Monday, July 28, 2008

Walk 185 -- Banff, via Whitehills, to Portsoy

Ages: Colin was 66 years and 81 days. Rosemary was 63 years and 224 days.
Weather: Cloudy and muggy, turning sunny and warm.
Location: Banff, via Whitehills, to Portsoy.
Distance: 10½ miles.
Total distance: 1600 miles.
Terrain: Some tarmac/concrete, a little beach, rough paths and no paths at all. Barley fields, thistles up to our eyebrows, wall-to-wall gorse bushes, masses of stinging nettles and several barbed wire fences. Very undulating — in fact extremely difficult walking.
Tide: Out.
Rivers: No.133, the ‘Burn at Boyne’, at the quarry.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.151 soon after Whitehills. No.152 near the seal beach, and No.153 as we approached Portsoy.
Pubs: The Boyne Hotel in Portsoy. It is in the Good Beer Guide, but when we discovered it had no real ale we walked out in disgust!
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in a holiday cottage in Gardenstown. We drove to Portsoy where we parked near the harbour. We walked up through the town and caught a bus to Banff where we walked down to the harbour.
At the end, we finished the Walk at the car which was parked just behind the harbour next to the toilets! After drinking tea from our flask, we drove back to Gardenstown.

We started today’s Walk in the car park behind the harbour in Banff, where we had finished the last Walk. Colin found a swallow’s nest in the roof of a beach shelter, and took several photos of it. We could see the baby birds peeping over the nest top!
“Nil points” to Banff for their provision of toilet accommodation — we couldn't find one anywhere. There were no convenient bushes either — everywhere was much too public. We were both extremely uncomfortable until we reached a caravan site about a mile into the Walk. There we were fortunate that one of the caravanners had left the door to the toilet block on the latch.
We walked towards Whitehills. Next to us was the course of the old railway which used to serve Banff and MacDuff. It opened in 1857, and closed just over a hundred years later in 1964.
Looking over the rocky beach, we noticed some gulls harassing a heron that was fishing in the shallows.
They were really going for it, dive-bombing and making a terrible noise!
The poor heron was terrified, and tried ‘hiding’ amongst the rocks.
But the gulls wouldn’t leave it alone, they kept coming back again and again.
The heron tried to squawk back sometimes, but it was unable to fly off because the gulls wouldn't let it.
Eventually the gulls got tired, and the heron managed to escape.
It was fascinating to watch — nature in the raw!
We also saw a curlew with its beautiful long curved beak, redshanks with their bright red legs, oystercatchers and a whole row of herons sitting on the rocks!
Out at sea a group of cormorants had commandeered a rock, and we watched a gannet dive — straight and true!
It was a good day for bird-watching.
There is a pleasant sandy beach between Banff and Whitehills, and there was a spattering of people using it this Summer’s day — probably families from the caravan site. We liked the bright murals inside the beach shelter, though wondered what had happened to the seats. We noted that the murals had been done by the Prince’s Trust, Team 1, Banff/MacDuff on the 3rd of November 2006.
Perhaps the author of the four-letter word also scratched on the wall was responsible for the removal of the seats! You win some :: You lose some.
The beach turned stony, and we came to a stream. But it was only a dribble and we were able to step over. We liked the daisies growing in amongst the shingle, it is surprising how tenacious some plants are.

