Day 90 The Black Isle (Part 2)

Saturday 4 July 2015

Fortrose to Cromarty

10 miles

Sydney House B&B

What a difference a day makes. I knew rain was forecast so I got up early to try and get my tent down before it started; 5.15 am was not early enough! The sky was very black and I had only just managed to pack away my sleeping bag and mat when it started raining. I got back in my tent for a bit contemplating my next move; I decided that I would have to pack the tent away wet, so that’s what I did as soon as it eased off a bit. I was away by 7.30 and immediately I started walking the rain became heavier. I walked down to Chanonry Point but there were no dolphins to watch this morning and no people out trying to catch a glimpse. I could barely see across the narrow stretch of water to Fort George.  

Me in front of Chanonry Point Lighthouse in the driving rain
 By 8.30 I was soaked through to my skin and starting to get cold. I stopped in the Spar at Rosemarkie and they advised me there was some shelter down by the beach cafe, although the cafe didn’t open until 10.30. I was heading to the beach anyway as the path to Cromarty ran along the shoreline but was only accessible at low tide. 

The cliffs at the end of the beach looked huge, but the rock in the foreground was rather cool
  Looking at the high cliffs I decided it would be foolhardy to take the path in the driving rain as it involved scrambling across rocks and beating the tide. I sat outside the cafe for an hour and a half, sheltering from the wind and rain. I had to put several layers on, including my coat.  

Sheltering outside the men’s toilet behind the closed cafe – all the best places!
 At 10.30 the cafe opened and I could shelter inside with a coffee and a bacon sandwich. A little warmer I headed back out to walk down the beach to look at the amazing rocks that are different to the sandstone that is everywhere else on Black Isle. Apparently the rocks here have been pushed up from the Great Glen at some point. Many are rather striking.  

The beach was littered with interesting rocks and stones
 The sea was already at the base of the cliffs so there was no way I could walk the path to Cromarty.  

The sea lapping at the path at the base of the cliffs
 I could walk the roads, but instead I chose to take a walk up the Fairy Glen to the waterfalls that are supposedly where some fairies live. The waterfalls were indeed spectacular and were worth the walk up the muddy gorge.  

I was hoping for fairies in the background of this photo
  
The main waterfall and the penny tree in front
 
Back in Rosemarkie the rain was easing off but I was still soaked and wearing 5 layers of clothes. I waited for the Pictish museum to open at 2 pm (seriously, nothing is ever open this far North) and went for a look around before getting the bus to Cromarty. The museum contains a beautiful cross slab from 8th Century Pictland and I learnt a bit about the Picts, who were farmers in East Scotland. This area has a tie with Lindisfarne as St Columba came here in the 6th Century from Iona to spread Christianity.  

The Rosemarkie Cross Stone
  
Collages made in the Pictish style outside the museum
 
Cromarty is a lovely town built on a small protrusion of land at the neck of the Cromarty Firth. It was on the Medieval pilgrims’ route heading North to the Shrine of St Duthac at Tain; the ferry between Cromarty and Nigg being a constant feature since then…at least until now. Unfortunately the ferry has been cancelled this year until repair work is carried out on the Nigg landing area. I had intended to get that ferry! I even tried the local harbour pub to see if any fishermen could take me but no joy. 

The view back towards the Moray Firth from Cromarty; the entrance to the Cromarty Firth guarded by the Sutors
 Cromarty has retained many of its fine old buildings from the 18th and 19th Century and it’s good looks draw in the tourists. It was the birthplace of Hugh Millar, who taught himself geology and discovered a fossilised Pterichthys (winged fish) in the old red sandstone on the Cromarty foreshore in 1830. 

The Cromarty Firth is protected by the North and South Sutors (hills either side of the Firth entrance). Sutor means shoemaker in Scots and Legend has it that 2 giants used the Sutors for workbenches. As the clouds broke in the late afternoon I walked up to the top of South Sutor to admire the view; I could see right across the Moray Firth as well as back inland. 

Looking down on Cromarty from South Suter (note the oil rigs)

On the way out of Cromarty I stopped to take a look at the Cromarty Community Archaeology Project that is excavating a medieval burgh.  

