Saturday, August 02, 2008

Walk 188 -- Kingston on Spey, via Lossiemouth, to Hopeman

Ages: Colin was 66 years and 86 days. Rosemary was 63 years and 229 days.
Weather: Sunny intervals and a light breeze. Slightly cooler than it has been – ideal for walking. Slight showers this afternoon. (We were lucky, most areas had torrential showers!)
Location: Kingston on Spey, via Lossiemouth, to Hopeman.
Distance: 15 miles.
Total distance: 1639½ miles.
Terrain: Rough track along the top of the beach for miles. Then we walked on the beach, but it was soft sand because the tide was right in. Concrete in Lossiemouth, then a firm sandy beach. So far it had been flat, but the rough path along the clifftop to Hopeman was undulating.
Tide: In, going out.
Rivers: No.136, the Lossie in Lossiemouth.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: No.16, Spynie Palace, north of Elgin. No. 17, Elgin Cathedral, in Elgin. We visited both these properties on a ‘rest’ day as they are both a few miles inland.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: No.53 at Covesea Skerries Lighthouse. We walked round it on the inland side by mistake – by the time we got there the tide was sufficiently far out for us to have gone along the beach, but I mistakenly thought we were further along where the beach ran out. The beach route would have been much easier!
How we got there and back: We were staying in a holiday cottage in Gardenstown. We got up very early as it was a long way to Hopeman and we wanted to catch a bus from there at ten past eight. We parked on the harbour, and walked up to the bus stop with ten minutes to spare. The bus was ten minutes late! It took us to Elgin Bus Station where we were supposed to have eleven minutes before catching a bus to Kingston on Spey. It was an anxious ride, but the Kingston bus waited for us as we struggled across to the other stand. (If we had missed the connection, that would have messed up our whole day.) We alighted from the second bus by the car park where we finished the last Walk.
At the end, we finished the Walk at the car. After drinking tea from our flask, we drove back to our cottage in Gardenstown. The journey is getting very long, takes an hour now!

From the car park where we finished the last Walk (no sign of the labrador puppy today), we walked westward alongside a brackish pond where there were swans and ducks with their young. The cygnets were already beginning to lose their brown feathers, but the ducklings must have been a second brood for they were still at the fluffy stage. The pond is part of the braided estuary of the River Spey.
We followed a track, and were hoping that it would lead us through to Lossiemouth, but you never know with Scottish footpaths! After a mile or so we reached a rifle range. We came upon a concrete sentry box, which was empty until Colin climbed up into it. A notice warned us this was a military firing range, and that there is no access when red flags or lights are displayed. Well, none were, so we continued along the track.
All along the the six miles of beach to Lossiemouth are concrete bunkers, pill boxes and posts left over from the Second World War. I suppose this lonely beach would have been an ideal place for the enemy to land prior to invasion, so it was well defended. A quieter scene today, however. We saw a young robin on a bush, and Colin managed to photograph it.
At the other end of the rifle range we passed another sentry box facing the other way. There we went down on to the beach and sat on the stones to eat our steak pies. (Would have been nicer if we could have heated them up!) There was a lone fisherman on the beach. Apart from one other couple coming the other way later on, we saw nobody else until we approached Lossiemouth.
We returned to the track as there was too much shingle to walk on the beach comfortably. We walked for miles and miles between the forest and the sea. We were puzzled by a loud engine noise coming from somewhere yonder behind the trees. At first we thought it was a combine harvester or suchlike in a field, but it went droning on and on so we realised it wasn’t. Then we thought it must be aeroplanes, but they never took off. We knew that RAF Lossiemouth was situated over in that direction, but we thought the noise too loud to come from there — after all it was several miles away. But perhaps it was — we remembered being deafened by the jets at Leuchars, near St Andrews, when we were walking in the forest there. If it was RAF Lossiemouth, we felt really sorry for all the people living in the vicinity having to listen to that volume of noise every day. I remember a similar situation from my childhood in Farnborough, but having been born into that noisy environment I was so used to it I didn’t really hear it. I do now! I am very intolerant of noise, especially at night.
There is a phenomenal amount of concrete between Kingston and Lossiemouth. Rows of concrete posts to impede the progress of vehicles landing on the beach. Pill boxes all along, some looking decidedly worse for wear after nearly seventy years. 
And up on the rise just before the forest are some bigger structures which look as if they had housed serious guns. There were signs of fires, and lager cans littered about. Graffiti artists had been at work though there was no real Art, it was all a bit of a mess. There were swastikas, and mis-spelt references to the ‘Fuhrer’ — I expect it was dysfunctional teenagers thinking they were clever. 
Someone had written ‘THE UNKNOWN’ on the concrete posts, and we came across the inevitable burnt-out car.
But we were more interested in the wildlife we encountered. Colin managed to photograph a stonechat and a gorgeous blue butterfly. 
We began to feel a bit peckish, so we sat down and ate our sandwiches.
The forest started to recede, and we found we were walking along a grassy dune path just above a stony beach. Then the beach turned to sand and the path turned on to it. I thought the pattern of the pebbles was quite artistic! Trouble was, the tide was right in, so we found ourselves walking along soft sand on a slope. 
We began to meet families enjoying the beach, but because the tide was in we had to walk right up close to them — there wasn’t much room. Colin was a few yards ahead of me when we passed an old man sitting on the beach with his family. He made some remark about me needing to hurry and catch up, so I told him we had walked all the way from Bognor Regis and gave him one of my blog cards.
It was a jolly scene as we approached Lossiemouth — a warm sunny day with the schools closed for holidays, and a lovely soft sandy beach. Ideal for families with children! We walked round the sand spit, passing the breakwater which marked where the River Lossie goes out to sea. We then approached the footbridge across the river — which we were relieved to find was actually there. (You never know with Scottish maps!) The nearest road bridge is about four miles up-river, so that would have been eight miles extra walking!
A notice on the bridge warned those crossing over to the beach from Lossiemouth of strong currents, and that bathing at or near the breakwater is dangerous. I wouldn’t have liked to go in the water anywhere near the river anyway, because it was full of jellyfish! Looking down off the bridge, we could see scores of them pulsating in the water. I find these strange animals fascinating to watch, but know that most of them can give you a nasty sting if you get too close. 
On the other side, we sat on a bench and ate our apples.
We followed the western bank of the river, through Lossiemouth, to the seafront once again. We passed a pub called the ‘Clifton Bar’ — my maiden name! (Calm down all you scammers out there — I use much more obscure words than family names for my bank details!!) Colin had forgotten the name of the ‘real ale’ pub he had looked up in Lossiemouth. It wasn’t any of the pubs we passed, not even the ‘Clifton Bar’, and we never did find it. We also passed a wall on which was painted a seashore scene in bright blue.
Lossiemouth was holding Gala Day in aid of the local emergency services. It was in full swing with loud music playing, which we had been hearing from way back. We walked amongst a crowd milling around the usual kinds of stalls, throwing wet sponges at firemen, etc. We felt a bit sorry for them because it suddenly started to rain — hence no photos. But it didn’t last long, so hopefully it didn’t do too much damage to their fund-raising activities. Later on we looked back to see a helicopter hovering over the proceedings. Further on we came to a picnic table, so we sat down to eat our first chocolate bars. It had stopped raining by then.