Approaching Whitehills, we came to the Red Well. It is housed in a dome-shaped building which is thought to date back to Roman times. But I didn’t think the Romans ever got this far north. I know they made forays over Hadrian’s Wall, but I always learned they couldn’t ‘tame’ the Scots and didn't stray far out of their comfort zone. (Come to think of it, they didn’t find Northumberland very comfortable, and I’m sure they never made it to northern Scotland!) Apparently this well was popular in the 18th century, one of a series of ‘Chalybeate’ wells (whatever they were) where people used to do a circular walk out of Banff to ‘take the waters’.
The water was thought to have remedial properties, but nowadays there is a notice inside the building saying the water is not fit for human consumption. It is certainly full of iron — it looks like blood! No wonder it's called the ‘Red Well’ — give me our pure Malvern water anyday!
Then we passed a doggy-poo box which actually provided ‘dog gloves’ so dog-owners have no excuse whatsoever for not picking up the mess. Bet some of them still ignore it!
The post it was attached to also had ‘North Sea Trail’ signs on it — yes, we are still following the ‘blobs’! Trouble is, there were none between Gardenstown and MacDuff, and we didn’t enjoy walking those miles along the road yesterday. And they disappear again between Whitehills and Portsoy, even though there is a dotted line marked on the map for most of the way. So we’re going to try the dotted line as we don't like roads.
A little further on we came to an imaginative children’s playground with a toddler’s paddling pool, slides off a log cabin, a pretend ship, and even an ‘assault course’ which a lad was working his way along closely followed by his mother!
I would have loved such a playground when I was a kid (I think I've said this before) and would have played at such a place for hours. I hope modern children appreciate what they’ve got, but I suspect that many of them find it ‘boring’ because they already have so much. That lad’s Mum was certainly making up for lost opportunities — good on her!
The harbour next to the playground is tiny, and had no boats in. On the playing fields we came across a building which had a door in the nether side. There was no label on the door, but I guessed it might be a toilet. I expected it to be locked, but it wasn't and my guess was right — so that was convenient! The main harbour, round the corner, was full of classy yachts, and we heard several foreign accents from passers-by. With the demise of the fishing industry this century, the local entrepreneurs have turned it into a marina.
We walked from there all along the front in Whitehills with its rocky beach. 
It was lovely to see a toddler out with his Grandad throwing stones into the sea. 
It made me wish I saw more of my grandchildren — little Natalie and Franklyn are both nearly nine months old already! It’s weeks between visits, and they change so quickly. (Mustn’t be glum, at least I have grandchildren — many of my friends do not for various reasons.) Like many of these northern fishing communities, the washing was hanging out on the seafront — good drying day today! 
We found a bench and sat down to eat our lunch.
We left Whitehills on a rough path which led down to the bottom of grassy cliffs and along the bottom round several headlands.
This path was not marked with blobs on our ‘North Sea Trail’ cards, but did appear as a black dotted line both on the cards and on the OS map.
Colin photographed a little red bird which he was unable to identify, even when he looked through his bird book later.
The flowers and butterflies were abundant. The sun was shining and we were on our own — it was lovely!
As we rounded the last headland before a sandy beach, five seals humphed themselves into the water and swam off! They’d seen us before we’d seen them, so there was no opportunity to photograph them. When we got to the sands we could clearly see the marks where they had been humphing about.
No sign of the actual animals by now, though, so we had to console ourselves by watching flocks of dunlins, or were they sanderlings? (perhaps they were both!) strutting along in their funny way. They move so quickly for such tiny birds!
We were surprised to find that a family — Mum, Dad and two kids — had followed us down the rough path and were now playing on this lovely beach. Then an elderly couple came down a track, it was beginning to get quite crowded! We got talking to the couple, who were local. They knew the five seals well, and had even made up names for them. We asked if we could get through to Portsoy by continuing along the low grassy cliffs. They didn’t know, but said they thought they knew of someone who might have done it once. That sounded about as vague as the path we were about to take!
We climbed over the next rise, and came to a barbed wire fence which went right down into the sea. That should have put us off, but we were gripped with a determination to make it through by then. In retrospect (hindsight is a wonderful thing!) we should have gone up to the road along the track the old couple were already returning on, walked two miles along the road, then returned to the cliff top along a track we knew to be signposted ‘Coastal Path’ because we had seen it from the bus this morning. But we didn’t because we had been put off road-walking after yesterday. So we pressed on.
We climbed over a rock in order to get round the end of the fence, crossed another beach and went up a slope to the top of the grassy cliffs. The path deteriorated, then disappeared. Not only was there wall-to-wall gorse, but there were STINGING NETTLES AND THISTLES everywhere! We got to a gate which we climbed over, then we squirmed under an electric fence. 
We walked up a grassy field, stepped carefully over another electric fence and then climbed over a gate into a barley field. (The barley was probably being grown for the hallowed Scottish whisky trade.) We wanted to walk round the edge of the field, but this was not possible as the barley was growing right to the extremities. Instead we followed ‘tractor-tracks’ near to the edge. Although we were not treading down any of the crop, we felt conspicuous because it looked as if we were wading waist-deep through the plants. We felt very uncomfortable, also it was not easy to walk as the ‘path’ was extremely narrow and we couldn’t see our feet. When we got to the far end, we couldn’t find a way to get out of the field. So we had to backtrack a good long way until we came to a place where we thought we could climb the barbed wire fence. 
We stepped over on to a wobbly stone wall, and I was reluctant to step down off it because it was all STINGING NETTLES AND THISTLES below! But I had to. 
We made our way down a steep slope to a beach — we were at the quarry.
The rocks on that beach are beautiful
No wonder they quarry that stone. 
It is full of whirls and swirls — very pretty. 
According to my geology map, it is a metamorphic rock containing hornblende, which is usually dark but can be grey or white in colour if it contains less than 5% iron oxides. 
Whatever, the rocks on that beach are some of the best I have ever seen, so perhaps the difficulties of the past couple of hours had been worth it!
We were running late, thistles and barbed wire fences take time to negotiate. In retrospect (hindsight is a wonderful thing!) we should have gone up to the road from the beach on the quarry track, walked a mile along the road, then returned to the cliff top along a track we knew to be signposted ‘Coastal Path’ because we had seen it from the bus this morning. But we didn’t because we were flushed with success and thought we could get through. We carried on.
We paddled across a stream, although we could have used a nearby bridge. We then climbed up the cliff the other side, using our hands and feet because it was so steep. At the top we came out on to a quarry road, but it led nowhere. 
So we climbed up a quarry rubbish heap only to find that it was STINGING NETTLES AND THISTLES on the other side on an almost vertical slope! It just got worse and worse! We couldn’t get through to a nearby barley field — not that we wanted to really, but it seemed the best option.
We spent ages standing partway up the cliff hacking down prickly plants in order to move a step at a time. We had several false leads. Eventually we did mange to get to the top of the cliff where we climbed over a barbed wire fence into the barley field. At least this one had an edge, though there was no path, so we didn’t have to walk through the crop. 

