Sunday, May 04, 2008

Walk 176 -- Aberdeen to Newburgh

Ages: Colin was 65 years and 362 days. Rosemary was 63 years and 139 days.
Weather: Perfect! (Except for poor visibility.) Not too hot nor too cold, wind was behind us and we had ‘fair-weather’ cloud with some weak sunshine.
Location: Aberdeen to Newburgh.
Distance: 15 miles.
Total distance: 1507 miles.
Terrain: Concrete and tarmac at the beginning, some dunes but mostly firm sand. Flat.
Tide: In, going out.
Rivers: No.121, the Don, at Bridge of Don. Various land drainage streams coming out of the dunes.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: The ‘Prince of Wales’ where we had a meal and Colin drank Inveralmond ‘Prince of Wales Ale’ and Harviestoun ‘Bitter & Twisted’. The ‘Old Black Friars’ where I had ginger beer and Colin drank Herok & Howell’s ‘Single Malt 70/- Ale’ and Inveralmond ‘Ossian’. ‘Moorings’ (which advertised live nude bands!!) where I had nothing and Colin drank Valhalla ‘Old Scatness’ and Stewart ‘Copper Cascade’. (We went to all these pubs on Colin’s 66th birthday, and I drove him back to the cottage afterwards.)
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: No.8 in Aberdeen — and we had a ride on it!
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We drove up from Malvern to Pennan the day before — 520 miles! We decided that was too much in one day, and shall go home over two days. It brought home to us just how far we have walked — and that is from Bognor the wiggly way! We are staying in a holiday cottage in Pennan for two weeks. This morning we drove all the way back to Newburgh, parked our car at the golf course, walked half a mile to the bus stop and caught a bus to Aberdeen Bus Station. There we walked 100 yards to the crossroads where we finished the last Walk.
At the end, our route led us to the car parked on the golf course. After tea and biscuits we drove back to our cottage in Pennan.

We are approximately a third of the way!

We really are a couple of old crocks! Colin has sciatica, caused by him moving heavy things in the garden last week. I was a bit concerned about him, but he coped and it seemed to ease as the day wore on. I was troubled by a corn on each of my middle toes, the right foot being particularly vicious. But we both took painkillers and tried to forget about it all.
The cottage we are staying in for the next two weeks is small and rustic — I don’t know how we managed to fit all our stuff in last night, especially as we were so tired after a 520 mile drive. There is so much furniture we have difficulty getting round it. The kitchen is tiny, and the cooking arrangements are archaic. It reminds me of the set-up Colin’s mother had in rural Shropshire back in the 1960s! I can’t have the little oven and the single hot-plate on at the same time, it’s either/or!! But we have the luxury of two loos, so there are some compensations.

Now, to the Walk. Colin was 66 four days after this Walk, and for his birthday he wanted to do a pub crawl round Aberdeen. So I did the driving that day, and I have included the pubs we visited on the title page for this Walk. We were amused by the pub that advertised ‘Live Nude Bands’ and disappointed that they weren’t playing when we were there — or perhaps we had a lucky escape! Aberdeen is known as ‘The Granite City’ and we saw one or two fine buildings as we walked from pub to pub. But I must admit we didn’t really explore the place properly, there just wasn’t time.
We started at the road junction near the bus and railway stations where we finished the last Walk. It was five to ten which we thought was a pretty good time considering the long journey we’d had to get there. We walked along the north side of the dock area towards the North Pier. Apart from the ships, we passed huge tanks which we supposed are to do with the oil industry.
We came across piles of chains, and were amazed at the enormous size of them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen chain links so large. And in amongst all this industry someone had made a tiny garden with imaginative wire sculptures. We thought it was lovely!
As we approached North Pier, the area opened out and seemed to be set out for tourists rather than industrial docks. We came to two War Memorials. One was in a wall, and is the Aberdeen Dock Labourers War Memorial. It lists those who died in the First World War on the upper panel, and those who died in the Second World War on the lower panel. The other memorial is free-standing, and not only lists those who fell in both World Wars but also the Services they represented.
Then we came to ‘Scarty’s Monument’ which is often mistaken for a memorial. But this brick tower with a pointed top is a ventilation shaft for a disused sewer outfall dating from the days when Aberdeen’s sewage was emptied straight into the harbour! The Roundhouse is another interesting building with a rather nice clock above the door. For over two hundred years this building was used to control shipping in and out of the harbour. It fell into disuse in 2006 when a new Marine Operations Centre was built further along North Pier. The new modern glass structure currently manages over 17000 vessels arriving and departing Aberdeen Harbour annually.
Finally we came to the fog bell. From 1889 to 2001, this bell was situated at the seaward end of North Pier, and would ring to warn mariners of the position of the harbour as they approached in low or nil visibility conditions. In 2001 it was replaced with an electronic sounder.
We were not sorry we couldn’t get on to North Pier, it meant we didn’t have to walk it! So we turned north and passed the slated roofs of a row of fishermen’s cottages. Then we walked along the prom above the beach, a lovely beach but the tide was in so nearly everybody was on the prom. There it was quite crowded with people as it was a bank holiday weekend. Cars were parked along the adjacent road, and the number plate of one of them caught my eye. It was RI JFR . Since my name is R J FRETWELL I felt it should have been ‘my’ car!
We could see an amusement park ahead where there was a FERRIS WHEEL! At last! It wasn’t going when we first saw it, but as we approached they started it up. I suppose this was to encourage people to come into the amusement park as it was still quite early in the day. Excitedly we each paid £2 to get on the wheel, and we were the only customers! We giggled a lot like a couple of kids as we did two revolutions — and that was it! We hadn’t even had a ‘stopping’ revolution to allow others to get on and off. We joked with the dour young Scot who was holding the gate open that we ought to have an extra revolution as a concession because we are pensioners, but he looked into the middle distance and didn’t even acknowledge that we had spoken to him. So I gave him one of my ‘blog’ cards, and we walked back to the prom with our noses in the air.