“I dig Cromarty”
 The Cromarty Arms was rather quiet early evening as there was a fiddle concert in the old East Church (part of the Black Isle Fiddlers Weekend!) so I think lots of people had gone to that. Sadly it was sold out and I didn’t have the energy to wait and see if they came into the pub for last orders.  

The stunning view down the Cromarty Firth from South Suter

Day 89 The Black Isle (Part 1)

Friday 3 July 2015

Inverness to Fortrose

10 miles

Fortrose Caravan Park

I was up early as it was so hot and the man in the bunk next to mine (mixed rooms these days!) snored like a train. I took some time to catch up on the blog and then headed out for a quick breakfast in town on the way to the Kessock Bridge. Unfortunately the cycle route by the River Ness was shut owing to work being carried out so I was relegated to the footpath by the side of the main roads through an industrial park.  

 The Kessock Bridge crosses the narrow section of water that splits the Beauly Firth from the Moray Firth. It was opened in 1982 by the Queen Mother and looks like a modern bridge. The views up the river into the mountains were great and some of the mountains still had snow on them.  

What a view of Beauly Firth, and those mountains have snow on them!
 Once over the bridge I was in the Black Isle and the countryside. Initially there was a road and then a path (sort of) along the side of the Moray Firth to Kilmuir. 

Looking back at Kessock Bridge

Kilmuir
  Just after this village the path disappeared and I found myself negotiating a steep hillside covered in gorse and ferns. It was incredibly frustrating as the map said there should be a path and the tracks I found kept leading to nowhere. I was going up and down the same hillside constantly being trapped. At one point I found 2 enormous houses with a road/track that linked them, but no matter where I looked I could not find the road out. Ridiculous. Perhaps the owners arrive by helicopter? Eventually I made it out to a minor road and then on tracks down to a large inlet called Munlochy Bay. Again the tracks were fading on me as it looks like no one drives down them so they become blocked with gorse and nettles. I made it into a field that was obviously used by cows and was also quite boggy. Wading through a boggy cowpat is quite slow going and I was glad I didn’t see any cows.  

Munlochy Bay, the Moray Firth beyond
 I finally made it to the main road, which was almost worse as it was rather busy and narrow and there wasn’t a pavement so the cars had to move out to avoid me. 

By the time I got to Munlochy it was 2.15 pm and I needed a break as the weather was very hot and sunny (I was glad of that hat!).  

Glad of my new hat in the sunshine
 I stopped at the first pub I came to and sat inside to cool down. The barman kept topping up my soft drink as I looked like I needed it. I was conscious time was pushing on and I still had a way to go. As I walked up the main street a bus arrived labelled Fortrose and stopped right by me. I thought this was fate so I got in it and arrived at Fortrose about 10 minutes later. 

Fortrose is a very small town at the head of the peninsula that leads to Chanonry Point, dolphin-watching territory. Despite its small size it has a ruined cathedral that was built in the 1200s and sacked in the Reformation. It was quite an important place as it housed the Bishop of the Diocese of Ross, which covered a lot of North Scotland, and a ‘town of clergymen’ built around it.  

The Fortrose Cathedral
 I found my campsite, pitched my tent and relaxed in the sunshine for a bit while my washing dried. No Dolphins this afternoon as the wind has increased and the Firth has become choppier the last couple of afternoons. 

The campsite owner booked me into the local restaurant, Eilean Dubh, for dinner as it’s won some awards and is highly recommended. It was definitely worth going; locally sourced food and the best sticky toffee pudding I’ve ever eaten.  

Chanonry Point in the evening sunshine walking back to the campsite

Day 88 Fort George

Thursday 2 July 2015

Bus to Inverness

6 miles

Bazpackers Hostel, Inverness

There was a big thunderstorm during the night that cleared the air a bit. I was up at 4.15 am as Dave was heading to Inverness Airport for an early flight and kindly dropped me off at Ardersier enroute. From there it was a 1.5 mile walk along the Inverness estuary to Fort George. As there are no coastal paths between Findhorn and Inverness I had decided not to bother walking and just to visit Fort George instead as it seemed like an interesting place right on the ‘neck’ of the Moray Firth, directly opposite Chanonry Point.  

Fort George guarding the ‘neck’ of the Moray Firth
 Yet again I had been really lucky and very well looked after by Dave and Cally. Staying with friends provides a welcome morale boost.  

