Monday, May 12, 2008

Walk 180 -- St Fergus Links to St Combs

Ages: Colin was 66 years and 4 days. Rosemary was 63 years and 147 days.
Weather: Mostly sunny and quite warm, with a pleasant cooling breeze. Perfect, in fact!
Location: St Fergus Links to St Combs.
Distance: 9½ miles.
Total distance: 1550½ miles.
Terrain: Firm sandy beach all the way — lovely!
Tide: Out.
Rivers: No.127, Annachie Burn which was shallow enough to cross on the beach. No.128, the stream from Loch of Strathbeg. This was ankle deep, so we had to divert inland a little to a footbridge — I would have taken my boots off and paddled across if I hadn’t got my blister all strapped up, I didn’t want to get the dressing wet.
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 Combs where we parked on the edge of the village. We had pre-booked a local taxi. Our driver turned up a few minutes early and conveyed us to St Fergus Links car park. He was a very pleasant gentleman who told us a little about the local history as he drove us along.
At the end, we walked up steps in the bank to our car. After tea and biscuits we returned to our cottage in Pennan, calling in at the fish’n’chip shop in Pitsligo on the way so I didn’t have to do any cooking tonight.

For the first time this session neither of us took painkillers before starting the Walk. Colin’s sciatica is all but gone, and my feet were in a much better state today. The weather was perfect, and we were looking forward to walking all day along a sandy beach adjacent to the rolling surf. We were not disappointed!
There were two fishermen on the beach at the very beginning of the Walk, just where we came out on to the sands at St Fergus Links. One man wandered on to the beach near the lighthouse, but he was about half a mile away from where we were sitting having our lunch. Right at the end of the Walk we came across a few dog-walkers. Otherwise we were completely on our own! We had nine miles of beautiful beach all to ourselves, and the weather was lovely, mostly sunshine with hardly any wind. The tide was out revealing firm sand next to the rolling surf. To the left of us were miles and miles of sand dunes.
We crossed the first river without any difficulty. It was so shallow dribbling across the beach we were able to paddle through without any danger of getting water in our boots. We passed the gas terminal next. We assume it’s where they deal with the gas they extract from the sediments under the North Sea. Several of the pylons had gas flares at the top.
Further on we saw some birds on the sand in the distance. As we got nearer we realised they were terns. These feisty little birds migrate further than any other animal on this planet — from pole to pole and back each year. You’ve got to admire them! As we approached this flock they all flew up in the air making a lot of noise. Then we saw them diving for fish — so quick! One flew away with a fish still struggling in its beak. It was quite exciting to watch their activities.
We passed a part of the dunes that was fenced off. A notice told us it was a fragile area and would we please keep off.No problem. We just wanted to stroll along this beautiful beach in the sunshine. We left footprints in the sand — it was like walking on new snow! We could see the lighthouse at Rattray Head in the distance. We reckoned that was our halfway point. Later we passed some gulls which also flew away on our approach.
We could see something that looked like a wooden fence in the distance. As we approached we realised it was the hull of a wooden ship half buried in the sand. It looked like the upturned rib cage of an enormous animal, kind of prehistoric. But we knew it was the remains of a ship, and speculated about it’s age and origin. We were so intrigued about this lonely wreck, we asked about it in the museum in Fraserburgh a few days later. They told us it was a Swedish barque (a sailing ship of three or more masts) which was wrecked there in 1880. After a few years the wreck was completely covered by sand and forgotten. But a few years ago its skeleton was uncovered naturally by the waves, as if it had come alive again. No wonder it felt a bit spooky when we were there with it all by ourselves on that lonely beach!

There were a few more stumps of wood sticking out of the sand further along, and we wondered if they were part of the same ship or if this was the Scottish equivalent of the Skeleton Coast.
We passed some sanderlings, and then came to the lighthouse. We found a dry plank of wood, so we sat on that to eat our lunch. We were observing a cormorant on a rock drying its wings, but it was a bit like watching paint dry — it didn’t move. It made my arms ache in empathy! The coast changed direction from due north to north-west after the lighthouse, and we finally lost sight of Peterhead behind us. (Hooray!) We still had several miles of sandy beach to walk along, and there was just the two of us in the whole wide world!
We observed another cormorant drying its wings, and a number of gulls on a sand bar. Then we came to something really strange. It looked like an outfall pipe, but from where? Because the tide was so low, this ‘thing’, draped in abandoned fishing nets, was sticking up in the shallow waves with a ‘tap’ gushing gallons of water at each of its four corners. It looked grotesque, like some monster from the deep! We didn’t know if it was gushing seawater, land drainage water or sewage, heaven forbid! In fact we just didn’t have a clue what it was or why it was there at just about the loneliest spot on the long lonely Walk.
We carried on, and came across some more wreckage in the sand. Then another flock of terns — we really were enjoying this Walk! I’m so glad I didn’t give in when I felt so wretched with my blister a few days ago. Today’s Walk made us both realise why we’re doing this Trek. Some days may be difficult, but Walks like today’s certainly make up for the bad times!
We came to the second river. This one was deeper than the one near the gas terminal. We could have paddled across it if we’d taken our boots and socks off, and would have done if it wasn’t for my blister. It is mostly healed, but I took a long time strapping it up this morning so it is well padded and there is no vestige of movement across it as I walk. If I got my feet wet, I would have to repack it with a dry dressing before I could put my boots back on. I didn’t really want to do this, even though I had a couple of clean dressings in my rucksack for emergencies. So we walked inland to find the footbridge marked on the map.
As we walked across the grass on top of the dunes, we noticed a plethora of wild flowers, especially a type of violet which was everywhere. Their bluey-purple colouring made a grand display — beautiful! Colin also found a large hairy caterpillar on one of the plants. Having crossed the river, we then walked back along the top of the little estuary until we found our way back down to the beach.
We continued our lonely way for another couple of miles until we spotted the village of St Combs on the horizon to our left. The beach started to get a bit rocky, and when the boulders got too big and densely packed to negotiate any longer we scrabbled over them to a grassy path running on a bank along the top of the beach. This led to a sloping path, then steps, up to the village where our car was parked.

That ended Walk no.180, we shall pick up Walk no.181 in the car park next to the hotel in St Combs. It was quarter to four, so the Walk had taken us five and a half hours. After tea and biscuits, we returned to our cottage in Pennan, calling in at the fish’n’chip shop in Pitsligo on the way so I didn’t have to do any cooking tonight.
We both agreed that this had been one of the most enjoyable Walks on the Trek so far!

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