Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Walk 178 -- Cruden Bay to Peterhead

Ages: Colin was 65 years and 365 days — not a mistake, 2008 was a Leap Year and Colin’s birthday is tomorrow! Rosemary was 63 years and 142 days.
Weather: Very sunny all day. Warm, but the breeze could be cool at times.
Location: Cruden Bay to Peterhead.
Distance: 13½ miles.
Total distance: 1535 miles.
Terrain: Extremely challenging, which made us slow. Uneven, narrow, overgrown, sideways sloping, boggy, undulating clifftop paths which were hardly there at all and sparsely signposted. We went the wrong way several times. Even after we reached Peterhead, the route unexpectedly disintegrated TWICE leaving us scrabbling up/down a steep — almost vertical — bank. We avoided a third such incident because a man hailed us from behind and showed us an obscure path round the back of a huge oil tank!
Tide: Out, coming in — then going out again because we took so long.
Rivers: No.125, another branch of Water of Cruden in Cruden Bay.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in a cottage in Pennan. This morning we drove to Peterhead where we parked near the golf course. We walked about a mile to the bus station and missed the bus by about a minute because Colin wouldn’t hurry and because we had once again been told by ‘Traveline’ to wait at the wrong bus stop! We had to wait 50 minutes for the next bus to Cruden Bay, and then we nearly didn’t get off because I was hemmed in my seat by Colin and he wouldn’t get up even though I kept digging him in the ribs. Fortunately the driver stopped for us about 50 yards further on, and we walked back to the footbridge where we finished the last Walk.
At the end, we were utterly exhausted. I was ready to throw in the towel over the whole project, I felt so bad! (But I also knew that if I made that hasty decision I would regret it for the rest of my life.) We staggered through Peterhead the shortest route to our parked car, leaving out most of the old town. After tea and biscuits we returned to our cottage in Pennan.

Today’s Walk did not start well. Colin seemed to be in a dream world, and we missed the bus partly because he wouldn’t hurry. I had told him at least three times that it left Peterhead at 09.10, but he told me afterwards that he “thought you said 09.20”. Then, on the next bus 50 minutes later, we nearly missed the stop to get off because he didn’t move when I kept digging him in the ribs saying, “We’re nearly there, press the bell!” I couldn’t reach the bell, and he was hemming me in my seat so I couldn’t get up. It was only when I said, “We’ve passed the stop now!” that he seemed to wake up. Is it old age creeping up on us?
At least the weather was on our side, it was a brilliantly sunny day. We were able to see Cruden Bay village, unlike the other day when it was blanketed in fog. We walked along next to the stream and were delighted to see a heron fishing! It was fairly close to us, but quite unfazed — the first of many great avian wildlife sightings today.
On a greensward is a modern standing stone. A plaque told us it was put there to celebrate the first crossing of the North Sea by air on 30th July 1914 — that was just a few days before War was declared on Germany. The pilot was a Norwegian called Tryggve Gran, and he took off from the sands of Cruden Bay. Don’t suppose it was foggy that day!
We walked down the road towards the harbour, and there was a row of cottages on our left. I expect they all have internal plumbing now, but we were told that in yesteryear the toilets were all the other side of the road so that they could drain into the river! That’s at least a 50 yard dash if you had the ‘runs’!!From the harbour we were able to view the lovely sands of Cruden Bay, and see where we walked in the fog two days ago. We were amused by bird footprints in the concrete of the harbour. It reminded us of an incident with our grandson, Jamie, when he was twelve. His school were building a new extension on the back. On the last day of term before Christmas — when all the children were on a ‘high’ — they concreted the path leading to the new block. Pristine fresh concrete, still soft — how could he resist it? He, and about half a dozen of his mates, dared each other and then left their footprints cast in stone! The school went ballistic! But I was with Jamie on this one because I know, had I been twelve years old, I would have been tempted to do the same! Why couldn’t the school have waited until the next day when there were no children on the premises? I think they were asking for it!