Elgin Cathedral
Approximately five miles inland from Lossiemouth lies the town of Elgin. A small cathedral was built there in 1224, but it was destroyed by fire in 1270. A new and much bigger cathedral was built, but this was also destroyed by fire, along with the town, in 1390. 
On that occasion Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan and brother of Robert III (also known as the ‘Wolf of Badenoch’), attacked the town with a band of ‘wyld, wicked heland men’. There was another fire in 1402 when the cathedral was again attacked, this time by followers of the Lord of the Isles.
After the Reformation in 1560, the Cathedral was abandoned. Lead was removed from the roof, and this beautiful building gradually fell into decay. It now stands as an imposing ruin by the river in the middle of the town.
We visited Elgin on one of our ‘rest’ days. We found we were able to climb quite high and look at the view. The entrance is truly magnificent, I would love to have seen it when the doors and windows were in place! I enjoyed play-acting around some statues, and thought the one remaining piece of internal ceiling was stunning. 

Colin was interested in the faces at the tops of the columns. Each one is different, and we are sure they were portraits of real people. I wonder who they were! But they are also gargoyles, spitting out evil spirits, so they are not very complimentary!

Spynie Palace
About two miles north of Elgin lies Spynie Palace, also a ruin. We visited it on the same day. The building was the fortified seat of the Bishops of Moray, and was founded before the Cathedral, sometime in the 12th century. It was occupied until the 17th century, when the last occupant was expelled for refusing to make an oath of allegiance to King William and Queen Mary. It was already falling into decay, and when the last Bishop left, the wood and ironwork was removed by the Crown. Then the local people started to remove stone to build their houses, leaving the ruin we see today.
We visited Spynie Palace on the same day we visited Elgin Cathedral. It was quite  interesting looking around, for much of the time we were the only people there. Again we were surprised how high we were able to climb and look at the view.