Looking across the Moray Firth to Inverness and the Kessock Bridge
 It was so quiet and peaceful at 6 am; no one was about, the sky looked huge and the water was dead calm. A great morning for sitting on the rocky shore and watching dolphins. What a treat I was in for, an hour long show. At first I only saw one, very close to the shore, but soon there were lots, in many small groups. It was so calm I could hear them breathe out through their blowholes before I could see them. I was able to watch them for ages and occasionally was treated to breaching and big dives. Fantastic.  

There’s the first dolphin
  
Leaping out of the water
  
A dolphin in front of Chanonry Point
 Once the show was over I spent some time enjoying the calm and catching up on blog writing until Fort George opened to the public at 9.30 am. 

On the shore outside Fort George early in the morning
  It’s a popular place and there was already a coach in the car park by 9.45. It is the only fort in the country that is open as a museum and is still a working barracks, hence there were soldiers wandering around.  

The formal building layout inside the fort
 The fort is so well preserved and well designed that I’m sure it would have been impregnable in the mid-1700s, it’s just a pity it took over 20 years to build and so was surplus to requirements by the time it was finished in 1770. Nothing ever changes in the military! The fort was designed by William Skinner after the Battle of Culloden, which was just a few miles down the road, in 1746. The Crown beat the Rebelling Highlanders and built Fort George to contain any possible future threats from those pesky Scots. By the time it was finished, however, England and Scotland were quite well united.  

Protection from the Highlanders
 The Highlanders museum and the Seaforth Arms display were both impressive. I spent a good couple of hours wandering around. I went for a coffee and was asked if I was in the Army – I must still have a military look about me! I explained I was in the RAF and I think that still qualified me for a discount.  

The bridge to get in
 I had to walk back to Ardersier to catch a bus to Inverness in the afternoon.  

 I wandered through the ‘Capital of the Highlands’ and booked into one of the backpackers’ hostels. I think I’m too old to appreciate these sort of places. I needed to go shopping for a couple of things so did a tour of the outdoors-type shops and bought a hat, a tick remover tool and a new t-shirt to replace my one that’s falling apart after 3 months of constant wear. 

I was feeling a bit glum as planning was going badly so I treated myself to a restaurant meal as I couldn’t face navigating the hostel kitchen. 

Day 87 Heatwave Rest Day

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Rest day

Dave and Cally’s house

The hottest July day ever recorded in the UK was not one to spend walking. It was scorching hot in Scotland as well as down South so I sheltered from the heat in Elgin. Apart from helping Cally with a dog walk along the beautiful River Lossie estuary I had a lazy day. It was too hot to do anything. A big thanks to Dave and Cally for allowing me to hang around at theirs for an extra day. 

Walking along the Lossie estuary looking back at Lossiemouth

Day 86 The Lossiemouth Coastline

Tuesday 30 June 2015

Lossiemouth to Findhorn

16.5 miles

Dave and Cally’s house, Elgin

A hot and sunny day was in store and Cally was going to walk the first part with me from Lossiemouth to Hopeman. Dave drove us to have a look at Lossiemouth East Beach, looking beautiful in the morning sun, before dropping us off at the West Beach.  

Lossiemouth East Beach with the River Lossie flowing almost parallel behind the beach
Cally walks fast but I managed to keep up and it was nice to have some company. No need for a map when walking with a local! 

Me and Cally – stunning and deserted beach
Lossiemouth beach is unusual in having a lighthouse halfway along it just plonked in the dunes. It also has runway lights in the dunes that belong to RAF Lossiemouth and by 10 am we were being serenaded by noisy, but impressive, Typhoons. After about 2.5 miles the beach ran out and the path headed up onto the cliff top.  
The cliff top to Hopeman, covered in gorse
 
There were a couple of beautiful little coves that looked great for wild camping.  
Covesea
 The sandstone cliffs are perfect for developing caves and nooks and crannies.  

Me and Bobby guarding the entrance to a tunnel through the cliff at Covesea
We arrived at Hopeman in no time at all and we did walk past the one famous Prieshach hole on the Hopeman links golf course that makes several lists for best hole. Hopeman is a lovely little town, with a beautiful beach, and the first with beach huts that I’ve seen for ages.  

