Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Walk 186 -- Portsoy, via Cullen & Portknockie, to Findochty

Ages: Colin was 66 years and 83 days. Rosemary was 63 years and 226 days.
Weather: Mostly sunny and warm. A pleasant breeze.
Location: Portsoy, via Cullen and Portknockie, to Findochty.
Distance: 12½ miles.
Total distance: 1612½ miles.
Terrain: Some tarmac/concrete, gravel tracks, some pleasant firm sandy beaches with a few rocks to negotiate, but mostly rough paths and easier grass paths. Undulating.
Tide: Going out.
Rivers: No.134, the ‘Burn at Cullen’ in Cullen.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.154 as we descended into Sandend.
Pubs: None.
‘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 Findochty where we parked by the harbour. We walked up the hill and caught a bus to Portsoy, where we walked down to the toilet block next to the harbour
At the end, we finished the Walk at the car which was parked half way along the harbour. After drinking tea from our flask, we drove back to Gardenstown.

We started today’s Walk by asking an elderly gentleman to take our photo in front of Portsoy Harbour. We have reached the 1600 mile point, that is we have walked sixteen hundred miles along the coast from Bognor! We tried pictures of us flopped full-length on a bench, but in the end we opted for the one of us sitting together cosy-like — that pose was the old man’s suggestion!
We wandered around the ‘arms’ of the harbour — no children jumping in today — past ‘Portsoy Marble’ and up to the Old Harbour on the western side. There we had to descend using ‘Granny’s teeth’ which was fun. (I’m a granny, but I haven’t got teeth like that!)
         We spoke to a couple of blokes sitting on the headland. They said they had been watching dolphins out at sea, they were leaping out of the water! So we got out our binoculars and little telescope to scour the water far out. Colin reckoned he saw them too, but later he wasn’t so sure. All I saw was a vague splash which could have been anything. I wonder how much of it was wishful thinking? I’m sure there were dolphins out there somewhere, but it’s easy to imagine each white top is a cetacean when you’re desperate to see one!
We left Portsoy on a good path. This took us along the clifftop past lots of fascinating rock formations, birds and flowers. It was very pleasant walking, especially as the sun was shining and the visibility was excellent. We were really enjoying ourselves. 
A notice on a post declared, “We need your help”. It talked about the “Aberdeenshire Core Paths Plan” which can be viewed at the local library, but we didn’t have time to visit that establishment. So I looked it up on the internet, and found the statement, “New path required between Boyne Bay and Whitehills. Agreement in place with landowner.” That is the section where we battled through stinging nettles, thistles, gorse, barbed wire fences and barley fields! So the Council are going to put in a path in order that anyone can enjoy that beautiful stretch of coast. Hooray! Well done Aberdeenshire Council!
 Hope it will be as good as today’s path which we found to be very pleasant to walk. Behind us on the hill were a number of giant modern windmills which had been the backdrop to our struggles across those barley fields. Not doing that again! 
Colin managed to photograph a yellowhammer on a bush, and another brown bird which he couldn’t identify. That is besides all the cormorants and shags hanging on the cliffs.
After a couple of miles we reached a point where we were overlooking Sandend Bay, so we sat down to eat our elevenses — Colin had a ‘stovie’ and I had an apple turnover.
Then we descended to the beach and walked it’s full length along the firm sand. 
It was great to see so many people out enjoying themselves! 
Some children were trying to ‘belly-board’ but the waves were too small for them to succeed. 
I’d rather they did that than jump in the harbour though, much safer.
At Sandend we ascended the cliffs up a narrow rough path with stinging nettles all around us. Colin was having difficulty — now you know why I never wear shorts! But at least there was a path up there, and it didn’t peter out. More flowers, more amazing rocks and another yellowhammer — or perhaps it was the same one following us, who knows? 
We saw a lifeboat come in from the sea and enter an inlet round the next headland. Almost immediately it came out again and buzzed off, so we concluded it was on some kind of exercise. Nothing looked urgent about it.
We came to Findlater Castle where we sat down to eat our sandwiches. There is not much of the castle left, just one or two bits of stone wall built into the original rock. A notice told us it was built in 1455 by Sir Walter Ogilvy, and describes it as “a castle so fortified by the nature of its situation as to seem impregnable”. 
