Before leaving for this leg of our tour around the British coast I had a look at my copy of the New Naturalist, The Sea Coast by JA Steers. The author’s Preface says that ‘a complete explanation of the intricate landscape of the Western Isles and mainland of Scotland is not at present possible’. The first edition was published in 1953 and my copy is a reprint of the 1969 fourth edition. J.A. Steers was Professor of Geography at Cambridge. He did get around to publishing the Coastline of Scotland in 1973 with the assistance of colleagues in Scotland. There was a section of one chapter in The Sea Coast which examines the section of the coast between Peterhead and Fraserburgh. Peterhead, where we ended our last trip, is the largest white fish port in Europe. Fraserburgh (known locally as ‘the Broch’) is the biggest shellfish port in Europe although both ports have seen a decline in the last few years.
We spent a night en route to Peterhead in Forfar, to catch up with friends. On arriving at the campsite five mallards were sleeping next to our pitch. They did not wake up until the sun came out an hour or so later. In the morning we discovered that they had slept there all night.
On the way to Peterhead, we stopped for coffee and a break in Ellon. A serendipitous find was a bookshop which sold both secondhand and new books as well as a few gifts. I discovered a book on Caithness which will be very useful for the next leg of our journey.
North of Peterhead we passed through St Fergus and then by a huge gas terminal. The coastline here used to run further inland, behind the Loch of Strathbeg. A shingle bar formed and blocked it off from the sea. It is Scotland’s largest land-locked coastal lagoon. In winter, pinkfoot and greylag geese arrive and it is now under the care of the RSPB.
Rattray formerly had a tidal inlet which was blocked around 1720 by blown sand and a huge storm after which the town decayed and by 1882 only the ruins of the old church were visible. St Mary’s Chapel was constructed in the 12th century, the first recorded reference to it being in 1220. It served the local community until it was probably replaced by the parish kirk of Crimond during the reformation.
The track continues to Rattray Head. The dunes here are a SSSI. On the beach was a large pile of sea glass which had hardly been worn down by the sea at all. The Ron Lighthouse is just off the headland.
Continuing back on the coastal road we passed St Coombs which like Inverallochy a little further on is a 19th century fishing village. St Coombs has the ruins of St Colombs Church. There are a few disused airfields in the area, some of which are now the sites of communication masts. We found our campsite on the esplanade of Fraserburgh easily and enjoyed a late afternoon walk on the beach.
The following morning, we explored the town before the weather worsened. Adjacent to our campsite on the esplanade are the buildings which store and process the fish and shellfish. The smell reminded me of my student placement in Accident & Emergency in Aberdeen. Straws had to be drawn to decide who would treat the very pungent injured fish workers who came in. The harbour was very busy and many businesses in town support the fishing industry.
The statue in the town square is of course, fish.
Sadly, the only bookshop in town looked as if it had closed a long time ago. At Kinnaird Head is the old lighthouse. It was the only Northern Lighthouse Board one to be built on an existing building. The castle, which is thought to have been constructed by Alexander Fraser in 1570, was up for sale in the 18th century. The Northern Lighthouse Board constructed its first lighthouse there. In 1824 Robert Stevenson re-designed the light on the tower.
The Scottish Lighthouses Museum ticket includes a tour of the tower; right up to the light.
It operated from 1787 and was decommissioned in 1991. The modern automatic light stands nearby with the first permanent radio beacon in Scotland which was erected in 1929.
The castle wine store still stands. We were told that when one of the Fraser daughters wanted to marry a man deemed to be unsuitable by her parents; he was sent to live on the bottom floor of the wine store while the daughter was housed on the top floor. A huge storm washed him out and he died on the rocks. The woman is said to have taken her life by jumping out of the top floor. Red paint is left on the rocks as a memorial.
The wind was increasing and rain forecast later in the afternoon so we had a lazy time planning the next day’s journey and watching seabirds fishing in the bay.
We left Stonehaven on a morning too wet to explore the ruins of the old chapel on the cliffs. Closer to Aberdeen we left the A92 and took a minor road around the coast. We passed a rare breeds farm near Doonies Hill.
Major works are underway to expand the harbour in Aberdeen and piles of the of concrete blocks were by the shore. We passed the ruined St Fittick’s Church but were diverted from following the road past the lighthouse and around the point. Further on we could back-track and sat for a while watching ships waiting to enter the harbour.
