START: Portlethen, Aberdeenshire
FINISH: Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire
DISTANCE: 12 miles (Total – 513.6 miles)
APPROXIMATE TIME: 4 1/2 hours
OS MAPS: OS Explorer 406
ACCOMMODATION: The Allan Guest House, Aberdeen
It was Monday morning, and usually on a Monday morning I face the dreaded prospect of having to head off to work. Not on this Monday morning though. Instead I had the prospect of a beautiful day’s walking from Portlethen to the Granite City of Aberdeen. Even better it was a beautiful sunny morning. I was still feeling the after affects of a nasty throat and nose infection so was still a bit knackered. However, I felt that the previous day’s walk had done me a world of good and I was ready for the next walk.
I jumped on the bys to Portlethen and whilst there stocked up on some supplies from the local shop. I retraced my steps back to the crossroads near Portlethen Village where I finished off the previous day. I didn’t head back into the Village as I wasn’t 100% sure if there was a path along the coast from there to the next settlement of Findon, just a little further up the coast.
Just to be on the safe side I took the road that headed northwards from the crossroads which brought me underneath the railway line to Aberdeen, and back into the outskirts of the town of Portlethen. I walked along a street for a bit before coming to a T-junction. I took the road to my right, heading back underneath the railway line. The road wound its way through the small hamlet of Mains of Findon before coming to another T-junction. Again I took the road to the right and a short while later I came into the village of Findon .
Findon (below) is a former fishing village and is one of the places where the ‘Finnan haddie’ is believed to originate from. The ‘Finnan haddie’ (or Finnan haddock) is a haddock which is smoked with green wood and peat. It has been a popular dish in Aberdeenshire since the mid-17th century, although there is some dispute as to whether Findon is actually the birthplace of the dish, of it actually comes from the village of Findhorn on the River Moray, a bit further north in Scotland.
From Findon there didn’t appear to be any suitable path along the coast especially as there were two large quarries and a shooting range right next to the coastline so instead I took a road which headed northwards out of the village.
The next couple of miles weren’t the greatest walking I’ve ever done, it was just a plod along a road. Heavy lorries carrying stone from the quarries frequently thundered by whilst kicking up a cloud of dust from the road. After about forty minutes of walking, I eventually came into the lovely Aberdeen suburb of Cove Bay.
On the outskirts of Cove Bay I followed Cove Road for a short while before coming to a sign saying’Woodland Walk’ that pointed me down a footpath through a small wooded area. W
This woodland walk is actually part of a much larger scheme by a local charity which in the summer of 2018 purchased a sixteen acre tract of land at the southern end of Cove Bay which had lain fallow for twenty years. The Cove Woodland Trust were set up to purchase this land to ensure that the area was kept as a valuable local green space commodity and to prevent any housing being built upon it. During 2018 £13,000 was raised to buy what became “The Cove Community Woodland”. Since then the group and the local community have been busy planting more trees, sowing plant seeds and building multi-coloured benches and over wooded furniture which were dotted along the woodland walk. I even took the opportunity to sit down on one whilst I had a quick break. Cove Woodland’s Trust Twitter page gives more updates about what the group have been doing since the project has gone into full swing.
I followed the woodland walk for under a mile. When the trees petered out towards the end of the walk I got my first real good glimpse of the sea since leaving Findon. The woodland walk ended near some houses but continued on as a track which squeezed through a gap between the railway line and the back gardens of suburban houses. A short while later I joined Cove Road. I could have kept going ahead to rejoin the coastal path however I wanted to see Cove Bay’s beautiful harbour so I took the road to my right over a bridge across the railway line. On the other side of the bridge I took another road to the right and followed it as it wound steeply downhill towards the harbour. I was glad of the diversion as Cove Bay’s harbour was a scenic and peaceful place so I decided to have my lunch break there.
The harbour itself lies within a natural gap in the rocks that litter this coastline. This made it a prime location for fishing boats who could beach them on the shingle beach at the eastern edge of the harbour. Unsurprisingly around this harbour a fishing community grew. The fishing trade was at its height in the mid 19th century with cod, salmon, herring, haddock and shellfish being the primary catches. The trade declined following the First World War and now only a few fishing boats ply their trade from the harbour. Nowadays Cove Bay is a popular residential location as it’s so close to the bustling city of Aberdeen.
My lunch break over, I retraced my steps back up into the centre of Cove Bay on the other side of the railway line. This time I headed northwards along Loirston Road for a short while before turning right into Loirston Place. This road took me underneath the railway line and into an overgrown field. A well trodden path led through the field soon joining a track which in turn led down to the clifftops. Here, an Aberdeenshire Coastal Path sign pointed northwards along the clifftops.
For the next couple of miles the path meandered along the clifftops providing the highlight of the day’s walk. Dramatic coastal scenery was in abundance along this stretch with a number of deep inlets and rock formations littered along the coast. The sun was beating down on the sea which shimmered in a healthy blue and golden glow, adding to the gorgeous scenery.
I was almost sad when this section ended as the path joined the coastal road. I had to come away from the coast here as work is underway on the £350 million development of a brand new harbour in Nigg Bay. Hoping to be open in summer 2020, the new harbour will add another 125,000 square metres to the already existing and cramped harbour on the River Dee a couple of miles to the north. it is hoped the new harbour will create an additional 7000 jobs and pump an extra billion pounds into the economy each year by 2035. There was a lot of hustle and bustle going on along the coastline where a large purpose-built factory was churning out thousands of accropodes, giant cross-shaped structures which will act as the outer ‘armour’ of the breakwaters. Hundreds of these accropodes were already stacked up outside the factory waiting to be deployed in the Bay.
