the tower blocks in Aberdeen visible, I decided to start picking up pieces of ‘sea-glass’ of various shades. Apparently, you can buy this stuff on the internet and it is different from glass that has been ‘frosted’ in a tumbler. I caught a glimpse of a small watch tower up above the dune-line cliff and knew I must be on the Blackdog Rifle Range. I had checked beforehand to see the firing times and was pleased to find that the range was not in use for the whole of July.

Heading down Balmedie Beach
Watchtower for the Blackdog Firing Range
Sea Glass

I eventually arrived at the mouth of the River Don and headed inland slightly to walk over the Bridge of Don. I then followed the banks of the Don back out to the coast and continue into Aberdeen along the  2 mile esplanade. The rain which had been ‘spitting’ for the last hour, became more intense and made it difficult to take any photos without getting the lens wet. I spotted Pittodrie, home to Aberdeen FC and I could also see the city’s cathedral. I emerged by the docks and passed around them and then crossed the River Dee.

I turned east and followed south esplanade road, walking past a mixture of fish processing units and wharfs, with boats tied up, used for the offshore oil industry. It was not long before I came to the harbour mouth and could look down on Aberdeen and my route down from the north. I was now heading out along a road towards Stevenson’s 1833 Lighthouse at Girdle Ness, but first I climbed a steep slope up to the Battery overlooking Aberdeen Harbour. The battery was built in the 1860’s and saw action during both World Wars. The Battery was later used by Aberdeen Council to house homeless families after the end of WW2. It is now a scheduled Ancient Monument.

Ther mouth of the River Don
Rain-speckled shot of the Don Bridge
Rain-speckled shot of the Esplanade
Looking back northwards
Aberdeen Docks
Crossing the River Dee
Offshore life-boat evacuation training centre
Looking back to Aberdeen and its harbour
Torry Battery
Inside Torry Battery

I dropped back down to the road hoping to complete a full circuit around to Nigg Bay. Unfortunately I had not reckoned with the Aberdeen Harbour Expansion Project which was now blocking the road around Girdle Ness. I could have nipped over the adjacent Balnagask Golf Course, but the course was in heavy use and it would not have been much use as a security fence had been used to seal off the golf course as well. I had to retrace my steps to St Fitticks Road and then on to Nigg Bay. The scale of the Harbour extension project is massive  and will alter Nigg Bay forever.

The road soon joined up with the main railway line into Aberdeen where I managed to get back on the Aberdeenshire Coast Path. In the far distance I could see why, when I reached the town of Cove Bay, that  I would need to divert inland, due the large quarry at Blackhill’s. I re-joined the main coast road at Burnbanks and followed the road into and out of Cove. This whole area was full of Industrial Parks and new housing.

On the edge of the town I turned down a lane which went right past the Blackhill’s Quarry. The road had very little traffic along and I soon crossed back over the railway line heading for the small village of Findon. At Findon I could have proceeded onto Portlethen Village, but because I would pass through the village on my next leg of the journey, I decided to cut inland along minor roads to the railway station at Portlethen, and so conclude my three days of walking.

Huge Concrete building blocks for the Harbour Expansion Project
Looking back of what is left of Nigg Bay

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=25067

Distance today = 20 miles
Total distance =6,003 miles

 

 

326. Cruden Bay to Balmedie

Today was going to be more of the same as yesterday, with one big difference – no rain forecast. I set off very early from Aberdeen to drive to Balmedie, about 9 miles up the coast. Here I parked in a free car park and walked back to the main road to catch the 07:02 #61 bus to Cruden Bay. I was getting a bit worried when the bus was 10 minutes late, fortunately it arrived soon after.

