START: Inverbervie, Aberdeenshire
FINISH: Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire
DISTANCE: 12.7 miles (Total – 491.6 miles)
APPROXIMATE TIME: 6 hours
OS MAPS: OS Explorer 396
ACCOMMODATION: Allan Guest House, Aberdeen
The end of July was coming up and I had a weekend spare. What does one do when one has a spare weekend when you’re a coastal walker like me? Well, one decides to go on another coastal adventure! The plan this time was to stay somewhere in Aberdeen and spend an extended weekend walking along the coast from the village of Inverbervie (where I had finished off previously) into the city of Aberdeen – a distance of just over forty miles. Easy peasy.
Well, not so much as it turned out.
Britain had been undergoing an intense heatwave for the previous few weeks, the hottest summer since 1976. Having spent most of that time encased in a river of sweat I was hoping it would cool down for my trip to Aberdeen. It did, but not in the way I wanted. On the way up to Aberdeen my journey had been plagued by epic thunderstorms, one of which had wiped out the signalling near Leeds meaning that no trains were getting through into Scotland. Luckily I was able to catch the only one heading to Edinburgh that morning and from there I jumped on another train to Aberdeen.
The thunderstorms followed me all the way to Aberdeen and by the time I got off the train a heavy deluge was soaking the city. Thick fog (known locally as a ‘sea haar’ was beginning to encase Aberdeen – a sign of things to come.
I woke up on Saturday morning eager to get the walking underway. It was feeling a lot cooler and fresher in Aberdeen which I thought would be good for walking, so after a nice breakfast courtesy of the Allan Guest House, my home for the weekend, I jumped on the bus to Inverbervie. A couple of miles outside of Aberdeen I noticed it was starting to get a little foggy. I hoped it was just going to be a local issue, however as the journey went on the fog got noticeably thicker and thicker. Just before I got to Inverbervie the fog was like pea soup.
I got off the bus in Inverbervie where the fog had lifted a bit as the village lies at a lower altitude. I looked over towards where the hill of Bervie Brow (above) should have been had it not been enveloped in thick fog. I headed down to Inverbervie’s beach where I waited to see if the fog would lift. I could have started the walk, however I had learnt my lesson from walking in thick fog on St Abbs Head (see Coastwalk #21) so I wanted to see if it would lift a little first before starting. I waited for nearly an hour, during which time the fog stubbornly lingered on, plus it started to rain as well. In the end I decided to postpone the walk until the following day and so I headed back to Aberdeen on the bus.
Sunday morning arrived and the weather forecast looked even worse. Fog, heavy rain and possible thunderstorms were on the cards all through the day. I didn’t even bother setting off Inverbervie this time, instead deciding to take a look round Aberdeen for the day.
Monday. My last full day in Aberdeen before I had to return home the following day. Fortunately this time the weather was glorious, and it was supposed to be this way until at least late on in the afternoon. Great stuff. I jumped on the bus to Inverbervie, and about fifty minutes later was on Inverbervie looking up at Bervie Brow which on this occasion was not cast in thick fog (below). Hooray!
I practically skipped down to the beach where I started off the walk. I followed a narrow path which ran round the back of a group of houses before coming alongside a small caravan park. Ahead the path split into two – one way led back into the village whilst the other route led me across a footbridge over Bervie Water.
At the other side of the stream the track made for the mouth of Bervie Water. There used to be a harbour hereabouts – Inverbervie had been an established fishing settlement for over a thousand years until a shingle spit grew across the river mouth making it harder for fishing boats to maneuver. By 1830 Inverbervie’s fishing trade had disappeared with the village’s fishermen moving a short distance down the coast to the much better harbour at Gourdon.
Passing the mouth of the river, which had been reduced to a narrow outlet by the shingle spit, I passed through a line of concrete anti-tank blocks, relics from the Second World War which will have been put in place to stop invading forces from using the mouth of Bervie Water to gain a bridgehead on Scottish soil. Past the concrete blocks, the path rounded a small headland before climbing up to join the clifftops.
The next couple of miles were hard going as the path hugged the clifftops. There were many peaks and troughs to negotiate and the path was a little slippy in places as a result of the heavy rain over the weekend. The views were worth the extra effort though. This part of the coast was filled with little coves which cut into the cliffs along with dozens of rock formations of various shapes and sizes which rose out of the sea. A couple of the rock formations were covered in a variety of seabirds along with their multitude of droppings.
At one stage the path (or what was left of it) left the side of the clifftops, and headed around the edge of a couple of large fields. At the end of the second field a gap in the fence led through to an overgrown track at the side of another field. I trapsed through the waist-high vegetation making a beeline for the small hamlet of Kinneff.
At the entrance to Kineff lies a tiny unassuming kirk which in 1652 played an important part in Scottish history. During the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, which saw the execution of King Charles I and the formation of the Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell, forces loyal to Cromwell under the command of General George Monck lay siege to Dunnottar Castle which lies further up the coast from Kinneff.
