Thursday, July 31, 2008

Walk 187 -- Findochty, via Buckie & Spey Bay, to Kingston on Spey

Ages: Colin was 66 years and 84 days. Rosemary was 63 years and 227 days.
Weather: Cloudy turning sunny. Very warm. Later on heavier cloud came over and a cool wind got up, but it remained dry.
Location: Findochty, via Buckie and Spey Bay, to Kingston on Spey.
Distance: 12 miles.
Total distance: 1624½ miles.
Terrain: Grassy path round golf course, then mainly pavement bashing. We went up on to a gravelled cycle path (old railway embankment) and had a pleasant walk through a forest. Flat.
Tide: Going out.
Rivers: No.135, the Spey between Spey Bay and Garmouth.
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 holiday cottage in Gardenstown. With Colin’s bike on the back of the car we drove to Findochty where Colin dropped me off to amuse myself for an hour and a half. He continued to Kingston on Spey where he parked overlooking Spey Bay. He then cycled back to Findochty.
At the end, we finished the Walk at the car. After drinking tea from our flask, we drove back to Findochty to pick up the bike, then on to our cottage in Gardenstown.

We walked the western arm of Findochty Harbour, and looked at the sculpture which overlooks it all. It is of a fisherman looking out to sea, and a plaque quotes from Psalm 107, “These see the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep”. But the statue itself is rather crude. It looks as if it has been fashioned out of Plaster of Paris, and not finished off!
We climbed up to the War Memorial which is on a hill to the West of Findochty. We had a good view from there. We followed a footpath round the seaward edge of the golf course (not another!), right on the edge of the grassy cliff. Trouble was, it was a trifle overgrown with gorse bushes. Colin wouldn’t go through the gorse, and skirted the bushes on the golf club side. I followed the official path (ow!) but it was very tight. 
When we met up we came across a seat, so we sat down to eat our sandwiches. Then we followed the path which led half way down the cliff and along until it was well past the clubhouse perched on top.
We went through a picnic area, and from then on we had to follow the road. We soon entered Buckie, once we had passed ‘Jonathon’s Bothy’ which looked like someone’s garage! We came across two notices telling us about Buckie. One told us about the plight of the schooner ‘Maria’ which was blown ashore in a gale at Sandend Bay in 1903. 
Buckie lifeboat was called, but it couldn’t launch because of exceptionally low water. So the crew dragged it overland two miles to Strathlene (I think they mean the harbour that is now called Findochty) before putting it in the water and rowing it for five hours in snow and increasing storms to reach Sandend Bay. By that time the schooner was wrecked, but fortunately with no loss of life. The lifeboat was trapped at Portsoy for three days before the sea was calm enough for it to return to Buckie.
The other notice told us a bit of the history of Buckie. It is believed there has been a settlement here since Stone Age times, but as late as 1823 there were only three dwellings to make up the hamlet. Most of the houses were built around 1840 from stones collected from the beach. (Was this anything to do with the Highland ‘Clearances’ which occurred about this time? Crofters were forced out of their homes with great brutality, and many of them settled on the sea coast because they had nowhere else to go.) These were low structures of two rooms apiece, with thatched roofs. In 1843 a wooden harbour was built, but this got washed away six years later. We didn’t find out when the present harbour was built.
We found Buckie to be quite run-down — the ‘Craigenroan Bar’ kind of typified it, it didn’t exactly look inviting to entice you in! The whole town looked as if it had gone to seed. However, we had to smile as four children walked towards us wearing wet-suits with shorts over the top! I asked them if it was the latest fashion, and they smiled shyly and said, “Well, sort of!” I had to take a photograph of them — with their permission, of course.
We didn’t come across any food shops. We were hoping to buy some pies as we had none with us. Colin was hoping for a chippy — he was feeling rather peckish and had set his heart on a bag of chips. His hopes were raised as he thought he saw a chip shop ahead, then dashed when he discovered it was a fresh fish outlet! So we sat on a wall and ate the cinnamon buns I had bought that morning in Findochty (I couldn’t find a pie shop there either).
We decided Buckie was ‘industrial’, and that let us out of walking the harbour walls which would have been long and tedious. But really we couldn’t be bothered — it was muggy and hot, and we were flagging. 
Further on we approached what must have been the original stone fishing harbour, with a gap between high walls. No use now, though, as the harbour area was full of beach stones. 
On top of the high walls were numerous wet-suited children jumping into the old harbour entrance below. It was a terrific height they were jumping from, and they were landing in water only a few yards from the beach. The water seemed to be deep enough for them to do this safely, but I don’t like this new hobby of theirs. It is so dangerous! It is the more nervous children I worry about most, and there were plenty of them about. We could see by their body-language they didn’t really want to be there doing this, but felt they had to so as not to be left out or called a ‘wimp’ or ‘cissy’. What was more frightening was that the few adults about were egging them on! We didn’t feel we could say anything as we would only be rebuffed, so we moved on quickly. I didn’t want to witness the inevitable tragedy!