I got off in Cruden Bay and walked to a small footbridge over a burn bordering the golf course. From the opposite bank it was a short walk around the dunes and onto the beach at Bay of Cruden. The morning weather was gorgeous sunshine, with little or no clouds in the sky. I had the beach mostly to myself and with the tide out I was able to make quick progress across the firm sand. At the far end of the beach I had to transfer from beach up the cliffs to a cliff-top path. This was in fact the Aberdeenshire Coastal Path (ACP), which is one of the coastal trails that make up the North Sea Trail. Unfortunately the ACP is rather ‘sketchy’ in many places and although it is well marked in and around the Aberdeen area, the actual start and finish of the path is unclear. The path here was quite overgrown, especially after 3 months of lockdown. This meant the going was slow, due to the tall wet vegetation and the path following the outside fence between the cliff-top and fields. I passed through the small village of Whinnyfold and continued for another 3 miles hugging the cliff-top path in and out of the many sea incursions. By the time I reached Mains of Slains I was quite fatigued, it had been quite tough ploughing through the undergrowth with the many ups and downs. At Mains of Slains I could see the small ruined keep of the old Slains Castle. The castle was destroyed in the late 16th century by James VI and during the 1950’s had a private dwelling erected within its ruined walls.

Crossing the Water of Cruden
Heading across the Bay of Cruden
The village of Whinnyfold
Cormorants nesting on a sea stack
They make them tough here, 3 strands of barbed-wire for a stile …no margin for error!!
Looking towards Mains of Slains

After Slains Castle I started to meet a lot more people, walking out from the village of Collieston where I was next headed. The state of the path also improved significantly, being flat, wider and devoid of high vegetation. I took a rest chatting to an elderly couple I met on this section of the path. When I arrived at Collieston I could see that the beaches where quite busy with families enjoying the hot summer weather. Collieston is made up of Kirkton of Slains, Low Town and Collieston itself, although it is still quite a small village. Soon after leaving Collieston I passed into the extremely large Forvie Nature Reserve, a huge expanse of heathland, dunes and cliffs. The footpaths here were very good on wide springy turf. I arrived above Hackley Bay, which contained another charming beach, which had a few people on it. At Rockend I could have continued down the coast to Newburgh Bar, however, I had planned to divert inland along a good path in search of the remains of Forvie Church. The church took a bit of finding, set in amongst the dunes. The church dates to the 13th century or before, and was dedicated to St Adamnan. It is not known when the church or settlement was abandoned, but the church itself was dug out by a local doctor at the end of the 19th Century. I headed inland to cross over the rather Welsh-sounding name of River Ythan, in fact the name may have derived from a Brittonic source.

Looking across to Collieston
Looking back at Collieston
Looking down on Hackley Bay
Forvie Church

I crossed over the River Ythan and walked into Newburgh. I popped into a shop to stock up on more drinks as it was getting very warm. I headed across the golf course and emerged back onto the beach. It was very crowded and to make matters worse the tide was well in, which meant there was not much beach to walk on. Once onto the main beach I could look down the coast and see the tower blocks of Aberdeen in the far distance. The beach was dead straight and I would be on it for almost 5 miles. Unfortunately, the sand was not good for walking on in many places, so progress was slow and tiring.

I left the ‘crowds’ behind and soon had the beach to myself. With the high dune system on my right it was difficult to actually know where you were in respect of when to leave the beach. After picking up more beach-goers 4 miles down the coast I knew they must have come from the car parks at Balmedie Country Park. I left the beach and found the car park with my car in it. It had taken 8 hours to do this section and I was very fatigued.

Crossing the River Ythan at Newburgh
The beach at Newburgh
Heading south down the beach towards Balmedie

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=25061

Distance today = 20 miles
Total distance = 5,983 miles

 

325. St. Fergus to Cruden Bay

It seemed like an eternity since I last walked in Scotland, January 2020 in fact. So the news from Nicola Spud-gun that tourism would be opening up from the 15th July had me pouring over accommodation availability in the Aberdeen area. I managed to book three nights cheap accommodation in Aberdeen, so I set off from Shropshire to begin the long drive north.

I made a very early start from my B&B in Aberdeen, mainly due to the fact there would be fewer passengers on the bus services I would need to catch to St Fergus. But first I had to drive to Cruden Bay where I would finish today’s walk. I parked in the car park in Harbour Street and walked back to the main road. I caught the 6:38 #61 bus to Peterhead, which had a few people on board. Some chaps who sat behind me obviously did not bother with the face mask rule and spent most of the time ‘effing and blinding’ about this and that. I got off the bus in a deserted Peterhead and found a Co-Op where I got a welcome cup of coffee. I then caught the #69B bus for the short journey to St Fergus.