We sat on a bench and ate our pasties. The prom is nearly two miles long and stretches almost to the River Don. This made for easy walking. The tide was in and the beach stony, but as we approached the river it turned to sand and there were a few sand dunes on the corner.

There were duckboards through the dunes, and areas of mown grass. We were out of the city by then, but there was still a lot of residential estates to come. People on the opposite bank were flying kites — an ideal day for such an activity as it was quite breezy. Aberdeen seemed a nice place to be.

We had to walk inland for about half a mile to cross the ‘Bridge of Don’. I took a photo of the bridge through the bushes — it would have been a very pretty photo if it hadn’t been for the rubbish caught in the undergrowth by my feet. Such a pity there are so many people about who think their bit of rubbish doesn’t matter.
We crossed the bridge, and then returned to the beach alongside the river for half a mile. There was a row of houses to our left, a nice place to live I should think. We sat on a bench overlooking the river mouth to eat some of our sarnies. We knew we had ten miles of beach to walk from there on, and were really looking forward to it.
Our problem was the tide — it was right in and this made the beach very narrow between the dunes and the waves. It was also soft dry sand which is quite difficult to walk on for long distances. We tried walking up on the dunes to start with, but it was too ‘up & down’ and the sand was extremely soft as it never gets wet up there, except when it rains. So we descended to the beach and found the tide was just beginning to go out. The sand was firmer than we thought, though we did come across the occasional soft stretch — and one bit of quicksand! (I did remember to stand there and salute as I went down!) No, it was a weird sensation, but I only sank a couple of inches. The going got easier as we progressed because the water receded and we had a wider beach to walk on.
The dunes looked quite solid, but that is only because nobody goes on them. They quickly crumble if you try to climb them. Colin noticed a hole in the dune ‘wall’, a burrow for some kind of animal. There is already a well established golf course on top of the dunes where we were walking initially (don’t the Scots love their golf?) but more is planned.
North of Balmedie, all the way to Newburgh, the land is owned by an American billionaire called Donald Trump. His only interest is making money. He plans to ride roughshod over the wishes of all the people who live in the area (saying there aren’t many so they don’t count) and all the concerns of naturalists. He plans to build a championship links golf course, a further 18 hole golf course, a driving range, a practice area, a 450-bed hotel, 950 holiday apartments, 36 golf villas and 500 residential homes! Just a little OTT, don’t you think? He is even going to change the ancient name of the area which has been known as Menie Links for hundreds of years. “I own the land,” he said, “and I’m going to henceforth name them the Great Dunes of Scotland. I think it’s a more appropriate name, I think it’s a bigger name, I think it’s a better name and I think it’s a name people can really understand and relate to in Scotland.” No, Mr Trump, I don’t think you relate to anything in Scotland, I think you are only interested in feathering your own nest. With all those people tramping down the delicate dune systems, there won’t be any dunes left in a few years time. What about your ‘Great Dunes’ name then? It will be a flooded wasteland scattered with derelict buildings because no one will want to come all that way to play golf in the mud.
As we walked along the beach we met fewer and fewer people. We met a man who was photographing the waves, and I asked him to take a picture of us because we had almost reached the point where we had walked 1500 miles from Bognor. We could have done with being about a mile further on, but I thought he may be the last person we met — and I was right! We also asked him to take the picture with us facing back towards Aberdeen because the light was better that way. So we got a good picture even if some of the details were not quite as they should be.
There was a lot of rubbish on the beach, mostly plastic stuff thrown off ships. ‘Ditto’ what I said about rubbish by the River Don. Too many people think the sea is a universal dustbin, and just chuck it overboard to get rid of it! There was a mooring rope which seemed to be in good nick and was probably worth a bit of money. Another rope led into the sea and we never did find its other end. There was even a lavatory brush stuck upright in the sand!