Hopeman beach huts
 Unfortunately Cally had to leave me here to go to work. It was getting hot and I was slower on my own. The walk from Hopeman to Burghead was mostly on a cycle track along the disused railway line. I past St Aethan’s Well, complete with dog bowls, but the water didn’t look very clean.  

St Aethan’s Well – good for dogs on a hot day!
  Burghead looks ugly from a distance as it is dominated by a factory on its edge; however, it is built on a promontary and I quite liked it.  

Looking back on Burghead from the headland, you can see the sea on both sides
    Its natural shape made it ideal for a fort and there is a great little museum about Burghead’s past as a Pictish fort. The museum also has a fantastic vantage point from where I could see all across the Moray Firth. Great for dolphin spotting (although I didn’t see any).  

The view across the Moray Firth to the Black Isle and beyond
I stopped at The Bothy cafe for a drink and some shade before I began my 7 mile hike along the Roseisle beach to Findhorn. The sun was shining and it was hot so I took my boots off and paddled in the shallows all the way along the beach. 

Walking along the Roseisle beach, paddling in the shallows
  Some areas are quite secluded as the beach backs onto a forest. I took the opportunity to strip off and go for a quick skinny dip at one point. The water wasn’t even that cold.  

The forest behind the beach (RAF kinloss is in there somewhere)
  At one point I thought I was never going to reach Findhorn. It is a long way on a hot day. Cally and the kids were there to meet me and there were lots of people on the beach here. Findhorn Bay is a vast, sheltered basin where the River Findhorn flows to the sea. It has the beautiful Culbin Forest on the West side. We stopped at the cafe for a bit of refreshment. It’s always windy at Findhorn. 

Stunning views in the sunshine
  The tide moves fast in the extensive bay as well. We didn’t see many hippies from the Findhorn Foundation today. It had been a good walk and I had managed to get my feet sunburnt.  

Coming over the dunes into Findhorn Bay

Day 85 The Moray Harbour Towns

Monday 29 June 2015

Cullen to Lossiemouth 

16.5 miles

Dave and Cally’s house, Elgin

I was fortunate not to have a hangover this morning. But the sun was shining and it was nice to sit outside the hostel with a cup of tea admiring the view across the harbour.  

Cullen Beach, Seatown, and the disused railway line
 Having left the pub without paying last night I had to walk back up the town, get an envelope and post some money through the letterbox of the Three Kings. Once that was done I could set off, through Seatown and across the Cullen links golf course.  

Looking down on Cullen Beach and the links golf course
 I climbed up the cliff and watched a fishing boat setting creels to catch lobster and crab.  

A fishing boat setting creels
 There was a path along the headland and I was able to admire all the amazing rock formations and stacks produced by the deeply folded beds of Cullen quartzite. The best one is Bow Fiddle Rock.  

The Bow Fiddle Rock
 Portknockie was the next town, and then Findochty (can be pronounced Finickty). All of these towns are built to the same mould but some, like Findochty, look brighter with their brightly painted houses.  

Port Knockie Harbour
  
Findochty Harbour
 
I stopped at The Admirals pub for a coffee and to do some blog writing. I ended up staying for a spot of lunch. I had Cullen Skink, a creamy seafood and fish soup with potato and onions. Delicious. 

I climbed up the cliff again and stopped at the war memorial to admire the view. Then it was a walk around yet another golf course and down the hill to Buckie. The town of Buckie seems to have swallowed the small towns of Portessie, Ianstown and Gordonsburgh, although all 3 have their own nameplates there is nothing to them. There is a colony of grey seals on Craigenroan Rock just offshore from the old Strathlene lido that is now filled in with stones.  

Craigenroan Rock with its noisy seals and the remains of Strathlene Lido
 I walked along the Buckie sea front and this town did not have the same feel as the other harbour towns. Buckie is bigger and still has a small shipbuilding industry, which used to build the herring fleet trawlers. Buckie had a large herring fishing fleet in the early 1900s and the Cluny Fish Kilns are still in operation, smoking fish for over a century.  

Cluny Fish Kilns still in operation
 I saw dolphins swimming along not far off shore. I managed to get a photo of one breaching, although it’s not very good without a proper camera.  

