START: Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire
FINISH: Balmedie, Aberdeenshire
DISTANCE: 10.4 miles (Total – 524 miles)
APPROXIMATE TIME: 4 hours
OS MAPS: Explorer 406 & Explorer 421
ACCOMMODATION: The Allan Guest House, Aberdeen
It was Tuesday morning and yet another blissful day away from work. I was basking in a soft warm glow with the knowledge that not only would I not to have to drag my sorry behind into the office but also that on the previous day I had hit my year-long target of reaching Aberdeen. I still had three days left of my holiday in Aberdeen so was hoping to get at least a couple of more walks in before I headed back home.
On this fine Tuesday I was hoping to get as far as Newburgh, about 14 or 15 miles along the coast from Aberdeen. To be honest I would have been happy just getting anywhere, the effects of the previous fortnight’s throat and nose infection still giving me a little grief.
Following yet another lovely breakfast courtesy of Stuart and Brenda, my wonderful hosts for this week’s holiday, I jumped on the bus for the short journey from the Guest House to Union Street, the mile long bustling road that runs west to east through the City Centre. Here I stocked up on a couple of supplies for the day before heading downhill along Market Street towards the docks where I had finished my walk the previous day.
The dockside was understandably a little busy, although this time there was no ferry docked up as it had done the run to the Orkneys and Shetlands the previous evening. At the bottom of Market Street I headed along Trinity Quay for a short while before crossing over the road and into Regent Quay. Regent Quay ran parallel with the docks which were very noisy.
Aberdeen has a long history with the sea going back some 2000 years at least. The original settlement of Aberdeen lay on the south bank of the River Don, a couple of miles north of the present city centre. The settlement of Aberdon as it was known was here in Roman times as Julius Agricola and the Roman Army marched through here in AD84 in an attempt to subdue the local population. Nine centuries later the Vikings got in on the ‘subduing’ action as they raised the settlement of Aberdon to the ground in the 10th Century.
Two centuries later King David II created “New Aberdeen” in 1136 which was built on an older settlement on the North Bank of the River Dee. Aberdon became Old Aberdeen and the new settlement which should have been called Aberdee, became instead Aberdeen, possibly as a compromise between the old and new settlements. The new settlement quickly grow in importance as well as size. By the early 14th century Aberdeen was one of Scotland’s most important wool ports , establishing strong links with German and Baltic ports. By the 15th century salmon fishing was king with Aberdeen being Scotland’s chief salmon port. Fast forward three centuries and whaling was a major industry with some twenty whaling ships piling their trade out of Aberdeen’s harbour. By the 1870’s herring was the main fishing catch with the majority of the city’s 200 fishing boats being used in this trade.
In the early part of the 20th century the fishing trade declined but it was replaced by something more lucrative – oil. In the early 1970’s a vast quantity of oil was discovered underneath the North Sea and Aberdeen was suitably placed to take advantage of this with its large harbour and proximity to the undersea oil fields. Seemingly overnight the money rolled in and Aberdeen soon came to be the world’s center for new ideas and technologies associated with the offshore oil industry. Oil was and still is big business and the city became rich from it. Outside of Central London, Aberdeen is now the wealthiest place in the British Isles with Aberdonians taking home an average annual income of about £32,000.
The harbour was certainly in full swing when I walked by. Ships were being unloaded or preparing to launch back out to sea. From Regent Quay I followed a couple of more streets through the dockside area before coming to Pocra Quay. This took me to the mouth of the River Dee where I watched a large ship (above) head for the docks. Ahead of me was the modern tower that belonged to the Aberdeen Shipping Control Centre which keeps an eye on any ships coming into or out of the River Dee. To my left was the lovely historic village of Footdee.
Footdee or ‘Fittie’ as it is known locally is a small fishing village found at the mouth of the River Dee. You would be easily forgiven for thinking that the village takes its name from its location at the ‘foot’ of the River Dee however it is generally believed that it is a corruption of St Fittick, whose church lies across the other side of the River.
The current settlement of Footdee is not the first to have the name. Another settlement with the same name existed as early as 1398 which was located a little further north to the current one.
The current settlement which comprises two squares of fishing cottages was built in 1828 by the then Superintendent of the Town’s Public Works, John Smith. The new settlement was known as ‘Fish Town’ with Footdee referring to the larger area between the original settlement to the north and the mouth of the River Dee. Over time ‘Fish Town’ became known as Footdee.
