Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Walk 182 -- Fraserburgh to Pennan

Ages:  Colin was 66 years and 6 days.  Rosemary was 63 years and 149 days.
Weather:  Some sun, but mostly ‘fair-weather’ cloud.
Location:  Fraserburgh to Pennan.
Distance:  15 miles.
Total distance:  1573 miles.
Terrain:  Concrete/tarmac, roads, tracks of varying quality.  Flat to Rosehearty, then undulating.
Tide:  In, going out.
Rivers:  No.130, the Dour at Aberdour Bay.  No. 131, Auchmeddon at Pennan — this was in a deep gorge.
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 arranged for a taxi to pick us up at the cottage and drive us to the Lighthouse Museum in Fraserburgh.
At the end, we stepped into the cottage!

We started today’s Walk in the car park of the lighthouse museum in Fraserburgh.  The taxi driver, who had driven us there from Pennan, told us about the mass demolition of the fishermen’s cottages on Kinnaird Head.  The whole area is being razed to the ground due to the demise of the fishing industry, so that it can be ‘reinvented’ as a touristy new town.  Just one row consisting of three cottages are left, and two of these are derelict.  In the third lives an old woman who refuses to move, and it is she who feeds the feral cats.  (So we had been right when we had guessed this yesterday!)  Poor old soul, I expect she’s lived there all her life.  It would probably kill her to move!
There was also a car scrapyard in an old tin shed, but I expect its days are numbered.  We walked over demolished buildings — we could still see their ‘plans’ in the ground — and one of them we guessed was an old toilet block.  There was rubbish everywhere, but looking out to sea we could see a number of different birds.  Colin took a lovely picture of a shag sitting on a rock.

Eventually we came to a notice facing back the way we had come:  COASTAL  PATH  CLOSEDNow they tell us!
There was a ‘sort-of’ path in the grass along the rocky coastline, so we followed it.  Someone had painted the Scottish flag on a rock just offshore.  I expect they want independence, which they are welcome to have so long as they fund themselves and don’t expect handouts from London.  And they take all their Scots out of our parliament in Westminster, especially our dour Prime Minister.  Otherwise we remain one nation.  (I’m still miffed that we can’t use our bus passes in Scotland, even though we are supposed to be the United Kingdom.)  In the end we had to revert to the road, but since it was almost on the shore it didn’t matter.  It was strewn with rubbish, but there were also flowers to look at.
We came to Sandhaven harbour.
A local group had raised thousands of pounds to restore it, but the old fishermen’s toilet halfway down one of the piers was still derelict.  We found a bench to sit on, carefully avoiding the seagull s**t which wasn’t easy, to eat our pies.  A nearby cottage had a small waterwheel on its side, I don’t know if it was working.
Pittulie has some nice houses, neat and well cared for.  After the dereliction of Fraserburgh this was a nice change.  Perhaps Fraserburgh will look good in a few years time when the rebuilding is complete.  Lets hope the locals don’t leave their rubbish everywhere then, and take pride in their new town.

 Pittulie is pretty, and we were amused by the cottage that has ‘a room with a pew’!

We carried on this rocky coast, and saw a heron fishing in the shallows.  We watched it until it flew off.  Colin also managed to photograph another shag.  We walked the road to Rosehearty, which was strewn with fish’n’chip papers thrown out of cars.  They were on the pavements, in the grass and had blown on to the beach.  Why are people so messy?  I started looking for something positive, but I think I was getting a bit desperate when I started photographing weeds and dandelions!  Actually, I quite like dandelions, a very showy flower, so long as they are not in my garden.
We got to Rosehearty and discovered that this harbour had not been restored.  In fact, there was a notice on the first pier telling us  ‘This pier is closed’.  We walked it anyway — it was only ‘closed’ because the surface was uneven and we might trip and fall off the edge.  Nanny state again!  Whatever happened to common sense?  There were boats moored against this ‘closed’ pier, so we didn’t think the locals took any notice of such ‘warnings’ either.  Part way down we came across another disused fishermen’s toilet, even more derelict than the one at Sandhaven.  Bet they had to close them because all the waste ran straight down into the sea!
We sat at a picnic table near the main harbour to eat our lunch.  Colin discovered that he had no room left on his memory card, and he hadn’t got a spare with him.  So he spent a lot of time going through the pictures in his camera deleting the ‘rubbish’ shots to make room.  We walked the real harbour piers, these ones weren’t closed and had a few boats sheltering behind the walls.  An elderly couple with expensive cameras and tripods set up to photograph the birds — real serious stuff!  I think Colin would have liked to join them, but we had a Walk to do.
We turned away from the coast through the neat cottages and took the road leading south-west out of town.  This was because the coastal footpath marked on our map came to a stop about a quarter of a mile further along the shore.  I was not willing to scramble across fields and scale barbed wire fences when there was a perfectly good tarmacked lane running parallel to the shore just four hundred yards or so inland. And we had sea views all the way because the land sloped downwards from our lane towards the sea.  But Colin went on and on about trying the clifftop to see if we could get through.  “There must be a path!”  “You don’t know if you don’t look!”  “We’re not really walking the coastline up here!”  “There’s probably a way through!”   —   “NO!”  “You can see there is NO PATH!”  “We are perfectly OK up here!”  “We can see the sea, and we are following the coast!”  “Why don’t you just SHUT UP!”  Which he did eventually when he saw a field of highland cattle and went over to photograph them.  I preferred to photograph the wayside flowers which were prolific.  We both then went into ‘route-march’ mode and covered the next few miles quite quickly.