That is a dolphin breaching, honest
 I stood quite some time watching the dolphins and getting talked to by a young lady with incredibly bad teeth (probably from drinking cans of Irn Bru or Monster as I frequently see). Eventually I said I had to go and carried on to Portgordon, which seemed really rundown and there were several houses up for sale. I then headed inland slightly and onto the Speyside Way, a National trail that follows the River Spey, Britain’s fastest flowing river.  

Nice to walk through woods for a change, The Speyside Way from Port Gordon
 At Spey Bay I stopped to check out the Scottish Dolphin Centre and there were quite a lot of people trying to spot dolphins (I didn’t boast that I’d had a great view of some at Buckie). The Moray Firth is home to a pod of almost 200 bottlenose Dolphins and they are significantly larger and fatter than other bottlenoses as this is the farthest North and the coldest sea they are found.  

The Scottish Dolphin Centre right at the mouth of the Spey Bey, complete with a David Annand sculpture of an osprey
 I walked about a mile up the River Spey to the first bridge and crossed it into Garmouth where my friend Dave had agreed to pick me up. 

  From here to Lossiemouth involved a long, and dull walk along shingle next to a forest so I decided to give it a miss. It had been a long enough walk and Dave’s wife, Cally, had cooked a lovely dinner and I was keen to meet the children and answer their questions. 

Looking up the River Spey
  
Amazing hospitality, even a chocolate on my pillow! Thanks Cally
 

WEEK 12 – Montrose, Angus to Cullen, Moray

  

105 miles

(total 975 miles)

This week was mostly spent in Aberdeenshire and saw me cross into the Highlands and round the NE corner of the UK map into the Moray Firth. Despite seeing several adverts referring to the coastal path, there hasn’t really one this far North. At least not one that is consistent or maintained. The theme of the week seems to have been wet feet as I spent so much time forcing my way along overgrown paths or skirting around farmers’ fields and climbing fences. It hasn’t been ideal, and nor has the weather: grey and dull for most of the week. I was beginning to wonder if the sun ever shone this far North but then it came out on Saturday, and what a difference it made. The grey stone buildings looked a lot more beautiful in the sunshine. The sunny weekend was just the pick-me-up that I required; sunshine, better paths and vibrant little towns. 

The further North I get the coastal towns feel more remote and are definitely geared more towards fishing than tourism. A consequence of this is cafes, pubs and shops are becoming scarcer on the coast with many towns seemingly having no facilities at all. 

I have started to get buses more frequently as I try and avoid walking on roads, difficult areas with no paths and bad weather. I am thinking a bus tour of Britain might be a better idea. I don’t particularly enjoy walking for walking’s sake; head down trying not to stumble or no views to look at. 

There was a definite pattern to the fishing towns towards the end of the week in Aberdeenshire and Moray. They were all built into hills with a Seatown at the bottom, which was where the fishermen’s cottages were, many of them built side-on to the sea. I am pretty sure every town I walked through had a Seafield Road as well. The houses are much the same but can be brightened up by painting the window surrounds, or the house itself, in vibrant colours. Each town had a harbour as its focal point and many still have the net-drying posts still in place. My favourite small fishing towns were Portsoy and Cullen as they seemed to have a community spirit and things going on. Some towns almost seemed shut. 

I was really lucky this week to have been hosted by Fran and Sam, Rohan and Oli. Without their kindness and company I would have struggled this week. I’m hoping for better weather in July. Because of the poor weather I have not wanted to camp and so have stayed in guest houses for several nights. I have not been bowled over by the standard of guest houses up here, and they have not been cheaper than further South. Each one I’ve stayed in has provided only one of the following: clean accommodation, private bathroom or a proper breakfast. All of them seem to have purchased £10 mattresses from Argos. Easier than camping in the rain, but not a lot nicer. Still, beggars can’t be choosers I suppose. 

Typical fishermen’s cottages in Seatown, Cullen

Day 84 Moray Fishing Towns

Sunday 28 June 2015

Macduff to Cullen

17.5 miles

Cullen Harbour Hostel

What a great day – I felt like I was due one. It was an inauspicious start as it was pouring with rain when I got up so, having requested an early breakfast (8 am) I promptly then hung around until the rain stopped at 10 am. I was glad to leave as the place stank of dogs (the owners had 9) and there were hairs everywhere in my room. 