Maybe, but I bet it was draughty too! There were the usual battles over its ownership, family feuds etc, but it ended up back in the hands of the Ogilvy family. In the mid 1600s they abandoned it in favour of a new residence in Cullen. (Perhaps that was less draughty — bet the women of the family had their say in the matter!)
The path was better from thereon, and Colin’s legs had survived the stinging nettles! About half a mile further on it descended to Sunnyside Beach. This is a remote sandy beach with quite a few people enjoying the waves on this warm Summer’s day. 
We were nearing the bottom when we came upon the remains of a fire and a pile of lager cans. Now, it’s fine for people to enjoy themselves, but why can’t they take their rubbish home with them when they go? We met several families coming up, and a couple stopped to chat. The man had a foreign (German?) accent and he was with a young girl who could have been his daughter. 
He was disgusted at the mess and reluctant to leave it there. He fished out a plastic bag and said he would take the cans to a rubbish bin, so Colin helped him clear them up. He would have had to carry them at least a mile to the nearest car park, and then take them on to a town where he could dispose of them properly — what a good-hearted citizen!
Then we descended the last bit of the dunes to the beach. There are rocks alongside this end of the beach, and what amazing rocks they are! They are all twisted this way and that — a lot has happened to them over the millenniums. 
A glance at my Geology map dates them as Dalradian metamorphic rocks, complicated rocks which are difficult to assign to a definite position in the stratigraphical sequence. Beautiful though, even if we don’t know how they got like that!
Further along the sand disappeared, and we entered a ‘forest’ of ferns. They were so tall they almost swallowed up the footpath sign, but the S sign of the ‘North Sea Trail’ was still there, so we knew we were going the right way! (That was the last time we saw that sign.) Even the rocks seemed to be struggling with ferns and gorse, but Colin held his umbrella aloft so I could see my way through!
To my Geologist’s eye, I was convinced we were walking on a raised beach. During the last Ice Age, Scotland and the north of England was covered in ice whereas the south of England was not. This ice was very heavy, and during the thousands of years it was there it weighed down the northern part of the British Isles like a heavy person on one end of a seesaw. After the ice melted, Scotland began to rise up whereas England began to sink in order to restore equilibrium. And it is still doing it! Very slowly, of course. That is why places on the Isle of Wight are sinking into the sea (Blackgang Chine comes to mind) but you will find a lot of raised beaches round northern coasts.
I was sure we were walking on just such a feature. 
There were sea stacks no longer in the sea, and we seemed to be on a kind of platform at the bottom of the cliff which the tide no longer reaches. 
We successfully ‘conquered’ the ferns and left them behind. 
And we couldn’t think of enough superlatives to describe the rocks we were seeing. 
There were climbers all over one rock, and a girl sitting on top of another as if she had just dropped on there from a height. 
I bet our son, Paul, would have climbed them, but that sort of climbing is not for me. I don’t mind a bit of rock-scrambling if it is absolutely necessary, but would rather avoid even that if I can go an easier way.
There used to be no way out to Cullen except by rock-scrambling. Then in 1987, a local young man called Tony Hetherington single-handedly built stone steps into the cliff at the easiest point to get over. Tragically he was killed in a canoeing accident in 1993, shortly after completing this mammoth task. A memorial plaque is set into a cairn at the bottom of the steps, but his real legacy is the staircase itself. Thank you very much, Tony!
We climbed the steps, then the path is very narrow and undulating as it snakes its way round the end of the cliffs.
Both of us remarked that it reminded us of Madeira where we have done a bit of hiking high in the mountains. 
The views were stupendous! 
Eventually we descended to beach level, but we still had another headland to get round before we reached Cullen. 
However the path remained at sea level, and improved as we walked on. As we crossed from Aberdeenshire to Moray, it turned into a track.