 We-diverted to Aberdour beach when we got there, even though it was a dead end and we didn’t have to.  (I did this mainly to placate Colin.)  It is a nice place with caves at the end which we didn’t go over to — time was getting a little short.  There were no buildings and we were the only people there, but there was the remains of St Drostan’s well, whoever he was. We sat on a bench momentarily, and noticed with amusement that it had recently been repainted — over several protruding nails and over all the moss which had been growing on it up until it was repainted!
We came back up past a ruined church and it’s cemetery which had what looked like a small dovecot in one corner.  The track leading up from Mill Farm was steep at first, but then it opened out to sweeping views and glorious wild flowers!  Colin had seen the close contours and lack of footpaths on the map, and ceased his constant moan about ‘trying the clifftop to see if there was a way through’.  (I think he was also getting tired, as I was.)
Once past the farms the state of the track deteriorated, but it was still a way through without hurdles like ditches or fences to overcome, so I was quite happy.  We came across a cow on the track, and she kept walking ahead of us further and further away from the field she was supposed to be in.  We opened the field gate, and Colin tried to get in front of her to shoo her back.  I was going to stand in the track so she would divert through the gate, then we’d shut it quick.  But before we could put this plan into action, the farmer drove up on a pick-up. He did exactly what we were going to do, and we got the lumbering animal back in her field where she was supposed to be.  The farmer admitted it was his fault.  He had left the field gate open too long earlier in the afternoon, and realised one of his cows had ‘escaped’.  He was going to leave her because he knew she wouldn’t wander far and would come to no harm.  He couldn’t be bothered to come back and put her in the field.  Apparently his wife looked out the window and saw us hiking along, so nagged him to do something about it before the cow got to Pennan!  He was laughing about the incident.  Scottish farmers are so pleasant, at least all the ones we have spoken to have been friendly and helpful.  They realise hikers are not going to damage their fields nor harm their animals, we only want to pass by.  Since we have right of access in Scotland, we can do that and they are OK about it.  English farmers take note!
We had to go almost to the main road before we could turn back towards the coast.  Then there was still more uphill until we got to Pennan Farm — which was completely derelict!  After that we were on a footpath, the track finished at the derelict farm.  But it led us down through a sweeping field with lovely views.  And it was well-walked — in fact we met the first hiker of the whole Walk coming the other way, a man with his dogs who had come up from Pennan.  There were lots of flowers beside the path, and then we saw the rooftops of Pennan.  We were nearly there!

We emerged into Pennan by the harbour.  So we walked the walls, and didn’t throw stones as a notice chalked on a wall requested us not to.  (We weren’t going to anyway!)
By now we were familiar with this fabulous little fishing hamlet tucked under the cliffs, for we had been staying in one of its cottages for nearly two weeks.  We passed the ‘famous’ phone box — more about that on the next Walk — and along to the end by the village hall.  This corrugated iron building was surrounded by security fencing, and a notice told us to keep out because it was a dangerous building!  Locals had told us about a devastating mudslide last August.  The following information I gleaned at a later date from a website called ‘about aberdeen’:
On the morning of the 6 August 2007 Pennan residents were evacuated from their homes and cottages by the police for health and safety reasons. Heavy rain had caused a landslide at about 6 am which was dangerous for those Pennan houses that are built into the cliffs. Over 34 residents from the West side of Pennan village were evacuated to Pennan Inn for their safety. Some of the villagers had to be rescued by the fire service whilst others were able to clamber out of their windows because their houses were surrounded in mud and water as high as six feet. The Aberdour to Pennan road was blocked because of debris from the Pennan landslide and Grampian Fire and Rescue Service and Aberdeenshire Council were called in to clear and make safe the road. Mud and rubble from the Pennan landslide made the homes unsafe and residents were still advised not to return home on Tuesday 7 August. Police had to escort residents back to their home or cottage in the Western side of Pennan to collect personal belongings and essentials like drugs because of fears that another mudslide would occur. Police were guarding the top of the road into Pennan to stop access to the unsafe areas. An engineering assessment will be made on the area on the 40 affected properties that were thought to have been affected by about ten separate landslides. Many of  the cottages and houses had their windows, walls and roofs caved in from the mud and water with rooms such as kitchens, lounges, bedrooms and bathrooms being deluged in mud and water.
The newly refurbished Pennan village hall was hit by the landslide and suffered structural damage to the roof and building. It is feared it may now have to be demolished.
The Eastern side of Pennan was much safer and water supply from Scottish Water was restored within 24 hours.  Pennan village and harbour area opened again on Thursday 9 August 2007 though ten houses were still unsafe and there was the risk of further landslides due to wet weather.
We were really rather glad we didn’t know the full story until after we had returned home!
We also looked at the water tank, and read about the process they installed there in 2005.  (Until then I think all their waste went untreated straight into the sea.)  We were told:
Waste water from the village is collected in a septic tank where natural biological processes break down the solids.  This is an ancient, low technology process that needs no chemicals or additives.  The waste materials collect in the bottom of the septic tank, and the treated water passes on to a storage tank.  Every few weeks a portion of the treated waste from the bottom of the tank is removed for disposal and the remainder is left to “seed” the process again.  The septic tank consists of three separate chambers and the waste water passes through each in turn.  This encourages settlement, and provides a good standard of treatment.
Twice each day the treated water in the storage tank is pumped out to sea when the tide is ebbing.  This gives maximum dispersion and protection for the environment and takes full advantage of the sea’s natural disinfection properties.

That ended Walk no.182, we shall pick up Walk no.183 in Pennan village.  It was six o’clock, so the Walk had taken us eight hours forty minutes.  We walked back about a hundred yards and let ourselves into our holiday cottage.  I had a bath, and Colin prepared supper.  Bliss!

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