Back on the Walk, we passed some rocks and then went down on to a sandy beach. There we came across the remains of somebody’s bicycle! It was a lovely beach to walk on, the tide was going out fast leaving firm sand. Very soon we were on our own, apart from the birds.
Gordonstoun Outward Bound School, so beloved of the Duke of Edinburgh but hated by his sons — especially Prince Charles — lies a couple of miles south of where we were walking. It is right at the end of the runway of RAF Lossiemouth! Are the students able to hear anything during their lessons? (I remember lessons at my school being constantly interrupted by the noise of the Farnborough Air Show which used to take place each year in September. There was nothing the teachers could do except wait for the aircraft to pass — and then it would come back again or there would be another one! I believe the Air Show now takes place at the end of July, when the schools are closed.)
We were walking towards the Covesea Lighthouse, and out at sea we could see a beacon on a sandbank. We were now entering the Moray Firth — apparently Tarbert Ness, on the end of Black Isle, can be seen on a clear day. The Moray Firth has a very wide entrance and a confusing series of inlets. In 1826, no less than sixteen ships came to grief in one night during a storm. Following on, there were calls for a lighthouse to be built each side of the Firth to mark its entrance. Tarbert Ness was built first, in 1830. The lighthouse and associated beacon were built at Covesea Skerries in 1845/46.
As we approached the cliff with the lighthouse on top, we could see the rock was very unusual and beautiful. According to my Geology map the cliffs are formed of a Triassic & Permian sandstone called ‘Bunter & Keuper’, younger than the rocks we had just been walking over.
It didn’t look as if we could get round the end of the cliff where it jutted out on to the beach. We thought our beautiful sandy beach had come to an end, so we started to climb up. The ‘path’ was not very clear, there was a distinct lack of signs. But we were bowled over by the sheer volume of rosebay willowherb, an amazing display. Having got up to the lighthouse, we had some difficulty in locating the path to take us down the other side. When we did, we realised we could have stayed on the beach all along, so we were a bit miffed.
We had more sandy beach to walk along, about which we were pleased. But here the rocks we were passing were truly amazing, all sorts of weird formations.
Our only companions were the birds, at one place the sand was covered in their footprints. But after another mile our sandy beach really did come to an end, and further progress along the bottom of the cliffs was impossible.
The path ascending the cliffs led up between the most amazing rocks, we were open-mouthed! 
At the top it was a rough path, quite narrow in places and difficult to walk. Then in others it would open out to a nice wide thoroughfare, then close in again. It took us a long time to negotiate as much of it was twisty and narrow, and we were tired.
We passed an old notice with a hole in it. It warned us, “DANGER OLD WD RANGE THE PUBLIC ARE WARNED NOT TO TOUCH ANY UNIDENTIFIED OBJECT” So we didn’t, but then we didn’t find any. Having been brought up near Aldershot where we used to picnic on the heathlands used by the Army for manoeuvres, it is second nature to me never to touch anything that looks the slightest bit dodgy!

As we walked along we could see the beach below, the rough cliffs, caves and a beautiful rock arch. 
Across the water we could see the Black Isle in the distance. That is seriously north! We still find it difficult to believe we have walked so far. It rained again momentarily, but soon stopped. We found a nice place to sit down and eat our second bar of chocolate — we felt today’s Walk deserved two! That is where we were passed by a couple walking the other way, the only people we saw between Lossiemouth and Hopeman.
Then we came to a notice which told us we were passing a working quarry. Almost masked by tall plants of rosebay willowherb, “Quarries are not play areas” we were told. “Stay away” a big hand with a no entry sign on it commanded. We were able to look down into the sand quarry a little further on, and saw a couple of cranes down there. But early on a Saturday evening, all the workmen had gone home.
Then the path took us down into a disused quarry which is now a kind of open-air museum. When working the quarry they had dug up footprints of animals which pre-date the dinosaurs! Some of the fossils were on display, but most had been stolen or vandalised. Several examples were displayed with a notice which said, “CLAWS Look for the marks where claws scraped through the sand. There is a line of tail-drag with footprints either side.” I must admit this evidence was quite difficult to see.
We took it on trust that this was the correct interpretation of the marks on the sandstone blocks.
We still had a mile to go before we reached Hopeman. We were now almost down at sea level. It was a rocky beach, difficult to walk on, so we stuck to the path just above it.
We passed the back of some beach huts, many of which had been brightly painted. One had the flag of Scotland painted over its complete back! Next we passed a recreation ground. On the far side of it was a very sophisticated set of skateboard ramps. A handful of youths were playing there, I only hope the facility is well used.
And so we came to the small harbour of Hopeman where our car was parked. A fishy sculpture led us to it!

That ended Walk no.188, we shall pick up Walk no.189 next time at Hopeman by the harbour. It was twenty to seven, so the Walk had taken us nearly nine and a half hours. We thirstily drank tea from our flask, then it took us an hour to drive back to our cottage in Gardenstown.

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