It was a beautiful sunny summer morning when I set off back down the coastal access road, that I had last walked along over 6 months before. I was able to put my PPE stuff (mask, gloves & sanitiser) away for today, but knowing that this would be a regular part of my coast-walking kit from now on. Although warm, the weather was muggy and some rain showers were forecast. I arrived at the beach and made my way along the shoreline, where the tide was out and I had excellent firm sand to walk along. I could make out the houses of Peterhead in the distance, as the clouds began to darken. Just after crossing the Birnie Memorial Bridge across the River Ugie, the first of a number of heavy showers opened up. I did not put my jacket on, as I thought the shower would not last long, after 5 minutes I was soaked and within 10 minutes the sun was out again. I continued along a road through the town and past the very busy port area. Peterhead is still an important fish landing town as well as serving the offshore oil fields.

Looking back to Rattray Head
Looking south towards Peterhead
Grey Heron near the River Ugie
Heading towards the Birnie Bridge across The River Ugie into Peterhead
Fishing Trawler leaving Peterhead Harbour
Andy Scott’s (Kelpies, Arria) Fisher Jessie Statue in Peterhead

I walked around Peterhead Bay and came to a marina. I followed a very overgrown path up to Peterhead Prison, where I could see a Core Path disappearing into a mass of wet waist high grass. I backtracked slightly and opted to walk around the prison via the road. As I passed around the prison I was surprised to see that the prison that I had been looking at, with its high rusted barbed wire fences was in fact the old prison and was now a museum! The newly-built (2014) prison, HMP Grampian, was now visible and looked quite a size having replaced the older Peterhead and Aberdeen Prisons.

 

 

 

I could see quite a bit of industry ahead blocking my way, including a rather large power station. Fortunately, I had consulted with the Aberdeenshire Council’s Core Footpath files and could see a route along the coast virtually all the way to Cruden Bay. This meant I was able to pass on the shore-side of the large oil/gas fired Peterhead Power Station. By the time I passed a large fish processing factory I had reached the small village of Boddam. On the outskirts of Boddam, I managed to pick up a path that followed the line of the old Boddam branch line that last carried passenger back in 1932 but fell out of use and having had its track pulled up in 1950. The busy A90 road was now encroaching close to the cliff-line, which meant the path I was following through deep grass became sandwiched between the road and the sea. As the coast became increasingly rugged, with high granite cliffs, the road diverged away.

The old Peterhead Prison, now a museum

 

The outfall from Peterherad Power Station
Buchan Ness Lighthouse at Boddam
The distinctive Red Shed Post Office at Boddam

A second heavy rain shower hit me as I struggled through long grass that bordered fenced in fields. I passed along Longhaven Cliffs where I could see birds nesting in their tens of thousands. Besides the noise that greeted me, was the stench of stinking rotten fish. The noise and smell was me for the next 3 miles and together with the amazing cliff scenery was the highlight of the walk. By the time I reached the Bullers of Buchan, I began to meet other walkers that were utilising the nearby Car park. Almost a kilometre from the Bullers, I came upon a spectacular sight – a sea stack that was covered in birds of all types – Kittiwakes, Cormorants, Shags, Guillemots, gulls etc. The Dunbuy Sea Stack almost appeared as two separate stacks and its top was worn down almost to bare rock with the nesting birds. The stack also had another surprise, a huge arch, much bigger than any other Sea arch I had seen, with huge rock-fall present.

I continued onto towards the ruins of New Slains Castle, which had been visible in the distance for some time. The ruins were quite busy with walkers out from Cruden Bay. Although, recently rebuilt (around early 19th Century), the castle has a long and complex history. It was used by Bram Stoker in his book Dracula and you can see why. Most of the buildings were still intact with just the roof and floors missing. Plans to turn the place into apartments back in 2005 fell through.

I followed an excellent path into Cruden Bay and was pleased to find that my legs had stood up well to today’s walk after the prolonged absence of coastline walking.

