Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Walk 175 -- Stonehaven to Aberdeen

Ages: Colin was 65 years and 344 days. Rosemary was 63 years and 121 days.
Weather: Dull with light showers at first. Then it brightened up into a beautifully sunny Spring day. It was much warmer.
Location: Stonehaven to Aberdeen.
Distance: 20 miles.
Total distance: 1492 miles.
Terrain: Grassy cliff paths and a lot of road walking. Farm tracks, some very muddy. Undulating.
Tide: In, going out.
Rivers: No.113, Cowie Water in Stonehaven (we had to divert to a road bridge). No.114, Limpet Burn (we crossed it clinging to a railway embankment!) No.115, Burn of Murchalls at Easter Murchalls (this is where my ‘shortcut’ came unstuck and we had to climb over a barbed wire fence back on to the road!) No.116, Burn of Elsick at Newtonhill Bay (descended a gully to a footbridge). No.117, Burn of Daff (footbridge). No.118, Burn of Findon (descended a deep gully to a footbridge). No.119, Diney Burn (proper footpath next to the railway embankment). No.120, the River Dee in Aberdeen (road bridge).
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.149 near the lighthouse at Aberdeen.
Pubs: None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: No.52 at Stonehaven where the footbridge over Cowie Water was being replaced.
How we got there and back: We were staying in a holiday cottage in Montrose. We walked across the road to the station and caught a train to Stonehaven. There we walked through the town to the seafront.
At the end, we walked about two hundred yards to Aberdeen Station and caught a train back to Montrose. After such a long Walk we had to have a rest the next day, so we drove to Catterline and treated ourselves to a delicious pub lunch. We decided to call it a day, because we have achieved so much this trip — 91 miles from Dundee to Aberdeen. I was worried that Colin would be too tired to drive the 450 miles back home safely on Saturday if we did the next Walk (15 miles) on Friday. He didn’t need much persuading, so we returned home a day earlier than planned. It took us nine hours, with breaks every couple of hours or so. How thankful we are that we don’t still live in Bognor!

We felt much more confident about today’s Walk because we had the card maps we were given yesterday at the Tourist Information Office. We couldn’t have managed such a long Walk without them. We followed the ‘blobs’ which told us where there was a coastal path and where there was not — information we had found impossible to glean from the expensive OS maps we have been following. Twice during the Walk we thought we knew better and took a path not marked by blobs. Both times we came unstuck!
We started today’s Walk on the waterfront at Stonehaven next to a notice pleading with us not to take shingle from the beach! Actually, we had no intention of doing so today, though Colin is looking a little quizzical in the picture because he has, in the past, removed a small bag or two of fine sand from a beach much further south in order to line his fish tanks. We walked on towards a footbridge, but had only taken a few steps when we were hailed by a man with a voice like Billy Connolly! He told us we couldn’t get over the footbridge because it was being replaced and the whole area was blocked off. We thanked him, and diverted to the road bridge which, thankfully, wasn’t far away. The river was running pretty fast, and there was no way we could have crossed it without a bridge.
Returning to the sea front, we came across some toilets which were clean, open and free — full marks to the local Council! Out of the town now, the path led us along the bottom of the cliff until we got to a golf course. Then we went upwards past an old cemetery with a ruined chapel. There was holly and a yew tree growing inside the roofless building. The latest graves were 19th century, and we felt they were put there even after the chapel fell to ruin.
We had to go slightly back on ourselves to join a lane where it went under the railway. There was a notice which told us, ‘Footpath to Skatie Shore / Highland Boundary Fault. We found Skatie Shore on our map, but we didn’t know what they meant by the Highland Boundary Fault. Perhaps if we’d had the local Geology map, it would have made itself obvious. We followed the lane uphill until it joined the main road, ignoring the path down to Skatie Shore because it is a dead end.
We thought we would then be on the main road for the next couple of miles because the blobs stopped there, but Colin noticed a grassy path just down from the bank running adjacent to the railway. We decided to follow it, even though it was not indicated by any blobs on our card maps, because we hate walking on main roads. Soon we came to a farm-track bridge over the railway and a notice telling us it was a footpath to Limpet Burn. None of this was marked on any of the maps we had. We were led to the cliff edge where an arrow on a post pointed us along the way we intended going. There was a large rock just off the cliff which was covered in birds. I suppose they feel safer out there with that little bit of sea separating them from the mayhem of the mainland.We walked along in the direction of the arrow and soon got to Limpet Burn, a tiny stream in a gully, and that was it — dead end!