Over the Bridge of Dee, we drove up the beach front and managed a walk after the rain had stopped. I found a good haul of sea glass.
After crossing the River Don, we diverted to Scotstown Moor Nature Reserve which is also known as Perwinnes Moss.
We then spent the night with friends who live in the Aberdeenshire countryside and returned to the coastal route in the morning. There is a huge new conference centre being built near Dyce and the airport. The older one is in Bridge of Don and is to be closed. Before the rain returned, we had a walk on Balmedie Beach which I remembered from my student days. It is now a country park.
Height barriers prevented us parking by Forvie National Nature Reserve or on the car parks on the banks of the River Ythan. Instead, we diverted down a B road to Collieston and Kirkton of Slain, former fishing communities. There are many caves and small coves along the shore which were used for smuggling foreign spirits in the 18th century to avoid paying taxes. There is a coastal path along to Cruden Bay. The pier was constructed in the late 19th century and renovated in the 1950s.
Sand martins were flying around, eider ducks on the water and gulls perching on the rocks. There were steps up to a viewpoint and paths round to the small harbour and café.
Before we arrived in Cruden Bay, we passed the rather impressive St James’s Church on Chapel Hill and then drove through the village to the Brit Stop at Port Erroll harbour where we celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary.
In the morning we had a quiet walk through woodland onto the cliffs and the ruined Slains Castle. It was built in the 16th century by the Earl of Errol, the previous old Slains Castle having been destroyed by James VI after the Earl of Errol supported a plot against him. In 1597 the Earl returned from exile and began to construct the tower house. It was extended in 1664 and again in 1836. In 1916 the 20th Earl sold it in lieu of death duties and the owner let it become ruined. The roof was removed in 1925 for the materials to be used elsewhere. Bram Stoker is said to have stayed in the castle and used it as inspiration for his Dracula story. Other famous visitors were Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell.
We met a few dog walkers en route. Re-joining the A90 the road continues to Peterhead. However, we had a small diversion through Boddam to the harbour and Buchan Ness Lighthouse.
On the way into Peterhead the road passes HMP & YOI Grampian. The old prison which operated from 1888 to 2013 became a museum in 2016. Peterhead prison was known as Scotland’s roughest and there were many notorious escapes and riots, some of which I remember hearing about in the news. The old prison building came into being because in the late 19th century the government decided that a harbour needed constructing on the north coast of Scotland. Peterhead was chosen and granite from a nearby quarry was to be used. A cost-cutting exercise decided that convicts would provide the labour for this breakwater. It took 78 years to build and the prisoners were transported to the quarry in a purpose-built railway, the first state-owned one in Britain. In 1956 both the quarry and railway ceased to operate.
Before we left the town, we wandered around the centre, noticing that it had as many closed shops as other towns in the UK. In the 1970s Peterhead had become an oil industry service centre and had a gas terminal but more recently many companies have left. Fishing remains important. We escaped from the town to relax in the countryside before beginning the journey home. We completed 247 miles on this leg bringing the total so far to 338.
Our campsite lies across the Cowie River in Cowie, a former fishing village, now part of Stonehaven. Stonehaven lies on the coast 15 miles south of Aberdeen. We spent the morning exploring the town before the forecast rain was due to return in the afternoon. It grew up from an Iron Age fishing village and like other towns in the area it has had several names over the years. During my five years at medical school in Aberdeen the nearest I got to Stonehaven was the occasional winter Saturday evening when eight of us would squeeze into a Mini Clubman and visit the Lairhillock Inn near Netherley; enjoying the huge open fire and a drink or two. Today, walking into town from Cowie the first thing we passed was the Art Deco open-air swimming pool. It is one of only two in Scotland and was being prepared for the opening on 25 May. Every April it is filled with sea water and heated to 29 degrees. Built in 1934 it is now maintained jointly by volunteers and the council.
We walked along the beachfront, round the High Street to the Old Pier. Crossing the Carron River, we saw some of the major flood prevention works that are underway, due to be completed in 2021. James had chatted to an elderly man there who told him that he recalled cars floating down the streets in some of the previous floods.
Near the bridge is the former Haven Fish Bar which invented the Deep-Fried Mars Bar.