It was on the harbour that we made our first mistake of the day. We had originally intended walking to the harbour as a dead end, then returning along the road to the car park where we finished our last Walk and continuing from there along the coast path. But we saw what looked like a path going up the rocky headland behind the harbour and wondered if it was a short cut. Had we looked at the map carefully, we would have seen that there was a deep gully in the way — but we didn’t. We climbed up the ‘path’ which got steeper and steeper. Suddenly I had a searing pain in my leg and collapsed on the now almost vertical ground. I had pulled a muscle!
It was so painful I was almost screaming. I couldn’t stay where I was, so I hauled myself up with my hands and good leg, and a few tugs from Colin. When we reached more horizontal ground near the top, I sat on the grass to rest. We considered our options while we ate our pasties. I didn’t think I could carry on, but to go back to Peterhead on the bus was unthinkable — consider all the time and expense to get here! My leg wasn’t broken, and Colin’s sciatica had cleared up with him walking — the movement seemed to untrap the nerve. So I took painkillers, rubbed ‘Powergel’ on the offending muscle, and stood up. Ow! I tried to walk, and it was bad. We were in despair, but that just made me all the more determined to overcome the pain and get on with it. I couldn’t put my right leg ahead of my left leg, only drag it up until it was level then shunt forward. My progress was very slow, and we had a fourteen-mile hike ahead of us! Shortly I found that this only happened when going up a slope, level ground was OK. Steps were impossible, but the pain and stiffness gradually eased as the day wore on. Occasionally it jarred and I screamed out, but eventually it was OK.
We made our way along the clifftop towards a castle we could see in the distance. But very quickly we found the gully and realised it was impossible to scramble down into it, especially in my state of health. So we walked inland along the top, then we had to go back towards the harbour road because of the impossibly thick undergrowth. In fact we walked round in a complete circle on the top and eventually found our way down through woodland to the car park in the village where we had started! Behind the public conveniences was a footbridge over the stream — which was too wide and deep to cross anyway had we managed to scramble down into the gully nearer the coast, so that would have been a waste of time and effort.
We had been walking for over an hour and got precisely nowhere. I was in pain and limping. The day was not going well!
We crossed the stream and found there was a good path going up the other side of the gully, then along the top as far as the ruined castle. Slains Castle was built in 1597 round an existing tower house by the Earl of Errol. His previous castle, the ruins we had dismissed as ‘not much’ near Collieston on the last Walk, had been destroyed by James VI after his clan, the Hays, participated in the rebellion of 1594. Successive generations of the family lived in the castle and altered it from time to time, until 1916 when it was put up for sale to pay debts. Although bought by someone else, it was already in a pretty bad state and fell into disrepair. The roof was removed in 1925 to avoid paying taxes. Slains Castle is also famous because it is rumoured that Bram Stoker got the idea for his famous novel ‘Dracula’ after he had looked at the dilapidated castle, calling it ‘the castle of death’!
After the castle, which we had to walk round, the path deteriorated rapidly which made the going very difficult. It was so narrow we couldn’t put our feet side by side, it was uneven, overgrown, sideways sloping, boggy and undulating. The scenery was stunning! The wildlife was fantastic! The weather was perfect! But the path was diabolical! I coped with my pulled muscle and my corns which were still giving me trouble despite all the corn pads I had been putting on them. But I was finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the blister on my heel. I had thought that a day’s rest would calm it down and give it time to heal after the last Walk, but as soon as we got on to the uneven path after the castle it began to make it’s presence felt again. I felt a wreck!
We made our slow and wiggly way past amazing cliffs, rock stacks and natural arches. It was mind-blowing! Unfortunately I was finding the going so difficult with all my aches and pains, I didn’t really appreciate it until months later when I looked at the photographs we took. We sat and ate our lunch further on, absorbing this magnificent scenery.