It was a short walk around Banff Bay on the road, crossing the River Deveron. Whereas Macduff harbour had fishing boats in it, Banff harbour had small yachts. There didn’t look to be a great difference in the 2 towns but I bet there is a huge rivalry. Both towns are built on hills that seem to guard the exit of the river into the sea. At Banff there was a spring that the Romans had built a structure over and it was known as the Red Well (pronounced Reed Wall up here!). A bit like Stonehenge, the light is apparently different at dawn on the summer solstice and, if looking out from inside, the sun rises over the sea up to 21 June and then over the land (at Troup Head) from 21 June. Perhaps it was a farming calendar?  

The Red Well, Banff
 The walk from Banff to Whitehills was on a cycle path so easy going. For the first time in a while I saw sand bags propped up against the seafront houses. It is interesting how many of the houses on the sea front are built sideways on with only one small window facing the sea, very practical and will probably also keep them safe from 2nd home owners! 

Fishermen’s cottages built side-on to the sea
I stopped at a shop and noticed the headline in the local paper was all about a stand off between wildlife activists and the Scottish Wild Salmon Company (whose shed I’d noticed yesterday in Gardenstown). The activists were trying to stop the Salmon Company from shooting seals that were presumably feeding on their salmon. An interesting argument this one as I found out later in Portsoy because the salmon numbers have dwindled right down and the seal numbers are huge now that man no longer culls them. 

In Whitehills I stopped for a coffee and was considering getting the bus as the next section was along a road; however, the waitress convinced me that it was a nice walk along a very minor road and she was right. I had good views to the see as the road was higher than the cliff edge.  

Great place to sit and admire the view back to Whitehills
 It also meant I got to cross the pretty wee valley that the Burn of Boyne flows through. 

Watermill in Boyne Valley – complete with plastic duck in the river!
  Unfortunately Boyne Castle was hidden from my view and I wasn’t about to walk across the fields to look for it, although I was told this is possible. The sun was shining again but there was a big black cloud approaching and I was hoping to make it over the hill and into Portsoy before it hit. I didn’t make it and got a good soaking. It didn’t matter though because I treated myself to an ice cream from the Portsoy post office, where they make their own, and then the sun came out again. (There was no banana flavour ice cream because next weekend is the Portsoy International Traditional Boat Festival and this year bananas have been deemed bad luck!) I wandered down to the Seatown (all the towns here are built on hills around a harbour with the main town at the top and the Seatown down by the harbour) and stopped at The Salmon Bothy.  

The Salmon Bothy at Portsoy
 This is an old, and quite grand, ice house that has been turned into a small museum. Just like in Gourdon a few days ago, I was shown around by a very enthusiastic volunteer. I saw a model of laid out salmon fishing nets, which explained what I had seen in the sea at Lunan Bay, saw photos of the old cobles (similar fishing boats to those in N Yorks) and enquired that, yes, the fishermen did wear ganseys. Nice to see the same traditions linking England and Scotland.  

The community room in the Salmon Bothy complete with knitted fish
 Portsoy had a community spirit and the Salmon Bothy seemed to be a bit of a hub for all sorts of community activities and clubs, not to mention the office for organising the annual Boat Festival. The ladies of the town had built a rowing boat (painted pink) that they raced and the children had built optimist sailing dinghies that they called pessimists because there has been no wind when they tested them.  

 I stopped in the cafe for some tea before the last leg to Cullen. The sun was shining and it was a wonderful walk over the cliffs to Sandend Bay (where I saw 7 people in the sea; 4 without wetsuits). 

The beautiful beach at Sandend Bay
  I crossed the lovely beach and headed up the cliff again, this time on an unmaintained path. Thank goodness for my walking poles as at one point the path fell away but I couldn’t see this through the waist high grass and nearly fell down a steep slope! I suffered a second rain shower and this one didn’t seem to be coming from a cloud as the sun was still shining!  

A rainbow over the cliffs
 Fortunately the path improved and there were stunning views of the cliffs and of Findlater Castle, built in 1455 by Sir Walter Ogilvy and abandoned in the mid 1600s. It was in a good place to withstand attacks!  

Findlater Castle
 Soon the path dropped down the cliff into Sunnyside Bay, a secluded bay that is a decent trek from the nearest car park. Suddenly the path was through head height grasses and I couldn’t even see the beach!  