Looking towards Longhaven Cliffs
Numerous stacks with nesting birds near Bullers of Buchan
Granite quarries near Bullers of Buchan
Looking back north at the dramatic cliff-line
Nesting Kittiwakes with chicks (the ones without the yellow bill) at Bullers of Buchan
The sea arch at Bullers of Buchan
Dunbuy Sea Stack
The Dunbuy sea arch….amazing!
New Slains Castle
Inside Slains Castle

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=25060

Distance today = 18 miles
Total distance = 5,963 miles

 

313. Rosehearty to St. Fergus

Today would be the day when I eventually start walking southwards again, as the last 6 or 7 walks have been eastwards. I had no concerns about today’s walk other than a few possible river crossing which may have required a slight inland diversion. It would be a very early departure from my hotel room, because I had to catch the first of two buses to get to my start point. This meant driving to the shore car park about a mile from St. Fergus and walking back into St. Fergus to catch the 5:53 #69 bus to Fraserburgh. As I drove to the car park I passed the large St. Fergus gas terminal, with its thousands of lights lighting up the early morning sky. There was little traffic about at that time of the morning and I passed a Police car in a lay-by. About 400m later I turned down the single track road to the beach. As I got out of the car and started getting my stuff ready, another car appeared. It was the police, or should I say Ministry of Defence Police, the equivalent of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary who I had come across before. There were obviously checking me out as the car park is about 1km from the huge gas plant. They soon disappeared back up the road without stopping.

After catching the bus into Fraserburgh, I then caught the 06:55 #74 to Rosehearty. It was still drizzling with rain when I got off the bus and because it was only 07:05, still very dark. I had checked beforehand though and I knew there was a good footpath all the way back into Fraserburgh. As I walked out of Rosehearty and through Sandhaven, the rain ceased and it gradually began to get light. By the time I had reached Fraserburgh I was able to remove my hi-vis vest and turn my head torch off. I passed a bakery and popped in to get a bacon bap, it was really nice and perked me up as the drizzle began to slowly return.

I walked through Fraserburgh and out past the harbours full of boats, mainly to do with the fishing industry. I transferred down onto a lovely beach that swept around Fraserburgh Bay. About half way along the beach I spoke to a chap who was exercising, I asked him about crossing the burn further up the beach. He confirmed my suspicions that I would have to divert inland due to the high tide which was now underway. I cut across the golf course to the B9023 road. I crossed over the Water of Philorth via a road bridge and continued along the main road for another mile before continuing down a minor road into Inverallochy. As I left Inverallochy, the sun came out and it stopped raining. I walked alongside another golf course and into the village of St. Combs.

Fraserburgh High Street early in the morning
Faithlie Harbour Fraserburgh
Heading around Fraserburgh Bay
The Water of Philorth

I got speaking to a local dog walker who advised me of the two bridges I needed to cross a couple of miles further up. I already knew about the bridges, but it was still reassuring to know they were still there. I now entered a dune system that would be with me to the end of the walk. The dunes were covered in Marram Grass and difficult to walk through. I picked up a couple tracks that ultimately led me to the two wooden bridges I needed to cross. One of the bridges was over the outfall from Loch Strathbeg, Britain’s largest dune loch and an important winter feeding site for many birds.

I could now see the towers from the large St. Fergus gas terminal. Composed of three plants, each having three offshore pipelines coming ashore, the site receives 25% of the country’s gas supply. I decided to cross over the dune system again and drop down to the beach. This took a while as the dune system here had two ridges which took some effort getting over. The beach was beautiful with amazing surf causing a fine mist to form. The sand, however, was a bit of a pig to walk along though. Try as I did, I could not find a “sweet spot” to walk along without sinking into the sand. I decided to cut back into the dunes as the effort of walking over the beach sand was sapping my energy. I cut back through the dunes and walked along the dune fringe. I could now see the lighthouse at Rattray Head which I was heading for. I passed the Lighthouse cottages, which was a bit of a misnomer, as the “cottages” appeared to be a large and well-built house.

Crossing the outflow from Loch Strathbeg
Looking back over the dunes to St. Combs
Heading down onto the beach
On the beach with the surf causing a fine mist
Heading towards Rattray Head
The Lighthouse “cottage” at Rattray Head
Looking back at the lighthouse at Rattray Head

I got back onto the beach and stuck with it until I reached the Gas Terminal. I knew at some point I would have to cut through the dunes again and follow the fence line of the gas terminal, because of a water course at the far end of the site. After walking along fence line past the multiple signs warning me that armed police patrol the site 24hours a day, I arrived at the old ruined Annachie bridge that got me over the last water obstacle of the day. The last kilometre was along a dog walker’s path past the dunes to the car park and my car.