The oldest part of the town is near the harbour and the oldest building is the Tollbooth, which was the first courthouse and prison. It now houses a museum which unfortunately is closed on Tuesdays. The first episcopal church in the town was destroyed in 1746 and laws forbade episcopalians from holding a service for more than five people at a time. For several years secret services were held by the Rev Alexander Greig at a house in the High Street, Christian’s House.
Rev Greig and two other ministers from nearby congregations were imprisoned in the Tollbooth for six months and would conduct services from the prison window to their congregations below.
There were a number of metal sculptures along the way to the pier:
The harbour was improved in 1820 by Robert Stevenson, engineer and grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson. In the 19th century the herring trade was important. The tide was out when we visited.
The new town, north of the River Carron was founded in 1795 by Robert Barclay of Ulry with wide streets named after his and the Allardice families. The market square was built in 1826. The Stonehaven Feein’ Market is held there every year on 1st June. A farmers’ market occurs on the first Saturday of every month. Another annual June event is a vintage rally to commemorate Robert William Thomson who invented the pneumatic tyre in 1845 and a number of other things. In July a Highland Games is held and every Hogmanay balls of fire are swung around in the streets. I walked back to the campsite along the mostly shingle Cowie Beach where a fossil of the oldest known air-breathing land animal, Pneumodesmus newmani, a species of millipede, was found in 2004 picking up a few small pieces of sea glass. A notice in town asks people not to remove stones from the shingle beach.
After lunch we walked along the remainder of Cowie Beach towards the sandstone cliffs which are only 1km or so from the east end of the Highland Boundary Fault.
North of the fault is granite. There were oystercatchers on the shore and cormorants on an offshore rock. At the end of the beach a path leads along the foot and then up the cliff to rejoin others near the B road. Many wildflowers were blooming among the undergrowth.
A little further on, returning to Cowie is the remains of a gun emplacement.
I don’t know which conflict it is from. We got back to the van before the rain set in for the rest of the evening.
The campsite was quiet when we awoke but the nearby rookery was very noisy. After picking up supplies in Carnoustie we continued on Arbroath Road towards East Haven. The village won a Gold Award in Britain in Bloom 2018 as the best Coastal Village. The coastal path and National Cycle Route 1 from Dover to Shetland pass through. On Sunday morning there was a pop-up café run by a guy originally from Kent/Sussex who had been in the army and married a local woman he had met when she worked at the nearby military base. The café supports the public toilets here which were very nicely decorated. The town dates back to 1214 and is one of the oldest recorded fishing communities in Scotland. The first owner of the Barony of Panmure granted a charter to the monks of Coupar Angus Abbey, providing an acre to build a homestead on and the right to charge a toll on fishing. At that time the village was known as Stinchendehavene which is thought to relate to the smell of rotting seaweed. It has had various names over the centuries. There was a lot of kelp on the beach the day we visited. It became a burgh in 1541 with the right to hold a market. East Haven had a station but lost the railway due to the Beeching cuts.There are local sculptures nearby, the first by Ian Chalmers of Chainsaw Creations on the Black Isle.
The war memorial remembers the role of Airedale Terriers and is sculpted from granite by local sculptor Bruce Walker.
The café guy told us that there were plans to recreate an 1870 photograph of all the villagers.
Continuing north, we reached Arbroath and parked by the shore in Inchcape Park. Wandering into town we passed the Signal Tower Museum, formerly the Signal Shore Station for the Bell Rock Lighthouse which is 11 miles off the coast. However, it is closed on Sundays.
The football stadium is right on the sea-front which must be cold in winter. James recalled going to matches at Pittodrie Stadium in Aberdeen which is in a similar situation and very prone to winter winds off the North Sea. Arbroath FC’s claim to fame is that in 1885 they beat Aberdeen Bon Accord 36-0 which still stands as the world record for the most goals scored in a professional football match. First settled in the 12th century and situated at the mouth of the Brothick Burn it was called Aberbrothick until the mid 19th century. It was known for making sail cloth, including for the Cutty Sark but was always connected with fishing, the first harbour opening in 1394.
Arbroath Abbey sits in the town. It no longer holds the Declaration of Arbroath which is kept with the National Records of Scotland. The abbey was founded by King William I.