The new settlement was a busy place with dozens of fishing families living and working there. The cottages were single story, often with thatched roofs and no toilets. The inhabitants often kept hens and other poultry in the roofs which destroyed the thatch. Such was the extent of the poultry damage to the thatched roofs that the local Magistrates had to issue a Court Order which banned the keeping of poultry in Footdee to prevent any further destruction. Any poultry found in the village would instantly be destroyed!
Over the years the original cottages have been improved on and thankfully now come with slate roofs and indoor toilets. Most of the original fishing families have gone, although a couple of them do still remain with the majority of cottages now in private hands. Still the village does retain its distinct character to this day and is a lovely peaceful haven away from the noise of the harbour and the city.
I had a quick look around some of the narrow streets to take a couple of photos and soak in some of the ambiance before rejoining the shoreline at the bottom end of a long promenade. It was a rather pleasant walk along the promenade despite the wind which had suddenly whipped up out of nowhere. This hadn’t put people off as there were many out taking the opportunity to have a morning stroll
I passed a novel idea of a cafe which was in the shape of a double-decker bus. You could go in through the front door on the bottom deck, order your food and then go and sit upstairs and eat whilst enjoying the scenery. Ahead to my left was an amusement park complete with fairground rides, a roller-coaster and Ferris wheel; obviously all was still considering the time of day.
The next couple of miles walking was really nice. I wanted to walk along the long curved beach however the tide was coming in sharply so I would have gotten a bit wet. Still it didn’t matter as the walk along the promenade was a pleasant alternative. I passed by the Beach Ballroom, a 1920s built entertainment venue which has seen famous acts including The Beatles, Pink Floyd and The Who perform there in days gone by.
For the next twenty-five minutes I continued to follow the promenade before joining the main road which led to Bridge of Don. Here was a large strip of open land which was framed by a number of tower blocks rising up from the city’s panorama and also the floodlights belonging to Pittodrie Stadium, home of Aberdeen Football Club. Five minutes later I crossed over the River Don on the Bridge of Don which gives the nearby settlement its name.
BRIDGE OF DON
The graceful Bridge was opened in November 1830 following three years of construction which cost £7000 (nearly £800,000 pound in today’s money). Immediately on the other side of the Bridge I followed a road which led off to the right. This eventually petered out into a path which a short while took me out onto the beach at the mouth of the River Don. Before I got to the beach I decided to take a lunch break on a bench overlooking the river.
My break over I headed off down the long beach. The wind had really picked up at this point although fortunately it was actually blowing from behind me so it gave me a little more speed as I strolled along the beach. Out at sea there were a number of ships waiting to enter the busy port of Aberdeen. Overhead were a number of helicopters whizzing people to and from the oil and gas rigs way out in the North Sea. These would be a feature of the next two days walking.
I passed an old WWII pillbox which had cracked under the ever constant pressure of the waves and was now sinking below the sea. It was feared that this beach would be an excellent site for invasion with it being long and flat and close to the important port of Aberdeen, so not only were pillboxes built here but the beach was heavily mined. Fortunately the minefields didn’t have to be used in anger although they still caused several fatalities to Allied soldiers when the mines were cleared in 1944.
I was hoping to make it to Newburgh on this walk however as the miles passed by on the beach it was starting to get a bit heavy going with the wind and the soft sands sucking up a lot of my strength. I noticed on the map that about a mile ahead was an exit off the beach into Balmedie Country Park where I could finish off the walk and from then head into the commuter settlement of Balmedie to get the bus back to Aberdeen.
A short while later I was at the exit and so after taking a quick look ahead where I would be walking along the following day, I walked along a duckboard which took me into the Country Park. There was a few people dotted about the park, mainly those that were out walking their dogs before the rains came. It was only a short walk into Balmedie itself but I had just missed one bus and had about a half-hour wait for the next one so it was a good chance to reflect on the day’s walk.
It had been a varied walk with the hustle and bustle of Aberdeen’s harbour to the quiet solitude of the long beach from Bridge of Don to Balmedie. I had enjoyed having a quick look round the historic village of Footdee which had a great deal of character and must have a thousand stories to tell of the people who lived there.
The next day’s walk involved retracing my steps back to the beach at Balmedie, continuing along the sands to Newburgh and then through Forvie National Nature Reserve until I reached Collieston, or if I was feeling really energetic, perhaps Cruden Bay. The weather promised to be good so hopefully it would be yet another great walk along the Aberdeenshire coast!
Bridge of Don