Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Walk 181 -- St Combs to Fraserburgh

Ages: Colin was 66 years and 5 days. Rosemary was 63 years and 148 days.
Weather: Mostly sunny. Cool breeze.
Location: St Combs to Fraserburgh.
Distance: 7½ miles.
Total distance: 1558 miles.
Terrain: Good firm dune path in part. Concrete/tarmac in part. But on one part of the Walk, the way got boggy, then we had to climb over a barbed wire fence and traverse a swampy field in order to get to the road and use a bridge to cross a river. (I would rather have paddled through the river on the beach and blow my blister, but Colin marched doggedly on this difficult route because he didn’t want to get his tootsies cold!)
Tide: Going out.
Rivers: No.129, Water of Philorth on Fraserburgh Beach.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None — Colin describes this part of Scotland as a ‘Real Ale Desert’!
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: No.14, Fraserburgh Lighthouse and Museum. (We visited this complex on a different day so we could spend some time there.)
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in a cottage in Pennan. This morning we drove to Fraserburgh where we parked in the Lighthouse Museum car park. We walked to the bus station and caught a bus to St Combs. From the bus turning circle we walked to the end of the road, then down the steps in the bank to the track where we had finished our Walk yesterday.
At the end, we were standing by the car which was actually parked on the route. After tea and biscuits we returned to our cottage in Pennan.

We didn’t actually walk through the village of St Combs. We kept to the dune path below because it was quite firm and grassy. The beach was rocky, and even when it turned sandy we still kept to the path as it was only just above the beach. There were bluebells and white bells in the grass where we were walking — very pretty. We saw the occasional heron on the rocks below, one was being mobbed by gulls so it didn’t get its dinner. Eventually it flew off.
We passed some old sheds that looked as if they had been made out of container boxes. We thought they were possibly being used as boathouses though none of them were open. But they all had brightly painted murals on their sides or doors. There were scenes of shipwrecks, sailing ships at sea, the local harbour and surf-boarding. They all looked bright and cheerful — we loved them!
We passed the golf course, and came to the fishing village of Inverallochy. Washing lines festooned the ‘prom’, many of them with washing hanging on them. We found a bench amongst them and sat down to eat our pasties. I think it’s great that everyone is trusting enough in these outlying communities to have their belongings hung up in such a public place and be confident that they are safe from theft and vandals.
We could see over towards the harbour, and noticed that there was a wrecked fishing vessel at the end of the quay. As we walked nearer we could see it was called ‘Sovereign’ and it was lying forlornly lurched to one side in the shallow waves of the beach. We were told locally that it had only been there a couple of years, and that it “went the wrong side of the lighthouse” because the captain was asleep! At a later date I looked it up on the internet, and found the following information: it was beached just after midnight on 18th December 2005. It was holed in several compartments and could not be salvaged. “She was later declared a constructive total loss. There were no injuries and only minor pollution.” The captain and crew were reprimanded over their watch-keeping practices, and advised to take more care when using a mobile phone on the bridge.
Was the infamous mobile phone the cause of this shipwreck then?
We walked round the harbour which was deserted. It was also mostly devoid of water because the tide was out. We sat on a bench nearby to eat the rest of our lunch. Then we made towards the sandy beach of Fraserburgh Bay. There was a rock with the word “Welcome” written on it. Thank you very much! We did feel welcome in this part of rural Scotland, almost everybody we met was friendly and chatty.
From there we went down on to the beach. Almost immediately we got to a river gently flowing across the sand. The tide was quite far out by then, and we had been hoping it would be shallow enough to walk across in our boots — but it wasn’t. However it wasn’t flowing too fast, it had a sandy bottom and it was only knee deep at its worst. There was a beautiful sandy beach beyond, all the way to Fraserburgh — so near yet so far! I was all for taking off our footwear and paddling across, but Colin would have none of it. My blister was all but gone, and it wouldn’t have taken much to put a new thin dressing on it after I had dried my feet — that was all it needed. But Colin marched inland alongside the river “to find a bridge”, moaning about not having a towel, cold feet and sand between his toes.
It was a long way to this bridge. At first there was a path through the dunes, but this petered out. I was unhappy, and said we should go back and paddle across on the beach. But no! Colin ploughed on without a path, and soon we were squelching through a bog. I was very unhappy, but still couldn’t persuade Colin to turn round. Then we came to a barbed wire fence, and had no choice but to climb over it, which we did with great difficulty. Colin can still climb up a post and jump off the top, but I can no longer do that without causing agonising damage to my back — stiles are bad enough as even those have to be negotiated these days. I was extremely unhappy. We walked
along the edge of a swampy field and exited through a farm. On the road, we were able to cross the river using the road bridge.
We turned into a car park and climbed the dunes to see our way back to the beach. There we sat on a dune to eat our chocolate. I was still feeling grumpy despite the lovely day and the beautiful view. But when we found our way down to the beach again I began to feel better. At last we had some decent walking! We passed numerous purple jellyfish in the sand, and one part of the beach was strewn with coal.
By the time we reached Fraserburgh I was feeling on top of the world. We found a toilet block which was free — this we were pleased about, but annoyed that we’d had to pay 20p each this morning less than half a mile away in the town centre before we caught the bus. We passed a ‘Young’s’ fish distribution centre — I often buy Young’s frozen fish in the supermarket because it is always such good quality. Just inland from where we were walking, we had a look at an ornate pagoda with a drinking fountain underneath, and at the War Memorial. The pagoda looked Chinese in its design, I expect it is Victorian. We decided that all the jetties and dock stuff was ‘industrial’ so we didn’t have to walk it, but really we were just too tired to cope.
As we entered the town, Colin diverted to the shops to buy himself a pasty for tomorrow. So I finished the Walk by myself, Colin following along later. I walked past the docks, then regained the coast at the headland. It is quite rocky at this point. I went round the back of the lighthouse building, passing the redundant foghorn (it’s all computerised these days) on the way. I ended up in the car park for the Lighthouse Museum where our car was parked. Colin joined me a few minutes later, having walked the same way.
There were numerous cats lurking around this car park. We were sure they were feral cats, and someone was feeding them because there were food trays about. Most of the housing in this area has been demolished prior to rebuilding, but in the middle of all the rubble there was one dilapidated house which looked as if it was still lived in. We speculated as to whether its resident is an old lady who refuses to move from the house she has lived in all her life, and wondered whether it was she who fed the cats.