The large circular window in the south transept is known as the Round O and was rebuilt in the 1800s by Robert Stevenson who constructed the Bell Rock Lighthouse.
The staff member in the Abbey told us that St Vigeans Pictish Stone Museum was open today (it is usually only open on demand) so we drove over to the outskirts of the town where it is situated. The 32 carved Pictish stones were discovered when the church was being refurbished in the 19th century.
One thing we did not have time to do was to walk out to the sandstone cliffs which have some geological wonders. Later, we passed Lunan Bay and stopped at Montrose Basin. In the 12th and 13th centuries Montrose harbour was the centre of the local salmon export industry, second only to Aberdeen. The salt pans around the basin have been cleared out and made into pools for wildlife and it is now managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust.
Crossing the River South Esk, we passed Montrose Harbour which has both a Lifeboat and International Rescue Boat Station. One mile north of the town, we stayed for the night at a Britstop on a fruit farm.
The next morning, we crossed the River North Esk and entered Kincardineshire. Our first stop was at St Cyrus Nature Reserve which includes grassland between the volcanic cliffs and the dunes and has an extensive beach.
Back on the A92 the road passes through St Cyrus, past Johnshaven and Gourdon before entering Inverbervie where we picked up more supplies. A little further north we encountered the haar: a mist which occurs when cold air from the sea meets warmer air on land an condenses. It occurs during the summer months along much of the east coast of Britain. We looked around Dunottar Castle which we had visited previously a couple of years ago before heading to our campsite in Stonehaven.
We had to pop in to Anstruther for a repair to the van technology. Returning along the B road back to St Andrews, we passed the sign to ‘Scotland’s Secret Bunker’ which we had seen on various occasions but never visited so we decided to take a look. Construction began in 1951 and it opened in 1953 as part of Britain’s early warning radar chain ‘ROTOR’. The Royal Air Force occupied it for six years. As technology improved the range between stations could increase and some, including this one, became redundant and were mothballed by the government. From 1958 to 1968 the Civil Defence Corps operated it and afterwards it became ‘Central Government HQ for Scotland in the event of a nuclear war’. It remained in service until 1993.
The main tunnel to the bunker is 150 yards long and is encased in 18 inches of solid concrete.
Further on the solid concrete is 10 feet deep and reinforced with tungsten bars. The main switchboard room could connect 2800 external lines and 500 internal extensions. It was manned 24 hours per day.
There is even a consecrated memorial chapel which is still used.
And a resident MOD cat whom we met.
Outside there are various military vehicles
Leaving St Andrews, we passed the Eden Mill Gin Distillery and crossed the River Eden at Guard Bridge. RAF Leuchars is a little further on but our destination was Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve. We parked by the beach which on arrival was very quiet.
Walking on the windy dunes was reminiscent of walking on Indiana Dunes on a very windy day almost three years ago.
We had our picnic there and the car park was filing up. There is even a crepe shack.
Our overnight stop was at a Certified Location in farmland near Morton Lochs which are also a National Nature Reserve. The Lochs were originally created by the Christie family who were local landlords, in 1906 and stocked with fish. They became a nature reserve in 1952.
We had a walk down there in the afternoon. A sign noted that there had been a tsunami 7,000 years ago with a wave 70 feet high which would have destroyed the neolithic population there. I had heard some time ago about that there is geological evidence of it in some Norwegian Fjord and joked that living right on the sea front on the East Coast might not be a good idea in case it is replicated. Now, rising sea levels secondary to global warming are a more likely threat.
At the loch we saw some coots and their young, a heron fishing in the distance and a red squirrel on one of the feeders.
That evening saw the end of the good weather as rain moved in. The following morning, we picked up supplies in Tayport and then continued to Newport. They are both commuter towns for Dundee and St Andrews. Manna café in Newport sells good coffees and is a community venture run by the local Church of Scotland. The profits support a youth worker. The town sits between the Tay road and rail Bridges.
The first rail bridge collapsed in a storm December 1879 while a train was crossing it, killing all onboard. Across the river, oil rigs were being repaired and Saturday morning boating was in full swing.
Down by the waterfront I discovered some street art:
After crossing the road bridge, we turned east along the coast, past the port and into Broughty Ferry. It had become a popular resort by 1790, known as the ‘Brighton of the North’. The population increased 4-fold in 30 years due to the popularity of ‘taking the waters’. The castle sits on the shore and was built in 1496.