 

Heading along the beach towards the St. Fergus gas terminal
Walking along the fenceline at St. Fergus
The Annachie bridge at St. Fergus

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=24806

Distance today =20 miles
Total distance = 5,728 miles

 

 

 

 

312. Rosehearty to Banff

 

I had a really fitful night’s sleep, it had taken me 8.5hrs to do yesterday’s walk mostly over established footpaths and tracks, but today’s walk would a similar distance, I would be starting almost an hour later and it was over ground that had large amounts of ascent and descent with few footpaths. I knew I had to alter my route slightly, taking in more road walking in order that I would finish before it got dark. I examined and re-examined my public transport options. Using public transport to get to the start of the walk in Banff was a non-starter as I would be starting my walk at 11:00! The only option was to drive to Banff again and park up there. I then looked at the option of setting out straight away in the dark towards Rosehearty and getting the only bus back at 16:18, this was a bit of gamble so I opted to take two buses to get me to Rosehearty to start walking at 09:00.

I caught the 07:35 #271 to Fraserburgh, then a short journey on the 08:42 #74 to Rosehearty. I set off down the B9031 on a still, warm morning where the overnight rain had ceased and the sun was just up. I was on the B9031, which was very quiet, for only mile before I turned off down a single track road. The single track road just served the odd farm and with the odd intermittent vehicle. After 30 minutes I passed a farm and the farmer was just about to jump into his tractor and do some muck-spreading. Then what started with a simple query as to how far I was walking turned into a 20 minute conversation! He was from Bath originally and had been farming here for over 30 years. We talked about his cattle and he kindly showed me some that were in his barn. We could have chatted for an hour, but he had work to do and I needed to get going myself.

The views ahead were superb with the high cliffs of Stranhangles Point and the high ground of Troup Head dominating the view across Aberdour Bay. Although I had intended to walk along the cliff-line, I had decided to stick to the lane, which was 300 – 400m away and had more commanding views. The road descended down to the River Dour where I continued across the river and began the long steep climb up a farm track. The track led to much higher ground and after passing through Bankhead farm, it continued straight ahead as a footpath. I picked some signs indicating that this was a recognised route to Pennan, where I was heading. I had decided that although I would be staying on the roads for most of the walk, but there were three places I wanted to visit and Pennan was one of them. I followed a footpath and track past the ruins of Pennan Farm and dropped steeply into the tiny old fishing village of Pennan, famed for being the location of the film “Local Hero”. Its K6 telephone box featured in a number of the scenes of the film and is still there today. However, I later discovered that the  K6 used in the film was a prop! The actual and working K6 box is stuck behind a small building 50 metres away. I remember watching the film at the time…..crikey how the years have flown by!

The Square in Rosehearty
The view ahead with Strahangles Point (l) and Troup Head (r)
Looking back at The Doocot near Craigiefold
The intriguing name of Egypt Farm
The view ahead with Strahangles Point (c) and Troup Head (r)

The bad news about descending down to Pennan was that I had to re-ascend up from the village again, which was very steep. I re-joined the B9031 for two miles; the road was still quiet, but the weathered had begun to turn, with cloud and drizzle coming in. I took a minor lane which serviced a few isolated farms which I could see would give me access to the second and third destinations that I wanted to visit, namely Crovie and Gardenstown. I dropped down steep ground towards a ravine, which was clad in gorse. Frustratingly, the road I needed to get on was only 150m away, but there was no way I was getting down through the gorse and across the ravine. I back-tracked back up the slope and field. Some 30 minutes later I dropped down to the tiny old fishing village of Crovie. Like Pennan it sits at the base of the large sandstone and conglomerate cliffs and is hemmed in by the sea. I continued on along the beach to Gardenstown, which was just around a small headland. The good news was there was a well-established path which had steps around the headland, however the weather had closed in big time and More Head, which rose above Gardenstown, was cloaked in fog almost down to the sea, while the drizzle continued.