Head height grasses and I’m on Sunnyside Beach!
 I did find Charlie’s Cave, a rock with a dome shape in it (not even a proper cave) where Frenchman called Charlie made a home for himself and lived for 13 years with 2 cats and a vegetable patch. He deserted from the French Navy in WW1 and stopped here until eventually a landowner complained and he was moved on. Incredible story and what a harsh place to live.  

Charlie’s cave – no more than a hollow in a rock
 For the first time the coastal path actually skirted around the cliffs at Logie Head and at one point I had to climb the Giant’s Steps, which were hand cut and placed by one man in 1987 to improve the path. The locals have made a memorial to Tony Hetherington.  

The Giant’s steps – the only exit from Sunnyside Beach
  
A proper cliff path!
 
Finally I was within sight of Cullen. Just the pet cemetery to walk past, which was being tended by an old man who I subsequently found out built it as a labour of love. He wrote to the Queen for permission when the council refused his request and he meticulously keeps it tidy, thoroughly cleaning all the stones and brushing the sand away (it is by the seaside!). Sounds like a bit of an eccentric who doesn’t like his wife! I did see one gravestone that read Sammy the Seal.  

The beautifully kept Cullen Pet Cemetary, right on the shore
 I was staying right on the harbour front in a really well appointed hostel, which I had all to myself. It was quite late so I headed straight up the hill to the pub I’d been recommended for some dinner.  

Cullen Bay
 Had a lovely seafood platter and a pint at the Three Kings and then I got chatting to the locals and it all went horribly wrong. 

A fishy dinner fit for a king!
  A few pints and a whisky later I staggered back down the hill well after closing and forgetting to pay my tab! It had been a good night. Thanks to Campbell the landlord, and Michael and Peter for the conversation and the drinks.  

Looking through the railway arches at the sun setting over Cullen Bay

Day 83 A Bus Ride into the Moray Firth

Saturday 27 June 2015

Fraserburgh to Macduff
3 miles
Park Hotel

I awoke to glorious sunshine (and a fire alarm), fantastic (not so fantastic). I rushed my cooked breakfast (first one for a month) in order to catch the early bus to Rosehearty, which would avoid a walk along the main road. I was looking at today’s route when the bus arrived, and I didn’t get on. The driver even asked me if I wanted to get on as I had my bag in hand, but the thing was I couldn’t face another long day with wet feet and no paths. There were no defined paths on the map virtually the whole way to Macduff and I knew that my walk would involve forcing my way through more long grass, nettles and thistles, and probably navigating my way around some farmers’ fields and climbing fences. None of it was appealing. I had a quick rethink and decided to catch a bus all the way to Macduff instead. This new plan meant I had a couple of hours to kill in The Broch (Fraserburgh) so I headed to the very corner, the NE tip, in order to contemplate life. Fraserburgh marks the start of the Moray Firth, all 500 miles of coastline up to Duncansby Head (John O’Groats). 

Kinnaird Head Lighthouse
 Kinnaird Head Lighthouse was the first one to be built by the Northern Lighthouse Board in 1787 and it was built into an existing castle. Now it is part of the Fraserburgh Lighthouse Museum. There is also a heritage museum (although I was too early for either museum to be open) and I wandered around the grounds.  

The buoy park at the Heritage Museum
I walked right onto the Head and sat on a bench looking at the sea for ages. I watched a few birds and just enjoyed the sunshine glinting on the water and the sound of the sea. It was lovely and peaceful.  

my bench
 I eventually walked into town, the usual small, grey streets I am becoming accustomed to up here. The pavements are so skinny that there are no fronts to any of the shops and I find it strange walking down a street with shops where you can’t see the shops until you’re right outside them. I bought a newspaper and sat in a cafe to enjoy a leisurely Saturday morning coffee and paper…just like home!
I caught the bus and we stopped at a couple of the small fishing towns I was missing. They looked stunning, albeit the sun was shining today. The cliff walking I was missing looked pretty tough as there were lots of beautiful valleys containing burns that flowed down to the sea, so there would have been a number of steep descents and climbs, with fences to clamber over. The Tore Burn valley leading not into Cullykhan Bay looked the biggest and most impressive, filled with gorse. 