The flowers were beautiful. Swathes of primroses — such a delicate yellow. Then there was the gorse with it’s bright glaring yellow which almost hurts the eyes. And there were bluebells despite it being such an exposed path — I always think of bluebells as being a woodland plant. We also saw red campion, violets and others.
And then there were the birds. This coast is a bird-watchers paradise! There were gulls, kittiwakes, guillemots, razor bills, shags, cormorants and puffins! How I loved the puffins! They looked like clowns, perching on the almost vertical grassy cliffs where they had their earth burrows. There wasn’t room to move on some of the cliffs and rocks, which were white with guano.
And the noise! It was phenomenal! It echoed inside the many inlets we had to walk around, sounds like an elephant emanated from one cave! It gave the whole place a very exciting atmosphere. Now I’m going to shut up and let you look at the pictures! Just imagine the sounds and the smells!
The path occasionally passed through disused granite quarries where the birds had taken over. We passed two memorials. One was a stone which said, “In memory of JAMES PATERSON and ALEXANDER HAMILTON who died while climbing this cliff on 16th October 1967”. The other was a piece of wood which had been written on in marker pen. It said, “In memory of SIDNEY SHEPHERD 1929 – 2006 ashes returned to the sea here 07 – 04 – 06”.
Colin also photographed a wheatear on a post, not a sea bird for a change. Further on we were standing looking at a bit of stone wall and wondering what the building had originally been when I realised I had lost my camera case. The wrist strap for my camera is attached to the camera through a hole in the end of the case, and it is very awkward to take pictures with the case dangling there. So I often take it off and hold it separately. I have lost it several times before in this way (it is a silly set-up) and always found it again by retracing my steps. This time Colin went back and not only found the case, he discovered we had lost the path — not surprising on this kind of terrain — and had wandered out on to a not-quite detached rock stack. So we both had to go back.
The path came very near the main road, but fences barred our way on to it. Not that we wanted to walk on the road, but we’d both had enough of the difficult terrain by then. We didn’t scale the fences, we struggled on. By then the pain from my blister superseded all my other ills and I was thoroughly miserable despite the fantastic scenery and birdlife.
We descended into a hollow where there was an abandoned roll of square-mesh fencing. Colin looked inside it and discovered a number of pheasant’s eggs. Steps took us out of the hollow and we got on to the track of a disused railway. We thought our passage would be easier from then on — but we were wrong. The track led through a cutting, and it was so horribly boggy we experienced even more difficulty than we had before! Yet we were still following the blobs on our card maps, which were colour coded to tell us we were now on a better path. They obviously hadn’t taken bogs into account.
Having struggled through, we came to a locked kissing gate with North Sea Trail ‘N’ signs on the back of it telling us it was the North Sea Trail the way we had come. We didn’t find that very helpful because we wanted to know the way to go! Before us was a wide expanse of green with no vestige of a path across it. At least it was flat, but we had to walk all round the field to find the way out.
We tried to make for the lighthouse at Boddam which we could see in the distance, but there were too many indentations in the coast for us to walk in a straight line. When we got to Boddam Castle — once the seat of the Keiths of Ludquharn but now hardly any of it left — we sat on a stone to eat our chocolate, and me to take more painkillers. We both felt we had no energy left. The shadows were getting long, and we still had several miles to go. So we zigzagged up to the road where we knew the walking would be easier.
Buchan Ness lighthouse looked good in the evening sun. It is the easternmost place in Scotland, but further west than a lot of places in England. We were both so fed up by then we bypassed it, and Boddam Harbour. We then followed a good path round the power station, the blobs told us to. We passed a warm outfall with lots of foam, then the path deteriorated to nothing very quickly leaving us halfway up a very steep grassy bank — the second time we had been in such a situation today. We were stunned!
Should we go up? Or should we go down? The beach was covered in boulders which would be impossible to walk on, so we went up. It was almost vertical so I used my hands as well as my feet, and stung my hand on a hidden nettle lurking in the undergrowth. I was not best pleased. We found a good path on top, we didn’t know where it had come from but it took us past the power station then down to a beach.