It was rebuilt in 1860 and the Forfarshire Artillery Volunteers were garrisoned there. Later, the Submarine Miners who were ready to lay mines across the Tay in the event of war, were housed in a nearby building. It last saw military service in the World War II and has been a museum since 1969.
The first floor tells the history of the castle, the second is an art gallery containing a small selection of the collection of James Guthrie Orchar who was a prominent engineer and businessman in Dundee in the 19th century.
and on the third floor is an armoury. At the top there is a viewing platform and displays devoted to the local natural history. Down at the windy beach there were only a few brave souls, lots of kelp and I found two pieces of sea glass. It was raining as we left. Driving along the esplanade we passed the Barnhill Rock Garden. In better weather I might have stopped and explored it as I am constructing a new one at home. Our campsite was just beyond the settlement of Lucknow. It is named after the city in India but I still have to discover why.
Scotland has been having some unseasonably warm weather in the last few days. On Tuesday it reached 24 degrees in Drumnadrochit and on Wednesday 25.8 in Kinlochewe which was hotter than Athens and the snowy mountains in Corsica. Our two days of driving back to the East Neuk of Fife to pick up where we left in April were plagued by closed roads, diversions and temporary traffic lights. The last few miles were through farmland where the oilseed rape was bright yellow under a blue sky and some of the potatoes were emerging. A lot of sheep were finding it very warm and I could imagine them wondering when they were going to be sheared.
Our first stop was Crail, the oldest East Neuk town. It was built around a 12th century castle and confirmed as a Royal Burgh in 1310 by Robert the Bruce. My last visit was on a primary school trip in the early 1970s. In medieval times it hosted one of the largest markets in Europe. There was much trade between Crail and Belgium and the Netherlands; delivering salted fish, linen and coal and bringing back pantiles which we were told were used as ballast. Nowadays the fishing boats bring in shellfish. The architecture of the East Neuk is characterised by crow-step gables, outside stairs and pantiles on the roof.
Heading out towards Fife Ness the road passes an old air field which was a Second World War Fleet Air Arm Station but now stands with redundant buildings and is used as a race track and to host car boot sales. At the end of the road is Crail Golfing Society which is the oldest golf club in the world, founded in 1786. There is a nature reserve on the shoreline but a height limit meant we could not park there. The golf club does allow non-players to park for £1 and a path leads down to the shore and Fife Coastal Path. There used to be a harbour at Fife Ness and a sea-beacon construction yard. This was where Robert Stevenson started to construct the first lighthouse in 1813. After five years it was almost complete when it was destroyed in a winter gale. The current low-level light dates from 1975.
There was a quay here and there is still evidence of what may have been a crane base on the rocks.
There was also a tide mill nearby and a coast guard station here since 1846.
The golf course prevents visiting Constantine’s Cave which is named after the Pictish king who is said to have been killed there by the Vikings. However, there is evidence that he died peacefully in St Andrews in 946. The cave has been used by various people over the centuries including early Christians and Fifeshire Volunteers in 1812 when there were scares over a possible French invasion.
Returning to Crail we continued towards St Andrews, stopping at Kingsbarns Distillery en route. It is outside the town, nearer to the Cambo estate. In addition to whisky, they also produce gin.
Our campsite is on the cliffs south of St Andrews and close to the coastal path where there are views over the East Stand to St Andrews.
The following morning was sunny but windier. We walked into town diverting onto the beach where the path was closed for repair.
Some of the old town walls are still in existence.
We wandered around the ruined cathedral which replaced the former St Rule’s Church and when it was consecrated in 1318, was the largest building in Scotland. The west front was completed in 1272 and then blown down by a storm. After consecration there was a fire in 1378 and it was again rebuilt. John Knox gave a sermon in the Holy Trinity Church in 1599 and during the reformation the church trappings were pulled down so that by 1600 it probably looked much like it does today.
Nearby is the ruined castle. It was here that the Protestant preacher George Wishart was burnt for heresy in 1546 at the request of Cardinal Beaton, the Archbishop. Also, in that year, a group of locals opposed to the Cardinal seized the castle. Eventually an armistice was achieved only to be followed by an artillery onslaught by the French fleet. In the 1550s it was rebuilt.