The castle was not only the last place left in Scotland that was holding out for King Charles II but was also where the Matters of Scotland, the Scottish Crown Jewels had been kept for safeguarding. Monck knew that the capture of the Crown Jewels would be hugely symbolic, however when the castle finally fell on 26 May 1652 they were nowhere to be found. They had in fact been smuggled out of the besieged castle by the wife of the minister of Kineff Old Kirk and buried under the floor of the church. Together the minister, Reverend James Grainger and his wife, kept the precious jewels safe for another eight years until they revealed their whereabouts after the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660. The Scottish Crown Jewels are now kept in Edinburgh Castle for everyone to see.
I had a quick break in the Kirkyard before moving on. Rather than following the coast exactly I decided to head inland for a bit following a minor road for a couple of miles until I reached the pleasant village of Catterline.
Catterline is an old fishing village with evidence of fishing going back at least a thousand years. I took a walk through the village passing by the characteristic single-storey fishermen’s cottages that will have been home to generations of fishing families over the years. The village lies on top of some low cliffs which overlook’s the scenic Catterline Bay, the settlement’s harbour with its small 19th century pier lying at the bottom of a road which curves down towards the seafront.
Starting in 2005 this road was used for the Catterline Cartie Challenge which saw dozens of home made “gravity-powered” soapbox carts launched down the thousand foot course from outside the Creel Inn to the harbour. The annual event attracted hundreds of spectators until 2012 when a storm partially damaged the road down to the harbour making it unsafe for the competitors. I decided not to go all the way down to the harbour, instead stopping about halfway to take some photos and get a good look over the bay. According to legend it is said that St Ninian landed here around 400AD as he began to convert the local Picts to Christianity. If he had shown up over 1600 years he may have been clattered into by an out-of-control cartie.
Catterline is still a fishing village of sorts, although not to the extent it has been in past centuries. I noticed a couple of fishing boats at the harbour before I set off uphill back into the village. I was hoping to get a bite to eat in the Creel Inn, however I had missed the lunchtime sitting and the pub was closed. Luckily I had bought a sandwich and a bag of crisps in Inverbervie just in case so I munched on these whilst sat on a beach outside the closed Inn.
I sat for about twenty minutes enjoying the sunshine and the peace and quiet before setting off back through the village, this time following a road that headed northwards out of Catterline. About half-a-mile outside the village I headed right down a farmer’s track which looked like it just dropped off into the sea. Fortunately it didn’t. Instead the track came to a rough path which edged along the clifftops towards the small hamlet of Crawton.
Crawton used to be a thriving fishing village with thirty fishermen going out to sea in twelve boats in its heyday. However at the end of the 19th century Crawton’s star descended. Overfishing led to a decline in fishing stocks leading to the majority of the fishermen along with their families moving northwards along the coast to Stonehaven. By 1927 the last resident had left, leaving behind a ruinous village of some twenty-three houses, a school and a fish merchant.
For several decades the village was left to the elements, however recently a couple of the old fishermen’s cottages have been refurbished and are now lived in once again, along with a couple of more new-builds. There were still a number of derelict cottages dotted about, hinting at a bygone golden era for this former fishing village.
At the northern end of the hamlet, I headed through a gate at the side of the road which took me into RSPB Fowlsheugh. A glorious path took me along the clifftops through this nature reserve, passing by many coves which were filled with thousands of seabirds. Fowlsheugh is home to a massive 123,000 seabirds including guillemots, kittiwakes and razorbills; the millions of nooks and crannies in the basalt and Old Red Sandstone cliffs provide a home for these fascinating airborne creatures. The smell from the cliffs was overpowering though. Thousands of tonnes of seabird poo came wafting in the updraft which was an almost overwhelming assault on my nose.
I passed plenty of people walking through the reserve. Some like me were just out for a walk whilst others had their binoculars out and were doing some intensive seabird spotting. At the northern edge of the reserve was a wooden bird hide overlooking the cliffs and the sea. There were plenty of seabirds swooping about providing a great sight for anyone watching in the bird hide.
Whilst most visitors to the reserve would turn back after reaching the bird hide, my path lay further northwards. Obviously not many people walked this way as what path there was was completely overgrown with waist high vegetation. The next part of the walk featured some of the toughest terrain I’ve experienced on the entire Coastwalk. When not dealing with thick vegetation, I was having to negotiate an ephemeral path which seemed to just disappear in many places. A memorable part of the walk took me around Trelung Bay along a narrow ridge between certain doom on one what side in the form of the North Sea and being shocked by an electric fence on the other. The views were worth it though with thousands of kitiwakes swirling around their nests on the cliff faces.
Still it was starting to get a bit dangerous so at the next safe spot I climbed over a fence to walk on the landward side of a large field. This took me alongside a couple of more bays – Thornyhive Bay and Tremuda Bay (below) – which were spectacular to look at.