We should have ‘obeyed’ the blobs! We were reluctant to go back, so looked for a way forward. The railway went over Limpet Burn, and we found that we too could clamber across by clinging to the fence like monkeys — we ought to know better at our age! It was a grassy field the other side, no path but quite walkable. We rounded a hillock, and after a couple of hundred yards came to another farm-track bridge across the railway. This track led us back on to the main road.
There followed the hated road-walking for a mile and a half. We strode on until we rounded a slight bend and looked over a gate towards Easter Murchalls where a track goes under the railway. The blobs on our card map started up again the other side, so we knew there was a coast path over there. I said, “Let’s take a short-cut across this field!” BIG mistake! I struggled to climb the gate (my deteriorating back condition doesn’t lend it self kindly to climbing gates or fences any more, even stiles are becoming problematic), crossed a field, struggled over another gate, crossed another field — nearly there.
BUT — we came to a barbed wire fence and a burn which was too wide and deep to cross. I had made a gross navigational error! We didn’t want to return the way we had come, but realised the only way we could cross this burn was by using the road bridge. So we walked alongside the fence with the stream the other side, away from the railway towards the road which was up on a bank at that point. There was still the problem of the barbed wire fence, the only alternative was to return to the original gate. So, with Colin’s help, I heaved myself over the barbs. Colin has the confidence to get a foot on to the top of a fence post and then jump down. I can’t do that! However, we both got over unscathed and climbed up the bank through gorse bushes to the road. We had gained nothing and lost half an hour! We decided that we would religiously follow the blobs from now on!
We continued on the road until we came to the track which led down to the railway bridge at Easter Murchalls, passed a pond and a farmhouse on the other side, and regained the ‘blobs’ path via a footbridge and a ruined building. It was very pleasant there, the sun was shining, so we sat on a wall to eat our pasties.
We proceeded a few hundred yards along a lovely rocky coastline, then the ‘blobs’ path took us once again under the railway and into the tiny settlement of Muchalls. On a mound between the railway and the sea (we couldn’t get to it) is a rather unusual War Memorial. A stone plaque declares, PEACE 1919, with a crown symbol between the two words.
We also passed a witty notice on a garden gate. The garden was very well kept, and the notice declared, ‘Weeds for sale, Pick your Own’. I liked that! Farm tracks took us on to the bigger village of Newtonhill, well waymarked with three signs. A green arrow told us we were on the coastal path. A blue Z (sorry! it’s supposed to be an N but it’s often on its side) told us we were on the North Sea Trail. And the other sign told us we could ride a bicycle, a horse or walk along these tracks. If only the rest of Scotland was so well signposted!
The North Sea Trail is an ambitious project to form a path all round the North Sea. It was originally funded by the EU, and the idea was to link seven countries: England, Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. The trouble is, the way is full of gaps! They have waymarked the paths that already existed, but don’t seem to have done much else to link them up. That is why we keep having to retreat to the road.
In Newtonhill we went over the railway and down the hill to the bay. There we crossed a gully and then climbed up towards Cran Hill — the official path led us along the edge of a ploughed field. Good job the soil was fairly dry! It was while walking these tracks that we saw a bird that was obviously a raptor, but we couldn’t quite identify it. Colin thought it was bigger than a buzzard, and it had tags on its wings. We came to the conclusion, in the end, that it was a buzzard but couldn’t understand why it was tagged.We skirted Cran Hill and took farm tracks to the hamlet of Downies, where we walked down the main street and on to another track leading northwards. We passed a derelict car, an interesting rock that had twisted stripes within it making it look like wood, an old water pump and some gnomes on a garden wall — and all the while we had magnificent views of the sea with the sun shining on it. We felt good! It was warm, so we sat on a grass bank to eat our sandwiches. Then we passed a farm called ‘England’ which we thought was very brave of the owners living in Scotland!
We came to the next village, Portlethen, where we met a local woman and got talking. She raved about her village and obviously loved living there right by the sea. She told us to ignore a ‘No entry’ sign as we approached the beach. “I don’t know why it’s there,” she said, “I go down that way every single day and nobody has told me I can’t!” Sure enough, When we got to the end of the village, there was a ‘PRIVATE NO ENTRY’ sign on the road leading down to the beach. But there was also a North Sea Trail ‘N’ sign on a telegraph pole nearby, and our ‘blobs’ map told us to continue that way! So we ignored it, and continued past Portlethen Bay then along the low cliffs towards Findon.
There was some kind of aerial runway bringing bucket-loads of stuff up from the beach to the cliff tops, but we didn’t know what it was all about. We continued on, me looking at the rock formations and Colin looking at the birds. Before we could get to Findon, we had to cross a deep gully. There was a footbridge across the stream at the bottom, thank goodness, then loads of steps to bring us back up the other side. It takes quite a time to cross this type of gully, and we hoped there wouldn’t be any more on this long Walk.