It was difficult walking, and we must have gone a mile before we thought the grass on the clifftop side of the fence looked shorter than the rough grass we were walking on. 
So we climbed back over the barbed wire, and soon we found we were walking on a ‘sort-of’ path. At last we joined up with the track which came down from that signpost on the road, and our path widened. We had done it!
We could see a real path ahead, but it was at the bottom of the cliff and we were at the top. How were we to get down there? Then our path turned towards the cliff face, and there were STEPS to take us down! The relief was immeasurable! We both cheered!
It wasn’t an easy path, but at least it was an official path and we knew we would get through to Portsoy. After the steps it still went very steeply down.
The path was very rough because it was so new it was still being made. We came across a pile of posts that were intended as markers.
We were both very very hot and tired. We sat on a rock at the bottom to eat our chocolate.
Following the coast, the path continued to be rough and undulating, but it did improve as we approached Portsoy.
We walked through the campsite, round some factories, and at last came to the harbour in Portsoy.
All that remained was to walk the walls of the harbour before retreating to the car. A number of children of varying ages, all dressed in wetsuits, were jumping into the harbour from the walls. The tide had come in by now, but how were they so sure it was deep enough? They were fooling about between themselves, as children do, and daring each other.
And they seemed to drop into the water from all over the place. It would be so easy to miscalculate their position — highly dangerous! An adult who was with them (well he was in his twenties) was being the silliest of all. I thought, at one time, that he was going to push me in! “Are you going to join us in our fun?” he shouted right in my face! I fled to the car which was parked nearby.
That ended Walk no.185, we shall pick up Walk no.186 in the car park behind Banff Harbour. It was seven o’clock, so the Walk had taken us nine and a quarter hours. After drinking tea from our flask, we drove back to Gardenstown.

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