Descending into Pennan
Pennan
Not the actual K6 in Pennan
Descending into Crovie
Crovie
The steps around the headland to Gardenstown

I decided I needed to get a move on and I also had to climb up from the shoreline in Gardenstown back onto the main road. It was one hell of a steep climb and it took a lot out of me. Back on the main the visibility in the fog was down to 80-100m. I put my hi-vis vest and my head torch on. The road was now much busier than earlier. Fortunately, the available verges, were good, although there were a couple of tight bends where I had to scurry through. Sometimes I managed to get into the adjacent field and walk alongside the road. I must admit this was the first time I had encountered dense fog on a walk. I was on the B9031 for about 6 miles before it joined up with the A98 just on the outskirts of Macduff.  As I walked along the welcome pavements into Macduff, the light had begun to fade. I was pleased that I had managed to visit at least three places on my original intended route. I made it back to the car at 04:00, just as the fog was beginning to clear.

Even though todays walk had been slightly further than yesterdays and I had completed it in a faster time, which is not surprising as there was more road walking, but I was surprised to find that my total ascent was 955m – which is a reasonably sized Munro!

On the ascent out of Gardenstown looking down at the harbour in the rain
Small fishing vessel in for repairs in Macduff shipyard
Looking across Banff Bay to a very murky Banff
The bridge over the River Deveron

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=24805

 

Distance today =22 miles
Total distance = 5,708 miles

 

 

 

 

 

 

311. Findochty to Banff

I could see a three day weather window that would be perfect for a trip to the NE tip of Aberdeenshire. I booked myself into Saltoun Inn in Fraserburgh. The Saltoun is actually a Weatherspoon’s hotel which I booked a large family room at a very good rate.

It was forecast to be dry for all three days of my walks, but today had the added bonus of having the stiff breeze with me as well as being a sunny day with blue skies all around. The daylight hours were still short so I needed to make an early start, this meant driving the 25 miles to Banff, where I parked up. I caught the 06:45 # 35 bus to Findochty. The bus was quite busy with most people going to work. It was still dark when I got off the bus in Findochty, although the sky to the east was quite bright.

I set off along an excellent track that was the Moray Coast Trail. The coast here is very rugged, with the rocks steeply dipping into the Moray Firth. I caught an occasional flash of the Tarbat Ness lighthouse fast receding into the distance. After 2 miles I entered another sleepy old fishing village – Portknockie. Portknockie is famous for the close proximity of the geomorphological feature called the Bow & Fiddle, which is basically a sea stack with an attached sea arch resembling a fiddler’s bow. The path dropped down from the surrounding cliffs to a shoreline and passed a number of caves, now seated above the shoreline on a raised beach. I passed Jenny’s Well, not to sure who Jenny was, but the well was spouting a nice flow of water. The sun was now up but remained low in the sky for most of my walk, which meant I could have really done with a peaked cap to shade the blinding sun. In Portknockie I had spoken to a local resident, a retired gamekeeper from England, he advised me of the footpath situation for the next couple of miles.

Early morning looking back at Findochty, the lights in the far distance are Lossiemouth
Looking down on the harbour at Portknockie
The Bow and Fiddle near Portknockie
Looking eastwards towards Troup Head in the far distance
Heading down to the shoreline near Cullen
Jenny’s Well

My next village was Cullen, famed for its Cullen Skink – a traditional Scottish soup made with Haddock, potatoes and onions. I tried it once but I was not that impressed. Although mid-morning there were few people about. The entrance to Cullen was marked by a large railway viaduct, now disused this used to carry a branch line of the Great North of Scotland line, but closed in 1968. As the excellent shore path passed out of Cullen I came across a pet cemetery on the beach, it was a very sad place to be, especially with all the names of the animals and their photos, toys leads etc..
The path rounded Logie Head and I again dropped down to the shoreline. The path was certainly becoming much fainter now and less trodden. By chance I came across a sign with information about Charlie’s Cave, I thought “here we go again, some cave that Bonnie Prince Charlie dossed down in blah…blah”. But no, this was about a Frenchman, Charles Marioni who jumped ship in Plymouth in 1904 and made his way to North East Aberdeenshire and set up a home against a small niche in the rock. His full story, written by Andrew Saunders, is contained in a photo I took.

