Stage 172, 10th September: Spey Bay to Inverboyndie
With an absolutely stunning sunrise to bring me to my rather slow and groaning morning senses, I briefly followed the Speyside Way out of Spey Bay, through woodland and on towards my first of many villages and small towns of the day. Despite the gentle warmth of a light breeze and an easy sky, I was clearly not the most observant of walkers today as I almost walked right by a seal colony on the rocks just a short distance from the path near Portgordon. Their mottled grey camouflage clearly worked as they sat on the rocky foreshore watching me wander by as if I were the zoo attraction.
The Speyside Way soon deserted me as it headed inland at Buckie, a larger fishing town which actually had some semblance of a fishing industry remaining. I couldn’t say whether it was thriving or not, but – to be blunt – it didn’t seem overly busy. Conversely, the next village of Findochty had a very different approach to marine activity. The houses were brightly painted and the harbour had a full marina clearly trying it’s best to attract visitors and even the yachty types. Harbours were undoubtedly the theme of the day as each town or village I passed through had it’s own neat, well maintained harbour, some busy, some empty. All were clearly a reminder of their fishing heritage which dominated this area up until very recently. All, with the exception of Findochty, looked as if they needed something else to maintain their status.
A brief walk out of Portnockie took me along the cliffs to Bow Fiddle Rock. A spectacular arch which, to me, resembled more of a whale’s tail fin than it’s title suggested and in all ways was as grand as any other arch I had come across, including the well-renowned and oft visited Durdle Door back in Dorset.
The next four villages were all former busy fishing villages seemingly trying to find themselves again, but all looking a little downbeat. The unmarked coast path kept me happy as it dipped its way around the cliffs, sometimes edging the cliff top, sometimes tucking in underneath. With a couple of small sandy bays thrown in, it was beginning to become one of my favourite days so far. It was only to be spoilt a little when the coast path vanished at Portsoy and I had to take to the lanes over the well farmed hills to Whitehills and the stopover at Boyndie Bay.
Stage 173, 11th September: Inverboyndie to Rosehearty
The coast path that vanished at Portsoy barely made an appearance today and it was back to the roads and lanes through to Banff and the much more active fishing town of Macduff. From here it was Gardenstown and a reminder of the drab modern Scottish architecture which seems to involve a great deal of beige and pebble-dash (harling). The tiny village of Crovie tucked under the cliffs, it’s houses all in one curving single line around the bay revived some aesthetic pleasure but proved only to frustrate me as I spotted a narrow ledge of a path at the cliff bottom which had wound itself around the coast from Gardenstown. It wasn’t marked on my map and it was too late to walk it now.
It had become a common frustration in Scotland. Paths that exist in reality that aren’t marked on an OS map and conversely, paths that are marked on the map that plainly don’t exist. The OS maps for England and Wales have, so far, proved far more trustworthy. So much so that sometimes I wonder whether the same people do the mapwork. I know that Scotland has much more of an open access attitude, but I have found that open access doesn’t always mean you can get through without losing yourself in a bog, wading through head high bracken or scaling a deer fence. I have often ignored my carefully planned route and gone with gut instinct. I have usually been a good judge, but I’ve not always been successful in my selection and have had a few cross-country adventures which would have seen most people turn back.
When I miss out on a through path like the one around to Crovie, it really does grate. Fortunately, my lingering at the very similar but slightly more starstruck village of Pennan reaped the reward of a Scottish Rights of Way Society path out from the village which Ordnance Survey had failed to document. I readily admit to lingering in Pennan and indulging myself with a pint of….wait for it….blackcurrent and lemonade in the Pennan Inn and taking in a few minutes of a location used for the filming of Bill Forsyth’s comedy-drama ‘Local Hero’ in 1983. I did have some ice in my drink, it was quite a warm day and I couldn’t find a shop selling ice cream. So needs must.
Sadly I rejoined the dull farm lanes busy with tractor traffic with their grain trailers shuttling to and from the combines working the fields. If it wasn’t for Crovie and Pennan today would have been a very dull day. It was saved by a local hero.
Stage 174, 12th September: Rosehearty to Peterhead
With my planned route not predicting much fun I passed through the rocky shored Sandhaven with the village’s population showing off its underwear on the washing lines strung up along the seafront. The fairly nondescript local hub of Fraserburgh came quickly but just as quickly it gave way to the lovely sandy Fraserburgh Bay for three miles to Inverallochy.
Enthused by the rarity of a decent beach walk I checked my route again and decided, despite the possibility of getting stuck trying to cross three small rivers and a rapidly rising tide, on an attempt to get to Peterhead using beach only. Sure enough the rivers were there and all three required removal of boots, socks and a wade. All three were easily crossed and I had fifteen miles of unbroken deserted beach walk all the way around Rattray Head, down the back of the huge St Fergus gas terminal and to the rocks at Craigewan half a mile North of Peterhead.
It had been my longest unbroken beach walk to date and I’d barely seen a soul with the exception of Ian from Peterhead who was very successfully fishing for flounders on Scotstown Beach. His conversation was the only one of the day and a very welcome one it was too as we briefly shared stories of our common working life.
Peterhead was the end of another big mileage week with 142 miles covered in six days. It was to be Mike’s last night and we shared a fish supper and a wee dram to celebrate his three weeks supporting me in Snickers. With his long journey back to Exmouth starting early in the morning and a journey back up again for a holiday on the Orkneys in a few days, I did question his sanity along with mine. During his three weeks I had totted up over 400 miles and Durness seemed like yesterday. Things had speeded up.