We walked across the back of the beach, heading towards a sloping track up to a gate. The gate was locked! And not the sort you could climb over either. I could have screamed!! We only wanted to get out to the public road behind it! Colin led me up yet another almost vertical grass bank, we stepped over a broken barbed wire fence, then slithered down an equally steep grass bank to the road. At last! We thought we were clear.
The road led past a high prison wall on our left. Round a bend we also had the docks on our right. I must emphasise that we had been following the ‘blob’ map all the way, and were still following it when we realised the man shouting from behind was calling to us. He was with a group of people. “You can’t get through on the road!” he told us, “because there is a fence and all sorts of s**t! This is the way through, follow us!” They turned sharp left on a very obscure track which went round behind one of the many huge oil tanks until we were right up close to the prison wall, and it did cross our minds that we may be falling for a scam of some kind because it was a bit spooky. But suddenly we were past the prison, and we emerged above Peterhead Harbour and Bay. We were very grateful to our new-found friends as we would never have found the path without them.
I insisted we stay high after that, even though it meant walking alongside a main road. I didn’t trust the lower path anymore after all our ‘adventures’, even though we could see that this one did get through. We walked past the harbour and the bay until we came to a roundabout.

That ended Walk no.178, we shall pick up Walk no.179 next time at the roundabout on the corner of Peterhead Bay. It was eight o’clock, so the Walk had taken us nine and a half hours. We were both utterly exhausted, and I was in a lot of pain with a HUGE blister on my heel. I navigated us the quickest route to the golf club where we had parked our car this morning, completely missing out the old town…another time perhaps. I felt so down I was ready to throw in the towel and give up the whole project! On reaching the car we had our tea and biscuits, then returned to our cottage in Pennan.

The next day I still felt low enough to give up the Round-Britain-Walk, but sensible enough to realise that if I did I would regret it for the rest of my life. If we don’t complete the challenging Walks along the Scottish coastline within the next few years, then we’ll never do it because we’ll be too old. Colin talked some sense into me.
I had a blister the size of an Olympic medal on my left heel — it was quite raw, no skin left. There was no way I could walk anywhere that day. It was Colin’s birthday, and he wanted to go on a ‘real ale’ pub crawl in Aberdeen. So I strapped up my heel with gauze and plasters, then I did the driving.
The following night my heel was so painful I had to get up at 4am to put a new dressing on it. In the morning I tried on my walking boots, and had to take the left one straight off again. So we went into Banff to the minor injuries unit at the Community Hospital. We were very impressed! I didn’t even get a chance to sit down in the waiting area before a nurse called me. She was very kind. She put an ‘open-wound’ dressing on my blister, and gave me two more dressings to use on subsequent days. It immediately felt more comfortable, and we were in and out of there in under twenty minutes!
We didn’t walk that day, nor the next which was very frustrating. By then the blister was beginning to heal, so the next Walk we did was a short one and more of an amble.
We were trying to work out why I had got a blister. When it comes to walking boots, we don’t stint on cost. It is essential to wear the best boots and socks for the type of walking we do, so we go to one of the best outfitters in the country — Peglers of Arundel. My present boots, the fourth pair since we started the Round-Britain-Walk in 1998, are well walked in. I have done over five hundred miles in them and they have never given me any trouble before. The only thing we can think of was dampness. When we were walking along the beach between Aberdeen and Newburgh, we had to jump over a number of streams. I wasn’t aware of any water getting into my boots, but some must have. What I did not do was remove the insoles and dry out the boots after that Walk, I just stuffed them into a plastic bag and put them on the next day.
Well, I’ve learned my lesson. From now on my boots will be opened up with insoles removed as soon as each Walk is over. I will never be troubled with a blister again, I am determined. They are so avoidable if you take the right precautions.

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