At the top we passed a row of bright orange oil rig life-rafts, one of which was completely burnt out! We had been speculating as to what they were for the last mile or so, ever since we had first seen them from the other side of the gully. We were fast approaching Aberdeen which is an important oil terminal, and we supposed Findon is the home of redundant oil rig life-rafts just like we discovered Foulness back in Essex is the home of redundant trains!
After Findon our walking ‘blobs’ came to and end, and we had to follow cycling ‘dashes’ which meant tarmacked roads for the next few miles. We were still not really next to the sea and found these roads quite boring, but at least we were away from the main roads with their constant traffic. After a mile or so, we crossed the railway and sat by a stream to eat our chocolate. Colin decided he needed to water a bush, and thought he was discreetly hidden away until a train came past! His problem is that with his artificial sphincter he can’t physically stop the flow once it has started. This is because the valve closes by gravity and that takes about two minutes, which is of no consequence if he completely empties his bladder. I told him, “Never mind! You don’t know any of those people on the train, and you’re never going to meet any of them ever again, so what does it matter?” Oh, the perils of getting old!
Further on we crossed the boundary into the ‘City of Aberdeen’, but we still seemed to be in the countryside — evidenced by lambs in a field even if they did have a working quarry behind them! However another half mile and housing estates began to appear, first on our left and then on our right. We had got to Cove Bay where we had tried so hard to catch a bus yesterday, and where this Walk was supposed to end. We still felt good, and were determined to continue all the way to the main railway station in the city centre.
We passed some boys playing football, and a closed toilet block. Fortunately neither of us needed to go, but how do the footballers manage? It was the evening rush-hour, and the traffic volume coming towards us over all the speed bumps in this residential area was quite phenomenal. We concluded that traffic jams on the main roads are so bad that everyone prefers to use these estates as a ‘rat-run’. I don’t suppose the residents are too happy about it, we thought it was terrible and we were only walking through.
We were pleased that our ‘blobs’ path started up again before we got to the industrial estate from where all this traffic was turning out. We ducked under the railway on a track, and we were in a different world! Away from the traffic noise, the path led us along the cliff top right into the city. It is a beautiful bit of coastline, a good path along the grassy cliffs with lots of interesting rocks below. It was difficult to believe we were actually in a city! We were surprised to pass a signpost telling us it was seven miles to the city centre, I had measured it as six including all the indentations of the cliff. When we thought we were about half way along, we sat on the cliff top and ate a second bar of chocolate to boost our energy levels. I was still feeling good, but Colin began to flag a bit towards the end — though he would never admit it!
We really enjoyed this part of the Walk, along the cliff top in the evening sun. We had expected it to be far more built up than it was, we could have been way out in the sticks for all we could see of the city. We passed a rare breeds farm where there was a field of black sheep with curly horns. We also passed a field of horses where one in particular came across to see if we had any titbits — we made a fuss of him because he was friendly but didn’t give him anything. We never do, these animals are far better off with their natural food.At last we reached Nigg Bay where we descended to the beach. It was good to walk on the sand again! We tried to stay on a low path round the lighthouse, but it got a bit dodgy with rocks and boulders to scramble over. We had walked too far to negotiate rough walking of this type, so we climbed a steep bank to the road. This we followed round the headland to the harbour entrance. We passed two concrete piers, one of which had a lighthouse on the end, but by then we were too tired to bother — I deemed them ‘unsafe’ because they might be slippery, but dead ends we don’t have to walk if we don’t want to.
We passed two more lighthouses, one each side of the road. We bypassed the docks — couldn’t get in anyway even if we’d wanted to. There was a terrific fishy smell about the place, and then we passed a stack of fish boxes. We don’t know if they were empty, we didn’t look. Eventually we came to the first bridge over the river. We passed a lot more docks on our right, until we came to the road to the railway station. It wasn’t quite dark.
We were so proud of ourselves — another twenty-mile Walk completed!
That ended Walk no.175, we shall pick up Walk no.176 next time in the centre of Aberdeen near the railway station. It was five past eight, so the Walk had taken us eleven and a quarter hours. We walked straight to the station and caught a train back to Montrose. We decided to have a rest the next day, so we drove to Catterline and treated ourselves to a delicious pub lunch. That is when we discussed all our options, and made up our minds to call it a day for this trip. We returned home a day earlier than planned, it took us nine hours to drive from Montrose to Malvern.

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