Sunday, May 11, 2008

Walk 179 -- Peterhead to St Fergus Links

Ages: Colin was 66 years and 3 days. Rosemary was 63 years and 146 days.
Weather: Cloudy and muggy with rain at the end.
Location: Peterhead to St Fergus Links.
Distance: 6 miles.
Total distance: 1541 miles.
Terrain: Concrete, dunes and a firm sandy beach. Flat.
Tide: Out.
Rivers: No.126, the Ugie on the north side of Peterhead. We crossed it on the golf club footbridge.
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 St Fergus Links where we parked in the beach car park, about a mile from the road. I didn’t feel like waiting around for a bus, so I tried to ring for a taxi. That is when I discovered that my old mobile phone didn’t work. We walked up to the road, and were still nearly an hour early for the bus. So we tried to thumb a lift. Eventually a car full of golfers stopped to ask us where the golf club was — their sat. nav. kept telling them to drive through a fence and across a field! We said the golf club car park was exactly where we wanted to go, so we piled in and directed them into Peterhead then round to the Golf Club car park (where we had parked yesterday) which is on the other side of the river. They were delighted, and we then retraced our steps across Peterhead to the roundabout where we had left the coastline on the last Walk.
At the end, we walked through a gap in the dunes to our car. After tea and biscuits we returned to our cottage in Pennan.

It was with a little trepidation that we resumed our walking today. I had ‘rested’ the blister for three whole frustrating days, and it was healing up quite nicely. This morning I took a lot of time and trouble strapping it up, and I also took painkillers before we started the Walk. I felt a lot more cheerful, and confident that the day would go well.
From the roundabout where we officially ended the last Walk, we followed a man who disappeared behind some buildings, and found we were able to walk along the harbour edge all the way to the fish market. There, in a desultory manner, we started looking at the ships tied up when Colin exclaimed, “Is that a seal?” Yes, it was! It was hanging around the fishing vessels hoping to pick up some scraps. And it did! It found a dogfish and started to eat it, but it was continually harassed by gulls! These same gulls were also picking over the ship for scraps — there was a lot of activity. Then they were joined by a second seal. I thought the seals’ heads in the water looked very like that of labrador dogs. We spent ages watching them, it really made our day!
Eventually we tore ourselves away as we had hardly started our Walk, though today we were not walking far. We ambled along by the fish market, then had to retrace our steps as we came to a dead end. We hadn’t seen a ‘No Admittance’ notice because it was back against a wall and we could only see it as we came out.
We walked northwards and looked at the activities going on in the other bays of the harbour. There were a number of ships of different sizes, an old tower which was probably used to control shipping but we couldn’t tell if it was still in use, and dry docks. One was empty, but in another work was going on repairing and smartening up a ship.

We decided to leave out the end of the harbour called Keith Inch on the grounds that it was completely industrial — besides, there was a nasty smell of Diesel oil floating across from there and the connecting bridges were UP. So we couldn’t have got over there anyway!
We followed the road round until we got to the waterfront on the north side, where there was a long promenade. We sat on the first bench we found and ate our pasties and sandwiches. There is a pleasant greensward between the promenade and the houses, but the beach is very rocky. There we saw a cormorant out on a rock drying its wings. It seemed to be a good day for wildlife, even though we were in a town which appeared to us to be quite depressing.
There were rusting supermarket trolleys strewn along the beach, and even a bike which looked as if it had been thrown off the prom. The toilets in the recreation ground were derelict — luckily Colin was able to find a bush and I didn’t need to go.
There was a concrete jetty with a few little boats around, and the beach became sandier as we approached the river. Neither of us liked Peterhead at all, though we couldn’t quite put our finger on what was wrong with the place. We were glad to be walking out of it. We had liked both Aberdeen and Montrose which had similar industrial dockland areas, but Peterhead struck us to be so joyless, as if a big gloom was hanging over it. Perhaps it is the terrible state of the fishing industry that has affected the atmosphere of the town.
There were ducks and swans by the river, making it a pretty scene.
Fortunately there is a footbridge across the River Ugie very near its mouth, saving us a two mile detour to the nearest road bridge. For this we have to thank George Birnie (or rather his son who built the first bridge in his memory) who was harbourmaster at Peterhead for many years. A plaque on a stone told us: BIRNIE MEMORIAL BRIDGE PRESENTED TO THE TOWN OF PETERHEAD BY ALEXANDER BIRNIE ESQ OF WELLBANK IN MEMORY OF HIS FATHER GEORGE BIRNIE FOR MANY YEARS HARBOUR MASTER OF PETERHEAD 1924 . A plaque on another stone told us: THIS REPLACEMENT OF THE ORIGINAL BIRNIE BRIDGE WAS ERECTED IN 1991 AS A RESULT OF CONTRIBUTIONS FROM BANFF AND BUCHAN DISTRICT COUNCIL PETERHEAD FEUARS MANAGERS AND PETERHEAD GOLF CLUB . Thank you one and all! We were able to cross the river with dry feet and in complete safety. The path continued to the golf clubhouse, but we turned immediately along the dunes to get to the beach. We found a suitable place to sit and eat our apples. The beach wasn’t very nice by the river mouth. The sand was black, and smelt of bad eggs (hydrogen sulphide) as we walked over it. We clambered over rocks and rounded a spur, then came down on to a firm clean sandy beach. That’s better! It was so pleasant to walk along, and we instantly felt a lot more cheerful. Colin photographed a swallow on the sand, we think it was a young one.
We really enjoyed walking along the sandy beach, loving the wide open spaces and the gentle plop of the waves. There was the occasional wartime ‘pill box’, and we sat on some concrete blocks to eat our chocolate. We were watching terns diving for their food — magnificent! They streamlined themselves to dive straight into the water — we could have watched them for hours! But it started raining. Not much, just a continuation of the extremely dull day we had experienced so far.We thought we’d better get back to the car.
We came across a pile of rubbish which had been washed up on this lovely beach. It looked as if it had been collected up prior to being removed. Colin's eyes lit up -- he can never understand anybody throwing away anything that 'might come in useful one day'! However, he was just pretending for the photograph, he wasn't really going to take things home -- I think?
We had two sandy spurs to walk around, and we met just a spattering of people with dogs. Also fishermen with their lines on the water’s edge. We rounded the last spur, and there were gas flares behind the dunes ahead. A reminder that we’re never very far from the oil industry in this part of the world. We walked through the dunes to the car park where our car was waiting for us. It stopped raining then!

That ended Walk no.179, we shall pick up Walk no.180 next time at the gap in the dunes near the picnic site on St Fergus Links. It was twenty-five past three, so the Walk had taken us four hours and ten minutes. We had our tea and biscuits, then returned to our cottage in Pennan.
My blister and my corns were no worse at the end of the Walk than they had been at the beginning — just mildly uncomfortable. So I am well pleased, and thinking much more positively now. Looking at the photos months later, perhaps we’ll do part of Walk 178 again one day. When we’re less stressed, as far as Boddam would be good.

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