I soon came to the ruins of Findlatter Castle, not a great deal to see as the erosion by wind and water over the centuries have left their mark. I then arrived at Sandend Bay and what a beautiful beach it was!

The Three Kings at Cullen
The Pet Cemetary at Cullen
The ups and downs of the coastal path at Logie Head
Info board for Charlies Cave (zoom in to read)
The niche where Charlie built his sea-shore shack
Climbing back up the cliffs
Looking down on the ruins of Findlatters castle
Looking back to Logie Head
Looking back to Sandend across the beautiful beach

I picked up the coast path at the far end of the beach and climbed up the cliffs again. The path continued around another promontory – Redhythe Point. I was now only a mile from another fishing village – Portsoy. Again this was a very quiet place, either the inhabitants were at work or the place was full of holiday lets. I walked past the harbour and around Links Bay. I could see handmade signs to the coastguard lookout tower. When I reached the “Coastguard Tower?” It was simply four posts knocked into the ground with some tape and a sign advising that this was the site of a former coastguard tower. I was slightly underwhelmed. The bad news was that I was virtually surrounded by thick gorse with no way of beating my way through. I managed to backtrack slightly and drop down to the beach again, where I picked up a feint path which soon fizzled out. I knew from reading other accounts that a working quarry lay ahead and that I needed to make an inland diversion to get around it as well as getting over the River Boyne.
I cut inland for about a kilometre and joined a quiet road where I crossed the River Boyne. As I passed the access road to the quarry I could see that it was still working. I soon got off the road and headed across some freshly ploughed fields back towards the coast.

Back on the coast there was little or no footpath of any sort. The ground was reasonably flat and offered a number of small sandy beaches to walk along. After a couple of miles I entered Whitehills, another small old fishing village. I rounded a headland near the harbour called the Knock. I could now see both Banff and Macduff some three miles away. I set off along the track bed of the old railway route and met a lot more people, nearly all dog walkers. By this time fatigue was beginning to set-in with my feet and legs. It seemed to take an age to cover the last mile and I was really relieved to get back to the car.

This had been a fabulous days walking, which despite the one diversion, I had been able to stick close to the coast. With beautiful scenery, good walking conditions and a bright sunny day, this had been one of the best walking days I had had for some time.

One of the harbours at Portsoy
Looking eastwards Whitehills and in the far distance Banff and Macduff
One of the many isolated beaches I passed over at Bears Head
Looking across Boyndie Bay to Banff and Macduff
Late afternoon looking across to Macduff from Banff

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=24804

Distance today =21 miles
Total distance = 5,686 miles

 

 

306. Findochty to Lossiemouth

Today’s walk should have been a straight forward affair of simply walking along the coast, not so!

I had opted to walk this route in reverse because of the availability of buses, meaning I would be able to gain an hour of daylight by walking east to west. It also meant getting up very early and driving back to Lossiemouth then parking up. I caught the 6:38 #33C bus into Elgin and then the 07:00 #35 bus to Findochty. It cost £7.40 for the latter journey, probably the most expensive bus fare I have paid on my coastal walk. I knew that the bus fares in this neck of the woods would be expensive and I did look to buying a weekly Mega-Rider ticket. The total cost of the 6 bus journeys, I made on this trip, came to £26; a Mega-rider may have saved me money> I did look into this and found I would have been travelling through 5 or 6 zones and the online information did not cover the complexity of doing this. Anyhow, £26 is much cheaper than just a single taxi fare and the Stagecoach service availability in this area was excellent….so no complaints from me.

I got off the bus in Findochty and walked through the small fishing village. It was just getting light, but I could see my way around ok. In the far distance I could make out the twinkling lights of Lossiemouth. I crossed over a golf course and soon entered the outskirts of Buckie, passing the smaller settlements of Portressie, Ianstown and Gordonsburgh. Buckie is quite a large town and its port is still used to land fish and repair boats. The whole town is quite strung out along the coast, being composed of a number of smaller individual settlements. I passed through Buckpool and headed towards Portgordon close to the line of the old dismantled Highland Railway line.