Looking back at Gordonstown – look at the hills!
In Gardenstown there were some kids jumping off the harbour wall into the sea. It was a shame I missed Troup Head as that is a rather dominant feature along the coast and also an RSPB reserve. 

Once in Macduff I headed back East a little, along the golf course, to get a good view of the cliffs I had missed.  

The view back along the coast from Macduff to Gardenstown
 Tarlair outdoor pool is a relic waiting to be rescued. It could be amazing and it’s in a phenomenal location.  

Tarlair outdoor pool, Macduff
 Although it probably doesn’t get much sun if the last 3 weeks are anything to go by.   

Looking out to sea, just beautiful
 I walked into Macduff, enjoying that my boots were properly dry for the first time since Sunday. I had forgotten what colour they were! Rain clouds were coming overhead so I ducked into the Macduff Marine Aquarium and spent a couple of hours learning more about the diversity of marine species in the Moray Firth. It is an excellent facility with a huge tank open to the elements. I learned that there are 30 types of shark in the Moray Firth (including dog fish and other related species), and that kelp ‘trees’ can grow up to 30m tall. Hopefully I will see some more dolphins, and maybe even whales. 

I walked through the Macduff streets, up the hill to the war memorial, and admired the view across to Banff and beyond. I could just about make out the hills in N Scotland, across the Moray Firth. 

Macduff and Banff across the water
I checked into my guest house (not looking forward to the karaoke or the help-yourself-breakfast) and was advised there were only 2 options for dinner: the Chinese, or the Knowes Hotel. I went for the hotel. Great view from my window seat and there were hardly any customers in the only restaurant in a reasonably sized town on a Saturday night. This seems to me to be a difference between Scotland and England.    
View to Banff from restaurant
 

Day 82 Another Long Beach Walk to Fraserburgh

Friday 26 June 2015

Peterhead to Fraserburgh
17.5 miles
Coral Haven Guest House

Another grey day. Will they ever end? It took me the best part of an hour to get to the centre of Peterhead so I stopped for a proper breakfast: a huge pancake with maple syrup and a coffee. It seems that bed and breakfasts in Scotland rarely provide a proper breakfast, at least the ones I stay at all seem to offer self-service cereals, and they’re not even cheap!  

Peterhead Port looking drab in the mist
 I crossed the Ugie River via the Birnie pedestrian bridge leading to Peterhead Golf Club, the 18th oldest in the world. Before the bridge was built by a benefactor in the early 20th Century the golf club had to provide a ferry-man to allow access from the town. Here an old lady enquires about my walk and told me I needed to stay land-side by the burn at the end of the golf course as the beach had sinking sand. I took her advice on board and wished I hadn’t. The burn didn’t even reach the beach and I ended up walking through yet more wet grass in the dunes and so my feet, socks and boots were soaked again. I was not happy. 

I had to jump down a sand dune to access the beach and then it was a 3 hour walk, mostly along the beach, to St Combs. There wasn’t much to see today, only a few birds and no people. I took a detour into the dunes at Scotston to find a path that would lead me to a bridge across a burn just before a huge gas terminal. Annoyingly, the path over the bridge and beyond was overgrown so I was treated to another soaking for my feet and legs and several nettle stings. Another jump down a sand dune cliff was required to access the beach again. Amazingly, as I approached Rattray Head the sun came out for an hour and I got a nice view of The Ron lighthouse just off shore.  

Rattray Head Lighthouse
 The wind dropped off a bit as I rounded Rattray Head and there was lots of seaweed on the shore.  

seaweed on the beach
At the next burn, coming out of Loch of Strathbeg behind the dunes, I took my boots and socks off and paddled across to avoid a detour into the dunes to find the bridge. I took the opportunity to sit down, eat my lunch and try to dry my feet and socks off a bit. 

St Combs and Inverallochy were both grey towns with nothing going on. They were linked by a golf course that had some huge, grey and soulless-looking houses by the side of it. At Inverallochy I decided to get the bus the last 4 miles to Fraserburgh as my feet were getting sore from 2 days of walking with wet socks and boots. Standing at the bus stop it started raining; decision vindicated.  

A bench at St Combs – built to withstand the elements!
 I arrived in Fraserburgh in time to collect my next set of maps from the Post Office and find my Guest House. This one does serve breakfast, hurrah.