As we walked away from there we saw a curlew fly up with its beautiful curved beak. I think it is one of my favourite birds!
Past Buckie we got fed up with walking along the busy road. So we remembered additional rule no.10 and moved on to the parallel disused railway embankment for the next mile or so. It is a designated cycleway now, and much nicer than the road! We passed through one bridge, then looked over towards the sea as there seemed to be a lot of ‘fuss’ going on over there. Sure enough, there was a colony of seals on the rocks just offshore. We counted them — fifteen! They must be used to people because they didn’t seem at all fazed by all the folk standing close to them, talking excitedly, pointing and taking photographs.
There were lots of wild flowers along the embankment, it really was a treat! As we approached Portgordon we found we were on a level with the rooftops of this village. Then we passed a wooden ‘train’ sculpture full of flowers, and also a ‘well’ sculpture. The embankment then stopped at a road and didn’t continue the other side, so we returned to the shore. On our way we passed a shop selling ice cream — and we were hot — so we bought some, of course. Very nice it was too, we felt a lot better after that.
We continued for about a quarter of a mile along the road next to the shore. We passed a house with sandbags piled in front of the door. I don’t know if they were expecting floods, none of the other houses had them.
The road then turned away from the coast, so we returned to the disused railway-cum-cycle track which is the official coast path. We met a lot of people walking their dogs. I suppose we could have got through to Spey Bay by continuing along the beach, in fact a man we stopped and chatted to told us it was possible. But we were hot and I wanted to walk in the forest which was about a mile away. So we made excuses (like the beach wasn’t actually a path) to stay on the railway line. We watched a young couple, who had overtaken us because they were walking much more quickly, march off down the beach. We stopped feeling guilty about our decision when we saw them marching back!
We strutted merrily along, passing under another bridge. Then we squeezed through a springy stile, the like of which we have only seen before on the partly-restored Wey & Arun Canal near Wisborough Green in Sussex. Once again we were treated to glorious displays of wild flowers, especially rosebay willowherb. We were also observed disdainfully by some pigs!
We came to a bridge which the path didn’t go under, instead it turned to the right. The continuation of the railway line at this point was completely overgrown. Looking on the map we noted that a large gravel pit had been dug just beyond, so to try and continue that way would be impossible. The path led into a small forest where it was very pleasant in the shade. We came across a hay bale, so we sat on it to eat our apples. We followed a lovely path through the trees, and we met nobody. It is also the official cycle route, but Colin (who had cycled it the other way this morning) opined that it was a bit twisty cycling over the roots and missing the trees. Challenging perhaps, but it kept him alert!
We emerged from the forest at Spey Bay, and walked down the road to the end. The Visitor Centre was closed by then, but there were still a few people about. Clouds had come over and a slight wind had got up. It was a bit cooler, and we felt better for it despite our tiredness.
We looked across the wetlands which make up Spey Bay Nature Reserve, and we could see our car parked half a mile away (as the crow flies) across the river. We sat on a seat and ate our chocolate. The River Spey is famous for its salmon fishing — didn’t the Queen Mother used to go fishing in it until she was quite old? There was a fisherman standing in the middle of the river in his waders.
We looked at the pebble pictures and the sculpture, then we started southwards along the river bank, the first mile of the Speyside Way. For the only way we could cross the River Spey was via the railway viaduct, the railway we had previously been walking on which was now a mile inland. The railway used to cross on a spectacular bridge, now restored for the use of cyclists and walkers only. We were very grateful for it — the first road bridge is a further three miles upstream!
As we were crossing we were reminded of the Red Deer River in Sundre, Alberta, Canada where our friends, Anton and Margaret live. 
That river, which passes their house, meanders through pebble beds in much the same way. 
Over the other side of the river we had to walk another half mile before we could get off the railway line on to a road into the village of Garmouth. There is a lane going over the top on a bridge, but we couldn’t see a way to climb up to it. So we had to go the long way.
Finally we walked through Garmouth village, then about a mile along the road to the car which was parked at Kingston on Spey. We were very tired by then. From the car park we could see the Visitor Centre just half a mile across the river, but we’d had to walk three miles to get to our car from there. I suppose we were grateful we could get across the old railway bridge, otherwise it would have been nine miles!

That ended Walk no.187, we shall pick up Walk no.188 next time at Kingston on Spey. It was a quarter to seven, so the Walk had taken us seven and a quarter hours.
Whilst drinking tea from our flask, Colin was playing with a collarless dog, a golden labrador puppy that didn’t seem to be with anybody. It looked very soulful as we drove away, leaving it behind. We drove back to Findochty to pick up the bike, then on to our cottage in Gardenstown.

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