There was also rubbish left over from the Second World War. Rows of concrete blocks which were originally sea defences. And the occasional pill box which has been washed down into the sea, tipped on its side or flipped upside down. Beware, Mr Trump! The ‘Great Dunes of Scotland’ are a runny solid, a moving system, and these concrete defences were put there within living memory. What about your precious golf courses and hotels in seventy years time? I suppose you think you won’t be alive then so you don’t care what mess you leave behind! You only want to make a quick buck, and go!
We loved walking along all those miles with the dunes on one side, the rolling surf on the other. It is a walking environment that is hard to beat — except perhaps ancient woodland in Spring. We had difficulty crossing land drainage streams as they were surprisingly deep. It wouldn’t have been a problem if the tide had been out, but we couldn’t wait for it to go out because we would have ended up walking in the dark. One stream we managed to cross on a bit of wood which had been laid across it under the land drainage pipe. At another we ran and leapt across it at the narrowest bit, getting only our trouser-legs wet. Then we came to one which was really too wide and deep. We sat on a World War II slab of concrete eating some more of our sarnies, hoping the tide would go out sufficiently while we waited. Colin fetched some pieces of driftwood hoping to make a crude bridge, but they really weren’t long enough. So I walked right to the edge of the sea — the tide had gone out about 30 yards by then — and ran across tiptoe next to the waves. We didn’t think either of us got water in our boots, we certainly weren’t aware of it at the time.
We saw the occasional bird — eiders and sanderlings — but even they were few and far between. We passed through a rifle range without really noticing it. It was marked with ugly red blobs on our OS map, but there were no red flags up and no one was about. It was a long lonely walk until we got to Balmedie, that is where we met the first people since the man who had taken our photograph several miles back. The people on the beach there were wind-surfing with kites. Is this a new sport? It looked like fun, if only I was younger!
After Balmedie there was no one on the beach except us for miles and miles. The tide was quite a long way out by then, so the going was good underfoot, but we were getting tired. We began to feel a bit fed up, hoping the river at Newburgh would be just round the next dune — but it wasn’t! Even Colin said, “I’m getting a bit sick of this beach!” We had been so enjoying it, but we wanted to finish. We ploughed on.
Eventually we began to meet the odd person, then a couple riding horses with their dog running alongside. We passed them, then they turned round and we followed them back for at least a mile until they disappeared through a gap in the dunes. Still we carried on. We rounded a bend in the dunes — and a wondrous sight met our eyes! Not only had we reached the River Ythan at Newburgh, but on the far bank was a colony of SEALS!! Thirty-eight of them, we counted! It was such a wonderful end to our Walk, we forgot all about how tired we felt!
There were eider ducks also on the river, chattering away like old ladies over the garden fence. But it was the seals that really made the day. They were only a few yards away, quite unfazed by us and some children playing in the sand at the edge of the river. They knew that the water was too deep and running too fast for any of us to attempt to cross, and they were quite comfortable with us being so close. Seeing those seals was a wonderful end to a wonderful Walk.
We got talking to a group of adults who were with the children. They asked us how far we had walked, so we told them about our Round-Britain-Trek. They asked the usual questions about how we set up the Walks, so we explained that we had parked the car nearby this morning and caught the bus into Aberdeen. “And you are able to use your bus passes, of course!” said one of the men. No, actually, we can’t! Because we live in England we cannot use our free passes in Scotland or Wales. Equally, Scottish pensioners have to pay their bus fares in England and Wales, and Welsh pensioners only get free rides in Wales. “But I thought we were all one nation!” exclaimed the man in surprise. Quite!
We followed the river until we came to a huge rock in the sand. Then we climbed through the dunes until we came to the golf club car park. The Scots may be crazy about their golf, but at least they allow anybody to use their car parks, walk round their courses and are so friendly when we meet them! Golf in Scotland is for the people, and not at all snobby. English golfers could learn a lesson or two from the Scots on public relations.

That ended Walk no.176, we shall pick up Walk no.177 next time in the car park of Newburgh Golf Course. It was ten past six, so the Walk had taken us eight and a quarter hours. We had our tea and biscuits, then drove all the way back to our tiny cottage in Pennan.

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