Coffee was had in the Northpoint Café whose claim to fame is that it was ‘Where Will Met Kate’. We left as students were emerging from an exam and loudly discussing their answers to the questions. Birds have been around us for much of the day. While we were breakfasting a goldcrest sat on the rowan tree at the back of the van, this gull was watching us in the street
We had lunch on a bench by the harbour sheltered from the wind.
A pair of house sparrows were feeding on worms by the water’s edge and then had a dust bath on the sandy path. A pair of Eider Ducks then landed in the harbour. We had also discovered a good secondhand bookshop and had a good chat with the proprietor who was originally from Stockport.
I recalled that while deciding which university to apply to, decided against St Andrews, partly because you could not complete the whole of your medical course there but also because coming from a small town, I wanted to go to a city and St Andrews was somewhere you took your granny on a Sunday afternoon. We have enjoyed our brief visit and tomorrow continue further around the coast.
My grandmother seemed to decide that I was to be the family archivist in the 1970s. She gave me a large number of photographs, letters from the First World War front that two of my great-great uncles fought in and letters from a relative in the USA to my great grandmother. Her father came from Ireland. A cousin had done some work on part of the family tree and this was passed onto me. Over the years I filled in many of the gaps and with the help of relatives, and the ever-increasing availability of information on the internet, now have got back as far as 1588 with the exception of the Irish relatives. James is from Northern Ireland so on a recent trip to visit his family we decided to delve further into his family tree as we had relatively little information. The major problem with Irish records is that so many public records were destroyed in the 1916 Easter Uprising. Volunteers have been digitising church register information and other information is already online. Our first step was talking to relatives, finding out if there was a family bible which often had names and dates of birth of all family members (there was not one) and then visiting the various graveyards where we were told some ancestors were buried.
In total we visited four and on the next rainy day I will start to plot out the tree and double-check what we have.
Mountstewart is an estate that used to be the home of the Marquess of Londonderry but is now under the care of the National Trust. We had been there previously so had a quick look at the house and devoted the rest of our time to the garden. Our last visit was late summer so this time it was good to see tulips and Tree Peonies blooming.
A range of animal sculptures sit along the top of the garden wall. This pig is one of them.
Across the road there are views across Strangford Lough.
On our last day we decided to pay a visit to Derry, a city neither of us had visited previously. The 400-year-old city walls stand up to eight metres high and are almost one mile around, making them the most complete city walls in Ireland.
The station is across the Foyle river from the walled city but there is a free bus link to the bus station which is near the shopping centre. We began our walk on the walls at New Gate which is near a bastion containing cannons.
Ferryquay Gate is one of the original four gates and led down to a ferry which used to cross the river. The Guildhall is nearby.
St Columbs Cathedral was built in 1633, one of the first after the Reformation and the oldest building in the city.
St. Augustine’s Church is known as ‘The Wee Church’ and was built on the site of an abbey which St Columba constructed around 543AD before sailing over to Iona in 563AD. It has been rebuilt a number of times until the last in 1872.
There are views all around: over to the Bogside
…and to St Eugene’s Cathedral
We spotted a bookshop near the Craft Village.
Foyle Books is run by a retired French teacher. It has a huge selection of Irish books and others. I picked up one on ‘Difficult to Translate Words and Phrases’ and had a chat with him about this. I had noted that French does not have a word for ‘iceberg’ and we agreed that had they remained in Canada for longer, they might have had one. He also told me that Irish Gaelic has no swear words and so use English ones. My other find was a Hungarian phrasebook which I have been looking for for a couple of months in preparation for our trip to Budapest alter this year. So far in both new and second-hand stores I had had no success. However, this shop had three different ones. I also spotted a book produced by another small society; there seem to be so many devoted to what appear to be minor interests. I had previously come across the Pylon Appreciation Society, but this was a book on British Piers published by The Piers Society which I had not heard of before. Along the wall outside the Millennium Forum is an Anthony Gormley sculpture. There were originally three but the others have ended up overseas.
To return to the station we crossed the Peace Bridge which was opened in 2011.
There is then a footpath/cycle route back to the station although some work was being done on part of it. We could have spent much more time here – there are several museums and plenty of culture. That will have to wait for another trip.