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.
Round Britain: Aberdeen to Peterhead
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.