I now left the small towns behind and set off towards the mouth of the River Spey at Spey Bay. The River Spey is one of great rivers of Scotland, being the ninth longest river in the UK, as well as the third longest and fastest-flowing river in Scotland and is still important for salmon fishing and whisky production. Today it was in full spate and difficult to see its main channel. I was able to cross the river via the old Garmouth railway bridge. The local golf club in Garmouth has borne the brunt of the Spey in flood having parts of its course washed away in the past. I walked through the small village of Garmouth and noticed a Polling Station – a reminder that today was the General Election (I had already voted by post).

Early morning at Findochty with the lights of Lossiemouth in the far distance
Cluny Harbour at Buckie
The old Highland railway line heading towards Portgordon
The rather drab harbour at Portgordon
The mouth of the River Spey at Spey Bay
The old Garmouth Railway viaduct across The Spey
Crossing The River Spey
Garmouth village
Polling station in Garmouth
Looking back towards Buckie with The Bin of Cullen visible
Oh bug^*r!
Looking towards Lossiemouth

I headed back the short distance to the coast and through the small village of Kingston. Here my coastal walk ended as I was confronted with a large sign that said that the footbridge at Lossiemouth was closed and to use Arthur’s Bridge on the B9103. This bridge was off my printed maps and I did not know if I could get there by walking along the coast. It was very frustrating not being able to make decision which would be the easiest, safest and best route to get me to Lossiemouth. I could see the houses of Lossiemouth some 7 miles away, meaning that I could walk all the way along the coast almost into Lossiemouth and then be thwarted by a bridge from the sand bar over the River Lossie into Lossiemouth itself. I asked a few people on the beach where Arthurs Bridge was, nobody really knew, so I was on my own. This had been the second time on this trip that I had experienced a missing segment of my printed map. My phone is a ‘bog-standard’ voice and text and I vowed that I would look at getting either a GPS with OS 1:50/1:25k or upgrade to a smart phone with an OS app. [I have since upgraded my phone with the OS subscription to use as a back-up to printed maps.]

I headed in land and knew the direction I needed to travel to get towards Lossiemouth. After 3 miles of road walking I picked up a signpost to Lossiemouth indicating the town was still 7 miles away. By coming this route I would have walked an additional 4 miles. I checked my watch, it was a bright day and I knew i would have enough hours of daylight to complete the walk. I eventually arrived at Arthurs Bridge, which was the first bridging point over the River Lossie. Not long after I came back on grid with my printed maps. The B9103 was quite busy, but had a reasonable verge for most parts.

I then had one of the most bizarre encounters of my whole coast walk and the first instance of ‘Road Rage’! As I was walking along a wide 2m grass verge, on the left hand side of the road, a white car stopped next to me sounding its horn and a woman wound her window down and said that I should be walking on the right-hand side of the road. She had obviously not noticed that there was no verge at all on the right-hand side! I blurted out that she should read the Highway Code, but to be quite honest, the guidance contained within it, is poor for pedestrians walking along roads with no pavement. Before I could get my next sentence out this mad woman drove off. What she also did not understand is that if I was walking on the right hand side, I would have been walking on the road itself and any vehicle approaching me would have had to slow down or stop if traffic was coming the other way. The whole encounter was over in seconds, but it really annoyed me. I could not believe that someone had sounded their horn for no reason other than to alert me to their intended rant, stop their vehicle in the carriageway creating an obstruction and then driving off. I had decided to call her Mad Lady of Lossie.

Soon afterwards I entered a forest path and I came upon a sign giving information about the Moray Coast Trail diversion. I could see that I could have easily walked along the coast and then cut inland towards Arthur’s Bridge. Soon after passing the cemetery I was able to follow a footpath all the way into Lossiemouth. I emerged close to the bridge that was closed and the cause for all the extra miles I had walked. I could see Heras fencing on either side of the bridge, the bridge looked complete and ok but obviously there must have been a valid reason for its closure. However, if i was starting my walk here I would have been sorely tempted to climb around the fencing and continue my walk along the coast.

Crossing The River Lossie at Arthurs Bridge
The closed bridge at East Lossiemouth

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=24783

 

Distance today =23 miles
Total distance = 5,589 miles