And now we had a problem — for our card ‘blob’ maps had run out! They had been produced by Aberdeenshire Council, you see, and only referred to the North Sea Trail in their county. I had tried the ‘Nortrail’ website, but the maps on it were worse than useless. (Might as well draw a wiggly line on a road atlas!) We had tried a Tourist Information Office in the library in Buckie, the first one we could find in Moray. There two ladies tried to be very helpful, but they had never heard of the North Sea Trail! I showed them the ‘blob’ maps we had for Aberdeenshire, and they remarked that Moray Council is “not as rich, and probably can’t afford such things”! They tried to look up maps for us, but they were nowhere near as detailed as the OS maps which we already have and found to be unreliable when it comes to Scottish footpaths. So we are on our own again — planning becomes a guessing game once more!
As we approached Cullen we came across a pet cemetery! I had heard of such places in America, but was very surprised to come across one in northern Scotland. 
It was neat, and nicely set out in beach stones with little memorials to ‘Smudge’, ‘Bruce’, ‘Darkie’ and ‘Milo’ etc. Twee!
We walked into Cullen and arrived at the harbour. There were crowds of people there, all having a wonderful time! There was a real Summer seaside atmosphere about the place on this warm sunny afternoon. 
A group of children, mostly girls, were jumping into the harbour entrance from high walls. That I didn’t like — how can they be sure the water is deep enough where they are jumping? But nobody was telling them not to, in fact the adults around seemed to be encouraging this dangerous sport. 
Nearer the shore, golden sand shelved gently into the water. This is where most of the families were paddling, picnicking, digging holes and building sandcastles. 
It brought back happy childhood memories of seaside holidays! We sat on a bench and ate our apples whilst watching this lovely scene.
We walked all the arms of the harbour, then left Cullen by crossing the river on a footbridge alongside the viaduct of the old railway which used to run aloft from hill to hill across Cullen Bay. 
The railway closed in the 1960s, but the impressive viaduct remains and now has a cycleway running along it. 
But we didn’t walk up there, we walked along the top of another long sandy beach watching the remnants of holidaymakers still enjoying themselves as evening approached.
When the beach came to an end, we had to clamber over a few rocks to find the path which at first stayed low at the bottom of the cliffs. 
Colin was delighted to find a cave, and went off to explore! He came out a little further on next to a rock on which someone had painted the words St DUANE’S DEN !  Next we came across a spring with the water coming out of a spout in a stone wall. Someone had set pebbles into the cement which read JENNY’S WELL
It put me in mind of my friend, Jenny, who died last year from Alzheimer’s. I went on many a hike with her before the illness took hold, and several walking holidays too. I so miss her!
The path took us on, and up a set of concrete steps on to the cliff top.
We passed some of the most spectacular rocks we have seen on this trek — they just seemed to get better and better!
There were several arches.
We watched some kayaks down below, weaving between these amazing rock features. 
Colin wanted to be down there!
We seemed to be slowing up, but eventually we rounded the headland and descended to Portknockie Harbour. Totally a marina, this, there were no fishing boats. A group of children were playing in the evening sun. They were being quite silly, as children often are towards the end of the day, but at least they were being silly in safety. A shallow tidal swimming pool had been constructed inside the harbour, and that is where the majority of the children were playing. 
I was relieved that none of them were jumping off the harbour walls here. 
We sat on a bench and ate our chocolate.
We had to climb up a steep hill to the road to get out of Portknockie as there was no low path leading westwards. We were both tired, but Colin was particularly flagging — I think it was the heat. So we ‘route-marched’ the last 1½ miles along a gravel cycle track with the low sun shining directly in our eyes. We didn’t enjoy this last bit of the Walk, but at least we got there.
As we entered Findochty, we mistook the coastal trail through lack of signposts. Our friendly S sign denoting the ‘Nortrail’ had disappeared as soon as we left Aberdeenshire. However, we found our way through the streets to the harbour. This one did have fishing boats in it, and was a much larger harbour than any of the others we had passed through today. We walked the eastern arms until we came to our car which was parked pretty centrally.

That ended Walk no.186, we shall pick up Walk no.187 at Findochty Harbour. It was a quarter to seven, so the Walk had taken us nine and a quarter hours. After drinking tea from our flask, we drove back to Gardenstown.
This has been a very enjoyable Walk — one of the best!


Andrew Royall said...

Just want to say how interesting you blog is! I have followed your trip over the years and think you are both amazing!

Rosemary Fretwell said...

Thank you