In the Bay itself were a number of shops dredging thousands of tonnes of earth from underneath the waters creating the necessary depth to allow the huge ships that are expected to use the harbour from 2020. All this added to the noise along the bay which was a sight to hold in itself. Unfortunately due to the construction work I couldn’t actually continue along the coast to the lighthouse at Girdie Ness, instead just past a water treatment works I had to divert inland to follow a path which would take me towards St Fittick’s Road and around the western end of Girdie Ness.
The path took me passed the ruins of St Fittick’s Church. St Fittick was a 7th century Irish monk who, according to legend, was thrown overboard by superstitious sailors during a storm. Fortunately for St Fittick he washed up at Nigg Bay and was so grateful to be alive that he built a church here to give thanks. The present church dates back to the 12th century although most of the structure is from the late 17th/early 18th century. The church was abandoned in the early 19th century when it became too small to meet the spiritual needs of the growing population of the parish of Torry. Since then the church has been left to ruin and is now just a shell.
Just past the church I re-joined St Fittick’s Road and followed as it headed downhill towards the River Dee. Just before I ended up in the water I took the road to the right which went to Girdie Ness Lighthouse. I decided not to go all the way to the lighthouse as I would only have to walk all the way back, so instead I stopped halfway along the road at Torry Battery.
Thanks to Aberdeen’s long-standing historical reputation as an important port it has been a target for raiders of many nationalities in centuries past, including the English, the French, the Dutch, the Germans, and for a short spell during the American Revolution the Americans got in on the act too. Understandably the good folk on Aberdeen got a bit nervous about this and so attempts were made to fortify the approach to the harbour.
On the north side of the harbour entrance a large blockhouse was built which housed artillery that could be used to fire at enemy ships and also fire on any enemy troops that attempted to land. In 1780 the blockhouse was replaced by a more modern gun battery which itself only lasted another eighty years. Between 1859 and 1861 the War Department replaced this battery with another gun battery on the north side of the river and also built a brand new gun battery at Torry Point.
The battery at Torry Point was manned by the 1st Aberdeenshire Royal Garrison Artillery (Volunteers) and was armed with nine heavy guns which were well capable of defending the city. These were upgraded prior to the First World War and during the Second World War anti-aircraft guns were installed to protect the city from the Luftwaffe in addition to the enemy naval threat. It was during the Second World War that the gun battery at Torry Point was used in anger for the first time. During the night of the 3rd June 1941 two unknown vessels approaching the harbour were fired on after failing to identify themselves. Fortunately they turned out to be friendly vessels. Later that year the guns had to fire on enemy aircraft flying over the city.
Following the Second World War the battery was occupied by several homeless families until the early 1950’s due to the housing shortage in Aberdeen. Later that decade the guns were removed and the battery was partially demolished. The surviving buildings were restored in the 1970’s and the site has become a Scheduled Ancient Monument. I walked through the old archway into the gun battery coming into the former parade ground which had a flagpole in the middle with the Scottish flag flying in the breeze. I had a good look round the battery, climbing up on to the old gun emplacements. It was easy to see why the battery had been built here in the first place as it had such a good view of the harbour.
Leaving the battery behind I retraced my steps back along the road alongside the River Dee. Supposedly this place is a good site to see humpback whales, however they didn’t appear to be any there as I was passing by. Soon I was back at the bottom of St Fittick’s Road, however this time I continued straight on along Greyhope Road and then Sinclair Road. This route took me alongside a busy industrial area heavily associated with the sea. Too my right I could see cranes swooping and swishing about as they unloaded goods from the ships.
I passed a dozen warehouses before coming to Victoria Road which was the main road between the suburb of Torry to the city centre of Aberdeen. I took the road to the right, crossing the River Dee on the Queen Victoria Bridge. The Bridge was built in response to a ferry disaster just a short distance up the river from where the bridge now stands. On 5 April 1876 a ferry capsized with the loss of thirty-two lives. There had been plans for a new bridge to be built for some time before the disaster but the capsizing of the ferry was the final impetus which led to funds being raised for the bridge which opened in July 1881.
I crossed the bridge taking a look down the River Dee towards the docks (above). Ahead I crossed over a road which led down to the docks followed a little later by another road which served the ferry terminal. I noticed the huge ferry that would be sailing to the Orkneys and Shetlands later that evening was steaming up readying itself for departure.
My own journey ended a short distance later and the crossroads between Market Street, Quay Street and Trinity Quay. The following day’s walk would take me right along Trinity Quay, roughly heading parallel with the River Dee. For now though I was happy to head uphill along Market Street into Aberdeen City Centre where I could get some grub and reflect on the day’s walk.
It had been a lovely walk, especially the stretch between Cove Bay and Nigg Bay which highlighted Aberdeenshire’s extraordinary coastal scenery. I was very happy to finally reach Aberdeen as it had been my target all year since leaving North Queensferry in March. It had taken a bit of doing, but I was finally in the Granite City and anything I did in the following two days would be a bonus – a bonus which promised a lot more fantastic walking!