It was at this point that I noticed a big dark cloud approaching from the southwest which soon brought a very heavy shower. It caught me so unawares that I didn’t get chance to put my waterproofs on. Also at this point I noticed that there was no more path and instead I had to clamber over more fences before wading through knee high crops which were now heavy with rainwater. This managed to get in to my walking boots and so for the rest of the walk my feet were soaking wet. Fortunately the spectacular ruin of Dunnottar Castle was just ahead which provided some much needed distraction from the weather.
The castle, one of the finest in Scotland, sits on a huge flat rocky outcrop surrounded almost all the way round by 160ft high sheer cliffs. The outcrop used to be connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land but the majority of this was carved away to make the castle even more impregnable.
Such are the defensive qualities of Dunnottar it is easy to see why there has been some form of fortification here for nearly 2000 years. St Ninian came here in the 5th century after landing at Catterline where he founded a chapel. He used this as a base whilst converting the heathen locals into Christians.
400 years later the castle was the site of a great battle between King Donald II and the Vikings. King Donald was killed in the battle and the castle was subsequently burnt to the ground by the marauding Scandinavians. The castle was later rebuilt and in 1296 King Edward I of England took the fort from the hands of the Scottish. A year later William Wallace took it back, burning down the church that had been built on the site of St Ninian’s chapel, along with the entire English garrison that was still inside.
In 1336 the English recaptured Dunnottar, with King Edward III visiting the castle, presumably to do a bit of sightseeing. Later that year the castle was back in the hands of the Scots thanks to the efforts of Sir Andrew Murray (no not the tennis player). Over the next 120 years, famous figures from Scottish history visited the castle including Mary, Queen of Scots who visited twice in 1562 and 1564, followed by King James VI who stayed at Dunnottar in 1580.
By this point the castle had become one of the most impressive in Scotland and was a continued prize in continuous wars between England and Scotland. As mentioned earlier the castle was captured by Cromwell’s forces under the command of General Monck who hoped to capture the Scottish Crown Jewels, not realising they were under the floorboards of the church in nearby Kineff.
A dark moment in the castle’s history occurred in 1685 when 167 Covenanter prisoners (people who attend “conventicles” or open-air religious services which were a strict no-no) were locked up in the Whig’s Vault and left to starve. Those that tried to escape were cruelly tortured. Those that survived were transported to the colonies as slaves.
In 1715 the then owner of the castle, the tenth Earl Marischal was convicted of treason after backing the losing side in the Jacobite Rebellion. His lands and estates were declared forfeit with Dunnottar being sold to the York Building Company who removed everything that could be transported and re-used. Fortunately the castle’s impregnable position saved it from almost total ruin.
In 1925 Dunnottar was purchased by the Cowdray family who set about saving what was left and opening the castle to visitors. The castle is a truly magnificent sight, even in the gloomy murk of the rain and I was awestruck as I followed the coastal path along the cliffs. There is a path that takes you into the castle itself, however I decided not to follow it, instead taking the path that led towards Stonehaven.
The path meandered along the clifftops before making a beeline for a large hill which rose above the fields. On top of this hill was a stone structure which looked like the remains of a Greek temple. This was in fact Stonehaven’s war memorial unveiled in 1923 following the “War to End All Wars”.
It should be interesting to note that at the time of the First World War, Scotland had a little over 11% of the UK’s total population, yet almost 1 in 5 of the British soldiers killed in action were Scottish. Of the thousands and thousands of Scots who marched off to war over 26% did not return home. Compare this with the 12% of soldiers from the rest of the UK and Ireland, and the 17% of French soldiers that were killed during the War, it is not surprising to note that Scotland’s male adult population was depleted by 3% following the cessation of hostilities in 1918. Only Serbia and Turkey suffered a higher proportion of combat losses during the War.
The path skirted around underneath the hill before heading in-between a couple of fields. Ahead the path joined a road which I followed for a short while until I came to another track that led down a steep incline towards Stonehaven’s picturesque harbour. I passed through narrow back streets before emerging out onto the harbour side. Despite the heavy rain and the threat of the ‘haar’ (fog) that was approaching from the sea, Stonehaven’s harbour was really scenic and I only wish I could have stayed longer to appreciate it.
After a quick change in the public toilets to get out of my wet clothes I headed into town, which was just as scenic as the harbour. In the town’s Market Square I caught the bus back to Aberdeen which gave me a chance to reflect on the past weekend. It hadn’t been the best weather-wise I will admit. So far I’d been relatively lucky with the weather in Scotland on previous coastal walks but this time it had decided to conspire against me so I was only able to get in one day of walking out of the planned three days.
That one day was almost worth it though. The coastal scenery in southern Aberdeenshire is absolutely extraordinary even it was very tough to walk along – some of the toughest walking I had done so far along the coast. I can’t complain too much though as it was still a fantastic weekend. I’d found an amazing city in Aberdeen and also an amazing place to stay in the Allan Guest House. I aimed to come back in September 2018 to walk the rest of the way to Aberdeen and then see what I could get done on the other side of the Granite City. I. Could. Not. Wait!