That ended Walk no.181, we shall pick up Walk no.182 in the Fraserburgh Lighthouse Museum car park. It was quarter past three, so the Walk had taken us four and three quarter hours. After tea and biscuits we returned to our cottage in Pennan. We visited the Lighthouse Museum on a different day.

Fraserburgh Lighthouse Museum
The bluff on which Fraserburgh Castle was built is called Kinnaird Head. The castle was built there in the mid-sixteenth century by Fraser of Philorth. In 1787, Alexander Fraser, 8th Lord of Philorth, transferred ownership of the castle to the new Northern Lighthouse Board, and the building was adapted for use as a lighthouse. It was the first, the cheapest and the least remote lighthouse in Scotland. The lantern was set on the reinforced castle roof, and lit by arrays of lamps burning whale oil. It was the most powerful light of its time, and could be seen 12 to 14 miles away in good weather.
In 1824 a new lighthouse was built up through the centre of the castle, and the first of the lighthouse keepers’ houses was constructed in the courtyard. In 1851 the reflector system was replaced by an assembly combining mirrors and lenses. The head lightkeeper’s house was constructed soon after.
In 1907 a new lens assembly was installed. It was powered by paraffin until 1978, then by electricity. The light had a range of 25 miles, flashing white every 15 seconds.
In 1929 the fog signal was introduced. It was worked by two Diesel engines in the engine house which was built near the castle. Compressed air was forced through a clockwork timing mechanism which opened and shut valves to the siren and diaphragm which made the sound. One seven second blast every one and a quarter minutes was the signal from Kinnaird. It was operated when visibility fell below three and a half miles.
The foghorn was discontinued in 1987, and the lighthouse in 1990. They were replaced by a modern electronic light which is worked remotely by computer from Edinburgh. There was no longer any need for lighthouse keepers, so their accommodation fell empty and has since been turned into a museum.
We visited the museum on a different day to our Walk, one of our ‘rest’ days. We went to the cafĂ© first and had a good junky lunch! Then we watched a video about the life of a lighthouse keeper before the lighthouses were automated.
At 3pm we went on a guided tour of the old lighthouse. We climbed right up to the light room where our guide demonstrated how it used to work. It was very interesting. This lighthouse didn’t convert to electricity until 1978! Up until then the keeper had to take a can of paraffin up to the top with him every evening. We had fantastic views from the top — over the modern electronic lighthouse which is much smaller, over the old foghorn and over the harbour towards Inverallochy from where we had just walked.

When we came down we had a look round the keepers' houses, and the museum where we watched another video. We also looked at arrays of lenses and mirrors, and had fun with a wonky mirror which reflected us upside-down!

Outside we looked around the Buoy Park. A variety of buoys were displayed for us to look at. A notice told us buoys form a vital part of the navigation system around the coasts of Scotland. There are basically two types, lit and unlit. All of the lit gas buoys are currently being converted to solar power. The first buoys in Scotland were used to mark the North Carr rocks off Fife in 1809. We remembered passing this on Walk 164, and learning how a previous beacon tower was washed away in a storm.
We are not really ‘museum people’, but we found the Lighthouse Museum at Fraserburgh to be one of the most interesting we have visited.

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